The 22 Sacred Paths of Yoga
By Dr Joshua David Stone
The purpose of this chapter is to give you a brief overview of the sacred paths of yoga. To begin this discussion it is important to understand that “Yoga” means “union with God.” There are, however, many ways that this can be achieved. I will attempt to describe them briefly. These are:
Sabda or Nada Yoga
Yoga of Synthesis
In my first book, “The Complete Ascension “, I spoke of the seven root races that make up our current world cycle and the yogas that were focused upon during these time periods. I will briefly review this here.
(1) Polarian, (2) Hyperborean, and (3) Lemurian – Hatha Yoga
(4) Atlantean – Bhakti Yoga
(5) Aryan – Raja Yoga
(6) Meruvian – Agni Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga
(7) Paradisian – Unknown
These might be considered the major paths of yoga and there are many minor paths and off shoots of these. These are major because Hatha Yoga correlates with the physical yoga. Bhakti with the emotionally focused yoga. Raja with the mentally focused yoga.
All different paths of yoga might be considered as spokes on a wheel with God in the center. They all lead to the same place. I, personally, practice what might be termed a yoga of synthesis that integrates all the yogas and extracts the best and finest teachings from all of them.
It has been said that the purpose of Hatha yoga is to make Raja yoga possible. Raja yoga cannot be achieved without the training of Hatha yoga and Bhakti yoga, for that matter. Raja yoga is the yoga of the Aryan age. It is for this reason it is the yoga that deals with the controlling and concentrating of the mind, which is the main lesson of this current root race. It is through the concentration of the mind that man gains knowledge and mastery of all things.
There are fifteen main steps to Raja yoga. These are as follows:
- Observance (“I am the principle of all things, the Brahman.”)
- Proper use of time.
- Root contraction (Mula-bandha)
- Strengthening of the body
- The straightening of the body
- Spiritual sight
- Breath control
- Pratyhara – “Seeing Divinity in all perceptible forms brings delight to the mind and its faculties. Know this as the withdrawal which should be practiced every moment.”
- Contemplation – “The one changeless thought, ’I am the principle, the Brahman’, with no other notion, is known under the name of contemplation and is the giver of supreme bliss.” – The Upanishads.
- Identification – “When the very notion of contemplation is forgotten, this is known as identification.” – The Upanishads
The term Raja yoga means royal yoga. It refers, specifically, to the yoga system of Patanjali. For an in-depth study of the teachings of Raja Yoga I would guide you to the other chapter in this book on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
I have personally found Patanjali’s teachings to be some of the most profound I have ever studied. It is a system of study that I find very similar to “The Course in Miracles” in some ways. The only difference is that it was written over 5000 years ago. Raja yoga is especially important to study now because of the period of history of this planet in which we are living.
This school of yoga was the form focused upon in the Lemurian epoch of our history. It is a yoga focused upon physical purification and training. Its goal is to bring the physical body into a perfect state of physical health, so the soul may have a fitting vehicle of expression to work through.
There are many practices, including physical yoga postures and breathing exercises which also act upon the physical nervous system and etheric body which is considered a corollary aspect of the physical body. Hatha Yoga also helps to bring the vital energies of the physical and etheric body under control.
As one can see, this is an indispensable yoga for every person to practice on some level and is intimately tied together with passing the first initiation which has to do with physical mastery.
The word “Hatha” actually means the conjunction of the sun and the moon. It is this physical balance of these macrocosmic and microcosmic principles that must be balanced within the human body. There are five main steps in the process of Hatha Yoga. These are:
- Sitting postures
- Breath control
- Non-attachment to possessions
Hatha Yoga also teaches many muscular contractions which are called bandhas and physical gestures that are called mudras. It also teaches the science of Pratyahara which has to do with learning to withdraw the senses from external objects, which is truly the key to effective meditation.
If you would like to learn more about Hatha Yoga there are many wonderful books on the market. Two books in particular, I would recommend, are, “The Practice of yoga” by Swami Sivananda, and a second book called, “Yoga Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe”, by Alain Danielou.
