Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Wheel of Yoga: Many Paths to Enlightenment

Yoga can be illustrated as a wheel. The tire, encircling the spokes, are the yamas and niyamas. The wheel has eight spokes which are the different paths of yoga: Hatha, Raja, Jnana, Karma and Bhakti. The hub of the wheel is transcendence or enlightenment. This is similar to my view that all religious paths lead to the same God. God is to big to fit into one religion, many paths to see and und. Likewise, there are many paths to follow towards enlightenment.
The path of Raja-Yoga embraces meditation and contemplation. Raja means royal. Its goal is to train the mind to concentrate deeply, and learn to discover the innermost depth of out minds. Eventually it leads towards the discovery of transcendental Reality that is beyond thought. Raja-Yoga is a dualist path which distinguishes many transcendental Selves and Nature.
Jnana means knowledge, insight or wisdom. Jnana-Yoga is nondualistic. It is not the worship of a God outside of oneself, but rather the development of wisdom to encounter and see the divine within. The path to enlightenment through Jnana-Yoga follows for steps:
1. discernment and constant practice of seeing the ever-changing world as it is
2. renunciation and engaging in action without expecting reward
3. the six accomplishments: tranquility/calmness, sense-restraint, abstention of activities that don’t maintain the body or lead to enlightenment, endurance, mental concentration, and faith
4. the urge towards liberation, desire for enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
I identify with Jnana-Yoga’s non-dualistic views more so that Raja-Yoga. Raja-Yoga is dualistic in that is sees the Divine Self as separate from Nature. I believe that the divine is animate in all forms of life, in the trees, the rocks, the stars, and in each and every person on earth.
Hatha-Yoga’s goal is the same, to transcend the ego. Hatha-Yoga however, focuses intensely on developing the body’s potential, “so that the body can withstand the onslaught of transcendental realization” (Feuerstein pg. 29). It is necessary that the body is strong because transcendental states are understood in Hatha-Yoga to have a profound effect on the body, particularly the nervous system. Underlying Hatha-Yoga is the belief that by embodying the divine, in our physically and mentally, we get closer to it. One of the dangers of Hatha-Yoga is to become overly focused and narcissistic regarding the body. It is necessary to always keep in mind the purpose of improving the body: to embody the divine, not to attain some sort of human standard of perfection.
Hatha-Yoga advocates “integralism,” which means that we do not withdraw from life, but rather live fully in it in order to gain enlightenment. This is something that I identify strongly and this path comes to me most naturally. I find my body to be one of the best ways through which to understand, feel, and learn to honour my spirituality. The body’s intricacy and evolution is completely astonishing to me. The way that I breath, my heart beats without me having to do anything is a metaphor for the way that the divine works in our lives, the way the life-force flows effortlessly. But I do also believe that we can become more skilful at navigating this flow of the divine, and learn to channel it in beneficial ways.
Bhakti-yoga is also dualistic in nature. Bhakti means devotion, love or supreme attachment to the lord. In Raja-Yoga the focus is on enlightenment through the cultivation of the mind. In Bhakti-Yoga the focus is on expressing love, devotion and faith to the Lord. This can be expressed through many means such as chanting songs of praise, ceremonial workshop, ritual, prostration. To reach enlightenment, the worshiper enters into the immortal body of the divine in “self-offering/self transcendence.” I do not identify so strongly with this path as others, especially because I disagree with dualism. I do however, love some aspects of it and feel that they bring me closer to God. I am especially learning love chanting and the way that this quiets my mind and helped me peaceful and protected.
Karma-Yoga means freedom in action, it is “Yoga of Action.” In Karma-Yoga the practitioner transcends the ego through selfless service. The idea behind Karma-Yoga is that we are the intention behind our action. So to reach enlightenment we must make every action a sacrifice to God. Gandhi or Saint Mother Teresa are humans who I believe demonstrate true Karma-Yoga. I appreciate the way that in Karma-Yoga we assume responsibility for our destiny. Everything, every obstacle, triumph, pain or love we encounter in this lifetime happens because it is part of our Karma to learn and be shaped by it. I strongly identify with Karma-Yoga. I believe that all beings are divine. By caring, loving, and serving for others (including people, animals, the environment) I am manifesting my care, love and service to God.
I don’t think it is necessary to follow only one path of yoga. For me, Hatha-Yoga and Karma-Yoga feel most natural. However, I think it is also important for me to practice the more introspective path of Jnana-Yoga that emphasizes meditation and cultivation of wisdom as well.

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