How to Practice Bhakti (Gita 12.8-12)

Texts 8 through 12 of the Gita’s 12th chapter are an important section conveying a message well worth reiterating for clarity.

8: The essence of bhakti-yoga is to enwrap your heart and mind in Krishna. The best way to do this is out of heartfelt desire to attain divine love, a desire that results from deep wisdom. (rāgānugā-sādhana)

9: When such heartfelt desires are absent, one should fall back upon the strength of willpower to keep one’s heart and mind wrapped around Krishna. (vaidhi-sādhana)

10: If willpower is insufficient, one must at least engage in the physical actions of bhakti-yoga. (karma in bhakti-yoga)

11: If we cannot do this, we fall outside the realm of bhakti-yoga but can still make progress towards it by giving away all the rewards of our actions. (karma-yoga).

12: If we can’t do this, we need to get a deeper philosophy, contemplate it carefully, and keep trying.


Rising Beyond the Three Qualities of Nature


Arjuna: My competent friend, what are the essential qualities of people who have surpassed the three qualities [of material nature]? What is their behavior? How do they rise beyond these qualities?


Krishna: If you rise beyond the three qualities of nature, you will have these essential qualities: You will not love or hate the flourishing or abatement of any of the symptoms of the three qualities, like illumination, accumulation, or illusion.

You will be seated neutrally, apart from such things, unmoved by them, knowing, “This is just the business of nature’s qualities.” Thus you will be very firm and never waver.

Arjuna: What would my behavior be like?


Krishna: When you do not invest yourself into these qualities, and instead remain situated within your true self, you become equal towards pleasure and displeasure. You behave towards gold as you behave towards dirt and stone. You behave towards the unwanted as you behave towards the dear. You behave in criticism as you behave in great praise. You feel behave in honor as you behave in dishonor. You behave towards enemies as you behave towards friends.

You completely give up all new enterprises and efforts, considering all results to be the same. Then you would be called “he who is beyond the qualities of nature.”

Arjuna: How can I rise beyond the three qualities and attain this exalted condition?


Krishna: If you unwaveringly serve me with affection you thoroughly surpass these qualities and become a spiritual being.

Arjuna: Why is it that by loving you one becomes spiritual?


Krishna: Because I am the foundation of spirituality, the essence of the inexhaustible fountain of immortal, ceaseless, penultimate pleasure.

Yoga Problems

This is a presentation of Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 6, Texts 26-47

Arjuna: But when I attempt to fix the mind within myself, it wanders.

Krishna: It will wander here and there at first, because it is a restless and unsteady thing. Wherever it goes, bring it back and again place it under your control.

Arjuna: What would be gained by the effort?

Krishna: You will become a spiritual being, without impurity, without the obscuration of materialism. You will gain the utmost happiness within your radiantly peaceful mind.

Arjuna: Where does this happiness come from?

Krishna:By casting off impurity, you come into constant union with soul. You find yourself immersed in unlimited happiness because you are always enjoying the caress of Spirit.

Arjuna: How can I have “constant union with soul” while I am still in this material world?

Krishna: You will see that this world is also spirit. You will see spirit in everything, and everything in spirit. Everywhere you look, you will see the same thing: spirit.

Arjuna: [Looks at Krishna affectionately, at a loss for words].

Krishna: Seeing that “spirit” you will see me! You will see me in everything, and everything in me. You will never lose touch with me, nor I with you! See me in everything and you will be singularly engaged in my devotion, always and everywhere. You will be a yogi always immersed in me.

In my opinion, such a person is the paramount yogi. She treats all living things as dearly as her own self, and feels their happiness and sadness as if it were her own.

Arjuna: Krishna, slayer of evils, the yoga of equipoise that you describe seems impossible for me. I am too distracted and unsteady for it. O Krishna, my mind is very impatient, overpowering, distorted, and stubborn. I think it would be easier to control the wind than control the flow of my thoughts.

Krishna: No doubt the mind’s restlessness is very difficult to curb, my strong friend. But you can do it by practice and detachment. Without it, yoga is impossible; but with it you can attain success.

Arjuna: If I were to sincerely try, but fail to control my mind and attain perfection in yoga; what would I achieve? Would I not then have failed in both a worldly and spiritual sense; like a piece of cloud torn off and then disappearing into the sky? That is my fear, Krishna. I don’t think anyone other than you can completely destroy this doubt.

