Bhakti, Karma and Jnana: Pre-Classical Yoga
The aim of Hinduism is to live a harmonious life with yourself, your community and nature, as well as reaching Moksha (self realization/liberation). During much of Hinduism's history, the three Yogas or paths to reach Moksha were Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga, with Raja Yoga coming later. Which path people practice is often determined by the individual, based upon their natural tendencies and capacities.  
The paths are many, but the Truth is One
-M.K. Gandhi 
In our blogs on Yoga thus far, we have been focusing primarily on Yoga As Exercise, or Asana, which is an offshoot of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga. In this blog, our goal is to provide a deeper understanding of what it means to live a yogic lifestyle. Today we will be taking a look at the three traditional Yogas.

Where Did The Three Traditional Yogas Come From?

Hinduism is unique in that even though it is one religion, it realizes that people have different natural tendencies and abilities. Some people are more emotional, some action oriented and others are analytical and philosophical. To address this, three spiritual paths (that every person could embark upon to achieve union with the divine) were outlined. Calling them "paths" is apt, because just like a path one might hike down, these are life paths, they are lived traditions. So, where did the traditional Yogas come from?

The Mahābhārata is one of Hinduism's most sacred and well read texts. It can be compared to the Bible within Christianity. It is also a very long text, totaling nearly 2 million words. The Mahābhārata is one of the two Sanskrit Epics of ancient India (The other being the Rāmāyana). The Mahābhārata tells a tale about the Kurukshetra War and two groups of cousins; the Pāndavas, portrayed as the protagonists, and the Kaurava, portrayed as the antagonists. The Mahābhārata goes over everything from morals and values, to family obligations, the stages of life, and of course, spiritual development.

Within the Mahābhārata there are different sections, some very short and others book length themselves. One of the most popular sections is the Bhagavad Gita, often lovingly referred to simply as the Gita (pronounced Gee-tuh). Within the Hindu world, the Gita is one of the most popular, read and revered texts.  The Gita outlines the three traditional paths to union and Moksha. Within the Gita, chapters 1–6  outline Karma Yoga, chapters 7–12 outline Bhakti Yoga  and chapters 13–18 outline Jnana Yoga. Since these traditional paths came from the Bhagavad Gita, they belong to the era known as pre-classical Yoga, within yogic history. 

Bhakti Yoga

  • What is Bhakti Yoga?

Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion. It is sometimes called the easiest and surest path to follow. This is because it can be practiced anywhere and it is open to people from all walks of life. So, it is the path of love and devotion, but love and devotion for what? It is love and devotion for the divine-whatever that means to you. Some Bhakti Yogis choose to worship a personal or favorite God, such as Ganesha, Shiva, etc. This is known as Saguna Brahman (God with attributes). Others choose to worship many Gods and Goddesses or none at all, such as those that worship a formless God, without attributes. For example, they may choose to worship nature, the universe, energy or leave it abstract. This is known as Nirguna Brahman. 

  • How do you Practice Bhakti Yoga?

Bhakti Yoga is also sometimes called the path of emotion. This is because Bhakti Yogis transform their emotions into love for the divine. Bhakti Yogis' main form of practice is through worship. This is sometimes similar to other faiths like Christianity, where they focus on prayer and idolatry, but they also have much more lively forms of worship. One very popular form of worship for Bhakti Yogis is called Kirtan. Kirtan is singing and playing religious music in groups with others. Partaking in dance, festivals and celebration in general are also ways to practice Bhakti Yoga, if they help you connect and find love for the divine.

  • Who might like Bhakti Yoga?

Musicians, artists, dancers, singers, emotional and creative types of people all might enjoy Bhakti Yoga. 

Karma Yoga

  • What is Karma Yoga?

Karma can be translated as action, so Karma Yoga is the path of action.  Karma Yogis devote themselves to living a life based on their Dharma, doing good deeds and services. They do so without any attachment or expectations for the fruits of their labors. If one is doing good deeds so that they can post it on social media or to add it to their resume, then they are doing these acts for selfish reasons and this would not count as Karma Yoga. Karma Yogis do good just for the sake of doing good. 

How do you Practice Karma Yoga?

Practicing Karma Yoga is all about your actions and how you live your life from moment to moment. Since Karma Yogis devote themselves to good deeds, they would do things like help the poor, feed the sick, pick up trash and volunteer their time. The western Saint Mother Teresa could be considered a Karma Yogi. 

  • Who might like Karma Yoga?

People who appreciate doing things like volunteering and who find joy in helping others might like Karma Yoga.

Jnana Yoga 

  • What is Jnana Yoga?

Jnana Yoga is the path of self study and knowledge. Jnana Yoga is centered around the questions of:

What am I?  Who am I? and What is the nature of the universe?


Jnana Yogis are often followers of the nondual Hindu philosophical school known as Advaita Vedanta. They typically study under the guidance of a Guru, or spiritual teacher, and devote themselves to the study of sacred texts, self inquiry and meditation.

  • How do you practice Jnana Yoga?

Compared to the other two paths, Jnana Yoga is more formal in its practice and often requires one to devote themselves to study. It is often seen as the most difficult path to follow. Jnana Yogis have a fourfold path of behaviors and has three main practices. 

The behavioral aspects are:

-The ability to discriminate between things that are eternal and unchanging, from those that are impermanent.

-Six Virtues known as Śama (Temperance of the mind), Dama (Temperance of the sense organs), Uparati (withdrawal of the mind from sensory objects. ie focusing inward without distraction.), Titiksha (The ability to endure whatever comes with calm), Śraddhā (faith) and Samādhāna (concentration). 

-Detachment from expectations and objects. 

-An earnest desire to attain Moksha or liberation.

The Practices:

-Sravana: Sravana means hearing and refers to hearing the teachings of your Guru and sacred texts.

-Manana: Contemplating what was heard.

-Nididhyāsana: Meditation on and realization of nonduality.

    • Who might like Jnana Yoga?

    Analytical, scientific and philosophical types who like to ponder the big questions of life might like the path of Jnana Yoga.


    Much of today's Yoga is a modern day movement practice that has come to be known as Yoga As Exercise and has most often lost any traces of its spirituality. Originally, there were three paths of Yoga known as Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Later, Raja Yoga was developed, which is where the different types of modern Yoga As Exercise came from. 

    Ancient Hindus in India recognized the beautiful diversity in the world, whilst still recognizing their union as one people. This is nicely summed up in the words of Swami Sivananda - 

    “The practice of Yoga leads to communion with the Lord. Whatever may be the starting point, the end reached is the same."

    They saw that people have different tendencies and that more than one path to the same place might be needed. Bhakti Yoga is for those that want to channel their emotions into love and devotion for the divine, Karma Yoga is for those that value action and want to be helpful through good deeds and Jnana Yoga is for those that are introspective. No need to pick one path, walk them all if you wish.

    We here at Lotus Tribe recognize our shared humanity regardless of gender, sex, color or creed. We are all just walking each other home and we hope that you find the right Yoga or path for your life. We believe that all rivers lead the same sea, so whatever spirituality or religion you choose, we are all one. ∼Namaste∼


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