The paths are many, but the Truth is One” – M.K. Gandhi

We all want to be happy and lead a life that is free from suffering. Yogic philosophy suggests that the root cause of all of our suffering is a forgetfulness and disconnection with our True Self. Vedanta prescribes 4 major paths in order to attain and re-establish our connection to the One-ness and Universal Totality of All Life, which is also the essence of our innermost being. Let’s explore these 4 paths of yoga.

1. Karma Yoga – The Yoga of Selfless Service

Karma Yoga is the path of action and suits people with active temperaments. Performing actions selflessly – without thinking of success or reward – purifies the heart and reduces the ego. Karma Yoga is the best way to prepare oneself for silent meditation.

Karma Yoga is a path of purifying our heart and counteracting the influence of egoism. This Yogic path involves the dedication of our work as an offering, with no thought of personal reward.

Practice of Karma Yoga

  1. Right Attitude

Action (Karma) of some kind or the other is unavoidable. This we know. But what binds us to phenomenal existence (known in Sanskrit as Samsara) is not the action, but the idea of doership and enjoyership. If we instead act as a participant in the cosmic activity of Nature, without expectation of personal gain, our actions become part of the ineffable goodness dwelling in all living beings. Consider the possibility of work as worship – an act of cosmic love, mercy, and tolerance. Put it into action. Experience it firsthand for yourself.

  1. Right Motive

When action is done without the expectation of fruits, it is allowed to become liberating – as the action itself is born from the space of selflessness. Karma Yoga can be practiced at all times, under all conditions, anywhere there is a desire to do selfless service and purify the heart.

  1. Opening to Self

Try on the idea that you are only an instrument and that the inner peace is working through you. Become attune with the cosmic energy or the Infinite. Putting this into practice, we free ourselves from the bonds of Karma and enjoy peace. Karma, then becomes Karma Yoga, preparing our heart and mind for the reception of Knowledge of the Self. An amiable, loving social nature arises within.

  1. Serving the Self in All

By detaching ourselves from the fruits of our actions and offering them up to the Supreme, we learn to sublimate the ego. By working unselfishly, each job is a teacher of some sort. We learn different skills by doing different jobs. Each job has different requirements in terms of time, degree of concentration, skills or experience, emotional input, physical energy, will. Whatever job we are doing, we try to do well. Be humble and free, rejoice in the welfare of others.

Swami Vishnudevenanda on Karma Yoga:

When you serve, you have to serve in every condition, all types of people. Then only you will see whether you are improving or not. You can test yourself. In Karma Yoga, you have to work with and serve every type of person – good and bad, and people who may not like you. People will scold you but still you must see the same God in them. Do you know the strength of mind at that time? It’s not easy. Every day you are thrown into the fire, and each time you come out successfully with an ‘Oh thank God, I passed another test.’

2. Bhakti Yoga – The yoga of devotion

Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion and is perfect for people who are emotional by nature. Through prayer, worship and ritual, one comes to see the Divine as the embodiment of love. Chanting mantras is an essential part of Bhakti Yoga.

Practice of Bhakti Yoga

1. Right Attitude

Bhakti is love for love’s sake. The devotee wants Spirit and Spirit alone. There is no selfish expectation, nor is there fear. Bhakti is intense devotion and supreme attachment to a Higher Source. Bhakti is supreme love for the Divine. It is the spontaneous out-pouring of Prem, or pure unselfish love, towards the Beloved. There is not a bit of bargaining or expectation of anything here. This higher feeling is indescribable in words. It has to be sincerely experienced by the devotee.

2. Right Motive

We go from stage to stage. Just as a flower grows in the garden, so the Yogis teach to gradually develop love or Prem in the garden of our heart. The enemy of devotion is egoism and desire. Where there is no Kama or desire, there alone will Rama (the Divine) manifest. The enemies of peace and devotion are lust, anger and greed. Anger destroys our peace and our health as well. When somebody abuses us, keep peaceful. We lose vitality if we become a prey to fits of temper. And again, all is practice.

3. Opening to Self

It is said that a devotee should sit before a learned teacher and hear Divine stories, listening with a sincere heart devoid of the sense of criticism or fault-finding. Studying for oneself without the company of saints or wise teachers, though very beneficial, has its challenges, especially regarding ego. When we begin to learn to open to the Will beyond our own, we being to open to Divine Grace – the transformation of the mundane into the Eternal.

4. Serving the Self in All

The devotee offers everything to the Beloved, including body, mind, and soul. The aspirant even offers their own self. Bhakti Yoga is a path that teaches us that grief and sorrow, pleasure and pain – all are gifts sent by God, all effects of being a puppet of the Supreme and an instrument in the hands of the Almighty. This is the culmination of aspiration and love. The fruits of Bhakti is Jnana. Knowledge or wisdom will dawn by itself when Bhakti Yoga is practiced. As such, Bhakti is a beautiful path of discovery, a direct road to the Divine, to connecting with Cosmic Consciousness.

Swami Sivananda on Cultivating Bhakti:

“Bhakti is a thorough discipline and training of one’s will and the mind, a path to intuitive realization of the Supreme through intense love and affection.”

