The Four Paths Of Yoga

These Four Paths examine the core psychological approaches to life, not merely that of spiritual or religious inquiry. It should be noted that each path leads to the other.

What is Karma?

Karma is a way to observe the larger context in which one learns lessons and contextualizes one’s life and actions. 

Karma literally means “action”.  Action always comes with the consequence of the action.

Nothing is by accident, merit, demerit, honor, or dishonor; any happening in our lives results from karma. Even deities in mythology are bound to karma in this dualistic life, even when they know themselves beyond these dualities.

The philosophy of karma is at the foundation of all oriental philosophical thought, Hindu and Buddhist.  Understanding how this law applies in life helps us to spiritualize our life and progress.

What is Karma Yoga?

Karma Yoga is a way to describe selfless service, in which you reduce your ego by volunteering for the difficulty of working for others and for your own goals without attachment to the result or attachment to a result for YOURSELF. 

Work done in the right attitude (bhava) becomes consecrated; becomes a sacred act.  A life consecrated in doing selfless acts will become a divine life.” – Swami Sivananda.

As our life is the result of karma, our life itself holds the key to our liberation. The idea is to spiritualize our life and our actions in order to be free.  The problem is that we are very attached to our actions and our works; we constantly identify with our actions and take pride in what we are doing. Our ego is very much invested in our talents, skills, knowledge and activities.  It takes detachment towards our actions in order to see ourselves and our actions in a different light.

In the cultivation of the spirit of Karma Yoga lies our freedom and spiritual release.

Three Kinds of Karma

It is said that there are three kinds of karma: past karma, present karma and future karma. The three are inter-related and can be summed up thus: 

The present karma is the result of the past (sanchita) karmas, and is our reaction (kriyamana) to the past, and will determine our future (parabhda) karmas. 

This body and mind are nothing but the result of past karma.  These past karmic impressions have tendencies to reproduce themselves and determine the individual’s circumstances and choices. These reactions to what has happened determine if they will learn the spiritual lesson or not.  The residue of what needs to be learned will unfold in another context later on. 

The Archery Metaphor Of Karma on

 Kahlil Gibran- The Prophet “On Work”:

Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.

     And he answered, saying: You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

     When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

     Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.  And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

Work is love made visible.

     And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

“Transmuting Emotions Into Devotion” is a basic, human psychological drive, and is not necessarily associated with religion or spiritual life. 

Here, the context in which we are talking about bhakti as it is in spiritual approaches to life, but these nine modes can also be applied to motivations of all types. 

In sports, for example, the athlete or team that loses a game or a match or a race transmutes their grief of loss into further devotion to their sport, to use one example.

Swami Sivananda says in Bliss Divine, “Bhakti is continuity of devotion.  Bhakti is attraction of the Soul to the Lord, just as there is attraction of the needle to the magnet. 

Bhakti is love for love’s sake.  There is neither selfish expectation nor fear.  Bhakti is no emotionalism, but it is tuning the will and the intellect as well towards the Divine. 

Bhakti Yoga

What is Devotion In The Context Of Love?

Swami Sivananda says, “Love is the law of life.  To love is to fulfill the law.  To live is to love.  To love is to live.  You live so that you may learn to love.  You love so that you may learn to live in the Eternal. 

A Life without faith, love and devotion is a dreary waste.  It is real death.

Love of body or skin is passion.  Love of God is Prem.  It is pure love.  It is love for Love’s sake.  Love vibrates in the form of service, charity, generosity and benevolence.

True religion does not consist in ritualistic observances and pilgrimages, etc., but in loving all.  Cosmic love is all embracing and all inclusive.  Hatred breeds hatred.  Love begets love.  Fear breeds fear. 

It is the natural right of love, the power of God, to prevail upon this earth, conquering all forces of hate and evil.  Love is the hope of this dark and lonesome world. 

This world needs leaders filled with sympathy, cooperation, love, sacrifice, compassion, and tolerance.  The saints, seers and prophets of all religions have spoken of love as the end and aim or goal of life. 

Live in love.  Breathe in Love.  Sing in Love.  Eat in Love.  Drink in Love.  Talk in Love.  Pray in Love.  Meditate in Love.  Think in Love.  Move in Love.  Die in Love. 

