The 4 Yogic Paths

Yoga is so beautiful in a sense that it is versatile, is for everyone and for all sizes.

For each kind of human temperament, different yogic paths are laid out. Mainly there are four major branches of yoga from which all other disciplines and specializations are derived. Let’s just go through an overview of these four yogic branches.

1) Karma Yoga

This is a path of selfless service. For a karma yogi, selfishness, feeling unappreciated and getting burned out are the main problems.

Karma yogis are active by temperament and thrive by  manifesting and creating things. Karma is a Sanskrit word for action in Hindu tradition and it also includes causes and conditions of action as well the fruit of these causes and conditions in Buddhist tradition. This fruit/ result can again become cause and condition for  ripening of the fruit or the effect.

People with a disposition to action if driven by selfishness, which is based on spiritual ignorance, (“avidya” in Sanskrit) suffers from ambition, and the illusion of under appreciation. The remedy or the antidote to this suffering is to practice selfless actions without any selfish expectations, and thereby opening one’s heart and seeing good in all.

For the karma yogi, the goal is complete selflessness. A good example is Mother Teresa who served the underprivileged until her last breathe. If helping others gives you the most joy – you are inclined towards Karma Yoga.

2) Bhakti Yoga

This is a path of devotion. Devotion to what? Devotion and love towards the being, form or formless, which invokes in your heart the greatest unconditional love, trust, faith and devotion.

The devotee on this path attempts to renunciate personal or egoic will to serve God or cosmic consciousness or divine love. The primary methods devotees use are chanting and singing mantras, praising love and being love.

For a bhakti yogi, the goal is pure love and thus it fits emotional temperaments. The shadow side of this personality is too much emotion without precise and sharp wisdom and intellect, so if the devotee is not pure in their motivation – there is a tendency to become dogmatic, fanatical and closed-minded. It’s apt to call them close-minded because Bhakti followers don’t think, they follow their emotions.

I consider Thomas Merton to be an exemplary Bhakti Yogi of love and God.

3) Jnana Yoga

This path is a path of contemplation, knowledge and wisdom. So it fits well with people disposed of a philosophical and intellectual temperament.  

Jnana in Sankrit means knowledge through experience. A yogi on this path uses their mind and intelligence to discern the real from unreal and become awakened.

This path takes lot of sharpening of intellect, requires openness, single-pointed mind, focus and willpower to cut through the veil of ignorance to come to the understanding of truth. It requires immense mental power and thus is considered as one of the less accessible paths.

Many of us thus try to sit for meditation right away and find ourselves becoming very impatient, restless and suffering. If you are one of those who gets frustrated by sitting meditation, I recommend physical asanas, pranayama/breathe control to get a hang of how it feels like to bring the mind back from wandering ceaselessly before sitting for a meditation.

For the jnana yogi, the goal is absolute Truth. Scriptures, text and analytical meditation and open-awareness meditation are the main tools on this path.

Buddha Shakyamuni was one of the ultimate jnana yogis who sat for six years in meditation before realizing the truth.

4)Raja Yoga

This path is of self control and self mastery and is perfect for scientifically minded individuals.

Raja Yoga in itself is a complete path of self transformation for a sincere and diligent student. The primary text of Raja Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the main goal is mastery over our mind, with a final achievement of samadhi (Blissful meditation).

“Raja” literally means “King” and thus Raja Yoga is considered a royal and secret yogic path to attaining a blissful uninterrupted meditative state. Asana practice (physical yoga postures), which has heavily saturated the western market, is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Yoga (Ash – eight, tanga- limbs). As Raja yoga is more than the asana practices, practitioners go through all eight limbs of Yoga.

The eight limbs are:

  1. Yama / Social restraints
  2. Niyama / Self Disciplines
  3. Asana / Physical posture practices
  4. Pranayama / Breath or Prana Control
  5. Pratyahara / Withdrawal from the senses
  6. Dharana /Concentration
  7. Dhyana / Meditation
  8. Samadhi / Blissful Absorption

From the above eight limbs we can see that it is a complete and a holistic path that focuses on our code of conducts with ourselves as well as our society and environment, then working with the body by detoxing and making it healthy, then focus on breath control, sense control and finally mind leading to full Samadhi.

I find Raja yoga to be a very enriching, all-encompassing path that fits naturally with my own disposition. So I follow this path with a wish to help as many others ( karma Yoga) with devotion to the ultimate truth ( Bhakti Yoga) and use contemplation and vigilant introspection ( jnana yoga) to balance my existence.

I hope you found this article helpful in figuring out which path suits you better. Please leave comments and feedback on this and any topic you would like me to discuss and write about 🙂

May you find your gift, your own voice and may that voice be a music to everyone.

Best wishes and thank you!

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