Summary on Twelfth Chapter by Swami Paramarthananda
Note: 1. Portions in brackets are supplied ideas. 2. Numbers in brackets indicate the verses.
(The eleventh chapter has paved the way for virad-bhakti. So, in the twelfth chapter, the Lord deals with all aspects of bhakti leading to liberation.)
The chapter begins with Arjuna’s question seeking to know whether virad-bhakta (sagunabhakta) or aksara-bhakta (nirguna- bhakta) is superior (1).
Lord Krsna first answers that sagunabhakta is superior. (In fact, we cannot compare them. Everyone has to go through both and one can reach the Lord through nirgunabhakti alone, which the Lord himself points out in the 4th verse. Still the Lord praises sagunabhakta because of the context.) (2)
From the 3rd verse to the 12th verse, Krsna gives out the entire range of bhakti which leads to liberation. In the first three verses (3 to 5) Krsna talks about nirgunabhakti which is jnanayoga and which is the direct means for liberation. But, the Lord points out that this will be difficult for unprepared people (5).
From the 6th verse to the 8th verse, the Lord speaks about the next lower stage in the form of virad-upasana. He promises that such upasaka will be rescued from samsara by the Lord. (This does not mean that a virad-upasaka can get liberation, skipping jnanayoga. The idea is that he becomes fit for jnanayoga and attains liberation through knowledge.)
In the 9th verse, the Lord comes one more step down. If one is incapable of virad-upasana, let him practice meditation on any form of the Lord (istadevata-upasana). Thus, upasana (on virad or istadevata) becomes the preparatory step for jnanayoga.
In the next verse (10th), the Lord comes down further. If a person is too extrovert to take up upasana, he is asked here to perform his duty (nitya and naimittika) as an offering to the Lord (Isvararpanam) without expecting any reward.
When a person is full of desires, he is impelled to do desire-born actions (kamya) expecting results. For such a person Krsna prescribes the last step. When he receives the result of kamya-karmas, let him take it as a prasada (graceful gift) of the Lord and avoid reaction. Krsna indicates this through the word ‘sarvakarmaphalatyagam‘ (11).
The above two steps come under karmayoga. (A karmayogi becomes fit for upasana after some time. Upasana makes him qualified for jnanayoga. Jnana helps him discover his own true ever- free nature.)
Krsna concludes this topic by praising the last step of karmayoga (12).
From the 13th verse up to the 19th verse, Krsna gives a clear picture of the characteristics of one who has gone through all these steps and discovered fulfillment, [As a karmayogi and upasaka he was a devotee of saguna-isvara, seeing the Lord as distinct from him, This is only lower bhakti, because he does not know the true nature of the Lord still (Refer VII- 17). His bhakti is sagunabhakti or bhedabhakti or apara bhakti. Once he pursues jnanayoga and discovers his identity with the Lord, his bhakti becomes nirgunabhakti or abhedabhakti or para bhakti, which is an end in itself] In these verses Krsna describes the traits of a parabhakta who is a sthitaprajna (Refer 11-55 to 72). (This serves twofold purpose. Firstly, it is an inspiration for a seeker to pursue his sadhanam. Secondly, the natural traits of a parabhakta serve as values for a sadhaka to be deliberately practised.)
This portion can be broadly divided into two. One referring to those virtues which a parabhakta spontaneously enjoys, and the second, referring to those negative traits which he is totally free from.
We can enlist them as follows:
Parabhakta is endowed with:
1 . Maitri (Friendliness) 
2. Karuna (Compassion 
3. Samatvam (Equanimity) 
4. Ksama (Forbearance) 
5. Santusti (Contentment) [ 1 4]
6. Yatatmatvam (Self-control) 
7. Drdhaniscaya (Firm Self-knowledge) 
8. Bhakti (Devotion) 
9. Gentleness 
10.Sucitvam (Purity) 
11. Daksatvam (Resourcefulness) 
12. Udasinatvam (Impartiality) 
Parabhakta Is free from:
1. Dvesa (Hatred) 
2. Mamakara (‘Mine’-notion)
3. Ahankara (I – notion) 
4. Udvega (Anxiety) 
5. Harsa (Elation) 
6. Amarsa (Envy) 
7. Bhayam (Fear) 
8. Apeksa (Dependence) 
9. Arambha (Selfish action) 
10. Soka (Grief) 
11 . Kanksa (Desire) 
12. Pairs of opposites [17,18,19] (comfort and discomfort, honour and dishonour, etc.)
Krsna concludes the teaching by saying — “Those who follow this teaching with faith, keeping Me as the goal, are very dear to Me.”(20)
Thus the main topics in this chapter are:
1. Arjuna’s question and Krsna’s answer ….. 1 , 2.
2. The five stages of bhakti (prasadabuddhi,
isvararpanabuddhi, istadevata-upasana, virad-upasana
and aksara-upasana viz. jnanayoga) …………3 to 12
3. Traits of parabhakta (parabhaktalaksana) …….. 13 to 19
4. Glory of the teaching ………………………………..20
Since this chapter talks about all stages of bhakti, this is called ‘ Bhaktiyoga’ .