The Four Paths of Yoga

There are four main paths of Yoga - Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Each is suited to a different temperament or approach to life. All the paths lead ultimately to the same destination - to union with Brahman or God - and the lessons of each of them need to be integrated if true wisdom is to be attained.

Swami Sivananda recognised that every Yogi, or human being for that matter, possesses and identifies with each of these elements: Intellect, heart, body and mind. He therefore advocated everyone to practice certain techniques from each path. This came to be known as the Yoga of Synthesis. He also taught that in accordance with individual temperament and taste one can emphasize the practice of certain Yogas over others.

Karma Yoga - The yoga of Action

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Action. It is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions and offering them up to God, you learn to sublimate the ego. To achieve this, it is helpful to keep your mind focused by repeating a mantra while engaged in any activity.

Principles of Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is one of the four paths of Yoga. In this page are the key components that determine that any action will qualify as being Karma Yoga

"Karma Yoga is the selfless devotion of all inner as well as the outer activities as a Sacrifice to the Lord of all works, offered to the eternal as Master of all the soul's energies and austerities."
Bhagavad Gita

Right Attitude

It's not what you do that counts, it's the attitude while doing it that determines if a job is a karma yoga job, i.e. a liberating job, or a binding job. Work is worship. Swami Sivananda advises us to "give your hands to work, and keep your mind fixed at the lotus feet of the Lord."

Right Motive

Same as attitude. It is not what you do that counts but your real motive behind it. Your motive must be pure. Swami Sivananda says: "Man generally plans to get the fruits of his works before he starts any kind of work. The mind is so framed that it cannot think of any kind of work without remuneration or reward. A selfish man cannot do any service. He will weigh the work and the money in a balance. Selfless Service is unknown to him."

Do Your Duty

Often "duty" is referred to as "righteousness". You will incur demerit if you shun your duty. Your duty is towards God, or Self, or the Inner Teacher who teaches you through all the specific circumstances of your life as they appear.

Do Your Best

Whatever you have to do, do your best. If you know of a better way to serve, you must use it. Do not hold back because of fear of effort or because of fear of criticism. Do not work in a sloppy manner just because no one is watching or because you feel the work is not for you. Give your best. Try to do such actions that can bring maximum good and minimum evil. Do Karma Yoga increasingly.

Give up Results

God is the doer. You are not the doer. You are only the instrument. You do not know God's intentions or God's plans. God is the actor. The Self never acts, changes. It is only the 3 Gunas or qualities of nature which are playing. The way to realize this truth is to constantly work for work's sake and let go of the results, good or bad. It is the desire for action that binds the individual. It is the detachment from action that will dissolve the karmic seeds. Detachment from results also means detachment from the type of job itself. There is no job that is inferior or superior to a different job. Don't be attached to your job. Be ready to give up your job if necessary.

Serve God or the Self in All

Do to others what you would like to be done to yourself. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Adapt, adjust, accommodate. Bear insult, bear injury. Unity in Diversity. We are parts of the same body. Practice humility in action. Beware of power, fame, name, praise, censure.

Follow the Discipline of the Job

Each job is a teacher of some sort. You can 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. Try to do whatever job you are doing, well.

Bhakti Yoga - The Path of Devotion or Divine Love

Bhakti Yoga

This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. The Bhakti Yogi is motivated chiefly by the power of love and sees God as the embodiment of love. Through prayer, worship and ritual he surrenders himself to God, channelling and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga.

Raja Yoga - The Science of Physical and Mental Control

Raja Yoga

Often called the "royal road" it offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. Raja Yoga is also called Ahtanga Yoga referring to the eight limbs leading to absolute mental control. The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. It also includes all other methods which helps one to control body, energy, senses and mind. The Hatha-Yogi u ses Relaxation and other practices such as Yamas, Niyamas, Mudras, Bandhas etc.. to gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called Prana. When body and energy are under control meditation comes naturally.

Ashtanga - The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

Compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment. These 8 limbs are:

  1. Yamas - The Yamas or restraints (Don'ts) are divided into five moral injuctions, aimed at destroying the lower nature. They should all be practiced and developped by the letter but also more importantly in the spirit. They should all be practiced in word, thought and deed.
    • Ahimsa or non-violence
    • Satyam or truthfulness
    • Brahmacharya or moderation in all things (control of all senses). Also refers to celibacy
    • Asteya or non-stealing
    • Aparigraha or non-covetousness
  2. Niyamas - The Niyamas or observances (Do's) are also divided into five and complete the ethical precepts started with the Yama.. These qualities are:
    • Saucha or purity - this internal and external cleanliness.
    • Santosha or contentment
    • Tapas or austerity
    • Swadhyaya or study of the sacred texts
    • Ishwara Pranidhana which is constantly living with an awareness of the divine Presence (surrender to God's Will)
  3. Asanas - Postures
  4. Pranayama - regulation or control of the breath. Asanas and Pranayama form the sub-division of Raja Yoga known as Hatha-Yoga
  5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind.
  6. Dharana - concentration. The last 3 steps constitute the internal practice of Raja Yoga. When Dharana is achieved, it leads to the next step:
  7. Dhyana - meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana. When mastered Dhyana leads to the last step:
  8. Samadhi - the superconscious state. In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced. This is the deepest and highest state of consciousness where body and mind have been transcended and the Yogi is one with the Self or God.

Jnana Yoga - The Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom

Jnana Yoga

This is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect. Taking the philosophy of Vedanta the Jnana Yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature. We perceive the space inside and outside a glass as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from God. Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the glass, dissolving the veils of ignorance. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.

Vedanta

Vedanta is that philosophy which comes from the sacred scriptures called The Upanishads. The Upanishads are the final part of the ancient texts known as the Vedas.

Veda means knowledge and Anta means end. Therefore Vedanta is said to be the philosophy which leads to the end of knowledge and too from the ending part of the Vedas.

Three Types of Vedanta

Three main schools of Vedanta emerged: Dvaita - the dualistic approach, Advaita - the non-dualistic approach and Kevala Advaita - the pure non-dualistic school. The main exponent of Vedanta was the great sage Adi Sankara who was an adept of the Kevala Advaita Vedanta path.

Adi Sankara and Kevala Advaita Vedanta

Sri Sankaracharya summarized the essence of Vedantic teachings into three concise sentences. These are:

"Brahma Satyam. Jagat Mithya. Jivo Brahmaiva Na Parah." These can be translated in English as follows:

God only is real. The world is unreal. The individual is none other than God.

Vedanta and Jnana Yoga

The beauty of Vedanta is that it transcends dry philosophy and mere intellectual concept. Vedanta is an actual life experience, a philosophy in practice. This practice includes the many techniques of Jnana Yoga (The Yoga of will and intellect).

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