Chapter 12 – Bhakti Yoga
(The Yoga of Devotion)

In Chapter 12 – Bhakti Yoga (The Yoga of Devotion) of Swami B.G. Narasingha’s Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna inquires who is better situated in yoga, those who constantly glorify Śrī Kṛṣṇa or those situated in the impersonal aspect of the Supreme. Śrī Kṛṣṇa explains that the impersonal path is fraught with difficulty whereas those who worship His personal aspect are most dear to Him.

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अर्जुन उवाच
एवं सततयुक्ता ये भक्तास्त्वां पर्युपासते ।
ये चाप्यक्षरमव्यक्तं तेषां के योगवित्तमाः ॥१॥

arjuna uvāca –
evaṁ satata-yuktā ye bhaktās tvāṁ paryupāsate
ye cāpy-akṣaram avyaktaṁ teṣāṁ ke yoga-vittamāḥ

Arjuna said: Who is best situated in yoga – those who constantly glorify You or those who are situated in Your impersonal, imperishable aspect?

श्रीभगवानुवाच ।
मय्यावेश्य मनो ये मां नित्ययुक्ता उपासते ।
श्रद्धया परयोपेताः ते मे युक्ततमा मताः ॥२॥

śrī bhagavān uvāca –
mayy-āveśya mano ye māṁ nitya-yuktā upāsate
śraddhayā parayopetās te me yuktatamā matāḥ

Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa replied: Those who fix their minds upon Me, who constantly glorify Me and possess great faith – I consider them to be most perfect.


Up to this point in Bhagavad-gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa has explained His personal, impersonal and universal aspects as well as the various types of yogīs. Now Arjuna asks for special clarification as to which is the better path – the path of bhakti-yoga centred on Kṛṣṇa directly and performed with acts of devotion, or the impersonal path that tries to focus on Kṛṣṇa’s Brahman effulgence (brahma-jyoti).

This is a question for many persons starting on the path of transcendence – which path is better, the personal or the impersonal? Here, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that the personal path is best. The bhakti-yogī, who is fixed in meditation on Kṛṣṇa’s form of beauty, who constantly glorifies Him with great faith and determination is the best of yogīs.

The bhakti-yogīs that engage on the personal path of self-realisation are called Vaiṣṇavas. Those on the impersonal path are of three types – Brahmavādīs (Vedāntists), Śūnyavādīs (Buddhists) and Māyāvādīs (Śaṅkarites). Brahmavādīs are those who seek to merge the self (ātmā) into the bodily effulgence of Kṛṣṇa. Śūnyavādīs seek to annihilate everything and enter the void (śūnya) and the Māyāvādīs seek to become God themselves.

The Brahmavādīs seek to merge with the Brahman effulgence, but they have little or no knowledge of the personal form of Kṛṣṇa. Thus they only reach Kṛṣṇa after many lifetimes as will be explained in verse 4. In the annals of self-realisation, there are many instances of yogīs and Brahmavādīs failing to achieve Brahman realisation and even accounts of those such as the Four Kumāras, Vasiṣṭha Muni, Śukadeva Gosvāmī and others, who after achieving Brahman realisation, abandoned that for the higher bliss of bhakti-yoga. For the seekers of śūnya there is never success because there is no śūnya. There is no void anywhere. There is nothing outside or beyond Kṛṣṇa and so the Śūnyavādīs face great disappointment at the end of life. The Māyāvādīs reject the personal form of Kṛṣṇa as a manifestation of māyā (illusion) and want to become God themselves. Māyāvādīs are considered offenders and return to the world of birth and death.

