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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 36: The Twelfth Chapter Begins – The Best of Yogins (Continued)

Types of practice are described in the coming verses, almost referring to the four yogas – jnana yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga and karma yoga. The first makes reference to the jnana yoga technique. Mayy eva mana adhatsva (12.8): “Let your mind be fixed on Me”; mayi buddhim nivesaya: “let your intellect also be rooted in Me”; nivasishyasi mayyeva: “you are already in Me”; ata urdhvam na samsayah: “there is no doubt that you are in Me only, provided that your mind and intellect shake not.”

The same point is also mentioned in the definition of yoga given in the Katha Upanishad. Yada panchavatishthante jnanani manasa sah, buddhis cha na vicheshtati tam ahuh paramam gatim (Katha 2.6.10): When the mind and the intellect are unified, and they do not stand as separate faculties of observation and perception, and this united psyche gets rooted in God Himself, the abode is immediately reached. But, we may find this difficult.

Sri Krishna anticipates the difficulty of the devotee in continuously establishing the united faculty of mind and intellect in God always. “If you cannot do this, I shall prescribe to you a lesser method.” That lesser method is almost the same as the raja yoga or ashtanga yoga technique. Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah (1.12) is a sutra of Patanjali. Atha chittam samadhatum na saknoshi mayi sthiram, abhyasa-yogena tato mam icchaptum dhananjaya (12.9): “Continued practice at concentration on Me may be attempted if whole-souled fixing of attention on Me is difficult. If you can unite yourself with Me wholly, fine; that should be considered as the jnana yoga technique. But if that is not possible, repeated attempts have to be made in fixing your mind on Me by techniques of daily routine – abhyasa yoga.”

Abhyase’py asamartho’si mat-karma-paramo bhava, mad-artham api karmani kurvan siddhim avapsyasi (12.10): “If this is also not possible – neither are you able to completely unite yourself with Me, nor are you able to practice concentration with effort every day – then devote yourself to Me in your daily behaviour.” Here mat-karma means ‘all actions devoted to Me’.

The great commentator Madhusudhana Saraswati’s says that this verse refers to the nine modes of bhakti that are indicated in the Bhagavatam: Sravanam kirtanam vishnoh smaranam pada-sevanam, archanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam (Bhagavatam 7.5.23). Sravanam: always hearing the glories of God through satsanga; kirtanam: singing the names of God; smaranam: always remembering Him; padusevanam: adoring His feet in the daily worship; archanam: worshipping in temples or in our own homes in a ritualistic method by shodashopachara puja, sixteen modes of worship; vandanam: offering prayers through mantras or in our own way; dasyam: considering ourselves as servants of the Lord Almighty, Supreme Being, Who is very far away from us because we are servants; sakhyam: considering ourselves as equal to God, as Arjuna considered himself as a friend of Sri Krishna; atmanivedana: the final devotion where we neither exist as devotees hearing the glories of God or worshipping God or chanting His divine name, but we completely offer ourselves to Him.

These kinds of devotion are supposed to be indicated in this tenth verse, where the Lord says that all our offerings should be to Him. Mad-artham api karmani kurvan siddhim avapsyasi: “You shall attain supreme perfection, or siddhi, by merely devoting yourself to Me in all your deeds or performances, if the repeated practice that is mentioned in the earlier verse is also difficult for you.”

Athaitad apy asakto’si kartum mad-yogam asritah, sarva-karma-phala-tyagam tatah kuru yatatmavan (12.11): “If even that is difficult – you cannot worship Me with devotion, you cannot follow these nine methods of worship, you cannot concentrate on Me by repeated practice every day, you cannot unite your soul with Me – if all these are difficult for you, then what do you do?”

