By the end of the Vedic period
Hinduism seems to be sending “mixed signals.” On the one hand, the
Upanishads seem to recommend withdrawing from the world.
This path of renunciation and inaction is thought to be necessary for
one to realize one’s true nature and to prevent the accumulation of
negative karma. On the other hand, the Vedas along with the
Code of Manu insist that one must act in order to maintain society.
One must therefore perform the duties specific to one’s caste regardless
of consequences. The solution to this dilemma is set form in the four
paths described in the Bhagavad-Gita.
B. The Four Paths
1. Karma Yoga
- Description: The way of action: service rendered without any interest in its
effects and without any personal sense of giving.
- This task is accomplished by detachment, namely,
the detachment of one's Self (one's atman) from one's actions.
- In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna advises:
intent on action, not on the fruits of action.”
- Goal: overcome negative karma.
Karma Yoga is exemplified in another epic known as the Ramayana.
The Ramayana was composed between 400-200 BCE. It tells
of how Vishnu
incarnates himself as Lord Rama to kill Ravana (10 headed demon king of Sri Lanka)
and rescue his wife, Sita.
The point of the Ramayana is that Rama and
Sita are faithful to the duties imposed upon them – even
when logic suggests it would be better to follow a different
course. In other words, they perform their duties without
concern for the consequences.
(Just for fun! See the Comic book type adaptation of the
2. Jnana Yoga
Through knowledge and insight one can distinguish between the eternal Self
and the temporary one.
Once this is achieved, then there is nothing that separates the
Self (the atman) from Brahman.
Jnana Yoga is exemplified in
the philosophical systems of Hinduism. Although there are six
systems, we will consider only two.
- Considered to be pre-Vedic
- Two states of reality:
- Purusha -the Self - eternally wise, pure beyond change.
(Notice that purusha is used here to mean something other than the
cosmic being whom the gods sacrificed to make the world.
- Prakriti - cause of material universe
- Main idea: All suffering stems from confusing the two states of
the heights from which we have come and becoming intent on the joys
and sorrows of earthly life.
b. Advaita Vedanta
- Based upon the Upanishads
- Monistic: atman and Brahman are actually one: waves are not
distinct from the ocean.
- Material life is an illusion: Maya - power by which the
Absolute veils itself.
3. Raja Yoga
- The way of meditation, that is, of being able to remove
one's own consciousness from its awareness of this world of maya
to focus only on the ultimate reality of the cosmos' unity.
- Ultimate Goal is samadhi "a super-conscious state of
Union with the Absoltue.
- Exemplified in the Yoga Suras of Pantajali. Describe physical
and ethical disciplines required to reach samadhi.
4. Bhakti Yoga:
Description: Bhakti can be defines as
intense devotion to a personal manifestation of Brahman. Thus bhakti
yoga is the way of devotion to a god, or, more
precisely, the path of the love of a god.
The goal is communion with and nearness to
the deity. Significantly, intense devotion to a god was thought to
somehow "short circuit" the process of karma-samsara: as a
reward for one's devotion, the god would deliver his followers from
the ongoing cycle of birth and death.
The Bhagavad-Gita considers bhakti to be the
best course for the present age: According to Krishna,
“Those who worship me, thinking solely of me, always
disciplined, win the reward I secure.”
Bhakti is exemplified in a collections of stories
known as the Puranas. The Puranas were committed to writing
between 500 – 1500 CE. The most important stories of the Puranas
describe how Krishna (Vishnu incarnate) as a mischievous, fun
loving, youth wins the love of many women. Their devotion to him
and their sorrow in his absence become a model of bhakti. .