Mantra yoga finds union with God through proper use of speech and sound. It is the power of the word to create or destroy that Mantra yoga emphasizes. It utilizes the focused intent to make every word you speak in harmony with God and your own soul.
Mantra yoga also uses mantrums as an indispensable part of their practice. In the East, the mantra yogi usually uses the aum, so ham, om namah shivaya, or hram, hrim, as their favorite mantrums. The greatest mantra is the syllable, aum. It is considered the mother of all mantras. After this, the Gayatri mantra, which is considered the mantra of Eternal Wisdom in the Vedas.
Rhythmic repetition of a mantra is called Japa. This is why this type of yoga has also been called “Japa Yoga”. One of the greatest proponents of this practice is His Holiness, the Lord Sai Baba. He considers the constant repetition of the name of God and the visualizing of your favorite form of God or Deity as being an indispensable spiritual practice. Most spiritual teachers in the East and West integrate some form of Mantra yoga into their teachings.
The practice of mantra yoga takes constant vigilance over every thought you think and word you speak, for every word you speak in your daily life, in truth, is a mantra and word of power. There are different kinds of Japa.
- Daily japa, usually done in the morning and evening.
- Circumstantial japa, usually done on festival days.
- Japa done for some specific desired rest.
- Forbidden japa, which is done without discipline and with wrong pronunciation.
- Japa done for penance.
- Moving japa which is done through your day, which is what Sai Baba has recommended.
- Voice japa is done out loud for others to hear if appropriate.
- Whispered japa.
- The Bee japa becomes the mantra and is murmured like the hum of a bee. The lips and tongue do not move and the eyes are usually closed.
- Mental japa is done solely in one’s mind and is an indispensable method to use in your daily life.
- The uninterrupted japa is for those who renounce the world. Japa is done continuously and when tired, the yogi meditates and when tired of meditating goes back to japa. When tired of both, think of the Supreme Self.
- Doing japa with beads or a rosary of some kind.
There are sixteen steps of Mantra yoga. They are:
- Observance of the calendar which is based on an astrological understanding which defines celebrations, fasts, and so on.
- The ways of conduct.
- The search for the inner divine countries. These inner countries are considered the abodes of Deities, Masters, and gurus on the inner plane.
- Breath control.
- Water offering.
- Fire offering.
- Ritual sacrifice. (fruit)
- Ritual worship which usually utilizes scents, flowers, incense, lamp, and food of some kind.
- Repetition of mantras, words of power and names of God.
- Identification (Samadhi). This is achieved when the meaning of the mantra has been realized and the mind dissolves into the Deity of the mantra. There becomes no separation between seeker, searcher and that which is sought. With identification, the seeker has achieved his goal.
Kundalini Yoga (Laya Yoga and Asparsha Yoga)
Kundalini yoga is the method by which certain spiritual practices are utilized to purposely and consciously raise the coiled energy at the base of the spine and try and raise it through the chakras to the third eye and crown chakra, in an attempt to achieve self realization. This type of yoga has also been called “Asparsha yoga”. It utilizes eight basic steps. These are:
- Observances and abstinences
- Direct evidence
- Thoughtless identification
It also utilizes certain specific breathing exercises, mudras, and bandhas in the process of awakening the kundalini.
I have spoken in great detail about the practice of Kundalini yoga in my book on “Soul Psychology”, so I will not repeat myself here. I do want to emphasize there that the forced conscious awakening of the kundalini, in point of fact, is a very dangerous proposition unless done under the guidance of a qualified self realized teacher, which, in truth, is hard to find.
The raising of the Kundalini is important, however, it does activate quite naturally and in proper timing and order to the well balanced, committed, and integrated disciple on the path, no matter what path you are following. Trying to force the awakening of the kundalini is literally playing with fire. This is not a type of yoga to experiment with haphazardly on your own.
This energy raised prematurely will activate and then shoot out your lower chakras and create worlds of problems. Before practicing this type of yoga, a disciple must have mastery over their energies. I would say, hence, it shouldn’t be focused upon until at least after the third initiation, and again, then only with a qualified spiritual teacher. This type of yoga has also been called Laya yoga.
