Paths of Yoga

Different paths of yoga have been developed to help individuals of varying inclinations achieve awakening. These paths are as follows:

Bhakti Yoga (devotional yoga)
Pure devotion or selfless love is essential to some extent for every seeker. It is one of the quickest ways of smoothing the selfish eddies of desire and of drawing one’s feelings out of an egoic orbit to merge in the Divine Stream. Bhakti Yoga must be a self-offering, not noise and loud chanting only, but also silence - a listening for the Divine reply. Devotion is a way of creating such a strong current of pure energy that all impure desires are simply carried along in its wake. The important thing is not how one defines God, but how one approaches Him. The bhakti yogi thinks of God first in personal, human terms: as Father, Mother, Friend or Beloved. Such a personal view helps him to awaken and direct love towards God.

Karma Yoga (yoga through action)
This path of yoga should not lead to ever-more frenzied activity, but to a deep inner calmness and freedom. The true karma yogi tries, by God-reminding activities, to redirect all the wrong impulses of his heart into wholesome channels; he tries to become aware of the Divine energy flowing through him as he acts.

As the bhakti yogi above is taught to be more concerned with loving purely than with defining exactly what it is that he loves, so also the karma yogi is taught that the spirit in which he serves is more important than the service itself, i.e. it is desireless action, or action without desire for the fruits of action. Personal satisfaction must be offered up to the Divine; it must be perceived as a mere ripple on the ocean of cosmic bliss. Hard work done with love is purifying. The teaching of karma yoga is not, ‘do this or that, specifically’, but, ‘whatever you do, do it with a sense of freedom. Realize that you are only an instrument of the Divine. Do nothing for selfish ends. Instead, act so as to neutralize, not agitate the waves of your likes and dislikes.’ By acting without desire for the fruits of action, the yogi learns to live, not in the past or future, but in the timeless now.

Gyana Yoga (yoga of wisdom)
Wisdom first comes through the practice of discrimination. The temptation of the ego, once it takes up this practice, is to flatter itself with its own profundity by stepping further and further afield in its analyses of different aspects of reality. The important thing is not how many different deep truths one can grasp, but rather how deeply one grasps the central truth: the need to rise above personal likes and dislikes. By looking behind veil after veil that obscures the door to Truth, the gyana yogi comes at length to the Truth Itself, stripped of every superficial appearance, but he will never come to this reality as long as he seeks it only on a level of ideas. His search must take him within himself, to ever deeper levels of realization of who and what he is. It is his own heart’s false identifications that he must dispel. As in bhakti and karma yoga, it is not what he sees but how he sees that really matters.

The gyana yogi must view all things with the impartial consciousness of a sage. It is less important that he see through human follies than that he not be affected by man’s supreme folly: delusion itself. The gyana yogi tries, even at the time of outward enjoyment, to interiorize his consciousness, feeding the inner flame of self-consciousness. He knows that if, like worldly people, he borrowed its embers to give light to things, the true source of joy within himself would burn itself down at last to grey ashes. He refers his mental images back to the light of joy within himself, and sees those images as reflections, only, of that inner joy. In this way his soul’s light becomes intensified, not diffused. Gyana yoga is not only a particular path to God. It also points out the direction all our thinking should take, even in bhakti yoga and karma yoga, if we want it to lead to liberation.

The three yoga paths outlined so far (Bhakti, Karma & Gyana yoga), are designed to fit the basic temperamental differences of people: those who live by feeling, by action, or by thought. Because every person is a composite of all three of these attributes, regardless of which is uppermost in his particular nature, all three of these paths of yoga should be followed to some extent by everyone. But temperament is a superficial consideration. It is not a quality of the soul - only of the ego. The perfection of each of these paths transcends temperament, leading from outward practices to deep inner stillness.

Kriya Yoga
Kriya is the yoga of action: action towards self-realization, which is fortified by daily meditation. This will give force to one’s devotion, to his activities and to his divine understanding. The special practice of these yogas will in their turn, give force to and will help to determine the course of one's meditations. Meditation (as the supreme guide) practised with the harmonious combination of the above three yoga paths, constitutes the complete path of Kriya Yoga.

Raja yoga, the elemental level of Kriya yoga, views human nature as a kingdom composed of many psychological tendencies and physical attributes, all of which require considerate attention. A king cannot afford to favour one class of his subjects at the expense of all others, lest dissatisfaction among the rest sow seeds of rebellion. Man, similarly, progresses most smoothly when all aspects of his nature are developed harmoniously. The raja yogi therefore, is enjoined to rule his inner kingdom wisely and with moderation, developing all aspects of his nature in a balanced, integrated way. Since it is the soul which is the true ruler of man’s inner kingdom, the development of soul-consciousness, by daily meditation, forms the principal activity of raja yoga. But even meditation, if one-sided can result in imbalances. The raja yogi is therefore encouraged to develop all sides of his nature - always, however, with a view to neutralizing the waves of his likes and dislikes, and not, by egoistic self-expression.