(The 3-Minute Weekly Insight from Spirituality U.)
The answer to that question is complicated; some Hindus say 3, others say 4, and some might exclaim, “Too many to count!” Today, we are going to say 4.
But before we explore the 4 yogas, let’s talk a bit about Hinduism and its many gods.
Because Hinduism (on the face of it) seems to have literally thousands of gods, people usually think it is polytheistic. But there is another way of looking at Hinduism; all of its individual gods may simply be manifestations of just one God that serves as the ground of all being.
And if Hinduism offers the world many manifestations (or faces) of God, it also reminds us that there are a variety of different paths to tread in approaching the Divine. These paths are referred to as “yogas.”
It can be argued that there are as many yogas as there are people on the planet, but Hindu theology typically recognizes four, and each is determined by the personality, skills, interests, and focus of the individual.
The first of the pathways is Karma yoga, an approach to the divine that is based in selfless service. The key concept is that we “reap what we sow” through our actions. Selfish actions tend to bind the soul. Selfless work on behalf of others liberates the spirit.
Second is Jnana yoga, a method of approaching the transcendent through study, philosophical exploration and, ultimately, wisdom. Jnana yogis (or practitioners), tend to minimize sensual pleasure. Instead, they focus on quiet and seclusion for their spiritual studies.
Raja yoga functions as the third of the spiritual paths and is the one that most of us know as just “Yoga.” Raja is built around physical exercises and meditation. Raja yoga is also called “Astanga,” a word that means eight parts. This yoga sets out eight distinct and essential stages in spiritual development. Theses stages are explored succinctly in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The fourth and final yoga, Bhakti, is seen by many Hindus as the culmination of the other yogas. Bhakti takes the yogi to a state in which the focus is on worship practices aimed at honoring the Divine. These include rituals, pilgrimages, and highly developed religious actions.
Bhakti is the yoga most recommended in the Gita. This form of yoga is typically pursued under the guidance and assistance of a guru (who is highly accomplished spiritual teacher.)
According to the “Heart of Holiness “Hindu web site, “Many thinkers claim that all paths are equally valid and effective….Others suggest that all four paths are stepping stones along one spiritual path, each building progressively on the previous, more elementary disciplines.”
At the heart of the idea that there are a number of yogas is the notion that, based on who we are and what our personalities are like, we pursue spirituality in different ways—none of which is better or worse than any other. We may find fulfillment through music, reading, social justice work or contemplative prayer, or a combination of all of them!