Saturday, August 14, 2010

Are Samkhya Yoga and Karma Yoga inter-dependent?

Lord Krishna in chapter 5 of the Bhagavada Gita explains the importance of devotional work over renunciation of work in shloka 2 as follows:

श्री-भगवान उवाचा
संन्यासः करमा-योगस का
निह्स्रेयासा-करव उभौ
तयोस तू करमा-संन्यसत
करमा-योगो विसिस्यते ।
"The Personality of Godhead replied: The renunciation of work and work in devotion are both good for liberation. But, of the two, work in devotional service is better than renunciation of work."

And then comes the piece which is our topic for today in the 4th shloka of the chapter.

संख्या-योगौ प्रिथाग ब्लाह
प्रवदन्ति न पण्डितः
एकं अप्य अस्थितः संयाग
उभयोर विन्दते फलं।
"Only the ignorant speak of devotional service [karma-yoga] as being different from the analytical study of the material world [Sankhya]. Those who are actually learned say that he who applies himself well to one of these paths achieves the results of both."

So, this gives the impression that Sankhya yoga and Karma yoga are tied to each other. But is it? What if somebody decides to do only an analytical study of the world, with material lusts as a guiding factor? The results of that would be utterly different from a person who dedicates himself to a devotional service to the Lord. We can see that from the difference in outcome of a person who is dedicated to the material sciences, who is duly rewarded for his work in money and in fame and all through does not develop any devotion towards anything, while a person who is dedicated to devotional service might live a life of penury without acquiring any analytical knowledge of the material world. Then how can it be said, that an analytical study of the material world -- Sankhya Yoga can lead to realization of results of devotional service -- Karma Yoga, and Karma Yoga can lead to the results of Sankya Yoga?

Or is this an indication of how corrupted our society has become, that we give importance only to the material world and not the physical or spiritual. Perhaps a union of the results of the two was possible in earlier times and not now? Is thus the Gita an indicator of a pristine, pure age? If that is the case, we ought to correct our approach to life to restore the old ways, or if it has always been like this for ages, we can continue along our current path of rewarding endeavours in the material world over those in the spiritual world.

Need citations/links from followers and readers on this topic.


Dirt Digger said...

The context of Gita was to lay the various flavors of Yoga to attain the knowledge of Brahman (or self-realization).
The statement seeks to compare the 2 types of yogas but does not define them. Hence your argument that Sankhya yoga's vague definition based on that statement does not hold water.
The complexity here is how does an atman (soul) practising Sankhya yoga?
An example here -->
details one bottom up approach for reaching that state.

Karmasura said...


I might have erred in deriving the meaning of the Yogas from the shloka alone. Thanks for alerting me to it.

But, Samkhya Yoga & Karma Yoga are said to be interchangeable in the shloka and using one, one might acquire another. I wish to understand that conundrum.

Dirt Digger said...

Based on my miniscule knowledge of the Gita, the various yogas are all equal paths to attain knowledge of the Brahman. Would be interested to read your thoughts given your broader understanding.
The rationale being given in the sloka you quoted, could be that the different backgrounds, intelligence levels, social background etc. of devotees, you cannot have one path to attain spiritual enlightenment.
At the same time religion cannot be elitist and grant moksha to only a certain group.
So a priest who performs devotional service (Bhakti) and a person with a regular job doing his karma to the best of his abilities are on the same path.
The complexity though as mentioned previously that Sankya yoga or Karma yoga are quite complex to perform.
Ergo its quite possible that our religious leaders sensing the practical difficulties touted Bhakti yoga as the focal point.
I'm reading Sankara Bhasyam and will try to find his viewpoint on the sloka and drop you a post or email (?).

Karmasura said...

Hmm.. that is an interesting explanation. I'll try to give my POV in a few days' time.

In the meantime, you can shoot yours in an e-mail to

Karmasura said...


I am currently reading the english translation of the Samkhya Karika with Goupada Bhasya. Thought you would be interested. Might post a correction of this post after I'm done with it.

The link is here: