What is Yoga?

Ask most people what Yoga is, and they will answer, “A series of postures or poses to help one stay fit.”  Some will even answer that there is a spiritual, mental, or physical aspect to it.  Almost none will actually answer with the question, “What kind of Yoga?’ 

Those who answer with this query often refer to the different types of physical postures such as Ashtanga, or Bikram style.  Yet the term Yoga actually means, “to yoke,” or “union.”  It refers to several types of union. 

The main types of yoga as defined in the Bhagavad Gita are Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga.  Each refers to a path of reaching the divine, or infinite.  The Gita describes them as methods of reaching immortality. 

Bhakti Yoga means the “Yoga of Devotion.”  It is the most common type of spiritual quest in the West, and the world for that matter.  The reason for this, is where the majority of souls are on the spiritual path. 

Most people lost themselves in the world of physicality or materiality.  To render this obsession moot, renunciation of physical attachments is required.  Most people use Bhakti to reach divine union as they are predominantly emotional. 

This process requires self-sacrifice and compassion of a milder sort.  The practicant of Bhakti engages in love of all “things” as the self through service and devotion.  Amma Devi is a proponent of Bhakti Yoga as a path to reach Jnana: 

“Bhakti and jnana, though seemingly different, are not two. Bhakti is the means and jnana the end. Bhakti without jnana and jnana without bhakti are both harmful. In fact, bhakti is the easiest and least complicated way. Anyone and everyone can follow it. Bhakti culminates in jnana. 

The Lord of a true devotee and Brahman, the Absolute Reality of the Jnani, are really one and the same. Bhakti is usually prescribed for people who are predominantly emotional, and jnana for intellectuals. Jnana without bhakti is dry, and bhakti without jnana is blind. (Ammachi, Awaken Children, vol. II, p. 287-288)” 

This idea naturally leads one to question what Jnana Yoga is.  The Yoga of Knowledge requires complete and total intellectual understanding of the non-dual reality.  Here the two paths often diverge in practice. 

For the proponent of Bhakti often loves the world so much so as to forget that there is no duality.  For where there are two things there is finitude.  In other words, where heads is, tails does not exist, and where tails is, heads does not exist. 

Only that which exists in all places and all times is REAL.  Thus, the coin of both heads and tails exists.  This metaphor describes the infinite non-dual reality.  Jnana Yoga seeks to cultivate knowledge in the seeker until he or she merges with the one consciousness which is the all. 

Bhakti seeks to feel the merging, Jnana seeks to know it.  Karma Yoga seeks to “Do it.”  Karma Yoga is the path of right action.  Ironically, the word “Karma,” means “action.”  For those educated in philosophy of this sort, they understand that action automatically includes result. 

Right action seeks to do things in the right way, without creating Karmic backlash, as I call it.  This means that when one is deeply engaged in the process of doing, he or she loses the self.  Like the great artist, athlete, or scientist, they lose themselves when deeply engaged in their work. 

Ask great world record holders what they were thinking when they set their records, and most will answer, “Nothing, I was lost in the moment.”  This is the goal of right action, to merge the self and the doer. 

Ideally, doing this makes the person a “non-doer” because the self and the action are one.  There is no self separate from what it does.  There is no result separate from the action as the seeker does not seek results, but right action. 

Sometimes we get to a philosophical wrestling match between the three.  Some feel that Bhakti Yoga is the only way to God, that deity is love and devotion.  Others believe that God is compassion, or Karma Yoga, right action, serve God by serving the world.    Finally, another set of people believe that God is knowledge. 

What do I believe? 

My path has taken me through each of the phases, and that is the point of the Gita and what I try to share.  I walked the path of devotion, service, and knowledge.  When practicing Bhakti I seek to share the feeling of love with others.  During service, I serve and help those needing assistance.  Jnana is done throughout the process of the other three. 

Thus, I recommend that in this Age, we merge the ideas.  As Amma says above, Bhakti and Jnana are one.  She feels that one leads to the other.  For me, the two do not necessarily lead to each other in all beings now.  Some are clearly incapable of love of knowledge together.
Therefore, these individuals focus on one path or the other until their minds and bodies are purified of whatever attachments hinder the process.  Once the attachments loosen, the seeker can merge the other paths.

Historically the paths are thought to have been sequential.  First one learns Bhakti, or devotion to one’s Lord or teacher.  This is the phase of service or following orders.  As the intellect is purified, one then learns Karma Yoga, or how to act without thought of results.  Lastly, the person is then clarified enough to realize that all results are true simultaneously and that we are all one entity which lasts forever-Jnana Yoga. 

Traditionally this is the path that I have followed and recommend to others.  Regardless of my experience, or the teachings of thousands of years, each one naturally leads to the next.  So regardless of how you enter the mansions of eternity, you will see all of its rooms. 


By | 2007-05-03T07:43:45+00:00 May 3rd, 2007|Esoteric Wisdom, Love, Perspectives, Philosophy|3 Comments


  1. Steve Collins May 3, 2007 at 7:58 am - Reply

    I love to read these posts each morning before I start work. Keep it up –


  2. perfectparadox May 3, 2007 at 8:40 am - Reply

    Thank you very much Steve. Let’s set a time up and chat?


  3. qwert18 July 4, 2007 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    what an interesting post. bhakti yoga is the path of love. divine love is so universal. you may find this article about divine love at http://www.gitananda.org interesting also.

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