What are the paths of Yoga?

Yoga mean “to yoke,” especially with God. There are many paths to yoga, and the path one chooses depends on one’s personal inclinations and attitudes. The way one approaches God is very different among different people. When being yoked to God, it is not that God has changed when one apprehends God, but rather ones way of understanding God is different.

What is Yoga?

When one thinks of yoga oftentimes one thinks of people on floor mats stretching every which way. This yoga is called Hatha Yoga. But in traditional Indian thought Hatha Yoga is simply used as preparation for the other yogas. Hatha Yoga is the most popular practice in the West and other yogic practices are little known. But there is much more to Yoga than simply Hatha Yoga. Yoga originated in India and literally means to yoke. One yokes their souls to God. But there are many different paths to God.

Yoga’s Four Paths

One may think that all one has to do is choose a path to God, but usually the path chooses the devotee. For example there are those who God is most naturally known through the heart (e.g., Bhakti Yoga). There are others whose abilities accent the use of thought to know God (e.g., Jnana Yoga). There are those interested in mystical experiences doing psychophysical exercises (i.e., mediation) to achieve God Consciousness (e.g., Raja Yoga). Finally one may be more inclined to dedicate the fruits of ones labor to God, and rather practice work without selfishness, out of devotion to God (e.g., Karma Yoga). In fact all of these practices aim at God consciousness.

Hindu Ways To Find God

There is no right way to achieve union with God. It simply depends on one’s spiritual inclinations. Also no way is superior to the other. It is rather like deciding to travel to a foreign country and being undecided whether one is going to fly, drive, go by submarine, or walk. The destination is the same, but the way one gets there is different.

People most often think of yoga as being strictly a Hindu practice, but in fact yoga refers to the way people approach God. For example a religion that would be considered by Hindus to be a Bhakti Yoga would be Christianity or Islam. This is because in these religions one worships God. Jnana Yoga on the other hand could be the philosophical musings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Indian Ways of Knowing God

According to the Indian school of thought, one is not limited to simply one path to God. If one is so inclined they can strive to be united with God by choosing all of the paths listed. This would take an exceptional person, but it can be done, and one could live the life of an enlightenedsiddhi.

One interesting distinction that is made in Indian thought is that it is ultimately monistic; that is everything is One. This then would be considered an impersonal relationship with God. One cannot cultivate a relationship with something that is fundamentally oneself. It is said in Indian thought That Thou Art On the other hand Bhakti Yogists worship God. One can only worship something that is beyond you. This then would be a personal relationship with God. This defines the difference between a personal and impersonal relationship with God.

Understanding the Different Yogas

Described previously is the difference between having a personal relationship with God (Bhakti Yoga) and having an impersonal one (Jnana Yoga). How can God be both? How can God be both out there and then also constituting ones very marrow? Ultimately according to Indian thought the most complete understanding of God is monistic (e.g., everything is one), but having a relationship with God is possible as well (e.g., dualistic). It is not that God is different to each individual, but rather the way one comes to know God is different.

Indian religion is often thought to be polytheistic, but what many don’t recognize is that the many Gods in Indian thought are simply different manifestations of the one and eternal God. Similarly, one can come to know a manifested God in a personal way or an impersonal way. In the same way someone understands God as being personal or impersonal, God is understood by the individual depending on ones’ nature which determines how they relate to God, not residing in God itself as it manifests in ones lives. Just as God is infinite the ways of knowing God are infinite as well.

Sources:

Honderich, Ted Ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Smith, Huston. The Worlds Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. Harper Collins Publishers: New York, 1991.

Vivekananda, Swami. Hinduism. Sri Ramakrishna Math Printing Press: India, (n.d.),

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Doug Frame

I am a former professor who taught for almost 10 years. I have a BA and an MA in Philosophy. I enjoy writing about philosophy but ever more so I enjoy writing philosophy.

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