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Yoga in the Bhagwad Geeta

by T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'

In the last five verses of the Geeta, Sanjaya sums up the dialogue between Arjuna and Shri Krishna. It is significant to note that he refers to Shri Krishna as ‘Yogeshwara’, the lord of yoga. What is meant by yoga? In simple words it means communion, addition, merger, combination or contact. On the spiritual level it means a state where the individual soul, ‘Jeevatma’ merges with the universal soul, ‘Paramatma’. At the practical level it connotes a situation when all our deeds, physical, verbal and mental are related to the Lord. There are two definitions in the Geeta of yoga. One is that it means efficiency in one’s deeds, ‘yogah karmasu kaushalam’. The other is that it means balanced state of mind, ‘samattvam yoga uchyate.’ If for a moment the spiritual message of the Geeta is set aside and only the mundane aspects are taken into consideration, it would be clear that we are advised to relate every thing to Him, who is ‘the observer, the one granting permission, the protector, the enjoyer and the master seated inside us, B.G. 13.22’ Now that the Hero of this sacred text is Master of the yoga, it is no wonder that all the eighteen chapters are related to yoga of one form or the other and are named accordingly.

The first chapter is called the ‘Yoga of Despondency of Arjuna.’ The grief in the mind of Arjuna is that he is required to fight his own kith and kin, his elders who are worthy of respect and reverence. So he puts forward his grief before the Lord in these words, ‘I have no desire for the kingdom if I have to pay this price. How can I be happy after killing my own people ?’ Since he relates his grief and misgivings to his Lord in this chapter, it is given the name of ‘Arjuna vishada yoga’.

The second chapter deals with a definite and well reasoned knowledge called ‘Sankhya’. Arjuna expresses before his mentor the confusion that he is facing in determining what his duties are, prostrates before Him and begs of Him to show him the right way, ‘yat shreyah syat nischitam bruhi tanme.’ He pleads, ‘Please tell me definitely what is good for me.’ After listening to a detailed reply, he puts another question about a steadfast person and his qualities. These are narrated in verse number 55 et. seq. The entire chapter connects Arjuna with Shri Krishna through the well reasoned knowledge called sankhya, about the individual and universal soul as also the supreme state called ‘Brahmi stithi.’ Thus the chapter is rightly called ‘Sankhya yoga.’

The third chapter deals exclusively with deeds and duties, the seed of which had already been sown in the previous chapter (2.47.) Again Arjuna is confused whether knowledge is superior to action or vice versa. The Lord clarifies that the path of knowledge is for the discerning and that of action for the active. He lays stress on two things, (i) performing obligatory duties without attachment, ‘anasakhti’ and (ii) surrendering all actions unto Him, ‘karmani mayi sanyasya’ B.G.3.19 and 30. Thus the individual soul is required to merge with the universal soul by means of un-attachment and surrender. This is the ‘Karma yoga’ or communion with the Lord through the action, the name given to this chapter.

The fourth chapter is one of those chapters which have different names in different editions. The most common name given to this chapter is ‘jnana-karma-sanyasa yoga’ the yoga of renunciation of action in knowledge. In some editions the name given is ‘Karma Brahmarpana yoga.’ The yoga of offering actions to the Supreme. I would personally favour the latter as this aptly brings out the essence of this chapter. In this connection one has to closely study shloka number 24 which says, ‘the oblation, the fire, the giver and the receiver of the oblations, all are Brahman only. One who cognises Brahman alone in his actions attains Him. Thus offering one’s actions to the Divine creates communion with Him and this becomes the yoga of offering actions to the Supreme.

In reply to the very first question in the fifth chapter, the Lord says that the performance of action and dedicating it to the Divine is superior to renunciation of actions. The kernel of this chapter is verse 10 wherein it has been stated that he who acts abandoning attachment, dedicating his deeds to the Supreme is untainted by sin as a lotus leaf is in water. This dedication of action is in itself yoga as it helps make contact with the Lord. In effect, therefore ‘Karma-sanyasa’, the renunciation of action, the name given to this chapter and ‘karma Brahmarpana’, offering actions to the Lord, the name given to the previous chapter are one and the same. To make a distinction, perhaps , Adi shankara has adopted only Sanyasa Yoga, the Yoga of renunciation, as the name of the fifth chapter. For it is in this chapter that renunciation has been explained as not being inaction but action performed on behalf of the Divine. This attitude also creates constant communion with the Divine and therefore this chapter is appropriately named as Yoga of renunciation of deeds and actions.