Throughout the Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa’s statements are consistent in that He repeatedly confirms that of all paths, bhakti-yoga is the best. Among all types of yogīs, jñānīs, philosophers and philanthropists, the bhakti-yogī who is fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa without any material desires or the desire for liberation, is the best and is very dear to Him.

anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam
ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir-uttamā

In the highest plane of bhakti-yoga one is devoid of all material desires, material activities and the desire for liberation. Such bhakti-yoga must be favourably performed according to Kṛṣṇa’s desire. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11)

It is further confirmed by the greatest impersonal philosopher of all time, Śrīpāda Ādi Śaṅkara, who chastised his disciples and told them that they should just worship Kṛṣṇa (Govinda). Nothing else is required.

bhaja govindaṁ bhaja govindaṁ bhaja govindaṁ mūḍha-mate
samprāpte sannihite kāle na hi na hi rakṣati ḍukṛñ karaṇe

O foolish students, your repetition of grammatical rules and your philosophical speculation will not save you at the time of death. Just worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda! (Moha-mudgara 1)

ये त्वक्षरमनिर्देश्यमव्यक्तं पर्युपासते ।
सर्वत्रगमचिन्त्यञ्च कूटस्थमचलन्ध्रुवम् ॥३॥
सन्नियम्येन्द्रियग्रामं सर्वत्र समबुद्धयः ।
ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव सर्वभूतहिते रताः ॥४॥

ye tv-akṣaram anirdeśyam avyaktaṁ paryupāsate
sarvatra-gam acintyaṁ ca kūṭastham acalaṁ dhruvam
sanniyamyendriya-grāmaṁ sarvatra sama-buddhayaḥ
te prāpnuvanti mām eva sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ

However, those that control their senses, who are mentally composed in all situations, who are dedicated to helping all living beings and who worship My unfathomable, impersonal, inconceivable, unchanging, all-pervading aspect which is fixed and immovable – they also reach Me.

क्लेशोऽधिकतरस्तेषामव्यक्तासक्तचेतसाम् ।
अव्यक्ता हि गतिर्दुःखं देहवद्भिरवाप्यते ॥५॥

kleśo’dhikataras teṣām avyaktāsakta-cetasām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ dehavadbhir avāpyate

There is great difficulty for those whose minds are attached to the impersonal aspect. To progress on that path is most troublesome for embodied beings.


Brahman is the bodily effulgence of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As such, it is eternal, unfathomable, inconceivable, unchanging, all-pervading, immovable and all-powerful. This is stated in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa as follows:

yat tad avyaktam ajaram acintyam ajam akṣayam
anirdeśyam arūpaṁ ca pāṇi-pādādy-asaṁyutam
vibhuṁ sarva-gataṁ nityaṁ bhūta-yonim akāraṇam
vyāpya-vyāpta yataḥ sarvaṁ tad vai paśyanti sūrayaḥ

The Brahman feature of the Supreme is unmanifest, unaffected by time, inconceivable, without material origin, free from decay and diminution, indescribable, formless, without hands, feet, or other limbs, all-powerful, all-pervading, eternal, the origin of all material elements, without any material cause, present in everything, although nothing is situated in it, the source of the material cosmos and the object of vision for the demigods. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.66-67).

That effulgence of Kṛṣṇa is non-different from Him and shines like millions, and millions of suns.

vāsudevād abhinnas tu vahny-arkendu-śata-prabham
vāsudevo ‘pi bhagavāṁs tad-dharmā parameśvaraḥ
svāṁ dīptiṁ kṣobhayaty eva tejasā tena vai yutam
prakāśa-rūpo bhagavān acyutam cāsakṛd dvija

The effulgence of the impersonal Brahman is like unlimited fires, suns and moons. Brahman is non-different from Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa). Vāsudeva is full of all auspicious qualities and His nature is that He is the Supreme Controller. When He removes the covering of His own Brahman effulgence, Kṛṣṇa reveals His original, eternal, transcendental form. (Nārada-pañcarātra)

The concept of liberation in the impersonal Brahman is often sought by those who are frustrated with material existence, but who have no knowledge of Kṛṣṇa. Certainly a sense of detachment and renunciation from material activities is laudable, but Kṛṣṇa says that path is more trouble than it is worth.

If one endeavours for the perfection of life by controlling the senses, being equipoised in all circumstances, cultivates the impersonal Brahman conception, and at the same time is dedicated to helping all living beings, then such a person may eventually reach Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The impersonal path, Kṛṣṇa says, is very troublesome and difficult to attain. Therefore, it is expected that ascending such a path can extend over many lifetimes and there is also the chance of total failure and loss.

