There are three primary yogas - jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga. Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge, the yoga of right understanding. It utilizes the mind to bring a clear understanding of the nature of reality and focuses on undoing erroneous beliefs about the nature of self and others and clarifying deep wisdom in the mind.
Bhakti yoga is different, in that Bhakti yoga focuses on the heart. There are twelve traditional avenues of Bhakti yoga. There are things like chanting kirtan, pad kirtan where you dance--pad means foot so you're using your feet moving around, telling stories about the gods and goddesses and the gurus, and similar types of activities that involve opening the heart.
But the essence of Bhakti-yoga doesn't lie in ritual or any kind of performance. It lies in the heart. It lies in a devotional relationship to the Supreme, where you feel the Supreme is your divine father, divine mother, divine friend, or divine lover. The Supreme is the great one in your life and you develop an emotional devotional attachment. And the bhakti, the devotion, opens up the love in the heart so that you can feel the presence of the God-Self. You can feel the presence of Divine Being and you can have an intimate relationship with that Divine Being. Bhakti is a gift from the Divine - true bhakti. Not a practice but a gift.
Karma & Jnana Yoga
And then there is karma yoga. Karma yoga you focus the mind and the heart on doing service in the world. You focus on giving of yourself to others but doing so in a very particular way where you see the God, the Divine being, in all beings and you serve the Divine Being in the form of all beings. And you recognize that the one giving the service, as well as the one receiving the service, and the act of service itself, is all the infinite Brahma. That you are not doing the service but God is doing the service to God and the process of serving is God itself also.
And in that way through doing good works in this ideation recognizing that God is moving through you in the world of form to serve other people, and that those other people are parts of God also. And you begin to feel the presence of God in your life. You begin to align yourself with the compassion and love that the Divine Being has for all living beings, and you feel that love and you feel you are an instrument of that love, and you are aligned with the divine and you feel the divine is in you flowing through you.
You become a hollow reed, an empty vessel to let that love flow through you into the world. And the true path of karma yoga is a very powerful path because it aligns you with unity with divine being. Ego falls away as you recognize that Divine Being alone can act in the world, and Divine Being alone is acting in the world. And so you don't take on the karma of your actions, "Oh I'm so great because I did this service,” or, “I didn't do this right so look at me I'm a failure."
Everything is done by God and the results of those actions go to God. So through the path of karma yoga you burn up the karma and by burning the karma the jnana is opened, the right understanding comes, and the heart is opened in love. So karma leads to bhakti and jnana.
Jnana, through right understanding, leads to right action, karma, and it also eventually leads to deep love and the path of bhakti through immersion in love of the divine. There is the natural karma yoga, and when you're filled with the divine and divine love, right understanding and right action comes naturally .
So those three paths cannot be separated out. They interweave with each other. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu they're in play in your spiritual life. They allow you to have a personal intimate relationship to Divine Being, and to feel the presence of divine love in your heart, in your life - to appreciate the synchronicities and the shower of grace that is always there, and the presence of the Divine, and to become an instrument of his work.
Through these three yogas interwoven together mind grows in magnitude. Right understanding of your relationship to the infinite comes into view, and the bonds of samskara and karma begin to burn away. This is the greatness of yoga. Yoga means to yoke, to unite the little and the great.
So, these three basic paths form the foundation of yoga. Ashtanga yoga brings them altogether in the eightfold path. Tantra utilizes the approach of integrating and understanding everything in this world is part of God. Hatha yoga focuses on the body yet brings these three in as well. They are the foundation of all yogas.
Maetreyii Ma: a teacher of yogic wisdom & practices