This short chapter (20 verses) highlights the practice of yoga as focus on the personal feature of spirit (bhagavān) as the method for progress in yoga, superior to the effort to hold attention on the impersonal aspect of spirit (brahman). Krishna also provides a graded typology of possible ways to progress in yoga, depending on temperament and ability; and he concludes the chapter with a list of qualities in a yogī that win Krishna’s affection and favor. It is also here, in featuring the principle of bhakti (devotion), that bhagavān highlights his devotion for his bhakta, one who practices devotional yoga.
Arjuna requests Krishna to grade two types of yogīs—those who attend to him, bhagavān, and those who attend to the imperishing invisible spirit (brahman). Krishna doesn’t hesitate to express his preference for the first group as being best engaged in yoga and best positioned to achieve success in yoga without delay. Yet he also encourages the second group: They can also attain perfection in yoga, albeit with much more trouble, and in the end they will reach him, bhagavān, not the impersonal spirit (12.1-7).
For those who pursue the yoga of devotion, Krishna says, the best practice is to simply fix one’s mind intently on him and to employ one’s reasoning power all to that end. Recognizing that many are unable to focus the mind completely in this way, Krishna suggests practicing yoga techniques for stilling the mind (as outlined especially in chapter 6, dhyāna-yoga). And for those unable to do such practice, Krishna recommends engaging in activities, or work, for his sake. If even this cannot be done, Krishna advises one to practice giving up the “fruit” (results) of one’s actions. In any case, Krishna summarizes, one needs to learn letting go if one wants to experience peace, which is both a prerequisite for successful yoga and a product of successful yoga (12.8-12).
Such a spirit of detachment and peacefulness enables one to cultivate the sort of virtuous disposition that is pleasing to bhagavān. Krishna highlights some aspects of this disposition in the remainder of this chapter: the devotional yogī is free from animosity toward all living beings and is friendly and kind to all; has no sense of possessiveness; is free from the false sense of “I am the doer”; is equiposed in misery and joy; and is forgiving (12.13). Such a yogī, being self-satisfied, is able to sustain yoga practice with fixed conviction, such that he or she never disturbs other persons nor is disturbed by them. Indeed, such a yogī regards equally foe and friend, honor and dishonor, cold, heat, happiness and distress. Krishna concludes the chapter by declaring that those yogīs of devotion who possess great faith, regarding him as the ultimate aim of yoga, are most pleasing to him.