The Brahmavādīs must cultivate sense-control etc. as mentioned above with the study of Vedānta. After many lifetimes, by cultivating such knowledge, when the Brahmavādī understands that Kṛṣṇa is everything (vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti), he at last reaches Him. The Śūnyavādī and the Māyāvādī never reach Kṛṣṇa until they adopt the path of bhakti-yoga. However, a Vaiṣṇava may come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness in one lifetime.

ये तु सर्वाणि कर्माणि मयि संन्यस्य मत्परः ।
अनन्येनैव योगेन मां ध्यायन्त उपासते ॥६॥
तेषामहं समुद्धर्ता मृत्युसंसारसागरात् ।
भवामि नचिरात्पार्थ मय्यावेशितचेतसाम् ॥७॥

ye tu sarvāṇi karmāṇi mayi sannyasya mat-parāḥ
ananyenaiva yogena māṁ dhyāyanta upāsate
teṣām ahaṁ samuddhartā mṛtyu-saṁsāra-sāgarāt|
bhavāmi na cirāt pārtha mayy-āveśita-cetasām

O Pārtha, those who renounce all actions and offer them to Me, who take shelter in Me, who are fully absorbed in meditating upon achieving My association and who always worship Me – I swiftly deliver them from the ocean of birth and death.

मय्येव मन आधत्स्व मयि बुद्धिं निवेशय ।
निवसिष्यसि मय्येव अत ऊर्ध्वं न संशयः ॥८॥

mayy-eva mana ādhatsva mayi buddhiṁ niveśaya
nivasiṣyasi mayy eva ata ūrdhvaṁ na saṁśayaḥ

Fix your mind and intelligence on Me alone and ultimately you will come to Me. Of this there is no doubt.


For those who are embodied, the ocean of material existence is difficult to cross because it is fraught with many dangers. But if one takes shelter of the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, then He delivers one from the ocean of misery as easily as one is ferried across the water in a boat.

kṛcchro mahān iha bhavārṇavam aplaveśāṁ
ṣaḍ-varga-nakram asukhena titīrṣanti
tat tvaṁ harer bhagavato bhajanīyam aṅghriṁ
kṛtvoḍupaṁ vyasanam uttara dustarārṇam

In this life, the ocean of ignorance is most troublesome to cross because it is infested with the sharks of the six senses. Those who have not taken shelter of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, undergo severe austerities and penances to cross that ocean. Yet you should cross that difficult ocean simply by making a boat of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, which are most worthy of worship. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.22.40)

अथ चित्तं समाधातुं न शक्नोषि मयि स्थिरम् ।
अभ्यासयोगेन ततो मामिच्छाप्तुं धनञ्जय ॥९॥

atha cittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śaknoṣi mayi sthiram
abhyāsa-yogena tato mām icchāptuṁ dhanañjaya

Dhanañjaya, if you cannot firmly fix your mind upon Me, then try to reach Me by the constant practice of bhakti-yoga.

अभ्यासेऽप्यसमर्थोऽसि मत्कर्मपरमो भव ।
मदर्थमपि कर्माणि कुर्वन्सिद्धिमवाप्स्यसि ॥१०॥

abhyāse’pyasamartho’si mat-karma-paramo bhava
mad-artham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi

If you cannot keep up the practices of bhakti-yoga, then just try offering your work to Me. Thus, you will reach the perfect stage.

अथैतदप्यशक्तोऽसि कर्तुं मद्योगमाश्रितः ।
सर्वकर्मफलत्यागं ततः कुरु यतात्मवान् ॥११॥

athaitad apy-aśakto’si kartuṁ mad-yogam āśritaḥ
sarva-karma-phala-tyāgaṁ tataḥ kuru yatātmavān

If you are unable to do that, then do your work and offer the results to Me. While controlling the mind, give up all the results of your activities.

श्रेयो हि ज्ञानमभ्यासाज्ज्ञानाद्ध्यानं विशिष्यते ।
ध्यानात्कर्मफलत्यागस्त्यागाच्छान्तिरनन्तरम् ॥१२॥

śreyo hi jñānam abhyāsāj jñānād dhyānaṁ viśiṣyate
dhyānāt karma-phala-tyāgas tyāgāc cāntir anantaram

If you cannot follow this instruction then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. However, meditation is superior to knowledge. Better than meditation is the renunciation of material gain, for by such renunciation one finds peace.


