Category Archives: d. The Bhagavad Gita’s Three Yogas

Bhakti Yoga as Described by the Bhagavad Gita

One of the fundamental aspects of Hinduism revolves around the spiritual paths one must take in order to reach a state of Moksa or enlightenment. As Moksha is the ultimate goal for any practitioner of the Hindu tradition, it is obvious that concerns over the correct way to achieve this end are approached in a wide variety of ways. Bhakti Yoga is one such path to achieving enlightenment within orthodox Hindu teachings. Bhakti Yoga, also commonly known as the Path of Devotion, teaches that Moksha is achieved by means of selfless and utter devotion, love, and trust towards a particular deity. Those on the Path of Devotion often listen to stories about God, sing devotional hymns, recite mantras, worship at temples and shrines at the home, and undergo pilgrimages in hopes of becoming closer to God. The word bhakti is made up of two parts, the root bhaj, meaning service and the suffix ktr, which means love. However, bhakti is a very flexible word which also means to be attached to, to be devoted to, or to resort to (Michael 250). Bhakti Yoga is a multi-faceted practice which requires both a commitment to God as well as a commitment to loving fellowship of those around oneself in order to succeed. In order to achieve Moksha following this pathway, one must have a pure devotion to God, as having other desires leaves one incapable of fully devoting themselves to God. Bhakti is additionally dualistic in that the term may describe both the path by which one realizes enlightenment, as well as the ultimate goal of enlightenment itself (Michael 250).

The Bhagavad Gita is a part found within the epic the Mahabharata that introduces the concept of the Yogas [spiritual paths that worshippers may take in order to reach a state of salvation or unification with God]. The Bhagavad Gita takes place during the middle of the Mahabharata, when the third Pandava Arjuna is filled with doubt when forced to fight blood relatives in the war of Kurukshetra. Through the course of numerous philosophical and theological discussions between Prince Arjuna and Krsna, the concepts and application of the Yogas are introduced. Despite the very influential nature and important contents of the Bhagavad Gita, it is not considered Sruti [divine in origin], but as Smrti [remembered verses], as it is a part of the Mahabharata. As the introduction of the Yogas is a foundational aspect of many varying sects of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita is still seen as one of the more important Smrti in the Hindu tradition. These spiritual paths have become significantly prominent aspects of the Hindu tradition and in many ways serve to define many of the different sects of Hinduism in the modern day.

The concept of Yoga that was introduced in the Bhagavad Gita specifically refers to the primary ways in which practitioners of Hinduism may achieve unification between themselves and God. There are three main paths that are described within the Bhagavad Gita as ways to achieve enlightenment. The first is Karma Yoga, also known as the Path of Action. This Yoga consists of proper and selfless action, the control or suppression of selfish desires, and providing selfless services to those who require it. The successful completion of these deeds are thought to be transformed into worship. This is best characterized by the saying of Yogaswami of Sri Lanka “All work must be done with the aim of reaching God” (Veylanswami 10). The second path is Jnana Yoga, otherwise known as the Path of Knowledge. This path is based on the attainment of philosophical knowledge and discrimination between what is real and unreal (Veylanswami 10). To attain this knowledge, a combination of listening to scripture, thinking or reflecting upon that scripture, and then deep, meaningful meditation is often the course of action of followers belonging to this path. The ultimate goal of this path is to determine the differences between the real and the unreal, giving one an understanding of their true identity within true reality. Bhakti Yoga is the third path that is seen as a means to salvation, by committing yourself entirely to the love and devotion of a specific deity. [Krsna and Siva are two of the more commonly worshipped deities within the Path of Devotion]. Bhakti Yoga is brought to light in the Bhagavad Gita when Krsna explains to Arjuna that those who manage to remain concentrated on him, worship him with unfaltering faith, are rescued from the cycle of life and death. This escape from the struggle of life and death that Lord Krsna refers to is commonly known as Moksha or enlightenment. A more recently conceived spiritual path that has been gaining significant following in recent history is known as Raja Yoga or the Path of Meditation. The inception of Raja Yoga is not considered to be from the Bhagavad Gita, but from the Yoga Sutras credited to Patanjali. Raja Yoga follows an eight tiered system that focuses on ethical restraint, religious observance, proper posture, breathing control, withdrawal, meditation, and a sense of oneness (Veylanswami 10). These eight features are practiced in hopes of concentrating one’s mental awareness, which is deemed essential to the tradition.

The Yogas that are spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita are in many ways interconnected. A commonly practiced approach to the Yogas is to choose one primary path to follow, while still observing the practices of the other Yogas in a secondary manner. While those who seek Moksha shall undoubtedly lean towards one particular path, true knowledge cannot be attained without at least a fundamental understanding of the remaining paths (Veylanswami 11). An approach to the Yogas that has gained traction recently is undertaking Bhakti, Karma, or Raja Yoga prior to taking Jnana Yoga to ensure that one has a real understanding of what it is that they learn and speak of along the Path of Knowledge. This concept is best illustrated by the words of Swami Vishnudevananda: “Before practicing jnana yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths—for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for Self Realization can become mere idle speculation” (Veylanswami 11).

While there is a strong degree of interconnectivity between the varying Yoga pathways, there are a number of fundamental differences between each practice, which inevitably leads to strong differences between the practitioners of each yogic path. The way in which the personality of an individual meshes with the fundamental principles of each path are a strong determinant as to which path an individual will choose. For those who are emotional, Bhakti Yoga is commonly recommended, for the physically active Karma Yoga is frequently suggested, while Raja Yoga is considered most appealing to meditative personalities, and Jnana yoga is deemed best suited for a more intellectual individual (Veylanswami 10). In addition to differences in general doctrine and follower personality, the selection of each Yoga path is also strongly related to the deity that an individual worships. Those who are affiliated with Krsna worship will have different views and affinities towards one path than those who worship Siva. [Vaishnava sects tend to promote Bhakti Yoga for their followers, while some Vedantic sects promote Jnana Yoga as the dominant means of salvation] (Veylanswami 11).

There are many ways in which the Bhakti Yoga path may be followed, with a near infinite number of ways to devote oneself to, unconditionally love, and otherwise worship a deity. Some may choose frequent temple worship as a primary means of connecting with God, while others may feel that the utterance of sacred mantra is the ideal way to worship. As there are many differences between practitioners of Bhakti yoga, naturally there is a large degree of variation within Bhakti yoga itself. These variations may be the result of regional variability, the plethora of deities that are available for worship, or even socioeconomic and social differences that exemplify the traditional caste (jati) and class (Varna) system of Hinduism. These differences are not static, but instead dynamic, changing over time and space. The methodology and frequency of forms of worship change continuously over time.

There are very notable differences when comparing varying sects of bhakti worship. In Bengali Shakta Bhakti yogic rituals are designed to bridle the uncontrolled passion and emotion that followers. The yogic rituals performed are meant to provide appropriate times and places for practitioners to have encounters and experiences with the goddess. In Gaudiya Vaisnava Bhakti, yogic rituals in which worshippers relive mythical and historical occurrences of great emotion are performed in order to increase devotion and provide understanding of the worshipper role that each person has to Krsna or Radha (McDaniel 54). While both of these sects follow the Path of Devotion, they perform different rituals for different purposes. Each of these traditions provides worship to their deity uniquely, in large part to the personality type of those who follow each tradition. Within the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, members are taught and perform different ways of serving god. It may be entertaining guests, collecting water, or frequent prayer at a home shrine. A guru is often consulted to teach members what acts they can do to best serve their God, however once these methods have been learned and ultimately perfected over time, innumerable variations may be made to individualize the act of worship (Haberman 133). Thus, we can see variation not only between traditions but within traditions.

While many differences between bhakti traditions are relatively minor, there are occasions where practices can differ wildly from one group to the next; this can best be seen when comparing the diminishing practice of Sahajiya bhakti and the rituals of the Bauls with mainstream Gaudiya Vaisnava traditions. The Sahajiya believe that Krsna and Radha may come down from the heavens and enter the bodies of worshippers. As a result, the Sahajiya perform a sexual ritual so that members may experience the “love” of their deities. The Bauls, a group of wandering singers seek the love of Krsna and Radha and perform rituals involving the ingestion of taboo substances. By making the impure substance pure through the act of the ritual, members hope to become rasika (those who are able to see divine presences) (McDaniel 54). Both the Sahajiya and Baul traditions are subcultures of the Gaudiya Vaisnava bhakti, however the rituals, members, and ideals of the groups are in many ways opposed to one another. Historically, Bhakti Yoga became a popular choice for people to follow due to the open nature of the path. Any who felt that they could devote themselves to God were capable of following the path. This can be seen in the members of the bhakti movement previously in history; the heads of bhakti sects were not just Brahmin males as was custom for other paths, but those of high or low castes, male or female. The language used for bhakti literature such as doctrines and poetry were written not just in Sanskrit but in vernacular languages as well (Rinehart 51). This literature showed a great degree of variability between writers as well as regions; some wrote of gods not only reverently but negatively at times as well, while some questioned the appearances of the gods or their manner of speech (Rinehart 52). The large degree of differences found between traditions of various regions and sub cultures, both modern and historical serves to demonstrate the significant number of different manners in which Bhakti Yoga may be performed. Given the broad backgrounds from which members arise, the large amount of deities that are worshipped, and the incredibly broad manner in which an individual may choose to express his or her devotion to God. It is little wonder that the Bhakti Yoga tradition has become such a broad and encompassing division of Hindu tradition.


References and Further Recommended Reading

Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Satguru (2012) “Which Yoga Should I Follow?” Hinduism Today (Jul-Sep): 10-11.