The chapter sixth has been differently named as Yoga of meditation ‘Dhyana Yoga’ and yoga of self restraint, ‘Atma Samyama Yoga’. No doubt there is a detailed description of meditation - how, where and when of it, yet the underlying current in this chapter is that of self restraint. In reply to some relevant questions put by Arjuna about the hurdles in controlling one’s mind, Shri Krishna concedes that mind is hard to control, but hastens to add that by practice and non-attachment it can be controlled. The Lord explains that a Yogi carries forward his experience from one birth to another and perfects his Yoga, ‘ Aneka janam sansiddhah tato yanti paraam gatim’ B.G 6:45. Thus the message is loud and clear that through self-restraint and self-control, one is able to merge with the supreme and therefore the Yoga in this chapter has been called ‘Atma Samyama Yoga’.

The 7th Chapter is called Jnana-vijnana Yoga. While there is no dispute about the meaning of Jnana, the knowledge, the word Vijnana has been variously interpreted as realisation, application superior knowledge or experience. Shri Abhinavgupta, the great philosopher from Kashmir has said, ‘Jnana-Vijnana, jnana kriya eva’, i.e. it connotes knowledge and its application. In other words, the former would mean pure science and the latter the applied one, represented respectively by the Goddess Saraswati and the Goddess Lakshmi. The Lord acknowledges that all types of seekers, whether men in distress, men desirous of knowledge, men after wealth, or men of wisdom are noble, but it is the wise ones who are dear to Him as He is to them. This is so because the wise are established in the Divine. This communion with the divine through the knowledge, both pure and applied, is called the Yoga of Jnana-vijnana.

Next comes chapter 8th which is rightly called ‘Akshara Brahma Yoga’, the Yoga of the imperishable supreme. In some editions it has been called ‘Brahmakshara nidesha Yoga’, yoga of the direction towards the imperishable Lord. Shri Krishna makes it explicitly clear that he who constantly remembers me easily attains me and having attained me, these noble souls are freed form cycle of re-birth. Therefore He advises, ‘Think of me alone at all times. B.G - 8:7’. Thus concentrating all the time on that imperishable Brahman is the Yoga, unique and unparalleled.

Rajavidya-Rajaguhya yoga is the name given to chapter 9. This means that this chapter gives out the sovereign science and sovereign secret. The sovereign science revealed herein is that the universe is pervaded by the Divine and that all beings exist in Him. He is the seed imperishable of the entire creation, ‘beejam-avyayam.’ The sovereign secret given out is that the Lord provides gain and security to those who remain ever devoted to Him, ‘tesham nityabhiyukhtanam yoga-kshemam vahami-aham.’ Yoga in this context means providing something which is wanting or gain. Kshema means giving protection to whatever one has or security. The Lord advises that ‘whatever you do, all your actions should be an offering unto me and this way you shall come to me, B.G. 9.27 and 34.’ Understanding this supreme science and supreme secret also leads to the communion of the soul with the Supreme and thereby, constitutes yoga.

Chapter 10 is called ‘Vibhuti yoga,’ or the yoga of the contact with the Divine Glory. What better yoga there can be than perceiving and experiencing the glory of the Lord who is the master of this entire cosmos. The Lord says, ‘I am the seed, I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings. My divine manifestations are endless and an individual being is a spark of my splendour. B.G. 10. 20/39/40/41.’ And when yoga takes place it is this spark of His splendour that gets merged with the universal, eternal and immortal splendour that the Divine is.

In the opening shloka of chapter 11, Arjuna admits that all his delusion has been dispelled by the discourse that he has heard. Now he wants to have a glimpse of the Supreme Lord whom he addresses as Yogeshwara. In response to his this request the Lord shows him His cosmic form and seeing that he prostrates before Him. Terrified as he feels on seeing this spectacle, he begs of Him to appear in the ‘Deva Rupa’, the gentle human or the four-armed Vishnu form. Shri Krishna obliges and makes an important statement, ‘I cannot be seen in this form by any means, not even by Vedas but by unswerving devotion only. ‘Naham Vedairna…..shakya evamvidho drashtum. Bhaktya twananyaya shakyah…B.G 11.53/54.’ The vision that Arjuna had of the cosmic and gentle human forms of the Lord brought him in close contact with Him and this justifies the name given to this chapter.

Having said that the Lord can be seen only by an unflinching devotion, the next chapter 12 details the qualities of a devout who is the beloved of the Lord. Among other things the devout is required to be full of faith and keeping the Lord in view as his supreme goal, ‘Shraddanah matparamah, 12.20’ Since the devotion, ‘Bhakti’ has been described in detail in this chapter, it has aptly been named as Bhakti yoga, or communion through devotion.

The thirteenth chapter is yet another chapter which has been given different captions by different scholars. It has been variously called as '‘Prakriti-purusha nirdesha/viveka yoga” or the yoga pointing to/differentiating Nature from the Supreme Self, and ‘Kshetra-kshetrajna vibhaga yoga,’ or the yoga of the classification between the field and knower of the field. It has been explained in this chapter that the body is the field and the in-dweller Divine is the knower of the field. It has been made clear that the Nature and the Supreme Self both are beginning-less. The former is the means to the cause and effect syndrome and the latter causes enjoyment of pain and pleasure, B.G. 13.20/21. It is the Purusha seated in the Prakriti, who experiences the ‘Gunas’ born of it. The Purusha himself is the knower of the field and stays in the field in varying capacities of the Observer, the Giver of permission, the Supporter, the Enjoyer and the Supreme Master. Perceiving this with an eye of wisdom helps a person attain the Divine and that is the yoga of discernment described in this chapter.

