Four Paths of Yoga:
Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja
by Swami Jnaneshvara
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 hand.
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
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
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 identities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 comes.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This site is devoted to
presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of
the Tradition of the Himalayan masters
in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising
quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest
Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the
center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is
one and the same with the Absolute Reality.
This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga
Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the
intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which
complement one another like fingers on a hand.
We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti
Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha,
and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer
finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final
stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the