The Eighteen Yogas of the Bhagavad-gītā

We may remember that the Bhagavad-gītā is a small, though very important, section of the vastly longer epic poem, the Mahābhārata. In the Mahābhārata, the great Battle of Kurukṣetra is about to commence. This battle (recounted in the course of several parvans, or large portions, of the Mahābhārata) will be fought over a period of eighteen days, the culmination of a years-long feud over sovereignty of a kingdom, between the five sons of Paṇḍu—the Pāṇḍavas—and their one-hundred cousins, the Kauravas. Intrigue, cheating, and political positioning over several years have led to this battle, which involves the several kings of Bharatavarṣa, the land presently known as India. Duryodhana, leader of the Kaurava brothers, has rejected all conciliatory gestures by the Pāṇḍavas who, ever since childhood, had suffered numerous abuses by him.

On the first day of the battle, prior to the first armed engagement, the Pāṇḍava warrior, Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna, hold an extended consultation. It is this dialogue, in which Krishna counsels Arjuna on focused engagement (yoga), that constitutes the Bhagavad-gītā.

Each of the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad-gīta has, traditionally, a Sanskrit title which includes the word yoga. Thus, for example, Chapter 1 is entitled Arjuna-viṣāda-yoga (The Yoga of Arjuna’s Dejection), and Chapter 2 is entitled Sāṅkhya-yoga (the Yoga of Analysis). The inclusion of this term in each chapter title helps readers to be aware of two features of the text. First, the entire Gītā is about yoga, providing a wide-ranging comprehension of yoga’s principles and processes; and second, each of the eighteen chapters function as complete units, one chapter offering a particular approach to the over-all message of spiritual engagement (yoga). Each chapter is both analytical and synthetic in character—opening out the subject in careful scrutiny and drawing together apparently diffuse ideas into a unified (yoga) vision.

Here we will overview the Bhagavad-gītā chapter by chapter, both to gain a sense of the essential contours of the work, and to call attention to the varied ways in which yoga is represented throughout the work. As we will see, while the Gītā has a definite linear progression from Chapter 1 through Chapter 18, it is also a “song” (gītā), complete with refrains and a rich, varied rhythm of expanding and heightening vision of cosmic order and consciousness, and of the hope and possibility for human individual and collective well-being.

The Eighteen Yogas of the Bhagavad-gītā
Krishna Kshetra Swami – May 2016
Draft – please do not cite.

Chapter 1: The Yoga of Arjuna’s Dejection (arjuna-viṣāda-yoga)

Chapter 2: The Yoga of Analysis (sāṅkhya-yoga)

Chapter 3: The Yoga of Action (karma-yoga)

Chapter 4: The Yoga of Knowledge (jñāna-yoga)

Chapter 5: The Yoga of Renunciation (sannyāsa-yoga)

Chapter 6: The Yoga of Meditation (dhyana-yoga)

Chapter 7: The Yoga of Wisdom (vijnana-yoga)

Chapter 8: The Yoga of Liberating Spirit (tāraka-brahma-yoga)

Chapter 9: The Yoga of Royal and Hidden Knowledge (rāja-vidyā-rāja-guhya-yoga)

Chapter 10: The Yoga of Excellence (vibhūti-yoga)

Chapter 11: The Yoga of Seeing the Cosmic Form (viśva-rūpa-darśana-yoga)

Chapter 12: The Yoga of Devotion (bhakti-yoga)

Chapter 13: The Yoga of Distinguishing Matter from Spirit (prakṛti-puruṣa-viveka-yoga)

Chapter 14: The Yoga of the Threefold Modalities (guṇa-traya-vibhāga-yoga)

Chapter 15: The Yoga of the Ultimate Person (puruṣottama-yoga)

Chapter 16: The Yoga of Differentiating Godly and Ungodly Assets (daivāsura-sampad-vibhāga-yoga)

Chapter 17: The Yoga of Differentiating Threefold Faith (śraddhā-traya-vibhāga-yoga)

Chapter 18: The Yoga of Liberation (mokṣa-yoga)