Sri Swami Satchidananda recommended that his students memorize these twenty slokas in Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita. These slokas explain the essence of Bhakti Yoga, one of the main branches of Integral Yoga. He said, “This twelfth chapter is really important. It has only twenty slokas, but they explain all of Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. Here the Sri Krishna clearly paints the picture of a true yogi or devotee.
Commentary on these slokas from Sri Swami Satchidananda’s book, The Living Gita:
1. Arjuna Uvaacha:
Evam satatayuktaa ye bhaktaastwaam paryupaasate;
Ye chaapyaksharamavyaktam teshaam ke yogavittamaah.
First, Arjuna asks:
Which devotees are better established in Yoga— those of steady devotion who worship you manifest in one form or another, or those who worship you as the formless and unmanifest one?
So far I have heard everything you’ve said, but I still have a little confusion, says Arjuna. One can worship the manifest or the unmanifest God. Which is better?
2. Sri Bhagavaan Uvaacha:
Mayyaaveshya mano ye maam nityayuktaa upaasate;
Shraddhayaa parayopetaaste me yuktatamaa mataah.
Lord Krishna answers:
Those devotees who continuously think of me with zeal, with sincerity, and [thus] steadily worship me manifest in one form or another are perfectly established in Yoga.
3. Ye twaksharamanirdeshyamavyaktam paryupaasate;
Sarvatragamachintyam cha kootasthamachalam dhruvam.
And what of those who worship me in the unmanifest condition—beyond name and form, infinite and indescribable, beyond the grasp of the mind, yet everywhere present, unchanging, immovable and eternal?
4. Samniyamyendriyagraamam sarvatra samabuddhayah;
Te praapnuvanti maameva sarvabhootahite rataah.
[Through such worship] they quiet their senses, become even-minded, and naturally think of the welfare of all other creatures. Certainly, such devotees also come directly to me,
5. Klesho’dhikatarasteshaam avyaktaasaktachetasaam;
Avyaktaa hi gatirduhkham dehavadbhiravaapyate.
But those who seek me as the unmanifest choose a more difficult way, because it is very hard for one in the body to reach that goal.
“It doesn’t matter, both are equally good,” says Lord Krishna, but it’s harder to worship the unmanifested, because it is unlimited. While you feel yourself to be limited, it is easier and better to worship something manifested. You are still within a body. It’s hard to worship a bodiless, formless one. Your mind can’t grasp it.
Then how should the embodied person prepare for the attainment of this goal?
6. Ye tu sarvaani karmaani mayi sannyasya matparaah;
Ananyenaiva yogena maam dhyaayanta upaasate.
The devotees nearest to me are those who renounce attachment to the fruits of their actions and instead offer them all to me; who desire me above everything else; and who, through yogic practices, meditate on me with a one-pointed mind.
7. Teshaamaham samuddhartaa mrityusamsaarasaagaraat;
Bhavaami nachiraat paartha mayyaaveshitachetasaam.
Such devotees, Arjuna, whose minds are thus fixed on me, very soon experience me as their deliverer from samsara the illusory drama of life and death.
8. Mayyeva mana aadhatswa mayi buddhim niveshaya;
Nivasishyasi mayyeva ata oordhwam na samshayah.
Therefore, just keep thinking about me. Fix your entire mind (manas) on me. Continously direct your discerning intellect (buddhi) to consider who I am, and you will soon know that we are united forever; there is no doubt about it.
There’s no doubt about it. He has said it many times before: “Keep on thinking about me, and dwell on me.” That’s perfect Yoga, the higher form of worship. But how many can do that? That’s why in the next sloka he comes down to a simpler level.
9. Atha chittam samaadhaatum na shaknoshi mayi sthiram;
Abhyaasayogena tato maamicchaaptum dhananjaya.
But if one doesn’t yet have the ability to fix his mind on me and keep it there, Arjuna, then he should learn to do so through Abhyasa Yoga (regular Yoga practice).
