Bhakti Yoga in Bhagwat Gita
The concept of personal Bhakti (devotion, love, worship, surrender) did not exist in Vedic religion because the concept of personal God had not materialized. There were a large number of Gods with friendly dispositions who were venerated by the performance of sacrifices (yagya). The two fearful Gods – Rudra and Varuna were venerated but not worshipped separately. Brahmanical dominance was the rule of the Vedic period.
However, times began changing at the end of the later Vedic period around 500 BCE. Two important events were changing society.
The first was the birth of Gautam Buddha and Mahavir in the 6th Century BCE who laid the foundations of Buddhism and Jainism respectively. Both these religions began spreading rapidly. The dominance of Brahmins was despised by both religions and the social order of “Varna” which existed as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra was changed to Kshatriya, Brahman, Vaishya and Shudra by the followers of both religions. Both Gautam Buddha and Mahavir came from the Kshatriya class. However, the total concept of varna remained unchanged.
The second was the evolution of a personal God in the form of Buddha and Mahavir for whom temples, viharas, chaityas, and stupas started being constructed on a large scale. Both of them were worshipped as personal Gods. Since the caste barrier did not exist for the followers of these rival religions, they began spreading like wildfire.
The society was also changing. The second wave of urbanization had already begun. Many big kingdoms emerged like Kuru, Panchal, Kaushambi, Koshal, Kashi, Videha, Magadh Anga etc. Many cities grew in the Ganga plain where artisans and craftsmen began residing in large numbers. Trade and commerce became highly important activities which caused the rise of wealthy merchants who were also not comfortable with the dominance of Brahmins. The ruling classes and wealthy merchants provided much-needed support and protection to both religions including the last rulers of the Maurya period up to 187 BCE.
The period between 187 BCE and 300 BCE (about 500 years) was a period of political vacuum in India during which no central power existed. The country faced a series of invasions from the North-West by Indo-Greeks, Parthians, Shakas and Kushans who established their Kingdoms in India and continued to rule for more than 500 years in different parts. The social conditions were chaotic and society was facing upheavals.
The Maha Kavya Kaal (The Epic Age):
The Ramayana and the Mahabharat are the two greatest epics of Hinduism. Both of them were composed during the same period of chaos and confusion. Historians have fixed the period of composition of Ramayana from the 4th century BCE to the 2nd Century CE (about 600 years). The period of composition of Mahabharat is taken between the 4th century BCE and to 4th century CE (about 800 years). The Social conditions prevailing in society are reflected in the literary compositions of the period. We find the same reflections in Ramayana and Mahabharat.
In Buddhism, the extent of personal bhakti to Buddha was becoming reflected in chants:
Buddham Sharnam Gachchami
Sangham Sharnam Gachchami
Dhammam Sharanam Gachchami
In Jainism, the importance of God was not accepted. Some Gods who existed enjoyed a lower status compared to Tirthankaras (Jina). The personality of Mahavira was supreme.
Bhagavad Gita is a product of these circumstances in which an attempt was made to reiterate the concept of Brahma in the Sagun manifestation as Krishna who personally provided knowledge to Arjun who is a Kshatriya warrior. The three objectives of Hindu philosophy prevailing in those times were Artha, dharma, kama and moksha. Shri Krishna taught Arjun three paths known as Karma yoga, Gyan yoga and Bhakti yoga to obtain these objectives. A very long discourse between a manifested God speaking to his devotee became available for the first time.
The shlokas of Gita relating to Bhakti (devotion, total surrender) are found in many chapters. The following shloka speaks about total devotion.
दूरेण ह्यवरं कर्म बुद्धियोगाद्धनञ्जय |
बुद्धौ शरणमन्विच्छ कृपणा: फलहेतव: || 49||
dūreṇa hy-avaraṁ karma buddhi-yogād dhanañjaya
buddhau śharaṇam anvichchha kṛipaṇāḥ phala-hetavaḥ
Seek refuge in divine knowledge and insight, O Arjun, and discard reward-seeking actions that are certainly inferior to works performed with the intellect established in divine knowledge. Miserly are those who seek to enjoy the fruits of their works.
Sri Krishna also advises Arjun that concentration on God is very difficult. However, solutions for this difficult exercise also exist. The suggestions in this respect are available in the following shlokas.
मय्येव मन आधत्स्व मयि बुद्धिं निवेशय |
निवसिष्यसि मय्येव अत ऊर्ध्वं न संशय: || 8||
mayy eva mana ādhatsva mayi buddhiṁ niveśhaya
nivasiṣhyasi mayy eva ata ūrdhvaṁ na sanśhayaḥ
Fix your mind on Me alone and surrender your intellect to Me. Thereupon, you will always live in Me. Of this, there is no doubt.
अथ चित्तं समाधातुं न शक्नोषि मयि स्थिरम् |
अभ्यासयोगेन ततो मामिच्छाप्तुं धनञ्जय || 9||
atha chittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śhaknoṣhi mayi sthiram
abhyāsa-yogena tato mām ichchhāptuṁ dhanañjaya
If you are unable to fix your mind steadily on Me, O Arjun, then practice remembering Me with devotion while constantly restraining the mind from worldly affairs.
