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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

by Swami Krishnananda

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

Types of practices 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 ādhatsva (12.8): “Let your mind be fixed on Me”; mayi buddhiṁ niveśaya: “Let your intellect also be rooted in Me”; nivasiṣyasi mayy eva: “You are already in Me”; ata ῡrdhvaṁ na saṁśayaḥ: “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. Yadā pañcāvatiṣṭhante jñānāni manasā saha, buddhiś ca na viceṣṭati, tām āhuḥ paramāṁ gatim (Katha 2.3.10): 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 unity of the mind and intellect in God always. “If you cannot do this, I shall prescribe to you a lesser method,” says the Lord. That lesser method is almost the same as the raja yoga or ashtanga yoga technique. Abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tan nirodhaḥ (Y.S. 1.12) is a sutra of Patanjali. Atha cittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śaknoṣi mayi sthiram, abhyāsayogena tato mām ichāptuṁ dhanaṁjaya (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.”

Abhyāsepy asamarthosi matkarmaparamo bhava, madartham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi (12.10): “If this is also not possible—neither are you able to completely unite yourself with Me, nor are you able to practise concentration with effort every day—then devote yourself to Me in your daily behaviour.” Here matkarma means ‘all actions devoted to Me’.

The great commentator Madhusudhana Saraswati says that this verse refers to the nine modes of bhakti that are indicated in the Bhagavatam. Śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇaṁ pāda-sevanam arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ sakhyam ātma-nivedanam (S.B. 7.5.23). Śravaṇaṁ: always hearing the glories of God through satsanga; kīrtanaṁ: singing the names of God; smaraṇaṁ: always remembering Him; pāda-sevanam: adoring His feet in daily worship; arcanaṁ: worshipping in temples or in our own homes in a ritualistic method by shodashopachara puja, sixteen modes of worship; vandanaṁ: offering prayers through mantras or in our own way; dāsyaṁ: considering ourselves as servants of the Lord Almighty, the 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; ātma-nivedanam: the final devotion where we do not exist as devotees hearing the glories of God, 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. Madartham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi: “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 aśaktosi kartuṁ madyogam āśritaḥ, sarvakarmaphalatyāgaṁ tataḥ kuru yatātmavān (12.11): “If even that is difficult—if 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: sarvakarmaphalatyāgaṁ tataḥ kuru yatātmavān. 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. Śreyo hi jñānam abhyāsāj (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 of God is superior to just daily practice. Jñānād dhyānaṁ viśiṣyate: 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 of knowing 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 karmaphalatyāga, 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.” Tyāgāc chāntir anantaram: “You will get peace with these methods that I mentioned.”

Hence, these verses up to the twelfth are actual practical suggestions on 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.