The Sanskrit word darshan translates in English to philosophy. The word darshan means “to see” – a way of seeing things as they are. There are different branches of philosophy, one of which is yoga. Yoga philosophy gives you a way to experience your union – which is your essential nature – in your non-physical dimension.
Yoga philosophy is a complete science. It has been tested through the ages by the many different masters and rishis (sages) who have shared their genuine experiences with others so that they can be motivated to understand that one’s outer and inner life are both based on the principle of equanimity. Even the Bhagavad Gita – the source of yogic knowledge – constantly reminds you in every chapter that the basis of everything is equanimity – balance.
The different aspects of yoga philosophy are just a way for you to experience your equanimity and uplift your consciousness to its highest dimension, so that you can experience your completeness.
There are different forces within everyone, and all of these forces connect to the different aspects of yogic philosophy and practices. These forces are:
1. The ability to move;
2. The ability to feel;
3. The ability to understand (or rationalise); and
4. The ability to be vitalised by the energy that moves within the body.
This article will explain these four different forces as the four paths of yoga. While the path might be different, the end result will be the same – finding your union with yourself, with others, and with your surroundings.
Movement – Karma Yoga
Human beings who are very active would choose the path of karma yoga for their spiritual path, because they resonate with the concept of action; but here we are not talking about just any kind of action – in yoga this is expressed as meditative (or mindful) action in day-to-day life. These meditative actions involve the art of expanding one’s awareness from the selfish to the selfless. Selflessness is the fundamental basis of liberating yourself from the endless accumulation of things, which only provide temporary satisfaction, and moving towards the experience of your peace, happiness, freedom and inner satisfaction, which is eternal. Karma yoga – spontaneous acts of kindness and selflessness – help to purify your lower nature (your selfish nature) by understanding and applying the concepts in your day-to-day life, by developing an attitude of serving others.
Emotions/Feelings – Bhakti Yoga
The path of bhakti yoga is for the emotional type of human being. It is the experience of Divinity – expanding your awareness through your feelings towards the God. It involves surrendering yourself to the God of your choice by building a connection to your personal concept of the Divinity. The basis of bhakti yoga is faith – the extent to which your faith is awakened will be the extent of your devotion and surrender to your chosen God; and that is how much you will experience the presence of Divinity in your life. Your connection to the Lord will expand in direct response to your faith, devotion and surrender.
Rationalisation – Gyana yoga
For those humans who need to rationalise and analyse everything, the path of gyana yoga is the preferred path. Gyana starts from one’s understanding, and the rationalisation and analysis of the yogic scriptures, to the eventual experience of the Truth within oneself – this Truth requires an understanding of the concepts, together with self-enquiry, so that you experience the presence of the Divinity within you – which is your True nature. It moves from understanding every concept, to self-enquiry about that concept; and the analysis continues to reject all answers with are not reality. Eventually, all the unreal is discarded, and what remains is the Truth – which is the experience of the Divine essence within yourself. It is purely a dimension of experience – your intellect is no longer relevant here. As you begin to experience this Truth, you begin to see the whole of life in this way and act accordingly – because whatever you experience is what you project into the world. The expansion of this experience of the Truth leads to the experience of a constant flow of dhyana (awareness) towards the Lord who is seated deep within your heart – Paramatma. Gyana yoga starts with questioning every concept (as opposed to bhakti yoga, which starts with faith).
Inner movement of energy – Kriya Yoga
Everything in existence is vitalised by energy – prana shakti (or life-force). In the human being the yoga which deals with this inner movement of energy is hatha yoga, mantra yoga, kundalini yoga, laya yoga, nada yoga and kriya yoga – these are all different aspects of methods which redirect the prana shakti back to its source, which is the dimension of your blissful consciousness. This is also known in the yogic system as raja yoga. All the different aspects mentioned above are simply different paths to access that higher consciousness.
All the different methods can be distinguished from each other on a surface level, but fundamentally each method is about disciplining the senses and mind, and building the energy path within so that the energy (shakti) can be redirected back to the source of life – also known as Shiva. As this energy is redirected from outward to inward – back to the source – your experiences of peace will expand into the experience of blissful consciousness; and you will begin to experience that your life is no longer a struggle, but is gradually moving towards this eternal bliss.
You should be aware that all humans are different in their nature, and we all are a combination of all four of the forces described above; but most of the time one of the four will be more dominant. However, you should not distinguish yoga by the different names. These names are just a means – your union is the end. In modern times different schools of yoga often separate themselves from all other paths, and sometimes one school of practitioners is not even willing to sit down with those from other schools of thought. This happens because they forget that the essential purpose of yoga is to find union, wherever they are – and that their yoga is where they are right now.
So as a practitioner, you can name the yoga paths differently, but you should not understand them as differently – there are different paths, but all lead to the same Truth.