Sankhya Yoga: The Yoga of Wisdom
A brief introduction to the 2nd chapter of the Bhagavad Gita
The teachings of the Bhagavad Gita have been a source of wisdom and inspiration for thousands of years, and are still relevant today, especially for those who are struggling with common psychological and mental health issues. The second chapter of the Gita, also known as the Sankhya Yoga or the Yoga of Knowledge, contains some of the most fundamental teachings of the Gita, which can help us manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
One of the key teachings contained here is the importance of self-knowledge. The Gita emphasises that far from being just our bodies and minds – ever-changing, perishable and multitudinous as they are – the true nature of the Self within is eternal, changeless, and first and foremost ONE. This awareness of our true nature can help us find inner peace and joy, see underlying unity beyond apparent diversity, and eventually overcome the fear of death, which is one of the greatest fears that human beings face whether they are aware of it day-to-day or not.
Modern scientific research has also confirmed the benefits of cultivating a sense of spirituality and connection to something larger than oneself. Studies have shown that people who have a strong sense of spirituality or religious faith tend to have better mental health outcomes, including lower rates of depression and anxiety (1).
Another important teaching of the second chapter of the Gita is the idea of performing one’s duty without attachment to the results. This is known as karma yoga, and it involves doing one’s duty with a sense of detachment from the outcome, recognising that the results are not entirely in our control, yet utilising all one’s ability and creative potential. This approach to any kind of work will eventually lead us into what is commonly referred to as the state of “flow”, which all but eliminates stress and anxiety, as well as helping us focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about the future.
Research on mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies has confirmed the importance of accepting the present moment and letting go of attachment to outcomes. These therapies have been shown to be effective for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression (2).
The Gita also teaches the importance of detachment from material possessions and desires, and the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and enlightenment. By detaching ourselves from these things internally (not necessarily physically!) and pursuing spiritual knowledge and enlightenment, we can find a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life. This, unsurprisingly, has been corroborated by research on positive psychology (3): the importance of cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning in life for mental health and well-being is undeniable. People who have a sense of purpose tend to have better mental health outcomes, including lower rates of depression and anxiety.
The Gita also emphasizes the importance of cultivating equanimity, or a balanced and peaceful state of mind, even in the face of difficult situations. This can help us reduce stress and anxiety, and can also help us make better decisions.
Modern research on resilience and coping strategies has also highlighted the importance of cultivating a sense of equanimity and balance in the face of adversity. Studies have shown that people who are able to remain calm and centered in the face of stress tend to have better mental health outcomes (4).
Overall, the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita contains some of the most fundamental teachings of the Gita, which can be applied to manage common psychological and mental health issues. By cultivating a sense of self-knowledge, detachment, purpose, and equanimity, we can find inner peace and joy, and can also improve our mental health outcomes, as confirmed by modern scientific research.
Research papers mentioned above:
(1) Koenig HG, King DE, Carson VB. Handbook of religion and health. Oxford University Press; 2012.
(2) Khoury B, Sharma M, Rush SE, Fournier C. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal of psychosomatic research. 2015
(3) Steger MF, Frazier P, Oishi S, Kaler M. The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of counseling psychology. 2006
(4) Southwick SM, Bonanno GA, Masten AS, Panter-Brick C, Yehuda R. Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: Interdisciplinary perspectives. European journal of psychotraumatology. 2014