Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga


Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga

Jun 09, 2016

Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga and its Compliancy With Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path of Ashtang Yoga

Yoga is a very ancient spiritual discipline going back to time immemorial, at least 8000 years1, perhaps older. The four Vedas and their Upanishads  containing the word of God as heard by the Sages in their meditations, are estimated to have been formulated around 5100 years ago. Lord Krishna, Himself,  appeared some 5,000 years ago and spoke the Bhagavad Gita during in the Mahabharata war2. It is estimated that Patanjali wrote his Yoga Sutras between 200 – 500 B

Karma Gyan and Bhakti Yoga

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says: “I have delineated three paths for the benefit of humans: Karma Yoga, Gyan Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. There is no way other than these.”

Karma Yoga is the first stage of Yoga; Gyan Yoga is the second stage; and Bhakti Yoga is the third stage.

Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path of Ashtang Yoga

In writing the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali did a great service to humanity by codifying Yoga in  such a straight forward and easy to understand presentation, that it became its most authoritative and systematically codified work on Yoga to this day. The work is arranged into four chapters: Samadhi (union with the Divine); Sadhan (the eight fold practice); Vibhuti (psychic powers) and Kaivalya (liberation).  The eight fold practice of Ashtang Yoga consists of: Yam (rules of moral restraints); Niyam (rules of moral observances); Asans (the postures of Yoga); Pranayam (breath control); Pratyahar (withdrawal of the mind from the five sense organs and their respective objects in the outside world); Dharana (mental focusing); Dhyan (meditation) and Samadhi (state of super consciousness, Divine Communion; Highest Illumination). 

It is a legitimate question to ask as to how does Patanjali’s Ashtang Yoga’s eight fold path conforms to Lord Krishna’s three fold path of Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the first phase of Patanjali’s eight fold path of Yoga, consisting of its first five limbs: the practise of yams, niyams, asanas, pranayams and pratyahar. Initially, the practitioner understands prana only through the movement of the breath (inhaling and exhaling) and their experience with it is at the gross physical plane. Eventually he or she realizes that prana’s field of operation includes the currents of vital airs that flow through the channels of the astral body. Finally the practitioner experiences the prana as the spiritual energy that purifies the mind and the intellect. Pranayam leads to the final stage of Hatha Yoga, which is known as pratyahar. Pratyahar  indicates the withdrawal of consciousness from the senses. In the context of yoga technique, Pratyahar reverses the common extroverted mental process that links the sense organs with external objects of perception. During pratyahar the cognitive faculties of the mind continue to exist and function , but in an introverted manner. Thus pratyahar generates the profound introversion of mind required for uninterrupted meditation. Once the practitioner is well established in pratyahar, Hatha Yoga is complete.3  Pratyahar is a prerequisite for entry into the advanced stages of yoga. Any effort to control the mind is bound to meet with failure unless one masters the technique of pratyahar.

Karma Yoga is practiced for control of the senses. The necessity of Karma Yoga remains as long as one’s desires (Vasanas) are not destroyed.  Gyan (True Experiential Knowledge) remains veiled by desires (Vasanas) and lust (Kam), and, therefore, the seeker must first master restraint of the senses through Karma Yoga before entering the true stage of Gyan Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge. Lord Krishna defines Karma Yoga as Nishkam Karma, the Karma performed without any desire for the fruits thereof.

Patanjali says that the underlying basis of all thoughts, feelings, outward expressions and actions of human beings are the five Kleshas (afflictions) which cause distortion in the consciousness of the human soul. These five afflictions are 1. Avidya (Ignorance), 2. Asmita (ego-sense), 3. Raag (attachment), 4. Dvesh (Aversion) and 5. Abhinivesh  (clinging to life or individual existence). These afflictions are inter-related so as to form a chain of causes and effects. By practicing meditation, Patanjali says that these afflictions go on being eliminated.

According to the average lay person’s perception, meditation is just sitting still with closed eyes, concentrating the mind in the region between the eyebrows and trying to make the mind thoughtless. However, those who try to meditate in this manner have a common experience that meditation neither comes easily nor is it constantly stable and without disturbance. The authentic Yoga meditation is the Yoga of spontaneous meditation that occurs following the disciples initiation by a true and qualified Guru. In such initiation the true Guru transfers a spark of his divine energy to the disciple. This transference of energy is known as “Shaktipat”. Once the disciple receives Shaktipat, asanas and pranayams are no longer willful practices, but spontaneous manifestations that occur along with many other manifestations in spontaneous Yoga. In this state the Yogi loses awareness of his gross body and he or she experiences identification with their subtle body. Spontaneous yogic meditation begins when Prana is allowed to act as a dominant force. Then no willful effort is required for meditation. Prana is a dynamic force moving from the physical plane to the subtle plane. Once we have caught up with its movement and experienced it from within, innumerable physical manifestations and subtle processes start occurring spontaneously. Then the mind assumes the role of a witness in the initial stage, and, later on, it is driven towards introversion.

The Sadhak, commencing with the practice of Karma Yoga, gradually goes on gaining in Gyan (knowledge) and eventually enters into the correct stage for undertaking the true sadhana of Gyan Yoga and thereby becomes qualified for the inner instruments of Yoga - Dharana (contemplation); Dhyan (fixed concentration) and Samadhi.


Gyan Yoga

Gyan Yoga, the second phase of Yoga,  is knowledge of the Self. It is said in the Scriptures: “I am not the body and the body is not mine”. To reach such a firm conclusion and to renounce embodiedness or bodilyness is to destroy ignorance and gain true identification with the soul.4  Lord Krishna tells Uddhav in the Srimad Bhagavat (11:7:10): “You will be able to attain the highest peace by experiencing that the Soul is unique and different from the body and like Paramatma (The Universal Soul or God). Thereafter you will never be tormented by cold and heat and other dualities.”  Since it is necessary for the Sadhak to acquire the understanding of Brahmtattva (Supreme Transcendental Element, The Supreme Soul) and Attmatattva (Soul) and gain direct experience of the unity of both, it is first necessary to receive an understanding of the Atma (Soul).