Haberman, David (1988) Acting as a way of Salvation: A Study of Rāgānugā Bhakti Sādhana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

McDaniel, June (2012) The Role of Yoga in Some Bengali Bhakti Traditions: Shaktism, Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Baul, and Sahajiya Dharma. College of Charleston.

Mehta, Varun (2011) “The Need for Balance in Faith” Hinduism Today (Jan-Mar): 9.

Michael, Pavulraj (2011) Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita — An Easy Way for all to Search and find the Will of God. Rome: Pontificia Universita Gregoriana.

Rinehart, Robin (2004) Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Rosen, Steven (2010) Krishna’s other song: a new look at the Uddhava Gita. Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Kumar, Shashiprabha (2005) Self ,society, and value: reflections on Indian philosophical thought. Delhi: Vidyanidhi Prakashan.


Related Topics for Investigation

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Samadhi in Yoga

Dharana in Yoga

Krsna/Krishna and Arjuna


The Bhagavata Purans

The Nayanars/Nayanmars

Ramprasad Sen



Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic


Article written by: Andrew Gunderson (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.


Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is one of the methods for attaining liberation and union with God, prescribed by the incarnate god Krsna to his friend and disciple Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Jnana Yoga literally means “the path of union through knowledge (Prabhavananda 124).

The Bhagavad Gita (often shortened to the “Gita”) is a highly influential text embedded in the Mahabharata epic. It begins with the armies of the Pandavas and the Kauruvas assembled and ready for battle. The Pandava warrior Arjuna asks his friend and charioteer Krsna to drive between the armies so that he may survey his enemies before the battle commences. Arjuna sees among the rival army his friends, teachers, and other kin and is faced with a severe crisis, caught between his dharma (duty) as a ksatriya to fight and his wish to not harm his those he cares for (Theodore 27). Krsna chastises Arjuna, reminding him of his duty, and telling him that he should not grieve for those who will die, since only the body dies, not the soul which is eternal (Theodore 30). Arjuna remains uncertain and asks Krsna to become his guru and instruct him on how he should properly act (Theodore 29). What follows is a conversation between Krsna and Arjuna on such spiritual topics as the nature of the soul, reality, God, and the attainment of moksa (liberation), which occupies the remainder of the Gita.

During the course of the discussion, Jnana Yoga is described as a method for attaining spiritual liberation, along with Karma Yoga (the path of action), Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion or love), as well as Raja Yoga (the path of meditation) (Prabhavananda 124). Jnana Yoga emphasizes focused contemplation, the object of which is the Divine (Theodore 106). The Jnana Yoga practitioner (jnani) must become adept at discriminating between the real and unreal. Our experiences and perceptions are impermanent and fleeting, having both beginning and end. The only abiding reality is that of Brahman (Absolute Reality), which is equated with the Atman, the Supreme Self (Prabhavananda 125). Krsna discusses what he terms “the Field” and “the Knower of the Field”. The “Field” includes the body, senses, and mind/ego. The knower of the field is the true Self, the Atman (Theodore 104). The jnani learns the true self through relentlessly analyzing, separating and distinguishing the elements that make up reality (Torwesten 90). Jnana Yoga is fundamentally the practise of proclaiming neti, neti (not this, not this), a concept seen in the Upanisads: the jnani comes to realize the true Self by defining what it is not, specifically the body, mind, senses, and any object or experience (“the Field”) (Prabhavananda 125).

As the jnani strips away these false notions of self, through self discipline he should restrain his senses and withdraw from the sensual world, likened to a tortoise withdrawing its limbs into its shell (Theodore 37). Having so withdrawn, the desire for sensual pleasures will remain; however, once the jnani attains a vision of the Supreme, this desire will disappear (Theodore 37). The jnani should become detached and indifferent to the world. Krsna describes the ideal sage as such:

One not agitated despite all kinds of distress, whose apsiration for happiness is gone, and who is devoid of pass, fear and anger…He who is not attracted to anything, and having attained this or that, good or bad, does not rejoice but is not averse either – his wisdom is firmly established (Bhagavad Gita 2.55-57).

Thus the jnani must strive to become indifferent to good and evil deeds, to all desires, to pleasure and pain. Instead, he attains the greatest happiness in the Self (Prabhavananda 125).

The end goal of all of the Yogas is the attainment of moksa, or liberation. Moksa is freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, samsara (Theodore 3). When the yogi has realized Brahman and is fully absorbed in it, meditating on Brahman at the time of his death, he will be liberated from the endless cycle of samsara:

He who leaves the body while pronouncing the single syllable which is Brahman, the Om, while meditating on me, reaches the supreme goal. O Partha, I am easily reached by the yogi who always remembers me, is constantly and fully absorbed in me, and is thus ever yoked. Having come to me, these great souls do not undergo rebirth into that transient abode of misery, as they have attained the highest perfection (Bhagavad Gita 8.13-15).

Despite its emphasis of renunciation, practising Jnana Yoga does not necessarily mean withdrawing from all actions in life. Krsna advocates employing the methods of Karma Yoga even as one follows the Jnana path (Theodore 42). Under Karma Yoga, actions adhering to dharma (rituals, sacrifice, etc) are still performed, but are done without attachment to the fruits of their outcomes (Theodore 34). Indeed, Krsna repeatedly proclaims that while both Jnana and Karma Yoga lead to liberation, Karma Yoga is the preferable path: “Both relinquishing activity and yogic activity lead to the highest good, but of the two, karma yoga or yogic action exceeds renouncing altogether” (Bhagavad Gita 5.2). This is because the renunciation of worldly existence in Jnana Yoga is difficult to achieve without the support of Karma Yoga, as it requires the maintenance of a negative attitude of aversion which actually keeps the mind focused on the world (Theodore 55). This can lead to increased attachment to the world, hindering the development of true indifference (Theodore 55). Instead, through practising selfless action devoted only to Brahman, the yogi develops a sense of inner satisfaction which makes the attainment of true detachment much easier (Theodore 57). Furthermore, while the jnani should practise asceticism, extreme austerities are to be avoided according to Krsna:

The hearts of those who practise dreadful austerities not ordained by the scriptures, are filled with hypocrisy and egotism as they are motivated by lust and attachment. Those fools, who torture the aggregate of elements in their bodies as well as me, who dwell therein, know them to have a demonic resolution (Bhagavad Gita 17.5-6).

Instead, moderation in sleep, drinking, eating, and recreational activities is advocated in pursuit of the Jnana Yoga path (Prabhavananda 128).

Most of the ideas in the Gita and the practises of Jnana Yoga are substantially similar to those found in other Hindu schools of thought. Many of the verses about Jnana Yoga are taken directly from some of the middle and later Upanisads, including the Mundaka, Katha, and Svetasvartara Upanisad (Torwesten 89). The concepts of Brahman, the Atman, and the attainment of moksa are rooted in the Upanisadic tradition (Prahavananda 55). The Upanisads say that in order to realize Brahman/Atman and attain moksa, one must first renounce all selfish desires, with all thoughts of the individual self snuffed out by the oneness of Brahman, the same as the detachment advocated in the Gita (Prahavananda 65).

Elements from the Sankhya philosophy are also used extensively for the division and analysis of reality featured in Jnana Yoga. The Sankhya dualism of Purusa and Prakriti, supreme consciousness and material nature, are mirrored in the Gita conception of “The Field” and “The Knower of the Field” (Torwesten 90). The Gita also discusses at length the three gunas which make up Prakriti, specifically tamas (darkness, dullness, inertia), rajas (ego-driven activity), and sattva (lumosity, purity) (Torwesten 91).

Advaita Vedanta, one of the major schools of Hindu philosophy, advocates the practise of Jnana Yoga in order to achieve moksa (Deutsch 104). Advaita Vedanta outlines four general qualifications to be fulfilled by one seeking liberation, as well as three stages they must pass through: first, the aspirant must be able to discern what is real from what is only apparently real. Second, he requires a complete disregard and indifference toward sensual pleasure and petty desires, willingly giving up all that which distracts him and prevents his attainment of self-knowledge. Third, he must cultivate self-control (dama), endurance (titiksa), dispassion (uparati), mental tranquility (sama), intentness of mind (samadhana), and faith (sraddha). Fourth, he requires complete dedication to his quest for true understanding, focusing all his desire upon it alone (Deutsch 105).

The first general stage for the Advaita jnani is known as sravana (“hearing”), which involves the study of advaitic texts, listening to sages, studying the mahavakyas (great sayings) of the Vedas and thinking on their true meaning. This stage provides a framework which can be used for interpretation of the aspiring jnani’s own experiences (Deutsch 106). The next stage is known as manana (“thinking”), which involves prolonged self reflection, incorporating the advaita philosophical principals into himself. Facilitated by a guru, the jnani aspirant learns about the nature of Brahman, and how to discriminate between the different levels of reality (Deutsch 107). He must analyze the ways in which his knowledge of the world and of himself is constituted, realizing how he has falsely identified himself with mere partial expressions of his self (Deutsch 106-107). The final stage is nididhyasana (“constant meditation”). In this stage the jnani actively pursues self-realization, maintaining intense concentration upon his own self as Brahman (Deutsch 108). Detached from all egoism and distractions, he cuts away all lower level experiences and false identifications standing between him and the true Self (Deutsch 109-110). Upon the true realization that he is Brahman and Brahman is everything, the jnani achieves moksa, becoming a jivanmukta, one who is liberated while living (Deutsch 110).

