The Bhagavad Gita

Themes and Colors
Detachment and Dharma Theme Icon
Krishna, the Absolute, and Human Knowledge Theme Icon
Reincarnation and the Self Theme Icon
Forms of Worship Theme Icon
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Forms of Worship Theme Icon

Once Arjuna learns that Krishna is an incarnation of the Supreme Being (Vishnu), their discussion turns to how one might properly honor the divine and elevate one’s own self toward it. Although various readers of the Gita have argued that it holds one particular kind of worship supreme above all others, Krishna clearly argues that there are myriad paths to enlightenment, and the crucial three routes are those of knowledge, action, and devotion. These paths are differently suited to different worshippers, depending on their personal character and dharma, and Krishna repays each kind of worship with reciprocal action, knowledge, or love. Ultimately, then, worship allows people to purify themselves by establishing a personal relationship with the divine. The Gita offers the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna as a lens through which readers can begin forming their own relationships of this sort.

Krishna elaborates multiple kinds of worship, all of which can lead believers to him, and which take three general forms: devotion, knowledge, and action. A worshipper can accept Krishna as their only source of solace from the world’s travails, honoring him continually through prayers and chants. This is the path of devotion. Alternatively, a person can achieve liberation by meditating on truth, realizing that they are merely a component of the selfless universal soul, and thereby willfully renouncing the senses; by constantly thinking about the unity of all things, they can become united with that absolute unity upon their death. This is the path of knowledge. Finally, one can learn to give up the fruits of action, whether by acting only for Krishna’s sake or by elevating dharma above desire, and Krishna calls this the surest route to peace. This is the path of action. There are forms of yoga, or mindful discipline, that facilitate all three forms of worship: at various points in the Gita, Krishna talks about the yoga of action (which involves restraining action), the yoga of knowledge (which involves meditation and reflection), and the yoga of devotion (which can involve chants like “Om tat sat,” or “Om is the truth”).

However, these forms of worship are not created equally, nor are they equally suited for different worshippers—people are likely to find success with different strategies, and some are more promising than others. In the twelfth discourse, Krishna explains that the path of knowledge is both the purest and most strenuous means to liberation because it is incredibly difficult to perceive something formless and relatively easier to worship Krishna by proxy, through one of his worldly forms. Later in the same discourse, he suggests that followers who cannot practice one form of worship should take up another; yoga, for instance, can train people to better fixate on truth, but those who cannot undertake yoga can still move toward purity by acting without regard for ends. Krishna also sees that, depending on people’s dharma, there are different paths to enlightenment—he expects brahmins to be better at reflection and thinks that those controlled by the vile guna of tamas can improve themselves merely by obeying Vedic law, even if they do not understand it or follow it for the wrong reasons, since this is an improvement above their current moral state. Similarly, at the end of the thirteenth discourse, he explains that people can achieve unity with the universal through any of the three paths, even if they remain unacquainted with the two methods of worship they do not employ.

Crucially, besides advancing one on the path to heaven, worshipping Krishna earns one reciprocal action, knowledge, or devotion on his behalf. Actions of sacrifice sustain a mutual relationship between humans and the gods, for through sacrifice humans “cause the gods to be”—whether in a cultural or literal sense is unclear—and the gods “cause you [humans] to be” through their power. As an example, Krishna explains that humans’ sacrificial rituals cause the rains, which allow humans to eat, therefore sustaining their continued existence. Knowledge of Krishna is also knowledge about the self and the gunas in which it partakes, so meditation allows one to “see the self / in the self, / through the self.” Finally, Krishna loves back those who love him. At the end of the Gita, Krishna affirms that Arjuna is “greatly loved by [him]” and holds the Pandava warrior in his favor, which likely contributes to the Pandavas’ eventual victory in the war over Hastinapura. But Krishna also charges Arjuna with spreading his message to those appropriately conditioned to receive it, including passing on his teachings and helping others memorize their conversation. In this declaration, the Gita articulates its own purpose as a foundational religious text by imploring the reader to study and follow Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna.

Ultimately, Krishna does not offer a one-size-fits-all solution to enlightenment but rather encourages individuals to worship in a way that fits their own personal disposition, commitments, and access to knowledge. The Gita teaches that all worship still eventually leads to the dissolution of the self into the abstract, universal reality of Brahman, but dissolving that self relies precisely on the self’s moral standing in the present.

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Forms of Worship ThemeTracker

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Forms of Worship Quotes in The Bhagavad Gita

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bhagavad Gita related to the theme of Forms of Worship.
Discourse 1 Quotes

The great cry
tore the hearts
of the Sons
of Dhritarashtra
the tumult
made the sky
and the earth
resound.

Related Characters: Sanjaya (speaker), Arjuna, Dhritarashtra
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 2 Quotes

Your authority is
in action alone,
and never
in its fruits;
motive should never be
in the fruits of action,
nor should you cling
to inaction.

Abiding in yoga,
engage in actions!
Let go of clinging,
and let fulfilment
and frustration
be the same;
for it is said
yoga is equanimity.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 4 Quotes

Arjuna,
just as the lit fire
makes the kindling
into ashes,
in this same way
the fire of wisdom
makes all actions
into ashes.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 9 Quotes

Those who choose gods
go to the gods.
Those who choose ancestors
go to the ancestors.
Those who honour the ghosts
go to the ghosts.
Those who sacrifice to me
go to me.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 107-8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 10 Quotes

Understand
that whatever
powerful being there is—
be it splendid,
or filled with vigour,
it comes to be
from only a small part
of my brilliance.

But what, Arjuna,
is the purpose
of this abundant wisdom
to you?
I stand, holding up
this entire world
with only a small part
of my self.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 11 Quotes

Your Majesty,
when he said this,
Hari, the great lord
of yoga,
showed to Arjuna
the Son of Pritha
his highest,
most powerful, form.

Related Characters: Sanjaya (speaker), Arjuna, Krishna, Dhritarashtra
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
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The form of mine
which you have seen
is hard to discern.
Even the gods
are eternally
wanting to have
the sacred sight
of this form.

Neither through Veda,
nor heated discipline,
nor gift,
nor sacrifice,
is it possible
to see me
in the way
you have seen me.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 137-8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 17 Quotes

Om tat sat.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
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Discourse 18 Quotes

The poets know
that the leaving aside
of action based on desire
is renunciation;
and the clear-sighted see
that the giving up
of all fruit of such action
is called letting go.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:
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So this wisdom
told to you by me
is more hidden
than the hidden;
and when you have
pondered this
completely,
then do as you like.

Even further,
listen to
my highest word:
the most hidden of all;
you are greatly
loved by me,
so I will speak
for your benefit.

Devoted to me,
keep your mind intent on me,
give honour to me,
and sacrifice to me.
In this way, you will
truly go to me,
I promise,
for you are my beloved.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:
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One who learns
and recites
this conversation of ours
so filled with dharma
would sacrifice to me
with the sacrifice of knowledge.

Related Characters: Krishna (speaker), Arjuna
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
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