The four main spiritual paths for God-realisation are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
Karma Yoga is suitable for a man of active temperament, Bhakti Yoga for a man of devotional temperament, Raja Yoga for a man of mystic temperament, and Jnana Yoga for a man of rational and philosophical temperament, or a man of enquiry.
Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, Lambika Yoga and Hatha Yoga, are other Yogas. Yoga, really, means union with God. The practice of Yoga leads to communion with the Lord. Whatever may be the starting point, the end reached is the same.
Karma Yoga is the way of selfless service. The selfless worker is called the Karma-Yogin. Bhakti Yoga is the path of exclusive devotion to the Lord. He who seeks union through love or devotion is called the Bhakti-Yogin. Raja Yoga is the way of self-restraint. He who seeks to have union with the Lord through mysticism is called the Raja-Yogin. Jnana Yoga is the path of wisdom. He who seeks to unite himself with the Supreme Self through philosophy and enquiry is called the Jnana-Yogin.
(Duty for Duty’s Sake)
Karma Yoga is the path of action. It is the path of disinterested service. It is the way that leads to the attainment of God through selfless work. It is the Yoga of renunciation of the fruits of actions.
Karma Yoga teaches us how to work for work’s sake—unattached—and how to utilise to the best advantage the greater part of our energies. ‘Duty for Duty’s Sake’ is the motto of a Karma-Yogin. Work is worship for the practitioners of Karma Yoga. Every work is turned into an offering unto the Lord. The Karma Yogin is not bound by the Karmas, as he consecrates the fruits of his actions to the Lord. Yogah Karmasu Kausalam—Yoga is skill in action.
Generally, a work brings as its effect or fruit either pleasure or pain. Each work adds a link to our bondage of Samsara and brings repeated births. This is the inexorable Law of Karma. But, through the practice of Karma Yoga, the effects of Karmas can be wiped out. Karma becomes barren. The same work, when done with the right mental attitude, right spirit and right will through Yoga, without attachment and expectation of fruits, without the idea of agency or doership, with a mind balanced in success and failure (Samatvam Yoga Uchyate), does not add a link to our bondage. On the contrary, it purifies our heart and helps us to attain salvation through the descent of divine light or dawn of wisdom.
A rigid moral discipline and control of senses are indispensable for the practice of Karma Yoga.
Brahmacharya is, indeed, essential. Cultivation of virtues such as tolerance, adaptability, sympathy, mercy, equal vision, balance of mind, cosmic love, patience, perseverance, humility, generosity, nobility, self-restraint, control of anger, non-violence, truthfulness, moderation in eating, drinking and sleeping, simple living and endurance, is very necessary.
Every man should do his duties in accordance with his own Varna and Asrama, caste and station as well as stage in life. There is no benefit in abandoning one’s own work in preference to another’s work.
Some people think that Karma Yoga is an inferior type of Yoga. They think that carrying water, cleansing plates, serving food to the poor and sweeping the floor are menial works. This is a sad mistake. They have not understood the technique and glory of Karma Yoga. Lord Krishna, the Lord of the three worlds, acted the part of charioteer of Arjuna. He also acted the part of a cowherd.
(Love for Love’s Sake)
Bhakti is intense love of God. Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion. It appeals to the majority of mankind. ‘Love for Love’s Sake’ is the motto or formula of a Bhakti-Yogin. God is an embodiment of love. You will have to attain Him by loving Him. God can be realised only by means of a love as ardent and all-absorbing as the conjugal passion. Love for God must be gradually cultivated.
He who loves God has neither wants nor sorrows. He does not hate any being or object. He never takes delight in sensual objects. He includes everyone in the warm embrace of his love.
Kama (worldly desires) and Trishna (cravings) are enemies of devotion. So long as there is any trace of desire in your mind for sensual objects, you cannot have an intense longing for God.
