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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 it.

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

The Karma-mărga 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 one’s 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 one’s 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 bondage.

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.

Dnyana 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 experience.

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 Kapila’s 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 extravert.

Bhakti-mărga : 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 devotee’s resolve to seek God. Therefore many concrete helps are provided by the mythology and the symbology that add poetry, beauty and sublimity to devotee’s 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 realisation.

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 one’s intellect steady.

 

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