The Bhagavad Gita | Study Guide


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The Bhagavad Gita | Chapter 12 : The Yoga of Devotion | Summary



Arjuna sets the chapter's question by asking whether it is better to have devotional love for Krishna or for the less tangible, unmanifest God. Krishna replies that both routes will lead to understanding but recommends devotional love for Krishna's personification in the Gita for embodied beings. Worshipping Krishna in this concrete form gives worshippers a clear focus, he explains. Worshipping the vast God as the essence permeating all things will eventually lead devotees to understanding, but this form of worship involves more work. Krishna insists that meditating wholly on Krishna will lead a person to him. If such meditation is not possible, then living a life devoted to Krishna will also bring a person to Krishna in the end.

Krishna instructs Arjuna how he might become perfect in yoga. By meditating and concentrating solely on Krishna, one will become loved the most by Krishna. Krishna brings up the importance of single-minded concentration, for the yogi "with a mind / fully absorbed, one-pointed / ... will live within me, forever." This is the way to free oneself from the cycle of death and rebirth. If a person cannot do this successfully, he adds, then the path of devotion through direct action is another way to achieve success. If this doesn't work, Krishna recommends the person concentrate on detachment, or indifference to the results of their actions. Krishna claims that a person who demonstrates "kindness / ... who is always serene, / unmoved by pain or pleasure" is the one he loves best. Thus, the one who shows equanimity, no matter what the circumstances, is most loved by Krishna.


This chapter deliberates between bhakti yoga, or love for a personal god, and worship of the unmanifest God, through intense study and meditation. Krishna advocates primarily for devotional love, arguing this is an easier and more focused path. Bhakti yoga also is more directly tied to karma yoga, or the yoga of action. Krishna teaches Arjuna that devotional love can be expressed by imbuing all action with devotional worship. The path of understanding through study and meditation provides a path to union with the unmanifest form of God, but it is more arduous work.

All are routes to the same end: freedom from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Krishna stresses it is simpler to focus worship and devotion on him as a relatable deity rather than meditating on God in the unmanifest form. Krishna tells Arjuna that the path of those meditating on the unmanifest "is much more arduous / because, for embodied beings / the Unmanifest is obscure." Without a face or a shape to put on God, it is more difficult to focus one's meditation and worship. Worshipping Krishna's manifestation of God, however, allows a person to find a more direct and relatable channel for their devotion.

Krishna fully describes the person he loves most. In the yogic tradition, regardless of the path chosen, the devotee will demonstrate ways of being in the world that reflect inner balance and goodness. The successful person of yoga will show love and compassion for everyone equally and will have a calm attitude of detachment to the joys and sorrows of life. The devotee who is indifferent to "grief / and desire, good and bad fortune— / that man is the one I love the best," Krishna reveals.

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