Taraka yoga is based on the non-dualist philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. It was thought to have been started by Shankara, about whom I have written extensively in my book, “The Life and Teachings of 40 of the World’s Greatest Saints and Spiritual Masters”.
The word Taraka actually means that which delivers. Taraka yoga delivers the practitioner to the unconditioned reality of the absolute. This is achieved through, first of all, the recognition of there being only one single being living in the infinite universe whose name is Brahman or Atman.
The goal of Taraka yoga is to convert one’s ordinary consciousness to a continuous awareness of this absolute reality. This is achieved, to a great extent, through a series of exercises in which light phenomena play a decisive role.
The inner light is produced by a technique known as “Shambhavi-mudra”. The yogi fixes his or her attention on the third eye, and taught to see and experience the light phenomena of the inner dimensions of reality. There are discernible stages of development in this yogic path. These have been loosely designated as:
- Inner sign
- External sign
- Intermediate sign
There is a whole science of these lights and sounds, which remind me very much of Baba Muktananda’s experiences which I have recounted in the above mentioned book, also. If you are interested in this type of yoga, I would recommend reading a book called “Sacred Paths” by George Feuerstein, for a deeper explanation.
Karma yoga achieves union with God through “right action and through service. Sai Baba’s famous quote, “Hands that help are holier than lips that pray”, applies here. Karma yoga can also be summed up in the statement by Sri Bhagavan Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, when he says, “Worshipping Him with proper actions, a man attains realization.”
One key to Karma yoga is the performance of right action and service for its own sake, not caring about its immediate or apparent results. Karma yoga, literally means action yoga. It consists of the sacred work of demonstrating one’s daily activities totally in harmony with the soul’s wishes and desires.
All actions are done in the attitude of self surrender, with no regard to the fruit of one’s actions. This is done without any egotistical attachments. One could say that Mahatma Ghandi embodied the ideals of karma yoga perfectly.
It is also the gospel of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. A Karma yogi is an instrument of God in the affairs of the world. It is essential that we all integrate Karma yoga along with the other yogas into our daily lives.
Yantra yoga is the path of union with God through geometric visualization. A yantra is a geometric design. They are highly efficient tools for contemplation, concentration, and meditation. This type of yoga might also be succinctly called mandala yoga.
The Buddhist are masters of this type of yoga as seen in their mandala, icons, tonkas, and sand paintings. The American Indians used this type of yoga, also. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life might be in this category also.
By tuning into the different aspects of Yantra or geometric visualization one is tapped into certain Deities or major creative spiritual force centers in the universe. The Yantra is like a microcosmic picture of the macrocosm. It is a focusing point and outer and inner doorway.
The Yantras are often focused towards a specific Deity and are drawn on paper, wood, sand, metal, or actually done in three dimensional shapes. The yantra must then be integrated into themself symbolically. Their body becomes the Yantra. This, in truth, is not that much different than people focusing on a specific Deity to worship, such as Krishna, or Rama, rather than focusing on an omnipresent and more impersonal conception of God.
The Yantra provides a focusing point much like the ten Sepheroth, in the Tree of Life, are windows and doorways into the absolute. The idea is to make the Yantra inwardly and outwardly so real that it becomes alive. In this way it absorbs the practitioner’s complete attention. They can no longer tell if the yantra is within themselves or if they are within the yantra.
The most celebrated yantra in India is the Sri-Yantra or “auspicious wheel.” It is a symbol of the entire cosmos. It serves to remind the practitioner of the non-difference between subject and object.
Bhakti Yoga was the yoga of the Atlantean period which dealt with emotional attunement. For this reason it is the yoga of love and devotion. It has also been, to a great extent, a major yoga of the Piscean Age. It is a yoga for people who are more identified with their emotional body.
It’s method of reintegration with Source is through love. There are nine steps to Bhakti Yoga. These are:
- Singing of Praise
- Worship of the feet
- Ritual worship
- To be a slave to God
- To be a friend
- Self surrender
Two of the well known spiritual masters that seem to embody this devotional Yoga are Paramahansa Yogananda and Sathya Sai Baba. They both embody this devotional aspect.
