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The Bhagavad Gita and the Four disciplines (yogas)


Bhagavad-Gita: “Song of the Divine”

  •  Part of an epic (The Mahabharata) composed between 400 BCE and 400 CE

  • Setting: Civil War (families divided)

  • The Bhagavad-Gita records a lengthy dialogue between the military leader Arjuna and his charioteer – Krishna

  • Krishna is actually an avatar (incarnation) of the God, Vishnu

  • In his advice to Krishna, he summarizes and organizes the teachings of the Vedas

  • Teaches that four paths to God are valid. Each path is understood to be a discipline ("yoga").

  •  Emphasizes that in every case, one must perform his/her duty

I. Karma Yoga: The Way of Action

A. Definition: The way of action: service rendered without any interest in its effects and without any personal sense of giving does not generate negative karma.

B. Karma Yoga in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action.”

Thus Arjuna could fulfill his duty without accumulating negative karma.

C. Karma Yoga is exemplified in another epic, the Ramayana

  • Composed between 400 and 200 BCE

  • Vishnu incarnates as Lord Rama

  • Rama and Sita are faithful to the duties imposed upon them – even when logic suggests it would be better to follow a different course.


II. Jnana Yoga: The Way of Knowledge

A.      Description: The ultimate aim is complete detachment of the eternal Self from the temporary one. Once this is achieved, then there is nothing that separates the Self (the atman) from Brahman.

Method: Dispassion and discrimination


B. Jnana Yoga is exemplified in the philosophical systems of Hinduism.  Although there are six systems, we will consider only two.


•      Dualistic:Two states of reality:

•   Purusha -the Self - eternally wise, pure beyond change

•   Prakriti - cause of material universe

•      Major idea: All suffering stems from confusing the two states of reality. Forgetting the heights from which we have come and becoming intent on the joys and sorrows of earthly life.

2. Advaita Vedanta

•      Based upon the Upanishads

•      Monistic: atman and Brahman are actually one: waves are not distinct from the ocean.

•      Material life is an illusion:  Maya - power by which the Absolute veils itself.


III. Raja Yoga: The Path of Meditation

A. Description: Through meditation one can remove one's own consciousness from its awareness of this world of maya and to focus only on the ultimate reality of the cosmos' unity.

–  Ultimate Goal is samadhi "a super-conscious state of Union with the Absolute.”

B. Raja Yoga is exemplified in the teachings and practices of Pantajali.


IV. Bhakti Yoga: The Way of Devotion

A. Description:  Bhakti= intense devotion to personal manifestation of Brahman

The goal is communion with and nearness to the deity.

Intense devotion to a god "short circuits" the process of karma-samsara:  In other words, as a reward for one's devotion, God will deliver his followers from the ongoing cycle of birth and death.


B. Bhakti in the Bhagavad-Gita

Bhakti is  considered to be the best way for the present age
“Those who worship me, thinking solely of me, always disciplined, win the reward I secure.”


C. Bhakti yoga is exemplified in the Puranas

•      Puranas: Sanskrit texts of myths committed to writing 500 – 1500 CE

•      Most important stories tell about Krishna (Vishnu incarnate) as a mischievous, fun loving youth who wins the love of many women.

•      Their devotion to him and their sorrow in his absence become a model of bhakti.