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The Four Paths of Yoga

By Roger Gabriel (Raghavanand)

Vedanta tells us that there are five causes of suffering:


1. Not knowing who we are
2. Attachment: Clinging to things that are impermanent and having expectations
3. Aversion: Trying to avoid things that are not real
4. Identifying with the ego and creating separate realities
5. Fear of death
Fortunately, Vedanta also gives us the solutions to overcome these causes. It tells us
that by correcting the first cause and remembering who we really are, all the others
will cease to concern us.
Yoga (the union of body, mind, soul, and spirit) is rediscovering who we are and
returning to a life of joy, bliss, and freedom. Vedanta, recognizing that we each have
different personalities and preferences, offers us four paths of yoga, or four sets of
spiritual practices, to help us reach this goal.

In life we can act, we can think, we can feel, or we can do nothing. To act is karma
yoga, to think is gyana yoga, to feel (love) is bhakti yoga, and to do nothing
is samadhi—the final step of raja yoga and goal of all yoga.
Let’s look at each of the paths of yoga and see how we can incorporate them into
our lives.

1. Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti is the yoga of devotion, ultimately to the divine, but it can initially be devotion
to a guru, your family, a friend, or anything that creates strong emotional ties.

In today’s world filled with so much chaos and confusion, it is said that bhakti is the
easiest of the paths. It can be practiced by anyone—regardless of mental or physical
abilities—and doesn't involve extensive yogic practices.

Bhakti is the path of love that removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride,
and arrogance. It replaces those feelings with joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace, and
wisdom. The first line of a Fleetwood Mac song says, “Drowning in a sea of love,
where everyone would love to drown.” This is bhakti—drowning in love.
Vedanta says there is a fine thread made of pure love (prem), which connects your
heart with the divine. This thread is the essence of bhakti. It has been lying dormant in
your heart since the beginning of creation, hidden by layers of ignorance and
suffering. However, no matter what you do or where you go, this thread, your divine
connection, can never be broken. This is what creates the deep yearning of your soul
for joy and bliss.

To be in love with someone or something creates separation. Bhakti is to be love—to


be intoxicated with divine love. It is the unity of being in love with love itself. Vedanta
says to put the emphasis where it belongs—on the divine self within each person we
encounter.

The Bhakti Yogi


• Asks what is it that I long for at the deepest level of my being?
• Is pure in thoughts, words, and actions
• Looks for the divinity in the ordinary
• Honors and respects all life
• Purifies the heart through devotion
• Sings, dances, chants, and listens to divine verses
• Surrenders by being open to everything
• Acts as a servant, friend, or mother to the divine in everyone

People often say they don’t have enough time for their spiritual practice because of
family commitments. Bhakti is to make serving your family your practice.

With bhakti, all attachments end except the all-absorbing love for God—this is the
only attachment that frees rather than limits. Once the divine is re-established in the
temple of your heart, its love will serve you for eternity. Bhakti is the journey to finally
“rest in God.”

2. Karma Yoga
Karma means “action,” and karma yoga is performing action without attachment to
the outcome. It is the path of selfless service (seva). You cease to identify with the
ego and all action is seen as an offering to the divine.
The heart is purified so egoism, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, and similar negative
qualities vanish, creating space for humility, pure love, sympathy, tolerance, and
compassion.

Karma yoga is “doing the right thing”—the process of achieving perfection in action. It
means following one’s dharma (true purpose) and accepting whatever comes,
without expectation of payment, thanks, or recognition.
The Karma Yogi
• Lives life with passion but remains dispassionate about the outcome
• Is effortless and graceful in all things
• Has a loving, friendly nature
• Is sympathetic, compassionate, and tolerant
• Rejoices in the success and happiness of others
• Feels neither above nor beneath anyone
• Speaks and acts truthfully

Vedanta also says that karma yoga is the warrior’s path and that yogis should:
• Maintain a strong healthy body
• Bear insults and compliments, comfort and pain, equally
• Have faith in themselves, knowing that the divine will always love them
• Be adaptable to any situation and able to mix with everyone
• Have a calm mind
• Be fearless
With karma yoga, all desires eventually merge into one, which is to serve and
ultimately serve the divine.