Two other forms of Bhakti Yoga are: The Way of passionate attachment and the way of transcendent love. “That form of devotion which makes use of emotions and brings joy and peace is called the way of passionate attachment. “From the Angirasa Daiva Mimansa, sutra.
The way of transcendent love sees the whole universe animate or inanimate as pervaded by divinity and experiences the reality, “Thou art that”. “He who, with his whole being, sees Divinity in all existing things and all things in Divinity, stands highest among the devotees of the Lord.”
Followers of Bhakti Yoga often personalize God, as the followers of Krishna and Rama did. They often are very involved with rituals, flowers, incense, beautiful buildings, and all forms which aid in cultivating love for God.
Bhaktis are less interested in intellectually understanding God. As you can see, these yogas relate very much to our four body system and how we each relate and identify with our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies.
Bhakti Yoga is also very much involved with self service. It is essential for every person on the spiritual path to practice some form of Bhakti yoga, otherwise they are disowning their emotional body in their pursuit of God realization.
We can see that on one yoga is better than another, although there are different yogas that suit certain people better at certain stages of their life and spiritual evolution. Bhakti yoga is the way of the heart, which in turn is the most important spiritual practice of all. Without a healthy physical body and controlled mind, this, in truth, cannot be achieved.
Eco yoga is one of the newer yogas, and is the yoga of ecological and environmental sanctification and respect. It sees all life as being interconnected and interdependent. It is, hence, the study and practice of the inter relatedness between minerals, plants, animals, humans, and the environment.
This type of yoga may be one of the most important of all because if we don’t learn to respect and sanctify the Earth Mother and all life that lives upon her, we will destroy the school that allows us to practice all the other yogas.
I have written extensively, in my other books, about the need to take care of our environment and work cooperatively with the nature kingdoms, so I won’t repeat myself here. It is suffice to say that God lives as much in the earth, a river, a mountain, a city, a plant, a mineral, an insect, an animal, in the air, the forests, in the physical body, as He does in higher dimensions of reality.
To not sanctify our environment is literally to deface and destroy God’s physical body. We wouldn’t do this to our own physical body, why would we show such little respect to His. The true spiritual path is to bring heaven to earth, and recognize the material universe as one of God’s most beautiful and treasured heavens.
Jnana yoga is the religion of the philosopher and the thinker that wants to go beyond the visible and material reality. The Jnana yogi finds God through knowledge. Jnana yoga is summed up in the Upanishads by the following statement: “In the method of reintegration through knowledge the mind is ever bound to the ultimate end of existence which is liberation. This method leads to all attainments and is ever auspicious.”
Jnana yoga teaches seven stages of knowledge. Four states of mind and seven obstacles have to be faced.
The four states of mind are:
- Dispersed state
- The past approach
- The grasped state
- The merging state
The seven obstacles are:
- Good will
- Subtlety of mind
- Perception of reality
- Freedom from the leaning towards the world
- Disappearance of visible forms
- The unmanifest state
Jnana yoga is the path of insight or wisdom. It is wisdom based on what Vedanta refers to as higher knowledge rather than lower knowledge. Djwhal Khul might refer to this as the difference between knowledge of the higher mind and the concrete mind.
One of the great proponents of Jnana yoga is the Vedas, also known as Vedanta. It is based on the spiritual concept of non-dualism. Jnana yoga is the path of self realization through gnostic understanding that teaches the ability to discern the real from the unreal. To the Jnana yogi will power and inspired reason are the two guiding principles by which he can attain enlightenment. Jnana yoga has been described as a straight, but steep course.
Vedanta lists six principles of Jnana yoga that lead to liberation. These are:
- The six accomplishments (Tranquillity, Sense restraint, Actions totally in harmony with God.)
- Mental collectedness
Other practices of Jnana yoga are:
- Redemption, the sacred teaching
- Pondering on the importance of meditation
- …Jnana yoga, in essence, is the cultivation of the eye of wisdom.
Sabda or Nada Yoga
Sabda or Nada yoga is the method of achieving union with God through sound. One of its greatest proponents was Kabir, (the poet saint) the past life of Shirdi Sai Baba, about whom I have written extensively in my book on “The Life and Teachings of 40 of the World’s Greatest Saints and Spiritual Masters.”