Krishna: Arjuna, if you made sincere effort in yoga, you would never face failure; neither in this world nor beyond. My dear, one who does good never attains ill.

Arjuna: Then what, exactly, would happen to me?

Krishna: The imperfect yogi first goes to the realms of paradise. After spending many years there, he again appears on Earth, in a blessed and pure family, or even in a family of wise yogis. Ah, what a rare and valuable birth! It will then be natural to revive the spiritual intelligence he developed in his previous incarnation, and continue further towards perfection.

Arjuna: Why is it “natural” for him to again take up yoga?

Krishna: His former practice will certainly magnetize him automatically towards being curious about yoga. Thus he will quickly pass through all the scriptures.

Arjuna: What if he again fails?

Krishna: The process continues, even if it takes several lifetimes. Eventually his endeavors become very tenacious and all the faults which troubled his progress are cleansed. Eventually he attains perfection and the supreme goal.

Arjuna: What did you mean when you said, “He quickly passes through all the scriptures”?

Krishna: The scripture mostly regulates selfish deeds. He quickly becomes better than that and becomes interested in philosophy and knowledge. He will also quickly assimilate the wisdom of scripture, and thus become a yogi, dedicating the flow of his thoughts to union with the spirit. The yogi is the best of all people, so try to be a yogi, Arjuna.

Arjuna: Of all yogis, which type is the best?

Krishna:  In my opinion, the very best of all yogis is the one who sincerely loves me, seeking me within the core of his own self.

Perfection of Yoga

This is an English rendering of Bhagavad-Gita’s Sixth Chapter, texts 16-26

Arjuna: What are some pitfalls to watch out for, some guidelines for success on this path of yoga?

Krishna: Don’t eat too much, but don’t starve either. Don’t sleep too much, but don’t stay up all the time either. Be intelligent in how you eat, relax, work, sleep, and stay awake. Then yoga will not be painful.

Arjuna: When is the path of yoga complete?

Krishna: The path is complete when your thoughts are fully under your control and thus remain fixed within the soul, freed from all selfish desires. Such a mind is like a candle in a windless place; it never wavers from its inward focus. By dedication to yoga, you will have stopped the outward flow of thoughts and directed them inward towards your soul; experiencing the satisfaction of truly seeing your self. Comprehending that vision is so limitlessly and transcendentally delightful that you will never wander off from its reality.  When you attain it, you will want to attain nothing else; nothing else will seem important. When you are within it, not even the most severe suffering can disturb you. By knowing it, your union with misery will be dissolved, and your union with reality established.

The path begins with the deep determination to practice yoga wholeheartedly. Then one completely gives up all convictions to pursue selfish desires, and constantly disciplines the mind and senses in all respects. Gradually the intelligence becomes strong and takes control. Then, it places the thoughts and emotions of the mind within the soul, and never even considers anything else.

Arjuna: But when I attempt to fix the mind within myself, it wanders.

Krishna: It will wander here and there at first, because it is a restless and unsteady thing. Wherever it goes, bring it back and again place it under your control.

Wisdom: The Key to Spiritual Work

We shouldn’t be distracted by the many different forms sacrifice can take. We should focus on the essence of all forms of sacrifice: wisdom.

“The most important part of sacrifice is the wisdom with which it is done, not its external form. The whole point of the external form of a sacrifice is to inspire wisdom.” [4.33]

Now Arjuna would ask, “What is the best way to acquire wisdom?”

So Krishna explains…

“Comprehend wisdom by respecting wise people who see the truth. They will impart wisdom to you when you attentively inquire from all angles.” [34]

Arjuna wants to know, “What will I see when I gain wisdom from those who see the truth?”

So Krishna explains…

“When you get that wisdom, you will never again fall into confusion. You will see all the countless living beings within yourself, and yourself within me.” [35]

All living things are equal, for they are all rays of the energy of Krishna. This true wisdom allows us to see that all living things are just as important as our own self; and that all of us are important and significant due to our relationship with Krishna.

Arjuna doubts, “But what if I am very wicked, having killed so many people – can even I attain such spiritual vision?”

So Krishna explains…

“This wisdom is like a boat that will carry even the heaviest of the heinously wicked across the ocean of misery. The fire of this wisdom burns all karma to ash, just as a raging fire consumes dry wood. There is certainly nothing in this world as purifying as wisdom! Follow the yoga of sacrifice to its final end and you will eventually enjoy this wisdom within your own soul.” [36-38]

Arjuna will ask, “Who is qualified to follow this yoga to its perfection?”

