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The Four Paths

by Swami Sivananda

Union with God is the goal of this human life. It is the be-all and end-all of our existence. It is the summum bonum of life. This can be achieved by following the path of Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga or Karma Yoga.

Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion or the path of affection that is suitable for people of devotional temperament, in whom the love-element preponderates. Women are fit for this Bhakti Yoga Marga as affection predominates in them. Raja Yoga is suited to men of mystic temperament. Some are fond of acquiring Siddhis (powers). They can take up this path. Jnana is the path of Vedanta. Men of rational temperament with reasoning power, strong individual thinking and bold reasoning can take up this path. Those who have an active temperament can follow the path of Karma Yoga.

Bhakti Yoga is suitable for the vast majority of devotees. Generally there is a mixture of devotional and intellectual temperaments in all men. Some are purely devotional. Some are purely intellectual. One can realise through selfless Karma Yoga also. Karma Yoga purifies the mind (Chitta Suddhi) and prepares the aspirant for Jnana Yoga. People of active temperament should take up Karma Yoga. Bhakti is also classified as mental Karma. It comes under Karma Yoga. Raja Yoga is also a form of Bhakti Yoga. In Bhakti Yoga the devotee does absolute self-surrender to the Lord. A Raja Yogi has subtle egoism. The Bhakta depends upon the Lord. He is extremely humble. A Raja Yogi exerts and asserts. He is of Svatantra type (independent). Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga are not incompatibles like acid and alkali. One can combine one-pointed devotion with Jnana Yoga. The fruit of Bhakti Yoga is Jnana. Highest love (Para Bhakti) and Jnana are one. Perfect knowledge is love. Perfect love is knowledge.

Sri Sankara, a Kevala Advaita Jnani, was a great Bhakta of Lord Hari, Hara and Devi. Jnana Dev of Alandi, Poona, a great Yogi, was a Bhakta of Lord Krishna. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa worshipped Kali and got Jnana through Swami Totapuri, his Advaita Guru. Lord Gouranga of Bengal was a great Advaita Vedantic scholar and yet he danced in the streets and market-places singing the Names of Hari. Appaya Dikshita, a famous Jnani of Adaiyapalam, North Arcot District, the author of Siddhanta Lesha and various other Vedantic books, was a devotee of Lord Siva.

It behoves therefore that Bhakti can be combined with much advantage with Jnana. Raja Yoga aims in controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. The second Sutra in Yoga Darshan of Patanjali Maharishi in the first chapter reads:

Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.

"Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications."

This is the definition of Raja Yoga according to Patanjali Maharishi. Sri Jnana Dev, Goraknath, Raja Bhartrihari and Sadasiva Brahman were all Raja Yogis of great repute and glory.

Bhakti is a means to the end. It gives purity of mind. It removes Vikshepa (tossing of the mind) Sakamya Bhakti (devotion with expectation) brings Svarga and Brahmaloka for the devotee (Uttamaloka Prapti). Nishkamya Bhakti (love without expectation of fruits) brings Chitta Suddhi and through the purity of the mind the aspirant gets Jnana.


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