Ch. 12 Yoga of the steps of Bhakti (part 1)

This article is part 73 of 130 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga


dhyānābhyāsa-vaśīkṛtena manasā tannirguṇaṃ niṣkriyaṃ
jyotiḥ kiñcana yogino yadi paraṃ paśyanti paśyantu te ।
asmākaṃ tu tadeva locana-camatkārāya bhūyāc-ciraṃ
kālindī-pulinodare kimapi yan-nīlaṃ maho dhāvati ॥

dhyānāhbyāsadè tattvamaṃ hṛdayadoḻ tāṃ-ā nirākāramaṃ
kāṇalk-appoḍè kāṇge yogivarar-āṃ sāmānyar-èmmakṣig-ā ।
veṇu-svāna-sudhā-prasādi yamunā-kuñjodara-āmodi me-
ghānīla-dyuti nāṭyavāḍuge sadā nāṃ dhanyar-ā līleyiṃ ॥

|| Śrī Madhusūdana-sarasvatī ||
The yogis see the formless in their hearts, let them if they can.
Ordinary we are, dances that blue effulgence in front of our eyes
Gladdening us with his mellifluous flute, rejoicing in the gardens
On the banks of the Yamuna. We are blessed by it.


Ekan-anākāraṃ vibhu
lokānugrahakè divya vividhākāraṃ ।
sākalya śakaladòḻaṃ
svīkarisalkahudu bhakti-śama-vinayam-iral ॥

The Supreme is one, formless
But takes many divine forms to bless the world.
One can discern the infinite
in a nugget, if there is devotion, tranquility and humility.


Giving up the fruit of our actions means that we experience the world with the notion that all felicity and happiness we experience is a favour from Īśvara, and that adversities are training to the jīva. This needs the jīva to make mindful choices of karma to be performed, unwavering devotion to dharma, equanimity in the experience of the fruit of karma, and finally complete surrender to Īśvara. Here, Śrīkṛṣṇa instructs Arjuna on how to gradually diminish one’s affinity with ego and experience first hand the relationship with Divine.

Section 13 / Chapter 12 Bhakti-yoga / Bhakti-sopāna-yoga

(The Yoga of the steps of Bhakti)

At the end of the eleventh chapter, we analysed a significant concept. The supreme reality or sadvastu is of two kinds: One is viśvarūpa  — the form that encompasses the entire universe, and the other supra-universal. Viśvarūpa is tangible reality and it is evident. That is Īśvara-yoga. The supra-universal  is intangible truth and has to be inferred indirectly. That is Parabrahma. Arjuna asks which of these two he has to meditate upon. The Svāmī answers his question in this chapter. There are four important points here.

  1. The difficulties in meditating upon the formless - nirguṇopāsana.
  2. Ease of worshipping the divine that has a form - saguṇopāsana
  3. Stepwise worship of the divine
  4. The wealth of qualities that has to be earned by the worshipper.

Arjuna asked: “O Great one, what should I believe? You say ’mat-karma-kṛt mat-paramaḥ’ — one who does the work ordained by me and engrossed in me — Who is ’me’ here? Should I seek you and your form that is visibly manifest in the universe, or the invisible, unmanifest and intangible, pure and Supreme Brahma? You have instructed me in the worship of both of these. Which of them is better?"

"teṣāṃ ke yoga-vit-tamāḥ"

BG 12.1

Svāmī’s answer is thus: "O Arjuna, when there are many ways to reach a destination, shouldn’t a traveller choose one that is right for his body and mind? One road might be uneven and bumpy, and additionally difficult to traverse because of sharp stones and thorns. It might, however, be shorter. A strong man in a hurry might choose this path because it is short. Another, weaker man would say that it is more important to not fatigue himself. With time on his side, the circuitous route would be better for him though it takes more time, because it does not harm his body. The journey that a jīva undertakes towards better worlds is similar. The worship of the intangible Brahma is more suited for those who are stronger and can sustain strain. The worship of the manifest form is more suited for weaker people. Both will attain the same supreme state — one directly and the other gradually.

mayyāveśya mano ye māṃ nitya-yuktā upāsate ।
śraddhayā parayo-petās-te me yukta-tamā matāḥ ॥

BG 12.2

“Those who rest their minds upon any one form of Īśvara, and continuously meditate upon the Brahma with a form (sākāra-brahma) are closest to him”.
Ye tvakṣaram-anirdeśyam avyaktaṃ paryupāsate ।
ṭe prāpnuvanti māmeva sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ ॥

BG 12.3

“Those who are friendly towards the whole world, who meditate upon the indestructible, indescribable, intangible and formless Brahma, reach Īśvara Himself”.

