The paths or the methods adopted by the spiritual aspirants to
seek experience of God differ from individual to individual depending on his natural
tendency and inborn or acquired ability. This path-concept in Hindu spiritual world has no
parallel elsewhere. It is unique and original concept that carries extraordinary
importance in India. God is one but the paths to realize Him are many. Gită declares:
"In whatever way men surrender unto Me I accept them in that way. Whatever path
they travel, it is my path. It leads to Me alone." This all-embracing principle,
"that there is only one Reality, Brahman but manifests Itself in
many" accepts all religions as its manifestations having equal potential to realise
Dnyana, Karma, Yoga
and Bhakti are four means by which the Absolute Brahman can be
realised. The spiritual aspirants have full freedom to follow any of the four. All these
paths have long traditions in India and their advocates have strongly debated not only the
superiority but exclusive use of the path of their choice. Thus Dnyana, Karma,
Yoga and Bhakti have respectively Shankarachărya,
Mimănsakas, Patanjali and Shăndilya as their leaders. The word Yoga means
to be in union with the Brahman. So whatever path that leads to unitive
experience of God is Yoga.
Karma-mărga : The
path of Action
originally propounded by the Mimănsakas considers Moksha- the
liberation as eternal and imperishable since it does not depend on any cause. Whatever has
a cause is invariably perishable. If the cause of the rebirth is destroyed by destroying
the Karma , the action, liberation is attained. Opposed to liberation is the
cycle of birth and death. The actions bind the soul to this cycle. Therefore one has to
discard forbidden actions as well as actions caused by desiring fruits and faithfully
carry out only those regular and occasional ones prescribed by the scriptures. Once the
fruits of previous life, acquired by ones fate in this life are finished by living,
there remains no cause for rebirth and the soul gets liberated.
Bhagvad-Gită develops this Karma-theory
into full-fledged Karma-Yoga defining it as the skill of
performing action without inviting bondage. All actions except forbidden ones can be
performed in this way. Action itself is not binding. When the action is performed
discarding ones ego and without expecting any fruits, it becomes inaction. But when
it is accompanied by the sense of ego and desires to enjoy fruits it creates bondage.
Those who are outwardly inactive but full of desires within, also have no escape from this
Bhagvad-Gită does not consider the path of
detached action merely an instrument to liberation but as an independent way of life to be
continued even after the enlightenment is attained. As opposed to the path of renunciation
through knowledge Gită strongly pleads for the active worldly life and discusses various
philosophical and practical aspects of Karma in detail. In this Karmayoga
the actions are either performed as the wish of God or worship offered to God, Pleased by
such purified action God favours the aspirant by lifting his soul from the worldly affairs
and the aspirant finally attains enlightenment.
mărga : The path of knowledge
The great religious leader of Hinduism Shri
Ădya Shankarăchărya is the outstandingly excellent exponent of
this path. Ignorance about the true nature of universe is the main cause of bondage and
true knowledge only can liberate the soul from this bondage. The body and the mind are
considered as the impediments in the way of liberation, so their assistance is not sought.
Only instrument is the intellect. Deeper philosophic reasoning coupled with strong resolve
makes the seeker of Brahman to renounce everything considering as unreal and
temporary. The worldly surrounding is nothing but All Brahman. The seeker
wants to get rid of the material world by the force of his intellectual conviction. In his
search of Reality he goes on negating every thing saying "not this, not this, Neti-Neti".
Action, sacrifice, austerity, pilgrimage, even study of Vedas are of no
importance to him. Spiritual knowledge is the only source of liberation.
He uses his discrimination to know what is
eternal and what is transitory in nature. The great Upanishadic statements
called Mahăvăkyas provide him guiding light in studying various aspects of
spiritual knowledge. So knowledge as an instrument in the preparatory stage and its
culmination in the direct unitive knowledge of Brahman are two aspects of
knowledge in this path.
