In 1956 Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) was launched with the logo of two hands protecting a lamp with the Sanskrit quote ‘Yogakṣemam vahāmyaham’ in Devanāgarī script. 
(Edited to show just the logo).

I was sixteen years old at the time, I recognized that the phrase was a quote from the Bhagavadgītā (the Gītā), but I did not know what the words really meant! I was vaguely aware that these words were understood to mean general well-being, but this colloquial use does not necessarily imply that the meaning is correct.

In 1972 in New York City, I listened to a series of talks by the (late) Swami Chinmayananda on the Bhagavadgītā’s 12th chapter. This led me in 1976 to study vedānta full-time at his āśrama at Sandeepany Sādhanālaya, Mumbai. Among other major vedānta texts, we studied the Gītā, under the tutelage of Swami Dayānanda Sarasvatī. There I understood the depth of meaning of this quote which comprises just one quarter of a verse (Chapter 9, Verse 12) in the Gītā, a book of 700 verses.

In 2019, during one of my regular phone conversations with my brother in India, he asked me what this word yogakṣhema meant. He is a retired electrical engineer, a deeply religious person who is well versed in Sanskrit and familiar with the Gītā. My reply to him forms the content of this post.

Bhavadgītā Chapters

The Gītā consists of 18 chapters, each containing the word Yoga in its title. As explained in my previous post, Jewels from the Bhagavadgītā (1) , the word yoga here means a topic or a chapter. The Gītā is divided into three sets of six chapters, each set is called a ṣatkam. From the advaita view, this book is an exposition on the meaning of the rather cryptic sentence in an Upaniṣad, Tattvamasi, That You Are (Chāndogyopaniṣad 6:9-4). Thus, the first set of 6 chapters centers on the word tvam, you, while the second set focuses on the tat, that (God, the Limitless) and the last set of 6 chapters focus on asi, are, emphasize the essential identity of the tat and tvam, in contrast to our total identification with the body and mind.

The LIC quote occurs in Chapter 9, which is in the middle of the second ṣatkam of Chapters 7 to 12. These focus on God’s greatness and attributes as well as Her all pervasiveness / omnipresence. This section ends with the twelfth chapter called Bhaktiyoga, the chapter on Devotion. The ninth chapter is titled Rājavidyārājaguhyayoga –The King of Knowledge, the King of Secrets. The word guhya, secret, implies that the Gïtā is the essence of the Upaniṣads, and they are referred to as secret-knowledge in the sense that this is not to be given to the unprepared. The idea being that a mind full of desires which acts impulsively would be unable to assimilate that teaching, in contrast to a focused, calm mind not consumed by cravings.

The thrust of these middle six chapters is simple: the suffering and confusion of human beings is due to the conviction that they are in charge of their own actions and can control their outcome as well – in short, operating solely based on the ego. One has to realize that God governs things and that surrendering to this Higher Power in thought, word and deed is the way for the complete removal of human unhappiness.

Yogakṣemam Vahāmyaham

This quote Yogakṣemam Vahāmyaham occurs as one quarter of the 22nd verse in the ninth chapter of the Gīta that consists of 34 verses. In this verse, Kṛṣṇa, identifying himself with God, proclaims

Ananyāścintayanto mām ye janāḥ paryupāsate
Teṣām nityābhyuktānām yogakṣemam vahāmyaham. (9:12) 

Prabhupāda Bhaktivedānta’s interpretation of this verse in his popular book “Bhagavadgītā As It Is” follows:

But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form, to them  I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.

I prefer the following interpretation of the same verse In my version, I chose to use the same Sanskrit words yoga and kṣema in the translation as well. Finally we come to an exposition of the meaning of these two words, the focus of this blog post!

Those who constantly meditate on Me with no other thought,
I secure their yoga and kṣema.

What is Yoga?

Nowadays the word yoga has become quite well-known almost everywhere in the world. It is commonly understood to mean the practice of āsanas, that is, physical postures with emphasis primarily on physical fitness and good health. But if one looks at the etymological root, yoga comes from the noun form of the verb yuj, to yoke, connect, join,, it is clear the word can have a different connotation, from just referring to physical postures.

The word yoga is used in the Gīta in its most general meaning – any activity initiated to gain / connect to something that one does not have but wants (aprāptasya prāptiḥ). Thus yoga is the activity all living beings engage in, be it a slug moving towards shade or a predator pursuing a prey. For a human being this yoga can be the process of gaining something that is desired – a fit body (which drives one to take up āsana practice), wealth, power, or to become an authority in a subject of choice and so on. The word desire is used to indicate both desire and aversion since they are two sides of the same coin – a desire for wealth or aversion to poverty.

What is kṣema?

The meaning of this word is not known to many even in India. This noun is derived from the verb kṣe, to stay, abide in, to keep. As used in juxtaposition with yoga it means protecting what one already gained (prāptasya rakṣaṇam). This second activity also takes constant effort by all living beings. Bhaktivedānta translates this word by the expression “to protect what they have”, or one can use just the word safety.

What is unique to humans in yoga-kṣema?

