Different approaches to God-realization in Hinduism
Types of Yoga
“Hinduism has taken into consideration the fact that people are of different tastes, temperaments, predilections, and bent of mind, and therefore has accepted the need for different paths for different individuals to suit their requirements. Thus four different paths have been laid down: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga. Followers of all the four paths have the common goal of merging with the Supreme Reality. While the Jnana Yogin aims at reaching his goal by the realization of his identity with the Supreme Reality, the Bhakti Yogin surrenders his individuality at the feet of the Lord, his beloved; the Karma Yogin realizes his goal by work unattached to the fruits thereof and the Raja Yogin soars ahead by physical and psychic control culminating in ‘merging’ through Samadhi.
1. Jnana Yoga – is the way of wisdom.
The Jnana Yoga is monist. The aim of asceticism is to reach Knowledge and gain access to noumenal truth. The word jnana means “knowledge”, “insight,” or “wisdom”. Jnana-Yoga is virtually identical with the spiritual path of Vedanta, the tradition of nondualism. Jnana Yoga is the path Self-realization through the exercise of understanding, or, to be more precise, the wisdom associated with discerning the Real from the unreal.
The term jnana-yoga is first mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, where Lord Krishna declares to his pupil Prince Arjuna: “Of yore I proclaimed a twofold way of life in this world, o guileless Arjuna – Jnana Yoga for the samkhyas and Karma Yoga for the yogins.” (III.3). Jnana Yoga represents the knowledge of the self in general. Self is present everywhere and all bodies are perishable. The self never perishes. It never dies even though body is killed. The Yoga of knowledge represents the knowledge of the self, and the self is eternal, omnipresent, imperishable and omniscient.
Jnana Yoga is the most arduous way, reserved for an elite and in it the Yogin must go beyond the plane of Maya. Jnana Yoga leads to an integration through knowledge, gnosis. Also, there is dhyana yoga. The Sanskrit dhyana becomes Ch’an in Chinese which becomes Thom in Vietnamese, Son in Korean, Zen in Japanese. This yoga is specifically what gets called the yoga of meditation. All these constitute the Buddhi yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, that is, the yoga of integrated intelligence and will.
2. Bhakti Yoga – is the way of exclusive devotion to God.
Bhakti Yoga is the supreme devotion to the Lord. Bhakti is intense attachment to God who is the Indweller in all beings, who is the support, solace for all beings. Bhakti yoga is integration through love or devotion. It teaches the rules of love, for it is the science of the higher love; it teaches how to direct and use love and how to give it a new object, how to obtain from it the highest and most glorious result, which is the acquisition of spiritual felicity. The Bhakti Yoga, does not say “abandon” but only love, love the Most High”.
3. Karma Yoga – is the way of selfless work.
To exist is to act. Karma yoga means the discipline of action or integration through activity. Karma Yoga is the Yoga of self-surrendered action. Even an inanimate object such as a rock has movement. And the building blocks of matter, the atoms, are in fact not building blocks at all but incredibly complex patterns of energy in constant motion. Thus, the universe is a vast vibratory expanse. Karma Yoga is selfless service unto humanity. Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action which purifies the heart and prepares the heart and mind for the reception of Divine Light or the attainment of Knowledge of the Self. But this has to be done without attachment or egoism. The karma yoga of The Gita is a unique philosophy of action and it declares that nature has given the right of action to man only and the right of the result of action is under the authority of nature. But the action is a duty of man; therefore he should perform actions without the desire of fruit. Lord Krishna says: “Not by abstention from actions does a man enjoy action-transcendence, nor by renunciation alone does he approach perfection.” (III, 4). Then God Krishna, who communicates these teachings to his pupil Arjuna, points to himself, as the archetypal model of the active person: “For Me, O son of Pritha, there is nothing to be done in the three worlds, nothing ungained to be gained – and yet I engage in action.” (III.22).
4. Raja Yoga – The Respelendent Yoga of Spiritual Kings
This refers to the Yoga system of Patanjali, is commonly used to distinguish Patanjali’s eight-fold path of meditative introversion from Hatha Yoga. Psycho-physical practices for mind and cure have been part of Hindu medical science in the ancient times and no wonder Dr. freud and other modern psychologists are just the beginners in the field discovering the age-old science. Sri Aurobindo observed: “Indian yoga is experimental psychology. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the Upanishads – these and the Saiva Siddhanta treatises – furnish pioneering examples of experimental psychology.” “In Indian psychology they proceed from the basis of the supremacy of mind over matter and postulate Atman as the ultimate Reality of the universe unification with which is the basic purpose of this yoga.”
Romain Rolland 1866-1944) French Nobel laureate, professor of the history of music at the Sorbonne and thinker. He authored a book Life and Gospel of Vivekananda, calls this yoga as the experimental psycho-physiological method for the direct attainment of Reality which is Brahman. Many serious seekers have successfully tried direct realization of the Supreme through the mind control without waiting for indefinite births to take place. This great methodology was developed by the great classical theorist Rishi Patanjali who sought to attain ultimate knowledge through the control and absolute mastery of the mind thus cutting down the endless path of the soul for perfection through future births. The whole thrust is on the concentration and control of mind after shutting it out of all worldly objects to reach the Ultimate Reality.
“The powers of the mind are like rays of dissipated light; when they are concentrated they illumine. This is the only means of Knowledge. The originality of Indian Raja Yoga lies in the fact that it has been the subject for centuries past of a minutely elaborated experimental science for the conquest of concentration and mastery of the mind. By mind, the Hindu Yogi understands the instrument as well as the object of knowledge, and in what concerns the object, he goes very far, farther than I can follow him.”
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was the foremost disciple of Ramakrishna and a world spokesperson for Vedanta. India’s first spiritual and cultural ambassador to the West, said: “The science of Raja Yoga proposes to lay down before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method for reaching the truth.”
Other Forms of Yoga
There are several other forms of yoga, such as Hatha Yoga, Mantra Yoga, and Laya Yoga. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to destroy or transform all that which, in man, interferes with his union with the universal Being. It is a “Yoga of strength” which lays particular stress on physical exercises that even permit the adept to perform physiological feats that are normally beyond human capacity.
Once a Yogin has obtained purification by the different disciplines of the Hatha Yoga the Yogin must recite a series of mantras or “prayers” which make up the Mantra Yoga. The aim of Laya Yoga is to direct the mind upon the object of meditation.
All these are branches or subdivisions of the four main divisions of yoga stated above. All branches of yoga have one thing in common, they are concerned with a state of being, or consciousness. “Yoga is ecstasy” says Vyasa’s Yoga-bhashya