The Yogas of the Bhagavad-Gītā


Among the many subjects that Bhagavad-Gītā (BG) is known for, one is the synthesis of the different Upaniṣadic yoga practices. Due to their terse and often cryptic style, the Upaniṣads’ discourse on yoga reads more like a gloss on the subject rather than an accessible exposition. This is likely intentional, for this genre of literature was originally meant to be learned by sitting close to the guru and directly hearing and clarifying its intricacies, lest it remain enigmatic. Conversely, the Bhagavad-Gītā’s discourse on yoga is explicit. As such, what emerges is a clear-cut delineation of four distinct yoga systems— karma-yoga (action yoga), jñāna-yoga (knowledge yoga), dhyāna (or meditation yoga, also termed aṣṭāṅga, eight-limbed yoga), and bhakti-yoga (devotion yoga). In three waves—the first six chapters, the middle six chapters, and the last six chapters— Kṛṣṇa, the main speaker of BG, gradually unpacks these four core yogas and finally, unveils the perfection of yoga. 

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