The Song of the Lord: The Bhagavadgītā and the Yoga of Devotion Flashcards Preview

YS-101 An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Yoga > The Song of the Lord: The Bhagavadgītā and the Yoga of Devotion > Flashcards

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What is the Bhagavadgītā?

Meaning: Song of the Lord

700 Sanskrit verses, 18 chapters

6th book of the larger Mahābhārata epic

Discourse between God, Kṛṇa and the warrior Arjuna

Takes place on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra, at the outset of a great family battle, the Pāṇdavas and the Kauravas

Tale about one's moral-cosmic duty (dharma), action (karma) and its consequences, and the true nature of the Self (ātman)

A synthesis of many early strands of yoga, asceticism, and a critique of Vedic ritualism

An embodied in-the-world approach to spirituality, and engaged action in the world, ultimately as devotion (bhakti) to God


In translation

one of the most widely translated and read texts in the world

First English translation by Charles Wilkins in 1785


Epic context

Mahābhārata (100 000+ verses)

BhG is 6th book of the epic

Sometimes considered the 5th Veda / śruti (head)

Vaiṣṇava text; important for the Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition

Attributed to the scribe Vedavyāsa who narrated it to Gaṇeśa

Can be dated c 400 BCE - 400 CE

Man layers, stages, oral bardic tradition, later written

Later layers: early teachings on the philosophy of Yoga and Sāṅkhya philosophy, influence of Buddhism


Bhagavadgītā summary

Story of a familial battle between sets of cousins: Pāṇdavas and the Kauravas

A tale of dharma vs adharma - good vs evil

Pāṇdava brothers exiled into the forest for 12 years after "crooked" dice match

Returne to proclaim the kingdom

A great battle is set to ensue at Kurukṣetra

Narrative frame of the Gītā: Sanjaya speaks to the blind king Dhṛtarāṣṭra

Dialogue between the warrior (kṣatriya) Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna


Arjuna's Dilemma

"O Krishna, seeing these, my own people, standing before me eager to fight, my limbs fail, my mouth is parched, trembling lays upon my body and my hair is caused to bristle with distress...

I do not desire victory, O Krishna, nor the kingdom that I lost, or pleasures. Of what use is the kingdom to us, O Govinda? Of what avail are enjoyments, or for that matter life? Upon the destruction of the family, the everlasting family lawy (kula-dharma) collapse. Once the law (dharma) has perished, lawlessness (adharma) befalls the whole family"

Having thus spoken in the midst of conflict, Arjuna sank down on the chariot seat, casting down bow and arrow, his mind agitated with grief


Dharma and Varṇa

dhṛ = to hold up, to maintain, support, sustain

dharma = one's duty, social/moral obligation, virtue, righteousness, religion, law, justice, etc

svadharma = one's personal dharma

kuladharma = family dharma

jātidharma = birth/caste dharma

varṇa = color, social rank

jāti + varṇa = so-called "caste system"


4 major Varṇa groups

1. Brahmin = priests, ritual specialists, knowers of the Veda (mouth)

2. Kṣatriya = warriors, royalty, kings, governors (arms)

3. Vaiśya = merchants, artisans, farmers (thighs)

4. Śūdra = laborers, service providers, low-caste (feet)

adhikāra = jurisdiction

Proper dharma -> ṛta = cosmic/social harmony


The eternal nature of the self

"This Self is not born nor does it ever die, nor having-come-to-be-shall it again cease-to-be. This unborn, eternal, everlasting, primordial Self is not slain when the body is slain

For, certain is the death of all-that-is-born and certain is the birth of all-that-dies. Therefore, in regard to this inevitable matter, you should not grieve


One Own's Duty


"Further, considering your own dharma, you should not waver. Truly, for a warrior, nothing better exists than a battle fought according to dharma.

Now if you will not engage this lawful combat (dharmya-yuddha), then, by disregarding both your own dharma and honor, you will incur sin (pāpa)

Better is one's own dharma carried out imperfectly than another's dharma well performed. It is better to find death in the performance of one's own dharma, for another's dharma instills fear


Action and its Fruits


In action alone is your rightful interest (adhikāra), never in its fruit (phala). Let not your motive be the fruit of action (karmaphala); not let your attachment be to inaction (akarma).

Not by avoiding actions does a person enjoy the transcendence of action, nor by renunciation alone does he approach perfection.

For, not even a moment can anyone ever remain without performing action. Every being is indeed unwittingly made to perform action by the primary-qualities (guṇa) born of primordial nature (prakṛti)


Krishna's Divine "Descent"


For, whenever there is a diminishing of dharma, O descendant-of-Bharata, and an upswing of adharma, then I create Myself in manifest form

For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of wrongdoers, for the sake of establishing dharma, I come-into-being from age (yuge yuge)

You are the supreme Brahman, supreme abode, supreme purifier, the eternal divine Spirit, primordial God, unborn, all-pervaiding


Theism in the Gītā

avatāra theory, Sanskrit ava = to cross over + root tṛ = away, down

Divine descent

Viṣṇu's 10 avatāras


Different traditions: Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu is Supreme (brahman)

Monotheism, yet...