The 14th chapter is captioned, ‘guna-traya-vibhaga yoga’ yoga of the division of the three gunas or qualities. In this chapter the three types of characteristics have been identified, described and their effects analysed. It has been stated that one must cross over these three gunas and the secret of doing so lies in poise, equanimity and balanced attitude. The Lord says, ‘having crossed these three gunas, a person attains immortality, Gunaetan-atitena treen dehi…..amritam-ashnute, B.G.14.20.’ In other words such a person merges with the Divine and that is the yoga realised by differentiating the three gunas and rising above them.’

Let us now take up chapter 15, which is called ‘Purushottama yoga’ or the yoga of the Supreme Self. In this chapter three types of ‘Purushas have been described : the perishable or all the beings, the imperishable or the one seated within the beings and the Supreme or the one who transcends the remaining two. It is this Supreme Self which pervades and sustains the three worlds. ‘yo loka-trayam-avishya vibharti, B.G 15.17.’ About this Supreme Shri Krishna says, ‘Vedaischa sarvair-aham-eva vedyah,B.G.15.15’ I am the one to be known through the Vedas. It is this Supreme Self that the seeker desires to merge with, and so the name of the chapter stands justified.

The 16th chapter is designated as, ‘Daivasura sampad vibhaga yoga,’ or the yoga of the classification of good and bad traits in a person. These traits have been listed out and it has been stated that those with bad qualities of lust, anger, greed etc; fall into a state still lower and never ever reach the Lord, ‘mam-aprapyaiva….yantyadhamam gatim, B.G.16.20’ On the other hand the qualities of compassion, renunciation, truth, purity, fearlessness etc; help a person attain the highest position, ‘yati param gatim, B.G.16.22.’Therefore, in order to attain communion with the Divine we have to have full knowledge of these requisite qualities, for which the Shastras are the authority, ‘Pramana, B.G.16.24.’

The penultimate chapter 17th is named ‘Shraddha-trayi-vibhaga yoga,’ or the yoga through the three types of faiths. In the Geeta everything is said to be of three types. The food we eat, the nature we possess, the actions we perform and so on, everything is either related to light, ‘sattavika’, or to fire and passion, ‘rajasika’, or related to the darkness, ‘tamasika.’This can also be classified as superior, ordinary and inferior. Similarly the faith is also stated to be of three types depending upon one’s disposition, one’s Deity, one’s food and one’s resolve. The faith when applied to austerity & penance, ‘tapas’, alms giving, ‘dana’, and sacrifice, ‘yajna’ makes them a reality, reality,’Sat’ and these very acts performed without faith become a non-reality, ‘Asat’. It has further been stated in this chapter that the three sacred words, OM, TAT and SAT are the three ways of reciting the name of Brahman, the Supreme. Uttering these words leads to liberation and thus this chapter has correctly been named as Yoga through discriminating between faiths of three types.

The 18th chapter is designated as Sanyasa Yoga, the Yoga of renunciation at some places and Moksha Sanyasa, the Yoga of liberation through renunciation at other places. Since the chapter 5 is named as Yoga of renunciation or Yoga of renunciation of actions, it would be better to adopt the latter. In chapter 5, a seeker is asked to perform all his actions on behalf of the Divine, which connotes renunciation of action. In this chapter, a complete surrender before the Lord has been prescribed which would lead to merger with Him. Defining the word Sanyasa, it has been stated that it means renouncing those actions which are performed for desired objectives, ‘Kamya Karmas’. Similarly Tyaga has been defined as abandonment of the fruits of all actions. It has been explained, how, detachment leads to the supreme devotion, a state of freedom from actions, knowledge of the Divine, and, finally, complete merger with Him. A special attention may be paid to Shlokas 63 to 66. The Lord says, ‘I have given you a relatively more profound knowledge, reflect on it and then do what you like’. The Lord hastens to add, ‘there is however, yet another knowledge which is most profound, and which I shall give you now. Fix your mind on me, be devoted to me, renounce everything and take refuge in me. I shall liberate you and you shall come to me.’

Thus the message of Shri Geeta is unequivocal that surrender leads to liberation. It makes the seeker, ‘Yukhta’, or merged with the Divine, who is Sat, Chit and Anand, Being, Consciousness and Bliss, and thereby he becomes ‘Mukhta’, emancipated and liberated. In other words, he becomes the Master of the Yoga, ‘ Yogeshwara’ himself.

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