Time Magazine

The Yoga of the Bhagavad-gita

THE APRIL 23 cover story of Time magazine highlighted the science of yoga.It reported that "fifteen millionAmericans include some form of yoga in their fitness regimen—twice as many as did five years ago." Yet one wonders if any of the fifteenmillion are getting out of yoga what they should.As supermodel ChristyTurlington, pictured on the cover as an ardent practitioner,Time Magazine is quoted as saying, "Some of my friends simply wantto have a yoga butt."Patricia Walden,a prominent yogateacher who has madea fortune producing instructional videos, responds to what many would consider a shallow approach to yoga: "If you start doing yoga for those reasons, fine. Most people get beyond that andsee that it's much, much more."

Or do they?

The sad truth is that most people are not studying the Bhagavad-gita, traditionally seen as a yoga-sutra, a treatise on yoga. At least in Western countries, aspiring yogis, intimidated by the Gita's Sanskrit terminology, set the book aside to be studied later. Though that response in understandable, let's look at the Gita's teachings on yoga and see why for centuries it has been, and still is, considered among the most important textbooks on the subject.

It should be noted at the outset that the word yoga itself refers to "linking with God." This implies that any genuine approach to yoga should involve the spiritual pursuit, however varied that pursuit may be. For example, in the first verses of the Gita's  third chapter, Lord Krsna introduces two forms of spirituality that might be identified with yoga: the contemplative life and the active one. The people of India in the time of the Gita were given to extreme acts of renunciation. Aspiring spiritualists of the age felt that only by shaking off the burden of active worldly life could one approach a life of the spirit. The Gita seeks to correct this misconception. It takes the doctrine of nivrtti,negation, so dominant in ancient India, and augments it with positive spiritual action. Thus, Krsna (who is also known as Yogesvara, or "the Master of Mystic Yoga") teaches Arjuna not so much about renunciation of action, but about renunciation in action. In later Vaisnava terminology, this is the preferred yukta-vairagya, or "renouncing the world by acting for the Supreme." Krsna accepts both forms of renunciation, but He describes the active form as more practical and more effective as well.