It is said that millennia ago, Brahma had Vyasa dictate to Ganesha the 200,000 verses that make up the Mahabharata. It is an epic sacred text, of which the Bhagavad Gita is a part, written approximately 5,000 years ago. Here, I present a concise commentary on how to be a yogi according to Bhagavad Gita.
This sacred text holds crucial relevance within Hindu philosophies and is based on an imaginary dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve of the dynastic war of Kurukshetra. The war was between the Pandavas, among whom Arjuna was a prince, and the Kauravas, where many of his relatives, friends, and teachers were present.
Emerging from various oral traditions rich in human stories and mythology, even symbolism, this text seeks to disseminate eternal wisdom—namely, the awareness of being and the possibility of attaining enlightenment through the path of yoga, making it accessible to all through simple explanations.
Certainly, the backdrop of a war is used to facilitate the understanding of the internal conflicts experienced by every individual when facing their own dilemmas about whether to act or not in certain circumstances, and the appropriate way to approach it. An internal ethical or moral debate, where Krishna, with his divine and social transcendence, explains to Arjuna (in his discouragement), representing humanity, the correct answers. This war, whether real or mythical, was necessary in discourse to teach the philosophy that the true Self or spirit is indestructible, eternal, and immeasurable. It is also unique, making this text fundamental in constructing one of the main Hindu philosophies, Vedanta, founded on non-duality.
In Yoga, its full realization is where one should seek and build the action that will eventually dispel all doubts plaguing the human mind, disturbing the body and distancing the spirit from the light.
Shankhya Yoga shows the immortality of the soul or Atman: the spirit is indestructible, eternal, unborn, inexhaustible, unmanifest, unthinkable, and immutable. It brings us face to face with our duty, Dharma («you must respect your duty and not hesitate»). It introduces us to Karma Yoga, which teaches that to break free from the cycle of reincarnations, one must act but without expecting results or attachments. In this balance and equanimity, regardless of success or failure, happiness resides. Wisdom is reached through Pratyahara, withdrawing the senses, achieving abstraction, and abandoning the desires of the mind, leading to Samadhi, enlightenment, or liberation.
The Yoga of knowledge and recognition of the true and unique Self or spirit (Jnana Yoga) on one side, and Karma Yoga, which demands action, on the other, create apparent confusion for Arjuna. Should one turn inward or act outwardly? Krishna makes him understand the yoga of action by dispelling the apparent dilemma between renunciation and action. In fact, non-action is not about doing nothing but being free from desires and longings for fruits. It is selfless action, done with the awareness of doing what must be done. Total inaction is impossible, as the Gunas urge us to act, with rajasic (passionate, hyperactive) and tamasic (ignorant, indolent) attitudes binding us to the mundane and sattvic actions (kind, intelligent) leading to enlightenment or liberation. Knowledge comes into play to help transcend the Gunas, controlling passions and thoughts but also requiring action—action determined by the law of sacrifice, without attachments and attention to results. This purity of heart leads to knowledge of the true and unique Self.
The key to real renunciation lies in acting following Dharma and without attachment to pleasure or pain, loss or gain, victory or defeat. Thus, Raga-Dvesha, the constant struggle between desire and repulsion, is controlled, leading to knowledge of the true and unique Self. Karma Yoga is better than isolation and the renunciation of the hermit.
Following these guidelines, a person progresses to become a Yogi according to the Bhagavad Gita, learning to control their thoughts through Pranayama, breathing exercises, and Dhyana, or meditation yoga. The mind calms down by being impartial to those with good hearts, friends and enemies, the indifferent, the neutral, the hateful, relatives, the honorable, and the wicked.
This is where Hatha Yoga comes into play, which, far from being simply a set of physical postures or asanas, allows for entering a meditative state in its execution. Thus, free from desires and disturbing thoughts, with serenity established, in equanimity and balance, the yogic way of life can be achieved. It involves remaining in constant practice of yoga and meditation (Abhyasa) and in dispassion (Vairagya).
Certainly, we witness high levels of demand for mundane human existence, causing Arjuna to question the afterlife. This motivates Krishna to introduce him to Bhakti Yoga or the yoga of devotion, presenting the wheel of reincarnations. Krishna assures Arjuna that one who acts well, as a dedicated yogi, will reach the highest goal. Those who, in this devoted process, worship and merge their inner self with Krishna’s will be the most devout among all yogis. It is important to clarify here that this is not a typically dual concept of a god and a devotee but rather a non-dual idea, one of unity or singularity, where only one Self exists, and everything else is Maya or illusion.
Krishna asks Arjuna to know him as the eternal cause of all beings, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the splendor of splendid objects, after revealing his condition as the origin and dissolution of the universe. Once again, demonstrating the complementary nature of his philosophy, he explains the four types of devotees: the distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the one seeking wealth, and the wise. He defines the wise as one who seeks him as the supreme goal. Wisdom, seen as the liberation from false or apparent pairs of opposites, leads to devotion, and devotion leads to wisdom. A steadfast mind through habitual and constant meditation (Bhyasa) goes to the Supreme Person, the Resplendent One. It is the idea of his unmanifested aspect: «All beings exist in Me, but I do not exist in them.»
With these ideas, we progress in wisdom, detach from the ego, and learn with devotion to be grateful, to know, and to recognize the omnipresent and imperishable Self from which we all originate (Purusha), and with which we are destined to (re)merge, overcoming the apparent duality.