The Four Paths of Yoga are deeply rooted in the age-old wisdom presented in the Bhagavad-Gita, one of the greatest epics of ancient India.
The Bhagavad-Gita narrates a dialogue between the warrior Arjuna and his guide and charioteer, Lord Krishna. At the beginning of a war, Arjuna is filled with doubts and despair about going into battle against his own kin and seeks Krishna’s advice. Krishna explains that Arjuna must fulfill his Dharma, or duty, as a warrior.
Many consider the battle described in the Bhagavad-Gita to be a metaphor for the ‘war within’ – the struggle for self-realization and release of the false sense of ego. Throughout his discourse, Lord Krishna presents the Four Paths of Yoga – Bhakti, Karma, Jnana, and Raja Yoga – which lead the practitioner to union with the Divine.
Bhakti Yoga (The Path of Love and Devotion)
Bhakti-Yoga is the path of loving devotion, trust, worship, and surrender to the Divine qualities present in the heart of every being. A Bhakti Yogi accepts everything that happens to them as a gift of God, without resentment, expectations, or desires. Thus, egoistic self-love is transformed and purified into selfless devotion to the Divine within and around us.
Examples of Bhakti Yoga are Satsang, chanting, puja, devotional rituals, and offerings. Bhakti Yoga is described as the most effective path to self-realization available to everyone, regardless of their background, education, age, or religion.
Karma Yoga (The Path of Right Action)
The Bhagavad-Gita teaches us that oneness can be achieved through selfless deeds. To follow the Path of Right Action, we must renounce the fruits of all our actions and follow our life-purpose (Dharma) dedicating all our activities to the Divine Self.
Without expectations of personal gain or benefit, we act for the welfare of humanity and for the sake of the Divine. Thus, we burn away selfish tendencies, ease ourselves of worldly attachments, and achieve evenness of mind and singleness of purpose that lead to Yoga.
Jnana Yoga (The Path of Wisdom)
This is the path that, according to the Bhagavad-Gita, intellectuals tend to prefer as it utilizes the techniques of logic and reason.
According to Jnana Yoga, our ego-based ignorance holds us back from realizing our true Self. By means of self-inquiry, observation, and contemplation, we remove the veil of ignorance and reveal our true nature.
Raja Yoga (The Path of Meditation)
According to this path, we have become disconnected from our true Self by the restlessness of the mind. The Bhagavad-Gita describes meditation as a process of calming the mind and giving all your attention to the Ultimate Self with single-minded determination to reveal it.
Most scholars agree that this method was later outlined in detail in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as Ashtanga Yoga – the Eight Limbs of Yoga that lead to self-realization. Today, most of the physical yoga that is practiced is part of Raja Yoga.
Depending on a person’s nature, there is usually one path that resonates most, but they are all intertwined. As the Four Paths of Yoga lead to Oneness, the paths themselves blend together, and it is impossible to walk only one path.
“As men approach me, so I receive them.
All paths, Arjuna, lead to me.” – Bhagavad Gita