Purify your thoughts, speeches and actions in the fire of love.

Feel that this body is the moving temple of God.  Feel that all beings are images of the Lord.  Feel that one power of God works through all hands, sees through all eyes, hears through all ears. 

You will become a changed being.  You will enjoy the highest peace and bliss.”

Raja Yoga

Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Mantra Yoga are all parts of Raja Yoga. 

Quote: “In the beginning of your Sadhana, you will encounter various difficulties.  You will not be conscious of any spiritual progress, but you will be conscious of your failures in your attempts in meditation, the resistance you meet, your defects and weaknesses.”

– Swami Sivananda in “Sivananda Upanishad”

Raja Yoga is the path of systematic analysis and control of the mind. 

Compiled by Patanjali Maharishi in The Raja Yoga Sutras is also known as Ashtanga Yoga because its practices can be divided into eight (asht) limbs (anga). 

The goal is to control the chitta vrittis, or thought waves, and thus attain the super-conscious state of mind, the final goal.

Concentration Is Practice For Meditation

Concentration is holding one thought in the mind for a period of time. 

Concentration brings power to the mind and makes the mind one-pointed, thus allowing peace and happiness to shine through. 

Concentration implies effort and perseverance to bring the mind back to focus.

Concentration on an external object – like a candle flame (tratak) is more straightforward than focusing internally on an abstract idea.

There are many exercises for concentration; for example, allowing the mind to think on a topic and everything related to the subject but nothing outside of the subject.

The mind is like a sheep tied to a post and has to move in a smaller circle.  The fewer thoughts you have in your mind, the more Peace you have.  The more ideas in mind, the less Peace you have.

Concentration is like gathering the rays of the mind and applying them to a particular topic.

In the same manner that gathering the rays of the sun through a magnifying glass can burn a piece of paper or collecting the water of a stream through a dam can produce electricity, the Yogi endeavors to have fewer thoughts, so the thoughts that remain in mind will gain power and realization.

A concentrated person is much more productive, effective, and peaceful, while a distracted person is unfulfilled, constantly changing topics, and never finishes anything.

Jnana Yoga

Quote: “Solve first the, “Who am I?” problem.  All other problems will be automatically solved.”
– Swami Sivananda, in “Sivananda Upanishad”

Yoga philosophy is called Vedanta philosophy; it comes from the scripture called the Vedas. The term Vedanta is derived from the Sanskrit root “Vid” – “to know”, and “Anta” meaning “end”. 

Thus Vedanta literally means “the end of knowledge”.  The Philosophy Vedanta is so called because it explains what the end is and how to achieve it.

It is a philosophy that teaches the unity of life, or oneness of consciousness.  It is the sublime philosophy which boldly proclaims that the individual Soul (the jiva) is identical with the Supreme Soul or Brahman.

It is the only philosophy that can reunite, on the basis of the one common Self in all, different kinds of religions, cultures, races and personalities.

This knowledge is given to us by the Rishis, who were enlightened sages who had attained the highest level of knowledge.  The Rishis taught that the nature of the Atma or the Self is Sat Chit Ananda.

Jnana Yoga


Sat: truth, absolute being or existence– that which is enduring and unchanging
Chit: consciousness, understanding, and comprehension
Ananda: bliss, a state of pure happiness, joy, and sensual pleasure

Happiness is our true nature

Unhappiness and negativity are unreal because they have a dependent existence. 

There is a story of the baby lion who thought he was a sheep because he was raised by a mother sheep and lived with sheep all his life. He forgot his true nature as a lion until another lion (the Guru- literally gu=remover, and ru=darkness) came and showed him his true nature.  Then he roared like a lion, instead bleating like a lamb.

Thus knowing that nothing can, in reality, hurt us and that the Self is all the time there, we face our challenges with courage instead of being weak.

We constantly complain and cry out of attachment and desires because we have forgotten our true nature as Sat Chit Ananda.

Self Enquiry, or “Who am I?” and the practice of Discrimination (correct thinking) ultimately helps us face our illusions and remove our identification with the Not-self or our changing mind, thus realizing our true Self as Sat Chit Ananda.

Ultimately, all yoga practices bring us to realize our true nature and free us from the suffering that comes from identifying with our body, mind, and egoThis is the real goal of yoga.