He says if you are not yet able to fix your mind on me, if you don’t have that staunch devotion, then seek to reach me by Abhyasa Yoga. When the mind wanders here and there, again and again bring it back to me. That is what you call practice. At the higher level, there is no need for any practice. Your mind is already fixed. You are already doing everything in God’s name. But if you can’t do that, then practice to bring the mind back to him every time you forget. That is Abhyasa Yoga.
10. Abhyaase’pyasamartho’si matkarmaparamo bhava;
Madarthamapi karmaani kurvansiddhimavaapsyasi.
And if one has not yet developed the necessary self-discipline to practice Yoga regularly, in fact he can also attain perfection just by conscientiously dedicating all his actions to me (Karma Yoga).
If you find such practices too difficult, just keep on doing things, but while doing them say, “I’m doing it for you, Lord.”
11. Athaitadapyashakto’si kartum madyogamaashritah;
Sarvakarmaphalatyaagam tatah kuru yataatmavaan.
And if one cannot even do that, he may still take refuge in me by surrendering his ego. Thus, he abandons the expectation of any personal rewards as the result of his actions—and his mind becomes calm.
See how much he dilutes it: “It doesn’t matter if you do things for yourself. But at least when you get a result, give a little to me.” See, you don’t have to abandon everything.
In Eastern countries, when a farmer harvests something, he takes a little and says, “This is for God.” The first bunch of bananas from the tree will be given to God. Anything that comes first will be offered. Even when a cow gives birth to a calf and begins to give milk, the first day’s milk will be offered to God. The rest we may drink. If you ask the farmer why he does that, he might say, “If we give it to God first, he will give us more.” It’s a kind of transaction, no doubt. But still, he has some connection with God. Instead of saying, “I’m going to devour everything; who worries about God?” at least he begins to think of God.
12. Shreyo hi jnaanamabhyaasaat jnaanaaddhyaanam vishishyate;
Dhyaanaat karmaphalatyaagas tyaagaacchaantir anantaram.
Knowledge (jnanam) certainly is better than (mindless) practice. And meditation (dhyana) is above that knowledge. Even superior to meditation is renouncing attachment to the fruits of your life, because peace (shanti) immediately follows renunciation (tyagan).
This is an oft-quoted sloka, particularly the first portion, “Knowledge certainly is better than mindless practice.” How many people just worship in a more or less mechanical way? They simply go before the altar, maybe light a candle or some incense, and sit there. They don’t even think of what they’re doing. They may repeat some prayers with the lips, but the mind is somewhere else. In the beginning, probably they studied the prayer and said it slowly and thought about what it meant. But in time it became rote. The same goes for repeating a mantra, or sacred sound formula. When you began, you did it so intently. But now, the mind wanders all about while the mantra is repeated mindlessly.
That is what Krishna calls formal, ritualistic practice; without the mind applied to it or without even knowing the meaning. Sometimes you keep a sacred book with a nice velvet cover, open it, burn some incense and close it. You didn’t draw anything out of it. It’s the same type of mechanical practice.
Some Hindu Brahmins will perform a puja (or worship) morning, noon and evening. Many of them don’t know the meaning of what they are doing. In the puja you are supposed to purify all the different limbs. With true feeling you touch the different parts with the mantra and feel that you are purifying yourself totally. Then you purify the inner self, the vital body, with your pranayama. When you inhale the breath, you repeat the mantra and feel that cool, nectarine breath going in. It’s all to be done with total feeling, every movement.
Once I was staying at someone’s house with some students. I could see the person next door doing his prayers. I called some of the students and said, “See what he is doing.” While saying the prayers, he was pushing his dog to one side and pulling his child on another side. In between he was calling, “I’m getting late for the office. Keep the coffee ready.”
He was avid about saying his prayers. He believed in doing it every day, but he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know the purpose behind it.
You might wonder if there is any value in doing daily practices without feeling. “Better indeed is formal practice than doing nothing.” It’s better to be in an ashram, even if all you do is sleep, than to be somewhere on a street corner looking for your drug contact. So I don’t condemn rote practices. Even if you keep doing them without thinking, one day you will say, “What is this? Fm just doing it. I don’t seem to be gaining anything. My mind isn’t here.” Then you will search for the purpose behind it. In this modern age, when people don’t understand the purpose behind a ritual, they tend to give up the ritual itself, rather than look for the original intention. But the ritual is important. It should be there as a skeleton that reminds you of the purpose.
