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The Gita and Yoga

In the Gita the word yoga has not attained any definite technical sense, as it did in Patanjali's Yoga-sutra, and, in consequence, there is not one definition of yoga, but many. Thus yoga is used in the sense of karma-yoga, or the duty of performance of actions, in V. 1, and it is distinguished from the sankhya path, or the path of knowledge, in II. 39. The word karma-yoga is mentioned in III. 3 as the path of the yogins, and it is referred to in III. 7, V. 2 and XIII. 24. The word buddhi-yoga is also used at least three times, in II. 49, X. 10 and XVIII. 57, and the bhakti-yoga also is used at least once, in XIV. 26. The one meaning of yoga that suits all these different contexts seems to be "association." It has already been said that this primary meaning of the word is the central idea of yoga in the Gita. One of the main teachings of the Gita is that duties should be performed, and it is this obligatoriness of the performance of duties that in the Gita is understood by karma-yoga. But, if such duties are performed from motives of self-interest or gain or pleasure, the performance could not lead to any higher end. It is advised, therefore, that they should be performed without any motive of gain or pleasure. So the proper way in which a man should perform his duties, and at the same time keep himself clean and untarnished by the good and bad results, the pleasures and sorrows, the praise and blame proceeding out of his own deeds, is to make himself detached from all desires for the fruits of actions. To keep oneself detached from the desires for the fruits of actions is therefore the real art (kaushala) of performing one's duties; for it is only in this way that a man can make himself fit for the higher union with God or his own higher self. Here, then, we have a definition of yoga as the art of performing one's duties (yogah karmasu kaushalam II. 50). The art of performing one's duties, e.g. the art of keeping oneself unattached, cannot however be called yoga on its own account; it is probably so-called only because it is the indispensable step towards the attainment of the real yoga, or union with God. It is clear, therefore, that the word yoga has a gradual evolution to a higher and higher meaning, based no doubt on the primary root-meaning of "association."

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