Chapter XII Devotion
This short chapter, which follows the overwhelming vision of the universal form, is important for practice. The Supreme, as Kṛṣṇa, answers Arjuna’s question: is it better to practise yoga samādhi on the universal form, or on Self alone without attributes? Through the mouth of Kṛṣṇa, that Great Self replies that in general it is more feasible to meditate on form, that is on the Lord-with-attributes, because to meditate truly on the pure Self means dropping body-consciousness.
Many students of the Gītā, in the East and West, claim to take to the yoga of the attributeless, as based on pure Knowledge. They say that the Gītā itself places this higher, inasmuch as all forms of the Lord, like other forms, are associated with māyā, namely display-of-illusion. So worship and meditation on the Lord-with-attributes is in fact reinforcing illusion.
They do not usually realize that Identificative meditation on the absolute away from māyā, must involve giving up also the māyā of individual body and individual mind. A modern teacher has remarked that when the meditation comes to this point, there is usually a sort of shrinking away in the face of what begins to look alarmingly like a void. That teacher added drily: ‘It’s no good promoting oneself to the sixth form before one can tackle the sixth-form syllabus.’ Śaṇkara himself says that full worship-in-identity of the attributeless Brahman-Self is in general possible for Knowers alone; it becomes the process of their Jñāna-niṣṭhā or clearing residual memory-confusions from the face of Knowledge.
As to the karma-yoga samādhi practice, the Lord has in previous chapters given many different forms in which he is to be pictured and then realized: the brilliance in fire, the fragrance in earth, Vyāsa among the sages, the father and mother of the universe, the essence of every thing.
It is to be noted carefully that there is hardly any encouragement to meditate on the personal human form of Kṛṣṇa. ‘Of the Vṛṣṇi clan I am Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa)’ is on the same level with ‘Vyāsa among the sages’. The whole emphasis is on the universal aspects.
Verses 6 and 7 give the peak of karma-yoga:
XII.6 But for those who surrender all their actions before Me,
Intent on Me, meditating on Me, worshipping in unwavering yoga,
7 I soon become the rescuer from the sea of endless birth and death,
Of these whose thought is absorbed in Me.
Thus karma-yoga reaches its peak in samâdhi on God, still taken as separate.
The next four verses give the typical Gītā method of Teaching Down, as applied to the karma-yogin’s meditation on the Lord:
8 Set your thought on Me alone, absorb your higher mind in Me;
You will finally come to abide in Me:
Do not doubt it.
9 But if you cannot remain steadily in samādhi on Me,
Then take to the yoga of regular practice as your means to reach Me.
10 If you do not succeed by that practice, then simply work for me; if you can do actions for My sake alone, then too you will attain perfection.
11 If you are not equal even to this, then practise yoga in giving up the fruits of all your actions, with mind subdued.
Śaṇkara strongly makes the point that it is not a question of comfortably ruling out the higher stages on the ground that one could not possibly do them. On the contrary, there are to be continual attempts at the higher stages; in so far as they fail, the lower ones are to be added. The lower ones are meant to lead to the higher realizations, which are never absolutely impossible, because they are reflections of the Lord already standing in the heart. The practiser must not fall into the idea of a ladder, in which a higher step cannot be reached till the foot is firmly planted on the one below it. The succession is only until Knowledge arises, which may happen at any stage. He says: Practising karma-yoga in giving up the fruits, you will attain purity of mind (sattva-śuddhi), then yoga-samàdhi, then Knowledge, and finally Release which is perfection.
Abandonment of the fruits of actions is no mere cliché; it can be done only by one who ‘resorts to yoga, and who has subdued the mind’. Suppose one has been engaged in some socially valuable and long-worked-for project. Now that devoted worker sees it destroyed, by chance, or perhaps by malice. One who has not to some extent subdued the mind by yoga will hardly be able to feel calmly: ‘I have worked hard, but I dedicated the outcome to the Lord; let it happen according to His will.’ Most people would feel bitter, or resentful that the Lord had not done something to preserve this good work. As one hardworking devotee remarked frankly: ‘I feel the Lord has rather let us down. I know His will must be done, but why does He will things like this?’
The constant references to dedicating the fruits of actions to the Lord, or casting all actions before the Lord or before Brahman, have to be understood in the light of the earlier description of karma-yogic action in chapter II.48:
Set in yoga do your actions, casting off attachment
Be the same in success or failure; this being-the-same is called yoga.
Without the other limb of karma-yoga, namely meditation practice, inner serenity is hard to attain.
The chapter ends with eight beautiful verses describing one who is dear to God, and to whom God is dear. They speak of being silent and homeless, abandoning all undertakings, and ever in samādhi on the Lord. Śaṇkara takes the ‘devotion to Me’ as devotion of the man of Knowledge to the Self, in other words, jñāna-iṣṭhā.
The verses also speak of his being friendly and compassionate to all, so that the Gītā here, as elsewhere, sees the jñāna-niṣṭhā course as bringing welfare to the world. The eight verses should be compared with II.55–72. Another comparable passage is XIV.22–25, describing one who has transcended the guṇa-aspects of nature.
The Great Self speaks of the conduct of the Knower who is clearing away all memory-traces of not-Self:
He who hates none, but is friendly and compassionate to all.
Free from selfishness and I-ness, indifferent to pain and pleasure, patient,
That yogin who is always content, whose self is firmly controlled,
Whose mind and intellect are fixed on Me in devotion, he is dear to Me.
Before whom the world does not tremble, and who does not tremble before the world;
Free from thrill, haste, fear and fever, he is dear to Me.
Unconcerned, pure, capable, indifferent, undisturbed,
Abandoning all undertakings, in devotion to Me, he is dear to Me.
Who neither delights nor loathes, neither grieves nor craves,
Renouncing distinctions of good and evil, devoted to Me, is dear to Me.
The same to foe and friend, and in honour or disgrace,
The same in cold or heat, joy or sorrow, free from attachment,
To whom blame and praise are equal, speaking little, content with anything that comes,
Tied to no place, his mind set on truth, full of devotion, that man is dear to Me.
Those who revere this nectar of holy conduct here given,
Faithful, intent on Me, they are beyond measure dear to Me