Sunrita Sen

Honors 118

Professor Timothy Knepper


Explicate the four paths to release and union (yogas) contained in the Bhagavad-Gita. Are

any of these paths alone sufficient? Are any of these paths intrinsically preferable? Is this Gita

internally consistent on this matter? If so, how? If not, why?

One of the points that the Gita is well known for is its suggestion of four ways or paths to

release and union (yoga) with Krishna who is also referred to as the Lord. The four paths Krishna

suggests to Arjun through various conversations, in the course of the Gita, are Karma Yoga,

Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga (Dhyana Yoga) and Bhakti Yoga. According to Krishna, these are the

four separate paths to achieving release and union but in the course of my paper I will try to

prove that none of these paths, by themselves, can help an individual attain that goal. However,

certain paths seem to be intrinsically more preferable than others. The Gita is very specific about

the precedence of Bhakti Yoga over and above all the others. It also places Raja (Dhyana) Yoga

as second best to Bhakti and Karma and Jnana Yoga on a more or less even plane after Raja. I

will try to show through examples, how this is elaborated on within the Gita itself. I will also try

to show, however, that a blending of these paths can make the goal of union far more achievable

and that some of the paths should be followed before others while some should be followed even

while following the others.

The first and most important ‘yoga’ according to Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, is

Bhakti Yoga or the path to union through pure spiritual devotion to the Lord, Krishna. Adoring a

deity more than one’s kin, lovers and friends is the essence of Bhakti Yoga.  The deity is the

beloved and the devotee is the lover. “Bhakti Yoga is based on the doctrine ‘Love is God and

God is Love.’ ” (Johari, “Bhakti Yoga,” par. 2) In Bhakti yoga, everything is a manifestation of

the divine and all else is meaningless. Bhakti Yoga is regarded as the most direct method to

merge in cosmic consciousness and is advocated by Krishna in the Gita as the best and quickest

path to achieving liberation and enlightenment. “Unwavering in devotion, always united with

me, the man or woman of wisdom surpasses all others.” (Baird and Heimbeck, 165) Through

piety, reverence and different forms of sacrifice, one can prove his/her devotion to the Lord and

earn compassion, thus moving closer to union and liberation. “Some aspirants offer material

sacrifices to the gods. Others offer selfless service as sacrifice in the fire of Brahman...Some take

vows and offer knowledge and study of the scriptures; and some make the offering of

meditation.” (Baird and Heimbeck, 159) It is clear from this statement that devotion is based

largely on sacrifice and that all three of the other yogas maybe drawn from this one main yoga.  

This concept of devotion as key to earning grace and moving towards the required goal closely

resembles the Western concept of earning God’s grace by being virtuous and pious. Bhakti yoga

is often treated as the ultimate path to union because of the values it embodies.  

The path that Krishna often refers to as second in importance to Bhakti is Raja (Dhyana)

Yoga which is the achievement of union through the path of meditation. “…the ‘royal’ yoga, is

the way of meditation. It involves mental mastery of concentration, contemplation and

absorption, and through them exalted states of consciousness.” (Baird and Heimbeck, 144) It is

often referred to as the “royal road to freedom from misery” (Swami Sivananda, “Raja Yoga,”

Par. 15). There are three important things in Raja (Dhyana) Yoga. These are one-pointedness of

the mind, setting bounds to one’s life to achieve this and a state of equinanimity or evenness of

vision. Without these no true progress is possible. “The idea is that, whether in worldly or

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spiritual matters, success is hard to come by without one-pointedness of mind.” (Bhave, 79) The

method of meditation is clearly prescribed by Krishna in the text of the Gita. “Select a clean spot,

neither too high nor too low, and seat yourself firmly on a cloth, a deerskin and kusha grass.

Then, once seated, strive to still your thoughts. Make your mind one-pointed in meditation, and

your heart will be purified. Hold your body, head and neck firmly in a straight line, and keep

your eyes from wandering. With all fears dissolved in the peace ...

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