Vedanta prescribes 4 major paths (Margas) 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.
Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India. It is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds.
The oneness of existence,
The divinity of the soul, and
The harmony of all religions
"For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy" - Bhagavad Gita 6.6
Raja Yoga means the “Royal Path.” Just as a king maintains control over his kingdom, you must maintain control over your own “kingdom”—the vast territory of your mind.
It’s the path of meditation, mantras, and techniques. The basic theme of Raja Yoga is that your perception of the Divine Self is obscured by the disturbances of the mind. If the body and mind can be made still and pure, the Self-will instantaneously shine forth.
Raja Yoga is the path most favoured by Westerners because it can be practiced by almost everyone requiring no belief or particular faith. Raja Yoga says to believe only what you find out for yourself through direct experience.
The Raja Yogi
Although he didn’t call it Raja Yoga, this path was best summarized by the Indian Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, under the title Astanga, or The Eight Auxiliaries/Limbs of Yoga.
The Eight Auxiliaries are:
Jnana Yoga (Gyana)
"When a man puts away all the desires of his mind, O Partha [Arjuna], and when his spirit is content in itself, then is he called stable in intelligence" - Bhagavad Gita 2.55
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge or, more correctly, wisdom. It is the means to Enlightenment through the process of reason—particularly the process of discrimination between what is real and what is not real, what is true and untrue—through study and self-inquiry.
It is said to be the most difficult path because it uses the mind and intellect to go beyond themselves to finally realize you are One with the Divine. The Upanishads (a collection of texts of religious and philosophical nature, written in India probably between c. 800 BCE and c. 300 BCE) call it the “razor’s edge,” where the ego is always trying to knock us off. It requires great strength of character, will power, and intellect.
The Jnana Yogi
Jnana Yoga is often mistaken as a path of studying scriptures, but it is not referring to that type of knowledge. In fact, it could be better translated as the Yoga of Knowing.
Through deep meditation the practitioner drops away all external attachments and all thoughts. They keep peeling away layers until they are unable to strip away anything more. At this point they will have discovered their True Self (Atman).
"Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water - that, so offered devotedly by the pure-minded, I accept" - Bhagavad Gita 9.26
This is the path of love and devotion. The subject, by immersing themselves so completely with devotion for their chosen object, merges into it. The subject and object become one - which is the Ultimate Truth (Brahman-Atman).
Bhakti Yoga is very open, and the object of the love and devotion can be anything or anyone. People often say they don’t have enough time for their spiritual practice because of family commitments. Bhakti is to make serving your family your practice.
With Bhakti, all attachments end except the all-absorbing love for God—this is the only attachment that frees rather than limits. Once the Divine is re-established in the temple of your heart, Its Love will serve you for eternity. Bhakti is the journey to finally “rest in God.”
According to Bhakti Yoga there are nine forms of devotion:
Although these are prescribed practices their performance should be done quite spontaneously, inspired by the devotion that the practitioner feels.
The Bhakti Yogi asks
The Bhagavad Gita is the first text to speak directly about Karma Yoga. In this Yoga of Selfless Service every action is turned into a spiritual act, and is a form of sacrifice. Any action or work done by the practitioner is done without any thought of reward, incentive or attachment to any outcome.
"You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty"
- Bhagavad Gita 2.47
It is the path of selfless service (Seva). You cease to identify with the ego and all action is seen as an offering to the Divine. Through the selfless work the practitioner loses their own identity and all that remains is the ‘action’. It is the process of completely dissolving the ego or sense of self. The heart is purified so egoism, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, and similar negative qualities vanish, creating space for humility, pure love, sympathy, tolerance, and compassion.
Karma Yoga is closely tied in with the concept of reincarnation, and running through it is the idea that no effort is ever lost. Karma Yoga is “doing the right thing,”—the process of achieving perfection in action. It means following one’s dharma (true purpose) and accepting whatever comes, without expectation of payment, thanks, or recognition.
The Karma Yogi
The above are the four main pathways of Yoga, however we might consider including the below in this list. The number of paths and ways they are categorized varies enormously from source to source.
We'll look at Hatha, Mantra and Tantra Yoga in an upcoming blog piece. Any questions, please let us know in the comments below! Our 6 Week Beginners Yoga course is the perfect place to start if you would like to delve into yogic philosophy more.
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