Modern day mystery schools based upon Sabda or Nada yoga are Eckancar, John Roger, and Darwin Gross. The practice of Nada yoga has to do with learning to tune and listen to the inner sounds that emanate from the different dimensions of reality. In the chapter on “Soul Travel” in this book I have extensively listed these sounds that can be listened to in meditation.
Part of Sabda or Nada yoga also deals with the intoning of certain mantras and sacred sounds that allows one to soul travel and attune to the dimensions from which these mantras come. This is a most sublime form of yoga and is also the basis of the Sikh religion.
Kriya yoga is the type of yoga taught by Babaji and Paramahansa Yogananda. I have written extensively about it in my first book, “The Complete Ascension Manual for the Aquarian Age”, in the chapter of “Babaji, the Yogi Christ”. For that reason I am not going to repeat the same information here. I will say, however, that Paramahansa Yogananda has referred to it as the airplane method to God. I have been initiated into this type of yoga, and have found it to be extraordinarily valuable.
Sankirtan yoga seeks to find union with the Divine through the singing and chanting of bhajans or devotional songs, which are also called sankirtan. Sai Baba is one of the biggest proponents of this type of yoga. What is so beautiful about it is that the songs not only are filled with the sacred names of God, but the songs have very beautiful melodies which allows the emotional body of the practitioner to get involved.
Practitioners of Bhakti yoga would especially love this type of yoga. The joy and bliss that comes from singing devotional songs with a loving supportive spiritual community is awe inspiring. I, personally, have a whole set of devotional songs from the Sai Baba Foundation, which I play in my car constantly.
Sai Baba has said that the singing of devotional songs is the best spiritual practice for getting rid of the blemish of ego. Devotional songs are a way of practicing mantra yoga, and japa yoga, but doing it with a melody which is much more enjoyable. Temptation doesn’t arise when your mind is constantly affirming, chanting, and singing your love, devotion and praise of God!
Ashtanga Yoga and Agni Yoga
There is not a lot of information available on Ashtanga yoga. It is an important path of yoga because Djwhal Khul said that Asntanga yoga is the next yoga for the coming Meruvian root race. Theosophical literature has designated Agni, or fire yoga as the yoga of the next coming root race. It is for this reason that I have put these two together.
Ashtanga yoga is a type of power yoga. My wife, Terri, tells me that the actual full name is Ashtanga Vinyasa. She has practiced it, and it is a very active movement oriented type of yoga. Agni yoga was made famous by Nicolas Roerich, who channeled a whole series of books from the Ascended Master, El Morya, in this century on the subject and by the name Agni Yoga.
I would guide anyone who is interested in this subject to those set of books, of which I have looked at but not read myself. These teachings of El Morya, through Nicolas Roerich, were a dispensation of teachings much like those Madam Blavatsky and Alice Bailey channeled, except probably more of the first ray rather than the second ray, since El Morya is the Chohan for the first ray.
This path of yoga is for those seekers who wish to merge the Shiva aspect in Hindu tradition. The Hindu trinity is made up of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. The most popular forms of Vishnu worship in India are the followers of Rama and Krishna, who are incarnations of Vishnu.
There is also a path of yoga called Brahmanism that worships Brahman. Shiva yoga has five parts:
- Knowledge of Shiva
- Devotion to Shiva
- Contemplation of Shiva
- Observances of the austerities connected with Shiva
- Ritual worship of Shiva
Yoga of Synthesis
The yoga of synthesis is the type of yoga I, personally, recommend practicing. It is the yoga that integrates all paths of yoga, all spiritual paths, all religions. It is an eclectic and universalistic path that garnishes the best from each path and integrates them into one cohesive unified whole.
This is not to say that you might not emphasize a certain path in your life or in a certain phase of your life, or even in a certain incarnation. In the larger context, however, all paths are one and spokes on the wheel. No one path of yoga is better than any other. They are all important and essential to our full and total realization of God.