A notable practitioner of Jnana Yoga was Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950). Born to a Brahmin family in South India, he was initially educated in Madurai, where he showed little interest in his studies or inclination toward spirituality (Sivaraman 362). A major transformation occurred when at seventeen he was suddenly struck with a petrifying fear of death. Rather than seek help, he decided to try and solve the problem himself: laying down and making himself stiff as a corpse, he contemplated his mortality. He realized that death only applied to the body and not the “I” within. Ramana lost all fear of death then and became engrossed in contemplation of the Self (Sivaraman 363). Subsequently a major change in Ramana’s behaviour was noticed by his brother: he had become totally indifferent to the world as a renouncer would (Sivaraman 363). Following his realization he left his home and travelled to Tiruvannamalai, taking residence in a cave on the sacred hill Arunachala where he remained for 16 years (Rodrigues 250). Ramana is considered to have achieved a state of sahaja-samadhi (effortless absorption) in the Self (Sivaraman 363). Being acquainted with neither the teachings of the Upanisads or Advaita, he was nonetheless able to independently attain the highest goal of those traditions (Sivaraman 364).

Ramana believed reality to be one and non-dual, regardless of the term used (eg. Brahman, Atman, etc). He used the Tamil term ullatu (“that which is”) to describe this singular principle of reality (Sivaraman 365). The perception of reality as a plurality of entities (eg God, man, and the world) was due to action of the mind or ego. When the ego ceases to function, the oneness of reality becomes evident (Sivaraman 366). Ramana advocated self-inquiry as the most direct means to ceasing the action of the mind/ego, relentlessly asking “Who am I?”, leading one to the source of the “I”, revealing the true Self (Sivaraman 371-72). This approach is different from introspection, where one takes stock of the contents of the mind, nor is it psychoanalysis, wherein the consciousness and unconsciousness are examined. The goal is instead to transcend the mind and discover its source (Sivaraman 374).

While Ramana thought self-inquiry was the most direct path to liberation, he acknowledged other methods as valid as well. Realizing that the same method may not work for everyone, he advocated paths such as Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, or Raja Yoga (Sivaraman 375). Ramana also did not think that living as a renouncer required giving up all of the activities of life. Rather, if these activities are performed with detachment, he believed that a householder could be considered a renouncer (Sivaraman 375). By following the path to enlightenment, Ramana believed that realization of the Self and liberation can be achieved here and now in life. Further, he believed the path of liberation is open to all, regardless of caste, class, race, or sex (Sivaraman 377).



Bhaktivedanta, Swami (1968) The Bhagavad Gita As It Is. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Deutsch, Eliot (1969) Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

Prabhavananda, Swami (1979) The Spiritual Heritage of India. Hollywood: Vedanta Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The E-book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online, Ltd.

Sivaraman, Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New York: The     Crossroad Publishing Company.

Theodore, Ithalmar (2010) Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning.     Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Torwesten, Hans (1991) Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism. New York: Grove Press Inc.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga

The Bhagavad Gita

The Mahabharata






Advaita Vedanta

The Upanisads





Ramana Maharsi

Swami Vivekananda



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Gordon Logie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.


Bhakti as a Word

The term bhakti describes loving devotion as a means of Hindu worship (Singh D 31). Record of its earliest use is found in the Rg Veda, a collection of hymns composed during early Vedic times. The word originates from the root word bhaj, a term generally known to mean “loving involvements” amongst many things—people, people and their possessions, and people and their gods. There was no initial distinction (Novetzke 258). It was only later that the word bhakti came to mean a devoted love between a worshipper and their gods and as such became associated with the secular word for love (prema) also called the “soul of bhakti”. Prema then evolved into param prema, a “higher love” (Singh R 225). Although found in the Rg Veda, bhakti, used in its evolved form, was first discovered in an early Buddhist text known as the Ther­agatha in the 4th century BCE. It was used in relation to the Buddha (Novetzke 259).

Bhakti as a Concept

The Bhagavad Gita, or Gita, also found in the Vedas, is one of the key texts that help explain bhakti. The main Vedic gods worshipped during those early times were Narayana, Hari, and Visnu. The term bhakti merely meant adoration until the personal worship of these gods came to the forefront. Then “for the first time sanction was given to this system of bhakti as an alternative means of moksha” (Singh D 28). Rituals, which had previously been the only prescribed way and had been performed in conjunction with priests, gave way to a more intimate connection between the gods and humans. These rituals involved temple visits, the chanting of mantras and of a god’s name, and the “surrender of the soul” (Singh D 28). The gods themselves were not remote or removed from the world; they frequently interacted with it. The Rg Veda referred to them as “father, mother, brother, relation, honored guest,” implying a sense of companionship between the worshippers and their gods (Singh R 223).

Meditation during these times became an important means of achieving bhakti. There was movement away from outward actions to inner introspection. While there was no mention of love yet, these self-examinations were meant to draw worshippers closer to their gods. “Self-surrender, self-control, contentment, and non-attachment,” were key goals, flourishing alongside the new idea of incarnation and the effect that one lifetime could potentially have on the ones to come (Singh D 29). It was during the period of Alvar saints, a group of saints who wrote songs and poems of their devotion to the gods, that bhakti became the only way to find moksa (liberation), with prescriptions such as song and dance also becoming prominent. No longer was the mere act of temple sacrifice and interactions with the priesthoods enough. Hindu worshippers all agreed that bhakti had become a matter of love. The Bhagavata Purana, as written by the Alvar saints, contained nine ways to worship, and in association with the Sandihya, another written work, proposed that worship was no longer something a worshipper had to do, but chose to do. It suggested that actions and knowledge could not accomplish bhakti because bhakti was not sraddha (belief); it was faith, which was far more superior (30).

Forms of Worship

Though worship had become an internal practice for Hindu worshippers, old and new rituals were still performed externally. Acts like going to the temple, fasting, practicing yoga, pilgrimages, decorating idols, and eating foods first consecrated by being offered to the gods, persisted. Two forms of yoga—karma yoga and jnana yoga—were prominent. Jnana yoga was “the gaining of cognitive knowledge of one’s separateness from Prakti and being an attribute of God,” where God was the all-encompassing word used to described all the gods in one, the Absolute God (Singh D 30). Other necessary acts included saying the name of the gods over and over again, reading sacred texts, and marking one’s body. Although the objective of worship remained undisputed, the mode of accomplishing it varied. There seemed to be two key movements operating at the same time, one that encouraged strict rituals and practices, and another that was more free-spirited. An example of this involves two popular systems at the time—Vallabha and Chaitanya. While Vallabha insisted on the formalities of praise and worship, Chaitanya encouraged a more unrestricted approach of “fervent singing and ecstatic dancing…swoon[ing] under the intensity of [one’s] emotion”. For Chaitanya, devoted worship between a human and a god bore great similarity to the intimacy in a marriage (Singh D 31). On the other hand a saint named Shankaradeva likened it to a relationship between a sisya (student) and guru (master). So within the broad concept of bhakti, there were several components that did not always agree. Still, the notions of bhakti spread to all areas of Hindu tradition, especially music and literature (Singh R 226).

Bhakti as a Liberator

During the initial introduction of bhakti, it was a form of worship prescribed only to the upper classes. The lower classes could only perform prapatti. The usual dividers based on castes, races, gender, were still in place. However, because it was considered to be an internal form of worship, once bhakti was popular, priests and their rules became less important. The inability to read or lack of access to a formal education did not limit anyone. Women could also participate in a way that they had never been permitted to before. In other words there was a new sense of freedom and a rebellion against the old ways. Devotion to the gods was something that everybody could do (Singh D 28). The Alvars, who were believed to be direct descendants of Visnu and whose words were considered divine, belonged to upper and lower castes themselves (Aleaz 451).

As for the case of spiritual liberation, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism all maintain a similar belief regarding love. According to these sects, love, faith and immortality go hand in hand. Once the first two are achieved, true contentment is found. There can be no fear of death. According to Raj Singh in the article titled Eastern Concepts of Love:

The ultimate urge in love is the urge for immortality, that is an escape from mortality or bland ordinariness of maya (illusory, worldly) existence. The drive in love is one that seeks and obtains an elevation from a lower, matter of course existence toward a higher, more fulfilling state. Moments of love let one abide in immortality. Love is therefore fundamentally of the nature of immortality (Singh R 226).

Many Hindus believe that bhakti is much more important than action and jnana (knowledge), and it is not limited to those who are educated or born into upper castes. The key reason for this is that “love is its own reward. Action and knowledge aim at something other than themselves, but only love aims at itself. Love wants basically (more) love” (Singh R 227). The act of seeking out those things—action and jnana, which together form karma—will often involve goals and motivations that are displeasing to the gods, such as egoism. The practice of bhakti however requires no other action other than the word itself and the will to accomplish it (227).




Aleaz, K. P (2006) “Bhakti Tradition of Vaisnava Alvars and Theology of Religions.” Asia Journal Of Theology. Vol. 20, No 2: 451-454.

Eck, Diana L & Mallison, Francoise (1991) Devotion divine : Bhakti traditions from the regions of India. Paris: Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient.

Lamb, R (2008) “Devotion, Renunciation, and Rebirth in the Ramananda Sampraday.” Cross Currents. Vol. 57, No 4: 578-590.

Novetzke, C (2007) “Bhakti and Its Public.” International Journal Of Hindu Studies. Vol. 11, No 3: 255-272.

Orr, L. C (2002) “The Embodiment of Bhaki (Book).” Journal Of Religion. Vol. 82, No 1: 156.

Pillai, A (1990) “The Bhakti tradition in Hinduism, Bhakti yoga : an overview.” Journal Of Dharma. Vol. 15, No 3: 223-231.

Prentiss, Karen Pechilis (2000) The Embodiment of Bhakti. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sharma, Krishna (1987) Bhakti and the Bhakti movement: a new perspective : a study in the history of ideas. New Delhi : Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Singh, D (1991) “The essentials of Sikh bhakti and Hindu bhakti.” Dialogue & Alliance. Vol. 5, No 3: 21-35.