Atma-Nivedana is total, ungrudging, absolute self-surrender to the Lord. Atma-Nivedana is the highest rung in the ladder of Nava-vidha Bhakti, or nine modes of devotion. Atma-Nivedana is Prapatti or Saranagati. The devotee becomes one with the Lord through Prapatti. He obtains the divine grace or Prasada.
Love of God and the rapturous ecstasy enjoyed by fellowship with God, cannot be adequately described in words. It is as if a dumb man, who had tasted some palatable food, could not speak about it. It could be revealed only to the chosen few. He who has once experienced love will see that alone, hear that alone and speak of that alone, because he constantly thinks of that alone.
Bhakti is one of the chief spiritual sciences. He is wealthy indeed, who has love for the Lord. There is no sorrow other than lack of devotion to the Lord. There is no right course except love of the devotee for the Lord. The Name, qualities and Lilas of the Lord are the chief things to be remembered. The lotus-feet of the Lord are the chief objects of meditation. The devotee drinks the nectar of Prema or divine love.
There are no distinctions of caste, creed, family, colour or race among the devotees. God does not look into these things. He looks to the purity of heart of the devotees. Anyone can become a devotee of the Lord. Nanda, an untouchable; Rai Das, a cobbler; Kannappa, a hunter; Sena, a barber; Kabir, a Moslem weaver; and Sabari, a Bhilini were all devotees of the Lord, and were great saints. Kannappa, an illiterate barbarian who poured water from his mouth on the Linga and who offered swine’s flesh, became the best among the Bhaktas. The Vaishnava Alvars and the Saiva Nayanars, of South India, were from different classes of society.
(Discipline of the Mind)
Raja Yoga is the path that leads to union with the Lord through self-restraint and control of mind. Raja Yoga teaches how to control the senses and the mental Vrittis or thought-waves that arise from the mind, how to develop concentration and how to commune with God. There is physical discipline in Hatha Yoga, whereas in Raja Yoga, there is discipline of the mind.
The Yoga Of Eight Limbs
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.
Yama and Niyama constitute the ethical discipline which purifies the heart. Yama consists of Ahimsa (non-injury), Satya (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (continence), Asteya (non-stealing) and Aparigraha (non-receiving of gifts conducive to luxury). All virtues are rooted in Ahimsa.
Niyama is observance. It comprises Saucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of scriptures and repetition of Mantra) and Isvara-pranidhana (self-surrender to God). He who is established in Yama and Niyama will have quick progress in the practice of Yoga.
Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara are preliminary accessories to Yoga. Asana is steady pose. Pranayama is regulation of breath. This produces serenity and steadiness of mind and good health. Pratyahara is abstraction or withdrawal of the senses from their objects. You must practise Pratyahara. Then only you can look within and can have introversion.
Dharana is concentration of the mind on any object, or internal Chakra, or Ishta-Devata or tutelary Deity. Then comes Dhyana, meditation or an unceasing flow of ideas connected with one object. This leads to Samadhi, where the meditator and the meditated become one. All the Vrittis or waves of the mind subside. The mind ceases functioning. All the Samskaras, impressions and Vasanas (tendencies and subtle desires) are burnt in toto. The Yogi is freed from births and deaths. He attains Kaivalva or final Liberation (Absolute Independence).
Concentration—The Key To Success
How powerful is the searchlight! When the sun’s rays are concentrated through a lens, they can burn cotton. Even so, when the dissipated rays of the mind are collected, you can work wonders. You can know all the secrets of nature through the powerful searchlight of mind.
A scientist sits in his laboratory, concentrates all the powers of his mind and brings them into one focus and throws them on the objects of his research and investigation. He gets all knowledge about the elements, etc. The whole hidden knowledge of nature is revealed unto him like the Amalaka fruit in the palm of his hand. The astronomer does the same thing. He concentrates on the stars and planets through his telescope and attains knowledge of the stars. Radio, wireless telegraphy, television, gramophone, telephone, steam engine, etc., are all things invented through deep concentration.