"Even those who are devoted to other deities and worship them endowed with faith - they, verily worship Me, O son-of-Kunti, although not according to established ordinance"


Chapter 11: Kṛṣṇa's Cosmic Form

Kṛṣṇa bestows Arjuna with divine eyes (divya-cakṣu)

"behold my divine yoga" (yogam aiśvaram)

Kṛṣṇa's cosmic form (viśva-rūpa)

Sanjaya calls Kṛṣṇa the Great Lord of Yoga (mahāyogeśvara)

Arjuna's mystical experience

What Rudolph Otto termed the mysterium tremedum et fascinans. Divine mystery both fear-inducing and fascinating

Awe-inspiring "psychedelic" raw experience of God

Mind blown and filled with fear, Arjuna requests that Kṛṣṇa return to his calming human form


Yoga in the Gtīā

the word yoga is found 78 times in the Gītā, appearing in every chapter except three (1, 15 and 17)

The word yoga and related words, such as yogin (28 times) and yukta (49 time), appear 155 times

Over 20% of the Gītā's verses contain the word yoga or its related forms appear

A typology of yogas: yoga mārgas (paths)

Karmayoga = the path of Action

Jñānayoga = the path of Knowledge

Dhyānayoga = the path of Meditation

Bhaktiyoga = the path of Devotion


Sāṅkhya and Yoga

Long ago, I proclaimed a twofold way-of-life in this world, O Anagha - Jñānayoga for the followers of Sāṅkhya, and Karmayoga for the yogins

Yoga = Karmayoga
Sāṅkhya = Jñānayoga



Steadfast in yoga, perform actions abandoning attachment, O Dhanamjaya, always remaining the same in success and failure. Such equanimity is called yoga

The one who is yoked through the intellect abandons both well-done and ill-done actions. Hence yoke yourself to yoga. Yoga is skill in acions - yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam



Better than the material sacrifice is the sacrifice of knowledge. All action is completely consummated in knowledge

As a kindled fire reduces its wood fuel to ashes, so the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes.

For there is here on earth no purifier like knowledge, and one who is perfected in yoga will find this by himself in time within the Self

The faith-filled yogin intent on That Self with senses restrained, attains knowledge. Having perfected knowledge, he will quickly attain supreme peace

Therefore severing this doubt with the sword of knowledge, born of ignorance, seated in your heart: Resort to yoga, O descendant of Bharata! Arise!



Establishing a stable seat for himself in a pure place, neither too high nor too low, with a cloth, deerskin, or kusha-grass for covering

there making the mind one-pointed, with the activity of mind and sense activity controlled, seated on the seat, he should yoke himself in yoga for the purpose of self purification

Holding trunk, head, and neck even, motionless, and steady, gazing relaxedly at the tip of the nose, and without looking round about

with tranquil self, devoid of fear, stedfast in the vow of chastity, controlling the mind, with his attention on Me, yoked - the yogin should sit, intent on Me

Thus ever yoking himslef, the yogin controlled mind approaches peace; the supreme extinction (nirvana) which subsides in Me

When the mind is restrained and abides in the Self alone, and is devoid of longing for all objects of desire - then the yogin is called "yoked"

As a lamp standing in a windless place flickers not - that simile is recalled when a yogin of yoked mind practices the yoga of the Self



The yogin is greater than ascetics. He is thought even greater than knowers, and the yogin is greater than the performers of ritual actions. Therefore, be a yogin O Arjuna!

Among all the yogins, moreover, he who worships Me endowed with faith, and whose inner self is absorbed in Me, is deemed to be the most yoked to Me

But those who are renouncing all actions in Me, who are intent on Me - they worship Me, by contemplating Me through no other means than yoga

For those whose mind is fixed on Me, I become before long, the uplifter from the ocean of the cycle of death (samsara)

For better than practice is knowledge. Superior to knowledge is meditation. From meditation comes the relinquishment of action's fruit. From relinquishment comes immediate peace.

The yogin who is ever content, self-controlled, of firm resolve, with mind (manas) and wisdom faculty (buddhi) offered up in Me, who is devoted to Me - he is truly dear to Me

Karmayoga < Jñānayoga < Dhyānayoga < Bhaktiyoga


The Supreme Secret of Yoga

Hear again My supreme word, most secret of all. You are thus surely loved by Me. Therefore, I will tell you wherein lies your welfare

Be mindful of Me, devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, make reverence to Me. thus you will come to Me. I promise you truly for you are dear to Me

Relinquishing all dharmas, come to Me alone for shelter. I will release you from all sins. Do not grieve!


Arjuna's doubt is expelled

Thus has knowledge more secret than any other secret been declared to you by Me.
Reflecting on this completely, then do as you wish.

Arjuna said: " Destroyed is my confusion and through your grace I have obtained recollection. I am resolved; all uncertainty is gone. I will do your bidding!



The Bhagavadgītā within the Mahābhārata epic

Contains numerous teachings on Sāṅkhya, Yoga, and the philosophical doctrine of the Upaniṣads. Assimilated into a Kṛṣṇa bhakti tradition; wherein Kṛṣṇa = Brahman

Subtle critique/reinterpretation of Vedical ritual (yajña)

A moral tale of dharma and its layers. How to reconcile one's svadharma with their kula/-jāti-dharma

Though Kṛṣṇa's teachings are specific to Arjuna, as a warrior, its message would appear universal

Just war theory? Does the Gītā justify violence? For some yes, for Gandhi no - understood symbolically

All of this is thaugt through the framework of various paths/disciplines of yoga: Karmayoga, Jñānayoga, Dhyānayoga, and ultimatley, Bhaktiyoga