“If all these three methods that I have delineated are also found to be difficult for you, I shall tell you the last method. Do your work as you do. All your duties, all your performances, the daily routines of your life – let them go on. The only thing is, do not expect the fruits of these actions. Do these works that you perform every day as a duty. ‘Duty for duty’s sake; work is worship’ is the motto that you may keep before Me. Do not expect anything from the work that you perform. Let it be an unselfish service that you render to people or to anyone for whose sake you are working.” This is karma yoga: sarva-karma-phala-tyagam tatah kuru yatatmavan. Thus, in these four verses we have brief indications of jnana yoga, ashtanga yoga, bhakti yoga and karma yoga.

Therefore, jnana is superior to practice, abhyasa. Now Sri Krishna gives a commentary on what He has said. Sreyo hi jnanam abhyasaj (12.12): “Jnana, or knowledge of your union with Me, is superior to the practice that you attempt for concentration on Me.” That is, wisdom – wisdom of God – is superior to just daily practice. Jnanad dhyanam visishyate: But jnana does not mean merely knowing in an academic or scriptural sense. We may know God through the study of the Bhagavadgita or the Upanishads. Here jnana is used in two different senses: the higher knowledge and the lower knowledge. The higher knowledge is that which has no object in front of it. The lower knowledge is that which is a means to knowing of something else, a means to the performance of work, etc. In the case where knowledge is of a lower type which has an object in front of it – it may be scriptural knowledge, academic knowledge, learning, whatever it is – it is inferior to meditation. Direct meditation is superior to knowledge which has an object in front of it.  Hence, higher knowledge – knowledge which has no object in front of it – is superior. But if we meditate with a desire for the fruits of our actions, this meditation is inferior to our renouncing the fruits of actions – because if we meditate with a love for the fruits of action, our selfishness persists. “So I consider karma-phala-tyaga, the abandoning of fruits or the result of all that you do, as finally superior even to meditation that is coupled with a desire for the fruits of action. From this kind of renunciation of the fruits of action, you will attain peace.” Tyagat santih anantaram: “You will get peace with these methods that I mentioned.”

Hence, these verses up to the twelfth are actual practical suggestions on the way of sadhana. We have a brief pithy statement here of what spiritual practice is, what sadhana is, what the four yogas are, and how we have to conduct ourselves with proportionate attention paid to the different yogas, according to our capacity and perhaps our stage of evolution.

The highest devotee has certain qualities. He may be a jnani, he may be a yogi, he may be a bhakta, he may be a karma-phala-tyagi – whatever he is, finally he is devoted to God. What are the characteristics of the supreme devotee of God? The verses that follow are considered as a scripture by themselves. Sometimes these verses are called amrtashtaka – eight verses that pour nectar into our ears. People have translated these eight verses into Hindi poetry, and they sing it. There was a very learned man, a great mathematician from Bihar, who sang this during Gurudev’s time in beautiful Hindi poesy, calling it amrtashataka – the eight nectarine streams flowing from the teachings of God.

Who is this great devotee? What are his qualities and characteristics? The qualities of the devotee have also been mentioned elsewhere in the Gita – for instance, at the end of the Second Chapter when the sthitaprajna lakshana was explained. A sthitaprajna is one who is established in superior understanding. He is also a devotee of the jnani type. And the qualities of a yogi were also mentioned towards the end of the Sixth Chapter. To some extent, we also have the description of the devotee of God towards the end of the Eleventh Chapter. And in the Thirteenth Chapter there is once again a description of a sage and saint who has transcended the gunas of prakriti, who is called gunatita – as we will see. So there are varieties of descriptions of the sage and the saint, according to the way in which he approaches the Almighty. The descriptions of a devotee given herein and in different places of the Gita actually correspond to the characteristics of a jnani, bhakta, karmayogi and yogi proper in the ashtanga yoga sense.

Here, in these eight verses, there is a summing up of the qualities of a devotee – not in one sense only, but in every sense. Whether he is a jnanin or a yogin or a bhakta or a karma yogin, whatever be his nature – how would he behave, what are his special qualities, how would we recognise that person, what kind of behaviour would we expect from that person? The details of the wondrous, beautiful, charming behaviour of a lover of God are described in the coming verses.