Here the search of truth is by his
analytical reasoning, first in the external work where he fails and then diverts his
thoughts to his self within and then he finds realisation in self-knowledge. This is the
unique state where Existence, Knowledge and Bliss are at once realised as unitive
Participating in worldly actions is
considered as the most unwanted thing that brings bondage and therefore all types of
activities are renounced. Hence this path is known as path of renunciation through
knowledge. In Gită this path is referred to as Sănkhya meaning thereby the
knowledge that discriminates between real and unreal. The great sage Kapilas Sănkhya
Philosophy stresses the need of the self called Purusha realising
his separate and independent existence from nature called Prakriti to attain
liberation called Kaivalya. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan describes the
knowledge-based path as the path of the introvert and action-based path as the path of the
The path of Devotion
The great sage Shăndilya, the proponent of
this path defines devotion as intense love to God.
Divine sage Narada also called it as the
intense love to God According to Shăndilya God is not All-knowledge but All-love.
When unmanifest Brahman appears in a manifest form called Ishvara devotion
becomes possible. All-mighty, All-knowing and All-merciful are the attributes of God and
they inspire confidence in the devotee to seek His help in his misery. According to Swămi
Vivekănanda the real and genuine search of God, beginning, continuing, and ending in love
is devotion (Bhakti). God manifests everywhere in everything. Therefore
there is no place for hatred nor the earthly benefits can be its goal.
Bhakti is the easiest and the
most natural way to reach God. It is not supposed to degenerate into hatred of others who
seek Him differently. No hatred, no material gains are the expressions of true devotion. A
true devotee renounces all other little loves for the sake of All-Merciful God.
At the preparatory stage Bhakti
is called Gauni, the secondary one and when fully absorbed into unity of God
as Para the supreme. In its ideal state, knowledge, love and Yoga
are harmoniously fused.
In the preparatory stage forms and
ceremonies including rituals are used just to strengthen the devotees resolve to
seek God. Therefore many concrete helps are provided by the mythology and the symbology
that add poetry, beauty and sublimity to devotees life. Some consider devotional
worship merely as instrument and not the goal, whereas some think it as both since it
terminates into love and knowledge getting fused. Perfect knowledge is inseparable from
perfect love. Bhagavad-Gită supports this view.
The God worshipped in His personal form is
not separate and different from the unmanifest Brahman. All is Brahman,
the one without the second. Only the Brahman is too much an abstraction to
be loved or worshipped. So the devotees choose the relative aspect of Brahman
manifesting as Ishvara, the supreme Ruler. Ishvara is the
highest possible reading of Absolute Brahman conceived by the human mind.
Yoga-mărga : The
Path of Yogic Practice
In this path realization is attained
through physical and mental control by scientifically following the discipline of Yoga
that consists of eight stages called limbs. The mind being the main instrument of
experiencing the world is brought under total control. If the mind stops functioning the
whole world disappears.
Every moment the mind breaks into waves and
constantly plays with all sorts of desires. It is always in love of objects of pleasures
and hates everything that bring sorrows. To hold this mind steady in total calmness by
stopping all external and internal causes by the power of will, a great science called Yogashăstra
was developed in India by the great sage Patanjali.
Originally it was meant to reach
thoughtless state of mind but in course of time the aspect of meditation upon God became
the supreme goal of this Yoga. The seer merges into his pure state of God
The eight steps elaborately prescribed in
this science of Yoga, are to be rigorously practised so that the state of
transcendental joy called Samadhi is attained by the adherent. Since it
results into divine spiritual experience it is also called RajYoga
The aim of the Yoga
discipline is to confer trance, divine power and divine knowledge mainly through the
control of the mind, breath and body. This necessitates observing morality of high order.
One-pointed concentration upon God results into obtaining His grace and enlightenment.
Therefore controlling passions is a prime necessity in Yoga.
Yogashăstra while stressing
the need of conquering the mind squarely deals with human psychology in all its depth. It
has become a grand and priceless collection of psychological principles of eternal value.
It does not preach for the suppression of passions but instead enables the adherent to
purify them by spiritual austerity.
Bhagvad-Gită recognizes the importance of
this Yoga and prescribes its application for freeing the mind from the
onslaught of passions, anger and fear.
In the sixth Adhyăya the spiritual
discipline of Pătanjal Yogashastra with its salient features has been
briefly explained as means of concentration of the mind that results into making
ones intellect steady.