While Karma Yoga is practiced for control of the senses, Gyan Yoga is practiced for control of the mind. Gyan Yoga constitutes the sixth and seventh limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtang Yoga: Dharana or mental focusing ( Laya Yoga) and Dhyan or meditation (Raja Yoga).  Three ways to Gyan have been delineated:(1) Shruti; (2) Yukti and (3) Anubhuti. Shruti is the Veds and other Scriptures dealing with the principles of the Veds. Yukti is the power to distinguish between truth and untruth through reasoned thought. Anubhuti is the Gyan of the inner essence experienced by inner vision through focused consciousness. The first two ways can lead to indirect Gyan, while the third leads to direct Gyan or Vigyan. The experience of the Soul (Atma) in a special way is called Vigyan.5

By practicing yoga meditation Sage Patanjali says that the causes of afflictions go on being eliminated one by one and the practitioner experiences progressive improvement in his state of mind. Yoga meditation makes his mind restrained, calm and refined. As one progresses further, the normal mental plane begins to be replaced by the higher mental plane. Of course, this happens when one develops the ability to meditate for a longer duration. Finally, when he is able to meditate without interruption for twenty-four hours, it becomes real yoga meditation which Sage Patanjali calls ‘dhyan.’ All afflictions are removed in this state of higher meditation and streams of supreme bliss and peace flood the practitioner’s mind.

Dhyan is also known as Raja Yoga, the path of contemplative procedures and meditation. It is based on procedures that help to govern the mind, transcend the ego and realize the unconditional state of being. In Raja Yoga the mind is brought under control and elevated from its limited and qualified state to its most absolute and unconditioned state. Thus the practice of Raja Yoga leads to super-consciousness. A Rajayogi's mind finds practical expression through intuitive insight, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment at the transcendental level, where ego and form disappear. A Rajayogi reaches beyond the subtlest levels of consciousness by bringing the mind to complete stillness. One who realizes super-consciousness, the unconditioned and non-dual state, must transcend every level of ego.6


Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of devotion, which is the third and final phase of Yoga, leads to Samadhi (Union with the Divine), Patanjali’s eighth limb of Ashtang Yoga. It is here where Prem Bhakti (pure and unbounded love) flowers. Prem Bhakti is said by the Bhakti scriptures to be the highest form of Bhakti. In this Bhakti, which arises spontaneously and without effort, there is no desire other than the Lord’s darshan.7 In this Bhakti, which is without any kind of purpose or self interest, the devotee’s mind remains constantly entwined in the Lord. Eventually the Lord is subdued by this Bhakti and presents Himself before the devotee. This rapturous love is of the highest nature and ultimately carries the sadhak to union with the Divine (Nirvikalp Samadhi) and liberation (Moksh) and freedom from rebirth, the penultimate aim of Yoga.

It is important to note that while there are three distinct phases of Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga, these are not air tight compartments and that aspects of each phase can and do appear within the phases of the other on an ongoing basis. e.g. there can be bhakti in the Karma and Gyan phases, pranayams and asanas in Gyan and Bhakti phases, etc. Nevertheless, the three phases are quite distinct in and within themselves.


In Conclusion

The aforementioned is a very abbreviated description of Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga. The serious yoga practitioner should make it their intention to undertake a full study of its theory and its application to one’s sadhana. It is for this purpose that a Certificate Course in Karma, Gyan and Bhakti Yoga has been designed and is being offered at Life Mission USA. See link above.



1 “Before the Vedic period the India subcontinent was populated by more advanced civilizations….around 8000 years or even earlier. They practiced different rituals, worshipped different deities, aimed to control their minds and bodies through breathing and yoga practices and speculated upon complex analytical and speculative philosophies concerning the nature and origin of life, human sufferings and deliverance.” (The History, Antiquity and Chronology of Hinduism : http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_antiquity.asp)

Astrophysicist Dr. Narahari Achar, a physicist from the University of Memphis, clearly showed with astronomical analysis that the Mahabharata war took place in 3067 BCE. Examining the Mahabharata, books 3, 5, and 18, his sky map software showed that all these descriptions converge in the year 3067. Achar also acknowledged that some 30 years earlier, in 1969, S. Raghavan had arrived at the same date.

In determining the date of the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra, astronomical references in the epic can be used, of which there are more than one hundred and fifty. Most of these that pertain to the war, though there are many scattered throughout the texts, is in the Udyoga and Bhisma Parvas. Those in the Bhisma Parva are especially systematic and are also in accordance with the astrological omens described in the Atharva Veda and its Parishishtas, referring mostly to comets. When these are put together with the retrograde motion of Mars before reaching Jyestha, this leads to the unique date of 3067 BCE for the date of the war, which was previously proposed by Professor Raghavan. (Time Line of Lord Krishna - Excerpts from "Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture" By Stephen Knapp - http://www.stephen-knapp.com/time_line_of_lord_krishna.htm)

3 Classical Hatha Yoga by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Life Mission Publications, Chapter 1, Page 6.

4 Gyan Yoga by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Life Mission Publications, Chapter 10, page 105.

5 Gyan Yoga by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Life Mission Publications, Foreward.

6 Spontaneous Meditation by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Life Mission Publications.

7  Bhakti Yoga by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Life Mission Publications, Chapter 8, Page 92.

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