Singh, R (2005) “Eastern Concepts of Love: A Philosophical Reading of ‘Narada Bhakti Sutra’.” Asian Philosophy. Vol. 15, No 3: 221-229



Related Topics for Further Investigation




Gnana yoga




Bhagvad gita

Vallabha Charaya


Vaiswa bhakti


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Ruth Dada (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, the famous proponent of peace and non-violence in conflict-torn India during the early 1900’s, devoted his life to achieving an independent, egalitarian and united India. His life experiences led to his discovery of satyagraha, non-violent protest, and he implemented this tool in his work to free India from British colonial rule and to quell the civil disputes occurring within the country. In his attempts to bring India to peace, through well planned satyagrahas and his detailed Constructive Programme, he himself became a symbol in India and around the world.

Gandhi was born in Porbandar India on October 2, 1869 (Parekh 1, Chatterjee 15, Fischer 13-14). His family were members of the merchant class (Vaisyas) [Gandhi directly translates as grocer (Parekh 1, Fischer 12)] but rose to high political positions. His father, Karamchand, was prime minister of Porbandar (Fischer 13) and had many close Jaine friends [Jainism is a religion that employs strict non-violent and peaceful ideologies] (Parekh 1). His mother, Putali Bai, was a member of the Pranami (Prananath) religious sect that combined various beliefs and traditions including those of Hindus and Muslims (Parekh 1, Chatterjee 15). She was a deeply religious woman, and observed many religious fasts over her lifetime (Parekh 1, Fischer 15). Thus, Gandhi’s own political work, religious beliefs and morals were likely influenced by his early life and the beliefs of his parent’s.

Gandhi moved to England in 1888 to pursue an education as a lawyer (Fischer 27) and while there, was engulfed in western traditions and religion. He was introduced to Christianity, the Bible, especially the New Testament (Nanda 12). It was here that Gandhi began cultivating his own religious beliefs and practices in Hinduism which, over time, became infused with aspects of multiple religions including Christianity. It was at this time that Gandhi first discovered the Bhagavad Gita (one part of the larger Mahabharata epic), and its yogic teachings, especially those of Karma Yoga which epitomizes the path of selfless action to achieve spiritual liberation (Fischer 29-33, Hick 90). This text was so important to Gandhi that it became his ‘spiritual dictionary’ (Nanda 13). Upon returning to India, Gandhi experienced little success as a lawyer and eventually moved to South Africa to practice.

In South Africa at this time, Hindus were often used as indentured laborers (Parekh 3, Fischer 46) and suffered from restricted rights and freedoms. Gandhi himself was subject to many indignities, and in response became a strong proponent of Indian rights and legal equality in South Africa (Fischer 48), thus exemplifying the Karma Yoga path taught to him by the Gita. It was here that Gandhi developed and implemented his very first satyagraha. This was the use of non-violent protests to achieve, not victory over an enemy, but instead a compromise or reconciliation (Nanda 4). It was considered a form of civil disobedience, which could involve public demonstrations, non-cooperation with government policies, and even fasting as a personal satyagraha. All forms required the graceful acceptance of the consequences of their actions (Parekh 3). Gandhi achieved many successes in regards to Indian rights while in South Africa, but was also able to unify Hindus and Muslims living there. This can be credited to the fact that many shared a common language and tradition and faced similar challenges in a foreign country. To unite Hindus and Muslims in India would prove to be more difficult in the years ahead.

While in South Africa, Gandhi explored religion further, often incorporating new religious facets into his unique brand of Hinduism, including aspects of Judaism and Christianity, which he learned from various friends (Parekh 5). However, his knowledge of religion came mainly from reading influential texts, such as the Hindu epics of the Ramayana [Gandhi believed it to be “the greatest book in all devotional literature” (Chatterjee 16)], the Mahabharata and most importantly the Bhagavad Gita (Chatterjee 7, Fischer 29-30). The Gita inspired Gandhi to begin his life path of becoming a Karma yogi, and a man of action (Fischer 35-36). For Gandhi, religion was embodied in dharma (righteousness) and was the “sustaining order which upholds the individual and society and in turn has to be upheld by them” (Chatterjee 18). Thus religion was simply a moral framework for the conduct of daily life (Nanda 24). Gandhi eventually came to realize that religion played an important role in politics (Nanda 24) and was critical in maintaining a stable society (Chatterjee 18). After a period of 21 years, Gandhi returned to India, armed with his new religious views and powerful political weapon: the satyagraha.

India, at this time, was suffering from great civil unrest and religious disputes. Hindu-Muslim relations were strained and there was increasing opposition and animosity towards the British colonial government. The Indian National Congress, which had been established as a means of channeling Indian resentment of colonial rule into constitutional reforms and legal moderation (Fischer 132), had become ineffective due to poor leadership (Parekh 7). This ineptitude resulted in public revolts erupting throughout India. Gandhi, a supporter of the colonial rule at first, became unconvinced of its ability to maintain control over the increasing civil unrest. He did not agree with the oppressive measures taken to maintain order, but also could not agree with the Indian National Congress’s ineffective political strategy. Gandhi decided to implement his Constructive Programme which included measures to restructure India and restore peace and order to the country to prepare it for independence from the British government (Parekh 8).

The Constructive Programme focused both on large sweeping changes as well as small, mainly symbolic, changes including: abolishing the caste system and untouchability, equality for women, the use of indigenous languages and the adoption of a common, national language. It also promoted economic equality (including tribal peoples), the development of village industries and banning the use of foreign cloth (Parekh 8-9, Nanda 8). Gandhi believed that in order to restore peace and stability to India, Indian society would first have to become more dharmic, which could be attained if society became more egalitarian (Chatterjee 20). This idea of a dharmic society stems from the teachings of the Gita and Gandhi once said, God’s grace and revelation are not the monopoly of any race or nation; they descend equally upon all who wait upon God” (Nanda 69). Thus any person can become close to their God through personal, loving devotion (bhakti), regardless of race, gender or class (Hick 131-132). He also realized the importance of symbols as a way of attaining and maintaining equality through their ability to convey strong emotional responses in the public. He used symbols such as the spinning wheel, khadi (home spun cloth) the cow and the Gandhi cap. Gandhi himself eventually became a symbol in his own right (Parekh 9). He believed that his Constructive Programme combined with carefully thought out and meaningful satyagrahas would be the key to India’s independence (Parekh 8).

Gandhi implemented his first national satyagraha in 1919 which involved nation wide cessation of work (hartal) and mass demonstrations, in response to the further losses of civil liberties and freedoms imposed on India by the colonial government (Parekh 12). It was Gandhi’s first nation wide defiance of the British government (Fischer 176). The hartal proved to be very successful in Bombay with six hundred followers. However, when the hartal reached Delhi some demonstrations turned violent and Gandhi had to abandon it, calling it his ‘Himalayan miscalculation’ (Parekh 12, Fischer 177-178). Further oppression by the British government by banning group gatherings and demonstrations, escalated tensions in India, and on April 13, 1919 colonial forces opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing hundreds (Parekh 12, Fischer 179-180). This event was a turning point in Indian history and the stability of the British rule began to be threatened.

In response this tragic event, and in the face of exponentially increasing violence in the country, Gandhi implemented his second nation wide satyagraha: The Non-cooperation Movement of 1920 (Parekh 12, Fischer 187). Gandhi based it on his belief that the government could no longer rule effectively if its citizens refused to cooperate with its policies and set up their own alternative governing institutions (Parekh 12, Fischer 187). Gandhi also attempted to incorporate the Muslim community into his nationalist movement for independence (Nanda 97). The Non-cooperation movement was unsuccessful for two reasons: alternative governing bodies were not created because the public was not willing to give up their hard earned careers (Parekh 14) and it inadvertently caused further strain in Hindu-Muslim relations. The majority of Muslims were supportive of the British governing body as it provided them with an English education and government careers (Nanda 97).

Gandhi became increasingly concerned over the growing Hindu-Muslim conflict. The emerging Muslim middle class felt that their progress was being impeded, as they were in constant competition, with the Hindus, over jobs. Most middle class Muslims did not have the access to the level of education needed to obtain these jobs and thus felt they were at an unfair disadvantage (Fischer 220). To address their frustrations Gandhi began a twenty-one day fast to promote unity and a mutual respect and tolerance and support of a Hindu-Muslim friendship (Parekh 15, Fischer 221). However, civil unrest continued to increase until he felt that another satyagraha was necessary to avoid explosive violence, and edge India closer to independence. He decided to protest against the British salt tax of the 1930’s by having thousands of people along India’s sea coast produce salt illegally (Parekh 15-16, Fischer 268-269). Gandhi chose his salt satyagraha for several reasons: salt was important to all Indians and Muslims, and bore heavily on the poor, and showed the how corrupt and cruel the British government was (Parekh 15-16). The salt satyagraha was successful as it was able to show colonial rule was weak and could be defeated (Parekh 16). It has been considered Gandhi’s most successful attempt at non-violent civil disobedience as a means to promote compromise, through the use of powerful symbolism (Nanda 81).