Integral yoga is the term given to the yoga created by Sri Aurobindo, the self realized master from India who lived earlier in this century. I am not well versed on his particular slant of the Vedic teachings, however, I have always very much respected his contribution.
I am reminded of a story about him that occurred, I believe, on November 24, 1923. He was meditation and received a vision that Krishna had incarnated into the physical world on the previous day. The previous Sathya Sai Baba had incarnated into a baby’s body in Southern India.
One of the integral teachings of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga was his commitment to political action as well as his inner spiritual work. In this regard he was more balanced than some of the eastern spiritual traditions of non-involvement with the material world.
A lot of his teachings on integral yoga he developed with his partner who was referred to as the Mother. For those interested in studying his teachings in specific detail I would recommend reading his two volume set of books called, “Letters on Yoga, Volume One and Two”.
He was a prolific writer and one of his teachers was Sri Sankara, the great Hindu Master who lived in the Eighth Century.
The Trinity Yoga is similar to the Yoga of Synthesis in that it incorporates the full spectrum of all the sacred paths of yoga. However, the key theme of this form of yoga is the practice the integration of the Threefold Trinity Law which is,
“Receive God. Be God. Give God.
Receive Christ. Be Christ. Give Christ.
Receive the Holy Spirit. Be the Holy Spirit. Give the Holy Spirit!”
Douglas Pollock – …From my understanding, there are only four basic approaches to union: action (Karma), devotion (Bhakti), control (Raja) and knowledge (Jnana). Under this view, Hatha Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Kundalini Yoga … these are all forms of Raja Yoga. There is a kind of fifth form, which is simply the union of all forms. This has been called the yoga of synthesis, integral yoga, etc. This is a relatively new form (100 years or so). Swami Sivananda felt that this was the best approach for us living in the Kali Yuga. Also, …Tantra is [not] just about sex. It is a way of interpreting reality: Siva and Shakti. One branch of Tantra (left-hand tantra) includes some sexual practices, but it would be wrong to colour all of tantra by that fact.
Simon Fortier-Garceau – Yoga is essentally One. I think of the Triad : Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnani Yoga which are summed up in Raja Yoga… but this is a matter of pure speculation as to know which includes which and whichever. Yoga of Synthesis is another more inclusive [summation] of Yoga. …22 types of Yoga…is only meant here to give a certain diversity. I did forget to mention all these were but the branches of more essential all-including yogas such as you mentioned… that is good indeed that you have brought it up. Hence, we will have answered both to those who are looking for a particular approach of Yoga, and those who are looking for a more essential/all-inclusive/primal type of Yoga. I have studied Yoga under another tree and have read only so much of Swami Sivananda’s teaching. I think that both our approaches will complement each other in a very interesting blended fashion…
Douglas Pollock – …Which guru-parampara have you studied under? Swami Sivananda is an interesting fellow. He ended up having a profound effect on western culture, even though he never came here … only his disciples. His disciples have ashrams all over North America, but I think the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp in Val-Morin is the closest one to you. During the summers, there tend to be a lot of people there, and you could go to study a bit perhaps.Wouldn’t you say that karma yoga and bhakti yoga and raja yoga are fundamentally different though? I think jnana yoga is different as well, but I could see how this distinction is less clear. But bhakti (emotions) and raja yoga (control of mind) seem like different approaches. It is true in the end that they all go to the same place….Another point favouring the distinction: I believe there are generally viewed to be six main philosophical schools. Two of these are vedanta and yoga. Vedanta corresponds to jnana yoga, and yoga corresponds to raja yoga.I am no expert on tantra, I just have my own limited experiences. When I was living on an ashram, the priests were tantric priests and there didn’t seem to be any sex acts involved in their rituals. :) I’ve only had the two-hands of tantra explained, though apparently there are a lot more “flavours” of tantra than that (just like there are lots of different sects of Christianity, even though there are two broad divisions: Catholic and Protestant). The right-hand forbids the “5 Ms” (sex, alcohol, some kind of grain, flesh, and fish in English), while the left-hand does not. And even on the left-hand, these practices are generally reserved for people who have advanced far along the spiritual path.But I agree with you: it’s what we actually do that matters, not what we call it.