Bhakti-yoga has two approaches, the direct and the indirect. Śrī Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna in verse 8 that the direct approach is to, “Fix your mind and intelligence on Me alone.” Such a stage is called rāgānugā-bhakti, or spontaneous devotion which is independent of the support of rules and regulations. However, this stage of rāgānugā-bhakti is not easily achieved, especially for beginners. In that case Kṛṣṇa recommends the indirect approach to rāgānugā-bhakti which is the constant practice of rules and regulations known as sādhana-bhakti. If such a practice is not possible then Kṛṣṇa suggests that one should work for Him. If one cannot do that, then He says that one should renounce the results of one’s activities and offer them to Him. If one cannot do that, then one should engage in the cultivation of knowledge to understand what the body is, what the ātmā is and who Kṛṣṇa is. One will then gradually advance from whatever stage they are at and progress to the topmost stage of approaching Kṛṣṇa directly in rāgānugā-bhakti. This is also stated in Śrī Brahma-saṁhitā as follows:

prabuddhe jñāna-bhaktibhyām ātmany ānanda-cinmayī
udety anuttamā bhaktir bhagavat-prema-lakṣaṇā

When transcendental experience awakens by means of knowledge and devotion, the highest devotion which is distinguished by the presence of pure love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the beloved of the ātmā, awakens in one’s heart. (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.58)

VERSE 13-14
अद्वेष्टा सर्वभूतानां मैत्रः करुण एव च ।
निर्ममो निरहङ्कारः समदुःखसुखः क्षमी ॥१३॥
सन्तुष्टः सततं योगी यतात्मा दृढनिश्चयः ।
मय्यर्पितमनोबुद्धिर्यो मद्भक्तः स मे प्रियः ॥१४॥

adveṣṭā sarva-bhūtānāṁ maitraḥ karuṇa eva ca
nirmamo nirahaṅkāraḥ sama-duḥkha-sukhaḥ kṣamī
santuṣṭaḥ satataṁ yogī yatātmā dṛḍha-niścayaḥ
mayy-arpita-mano-buddhir yo mad-bhaktaḥ sa me priyaḥ

One who is devoid of hatred, who is friendly and compassionate to all living beings, who is devoid of any sense of possessiveness, free of egotism, objective in all circumstances, forgiving, a self-satisfied practitioner of yoga, self-controlled, of strong determination, and whose mind and intelligence is engaged in thinking of Me – that person is My devotee and is thus very dear to Me.

यस्मान्नोद्विजते लोको लोकान्नोद्विजते च यः ।
हर्षामर्षभयोद्वेगैर्मुक्तो यः स च मे प्रियः ॥१५॥

yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate ca yaḥ
harṣāmarṣa-bhayodvegair mukto yaḥ sa ca me priyaḥ

One who does not cause distress to anyone and who is never distressed by anyone, who is free from happiness, anger, fear and anxiety, is very dear to Me.

अनपेक्षः शुचिर्दक्ष उदासीनो गतव्यथः ।
सर्वारम्भपरित्यागी यो मद्भक्तः स मे प्रियः ॥१६॥

anapekṣaḥ śuchir dakṣa udāsīno gata-vyathaḥ
sarvārambha-parityāgī yo mad-bhaktaḥ sa me priyaḥ

One who is indifferent, pure, expert, dispassionate, free from distress, and who renounces all selfish desires is very dear to Me.

यो न हृष्यति न द्वेष्टि न शोचति न काङ्क्षति ।
शुभाशुभपरित्यागी भक्तिमान्यः स मे प्रियः ॥१७॥

yo na hṛṣyati na dveṣṭi na śocati na kāṅkṣati
śubhāśubha-parityāgī bhaktimān yaḥ sa me priyaḥ

One who neither rejoices nor envies, who feels neither sorrow nor desire, who rejects both auspiciousness and inauspiciousness – that person has devotion and is very dear to Me.

