“Now learn this buddhi yoga, declared to you in the Sankhya philosophy. By the yoga of the buddhi [or: by uniting the buddhi in yoga], you shall rid [free] yourself of the bondage of karma” (Bhagavad Gita 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:
“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 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 he, too, will be a follower of Sankhya and a practicer 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 karmas–binding actions. So we should look at karma itself. (See What Is Karma?)
Buddhi yoga is performed as an expression of divinity for the revelation of divinity, all other benefits, individual and communal being secondary–even insignificant. 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 be not be the benefit of others or satisfaction with ourselves for having “done the right.” Instead it will be the breaking of the bonds of egoic desire which bind us to the wheel of birth and death, forcing 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. (Obviously we are going to be imperfect yogis for quite a while yet!)
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.
- Bhagavad Gita for Awakening
- Text of the Bhagavad Gita for Singing
- The Bhagavad Gita: Literal or Symbolic (or Both)?