3. Raja Yoga – The yoga of mind & meditation

Raja Yoga is the science of controlling body and mind. The asanas (body postures) and pranayamas (breathing exercises) from Hatha Yoga are an integral part of this yoga path. The main practice of Raja Yoga is silent meditation, where bodily and mental energies are gradually transformed into spiritual energy.

The main practice of Rāja Yoga is meditation. Compiled by Patañjali Maharishi, Rāja Yoga is also known as Ashtanga Yoga because its practices can be divided into eight limbs, each limb developed to bring the body and thought energy under control.

Practice of Raja Yoga – The Eight Limbs

Ashtanga is the step-by-step approach to Yoga. Systematically the mind is analyzed and techniques are applied to achieve higher states of consciousness. Let us begin by starting with the basic framework of this Rāja Yoga:

  1. Yamas – Restraints
    • Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury
    • Asteya: non-stealing, non-covetedness, lack of jealousy
    • Brahmacharya: chastity, sublimation of the sexual energy
    • Aparigraha: non acceptance of bribes
  2. Niyamas – Observances
    • Saucha: purity (external and internal)
    • Santosha: contentment
    • Tapas: austerity
    • Svādhyāya: study of religious scripture
    • Ishwara Pranidhana: worship of God or the Self or the Mantra – a complete surrender of the ego
  3. Āsanas– Steady Pose
    • For spiritual practice, as for any other pursuit in life, a healthy and strong system is essential. Steady mind presupposes steady body.
  4. Prāṇāyāma – Control of the Vital Energy
    • The physical nerves as well as the astral energy tubes (the nadis) must be pure and strong enough to withstand various mental phenomena and disorientations that can occur during practice. In the process of turning the mind inward, old negativities may surface. By continuing to practice, their disruptions will lessen over time.
  5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the Senses from Objects
    • Disconnecting the mind from the outgoing tendencies of the 5 senses: taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing.
  6. Dhāraṇā – Concentration
    • Concentrating the mind upon either an external object or an internal idea, to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
  7. Dhyāna– Meditation 
    • Meditation is defined as an unbroken flow of thought towards God or the Self or the Mantra, to exclusion of all other sensual perception.
  8. Samādhi – Super-Conscious State
    • It is sublime beyond description: beyond the mind to grasp. Samādhi transcends all ordinary, sensory experience as well as time, space, and causation. According to Yogis, Samādhi is connecting in the Oneness of life itself, and represents what all beings are moving toward.

4. Jnana Yoga – The Yoga of Knowledge & Wisdom

Jnana is Knowledge. Jnana Yoga is the yoga of wisdom or knowledge is most suitable for intellectual people. The philosophy of Vedanta teaches analytical self-enquiry into one’s own true nature, with the goal of recognising the Supreme Self in oneself and in all beings.

“Jñāna Yoga, or the science of the Self, is not a subject that can be understood and realized through mere intellectual study, reasoning, discussion or arguments. It is the most difficult of all sciences.” – Swami Sivananda

Jñāna Yoga is said to be the most difficult path, not because it is superior, but because we must firmly be grounded in the three other disciplines before attempting it. Without having fully embodied the lessons of selflessness, love of the Divine, and strength of mind and body, any search for Self-realization through this Yogic path is pure speculation.

Practice of Jnana Yoga

1. Right Attitude

Yogis teach that to know Brahman as one’s own Self is Jñāna. To intuitively assimilate, “I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness, the non-enjoyer, non-doer and silent witness,” is Jñāna. To behold the one Self everywhere is Jñāna.

On the other side of the coin is ignorance, Ajñāna. When we personally identify with the illusory vehicles of body, mind, senses and Prāṇa – that is Ajñāna. For us to say, “I am the doer, I am the enjoyer” – that is Ajñāna.

According to the great Yogis like Swami Sivananda, Jñāna alone can destroy Ajñāna, just as light alone can remove darkness.

2. Right Motive

Yogis share that Self-realization or direct intuitive perception of the Supreme Self is an absolute necessity for experiencing reality as it is. This path of Wisdom is, however, not meant for the masses whose hearts are not yet pure enough and whose intellects are not yet sharp enough to understand and practice this razor-edge path. Hence, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are to be practiced first, which will render the heart pure and make it fit for the reception of Knowledge.

3. Opening to Self

According to Swami Sivananda, once we Know the nature of Brahman, all names, forms and limitations fall away. He teaches that the world and this little “I” are false, that the world is a solid reality to those of us who are yet worldly and full of individual desires. The practice here being: constantly meditate on our divine nature – for if we rise above and eliminating the false egoism, we can grow beyond Maya. With the touch of Grace, ignorance dissolves.

4. Serving the Self in All

The great Yogis teach us to stay in the world but to be not worldly. They teach us to practice selfless service. And then again to practice more. In order to align with the Self, we must continually strive to contribute to the greater good – both in ourselves and in others.

In Jñāna Yoga, Viveka is the destination. It is the discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent, between the Self and the non-Self. Viveka dawns in us through the Grace of God, or Self, or the Mantra. This Grace can come only after we have done unceasing selfless service in countless births with the feeling that we are merely an instrument of the Supreme and that the work completed through our hands is an offering to the Divine.

The original source was published at Sivananda Yoga Organization.

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