Without concentration, you cannot have success in any walk of life or spiritual pursuit. A cook can prepare things efficiently if he has concentration. If there is no concentration, he spoils the preparations. A surgeon in the operation theatre needs perfect concentration. The captain of a steamer must possess a great deal of concentration. A tailor, a professor, a barrister, a student—all must possess concentration. Then only they can have success in their profession. All great souls, all master-minds who have done great work in this world, had perfect concentration.
In a worldly man, the rays of the mind are scattered in various directions. His mind is jumping like a monkey. It is ever restless. He thinks of money, wife, children, property, houses, etc. His mind is ever engaged in earning money and possessing objects of his desires. He has not a bit of concentration. He cannot look within and introspect. His mind is full of outgoing tendencies.
The Yogi concentrates on the Chakras, mind, sun, stars, elements, etc., and attain superhuman knowledge. He obtains mastery over the elements. The power of concentration is the only key to open the treasure-house of knowledge.
Concentration cannot come within a week or a month. It takes some time. Regularity in the practice of concentration is of paramount importance. Brahmacharya, a cool and congenial place, company of saints and Sattvic diet are auxiliaries in concentration.
Concentration and meditation lead to Samadhi or Superconscious Experience, which has several stages of ascent, as attended or not attended with deliberation (Vitarka), analysis (Vichara), joy (Ananda) and self-awareness (Asmita). Kaivalya, or Supreme Independence, is, thus, attained.
The Obstacle Of Siddhis Or Supernatural Powers
Siddhis or supernatural powers manifest themselves when the Yogi advances in his Yogic practices. These Siddhis such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc., are all obstacles in his path. He should shun them ruthlessly and march forward direct to his goal, viz., Asamprajnata or Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Real spirituality has nothing to do with these powers, which are by-products of concentration. He who runs after these Siddhis is a big worldly man or big householder. He may have a downfall, if he is not cautious.
(The Path of Spiritual Insight)
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. Moksha is attained through Knowledge of Brahman. Release is achieved through realisation of the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul or Brahman. The cause for bondage and suffering is Avidya or ignorance. The little Jiva foolishly imagines, on account of ignorance, that he is separate from Brahman. Avidya acts as a veil or screen and prevents the Jiva from knowing his real, divine nature. Knowledge of Brahman or Brahma-Jnana removes this veil and makes the Jiva rest in his own Sat-Chit-Ananda Svarupa (Essential Nature as Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute).
Spiritual Insight And Intellectual Knowledge
The Jnana-Yogin realises that Brahman is the Life of his life, the Soul of his soul. He feels and knows that God is his own Self. He realises that he is one with the Eternal through spiritual insight or intuition, Aparoksha Anubhuti or divine perception, but not through mere study of books or dogmas or theories. Religion is realisation for him now. It is not mere talk. He plunges himself in the deep recesses of his heart through constant and intense meditation—Nididhyasana—and gets the wonderful pearl of Atman, a wonderful treasure much more valuable than all the wealth of the world.
Jnana is not mere intellectual knowledge. It is not hearing or acknowledging. It is not mere intellectual assent. It is direct realisation of oneness or unity with the Supreme Being. It is Para Vidya. Intellectual conviction alone will not lead you to Brahma-Jnana (Knowledge of the Absolute).
The student of Jnana Yoga first equips himself with four means, viz., discrimination (Viveka), dispassion (Vairagya), the sixfold virtues (Shat-Sampat)—viz., tranquillity (Sama), restraint (Dama), satiety or renunciation (Uparati), endurance (Titiksha), faith (Sraddha) and concentration (Samadhana)—and strong yearning for liberation (Mumukshutva). Then he hears the scriptures by sitting at the lotus-feet of a Guru, who is not only learned in the sacred scriptures (Srotriya), but is also one who is himself well-established in Brahman (Brahma-Nishtha). Afterwards, the student practises reflection, which completely dispels all doubts. Then he practises deep meditation on Brahman and attains Brahma-Sakshatkara. He becomes a Jivanmukta or liberated sage. He is released even while he is in this body.