Hindu-Muslim relations continued to worsen and partition of India was immanent. In light of economic and political trouble Muslim’s feared they would no longer be in control of their people and that a partition was necessary to maintain Muslim religious integrity (Parekh 20). Pakistan and the Indian Union were eventually formed out of the partition (Fischer 476). The newly formed Pakistan contained millions of Hindus, and likewise the Indian Union contained millions of Muslims. These newly formed minorities were concerned with their status under the new majority rulers and fighting erupted from within (Fischer 476). Gandhi disagreed with the partition on religious and traditional grounds and predicted the violence that resulted. Thus, he devoted the remainder of his life to quelling violence between the disputing parties, and bringing about Hindu-Muslim religious equality through pilgrimages of peace (Parekh 23, Nanda 147), because he felt that all religions could be considered equal (Hick 131). His own life became a weapon in the war against violence, and he hoped that his sacrifice would act as a catalyst promoting peace and equality throughout India, as well as Pakistan (Parekh 23).

India achieved its independence on August 15, 1947 (Parekh 23). Gandhi remained focused on his pilgrimage and on January 13, 1948 began his final satyagraha, a fast unto death (Fischer 494), which was ultimately successful in ending the religious riots in both Pakistan and the Indian Union (Fischer 502). People, moved by his selfless action, pledged to ‘establish real peace’ between the dominions (Fischer 499). However, while he had many followers, there were still some who disagreed vehemently with his ideals and as a result Gandhi had many threats on his life (Parekh 24, Fischer 503-505). Instead of worrying for his life, Gandhi believed his death would act as a symbol to the country and achieve what he could not accomplish in his lifetime (Parekh 25). On January 30th, 1948 Gandhi was assassinated (Parekh 25).

Gandhi’s death proved to be incredibly influential in the events that would follow. It effectively united people in mourning the loss of India’s most beloved political peace activist, and calmed the conflict torn nation, and was instrumental in achieving the egalitarian society Gandhi has strived for during his life (Parekh 25). Gandhi exemplified the Karma Yoga path of selfless action, and he never wavered in his attempts to achieve a dharmically stable Indian society through religious and social equality. Gandhian policies and ideologies remain in Indian society and have also spread around the world in a ‘nonviolent revolution’ (Hick 203-204). His emphasis on morality, religion and non-violent cooperative negotiations have often been used as a template to base political decisions as well as decisions made in day to day life.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Chatterjee, Margaret (1983) Gandhi’s Religious Thought. Notre Dame: University of

Notre Dame Press.

Fischer, Louis (1950) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper and Row Publishers Incorporated.

Hick, John and Hempel, Lamont, C. (1989) Gandhi’s Significance for Today. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc.

Nanda, B. R. (2002) In Search of Gandhi: Essays and Reflections. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Parekh, Bhikhu (1997) Gandhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation





Islamic religious beliefs and traditions

Hindu-Muslim conflict

The partition of India

Indian National Congress

British colonialism

Constructive Programme

British salt tax and the salt satyagraha

The Non-cooperation Movement

Indian Class (Varna)/Caste system

Untouchables (Candala)

Pranami (Prananath) religious sect




Karma Yoga



Bhagavad Gita



Related Websites

Article written by: Karma Tiberg (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Ramana Maharsi


Venkataraman (later shortened to Ramana) Maharsi was born on December 30, 1879 to a couple from the brahmin class in Tirucculi, South India (see Herman 8). It may have been his family’s “curse” which led Maharsi to liberation and renunciation of normal life. “His household, according to tradition, was ‘cursed’ into surrendering one member of the family in each generation to become a monk or sannyasi (a ‘renunciate’) who would break all attachments to the world and live a life of holy solitude” (see Herman 8-9). After the death of Ramana’s father in 1891, the Maharsis moved to Madurai to live with the boy’s uncle (see Herman 9 and Godman 1). Here Ramana attended Scott’s Middle School and the American Mission High School, learned English and participated in outdoor sports and games (see Herman 9).

At the young age of sixteen Ramana underwent the sudden and irreversible transformation to a jivanmukta (“one who is liberated while still alive”) (see Herman 9-10 and Forsthoefel 246). On August 29, 1896 he was sitting alone in a room when he was abruptly struck with an overwhelming fear of death (see Herman 9 and Godman 1). He promptly lay down and essentially became “a corpse” by “stopping his breathing and closing his eyes” (see Herman 9). It was in this state that he became aware of the true nature of the Self. His attainment of moksa (“release” or “liberation”) drastically altered the rest of his life as he also realized the futility of carrying out everyday tasks (see Godman 2). Six weeks after his liberation, Ramana followed what he considered to be his destiny, left his family, threw away his money and worldly possessions and made his way to the sacred mountain of Arunacala (see Godman 1-2 and Sharma 1984:616). It was here that he spent the rest of his life “attracting loving attention, admirers and devotees from around the world…” (see Herman 10).

The first two or three years of his new life were spent in a state of intense absorption into his realized awareness. So much so that parts of his body were eaten away by insects, his fingernails and hair grew to incredible lengths and he scarcely ate. Slowly, over a period of several years he regained a state of physical normalcy without ever losing touch with his liberated consciousness which began to manifest itself as an “outer spiritual radiance” (see Godman 1). As word spread about the Hindu sage, people came from the far reaches of the world with their “questions, problems and concerns” (see Herman 11). Most of his teachings were conducted in a non-verbal manner. Ramana sent out a “silent force or power which stilled the minds of those who were attuned to it” and gave insight into the liberated state (see Godman 2). He felt this was the way in which people could understand his lessons in the most concentrated and forthright manner (see Godman 2). However, for those who were unable to understand his silent knowledge, Ramana occasionally gave verbal teachings (see Godman 2). He made himself available to visitors twenty-four hours a day and spent the rest of his life living in a small communal hall and delivering spiritual guidance (see Godman 3). In 1950, Ramana Maharsi contracted cancer and passed away at the age of 71 (see Herman 10).

Beliefs and Teachings

The attainment of Self-realization and liberation is the ultimate goal of the teachings of Ramana Maharsi (see Sharma 1984:619). The process by which this is to be achieved was one of the distinctions of Ramana’s beliefs. He advocated the importance of an individual “inward quest” to realize the “ultimate source of the limited ego” (see Forsthoefel 243-246). This quest was centered around the constant search into the question “Who am I?” (see Forsthoefel 246). Earnest inquiry into this question would bring a person to the awareness that the ego, or “I”, does not exist, thus destroying it (see Godman 53). In other words, “when the mind unceasingly investigates its own nature, it transpires that there is no such thing as the mind” (see Godman 50).

During one’s quest for liberation, and once Self-realization occurred, Ramana advocated assuming a “still” or “silent” mental state (see Herman 34 and Godman 13). Stillness during meditation on the question “Who am I?” allows for concentration on this topic only. This creates a “firm base for liberation” (see Godman 160). Once Self-awareness is known, an individual will have a “still mind which is adorned with the attainment of the limitless supreme Self” (see Godman 156). In other words, silence and stillness allow the identity of the Self to become assured (see Herman 13). Stillness is also strongly connected to Ramana’s emphasis on the individuality of the path to liberation.

Ramana insisted on the importance of personal experience in gaining liberation. He taught that learning from books was ultimately useless due to the fact that “no words, categories or concepts can apprehend the limitless Self” (see Forsthoefel 248). He also deemed the guidance of a spiritual guru (including himself) to be superficial and futile because a guru could not give an individual anything which they did not already have (see Godman 32). Each person has the ability to gain liberation; “all that is needed is that you give up your realization of the not-true as true” (see Godman 12). For Ramana, spiritual truth was unaffected by social and cultural differences. He promoted the thought that liberation is “here and now, available to any person, regardless of caste, stage, nationality or religion” (see Forsthoefel 245). On the subject of non-Hindu traditions he believed that “…their expression is the same. Only the modes of expression differ…” (see Forsthoefel 251).

Ramana’s teachings are considered to exemplify the jnana yogic path (see Godman 34 and Sharma 1984:623). Jnana yoga is “the way of knowledge” which is exactly what is gained through the destruction of the mind: true knowledge of the divine Self (see Herman 120 and Forsthoefel 247). However, this knowledge is not separate from the knower, nor is it an experience, it is “a direct and knowing awareness of the one reality in which subjects and objects have ceased to exist” (see Godman 10).

Ramana Maharsi’s life took place in the context of the Indian Independence Movement. However, his views on social activism did not match other Hindu sages alive at that time (ie. Mohandas Gandhi). Ramana did not support Indian nationalism nor did he support any kind of social involvement (see Sharma 1999:102). It was of his opinion that individuals should focus on Self-realization instead of on social action (see Herman 14 and Godman 213). It was in this way that they would realize that the world is not different from Themselves and ultimately, “there are no others to be helped” (see Herman 14). This is a view which Ramana had to defend many times (see Sharma 1999:100).


Ramana Maharsi is the only modern Hindu sage who is widely considered to be a genuine jivanmukta and who has spoken about this enlightened state at great length (see Sharma 1999:93). The sage “embodied the supreme excellence, the highest ideal represented in so many epic accounts, mythologies, and philosophical texts in the history of Hinduism” (see Forsthoefel 243). This gave him incredible appeal to not only the elite Indian classes but to lower castes and non-Hindus alike (see Forsthoefel 251). He represented an intense spirituality which seemed to manifest itself in a radiating “presence” (see Forsthoefel 255). This presence provided legitimacy for Ramana’s religious teachings, added to his popularity and quickened the spread of his ideas (see Forsthoefel 252 and Herman 10). In this way, he was extremely important wealth of information for students and scholars interested in the state of a jivanmukta (see Forsthoefel 257).

In addition, Ramana was influential in that his religious philosophy was accessible to all people, in their present lifetime (see Forsthoefel 242, 248). These ideas were particularly progressive during the time period and thus were highly influential to Hinduism as a whole (see Forsthoefel 248, 257). The cross cultural aspect of Ramana’s ideas also added to the attention he received from other religious groups around the world (see Forsthoefel 250). His ideas and unique life experience inspired many people and were highly regarded on a worldwide scale (see Forsthoefel 251).


