Today is Krishna Janmashtami; when Hindus all over the world celebrate Sri Krishna’s birthday! On this auspicious occasion we pay respects to Krishna – one of the greatest yogis to have lived. Based on scriptural details and astrological calculations the date of Krishna’s birth is 19 July 3228 BCE. It’s absolutely stunning if you consider that He has maintained relevance in public consciousness for about 5,241 years!! Phew! In fact Krishna’s influence on Indian spirituality, art and culture is truly astounding!
Krishna is considered a full ‘avatar’ (re-incarnation) of Vishnu (one of the triumvirate of Hindu gods). In this article though we explore his role as one of the foremost Yogis and interpreters of Yogic knowledge.
Yogic knowledge was codified much later by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras; and modern Yoga rightly draws knowledge primarily from this timeless source. However, arguably an equally important Yogic text is the Bhagvad Gita – which appears as the 6th Book within the historical masterpiece ‘Mahabharata’ (the world’s longest poem!) The Bhagvad Gita is the magnificent discourse given by Krishna to his pupil, the great warrior Arjuna. In its philosophical scope it is absolutely breathless and incomparable. 5 millennia have passed by; but you would be very hard-pressed to find another treatise on philosophy that reveals so much on the human condition. Questions on Birth, Death and the eternal Soul are dealt with.
What is very interesting for students of yoga, is Krishna’s categorization of Yoga into 4 different paths depending on the personality of the student. While we in modern yoga primarily focus on the physically-driven Raja Yoga approach; the 18 chapters of the Bhagvad Gita are divided by some commentators into 3 divisions of 6 chapters each – corresponding to Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
> Karma Yoga (the Yoga of ‘doing’, of ‘service’ – wherein you work but do not concern yourself with the fruits of your labour) This is especially relevant in today’s times where people are extremely stressed at work; not because they hate their ‘work’, but because they concern themselves primarily with what gains their work will bring them. And when it does not bring them the necessary appreciation and promotions; they become dejected and stressed. Karma Yoga is meant for people who express themselves in life through the things that they do – Krishna teaches us to work tirelessly but dedicate our work as service. Examples include Mother Theresa, Gandhi.
> Bhakti Yoga (the Yoga of ‘devotion’, of ‘faith’ – wherein, by absorbing yourself fully in the worship of the deity you transcend your limited self) This is the path of the Heart; of feeling. The most popular religions of the world – Christianity & Islam belong to the approach of devotion and faith to God. Here faith is the most important factor. We occupy our entire consciousness with God – thereby overcoming our identification with our own limited ego. Example is Meera.
> Jnana Yoga (the Yoga of ‘Knowledge’ – wherein you try to answer the philosophical questions of life) This again is extremely relevant since Science has advanced so much over the millennia that we are all thinking individuals. So, we are interested in knowing about life. Generally, the journey of self-inquiry begins with the question – ‘Who am I?’ Irrespective of technological advances in the external world – this question remains largely unanswered by the billions who live on the planet. This essential question must still be answered by each individual – a process of self inquiry must be initiated. Examples include Socrates, Ramana Maharishi.
Of the Bhagvad Gita’s sublime verses, perhaps the most significant is this masterpiece on Man’s relation to his work.
karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ‘stv akarmani
You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.
So, here’s wishing all you Yogis a Happy Krishna Janmashtami! And take time to ponder on the eternal verses of the Bhagvad Gita – it will certainly leave you a whole lot more enriched!