Tracey Cook examines the four yoga paths: Karma, Bhakti, Raja, and Jnana yoga. In ancient yogic philosophy, these four routes are considered as returning us back to our inner nature. They are not seen as different ways to reach the same goal but as different goals in themselves.
Karma Yoga is based on action. It's a path that leads to moksha through devotion to God and service to others. The aim of doing good actions is to reap what you sow. This path is about performing actions worthy of redemption, such as helping others, praying for those who harass you, etc. This type of yoga is popular among many religious leaders throughout history. Jesus preached karma yoga in the Bible. Mahatma Gandhi also practiced it.
Bhakti Yoga is based on love. It's a path that leads to moksha by enjoying God's love for us. On this path, we open ourselves up to receive His love. Then we shower that love back on others. This path is about loving God and others unconditionally. It requires us to kill egoism and learn to live in harmony with everyone, even those who hate us. Ramakrishna Paramahansa was a great master on this path. He taught people to love God and serve humanity.
Raja Yoga is based on knowledge.
Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga are the four primary streams of yoga. These four pathways are analogous to tree branches or river streams. They all come from the same location and end up in the same place. But they differ in the emphasis that each branch places on different qualities of the divine.
Karma Yoga is the path that focuses on selfless action. It is the most ethical of the paths because it seeks to improve oneself by helping others. One who follows this path does good actions without expecting anything in return.
Bhakti Yoga is the path that focuses on loving devotion to a personal god or goddess. It is the most spiritual path because it opens the mind to understand about the true nature of reality. One who follows this path enjoys all kinds of pleasures without any attachment. It is not necessary to follow any particular religion to be able to do bhakti yoga. Any love felt for something greater than ourselves can lead to real spirituality.
Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga are both successful paths. However, if one wants to go deeper into yoga then only these two paths are suitable. On the other hand, someone who wants to get started quickly could just as easily follow Karma or Bhakti yoga and still achieve some success. The choice of path is up to you depending on what you want to gain from practicing yoga.
They are, in essence, all the same. The difference is just in their speed of flow.
Karma Yoga is the most rapid of the four paths. It involves doing good actions for good results without expecting anything in return. This path leads to liberation quickly because it's not bound by rajas (passion) or tamas (ignorance).
Bhakti Yoga is the next fastest path. It involves loving devotion to a spiritual figure (such as a guru) in order to receive blessings from them and move up the ladder of successorship. This path leads to liberation slowly because it's not run with reason and intelligence, but rather through feelings.
Raja Yoga is the third fastest path. It involves using your mind and intellect to find truth and realize your self. With practice, you will reach enlightenment within one lifetime if you're very lucky. This path leads to liberation gradually because it's not only run with reason and intelligence, but also with passion (raja) - the ability to stay focused on your goal while being aware of and accepting of changes that need to be made along the way.
They all lead to the same goal but travel different paths to get there.
In karma yoga, or action-based yoga, one engages in activities meant to benefit others. One might volunteer at a homeless shelter or work with orphaned children. The idea is to release negative energy by helping others and to absorb positive energy by giving away one's accomplishments. This type of yoga is important because it helps humans develop their spiritual selves. It also teaches that one's actions have consequences; therefore, one should conduct oneself in a moral manner if they want to reap rewards from them later.
Bhakti yoga, or love-based yoga, involves connecting with a higher power through prayer and meditation. It is the path that most Hindus believe in, since it connects people with their creator. Through bhakti, one learns that everyone is equally valuable and worthy of respect. It also teaches that without faith, nothing can be accomplished. Without devotion, there is no realization of God.
Raja yoga, or royal yoga, is a system of mental discipline that aims to achieve samadhi, or total consciousness.
Karma yoga is a work-based road to moksha (spiritual emancipation). It is righteous conduct without attachment to the fruits or being influenced by the outcome, a devotion to one's duty and doing one's best while remaining agnostic to rewards or consequences such as success or failure. This is because one day all actions will be judged by God and not even karma can save you then.
In other words, karma yoga is equivalent to seeking enlightenment for its own sake. It is a self-transcending activity because it does not depend on the outcome for its value or meaning.
The only way to achieve karma yoga is by performing actions that are pure in heart, that is, without attachment. Only when you are free from attachment to outcome of your actions, only then you can call yourself an expert in karma yoga.
Even though action alone cannot lead to liberation, it is important to perform actions with honesty and integrity. Acting dishonestly or illegally will simply rebound on you in the form of punishment or else loss of reputation. Thus, karma yoga requires you to have some degree of spiritual awareness and understanding of what you are doing or not doing.
However, even a sincere effort at karma yoga can go wrong if certain external factors are present.
Bhakti yoga is the devotional path, the means of approaching God via love and loving memory of God. Because it is the most natural, most faiths stress this spiritual route.
It is also called "mysticism" because it leads to a direct experience of God. It is the easiest path because there are no special asanas (postures) to be done; rather, one just needs to know how to meditate properly. Meditation is when the mind and body become still so that the soul can communicate directly with God.
This path was followed by many great saints such as Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, and others. Modern-day saints who follow this path include Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Gandhi.
It is the only path to liberation for those who seek it from deep within themselves. Otherwise, if they join any church, they will be taught what amounts to magic rituals to obtain salvation. These paths all lead to the same place - freedom from death and destruction, freedom from hunger, poverty, and suffering. But they do so through different channels. One can choose to go through religion or science or philosophy, but not all people have the same capacity for belief. Some need proof in front of them, while others accept things on faith alone.