“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ― The Bhagavad Gita
Of the six orthodox ‘darshana’ or philosophical school of thought prevalent in Hinduism, Yoga is perhaps the one which has received unanimous attention and been appraised worldwide. Constituting an all-encompassing practice or discipline involving physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, yoga originated in ancient India dating back to 3000 BCE. Traditional yoga and modern adaptations of yoga practices involving breathing exercises, asanas(postures), and meditation have documented positive effects on stress, immunity, and overall well-being of the body.
The entire process of yoga is rooted in the element of transcendentalism. To breach the limitations one places on the mind, body, emotions, and energy. While most liken the process to exercises to access spiritual disinhibition, yoga is more akin to a journey that manifests itself from within to open our mind and heart making it more receptive. In truth, there are four pathways of yoga: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Rāja Yoga, and Jñāna Yoga. In essence, all four pathways are the same. The difference in the pathways lies in certain aspects of the mind involved in the journey. The genesis and telos of all four remain unaltered. In Karma Yoga the active aspect of mind is involved; Bhakti Yoga deals with the emotional aspect; Rāja Yoga, the mystic, and in Jñāna Yoga, the concern is with the intellectual sphere.
The Sanskrit term Karma translated to service. Relatedly Karma yoga involves a path of selfless service, being the yoga of action. The ideology behind the practice is to perform selfless actions without any expectations of recognition or reward, The Karma yogi dissolves the ego, cleanses the heart, and chooses to be one with the world by endeavoring selfless actions. The desire is always to serve and yoga is dependent on the attitude behind the action, rather than the action itself.
Bhakti or the devotional approach of yoga is based on pure love. At the very onset of Bhakti yoga, the ideology seeks to impress on aspiring yogis that in order to realize the highest Truth, one needs to completely surrender oneself, channeling their emotions into devotion. Self-surrender is recognized as the ultimate absolution of the ego, building a deeper sense of humility and can be practiced in many ways. Praying, chanting, meditation, rituals, and kirtans(songs in the praise of Divinity) are considered mediums to exercise the form of Bhakti yoga.
Jñāna is the philosophical approach to yoga, also considered as the yoga of knowledge. Translating to mean knowledge, Jñāna yoga is the most direct of the four paths and involves active intellectual inquiry or spiritual evolution. Practiced the Shravana(listening), Manana(reflection) and Nididhyāsana(meditation). A jñāna yogi in their quest or journey to examine the nature of truth will do so through vicāra(inquiry) and vivekā(self-analysis). Constant discussion on philosophy and the nature of life followed by meditations is the pathway to enlightenment.
The Rāja yoga finds its mention in the 16th century as opposed to the other three forms explored in the Bhagavad Gita. The first mention of Rāja yoga is found in the Yogatattva Upanishad. This is perhaps the most scientific, step-by-step approach which involves mind control. In this practice, the mind is systematically analyzed and various techniques likewise applied to bring it under control. The process is wholly immersive, turning physical and mental energy into spiritual energy. The practice includes Hatha yoga(yoga postures, cleansing techniques, and breathing exercises) and meditation along with other methods to control body, mind, and senses. The Rāja Yoga also includes Ashtanga yoga (eight limbs), described by Patanjali Maharishi which leads to absolute mind control.
Vedanta tells us that we suffer for mainly five reasons- lack of self-awareness, attachment, aversion, ego, and fear of death. Vedanta also provides the solution of our sufferings- Yoga(that which unites body, mind, soul, and spirit) helps us to rediscover the self, returning to a life of joy, bliss, and freedom. The four paths are like varying tributaries of the same river, birthed from the same genesis, divided to eventually end up at the same resting place- Samadhi, the goal of all different paths of yoga. Each form strengthens the other, its practice enriching lives and helping us seek the meaning of the vast universe from within.
Feature Banner by Simon Rae