अभ्यासेऽप्यसमर्थोऽसि मत्कर्मपरमो भव |
मदर्थमपि कर्माणि कुर्वन्सिद्धिमवाप्स्यसि || 10||
abhyāse ’py asamartho ’si mat-karma-paramo bhava
mad-artham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi
If you cannot practice remembering Me with devotion, then just try to work for Me. Thus, performing devotional service to Me, you shall achieve the stage of perfection.
अथैतदप्यशक्तोऽसि कर्तुं मद्योगमाश्रित: |
सर्वकर्मफलत्यागं तत: कुरु यतात्मवान् || 11||
athaitad apy aśhakto ’si kartuṁ mad-yogam āśhritaḥ
sarva-karma-phala-tyāgaṁ tataḥ kuru yatātmavān
If you are unable to even work for Me in devotion, then try to renounce the fruits of your actions and be situated in the self.
अद्वेष्टा सर्वभूतानां मैत्र: करुण एव च |
निर्ममो निरहङ्कार: समदु:खसुख: क्षमी || 13||
सन्तुष्ट: सततं योगी यतात्मा दृढनिश्चय: |
मय्यर्पितमनोबुद्धिर्यो मद्भक्त: स मे प्रिय: || 14||
adveṣhṭā sarva-bhūtānāṁ maitraḥ karuṇa eva cha
nirmamo nirahankāraḥ sama-duḥkha-sukhaḥ kṣhamī
santuṣhṭaḥ satataṁ yogī yatātmā dṛiḍha-niśhchayaḥ
mayy arpita-mano-buddhir yo mad-bhaktaḥ sa me priyaḥ
Those devotees are very dear to Me who are free from malice toward all living beings, who are friendly, and compassionate. They are free from attachment to possessions and egotism, equipoised in happiness and distress, and ever-forgiving. They are ever-content, steadily united with Me in devotion, self-controlled, of firm resolve, and dedicated to Me in mind and intellect.
अनपेक्ष: शुचिर्दक्ष उदासीनो गतव्यथ: |
सर्वारम्भपरित्यागी यो मद्भक्त: स मे प्रिय: || 16||
anapekṣhaḥ śhuchir dakṣha udāsīno gata-vyathaḥ
sarvārambha-parityāgī yo mad-bhaktaḥ sa me priyaḥ
Those who are indifferent to worldly gains, externally and internally pure, skillful, without cares, untroubled, and free from selfishness in all undertakings, such devotees of Mine are very dear to Me.
यो न हृष्यति न द्वेष्टि न शोचति न काङ् क्षति |
शुभाशुभपरित्यागी भक्तिमान्य: स मे प्रिय: || 17||
yo na hṛiṣhyati na dveṣhṭi na śhochati na kāṅkṣhati
śhubhāśhubha-parityāgī bhaktimān yaḥ sa me priyaḥ
Those who neither rejoice in mundane pleasures nor despair in worldly sorrows, who neither lament for any loss nor hanker for any gain, who renounce both good and evil deeds, such persons who are full of devotion are very dear to Me.
सम: शत्रौ च मित्रे च तथा मानापमानयो: |
शीतोष्णसुखदु:खेषु सम: सङ्गविवर्जित: || 18||
तुल्यनिन्दास्तुतिर्मौनी सन्तुष्टो येन केनचित् |
अनिकेत: स्थिरमतिर्भक्तिमान्मे प्रियो नर: || 19||
samaḥ śhatrau cha mitre cha tathā mānāpamānayoḥ
śhītoṣhṇa-sukha-duḥkheṣhu samaḥ saṅga-vivarjitaḥ
tulya-nindā-stutir maunī santuṣhṭo yena kenachit
aniketaḥ sthira-matir bhaktimān me priyo naraḥ
Those, who are alike to friend and foe, equipoised in honour and dishonor, cold and heat, joy and sorrow, and are free from all unfavourable association; those who take praise and reproach alike, who are given to silent contemplation, content with what comes their way, without attachment to the place of residence, whose intellect is firmly fixed in Me, and who are full of devotion to Me, such persons are very dear to Me.
Lastly, for the total surrender of devotees, the following shlokas are relevant.
मन्मना भव मद्भक्तो मद्याजी मां नमस्कुरु |
मामेवैष्यसि सत्यं ते प्रतिजाने प्रियोऽसि मे || 65||
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣhyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo ‘si me
Always think of Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me, and offer obeisance to Me. Doing so, you will certainly come to Me. This is My pledge to you, for you are very dear to Me.
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज |
अहं त्वां सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुच: || 66||
sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śharaṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣhayiṣhyāmi mā śhuchaḥ
Abandon all varieties of dharmas and surrender unto Me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.
- Bhagwat Gita
- Prachin Bharat Ka Itihas Tatha Sanskriti – K. C. Srivastava
- Ancient and Medieval India – Poonam Dalal Dahiya.
- The Hindus (An Alternative History) – Wendy Doniger
I am a Vedic astrologer by profession. I have done Jyotish Acharya from Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan. I am devoted to my Sadguru Shri Sai Nath of Shirdi. I am also interested in spirituality. I love to guide people.