So Krishna explains…

“Those who put their hearts into it attain true wisdom. Making it more important than anything else, they curtail all other endeavors.  When they attain wisdom, they very quickly attain the supreme peace.” [39]

Arjuna will ask, “What would disqualify me from attaining it?”

So Krishna explains…

“Fools who have no conviction in the value of this wisdom are ruined by their own doubts. Such confused souls find no happiness here or hereafter. But a person who cuts through the bondage of doubts with knowledge can follow to perfection this yoga of renouncing selfish action. Karma cannot bind him, Arjuna, for he is situated in his soul.” [40-41]

Before Arjuna can say or express anything else, Krishna tries to give him a rousing order:

“Therefore grasp the weapon of wisdom in your soul’s hands and slice through the doubts born of ignorance that have crowded your heart! On the strength of this yoga, arise and stand firm, Arjuna!” [42]

This brings the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad Gītā to a close.

Practical Yoga, Real Nirvana

2:6 The Results of Duty-Yoga

Arjuna asks, “Tell me about the qualities of those deep people who have realized practical intelligence, and thus attained samādhi. What do they say? How do they sit still? How do they walk around?” [54]

Krishna replies, “A ‘person with practical intelligence’ is totally freed from all the desires that roam the mind. He is fully satisfied by his own soul. [55] A ‘deep person’ is not aggravated by the mind’s pleasures and displeasures. She is a sage, free from passions, fears, and frustrations. [56] She has no special affection for anything, never strives for any good or evil, never especially praises nor criticizes; she is fixed in ‘realized intelligence.’ [57]”

The intelligent yogi experiences happiness from its source: within his own self. Therefore he naturally has no interest in complicated and confusing pursuit of happiness through external means – in sensuality. Desires always roam the human mind, just as advertisements always appear in the media. But the intelligent yogi finds them boring and unimportant.

Because she is not aggravated by sensual advertisements, the intelligent yogi develops no greeds, and therefore has no fears or frustrations. She neither hates nor loves the sensual world; she is interested in something else entirely.

“A person fixed in intelligence withdraws his senses from sense objects, just like a turtle withdraws all its limbs. [58] He does not do so by force, struggling to repress enjoyment while still hungry for pleasure. He does so naturally, being attracted to a superior experience of spiritual pleasure. [59] It is not possible to control the senses by force. They will bewilder even the most careful persons. [60] A person fixed in intelligence engages all his senses spiritually in me. Thus they easily come under his control. [61].”

This is an absolutely key section of Gītā, and a large portion of the rest of the book is based on the premise introduced here. Krishna recommends practical yoga – “intelligence put into practice.” Practitioners of such yoga control their mind and senses very easily and naturally, not by frustrated attempts at forced repression, but by enjoying a superior pleasure that comes directly from within the soul.

Practical yogis actively engage their senses and mind in Krishna, the Supreme Person. This brings a delightful experience of Rasa (ecstatic joy) from the depths of their very souls. Immersed in such delights, the mind and senses of the practical yogi have no interest in returning to any inferior subjects.

Arjuna may wonder why it is so impossible to control the senses by brute force of repression, so Krishna explains how repression inevitably leads to ruination:

“When we contemplate a sense object, we develop feelings for it. From these, desire arises. From desire, frustration arises. [62] Frustration and anger completely confuse us, and from confusion we forget our principles. When principles are forgotten, we make unintelligent choices. These unintelligent choices are our ruination. [63]

Frustration inevitably results from desire, because it is impossible to satisfy desires fully due to (a) the impermanent nature of the object we desire, and (b) the impermanent nature of our own senses.

“A person who casts off attachments and repulsions makes sincere effort to carefully regulate her interactions with sensuality. This attracts divine compassion. [64] Divine compassion destroys all her sorrow and distress. Her happy heart very soon becomes steady in practical intelligence. [65]

It is impossible to divorce oneself entirely from sensual life, but the sincere effort to do so attracts the compassion of the divine. Divine compassion (“prasāda”) is essential for the success of a practical yogi.