3. Gyana Yoga
Gyana yoga (sometimes spelled jnana) is the path of knowledge or, more correctly,
wisdom. It is the means to enlightenment through the process of reason—particularly
the process of discrimination between what is real and what is not real, what is true
and untrue—through study and self-inquiry.
It is said to be the most difficult path because it uses the mind and intellect to go
beyond themselves to finally realize you are one with the divine. The Upanishads call
it the “razor’s edge,” where the ego is always trying to knock us off. It requires great
strength of character, willpower, and intellect.

When asked a question, Ramana Maharshi, a great Indian saint and gyana yogi, would
often reply, “First ask yourself who is asking the question.” Gyana yoga is the study of
the ancient texts and teachings of the great masters but, more importantly, it is the
study of your own self.

The Gyana Yogi


• Studies the spiritual texts of his/her traditions
• Reads the words of the great masters
• Asks the heart the following questions and listens to the answers without
judgement or evaluation:

̶ Who am I
̶ What do I want?
̶ What is my purpose?
̶ What am I grateful for?

• Is mindful of the surrounding world


• Listens, reflects, contemplates
• Practices discernment and detachment
• Meditates and takes time each day to be silent
The Gyana yogi stops worrying about what is being seen but asks, “Why am I seeing
it?” Life begins to be seen as a dream.

4. Raja Yoga
Raja yoga means the “royal path.” Just as a king maintains control over his kingdom,
you must maintain control over your own “kingdom”—the vast territory of your mind.
It’s the path of meditation, mantras, and techniques. The basic theme of raja yoga is
that your perception of the divine self is obscured by the disturbances of the mind. If
the body and mind can be made still and pure, the self will instantaneously shine
forth.
Raja yoga is the path most favored by Westerners because it can be practiced by
almost everyone and requires no particular faith or belief. Raja yoga says to believe
only what you find out for yourself through direct experience.

The Raja Yogi


• Maintains balance in sleep, diet, lifestyle, and work
• Is in harmony with nature’s rhythms
• Is pure and nonjudgmental
• Takes responsibility for his/her life
• Is skillful with his/her emotions and remains free from worries
• Avoids distractions
• Trains the mind through techniques of meditation
Although he didn’t call it raja yoga, the Indian sage Patanjali offers one of the best
descriptions of this path in his Yoga Sutras, under the title Astanga, or the Eight Limbs
of Yoga.

The Eight Limbs


• Yamas: Abstaining from harming others through wrong doing, including non-
violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, not wasting our energy, and abstention
from greed or hoarding
• Niyamas: Principles for our own daily lives, including purity or cleanliness,
contentment, discipline, study, and devotion
• Asanas: Seat or posture, yoga poses
• Pranayama: Mastering and enlivening the life force
• Pratyahara: Inner reflection
• Dharana: Focused attention
• Dhyana: Meditation, continuous flow
• Samadhi: Freedom, liberation, and enlightenment

In essence, raja yoga is a systematic process of molding our character and life to the
experience of enlightenment.

The Four Paths


Even though these four paths appear different, there is really only one yoga, one
union. We may be drawn to one path more than the others but they complement
each other. As the saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome,” so all paths lead to
enlightenment.
The paths are like four different strands woven together to form the same rope, each
one strengthened by the others. Choose whichever aspects of each path that
resonate with you and begin to incorporate them into your life. Look for joy in your
daily practice and let it guide you.
About the Author
Born in Liverpool, England, Roger Gabriel spent his formative years in the United
Kingdom and first learned meditation there in the early 1970s. It instantly became his
passion and he soon trained to be a meditation teacher under Maharishi Mahesh
Yogi.

After moving to the U.S., Roger began studying Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system
of health care. In 1985, while helping to establish centers for Ayurveda and
meditation, he met and became friends with Deepak Chopra. Since then, Roger has
assisted Deepak with numerous training programs, seminars, and workshops; taught
thousands of people on all continents to meditate; and assisted in training hundreds
of people to become teachers of meditation, Ayurveda, and yoga.

Roger has been blessed to meet and study with great teachers in India and the West,
and he has traveled extensively in India. He incorporates much of what he has
learned in his practices and teaching. In 2006, Roger received his spiritual name
Raghavanand from Shree Satuwa Baba Maharaji of Varanasi, India.
As time permits, he involves himself with charity programs in India and takes like-
minded seekers on tours to some of his favorite pilgrimage sites there. Roger
currently serves as a member of the Chopra Center Certification’s Advisory Board and
is a Chopra Center–certified master educator who teaches regularly at the Center’s
workshops, seminars, and teacher training programs. When not traveling, he lives in
Encinitas, California.