Brunton, Paul (1952) Maharsi and His Message. London: Rider & Co.

Forsthoefel, Thomas A. (2002) “Weaving the Inward Thread to Awakening: The Perennial Appeal of Ramana Maharshi (sic).” In Horizons. Erie: Mercyhurst College. pp. 240-59.

Ganapatimuni, Vasishtha (1998) Sri Ramana Gita: being the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (sic). Tiruvannamalai : Sri Ramanasramam.

Godman, David (ed.) (1985) Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (sic). Boston: Arkana.

Herman, A.L. (1991) A Brief Introduction to Hinduism: Religion, Philosophy and Ways of Liberation. Boulder: Westview Press.

Maharsi, Ramana (1970, c1959) The collected works of Ramana Maharshi (sic). Arthur Osborne (ed.). New York: S. Weiser.

Sharma, Arvind (1999) “Jivanmukti in Neo-Hinduism: the case of Ramana Maharsi.” In Asian Philosophy. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Sharma, Arvind (1984) “Predetermination and Free Will in the Teaching of Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950).” In Religious Studies. London: Cambridge University Press.

(1995) Ramana Maharshi (sic) Part 1. New Delhi: Library of Congress Office.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mount Aruncala

Jnana Yoga

Indian Independence Movement



Mohandas Gandhi





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Marie Robertson (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the path of action. It is a means of preparing oneself for the attainment of moska, self-realization, which is the final goal of life in Hindu tradition (Rao 45). The concept of Karma Yoga has long been acknowledged in Hinduism, but it was not until the emergence of the Bhagavad Gita, a text dealing with the concepts of religion within one’s daily life, that it was viewed as a path toward self-realization. The Bhagavad Gita is based upon a scene in the epic Mahabharata, in which Arjuna is faced with the dilemma of obeying his dharmic duty to fight his cousins, the Kauravas, for rulership of the kingdom, or to ignore dharma, and renounce into a peaceful life, in which he may strive for moksa. Krsna, who identifies himself as the manifestation of god, advises Arjuna to enter battle (see Rodrigues 227-236). Traditionally, moksa was cultivated in the final stages of life, in which one renounces their life within society, to live as a forrest-dweller and samnyasin (see Rodrigues 148-159). This conflict, to choose between a life within a society or a life in which one may become liberated, is resolved in the Gita. The Gita teaches of there being more than one path to reaching the Absolute, the God-head, to attaining moksa (Sivaraman 188). Krsna teaches Arjuna of three paths to liberation: Jnana Yoga, the path of trancedental knowledge, Bhakti Yoga, the path of loving devotion, and Karma Yoga, the path of action. These paths may be undertaken by a person at any stage in life; therefore the Gita teaches of cultivating a renouncer attitude, without being a renouncer. Transforming the notions of karma and yoga, the Bhagavad Gita presents the notion of niskama karma, acting without interest or desire in the results of one’s actions, and applies it to yoga as a path of spiritual development, preparing an individual for pursuing moksa (Rao 48). The teachings of Karma Yoga are inspirational to ways of life. One exemplifier of such inspiration is Mahatma Gandhi, a political activist responsible for transforming both Indian and African societies (see Rodrigues 252-253). Karma Yoga is more than a path preparing one for moksa, it is a way of life both for individuals, as well as society.

Karma, in its original sense, is the “law” of cause and effect (Sivaraman 181). It is the notion that every action that one takes in the world, both of physical (act) or mental (thoughts, feelings) nature, leaves an impression on both the cosmic and human realms of the world and thus bears a consequence or result (Sivaraman 181). Karmic consequences, good or bad, are attached to the individual, and therefore determine their current, and future conditions (Sivaraman 181). Therefore, karma refers to the performance of deeds, which include specific caste duties, sacrifices and rituals that maintain the order of the world. The Hindu concept of spiritual re-birth lies within karma, as those who possess good karma may be subjected to a better rebirth, which includes being re-born into a higher caste (Sivaraman 181). Therefore, the original concept of karma suggests that human beings are attached to life in the world, and so, should act in a manner reflective of their desire to live a content life, and improve their place of re-birth (Sivaraman 181).

The notion of karma was reformed through the Bhagavad Gita. Karma refers to the performance of actions as a result of a motive, which is either egoistic or nonegoistic. Such actions do not bear consequences on the individual, as the result of any action is determined, and produced by god, and thus should be attributed to god (Singr 56). According to the Gita, it matters not what results come of any action, what matters is the motive behind each action (Sighr 71). Niskama karma, acting in the world disinterested in the results of such actions, and without desire for certain outcomes, is the reformed karma of the Bhagavad Gita (Rao 48). Embracing niskama karma in life while examining the motives behind each action one takes constitutes Karma Yoga (Singr 71).

Hindu philosohpy, specifically Sankhya philosphy, speaks of the dualistic nature of reality. Reality is composed of two entities: Purusa (the self) and Prakrti (the non-self) (see Rodrigues). Purusa is the soul within beings, and represents truth. Prakrti, on the other hand, is a force, it is our nature. Prakrti manifests as the buddhi (intellect), ahankara (ego) and manas (inner feelings of the heart and mind) of a being. According to the Gita, Prakrti is responsible for all action, while Purusa is unaffected by all that takes place (Singr 46). Ignorance is said to be the cause of all sorrow, and its force is bestowed upon a being when they identify themselves as the doer of action. Attaching actions, and results to the self feeds the ego self, motivating future actions and causes suffering when results of an action are un-agreeable (Edgerton 165). Ignorance binds the soul to the physical being, and blinds a person from seeing truth, from discriminating between Prakrti and Purusa. Moksa is thus, unattainable while in a state of ignorance (Singr 118). Karma Yoga allows a person to overcome ignorance through the purification of the mind (Rao 46).

Karma Yoga is the “discipline of detached activity” (Singr 71). Action is seen as inescapable, it is in the nature (prakrti) of beings to act helplessly, but it is in their power to control such actions (Deutsch 39). Prakrti is composed of three gunas (elements): rajas (passion), sattva (illuminous) and tammas (obstruction). The gunas are the controlling force over all action. Rajas, as the Gita teaches, is the “enemy”, as passion is thought to masque knowledge. Manas and buddhi, the mind and the understanding of a being, are impacted by rajas, as passion becomes internalized and seen as stemming from the self (Deutsch 39). In the epic, Mahabharata, Krsna teaches Arjuna that the mind is greater than the senses, reason is greater than the mind, and it is the being himself who is greater than reason (Deutsch 39). Through the practice of Karma Yoga, a person becomes able to examine and conceptualize the nature of action, non-action and wrong action, beginning to work at understanding the “way of action” (Deutsch 39). A being is seen as detached when they are able to truly discriminate the soul from the gunas of prakrti, understanding its separation from action (Singr 66).

The path of Karma Yoga is followed physically through detached action within the world, and mentally through the conditioning of the mind, appreciating the nature of action and the power within oneself to control the forces of prakrti. Yajna (sacrifice), is the technique used within Karma Yoga to lead one towards self-realization (Deutsch 163). The followers of Karma Yoga give up their lower self, their ego self containing desires and attachments, in light of their higher, spiritual self, their soul (Deutsch 164). The being is sacrificed for the soul. When a person chooses to follow the path of action they must concentrate their attention on the divine, their actions are expressions of the divine power that lies within their being. The actions a person takes should be selfless, having no underlying desire, not even the desire to achieve moska (Singr 103). Yajna is performed by taking selfless actions within the world, sacrificing the ego-self, as a being redirects involvement in its actions away from the results and toward their spirit (Singr 103).

The path of Karma Yoga leads a being through four stages of karma. Initially, karma influences the actions one takes for selfish reasons, such as desires and attachments. The actions begin to be motivated from the being’s enlightened desire to know their true self. Next, as one discovers the power of their own being, actions are determined by their personal dharmic law. Finally, actions are taken for the goodness of the action, they are disinterested and are the essence of a being’s true self (Singr 74). The stages of karma are steps in cultivating the essence of Karma Yoga. Through Karma Yoga, a being purifies their mind, and prepares itself to enter the path of knowledge (Rao 50).

Acting for the social good is an essential characteristic of Karma Yoga. The emergence of the path of action has led to the development of many social programs such as Rama krishna mission hospitals, as well revolutions within society (see Rodrigues 251-252). Mahatma Gandhi was a political activist who encompassed the essence of Karma Yoga. Gandhi’s life was characterized by detached action, for the benefit of others and for society. As the reality of social injustice came to his awareness, Gandhi set out on a journey to evoke change. Basing his life on the notion of niskama karma, and karma yoga, Gandhi created the concept of satyagraha (holding fast to the truth), and applied this to political activism (Cherian 86). Mahatma Gandhi reformed societies of South Africa and India through the concept of Karma Yoga, taking action for just causes without being concerned of the consequences such action might relay on an individual. It is through Gandhi’s active, non-violent resistance to social injustice that such societies began to change (Cherian 86).

The path of action purifies the mind of a being, and in so prepares it for attaining the transcendental knowledge characteristic of moksa (Rao 50). Karma Yoga can be adopted at any stage in life, and with so, can be viewed as a lifelong journey toward spiritual development, and ultimately the journey toward moksa. To embrace the path of Karma Yoga, one must take actions in the world, despite their results, and examine these actions with respect to their underlying motive and their nature, attributing the results of such actions as determined by god (Singr 63). To practice this path of action, one must sacrifice their ego-self, and focus their involvement in action on their true-self (Singr 73). Complete detachment from the results of action is the goal of Karma Yoga (Rao 49).

