The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 50: The Way of Devotion

A Muslim Boy Praying in the Mosque, 2015, by chidioc. From Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

After his cosmic vision, Arjuna asks who among Krishna’s devotees “are more established in yoga?” Krishna responds:

 Those who set their hearts on me and worship me with unfailing devotion and faith are more established in yoga. (BG, 12:2)

Just as a reminder, the four paths of yoga Krishna describes are:

  • Karma yoga: the way of selfless service
  • Raja yoga: the yoga of meditation
  • Jnana yoga: the way of knowledge (jnana, gnosis, and know all share the same root)
  • Bhakti yoga: the way of devotion and surrender

Krishna goes on to say that if you can’t do one of these, do the other. If philosophizing about the divine is too difficult, still your mind with meditation. If you are too restless to still your mind, engage your hands in selfless service. If none of these work, surrender the results of your actions to God and just worship.

I pointed out earlier that when discussing the four paths of yoga, Krishna has a habit of calling whichever one he is talking about at the moment the “best,” or praising its particular virtues. Here he does it again:

Better indeed is knowledge then mechanical practice. Better indeed than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender to attachment of results, because there follows immediate peace. (12:12)

I think “best” in this case has to do with the effects of practice on the practitioner. Devotion is best because gives us immediate results, a sense of peace and acceptance.*

To be honest, this is not how I usually think, and it does not come naturally for me. In church culture, prayer is often described as a way of “giving it to God,” turning loose of our concerns and troubles and realizing “it’s all in God’s hands.” I’ve generally found such sayings to be trite and unsatisfying. Yet I suspect there is wisdom here that is closer to “non-attachment to results.” Devotion, the way Krishna describes it, is not simply a naïve belief that God will make everything work out for the best if we just trust enough or try to believe in our hearts. It is an active process of loosing, of liberating the self through surrender and devoting the self to God. (The word Islam literally means to submit or surrender).

This is one reason I appreciate the study of Bhagavad-Gita. It gives me new language to appreciate aspects of my own faith tradition. I have a knee-jerk reaction to someone telling me to just “give it to God in prayer.” But I do understand the concept of surrendering the results of your actions. There is a reason this section follows Arjuna’s vision of Krishna’s glory: It’s easier to “give it to God” when you realize Who God Is. 

*(There are other ways to understand this passage, but they involve discussions of translation that are beyond my ability).

Prayer:
I let go of my attachments so that I can hold more firmly to You.

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