Four Paths of Yoga: Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja
FOUR PATHS OF YOGA:
JNANA, BHAKTI, KARMA, RAJA
Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
The four paths of Yoga are Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and
Raja Yoga. These four paths of Yoga are aspects of a whole that is
called Yoga. The four paths of Yoga work together, like fingers on a
YOGA IS THE PREEXISTING UNION: Yoga means the realization in direct
experience of the preexisting union between the individual
consciousness and the universal consciousness. There are different
ways of expressing this, including that Atman is one with Brahman,
Jivatman is one with Paramatman, or Shiva and Shakti are one and the
same. Each of these ways of saying it come from a different viewing
point, while they are not essentially different points of view. They
all point in the same general direction of union or Yoga.
NOT MERELY UNION OF BODY AND MIND: It has become common to say that
this union is merely the union of the physical body and the mind.
This allows both teachers and practitioners to dodge the true meaning
of Yoga so as to present it as being something other than a spiritual
path such as only physical health or fitness. It also allows people
to avoid any sense of conflict with limited religious views that have
no place for such high direct experience.
THE FOUR PATHS OF YOGA: There are four traditional schools of Yoga,
and these are: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga.
While a Yogi or Yogini may focus exclusively on one of these
approaches to Yoga, that is quite uncommon. For the vast majority of
practitioners of Yoga, a blending of the four traditional types of
Yoga is most appropriate. One follows his or her own predisposition
in balancing these different forms of Yoga.
1) JNANA YOGA: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom,
introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the
nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false
2) BHAKTI YOGA: Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love,
compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in
the context of remembering the Divine.
3) KARMA YOGA: Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others,
mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling
our actions or karma in the world.
4) RAJA YOGA: Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes
meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals
with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.
INTEGRATION: It is popular these days for a teacher or institution to
develop some approach to Yoga that "synthesizes" or "integrates"
these four paths of Yoga (along with other component aspects of
Yoga). However, that is misleading in that they were never really
divided in the first place. It is not a matter of pasting together
separate units. Rather, they are all a part of the whole which is
called Yoga. Virtually all people have a predisposition towards one
or the other, and will naturally want to emphasize those practices.
OTHER PATHS OF YOGA: Yoga is traditionally taught orally, rather than
organized in books, which naturally are linear in nature, and are
clustered into chapters. In oral teachings, there is a natural
movement from one to another of the aspects of Yoga, including
between the four paths of Yoga. Books and organization are useful,
but we need to remember that Yoga is, in fact, a whole which has
different aspects. For example, in the text Hatha Yoga Pradipika,
Hatha Yoga (often called "physical yoga") is described as also
related to Kundalini Yoga. It also explains that the purpose of Hatha
Yoga is Raja Yoga. Thus, we can easily see the relationship of Hatha
Yoga and Kundalini Yoga as being parts or aspects of Raja Yoga, which
is one of the traditional four paths of Yoga.
WE CAN'T ABANDON THE OTHERS: While it is definitely true that we each
have predispositions towards one or another of the four paths of
Yoga, we cannot really avoid or abandon the others.
1) JNANA YOGA: While Jnana Yoga deals with knowledge, wisdom,
introspection and contemplation, everybody has a mind and at some
point will need to examine it, wherein quiet reflection naturally
2) BHAKTI YOGA: All people will experience emotions such as love,
compassion, and devotion at points along the journey, regardless of
which of the four paths of Yoga is predominant.
3) KARMA YOGA: Nobody can live in a body and the world without doing
actions. Even a renunciate living in a Himalayan cave has to do some
form of actions, and thus, some degree of Karma Yoga is essential.
4) RAJA YOGA: Everybody will become still and quite from sadhana or
spiritual practices, will naturally encounter and deal with
attractions and aversion, and will meditate, thus touching on Raja
YOGA CLASSES: One thing that can lead to some confusion about the
four paths of Yoga is the modern "yoga class" which often focuses
mostly (if not completely) on physical postures. By referring to
postures classes as "yoga classes" one is left with the false
impression that this, unto itself, is the meaning of "Yoga." It is
important to understand that asanas (postures) are a small, though
surely useful, part of Yoga. It would be far better that such classes
be called "postures classes" though that seems now unlikely to
happen. In any case, the seeker of the authentic goals of Yoga will
need to discern amongst usages of the word "Yoga" so as to follow the
four paths of Yoga.
CHOOSING A PATH: Although the four paths of Yoga work together, along
with the companion aspects of Yoga, it is extremely useful to be
mindful of which of the four paths of Yoga is most in alignment with
your own predispositions. By identifying that path, it can be
emphasized in life, and the others can be wisely, lovingly used to
enhance the chosen path of Yoga.