Part IV: Yoga-Sutra and the Bhagavad-Gita


While Tantra includes all humans in the quest for samadhi, only those who practice the special disciplines attain the powers, the side. Hence the distinction continues to exist between special techniques and popular techniques. To make the distinction between popular Yoga and classical Yoga more clear, I shall compare and contrast the Yoga-Sutra with the Bhagavad-Gita.


The Bhagavad-Gita was written during a ‘profound and immense transformation’ of Indian religious expression. This is the time when all varieties of religious experience are being assimilated into a common religion. [i] . The Bhagavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata, a collection of religious works written between 4th century AD and 4th century BC. Vyasa wrote the Gita between 100 BC and 200 AD – during the time of greatest assimilation. Accordingly, its message is syncretistic, combining the popular theism with the Yogic techniques for autonomy [ii] It describes Yoga in its greater form, i.e. for everyone.

Yoga Sutra

The Yoga Sutra was probably written by Patanjali in the last half of the sixth century AD. In this period many ancient traditions were recorded and compiled in a systematic way. Patanjali systematizes the Yogic techniques that lead to samadhi. His is a technical manual. He describes yoga in its subtle form, i.e. for the few.

Popular Theism vs. Elite philosophy

To understand the message of the Bhagavad Gita, we must begin with the overwhelming theism. “Meditation and concentration here become instruments of an unio mystica with a God who reveals himself as a person.” [iii] Yoga leads to the realization of the oneness with God. This God is everything. This contrasts with the classical notion that God (Isvara) is only another Purusha who helps the Yogi attain his own individual Purusha. For the Gita, the ultimate was the realization of a transcendent God who manifested himself in the world of matter. For the Yoga Sutra, the ultimate was the experience of Purusha as distinct from Prakrti.

Classic Yoga also employs god identification as intermediate technique

Although these conceptions of god differ in the absolute sense, they have similarities. The main technique of the Bhagavad Gita was the sacrifice of the result of one’s actions to the supreme God. Life was to become a continuous sacrifice. [iv] In the Yoga Sutra part of the niyama is “the effort to make Isvara, the motive of all one’s actions.” (Yoga Sutra 2:32) So, even in Classic Yoga the identification with a god precedes the ultimate state. The ultimate technique of the Gita is merely a stage in the progression of techniques of the Yoga Sutra.

Difference matter of emphasis

Many of the differences in these books are merely a matter of emphasis. Just as classic Yoga includes the theism of the Gita, the Gita philosophy also includes the discriminating Yogis in their scheme. In the Gita, Yoga is related with the universe; in the Yoga Sutra Yoga is only an individual affair. However the Gita also posits the individual tradition.

“Those who perceive thus by their eye of wisdom the distinction between the field and knower of the field, and the deliverance of beings from matter (Prakrti) - they attain to the supreme.” Gita 13

Classic - no action: Gita - must act

In the Gita, one’s life revolves around the universal god. These contrasting views of God manifest themselves on the question of action. The Yoga Sutra, as mentioned, says that to exist is to be in pain. Retreat from this world is desirable. In the Gita we find ideas such as “he who from the world does not shrink is dear to me” or “he who controls the senses by the mind, and without attachment engages the organ of action in the path of work, he is superior.” One is to control one’s senses as in classical yoga, but one is to continue to manifest one’s karma in the phenomenal world. The question of Arjuna to Krishna is if he should act. Krishna’s answer is an unmistakable yes. “He who does not, in this world, turn the wheel thus set in motion, is evil in his nature, sensual in delight, and he lives in vain.”

Gita includes worship, puja, as a technique for common man

Yoga techniques are similar in both. The Gita says that yoga teaches one-pointed concentration. Pain is caused by attachment. Concentration on God eliminates attachment. Arjuna asks Krishna what happens if the individual can’t follow the specific concentration techniques of Yoga. Krishna merely says worship me, puja, and devote your actions to me. This interpretation allows for the general public. As pointed out classical yoga is that path available only to a particular type of person.

Gita for all: Classic for ascetic elite

So on the metaphysical level the Yoga of the Gita is devoted to a universal god while Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra leads one to an individual identity with one’s self. On the level of practice, the Gita stresses that all ways to salvation are the right way; the yoga technique is thrown to the masses. In the YS - yoga is a specific technique, practiced in a particular way, with a heavy stress on asceticism.

Gita: any discipline becomes a Yoga

If one takes the broadminded conclusions of the Bhagavad Gita about Yoga to the ultimate, Yoga becomes any discipline to which one devotes his life. Any discipline, as part of the supreme God, reveals his essence. On this general level any Western discipline can be yogic. As long as we devote ourselves one pointedly to the ideal, we are on the right track to the discrimination of God.

[i] Eliade p 143

[ii] Radhakrishnan, 101

[iii] Eliade, 161

[iv] Eliade, 157



Resource: Reawakening Spirituality through Nature

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