Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga are three of the six lineages of yoga that are considered pillars of Tantra Yoga. The concepts in each pillar are simple, yet profound. When looked at in isolation, we see that each pillar leverages elements from other practices or lineages to support its ultimate goal of Self Realization.
Many people think of Karma yoga as selfless service without expectations. In truth, Karma Yoga is a bit more complicated than it might appear on the surface. There are four principles of Karma Yoga. These principles of karma yoga include duty, ego, attachment, expectation. Some people perceive Karma Yoga to be a practice of understanding what duty is most important and fulfilling that duty without asking for reward, acknowledgment, or compensation. The ego should also be outside of the equation, and one’s attachments should not play a role either. Ultimately, there should be no expectation when Karma Yoga is being performed.
Philosophers and practitioners who view Karma Yoga in this way may be missing the mark. If we look at Karma Yoga Seva in service to God, then we see that all of my actions in the world are my duty and no action is greater or lesser than another. Our egos are jewels of the divine, sparkling with multifaceted splendor. They reflect us the messages and whispers of the Universe, and once integrated are the same as Siva consciousness; how can I divorce myself from my ego? If my life’s work is to devote all action to God, then my only attachment is to God itself. It is not possible to release that attachment or to be separate from God. In devoting my life to God I have no choice but to release my expectations
In Advaita Vedanta, Karma Yoga is viewed in this way; it is a duty that requires us to let go of our egos, attachments, and expectations. Sometimes we hear teachers and philosophers discuss this type of karma yoga as a way to “build up” “good” karma, but this is a gross misunderstanding. Karma is neither good nor bad, and it certainly doesn’t get stored for future use. In fact, from a Vedic perspective, Karma doesn’t even have to come to fruition if you don’t want it to.
Kashmir Shaivism tells us that Karma Yoga is the practice of living your life in devotion to God, where you do everything in service to God. If every being is a divine being in a human experience, then every single being is an embodiment of God. Therefore, everything I do becomes a service to God.
This changes our relationships. We can no longer buy into the idea that our friends, family members, or lovers should “treat us” a certain way. From this perspective, it is our duty to serve all beings as they are embodiments of God.
There are many examples of Karma Yoga integrated into one’s sadhana. You might do small things for people throughout your day, or you might do larger things. You might put someone else’s needs before your own, or you might share your wealth with someone in need. There is no right or wrong way to practice Karma Yoga.
Jnana Yoga is a combination of meditation, Self-inquiry, and contemplation on spiritual scripts and teachings. Jnana Yoga is not buying into the idea that we have all of the answers or that we know everything, but it’s understanding that we have primary sources to guide us home when we feel astray. Jnana Yoga typically focuses on the Vedas, The Upanishads, and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Radiance Sutras, originally known as the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, along with the Bhagavad Gita are other texts that are used in Jnana Yoga.
Similar to reading scripture before prayer or listening to the homily or a devotional, Jnana yoga first asks us to familiarize ourselves with the ancient texts that hold the keys to Yoga. Spending time reading, chanting, or meditating on mantras, mandalas, or shloka can help the practitioner focus their attention on a particular concept that they can then absorb during states of meditation.
There are four stages in Jnana Yoga that include:
- Samanyasa, the fourfold discipline (Sadhana Chatushtaya)
Cultivating the following four qualities is a prerequisite for studying the ancient text under the yoga lineage of Jnana Yoga.
- Nityanitya Vastu Viveka–The ability to discern between eternal (truth) and transient (untruth)
- Ihamutrartha Phala Bhoga Virage–The ability to let go of enjoyment of objects in the world and in other worlds (like heaven)
- Samadi Satka Sampatti
- Sama– control of the ego
- Dama–control of the senses
- Uparati–stopping worldly “doing”
- Titiksa–tolerating suffering (natural and manmade)
- Sraddha–faith in Guru and Vedas
- Samadhana–concentration of the mind on God and Guru
- Mumuksutva–The understanding that the world is misery and intense longing for liberation (release from birth and death)
Sravana is hearing the Vedas read or chanted is one of the practices of Jnana Yoga. It’s important to hear the text or the mandalas chanted without the projection of the teacher at least once to let them speak to your heart. Then, it might be useful for a teacher to come in and explain or discuss the concepts in the text. Listen to your heart when interpreting these teachings. Although teachers mean well, many times we are limited in our perspective based on our lived experience and therefore can miss nuances that the heart will not miss.
Manana is set in the seat of nonduality. It is deep contemplation where there is no grief or joy. Manana is said to be more powerful than Sravana, listening, yet not as powerful as Nididhyasana. Manana is synonymous with Dharana.
Nididhyasana is a meditative state of being where the focus of meditation is Upanishadic statements like, “That art Thou” with the intention of realizing that Atman/Brahman is present in all beings.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are often referred to as “Raja Yoga”, but Raja Yoga leverages aspects from Hatha Yoga, Kundalini, and Mantra Yoga to quiet the chitta vritti to attain Self Realization. Here again, we see a system of yoga where we have multiple lineages woven together to create an opportunity for Self Realization.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras we are introduced to Hatha Yoga as a comfortable seat. Raja Yoga leverages the cleansing practices found in Hatha like Kriya and Pranayama practices to prepare the body for longer seated postures. Kriya, Bandha, Pranayama, and Pratyahara techniques are the primary tools integrated from the practice of Hatha Yoga.
The Kundalini Yoga that we refer to as being part of Raja Yoga is Laya Yoga or the traditional form of Kundalini Yoga. The premise behind Laya Yoga is that there is potential energy (some people call it latent energy) at the base of the Sushumna Nadi that longs to be joined with Universal Consciousness. In order to join the Kundalini Energy and the energy of Paramasiva (the supreme Being), the aspirant must engage in certain pratyahara practices that lead to specific meditative states.
TRUE Laya Yoga is practiced in Nepal and India and the specific pratyahara practices and meditative states are only shared with disciples initiated into the yoga lineage.
Mantra Yoga, also called Japa Yoga, is a scientific form of Nada Yoga (sound yoga) that uses oral phonetic pronunciation to awaken the subtle energies of the Self within the aspirant through chanting mantra.
Ashtanga Yoga is sometimes referred to as the householder’s (Raja)Yoga. This is because it incorporates the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras into one practice that is typically between an hour and a half to two hours for the primary series.
At the beginning of the practice, the invocation is chanted which includes Mantra, effectively inviting Mantra Yoga to the practice. The invocation is followed by a practice that integrates the entire eight-limbed path. Hatha Yoga postures move practitioners through the physical practice, and the entire practice provides practitioners with an opportunity to access states of deep meditation.