The question then is “are these two pursuits universal”? The simple answer is yes. Then one can ask what is unique for us? The additional feature not available to the animal and plant kingdoms is that we are not totally programmed, driven by instincts. We do have choices. My vedanta teacher used to say “a cow does not choose to smoke, but we choose to smoke even though we do not have a chimney”. This choice, driven by the faculty of thinking is what drives some of us to find meaning in life, call it search for freedom or nivāṇa of mokṣa or God. We make use of the mind to create a hell in this life being propelled by our desires and aversions, but yearn for eternal freedom. Many a religious thought and philosophy of the East makes one see that one is already free and the reason we do not experience it is the mind full of impulses, desires and aversions. An upaniṣad states

Mana eva manuṣāṇām kāraṇam bandhamokṣayoḥ (Matri. 6:34)
Mind indeed is the cause for both bondage and freedom.

A mind consumed by cravings is stuck in a cycle of expectation, frustration or elation which is bondage. A mind not afflicted by these cravings is free. Belief in God is one tool that rids the mind of agitations brought about by unfulfilled expectations as well as ever increasing temptations and desires. The Gītā devotes several chapters to how faith in God helps towards this goal.

How can God “carry what I lack and protect what I have?”

The answer depends upon one’s concept or notion of God. The popular one of some Super Being sitting in heaven doling out rewards and punishments to humans is far from the vision of God in the Gītā. The multi-layered Hindu Concept of God, role of prayer, the belief in fulfillment of the wish of the devotee, and why prayer sometimes do not seem to work have been discussed in my blog

According to the Gītā, yogaśāstra, the teaching of Yoga, is focused on dealing with the mind. The fundamental problem is that one identifies with the contents of the mind. Redirecting the mind to focus totally on God results in cessation of the desire to gain something that one does not have (defined as yoga pursuit) and of the equally strong urge to protect what one has gained (defined as kṣema pursuit). This is the real intent of this phrase in the verse where Krṣṇa says: yogakṣemam vahāmyaham – “I take care of yoga and kṣema”. This is in contrast to the idea that some God up somewhere is going to cater to every fancied need and desire or bless one to hold on to what one has, simply because the individual prays fervently!

Roles of prayer and why
prayers are not always fulfilled

One may ask, “If I cannot single mindedly meditate on God with no distractions, does my prayer / meditation become meaningless?” No one can easily choose to meditate constantly with no stray thoughts coming in the way! We all have to start with the mind we have. Arjuna says, “mind indeed is distraction, it is as hard to control as the wind” (6:34). Krṣṇa’s answer is simple “Indeed it is true. But one can restrain the mind by practice and developing vairāgya, dispassion” (6:35). Students of Patañjali’s Yogasūtras may be familiar with a very similar aphorism “By practice and dispassion (the mind) is restrained” (1:12). How exactly this is to be accomplished by a believer is the focus of a few chapters of the Gītā (2-6, 12). 

In addition, as no action, intentional or otherwise is without consequence in this world, prayer is no exception. Arjuna had similar doubts about the effectiveness of prayer, to which Krṣṇa tells him ‘my devotee never is let down” (6:40). We will discuss this in future blogs.

A natural follow up question is, “How can I know that my prayers will be answered, if these are for my own selfish goals rather than  desire-free meditation ?” Prayer for a believer plays two roles: psychological and religious.  At a practical level, thinking of something greater than oneself brings about a certain calmness of mind. At the theological level, there is a possibility of the divine Grace helping you to to fulfill your desire. But this Grace is not handed out just because one prays but depends on three factors – right effort (prayatnam), time (kālam), and God (daivam).

Prayatnam, effort, means adequate and appropriate effort. For example, if I love redwood trees and want to grow one in my backyard in the Arizona desert, my efforts will fail and no amount of fervent prayer will help.

kālam, time required for fruition of an action. Say that I live in Hawaii, being a lover of coconuts I plant one in my yard. I have to wait for a few years to harvest a coconut. Here too, God is not going to accelerate the process however much I pray. 

Lastly, the third factor called daivam, God comes in the picture. Let us say a couple wants to have a child and all the other conditions are right, but still they cannot conceive. The couple prays fervently to be blessed with a child, and sometimes they do beget a child and it is attributed to the grace of daivam. A scientist may question if this is really a divine grace – this cannot be proven by a randomized-double-blind trial! Faith does not lend itself to scientific methodology. And if, despite the prayers the couple does not have a child, being strong believers in daivam they accept it as God’s will, thus be free of emotional turmoil, that is, fluctuations of the mind.

Conclusion : Yogakṣma and the Logo

Back to the logo. It is just a clever marketing ploy in India to sell life insurance using familiar and readily recognizable words from a sacred book, the Gītā. But if this logo were to make one curious enough to figure out the source and dig into the real import of the Gītā, then it is an unintended great service to this well-known sacred text of India.

My heartfelt thanks to my friend Philippe, a student of Patañjali’s yogasūtras, for devoting hours of his time to make this post useful
for anyone not familiar with the Gītā.