Tag Archives: bhakti

Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 15)

With all the names and modern styles of yoga the question arises: What kind of Yoga do you do?

All the recent “inventions” just confuse matters more. The essential, authentic nature of yoga is even further confused in the public eye by the way the methods are presented and promoted. By reviewing almost any list of the best known dozen or so modern yoga "styles," it will quickly become evident that almost all of these contemporary styles have been invented in the last few decades. Very few yoga teachers today will simply teach "Hatha Yoga," the physical yoga system of the past (that actually had spiritual goals), let alone the “whole” true spiritual yoga. Remember that even Hatha Yoga (asana + pranayama) is part of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga and Raja Yoga is only one of the four traditional schools of yoga.

In addition, many, if not most of the modern "styles" of yoga have the surname of a currently living man in front of the word yoga, as if that man, himself, has invented yoga. This is not to say that these teachers aren’t competent or even superb in their physical abilities. They may do a very good job within the limited scope of their “personalized” teachings.

Oftentimes this “personalization” takes the liberty of distorting Sanskrit terms. Several modern systems have taken an ancient Sanskrit word or phrase that has a specific spiritual meaning, and then adapted that terminology to some set of postures or practices that were apart from the original intent.

Even worse, some of these modern teachers have then trademarked these ancient, traditional names, further misleading an unsuspecting public. This leaves the would-be students with the impression that the current day founder of this “brand name” system is somehow linked to the original teachings associated with that word or phrase. It may further lead people to believe that these new teachers also have some expertise or familiarity with the traditional practice or level of attainment authentically associated with that word or phrase.

Most of the modern "styles" of Yoga did not exist a few decades ago, while yoga itself is thousands of years old.

These modern styles are very suspect as they should be. If you turned back the clock a hundred years, or maybe fifty, or twenty, or even less, very few (if any at all) of these current styles, systems, or methods of yoga would have yet existed. Most of the founders of these modern, so-called yoga styles were not even born. Therefore, these modern styles are, by their very nature, suspect. Especially when, at the same time, it is claimed that yoga is thousands of years old. This is not a mere call to go back in time to some theoretically more pristine era of yoga. It really is a case of throwing away the baby with the bath water.

To repeat the question at the beginning of this article: What kind of yoga do you do?

Traditionally, there are four schools of Yoga. If asked, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" the answer would be one of these four, or a combination of them. Briefly, the four schools of Yoga are:

  • Karma Yoga: The yoga of action, doing the practices while fulfilling one's duties in the external world.
  • Jnana Yoga: The yoga of knowledge or self-enquiry, knowing oneself at all levels through a process of contemplation and introspection.
  • Bhakti Yoga: The yoga of devotion, of surrender to the divine force or God, practiced in ways consistent with one's own religion.
  • Raja Yoga: The meditative school of yoga, such as systematized by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 15)

Additionally, it is important to note that yoga itself has been classically considered to be one of "six schools of Indian philosophy."

A true Yogi, one who sincerely practices authentic Yoga, may do just yoga, meaning some combination of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, and Raja Yoga, in the context of the six systems of Indian philosophy and practice.

Paramahansa Yogananda, the well-known author of Autobiography of a Yogi, responds to the question "What is Yoga?" in the text The Essence of Self-Realization: "Yoga means union.” Yoga is loosely translated as the English word “yoke.” Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. Most people in the West, and sadly many in India, confuse yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of physical practice.

Stay tuned, this series will continue – coming up next, the final installment in this series; “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 16).” This next blog article will include some final thoughts and tips.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

Jnana or Bhakti – Which Are You?

The term jnani in Sanskrit literally means “one who knows things as they are” (a seer), and most often refers to someone who has pursued spiritual growth through the path of wisdom (or insight). It’ meaning is also twofold since it can be used as a noun to describe a type of person, or it can be used used as an adjective to communicate the concepts and practices of the jnani’s particular path. In India, jnani is often contrasted with the Sanskrit term bhakti, which means devotional service (verb) or devotee (noun).

Understanding the differences between jnani and bhakti is fundamental to one’s spiritual journey. Although the real significance of jnani and bhakti has to do with one’s personal orientation in regard to spiritual life, although these terms often characterize an entire religion because they may emphasize either a jnani or a bhakti orientation.

Individuals who are jnanis foster a primary response to spiritual growth and discovery through their conscious mind, maintaining a general attitude of enquiry and doubt. They are aggressive in that they wish to penetrate the divine, instinctually striving to understand.

Those who are bhaktis make their primary response to spiritual pursuit through the heart, with an attitude of love and trust, they tend to be passive in that they wish to be penetrated by the divine, instinctually allowing themselves to surrender.

It is important to note that these are primary responses, the jnani will grow in love just as much as the bhakti will grow in understanding and vise-versa.

Christianity is an example of a religion having mainly a bhakti emphasis, whereas Buddhism has mainly a jnani emphasis. Hinduism, on the other hand is an ancient and eclectic religion that incorporates both orientations, as an example showing a pronounced bhakti emphasis is Krishna-devotion, and a pronounced jnani emphasis would be the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of non-dualism.

Which are you, a jnani or a bhakti?

No matter which spiritual path one may follow it is helpful to question, does your basic disposition support a jnani or a bhakti orientation? It sometimes happens that a person with a jnani orientation may be involved with a mainly bhakti religion, Master, guru, or teaching, and the reverse is also true. By understanding of this supposed mismatch one can find a way out of seems an apparent spiritual impasse or crisis. Ultimately however, it is important to realize that eventually these distinctions will disappear.

When considering our orientation it is common to find a “gender analogy,” which asserts that we are spiritually “gendered” as either jnani or bhakti. When first embarking on a spiritual journey it may not be so clear (and in the end it may not make any difference), but for the greater part of this journey it is extremely helpful to know the distinction. To some it may be obvious from the definitions of bhakti and jnani above, that a gender (or sexual) analogy can be useful. But be forewarned that this distinction (viewing the jnani orientation as masculine, while the bhakti orientation is feminine) is useful only as an analogy or metaphor, and keep in mind that there is no correlation with physical gender whatsoever.

Spiritual literature in both East and West is proliferated with this “sexual” metaphor and this has led to misunderstanding by the lay (or secular) population. Both Rumi and Kabir used the analogy or metaphor of the lover (God) and his mistress (the spiritual aspirant) and both men were great bhaktis. For a true bhakti the sexual metaphor only implies that the devotee has feminine attributes; for example, Kabir for example, often spoke of preparing the bed for the lover (as receptive), while the Divine principle was considered masculine.

A problem also arises sometimes when the spiritual love of a male devotee (or disciple) for a male guru or master is misunderstood by an outsider as homosexual love. Socrates, Rumi, Walt Whitman and Ramakrishna, to name a few, have often been misinterpreted because of their spiritual relationships with men.

So, which are you? You may have already answered this question in your mind, felt it in your heart. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) said: “…if, after some enquiry and reflection, you still cannot decide, then know this, you are probably jnani! Why? because doubt and uncertainty are characteristics of the jnani in the early stages.”

Of related interest, click on: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 9: Samadhi Attained by Devotion)

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.