Chuang, C. Synthese (2017). doi:10.1007/s11229-017-1323-1
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna lays out three paths of yoga as the means to achieve human perfection: the path of self-less action (karma yoga), the path of knowledge (jnana yoga), and the path of devotion (bhakti yoga). In this paper I will argue for an interpretation of the Gita in which the path of devotion is the last step that leads to moksha. This is not to claim that bhakti yoga is more important than karma and jnana yoga, but rather that the latter two are more elementary. In order to practice bhakti yoga, one must first have practiced karma and jnana yoga. All three forms of yoga are equally important—but there is a prioritized order in which they are to be practiced. On my reading, bhakti is more than having an intense feeling of love for God, because practicing devotion to God is an intellectual love of God that entails an intuitive understanding of the essence of things. My approach is to cross-examine the concept of human perfection as discussed in the Gita and Spinoza’s Ethics. Human perfection is characterized in both texts as a total liberation from being guided by things external to oneself other than one’s own nature. In other words, the aim of life is to liberate oneself by acquiring the right kind of knowledge. The freer one becomes and the more knowledge that one has, the more perfect one becomes. Thus, Spinoza’s idea of the “free man” resembles the self-realized agent in the Gita, because a human being becomes more “perfect” when he expresses God’s power to a greater degree. Bhakti yoga is the last step on the path to attain knowledge of God because in bhakti yoga, one employs the method of intuition to grasp God’s essence. As such, unlike karma and jnana yoga, the knowledge acquired in bhakti yoga is not empirical. In the Gita, rational devotion is a single act of both the mind and the heart, which, in turn, will lead to the practice of self-less actions.