Understanding Yoga in Hinduism

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The Upanishads, a text of teachings from spiritual masters, describes the union with the true Self as the ultimate goal of Hinduism. This desired goal involves balance, purity, tranquility, and serenity of mind. These are referred to as Sattvic qualities. The process of increasing Sattvic qualities, and therefore leading to union with the Absolute is known as yoga.

There are eight branches to the path of yoga:

Yamaniyama, moral principles
asana, physical conditioning
pranayama, breath control
pratyahara, sense control
Dharana, concentration
dhyana, meditation
samadhi, union with the Absolute

Four broad types of people and all can attain this union with the true Self.

There are meditative people, rational people, active people, and emotional people. There are four yogic practices, raja, jnana, karma, and bhakti. Each suitable for its respective people type.

Raja yoga, for meditative people, is the path of mental focus. The goal of Raja yoga is to make the mind absolutely clear. When the mind is clear it can reflect upon the true Self.

Jnana yoga, for rational people, employs the mind rather than trying to focus it. The practitioner of Jnana yoga must long for liberation from ignorance and constantly search for the answer to the question “who am I?” Upon reflection all possible answers are false and all that remains is self-realization with the Absolute.

Karma yoga, for active people, is the act of rendering service without any thought of benefit or any personal sense of giving. It is the Absolute that performs all actions and all actions are an offering to the Absolute. This understanding leads to liberation from the self.

Bhakti yoga, for emotional people, is the most common path in Hinduism. It involves devotion to a personal deity. This intense love for the deity is an intense love shared with the Absolute. Devotion is more important than rituals in Bhakti yoga. For a practitioner of Bhakti yoga the beloved deity responds to them and is a presence in their lives.

The eighth branch of yogic practice, samadhi, is the state of union with the true Self, the Absolute.

This is the goal of developing Sattvic qualities. Swami Sivananda reflected that “words and language are imperfect to describe this exalted state… it is a state of eternal bliss and eternal wisdom.” This is the destination of yoga in Hinduism.

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