References and Further Recommended Readings

______ (1944) The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. Franklin Edgerton. Ed. Walter E. Clark. New York: Harvard UP.

______ (1968) The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. Elliot Deutsch. Canada: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada Limited.

_______ (2003) Hindu Spirituality: Volume Two. Ed. K.R. Sundararajan and Brithika Mukerji. India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd.

Cherian, Kenneth M (1984) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi: Book Review. Journal of Religious Thought 40.2: 86-90.

Rao, P (1992) The place of Morality in Karma Yoga. Darshana International 32.4: 45-50.

Rodriques, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The e-Book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Singh, Balbir (1981) Karma-Yoga. New Jersey: Humanities Press Inc.

Sivaraman, Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Related Research Topics



Bhakti Yoga

Jnana Yoga

Mahatma Gandhi

Dharma, Dharmic Duties

The Bhagavad Gita

The Mahabharata

Yajna Rituals

Sankya Philosophy

The Stages and Goals of Life in Hinduism



Websites Related to Topic

Article written by Patricia Eyolfson (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (On Mahatma Gandhi)

Chatterjee, M. (1983) Gandhi’s Religious Thought. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press.

Desai, Mahadev (1946) The Gita According to Gandhi. Amhedabad: Navajivan.

Erikson, E. H. (1970) Gandhi’s Truth. New York: W. W. Norton.

Fischer, L. (1959) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. Reprint Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Gandhi, M. K. (1982) An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Tendulkar, D. G. (1952-58) Mahatma: Life and Work of M. K. Gandhi, 8 vols. Bombay: V. K. Jhaveri.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar India. Gandhi was the youngest child of his father’s fourth wife, and it was his mother who taught him about the inner strength and sacrifice he would become known for (Watson 7). Belonging to the working class, the Vaisyas, Gandhi grew up in a well to do family as his father Karamchand was a successful businessman (Fischer 1950:12). While his father owned homes in Porbandar, Rajkot, and Kutiana (Fisher 9), Gandhi lived an ordinary childhood. In school he was a mediocre student, sometimes having learning troubles. As Gandhi himself once remembered “My intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw” (Fisher 1954:9). At the age of 13 Gandhi was married in an arranged marriage to another 13 year old named Kasturbai; a match made by their parents. Gandhi was not aware of the arrangement until all the plans were complete and later said his marriage was as if “two innocent children all unwittingly hurled themselves on the ocean of life, with only their experiences in a former incarnation to guide them” (Fischer 1954:10). Later on in life, Gandhi became a bitter enemy to child marriage because sex had obsessed him greatly in his child years (Parekh 1). After he finished school, Gandhi was faced with the decision of what career he would pursue. He thought of medicine but his father objected to the dissection of dead bodies; subsequently, he turned his attention to law. Gandhi learned about an English law course and degree that he could obtain and quickly jumped at the opportunity (Fischer 1954:12). However, elders in his caste rejected, in vain, the idea of him leaving for England because they believed the English had different morals. However, in order to gain acceptance and go, Gandhi made an oath that he would not touch meat, alcohol, or women. In September 1888, he set sail from Bombay for England (Watson 9).

In order to fit into English culture Gandhi found himself wearing a top hat, morning coat, striped trousers and spats, as well as participating in dancing and elocution lessons (Watson 9). However, it was a Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, which Gandhi read while in England that shaped his inspiration in life (Fischer 1954:15). The Bhagavad-Gita, an exquisite poem about the science and practice of yoga, inspired Gandhi. He felt that it was a metaphor in which the battlefield was the soul and Arjuna, the protagonist, was man’s higher impulses struggling against evil (Fischer 1954:16). Mahatma Gandhi could be regarded as a karma yogi; one who used the Gita to define the perfect karma yogi.

“He is a devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolution are firm, who is dedicated mind and soul to god, who causes no dread, who is not afraid of others, who is free of exultation, sorrow and fear, who is pure, who is versed in action yet remains unaffected by it, who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friend and foe alike, who is untouched by respect or disrespect, who is not puffed up by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is inconsistent with the existence at the same time of strong attachments” (Fischer 1954:18).

This is how Gandhi lived and he used this ideal of desirelessness to teach others of ahimsa (non violence). Gandhi said that “one person, who can express ahimsa in life, exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality” and even though it seems that passive resistance seems very ineffective, it is really intensely active and more effective in ultimate result (Misra & Gangal 52-53). In addition to nonviolence, Gandhi also taught satyagraha (adherence to truth) (Pant 5). Satyagraha is a combination of two words, satya (truth) and agraha (taking seizing, holding) and that one seizes hold of the truth (Hardiman 51). Gandhi knew that reason itself could not win an argument so to aid in his quest for truth he would often go through self inflicted suffering such as fasting (Hardiman 52). Gandhi believed greatly in adherence of non violence. As he once said, “truth is God and there is no way to find truth except the way of non violence” (Woodcock 7).

Before the great strides Gandhi made in his later years, his early career in London was not a success because he was too shy to voice his opinion in court. Therefore, in 1893, when he was sought after by a Muslim firm in South Africa, he was thrilled with the new job prospect and accepted the offer, sailing off to South Africa that same year (Parekh 2-3). While in South Africa he went through several experiences and challenges that would change the way he thought. Gandhi quickly learned of the racial prejudice that existed in South Africa because of the British and Dutch colonial activity. The first day of traveling to work on a railway carriage, Gandhi was beaten because he refused to give up his stage coach seat (Watson 9). In another situation where all Indians had to register and be fingerprinted, Gandhi used his method of satyagraha. Included among his non violent resistant acts were picketing in front of registration centers, burning cards, courting arrest and gracefully accepting punishment and suffering from police officers (Parekh 3). Gandhi realized that his methods of ahimsa and satyagraha worked because it reversed the “eye for an eye” mentality which, in his opinion, just makes the whole world blind (Fischer 35).

While still married, Gandhi gave up sexual intercourse at the age of 36 from 1906 until his death (Fischer 1950:72). This practice, known as brahmacharya, gave him a spiritual and practical purity that would purge him from weakness. Gandhi saw brahmacharya as a means of making himself equal to his tasks instead of being engaged in the pleasures of daily life and the propagation and rearing children (Watson 13). It signifed control of all the senses at all times and at all places in thought, word, and deed (Fischer 1950:72).

After twenty one years in South Africa Gandhi returned to his homeland in India. After his arrival, he traveled around India with “his ears open and mouth shut” to see what the social situation of India was like at the time (Parekh 6). After four years of being back in India he became an influential national leader because of his morals, visions, manners, self confidence and courage to stand up against established leadership (Parekh 11). After several years of using his approaches of ahimsa and satyagraha Gandhi was able to teach the meaning of swaraj or “self governance” to the Indian people by showing them what they could do (Pant 5). He believed that India needed general principles on how to govern the society, and then allow India to comprehend them in their own way (Parekh 75). Gandhi, like every Indian, wanted to be free of British domination, but also wanted more for his country. Gandhi said “I am not interested in freeing India merely from the English yoke. The movements, political freedom and social and economic freedom must go together” (Pant 16). Finally, on August 15th 1947 India gained independence from England because of the tireless work of Gandhi (Watson 57). He was a crusader for equal rights, respect for women and had removed the untouchability and thus he was given the title “Father of the Nation” (Pant 16).

The name Mahatma Gandhi is often thought to be Gandhi’s real name, however the name Mahatma is taken from Sanskrit meaning Great Soul. It is used to honor the man who gave Indians and the world self-respect and hope through his beliefs and actions. Interestingly Gandhi never personally thought that he deserved the honor of the title (Woodcock 2).

On the evening of January 30, 1948 during a prayer meeting Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead by a young Hindu by the name of Nathuram Godse who belonged to an extremist party (Watson 61). As Gandhi fell to the ground his last words were “He Ram, He Ram” (Oh God, Oh God) (Fischer 1950:505). His life journey was now over; Gandhi had left his mark on the world. He had left home as a young, timid man and through non-violence, adherence to the truth and belief in his people, he ended it as a Mahatma.


Fischer, Louis (1950) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper and Row.

Fischer, Louis (1954) Gandhi; His life and message for the world. New York: Mentor Press.

Hardiman, David (2003) Gandhi in his time and ours. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mirsra, K. and Gangal, S. (1981) Gandhi and the Contemporary World. Delhi: Chanakya


Pant, Jitendra (2002) Gandhi; Messiah of Peace. Toronto: Lustre Press.

Parekh, Bhikhu (1997) Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watson, Francis (1967) Gandhi. London: Oxford University Press.

Woodcock, George (1971) Mohandas Gandhi. New York: The Viking Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation





India Independence




Websites Related to Topic History/Gandhi/gandhi.html

Article written by Travis Petrisor (April 2006), who is solely responsible for the content .

The Yogas of The Bhagavad Gita

The practice of Yoga is a spiritual tradition in which millions of people worldwide have studied for many years. The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to join” or “to yoke” (McCartney 2). Modern Yoga which is practiced in the West is mainly thought of as postures and exercises aimed at keeping the body fit. This type of Yoga, also known as Hatha Yoga, involves proper breathing and meditation. Besides Hatha Yoga, many other types exist not only to keep the body fit but also to keep the mind fit spiritually. This includes a variety of actions devoted to each individual practice of Yoga involving techniques such as meditation and concentration to train the mind. The concept of meditation involves a method by which a person is able to stop all the turnings (vrtti) of thought (citta) one has. By detaching oneself from all thoughts, there is a shift from an external focus of attention to an inner one (Feuerstein 1991:187). Orthodox Hinduism holds that Yoga is more than just postures and exercise; its real power is said to be in training the mind to achieve moksa. Moksa can be understood as spiritual liberation or an ultimate state of realization (Singh 150). With knowledge of the transcendental Reality, we can answer some basic questions of human existence: Who am I? Where do I go? Why am I here? What must I do? Hinduism ideals suggest that without answers to these questions, one is merely adrift (Feuerstein 2003:15). Through proper practice one is believed to be closer to God and knowledgeable of the true nature of reality.

