“Yoga” means “The realisation in direct experience of the union between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.”
The most common paths of ‘yoga’ are:
- Knowledge (Jnana Yoga),
- Devotion (Bhakti Yoga),
- Selfless Service/Seva (Karma Yoga), and
- Meditation (Raja Yoga).
The four paths of Yoga are Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. For the vast majority of practitioners of yoga, a blending of the four traditional types of yoga is most suitable. One follows his or her own predisposition in balancing these different forms of yoga.
1. Jnana Yoga is the Path of Knowledge, wisdom, introspection, and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature of our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities. Its essence of the tutorial is the realisation that God resides within man, all around him, and is in everything, and how to realise Him via knowledge.
2. Bhakti Yoga is the Path of Devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine. It is activity-related, such as, temple devotion, prayers, and sacrifices or chanting of the Lord’s name with music in public places.
3. Karma Yoga is the Path of Action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world. It is ‘service-based devotion’ (Seva) where devotees go to an ashram and help out physically by maintaining the ashram buildings, doing construction work, cooking, serving, cleaning, or any other physical work done in the name of the Lord. This also includes good and kinds deeds done for societies and communities outside of ashrams or places of worship.
4. Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasises on Meditation. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.
However, many people are not aware of these four paths of yoga and join ashrams purely to render selfless service (Karma Yoga) to man and nature and they too draw great satisfaction and fulfillment from their services.
Whenever we help others without expecting any personal reward, we naturally feel good about ourselves. This is the kindness element that has been instilled in us. It is also one of the fundamental teachings of the Hindu text that man should do his work to the best of his abilities and with joy in his heart without expecting any personal benefit for his labour, because only God is the benefactor of man’s efforts. Any reward that man receives from his efforts is known as God’s blessings. This is why in many religions, man is always known as God’s servants or slaves, and this is why man should be humble at all times and have his ego destroyed by all means.
It is also important to note that no matter what kind of ashram we go to, helping out or selfless service or ‘karma yoga’, is practiced as a norm. For example, each of us had to take our turns serving food at the dining hall at our ashram – this was greatly gratifying. We also did some cleaning and other work around the ashram since it was newly completed.
On another weekend, some local devotees and all the ashramites were requested by the guru to clean up the rubbish at the huge monsoon drain next to the ashram brought in by the heavy rains. Apparently, the rubbish had clogged the outlet of the monsoon drain channeling all the water into the ashram’s compound causing it to flood, the week before we arrived. The job was filthy and tiresome, but all of us were hard at work knowing we are meant to do this and felt relieved, safe and good when we saw what great work we all did together when we were at the corridor of our ashram overlooking the monsoon drain later that evening.
There are other paths to access God, but the above are the most common among Hindus. However, it has been said that sometimes we are born into a certain path of devotion in accordance with our spiritual level in our past lives, at other times, we need to aspire to move up the ranks of devotion to the highest level.
But to truly know which path is for us, Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, or Raja Yoga, we will need to investigate what each of them entails and then ask ourselves some very pertinent questions in connection to that information.
In other words, ask if this is what I like or do not? When something resonates within us, then it has reached our soul. If it doesn’t, it hasn’t.
*Article from the book “Life At An Ashram In India” (Page 18) by Joy Nandy.
Available in e-book and paperback.