The Four Paths of Yoga - Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Ashtanga

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Yoga is divided into four types or four paths: Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Ashtanga. 

Each different personality may lean toward or favour a particular path of yoga. However, to truly walk and live the ultimate path of Yoga, we must integrate the knowledge and practice of each of the paths. This inspires wholeness and, in turn, the ultimate goal of union and liberation. 

The four paths of Yoga bring together the knowledge, practices and actions that will help us to purify the mind, body and heart so that there are no more selfish needs or desires other than to serve, to serve the moment, to serve others and ultimately to serve the Supreme.  The essence of Yoga is about perfecting yourself to stand in the presence of this world and serve. That is the deepest purpose of Yoga.

The purification process involves removing the veils between our physical reality or sense perceptions and our true nature. These veils consist of ignorance, ego (pride) attachment, cravings, aversions and clinging to life, also known as the impediments to the goal of Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the most easily misunderstood of all the yogas. Karma yoga is about our relationship with the world around us. Some people call it the Yoga of action or work, but I have found that it goes much deeper than that. It is the process of subduing the ego through selfless service (Seva). Nothing is asked for, needed or expected in exchange for the service performed. Karma yoga enables the practice of perfect action that is without any reaction or consequence. Through perfect action, the mind is engaged in the present moment, full of service attitude without any entanglements toward the past of the future, and completely free from self-serving desires. To understand the depth of karma yoga, it helps also to understand the other yoga paths. 

The practise of Karma yoga purifies the self from the entanglement of reaction and reaction.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti yoga is known as the yoga of love and devotion. The Bhagavad Gita refers to Bhakti Yoga as the highest practice to enhance our personal relationship with God. It is the process of surrendering the ego through worshipping the Supreme Being and hence uniting consciousness with Him. Practices include meditation on His personal form, names and pastimes. Bhakti also includes singing God's praises, chanting devotional hymns, observing devotional ceremonies and making offerings.

Bhakti invites the presence of God into our lives in all ways. It recognizes and worships Him as the cause of all causes, the creator of all creation, the absolute truth and the ultimate goal.

The practice of Bhakti purifies the heart, at which point the light of the Divine brings about God-realisation.

Jnana Yoga 

Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge and the intellect. Jnana is the process of subduing the ego by realizing that all creation is an illusion and that we experience material reality through a subjective lens of conditioned patterns. A healthy and balanced mind begins to contemplate things beyond the material world and limited thinking, such as God, the nature of creation, the Infinite and eternity.

Through study, self-enquiry, meditation and reflection, consciousness can pierce the illusion and perceive its true nature, bringing about Self-realization.

Jnana yoga is the path of wisdom and intellect. It includes the study of sacred texts, philosophical discussion and introspection.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga has most commonly been popularized in the West today. A small portion of Ashtang Yoga is known as Hatha Yoga. This yoga is the physical practise required to maintain optimal health and balance in the body. This state of wellbeing and physical perfection is necessary to focus on the primary goal of Yoga - union with the Supreme. Ashtanga yoga integrates the eight limbs or stages of yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These stages outline an outwardly simple and yet inwardly complex road map for attaining the goal of self-realization. 

Each path plays its part in leading us to union with the Divine, liberation and freedom from the repeated cycles of birth and death (samsara).

Yoga, one of the most ancient treasures of the Indian Culture, is the path toward self-realization. It means to link or yoke the soul with the Supersoul (Divine). Union frees the soul from the bondage of material reality (Maya), allowing it to realize its true nature. This union is the final goal of Yoga, the self-realization, Samadhi or enlightenment that genuine spiritual seekers are aiming for. 

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