In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the four paths of yoga:
- Karma Yoga: the path of action
- Raja Yoga: the path of meditation
- Jnana Yoga: the path of wisdom/knowledge
- Bhakti Yoga: the path of love/devotion
Each of these paths has the potential to lead a yogi to enlightenment, so you choose your path based on your temperament and personality. Choosing the wrong path will make it much more difficult to make progress, because essentially you’re fighting your nature. This month, my assignment is to consider the four paths and decide which one appeals to me the most.
Today I’ll talk about Bhakti Yoga, the path of love and devotion. This is the most emotional path, for yogis who tend to think with their hearts; the Bhakti path encourages yogis to channel those emotions toward the Divine. Unlike Jnana yogis, the Bhakti yogi is happiest worshipping the Divine in a manifested form, such as Jesus, Mary, or Krishna, because it feels like a more personal connection.
Bhakti yogis are assisted in their spiritual practice by a variety of techniques:
- chanting (such as kirtan music, or the many call-and-response chants in the Catholic liturgy, or even a rosary)
- imagining or meditating on attributes of the Divine (the holes in Jesus’s hands and feet; Mary’s blue robes; the face of Krishna)
- rituals (like lighting candles)
- kneeling or prostration before the image of the Divine (Christians keep those big crosses around for a reason!)
These sorts of actions create a sacred atmosphere that a Bhakti yogi appreciates – they bring the participant into a meditative state where she can feel close to the Divine. The Bhakti yogi is always cultivating that longing to be with the Divine, striving to make her life an offering to her deity. You can read more about Bhakti yoga in chapters 9 and 12 of the Bhagavad Gita.
I was raised Catholic, and the rituals of the church do hold some appeal for me. I love to sing: I sang in church choirs growing up, and raising my voice in song does make me feel closer to my spirit. Sometimes I even feel moved to sing while I’m practicing yoga (it’s really fun, actually), or after my meditation (I learned a great song at my Unitarian church about breathing in peace and breathing out love, it’s perfect). I like having my little shelf set up at home with my little Buddhas all lined up; that’s where I meditate, and I feel like having them around is like having a tiny little support group cheering me on. I can relate to the feeling in Bhakti yoga that the Divine is a personal friend who loves you back. The more I think about this path, the more I think it’s an option for me. However, it’s not the path that called out to me right away (and if you’re keeping track, you’ll have it figured out by now). Next time, I’ll do some reflecting on karma yoga and see how I feel about it.