The followers of both paths attain the same end; there is a slight difference only in the speed with which it is attained. The quicker way is more difficult; the other way is circuitous but easier. Why should we not choose the faster one?

kleśo’dhikataras-teṣām avyaktā-sakta-cetasāṃ ।
avyaktā hi gatir-duḥkhaṃ dehavadbhir-avāpyate ॥

BG 12.4

The journey towards better worlds is anyway difficult. Both paths require the practice of self-control and giving up carnal pleasures. Till we reside in a body that consumes salt and spices, it is difficult to subdue our senses. Therefore, it is a given that it is difficult to indulge in worshiping Bhagavān. Further, worshipping the unmanifest and formless Brahma is much more difficult than worshipping the tangible Brahma with a form. The difficulties are of two kinds. The first is that of intellectual capability. Ordinary intellect cannot grasp the indescribable and unthinkable. The supreme tattva is described thus in the Vedas -

Yato vāco nivartante । aprāpya manasā saha ॥

Tai.U, Brahmānandavallī

yanmanasā na manute yenāhurmano matam ॥

Kenopaniṣaḍ 5

Brahma is described as that very mysterious thing — “ from where speech and mind return without being able to grasp it; that which cannot be held by the mind, but causes the mind to understand”.  The intellect has to put great effort to understand this concept clearly. Even if we think that the  intellect is able to grasp this, there is a second difficulty — that of experience. Brahma should be experienced. It becomes truthful knowledge only then. “saṃniyamyendriya-grāmam” — ’Subduing the collective influence of the senses’, “sarvatra sama-buddhayaḥ” — ’displaying equanimity everywhere’, “sarva-bhūta-hite ratāh” — indulging in the well-being of all creation’. To whom is this easy? Each second, the body has to grapple with arising desire, love and infatuation. The enchanting beauty and glamour of Nature captivates our eyes and deviates our minds from the thought of true knowledge. If a man who has not yet escaped the clutches of māyā thinks that he is as capable as the people who have, his plight will be similar to that of a lame person trying to climb a hill. Therefore, the humility of worshipping Brahma with a form is safer than the strenuous exercise of meditating upon the formless Brahma

ye tu sarvāṇi karmāṇi mayi saṃnyasya matparāḥ ।
ananyena-eva yogena māṃ dhyāyanta upāsate ॥

BG 12.6

teṣām ahaṃ samuddhartā mṛtyu-saṃsāra-sāgarāt ।
bhavāmi na cirāt pārtha mayy-āveśita-cetasām ॥

BG 12.7

Bhagavān quickly holds and draws towards him those who give up the fruit of all their actions in him, seek his direction in everything, not indulging in anything else other than meditating upon him and rest their minds firmly in him”.

Is this method of upāsanā easy for everyone? Śrīkṛṣṇa did not think so.

ātha cittaṃ samādhātuṃ na śaknoṣi mayi sthiraṃ ।
abhyāsa-yogena tato mām-icchāptuṃ dhanañjaya ॥

BG 12.9

“If you cannot establish your mind in Īśvara firmly and constantly, do it as much as you can, whenever you can. With practice comes focus”.

Is practice easy, though? In our houses, those who wear maḍi and sit for worship know that it is an arduous practice. It is difficult to focus for long on something that cannot respond to us, something that does not react to our actions. Young people can concentrate on their loved ones for a little time. The reason for that is born from the natural reaction of the limbs. There is an echo to a sound, a sign in answer to another. Is Bhagavān so wondrous and attractive? Blessed are they whom he attracts of his own accord. We are not talking about them. Let us look at the plight of those who are not so lucky. They have to go in search of Bhagavān of their own volition. It is true that our mind does turn towards the Divine when worldly adversities arise. But the very next second, it turns back from there and focuses on something else. How can we discipline something that is so fickle? One way is to engage it in karma — some good work. When the body and hands are engaged in a work, the mind is engrossed in it and does not flit here and there. The minds of carpenters, engineers, masons, and farmers are settled and rested in their work. Therefore, Arjuna, “matkarma-paramo bhava” — “perform karma as service to Bhagavān”. Perform karma with the view that you are only doing it for the love of Bhagavān.

ṃadartham-api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi ॥

BG 12.10

“Perform laukika and vaidika karmas as an offering to Īśvara. You will then achieve the supreme state".

The world is a carpenter’s shop. You are a carpenter working there. Do your work diligently, to please the owner. From such work you will earn for life in this world, and blessing for the afterlife. This is the training of karma, the biggest and best of all trainings.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...