From a historical perspective there are four paths of yoga. These paths (schools, ways) are bhakti yoga, gnana yoga, karma yoga and Raja yoga. They are based on the only four realities in our life: body, mind, emotion, and energy. Whatever we do, it is on these four levels. We can only act with our body, our mind, our emotions and/or our energy.
- Jnana (gnana) Yoga is the path of our mind, of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature of our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.
- Bhakti Yoga is the path based on emotion, devotion, love, compassion and service to (the divine) and others.
- Karma Yoga is based on using our body, on physical action; service to others. Generating good karma and dealing with our bad karma.
- Raja Yoga is based on turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. This path is also called the royal path, because everybody can follow it. The focus is on meditation, while encompassing the whole of yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.
In reality following the path of yoga will be a mixture of all four. Sadhguru, and Indian yogi and mystic, once wrote:
It happened once. Four men were walking in the forest. The first was a gnana yogi, the second was a bhakti yogi, the third was a karma yogi, and the fourth was a raja yogi. Usually, these four people can never be together. The gnana yogi has total disdain for all other types of yoga. His is the yoga of intelligence, and normally, an intellectual has complete disdain for everyone else, particularly these bhakti types, who look upward and chant God’s name all the time. They look like a bunch of idiots to him.
But a bhakti yogi, a devotee, thinks all this gnana, karma and raja yoga is a waste of time. He pities the others who don’t see that when God is here, all you need to do is hold His hand and walk. All this mind-splitting philosophy, this bone-bending yoga, is not needed; God is here, because God is everywhere.
Then there is the karma yogi, the man of action. He thinks all the other types of yogis, with their fancy philosophies, are just lazy.
But a raja yogi is the most disdainful of all. He laughs at everyone. Don’t they know that all of existence is energy? If you don’t transform your energy, whether you long for God or you long for anything else, nothing is going to happen. There will be no transformation.
These four people customarily can’t get along. But today they happened to be walking together in the forest and a storm broke out. It grew very intense and began raining heavily. They started running, looking for shelter.
The bhakti yogi, the devotion man, said, “In this direction there is an ancient temple. Let’s go there.” He’s a devotee; he knows the geography of temples very well! They all ran in that direction. They came to an ancient temple. All the walls had crumbled long ago; just the roof and four columns remained. They rushed into the temple; not out of love for God, but just to escape the rain.
There was a deity in the center. They ran towards it. The rain was lashing down from every direction. There was no other place to go, so they moved closer and closer. Finally, there was no alternative. They just hugged the deity and sat down.The moment these four people hugged the idol, there was a huge fifth presence. Suddenly, God appeared. In all their four minds the same question arose: Why now? They wondered, “We expounded so many philosophies, did so many poojas, served so many people, did so much body-breaking sadhana, but you didn’t come. Now when we’re just escaping the rain, you turn up. Why?”
God said, “At last you four idiots got together!”
If these dimensions don’t walk together, human beings will be one big mess. Right now, for most people, these dimensions are aligned in different directions. Your mind is thinking and feeling one way, your physical body is going another way, your energy another way. Yoga is simply the science of aligning these dimensions.
Photo Jan Stads/Pix4Profs