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Are there four yogas to reach the ultimate goal?

There is one prevalent notion in Vedanta literature that there are many paths or yogas that one can choose to reach freedom from limitation and sorrow.

If you are an intellectual, you can choose jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge. If you are emotional, choose
bhakti yoga
, the yoga of devotion. If you are an active person, karma yoga, the yoga of action will suit you better. Hatha yoga is for the one who likes physical exercises. All these paths or a combination of these four can lead you to the same ultimate result that is absolute freedom. And naturally Vedanta will be classified under
jnana yoga since it deals with knowledge!

Is this true? First of all, nowhere in the texts of Vedanta there is a mention of several paths to gain freedom. The Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras or the Gita repeatedly affirm that knowledge alone is the means to solve the fundamental problem that is ignorance.

Secondly, the view that there are parallel paths to freedom can be negated logically by the following reason. If intrinsically, I am limited, no action, whether physical, verbal or mental, can give me freedom from limitation that I am seeking. This is because every action, being limited, brings only a limited result. That means a limited person getting limited results can never become free from limitation. Then, the only solution to my problem of limitation is that I am already free, but due to ignorance of my real nature, I take myself to be a limited and insignificant being. If ignorance is the problem, only knowledge is the solution.

In fact, this is true for any type of ignorance. If you are ignorant of physics, you must learn physics to shed your ignorance, no amount of other practices will help. For example, if you want to know the equation E=mc2, no amount of walking, breathing or meditation you do will result in your knowing it. You just have to expose your self to the teaching of physics through a qualified teacher and dwell upon it till you understand. That means, when it comes to knowledge of what is, only appropriate means of knowledge needs to be employed, no other thing will help. However, there is one important difference between the other types of knowledge and knowledge of Vedanta. Knowledge of physics, biology, chemistry, economics, etc. can be gained through either perception or perception based inference. However, to know the nature of the knower, one requires independent means of knowledge namely words of Vedanta, as the knower by definition can not be objectified through perception or inference.

The source of confusion that leads for people to believe that there are 4 paths, may lie in their misinterpretation of some verses of Bhagavad Gita. In the third chapter of the Gita, it is mentioned that a person interested in moksa (liberation) can choose one of the two following life styles. The first is a life style of sannyasa, a life of renunciation committed exclusively to the pursuit of self knowledge, where one is absolved ritually from all social, familial, religious obligations.

The second lifestyle is a life of activity, karma, where one pursues knowledge but also remains active in society and fulfills one's different obligations. This leads to erroneous conclusion that 'knowledge' that the sannyasi pursues is one path that leads to freedom. And karma that the karma yogi performs is another path that leads to freedom. This is then extended to bhakti and hatha yoga.

The correct understanding of this is, that freedom is only gained through knowledge as the nature of the problem is that of ignorance. Both the sannyasi and the karma yogi pursue knowledge. However, their life-styles differ. Sannyasi pursues knowledge with the exclusion of all other activities whereas the karma yogi continues to perform duties, to gain the objectivity that is required for knowledge. Both sannyasi and karma yogi being seekers of knowledge, they have devotion to Isvara as the entire pursuit is to know the nature of Isvara as not separate from I. Both sannyasi and karma yogi may or not may not do hatha yoga which is purely meant for keeping the body healthy through asanas, pranayama and keeping mind alert through meditation.

Therefore the only choice mentioned in the Gita is in terms of lifestyle. There is no mention of four parallel paths leading to the same goal. To remove the ignorance about myself, there is no choice but to expose one to appropriate means of knowledge and know the reality. Action, devotion or physical practices do not directly lead to freedom, even if they can be useful secondary means to prepare oneself for knowing. If I understand clearly the nature of the problem, the knowledge as the only means to solve the problem is equally understood.


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