VERSE 18-19
समः शत्रौ च मित्रे च तथा मानापमानयोः ।
शीतोष्णसुखदुःखेषु समः सङ्गविवर्जितः ॥१८॥
तुल्यनिन्दास्तुतिर्मौनी सन्तुष्टो येन केनचित् ।
अनिकेतः स्थिरमतिर्भक्तिमान्मे प्रियो नरः ॥१९॥

samaḥ śatrau ca mitre ca tathā mānāpamānayoḥ
śītoṣṇa-sukha-duḥkheṣu samaḥ saṅga-vivarjitaḥ
tulya-nindā-stutir maunī santuṣṭo yena kenacit
aniketaḥ sthira-matir bhaktimān me priyo naraḥ

One who is equal to both friends and enemies, equipoised in fame and infamy, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, who is detached, equal to insult and praise, of controlled speech, satisfied in all circumstances, who has no attachment to any residence and of steady mind – that person has devotion and is very dear to Me.

ये तु धर्म्यामृतमिदं यथोक्तं पर्युपासते ।
श्रद्दधाना मत्परमा भक्तास्तेऽतीव मे प्रियाः ॥२०॥

ye tu dharmyāmṛtam idaṁ yathoktaṁ paryupāsate
śraddadhānā mat-paramā bhaktās te’tīva me priyāḥ

Those who are faithful and who follow this eternal path of dharma that has been described by Me, considering Me to be Supreme – such persons are very dear to Me.


Everyone in the world would like to see peace and harmony, but what prevails is quite the opposite. Verses thirteen to twenty offer a simple solution to most of the problems in today’s world, and that is the self-improvement of the individual. In other words, if people were to cultivate the qualities that Śrī Kṛṣṇa has mentioned here, the world would be a far better place. As it is now, the world is no place for a gentleman. Being devoid of hatred, being friendly and compassionate to all living beings, being devoid of any sense of possessiveness, free from egotism, objective in all circumstances, forgiving, self-controlled, and being of strong determination etc. are indeed noble qualities. But how are people to develop them?

Independently these qualities, and other desirable qualities of the human being mentioned throughout Bhagavad-gītā are difficult to develop. It is seen that sometimes a person may possess one, two or three of such qualities, but where is that person who has all these qualities?

Kṛṣṇa gives the answer in Bhagavad-gītā – become a bhakti-yogī, take shelter of Kṛṣṇa and surrender everything to Him. The ātmā is naturally complete with all good qualities as could ever be desired by a human being. When one’s mind, intelligence, and consciousness are purified by being in association with Kṛṣṇa through the process of bhakti-yoga, all desirable qualities develop. Therefore, the open secret to life is that everyone should become a yogī in bhakti-yoga. Then the world would become a much better place.

Above all good qualities is the quality of devotion to the Supreme Person, from which all other good qualities manifest in great abundance. One does not become dear to Kṛṣṇa simply by independently developing good qualities. All such qualities must be dovetailed with the quality of devotion. One who approaches life in that way is a true bhakti-yogī and is very dear to Kṛṣṇa.

ॐ तत्सदिति श्रीमहाभारते शतसाहस्रयां संहितायां
वैयासिक्यां भीष्मपर्वणि
श्रीमद्भगवदीतासूपनिषत्सु ब्रह्मविद्यायं योगशास्त्रे श्रीकृष्णार्जुनसंवादे
भक्तियोगो नाम द्वादशोऽध्यायः।।

oṁ tat saditi śrī-mahābhārate-śata-sāhasryāṁ saṁhitāyāṁ
vaiyāsikyāṁ bhīṣma-parvāṇi
śrīmad bhagavad-gītāsūpaniṣatsu
brahma-vidyāyāṁ yoga-śāstre śrī kṛṣṇārjuna-saṁvāde
bhakti-yogo nāma dvādaśo’dhyāyaḥ

OṀ TAT SAT – Thus ends Chapter Twelve entitled Bhakti Yoga from the conversation between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna in the Upaniṣad known as Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā, the yoga-śāstra of divine knowledge, from the Bhīṣma-parva of Mahābhārata, the literature revealed by Vyāsa in one hundred thousand verses.