The Three Paths of Yoga

We are all on a journey, the journey towards inner peace, away from suffering. On this journey called life there are obviously many turns; ups and downs, challenges and lessons, but we keep going, overcoming circumstances and fighting for what we want. No matter which way we go, the goal of everyone is lasting happiness, which is known as salvation, the inner peace.

How do we reach this inner peace?

For thousands of years, people have known that practicing certain actions will bring salvation. This includes studying scriptures, following cultural beliefs, routines, habits and lifestyles. But our ancestors were not only trying to achieve liberation from suffering for themselves, they were also trying to pass down this wisdom to future generations in the forms of story, songs and symbolism, etc. so we can continue to move forwards on the journey towards lasting happiness.

These ancient spiritual techniques; the practices, the science, the very journey towards peace is yoga. In other words, yoga is the union with Self, and Self is the inner peace that never ends. This will only come when we are balanced in body, mind and soul.

Just as we have to balance body, mind and soul, we also have to balance the techniques we use to achieve this balance. These techniques can be grouped into different paths, and while we might be drawn to one particular path, we need to make sure we’re not neglecting another.

These paths of yoga are:

  • Karma yoga
  • Jnana yoga
  • Bhakti yoga

Karma Yoga

Every action we take, from the time we get up in the morning to the way we speak to those we love comes under Karma Yoga. These deeds we do contribute to our karma, whether we are aware or not, but if we are aware, we can improve our karma by consciously doing deeds that we know lead to salvation such as asanas, pranayama, meditation and selfless action for others.

Doing selfless action for others means that we do it in a way that has no self-interest or ego thought of “I did”, with only the good intention for others. In addition, we perform all our actions without worrying what the outcome will be. If we can do this, the result is Karma Yoga.

Jnana Yoga

Now, to perform karma, the right kind of karma, that leads us to self-realization, we need to know what to actually perform and for that we need knowledge. We need to know what foods give us the nutrition our bodies need, how to speak, think and act, and what deeds might hurt another.

Without knowledge, both of the external world and of our inner mind, we can’t perform right actions that lead to salvation, as we don’t know what “right” is. So, the knowledge that takes us to self-realization is Jnana yoga.

Bhakti Yoga

But before you gain knowledge and do karma you need one more thing – devotion. Without being devoted to doing your karma or attaining your knowledge, you can’t go any further on your journey to self-realization. If you try to learn a new language, without devoting time, energy and passion towards it, you’ll never fully learn, and without giving time and effort to your work, like a business or even a hobby, you’ll never get good at it and succeed. You need to be devoted, or knowledge and action won’t come.

So, the path of devotion – having tremendous faith and dedication in your practice is known as Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti Yoga then leads to Karma yoga and Jnana yoga and results in self-realization, this never-ending peace we are all seeking.

Balance in everything

All three, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are connected with each other. One cannot exist without the other, just as we’ve seen. You might like to be a Karma Yogi, and practice good deeds for others, but if you don’t have Jnana and learn where to perform your actions, you will waste your time on activities that don’t have good results, and if you don’t have Bhakti and devote yourself to that practice, you might stray from your path of goodness.

Yoga is about balancing body, mind and soul, action, knowledge and devotion. When we can do this, we reach liberation and suffering is in the past – this is not only the path but also the destination.

There should be balance in everything and that balance itself is also known as yoga.

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