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Buddhi Yoga

Part 15 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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This buddhi yoga taught by Sankhya is now declared to you, so heed. Yoked to this buddhi yoga, you shall avoid the bonds of karma (2:39).


Since Sankhya is the philosophical basis of the Bhagavad Gita, we will be talking about it quite a bit. For now, here is A Brief Sanskrit Glossary’s definition of Sankhya: “One of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy whose originator was the sage Kapila, Sankhya is the original Vedic philosophy, endorsed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (2:39; 3:3, 5; 18:13, 19). Also, the second chapter of the Gita is entitled Sankhya Yoga. The Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook says: ‘Sankhya postulates two ultimate realities, Purusha and Prakriti, declaring that the cause of suffering is man’s identification of Purusha with Prakriti and its products. Sankhya teaches that liberation and true knowledge are attained in the supreme consciousness, where such identification ceases and Purusha is realized as existing independently in its transcendental nature.’”

Not surprisingly, then, Yoga is based on the Sankhya philosophy.

Buddhi yoga

Buddhi is the intellect, understanding, and reason. It is not just the thinking mind, it is the understanding mind, the seat of intelligence and wisdom. Buddhi Yoga, then, is the Yoga of Intelligence which later came to be called Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge. We have four levels of being, and the buddhi (also called the jnanamaya kosha) is one of the highest. So a buddhi yogi has his consciousness centered in the higher levels of his being. And he uses his buddhi to extend that yoga even higher into that level which is virtually indistinguishable from spirit. From then on Self-realization is assured. Yoga and Sankhya are inseparable, so buddhi yoga involves meditation as its paramount aspect. A Buddha is a successful buddhi yogi. Unprejudiced reading of the Pali Sutras of Buddhism will reveal that Buddha was not only an Aryan, he was a classical Sankhya philosopher, a buddhi yogi. Anyone who wishes to follow Buddha must be the same, just as anyone who wishes to follow Christ must follow Sanatana Dharma as found in the Gita. Then they, too, will be followers of Sankhya and practicers of Yoga.

“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to join or connect or even to unite in the sense of making many into one. It can also mean to bring together. But in the scriptures of India it always is applied in a spiritual sense, meaning both union with God and the way by which that union is effected. Yoga, then is both spiritual life and the culmination of spiritual life. Yoga is union with the Supreme Being, or any practice that makes for such union.

According to Krishna, the direct effect of buddhi yoga is the dissolving of karmic bonds created by past actions (karmas) and the freeing of the yogi from the compulsion to future karma. So we should look at karma itself.


“Karma” comes from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make. It is exactly the same as the Latin verb ago from whose form, actus, we get our English words act and action. Both verbs are all-purpose words–that is, they can be applied in many situations to express the idea of many forms of action both mental and physical. This is important to know so we can realize that karma covers the entire range of human action, whatever its character.

Karma, then, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling, but it also means the effects of actions. For karma is both action and reaction. Being a fundamental principle of existence it may be thought of as the law of causation governing action and its effects in the physical and psychological plane. It extends back to the moment of our entry into relative existence and extends forward to the moment of our exit from relative existence–even if that exit is a matter of transmutation of consciousness rather than external cessation of manifestation in a relative form or body.

Psychological yoga

Buddhi yoga is performed for the revelation of divinity, all other benefits, individual and communal, being secondary. For it is purely psychological, even if sometimes expressed outwardly.

First we must be able to intellectually understand the principle and the practice. Then if we follow it the result will not be the benefit of others or satisfaction with ourselves for having done what is right. Instead it will be the breaking of the bonds of egoic desire which bind us to the wheel of birth and death and force us to act and to reap the results of our actions.

To even conceive of erasing the capacity for desire from our minds is audacious to the maximum degree. To strive for it is courageous beyond calculation. No wonder a battlefield and imminent war is the setting for Krishna’s teaching.

We must understand that desirelessness is not a mere absence of desire or indifference or detachment. It is an absolute incapacity for desire. That is, desire cannot arise in the mind (buddhi), conscious or subconscious, of the perfect buddhi yogi.

People usually make the same mistake about buddhi yoga that they do about Patanjali’s Yoga. They think that just not thinking is the state of yoga and just not caring is the state of karma yoga. But they are much, much more. Yoga is the state in which the mind substance (chitta) has evolved to the point where no modifications (vrittis or waves) can arise. Buddhi yoga is the state in which desire can no longer arise, being eclipsed by awareness of the spirit-Self. These are high ideals virtually beyond our present comprehension, but not beyond our attainment.

The safe path

Krishna continues to amaze us. Next he states:

In this no effort is lost, nor are adverse results produced. Even a little of this dharma protects from great fear (2:40)..

All effort is effectual, and there is no regression from progress attained in this yoga. It also protects the yogi from mahato bhayat–great danger or great fear.

Even to try the path of yoga for a while and then abandon it, or to try it and fail, or to follow it and die before making any significant progress–all these will result in tremendous benefit. Not one calorie of expended energy will slip away from us. This is incredible, and reveals the profound nature of authentic yoga. Yoga (the real thing, that is) inaugurates such a profound change in our entire mode of existence, such a deep-reaching extension of our higher will, that it cannot help but come to full effect in time. So powerful is the psychic restructuring accomplished by even a little yoga practice that we are permanently changed, as Krishna will expound later.

Even more: no negative effect can accrue from such yoga. In other endeavors failure or abandonment often produce psychic damage, weakening, or loss in some form. Not so with this yoga. So mighty is its effect that even walking away from it cannot cancel its positive and inevitable results. Only good can come of our attempts. For even a little practice of this yoga will save us from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death by at least to some degree breaking the chains of desire–or rather, the weakness and ignorance that render us capable of desire.

The secret of its effectiveness

In this matter there is a single, resolute understanding. The thoughts of the irresolute are many-branched, truly endless (2:41).

In the practice of yoga there is only one ideal: liberation of the spirit (moksha). Nothing else can be a motive. It is like threading a needle. The thread cannot have fibers sticking out, otherwise it cannot be put through the needle’s eye. In the same way the mind must be focused on the single purpose: freedom in union with the Divine. Many types of actions may be engaged in and many goals may be aimed for or achieved. Yet, to the yogi they are nothing in themselves. The final result alone matters and is ever before his inner eye.

It is much like the rays of the sun. They can be very hot in the summer, but if even in the winter they are focused by means of a magnifying or burning glass they will cause any flammable object to catch fire.

The narrower the point of a weight, the more pressure is produced. A brick weighing a pound or two will cause no discomfort if held in the hand. But if the corner of the brick is brought to bear on the palm it will be painful.

The idea of both these examples is that the more united or one-pointed the mind is made through yoga, the more powerful–and therefore effective–it is.

Single purpose

To lack this single-mindedness in relation to moksha is disastrous to the yogi. This cannot be overemphasized, because yoga is nothing less than the intense form of liberating sadhana Krishna envisions and which impels him to say: “The thoughts of the irresolute are many-branched, truly endless.” Lost in the labyrinth of many goals and focusing on a multitude of objects, the aspiring yogi becomes lost in confusion and frustration. Krishna’s picture of such a person was presented by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock when he wrote about a man who leapt on his horse “and rode madly off in all directions.” In the Bible several times people are urged to walk straight forward without turning to right or left. (Proverbs 4:27; Deuteronomy 5:32, 28:14; Joshua 1:7) The meaning is the same as Krishna’s.

Our slogan should ever be: Go Forward!

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Religiosity Versus Religion

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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