The Bhagavad Gita: 3 Paths of Yoga

The Truth is One, but the Paths are Many.

The Bhagavad Gita extols three major margas or paths of Yoga which help the aspirant frame his personal nature with the highest goal, realization and union with Brahman, or the all-knowing and pervasive consciousness that governs the universe.

Although each path is different, the destination is ultimately the same. One path is not higher than the other; rather the lessons of each contain its own unique wisdom that provides an integrated and balanced view of one’s relationship to oneself and the higher reality.

These three paths are:

1. Karma Yoga: the path of Selfless Action
1. Bhakti Yoga: the path of Devotion
2. Jnana Yoga: the path of Self Transcending Knowledge



Swami Rama of the Himalayas, an exemplary Karma Yogi

brahmany adhaya karmani
sangam tyaktva karoti yah
lipyate na sa papena
padma-patram ivambhasa

One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme God, is not affected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.

jneyah sa nitya-sannyasi
yo na dvesti na kanksati
nirdvandvo hi maha-baho
sukham bandhat pramucyate

One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, liberated from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.

Karma Yoga is essentially Acting, or doing one’s duties in life as per his/her dharma, or duty, without concern of results – a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It is action done without thought of gain. One cannot live in the world without performing actions, and thus a proper mindset should be established when doing these actions. Karma Yoga purifies the heart by teaching one to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching oneself from the fruits of one’s actions and offering them up to God, one learns to sublimate the ego. This is the difference between simply performing actions for personal gains, and performing actions without attachment (vairagya) as a spiritual practice where all fruits are given to God. This is the most arduous of all paths as most of us are attached to the fruits of our actions.


The Greatest Bhakta Hanumanji

sri-bhagavan uvaca
mayy avesya mano ye mam
nitya-yukta upasate
sraddhaya parayopetas
te me yuktatama matah

The Blessed Lord said: He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be most perfect.

ye tu dharmamrtam idam
yathoktam paryupasate
sraddadhana mat-parama
bhaktas te ‘tiva me priyah

He who follows this imperishable path of devotional service and who completely engages himself with faith, making Me the supreme goal, is very, very dear to Me.

Bhakti yoga is based on the doctrine “Love is God and God is Love”. The Deity is the beloved and the devotee is the lover. In Bhakti yoga, everything is but a manifestation of the divine and all else is meaningless, including the Ego. When the Bhakta is blessed by divine grace he feels an undivided union and non-dual consciousness prevails. Bhakti Yoga is regarded as the most direct method to merge in cosmic consciousness.

This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. Through prayer, worship, chanting and ritual one surrenders himself to God or object of faith, channeling and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love and devotion. Continuous meditation of God or object of faith gradually decreases the ego of the practitioner. Suppressed emotions get released and the purification of the inner self takes place. Slowly the practitioner looses the self identity and becomes one with God or the object of faith, this is the state of self-realization.


Swami Vivekananda and his master

uddhared atmanatmanam
natmanam avasadayet
atmaiva hy atmano bandhur
atmaiva ripur atmanah

A man must elevate himself by his own mind, not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.

kuta-stho vijitendriyah
yukta ity ucyate yogi

A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogi when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything–whether it be pebbles, stones or gold–as the same.

Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not. Through a steady advancement in realization of the distinction between Real and the Unreal, the Eternal and the Temporal, one develops into a Jnani. This is essentially a path of knowledge and discrimination in regards to the difference between the immortal soul (atman) and the body.

Jnana Yoga is the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom. Jnana literally means ‘knowledge’, but in the context of yoga it means the process of meditative awareness which leads to illuminative wisdom. It is not a method by which we try to find rational answers to eternal questions, rather it is a part of meditation leading to self-enquiry and self-realisation. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths – for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.

Taking the philosophy of Vedanta the Jnana Yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature. We perceive the space inside and outside a glass as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from God. Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the glass, dissolving the veils of ignorance (maya).

Brahma Satyam. Jagat Mithya. Jivo Brahmaiva Na Parah

– Sri Shankaracharya

God only is real. The world is unreal. The individual is none other than God.


As my Teacher, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, once said when asked which path He follows:

In the world I am a Karma Yogi, performing my actions for others and the Lord. In the company of my friends, family, and students I am a Jnani Yogi. And in the depths of my heart, in my most private chambers, I am a Bhakti Yogi, offering complete love and devotion to the One.

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