There are seven stages of Jnana or Knowledge: viz.; Aspiration for the Right (Subhechha), Philosophical enquiry (Vicharana), Subtlety of mind (Tanumanasi), Attainment of Light (Sattvapatti), Inner Detachment (Asamsakti), Spiritual Vision (Padarthabhavana) and Supreme Freedom (Turiya).
The Analogy Of The Two Birds
There are two birds on the same tree. One is perched at the top and the other below. The bird which is sitting on the top is perfectly serene, silent and majestic at all times. It is ever blissful. The other bird, which is perching on the lower branches, eats the sweet and bitter fruits by turns. It dances in joy sometimes. It is miserable at other times. It rejoices now and weeps after some time. Sometimes it tastes an extremely bitter fruit and gets disgusted. It looks up and beholds the other wonderful bird with golden plumage which is ever blissful. It also wishes to become like the bird with golden plumage, but soon forgets everything. Again it begins to eat the sweet and bitter fruits. It eats another fruit that is exceedingly bitter and feels very miserable. It again tries to become like the upper bird. Gradually, it abandons eating the fruits, and becomes serene and blissful like the upper bird. The upper bird is God or Brahman. The lower bird is Jiva or the individual soul who reaps the fruits of his Karmas, viz., pleasure and pain. He gets knocks and blows in the battle of life. He rises up and again falls down as the senses drag him down. Gradually he develops Vairagya (dispassion) and discrimination, turns his mind towards God, practises meditation, attains Self-realisation and enjoys the eternal bliss of Brahman.
The Yoga Of Synthesis
Some maintain that the practice of Karma Yoga alone is the only means for salvation. Some others hold that devotion to the Lord is the only way to release. Some believe that the path of wisdom is the sole way to attain the final beatitude. There are still others who hold that all the three paths are equally efficacious to bring about perfection and freedom.
Man is a strange, complex mixture of will, feeling and thought. He wills to possess the objects of his desires. He has emotion and so he feels. He has reason and so he thinks and ratiocinates. In some, the emotional element may preponderate, while in some others, the rational element may dominate. Just as will, feeling and thought are not distinct and separate, so also work, devotion and knowledge are not exclusive of one another.
The Yoga of Synthesis is the most suitable and potent form of Sadhana. In the mind there are three defects, viz., Mala or impurity, Vikshepa or tossing and Avarana or veil. The impurity should be removed by the practice of Karma Yoga. The tossing should be removed by worship or Upasana. The veil should be torn down by the practice of Jnana Yoga. Then only is Self-realisation possible. If you want to see your face clearly in a mirror, you must remove the dirt in the mirror, keep it steady and remove the covering also. You can see your face clearly in the bottom of the lake only if the turbidity is removed, if the water that is agitated by the wind is rendered still, and if the moss that is lying on the surface is removed. So too is the case with Self-realisation.
The Yoga of Synthesis alone will bring about integral development. The Yoga of Synthesis alone will develop the head, heart and hand and lead one to perfection. To become harmoniously balanced in all directions is the ideal of religion. This can be achieved by the practice of the Yoga of Synthesis.
To behold the one Universal Self in all beings is Jnana, wisdom; to love this Self is Bhakti, devotion; and to serve this Self is Karma, action. When the Jnana-Yogin attains wisdom, he is endowed with devotion and selfless activity. Karma Yoga is for him a spontaneous expression of his spiritual nature, as he sees the one Self in all. When the devotee attains perfection in devotion, he is possessed of wisdom and activity. For him also, Karma Yoga is a spontaneous expression of his divine nature, as he beholds the one Lord everywhere. The Karma-Yogin attains wisdom and devotion when his actions are wholly selfless. The three paths are in fact one in which the three different temperaments emphasise one or the other of its inseparable constituents. Yoga supplies the method by which the Self can be seen, loved and served.