Yoga and Spirituality: Finding Your Path to God

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Bhagavad Gita" by Eknath Easwaran. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the connection between yoga and spirituality? How is spiritual yoga defined in The Bhagavad Gita?

Many people are familiar with hatha yoga, which is controlling the body and mind through physical exercise and meditation. But yoga and spirituality also have a higher purpose. By focusing on yoga, or your connecting with god, you can break free from karma.

Read more about yoga and spirituality, and how Arjuna learns how to use yoga to break free from karma.

Yoga and Spirituality: Unite With God

Krishna now begins teaching Arjuna lessons about yoga and spirituality. You may be familiar with one type of yoga, hatha yoga, which teaches control over one’s body and mind through physical exercise and meditation. However, in a broader sense, spiritual yoga is any activity that brings a person closer to God. In fact, the word yoga comes from yuj, meaning “to unite” (in this case, to unite with God).

Krishna explains that yoga and spirituality is the way to break free from karma, the cosmic force that binds people to the cycle of rebirth. The definition of karma that you may be familiar with—being rewarded for good deeds and punished for bad ones—isn’t quite accurate. There is an element of getting what you deserve, but karma is the force that binds people to the cycle of reincarnation and determines what they will be born as in each life. Each person has a “debt” of karma, which can be worked off through fulfilling dharma and selfless service. Once you’re completely freed from your karma, you’ll stop being reincarnated.

The key to practicing spiritual yoga is to recognize Krishna’s—and, by extension, Vishnu’s—presence in all things, and to devote every action to serving him. A person who does this fulfills his dharma with no sense of ego and no interest in rewards, nor fear of failure or punishment. This is the attitude that Arjuna should adopt as he goes to war against the Kauravas—that he will do his duty as best he can, in God’s name, without worrying about the outcome.

People who don’t follow yoga and spirituality, who do things for their own pleasure or profit, are easily distracted and confused. They lose sight of their dharma, and are doomed to be caught in the cycle of samsara—reincarnation—forever. 

Arjuna, who’s shown throughout the Gita to be a practical person, and who is most interested in things he can put into practice, asks Krishna what people who have achieved this state of selflessness are like. How do they move, how do they speak? In other words, how could he recognize and emulate them?

Krishna answers that such people understand that everything is connected. Everything comes from and contains a part of Vishnu; therefore, true practitioners of yoga recognize themselves as one part of a much greater whole. By letting go of concepts like “I” and “mine,” yogis can unite themselves fully with God. 

Since people can be tempted by physical objects and experiences—what Krishna calls “sense objects”—he explains that the truly wise can draw their senses inward at will. By focusing solely on Vishnu (remember that Krishna is Vishnu in a human body), they can block out external temptations and devote every moment to serving him. This frees them from physical attachments and keeps their minds clear.

Having let go of personal attachments, desires, and fears, yogis aren’t affected by good times or bad times. They want nothing, fear nothing, and are never roused to anger; they pass through life peacefully, no matter what may be happening around them. Krishna advises Arjuna to aspire to be like them through yoga and spirituality.

Yoga and Spirituality: Finding Your Path to God

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  • The key principles of the Hindu faith
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