“Without divine compassion it’s impossible to attain practical intelligence, nor can the heart exhibit its inherent joy. Without joy there is no peace of mind, and without peace of mind how can there be pleasure? [66]

“The senses are like the wind and the mind is like a sailboat. Wherever the eye roams, the mind and heart follow. Sensuality can therefore destroy and replace intelligence. [67] So, Arjuna, try to control your senses and stop them from dragging you towards their own destinations. You are a big warrior, but can you control this force?  Only one whose intelligence is strong can defeat this foe! [68]

Practical yoga is to engage the mind and senses in divine activity centered upon the divine cynosure: Krishna. Practical intelligence allows the senses to perceive a different realm altogether – a divine realm, not a self-sensual one. Krishna illustrates this:

“When intellect controls your senses you will be alert to things that ordinary people consider fantasy; and what they perceive as real you will know to be fantasy. [69]

Arjuna may doubt, “How can anyone forego the powerful force of their own selfish desires?” So Krishna explains…

“Be like the ocean: Despite always being filled by the incessant flow of rivers, it remains steady and does not rise. A person who similarly tolerates the incessant flow of sensual desires achieves peace of mind. A person who tries to satisfy all these desires never knows peace. [70]

The only way the ocean can accomplish this is because it is huge. Similarly, the crux of practical yoga is to allow the soul to become bigger and more important in your life.

“By tolerating sensuality a human being becomes free from longing, free from possessiveness, free from egoism, and attains peace. [71]

“Arjuna, this spiritual path never results in confusion. Following this path to the end leads one to spiritual emancipation (“nirvāṇa”). [72]”

Be Responsible, for Its Own Sake. That is ‘yoga.’

2:5 Duty as Yoga

“Intelligence is usually described in a philosophical way, but now let me explain how to put intelligence into practice. Practical intelligence will liberate you from the bonds of action and reaction. [39]

“Even a little effort towards practical intelligence frees us from terrible fears and gives results that neither fade nor disappear. [40] Those who strive for it are resolute and focused. Their thoughts are not scattered to countless distractions. [41] The scattered thoughts of the foolish rush towards the flowery promises of materialistic culture, thinking, ‘this is all there is.’ [42] Their hearts are set on pleasure and paradise, in hopes of name and fame; and they make so many elaborate efforts towards power and enjoyment. [43] Those whose hearts are stolen by addiction to power and enjoyment can never know resolute intelligence, ‘samādhi’. [44] Materialistic culture, even if it is ‘Vedic’, is focused on sense objects produced by the three qualities of illusion. Rise above this, Arjuna! Become singularly resolute, grounded in what is everlastingly real, unconcerned with acquisition; and grasp your own self! [45]”

Arjuna would doubt, “But materialistic culture serves a purpose of gradually shaping and reforming materialistic people. Isn’t it dangerous or wrong to completely reject it?” So Krishna says…

“Whatever you can get from a small well you can certainly get from a deep lake! Whatever true benefit comes from materialistic culture is easily attained by one who deeply realizes spirit. [46]”

So far, Krishna introduced the idea of practical intelligence, and he has suitably glorified its worth. Now he begins to describe what it actually is:

“You can perform your duties but you can never control their results, so don’t strive for specific results. Don’t give up your duties. [47] Fulfill your responsibilities using practical intelligence to give up attachment to their results. Indifferent equanimity towards success or failure is ‘yoga.’ [48] Stay far away from irresponsible actions and always strive to take shelter of intelligence. Don’t be a selfish fool, acting for the sake of specific results. [49]

Krishna says, ‘You have no control over success or failure, so don’t focus on such things. You do have control over your own actions, so concentrate on that! Never give up your responsibilities, but use your intelligence to become indifferent to their apparent success or failure. Never do what is not dutiful. Always do your duty selflessly, for the sake of playing the role you are meant to play in the world.’

“Strive for this yoga, the ‘art of action.’ This yoga of practical intelligence will liberate you from good and bad karma alike. [50] Great people with practical intelligence renounce the fruits of their endeavors, and thus become liberated from the bondage of birth and death, attaining a condition free from infirmity. [51]”

Selfishness binds us to an illusory concept of existence – because it is antithetical to the reality of what we are at the core of our being. Acting for one’s own sake causes good and bad reactions, depending on if the action is done with deference to human culture or not. To really become liberated and attain yoga, one must cease selfish activity altogether. The practicality of this wisdom is not that we are to cease activity, we are to cease the selfishness in our activity.

“When you reclaim your intellect from the brambles of delusion, no offers from materialistic culture will ever attract you. [52] Undisturbed by such advertisements you will become steady and immovable. Your intelligence will bring unwavering samādhi. You will have achieved ‘yoga.’ [53]”