Still it’s always better to know the principle than just to do the formal practice. Even if you don’t practice, at least have knowledge of the principles behind it. And better than that knowledge is meditation. Sometimes you know what you are doing, but your mind is not applied to that doing. Mere knowing and doing are not enough. He’s saying, put your entire mind on it: meditate on it. Do all that you do as a meditation. That’s an even bigger step: perfection in action.
Knowing the purpose behind the action is knowledge. Perfection in action is the meditation. Whatever you do, have your mind totally on that. Such meditation is even better than knowing the purpose.
And better than meditation is renouncing the fruits of your meditation, your action and your knowledge. Renunciation is the highest place, because peace immediately follows such renunciation.
Just as we saw the signs of the person of steady wisdom in the second chapter, here Krishna says who has true devotion and thus is dear to him:
13. Adweshtaa sarvabhootaanaam maitrah karuna eva cha;
Nirmamo nirahankaarah samaduhkhasukhah kshamee.
Very dear to me is that devotee who hates no creature; who is friendly and compassionate; who does not feel separate from others, and therefore does not think anything is his own; who stays calm in pleasure and pain; and is forgiving.
14. Santushtah satatam yogee yataatmaa dridhanishchayah;
Mayyarpitamanobuddhiryo madbhaktah sa me priyah.
I cherish that devotee who is ever content; who, through meditation, is steady of mind; who controls himself; whose convictions are consistent and strong; and who offers his heart and mind to me.
Does he ever say, “The one who brings me the nicest bunch of fruit on a golden plate, or brings me heaps of gold?” No. Here are the qualifications of a true devotee:
15. Yasmaannodwijate loko lokaannodwijate cha yah;
Harshaamarshabhayodwegairmukto yah sa cha me priyah.
I cherish that devotee who does not disturb the world and is not disturbed by the world; who is neither excited by joy, nor is he the victim of his own envy, fear or worry.
16. Anapekshah shuchirdaksha udaaseeno gatavyathah;
Sarvaarambhaparityaagee yo madbhaktah sa me priyah.
I love that devotee who is utterly detached from personal desires and whose mind (therefore) is pure and efficient; who is fair to all and never feels anxiety; and who selflessly renounces attachment to the fruits of his endeavors, even as he begins them.
17. Yona hrishyati na dweshti na shochati na kaangkshati;
Shubhaashubhaparityaagee bhaktimaan yah sa me priyah.
I cherish those whose devotion has lifted them above the dualities; who neither rejoice over good fortune, nor run from pain; and who have transcended even desire and grief.
18. Samah shatrau cha mitre cha tathaa maanaapamaanayoh;
Sheetoshnasukhaduhkheshu samah sangavivarjitah.
Very dear to me is that devotee who worships the same Self in friend and foe alike; whose mind stays balanced in the midst of honor or dishonor, heat or cold, pleasure or pain; and who is not attached to anything.
19. Tulyanindaastutirmaunee santushto yena kenachit:
Aniketah sthiramatir bhaktimaan me priyo narah.
I love that devotee who maintains equanimity during praise and blame; who takes refuge in silence (wherever he may be); who is content (no matter what occurs); whose home is everywhere; whose mind is always steady; and whose heart is full of devotion.
20. Ye tu dharmyaamritamidam yathoktam paryupaasate;
Shraddhadhaanaah matparamaa bhaktaaste’teeva me priyaah.
It is certain that those who take to heart this immortal dharma (eternal wisdom) that I am teaching you now and become full of faith and seek me as lifers highest goal, they are my true devotees; and my love for them is boundless.
Thus ends the twelfth discourse of the Bhagavad Gita, the science of Yoga, entitled: The Yoga of Devotion.
Source: Sanskrit transliteration from Sri Swami Sivananda’s Bhagavad Gita and commentary from The Living Gita by Sri Swami Satchidananda.