The Bhagavad-Gita or “Song of God,” a sacred text of Hindu philosophy, seems to have a large influence on Yoga. Included in The Bhagavad Gita is a conversation that took place between Krsna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the epic The Mahabharata. There, Arjuna struggles over killing his family and friends. Krsna, being a great friend and mentor, consoles Arjuna with his transcendental teachings on human nature and the purpose of life. Among these teachings, Krsna outlines three Yogic paths. These are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action. This Yoga focuses on self-less deeds or sacrifice undertaken for the sake of the Supreme and to purify the heart. According to a famous practitioner, Sri Chinmoy, Karma Yoga does not focus on the result of actions or the thought of gain by performing particular actions (Sri Chinmoy 382). With this immunity to the reactive and negative consequences of actions, it is believed that one can better manage mental associations. In this sense, one is thought to be unselfish and can therefore achieve moksa. It is commonly stated that being a Karma Yogi is not an easy endeavour. The process of working without a sense of attachment is a difficult task. But it seems that with patience and determination, it becomes easier and more pleasant to do.

Karma itself teaches that nothing happens by accident. It is said that it is either the outcome of a previous cause or it is the cause of a later effect. This is also why Karma Yoga is sometimes referred to as “cause and effect” Yoga (McCartney 114). Humans are free to act as they like, but it is the responsibility the way in which they act that is theirs (Singh 73). It is within the laws of Karma that states that nothing happens to a man/woman except insofar as it is the result of his/her own deed (Singh 73). We can also see Karma Yoga being practiced whenever the action being performed is for the benefit of others. Therefore, performing any task that is not for your benefit, such as cleaning up in a temple, is believed to be a part of Karma Yoga. “He whose understanding is unattached everywhere, who has subdued his self and from whom desire has fled — he comes through renunciation to the supreme state transcending all work” (Radhakrishnan and Moore 161). For the Karma Yogi, work is primarily for service and not for means of economic survival or psychic gratification (Feuerstein 1991:81). It is commonly understood that Karma Yogis work to protect and nurture everyone, including nonhuman beings. It has been said that a Karma Yogi does not succumb to failure, nor does he/she gloat on success. Karma Yogis do not forget or ignore the world but rather live for the world. In this view, one can be understood to have an ongoing sense of worldly struggles, but is never totally overcome by them. Everyone is forced to act in some way by Nature, but he who can do this selflessly and without attachment can attain inner wholeness and be a true Karma Yogi (Feuerstein 1996:20).

It is believed that selfless action comes before both Bhakti Yoga (love) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge) (Feuerstein 1991:82). In this sense, it seems logical for anyone who is interested in practicing and learning ancient techniques of Yoga, to start with Karma Yoga so as to learn self-realization first.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of Knowledge. This knowledge is of the Self, the Nature of God, the Universe and their mutual relationships (McCartney 191). It is thought that with this knowledge, the true realization of Brahman can be achieved. The Jnana Yogi feels that it is through the mind that this goal will be attained. Yogic martyrs claim that fulfillment of the mind is of supreme importance. As McCartney recalls, a person can stand on a cliff and see blue waves rolling up the beach and hear large waves breaking upon the sands and be filled with pure exhilaration by the experience. We would also be able to see the same pictures through a camera, or hear the same sounds from a microphone. It is the presence of exhilaration that would be missing from the latter experience. This means that something exists in humans which is absent in mechanical processes (cameras and microphones).

It is commonly stated that Jnana Yoga is the abolition of the concept dualism, which eventually leads to ones realization of the unity of the individual self with the Supreme Self (Sri Swami Sivananda 137). It is the process that converts the simple acts of seeing and hearing into an experience that is “I,” or the absolute true self and knowledge. Jnana Yoga has been thought of as being the “shortest and steepest” path to God, and also the most difficult one (McCartney 193). The process of discrimination between real & unreal and eternal & temporal is not easy. It is a long and difficult path, but can be very rewarding. One example in discriminating between reality and illusions would be to look at a piece of cloth. Cloth is made of thread. In the beginning the piece of cloth was thread and in the end, all that would be left of the cloth is thread. So in the end, a Jnana Yogi would see cloth as an illusion and only the thread as being real. Jnana Yogis do not want to escape life or death because they know that there is no such escape. It seems there is only escape of such ignorance into Knowledge and Light (Sri Chinmoy 383). Before practicing and mastering Jnana Yoga one must be involved in the lessons of other Yogic paths. This is beneficial because the acts of selflessness and strength of body and mind should be achieved before Jnana Yoga can be understood.

One modern Hindu sage, Ramana Maharsi, demonstrates the Jnana Yoga path. He taught a certain form of self-inquiry, of self-pondering inquiry, where one focuses on the I-thought and its source. This technique of inquiry is also known as vicara. This an adamant search in pursuit of the question “Who am I?”

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is simply service in Love and Devotion to God. It is the practice of Karma Yoga that will lead a person directly to Bhakti Yoga. It is known as the Yoga of Love and Devotion because of ones surrender completely to God. The Bhakti worshipper (Bhakta) worships a personal God. There is no concern of the “Absolute” or Brahman as in the other Yogas discussed thus far. Bhakti Yoga is monotheistic in that one believes in one, single, universal, all-encompassing God. Mainly, this has been devoted to the worship of Siva or Visnu (McCartney 150). The Bhagavad Gita was the first Hindu text to depict the Bhakti Yoga path. Depicted in the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna is seen as the object of love and devotion, hence the rise of Bhakti Yoga.

In Bhakti Yoga, one practices meditation by imagining his/her God being right there with them and by sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings one can be brought closer to their God. The Bhakta has a large commitment because through prayer, worship and rituals, one is being surrendered solely to God. This can be seen by an outsider as devotion and love to one’s parent or lover. “Through all his senses he realizes it as if it were a sensuous delight; with his heart and soul he feels it as a spiritual intoxication of joy.” (Feuerstein 1996:22). There are many aspects which illustrate the Yoga of Devotion. The true devotee is passionate, patient, self-controlled, determined and treats friends and foes the same. This is a person who is dear to their God (Radhakrishnan and Moore 144).

Bhakti Yoga can be traced as far back as 300 B.C. and seen as one of the oldest forms of Yoga (McCartney 150). One assumption for its presence can be based on its simplicity and because of this, its attraction from “commoners” who may be untutored (McCartney 149). It is believed that Bhakti Yoga does not require a lot of intellectual skills or great amount of knowledge. All it requires is emotion as a loving state of mind and the urge to worship. Bhakta Yogis believe that meditation is of great importance. It is thought that through meditation one can “graduate” the stages of devotion to God. There are two stages. First, an elementary stage which is the love for and worship of a personal God (such as love existing in a relationship between parent and child). Second, is a pure devoted love that comes to exist. God is now worshipped as the all-knowing Absolute (McCartney 160). As a Bhakta, every act performed everyday is one of devotion, regardless of getting anything in return. This love is believed to be demonstrated in action. One can spend a life time thinking about loving thoughts, but if these thoughts are never expressed, it is thought that one will have never loved at all (Feuerstein 1991:86). Bhakti Yogis believe that love is not a temporary high that comes and goes, but one that needs to be nourished as an ongoing spiritual disposition (Feuerstein 1991:85). Even when one is sad, hurt, angry or bored, love needs to exist. It is in these moments of doubt when love is needed the most.

One well known spiritual teacher, Sri Swami Sivananda, stated that each Yoga is a fulfillment of the preceding one (Sri Swami Sivananda 1). Karma Yoga leads to Bhakti Yoga which brings Jnana Yoga (knowledge). So to understand Jnana Yoga, one must first be experienced with Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga. It is thought that any practice or belief that is sincere will go straight to the Source. If you sincerely believe in something and practice it with good intentions, you will be rewarded.

Yoga is an extremely old and popular spiritual tradition. From a broad perspective, all types of Yoga seem to have the same purpose. This is for one to become less focused on the self and more focused on a “higher” Reality (Feuerstein 1996: 1). It is possible for anyone to practice Yoga regardless of age, sex, race or religious beliefs. Yoga is commonly known as a discipline rather than a therapy. Therapy is for those who are sick and unhealthy, discipline is needed even when one is healthy (Osho 21). Yoga has been said to be helpful in many ways including spiritual, physical and psychological. It is believed that by understanding and having total faith in what you practice be it Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga or Bhakti Yoga, one can be more in tune with oneself and the world around them.


Feuerstein, Georg (1991) Sacred Paths: Essays on Wisdom, Love and Mystical Realization. Burdett, NY: Larson Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1996) The Shambala Guide to Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (2003) The Deeper Dimension of Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

McCartney, James (1969) Yoga: The Key to Life. Johannesburg: Rider & Company.

Osho (1976) The Path of Yoga: Commentaries of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. MS, India: Thomson Press.

Radhakrishnan, S., and C.A. Moore (eds.) (1989) A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Singh, Balbir (1981) Karma Yoga: The Discipline of Action. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Sri Chinmoy (2000) The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy. San Diego: The Blue Dove Foundation.

Sri Swami Sivananda (no date) Science of Yoga (vol.5). Pondicherry, India: Swami Krishnananda.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Hatha Yoga






The Mahabharata



Yoga Sutras

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga






Ramana Maharsi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Andrea Werewka (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.