Sankhya and Yoga in Bhagavat Gita

Categories : Spirituality

In the discourse between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, we find references to Sankhya and Yoga. These may be taken as philosophical teachings of Gita in the fields of spirituality. To place the references in proper perspective, a brief narrative of the philosophical systems is required. However, Sankhya in Bhagavat Gita and Mahabharata mostly stands for Knowledge (Gyan).

The philosophical systems in India are divided into six categories.

  1. Sankhya: Properly interpreted by Kapil in about the 2nd Century BCE and fully explained in Sankhya Karika by Ishwar Krishna, 4th Century CE.
  2. Yoga: Propounded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra in the 2nd Century BCE followed by Vyas etc.
  3. Nyaya: Propounded by Akshapad Gautam in his Nyaya Sutra followed by Vatsyayan etc.
  4. Vaiseshika: Propounded by Uluk Karnad and followed by Vishwanath etc.
  5. Mimansa: Propounded by Jaimini in Mimansa Sutra followed by Sabar Swami etc.
  6. Uttar Mimansa (Vedanta): Propounded by Badarayan in Brahmasutra and followed by Shankaracharya, Ramanuja etc.

All these six systems of philosophy have been placed into three pairs because they seem to complement each other or show a relationship.

  1. Sankhya and Yoga
  2. Nyaya and Vaiskeshika
  3. Mimansa and Vedanta

The Bhagavat Gita seems to be in close connection with Sankhya and yoga and also refers to Vedanta.

The philosophy of Sankhya is related to numbers (count). According to this philosophy, the manifestation of reality is related to 25 basic principles (tattva) of which the first is Prakriti (nature). The doctrine says that Prakriti has constituent qualities known as Sattava representing truth and virtue, Rajas representing activity, and aggressiveness and Tamas darkness, dullness, inactivity etc. These Gunas are the main deciders of the inherent qualities of creation. The twenty-five principles (Tattvas) are as follows.

Purusha (Consciousness): The eternal witness, pure consciousness, and the ultimate observer.

Prakriti (Nature): The cosmic matter, the canvas upon which the universe is painted.

Mahat (Intellect): The grand cosmic intellect, the source of knowledge and discrimination.

Ahankara (Ego): The individualised sense of self, the “I” that separates us from the universe.

Manas (Mind): The seat of thoughts, emotions, and decision-making.

Buddhi (Discrimination): The higher intellect that helps us discern right from wrong.

Ahamkara (Egoism): The ego in action, shaping our individuality.

Five Tanmatras (Subtle Elements): These are, sound, touch, form, taste, and smell, the building blocks of sensory perception.

Five Gross Elements (Bhutas): Earth, water, fire, air, and ether – the physical substances of the material world.

Five Organs of Perception (Jnanendriyas): Eyes, ears, skin, tongue, and nose – the gateways to experiencing the world.

Five Organs of Action (Karmendriyas): Hands, feet, mouth, genitals, and anus – the tools for interacting with the world.

Sankhya in its old form had no place for God and was based on the interactive processes of 25 principles. However, later on, Purush was conceived as the male part and Prakriti as the female part and God was placed in position because the process of creation begins with the express will of God. This was confirmed in the doctrine of yoga.

Yoga is taken as partial or complete arrest or cessation of the mental states which is obtainable to a yogi through eight stages (this yoga is not related to Kundalini control yogas prevalent nowadays). The eight stages indicated by Patanjali are as follows:

  1. Yama (Self Control) with the rules of non-violence truthfulness, not stealing, celibacy and freedom from greed.
  2. Niyama (Observance) five more rules of purity, contentment, austerity, study of the Vedas and devotion to God.
  3. Asana (Posture) sitting in the required posture such as Padmasan.
  4. Pranayam (control of breath) respiration is reflected in rhythmic control.
  5. Pratyahara (Restraint) sense organs are to be restrained to take no note of perceptions.
  6. Dharana (steadying the mind). The process of training the mind to concentrate on a single entity.
  7. Dhyana (Meditation). When the object of concentration pervades the mind with complete exclusion of others.
  8. Samadhi (Deep Meditation): The whole personality is completely dissolved.

The Sankhya and yoga as illustrated partly in preceding paragraphs have been extensively referred to in Bhagavat Gita. Both of these philosophical thoughts seem to have originated during the Upanishadic period. Some of them were incorporated into Buddhism and Jainism. In the Bhagavat Gita, these have been taught by Sri Krishna to Arjuna.

The selected shlokas which signify the control of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas on humans are the following.

Bhagavat Gita: Chapter 14

मम योनिर्महद् ब्रह्म तस्मिन्गर्भं दधाम्यहम् |

सम्भव: सर्वभूतानां ततो भवति भारत || 3||

सर्वयोनिषु कौन्तेय मूर्तय: सम्भवन्ति या: |

तासां ब्रह्म महद्योनिरहं बीजप्रद: पिता || 4||

mama yonir mahad brahma tasmin garbhaṁ dadhāmy aham

sambhavaḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ tato bhavati bhārata

sarva-yoniṣhu kaunteya mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ

tāsāṁ brahma mahad yonir ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā


The total material substance, Prakriti, is the womb. I impregnate it with the individual souls, and thus all living beings are born. O son of Kunti, for all species of life that are produced, the material nature is the womb, and I am the seed-giving Father.

सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणा: प्रकृतिसम्भवा: |

निबध्नन्ति महाबाहो देहे देहिनमव्ययम् || 5||

sattvaṁ rajas tama iti guṇāḥ prakṛiti-sambhavāḥ

nibadhnanti mahā-bāho dehe dehinam avyayam


O mighty-armed Arjun, the material energy consists of three guṇas (modes)—sattva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance). These modes bind the eternal soul to the perishable body.

तत्र सत्त्वं निर्मलत्वात्प्रकाशकमनामयम् |

सुखसङ्गेन बध्नाति ज्ञानसङ्गेन चानघ || 6||

tatra sattvaṁ nirmalatvāt prakāśhakam anāmayam

sukha-saṅgena badhnāti jñāna-saṅgena chānagha


Amongst these, sattva Guna, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating and full of well-being. O sinless one, it binds the soul by creating attachment for a sense of happiness and knowledge.

रजो रागात्मकं विद्धि तृष्णासङ्गसमुद्भवम् |

तन्निबध्नाति कौन्तेय कर्मसङ्गेन देहिनम् || 7||

rajo rāgātmakaṁ viddhi tṛiṣhṇā-saṅga-samudbhavam

tan nibadhnāti kaunteya karma-saṅgena dehinam


O Arjun, Rajo Guna is of the nature of passion. It arises from worldly desires and affections and binds the soul through attachment to fruitive actions.

तमस्त्वज्ञानजं विद्धि मोहनं सर्वदेहिनाम् |

प्रमादालस्यनिद्राभिस्तन्निबध्नाति भारत || 8||

tamas tv ajñāna-jaṁ viddhi mohanaṁ sarva-dehinām

pramādālasya-nidrābhis tan nibadhnāti bhārata


O Arjun, Tamo Guna, which is born of ignorance, is the cause of illusion for the embodied souls. It deludes all living beings through negligence, laziness, and sleep.

सत्त्वं सुखे सञ्जयति रज: कर्मणि भारत |

ज्ञानमावृत्य तु तम: प्रमादे सञ्जयत्युत || 9||

sattvaṁ sukhe sañjayati rajaḥ karmaṇi bhārata

jñānam āvṛitya tu tamaḥ pramāde sañjayaty uta


Sattva binds one to material happiness; Rajas conditions the soul toward actions; and tamas clouds wisdom and binds one to delusion.

रजस्तमश्चाभिभूय सत्त्वं भवति भारत |

रज: सत्त्वं तमश्चैव तम: सत्त्वं रजस्तथा || 10||

rajas tamaśh chābhibhūya sattvaṁ bhavati bhārata

rajaḥ sattvaṁ tamaśh chaiva tamaḥ sattvaṁ rajas tathā


Sometimes goodness (sattva) prevails over passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), O scion of Bharat. Sometimes passion (rajas) dominates goodness (sattva) and ignorance (tamas), and at other times ignorance (tamas) overcomes goodness (sattva) and passion (rajas).

कर्मण: सुकृतस्याहु: सात्त्विकं निर्मलं फलम् |

रजसस्तु फलं दु:खमज्ञानं तमस: फलम् || 16||

karmaṇaḥ sukṛitasyāhuḥ sāttvikaṁ nirmalaṁ phalam

rajasas tu phalaṁ duḥkham ajñānaṁ tamasaḥ phalam


The fruit of actions performed in the mode of goodness bestows pure results. Actions done in the mode of passion result in pain, while those performed in the mode of ignorance result in darkness.

सत्त्वात्सञ्जायते ज्ञानं रजसो लोभ एव |

प्रमादमोहौ तमसो भवतोऽज्ञानमेव || 17||

sattvāt sañjāyate jñānaṁ rajaso lobha eva cha

pramāda-mohau tamaso bhavato ’jñānam eva cha


From the mode of goodness arises knowledge, from the mode of passion arises greed, and from the mode of ignorance arises negligence and delusion.

ऊर्ध्वं गच्छन्ति सत्त्वस्था मध्ये तिष्ठन्ति राजसा: |

जघन्यगुणवृत्तिस्था अधो गच्छन्ति तामसा: || 18||

ūrdhvaṁ gachchhanti sattva-sthā madhye tiṣhṭhanti rājasāḥ

jaghanya-guṇa-vṛitti-sthā adho gachchhanti tāmasāḥ


Those situated in the mode of goodness rise upward; those in the mode of passion stay in the middle; and those in the mode of ignorance go downward.

नान्यं गुणेभ्य: कर्तारं यदा द्रष्टानुपश्यति |

गुणेभ्यश्च परं वेत्ति मद्भावं सोऽधिगच्छति || 19||

nānyaṁ guṇebhyaḥ kartāraṁ yadā draṣhṭānupaśhyati

guṇebhyaśh cha paraṁ vetti mad-bhāvaṁ so ’dhigachchhati


When wise persons see that in all work there is no agent of action other than the three guṇas, and they know Me to be transcendental to these guṇas, they attain My divine nature.

गुणानेतानतीत्य त्रीन्देही देहसमुद्भवान् |

जन्ममृत्युजरादु:खैर्विमुक्तोऽमृतमश्रुते || 20||

guṇān etān atītya trīn dehī deha-samudbhavān

janma-mṛityu-jarā-duḥkhair vimukto ’mṛitam aśhnute


By transcending the three modes of material nature associated with the body, one becomes free from birth, death, old age, and misery, and attains immortality.


  1. Bhagavat Gita
  2. The Wonder That Was India – A. L. Bashan
  3. The Illustrated Cultural History of India – Edited A. L. Bashan
  4. Ancient and Medieval India – Poonam Dayal Dahiya