Srimad Bhagavad-gita Study Group
- Chapter 12 -
The Path of Devotion
This chapter begins with a question as to the which is the best, the worship of the Aksara or the indefinable impersonal Brahman or that of the absolute person, Lord Sri Krishna. The Lord replies that those who worship Him, fixing their minds on Him, meditating on Him with devotion, faith and concentration, they are the best knowers of yoga. Those who restrain their senses and meditate on the unknown and unknowable impersonal Brahman also attain the Lord eventually but this path is beset with difficulties and severe ordeals and tribulations compared to the path of devotion. The Lord personally delivers his devotees from the ocean of unending birth and death and he extols Arjuna to therefore fix his mind on Him with all faith. He then instructs us that if this is too difficult then practice repeated remembrance of Him and if this is again too much then one should offer all of one’s actions to the Lord. If this too is not feasible then at least practice renunciation of the desire for the fruits of one’s action. The Lord then describes the qualities of his dear devotees. They hate no-one and are friendly and compassionate to all; they are humble, indifferent to mundane duality, wholly harmonised, firm and devoted, calm and collected, self-satisfied and wholeheartedly follow the path of devotion. Such devotees are exceedingly dear to the Lord.
Useful Acronym to remember the chapter contents:
Although Chapter Twelve is the shortest chapter in the Bhagavad-gita, it
contains essential wisdom which warms the heart of the reader. Entitled “The Path of Devotion”, this chapter discusses devotional service, the
stages one may undergo to achieve it, and the qualities of the devotee
who has perfected it. “God” essentially means “the supreme controller”
– but in this chapter we gain insight into the more cherished aspects
of God’s personality and the disposition of the devotee who is fully in
love with Him.
D Devotee’s Disposition
G – Godhead (Verses 1-7) - In response to a question by Arjuna, Krishna again picks up the discussion of impersonalism. It seems to be a recurring theme in the conversation, and one may question why.
The essence of our being is to be happy (anandamaya bhyasat) and the essence of such happiness is experienced in loving relationships. For a relationship to exist there must be a subject, object and reciprocity, but impersonal notions of “oneness” kill all three and therefore cheat the individual of true happiness. Krishna explains that a personal approach to God through bhakti-yoga (devotional service) is more practical in the immediate term and more fulfilling in the long term. While those who tread the impersonal path of spirituality undoubtedly receive spiritual merit, their progress is piecemeal and a great deal more troublesome. Thus, one reason our Acharyas continually refer to Krishna as the “Personality of Godhead” is to remind us that God is ultimately a person who must be approached as such.
O – Options (verses 8-12) – Here, Krishna demonstrates His magnanimity and understanding. Having delineated the topmost practice of bhakti-yoga, He goes on to offer other options, recognising that some may find it difficult to immediately embrace the devotional path. Progressive steps towards such a devotional spirit include the practice of regulated spirituality, worship through one’s daily work, and the cultivation of knowledge. The spiritual path is not all or nothing and one can begin their journey according to what is feasible and realistic.
D – Devotee’s Disposition (Verses 13-20) - As one embarks on the spiritual journey, they begin to develop saintly qualities. Krishna
concludes the chapter by elucidating the disposition of perfected
devotees. They exhibit qualities such as tolerance, determination,
satisfaction and equanimity of mind, and their purity of consciousness is clear to all. Devotees endowed with such endearing character traits conquer the heart of Krishna, who becomes bound by their spotless devotion. Such are the dealings within the transcendental realm – where even the unconquerable supreme controller becomes a captive of love.
Questions on Chapter 12
Chapter 12 sloka to learn:
kleśo ’dhikataras teṣām avyaktāsakta-chetasām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ dehavadbhir avāpyate 
teṣām–For those; avyakta-āsakta-chetasām–of minds attached to the unmanifest; (bhavati)–there is; adhikataraḥ–greater; kleśaḥ–struggle; hi–as; avyaktā gatiḥ–the way of attaining the unmanifest, the impersonal Brahma; avāpyate–is attained; duḥkham–with difficulty; dehavadbhiḥ–by the embodied soul. 
5 Persons whose minds are attached to the impersonal Brahma must undergo a greater struggle, as the path of attaining the impersonal Brahma is difficult for the embodied soul.