evam satatayuktaa ye bhaktaastvaam paryupaasate |
ye chaapyaksharamavyaktam teshaam ke yogavittamaahaa || 1 ||
Those devotees, constantly united in you, worship you, and those devotees who worship the imperishable, the unmanifest, between them, who is the superior knower of yoga?
evam : in this manner
satatayuktaa : constantly united
ye : those who
bhaktaahaa : devotees
tvaam : you
paryupaasate : worship you
ye : those who
cha : and
api : also
aksharam : imperishable
avyaktam : unmanifest
teshaam : between them
ke : who is
yogavittamaahaa : superior knower of yoga
The first chapter of the Gita addressed the confusion of Arjuna arising out of his lack of identity, and of not knowing his duty on the battlefield. Chapters two to five explained what is the true nature of the individual, and using karma yoga to purify oneself. Chapter six explained how to remain constantly in one’s true nature through the yoga of meditation. Chapters seven to ten gave us an elaborate description of Ishvara, culminating with the vision of the cosmic form in the eleventh chapter.
The theme of this chapter is bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to Ishvara. Throughout the Gita, Shri Krishna has said, “perform actions for me”, “become devoted to me”, “make me your supreme goal”. But we have to first know, who is this “me” that is to be worshipped? There are some places in the Gita where Shri Krishna has described himself as imperishable, unmanifest, not visible to our senses. Conversely, he has shown his visible cosmic form to Arjuna in the previous chapter. In India, most devotees worship images of their chosen deities in their homes and temples.
So then, Arjuna wants to know, who is the superior devotee? Is it the one who worships the unmanifest, or is it one who worships the manifest? There is a well-known Marathi bhajan (devotional song) that asks the very same question : do I call you saguna or nirguna? Saguna means one with attributes, one that can be seen and felt. Nirguna means one that has no attributes. It is a tough choice for Shri Krishna. He answers the question in the next shloka.