The Three Paths
Sri Swami Sivananda
Karma is to be performed and Karma is not to be performed–both the injunctions are given in the Vedas. The Vedas speak of merits and demerits in connection with Karma. They speak of Varna and Asrama, of difference in time, space, age and objects, of Swarga (pleasures) and Naraka (pains). The sense of right and wrong is not innate, but it is acquired from the scriptures, and the same scriptures undermine all ideas of difference. To a casual reader these tend to confuse a person’s mind. Considering these seemingly contradictory injunctions in the light of the answers given in the Bhagavata Purana, it will be evident that such contradictions do not really exist.
Three paths had been spoken of as leading to the attainment of Moksha by men–Jnana, Karma and Bhakti Yogas. It has been definitely stated that there is no other means whatsoever of attaining Moksha (liberation). Jnana is for those that are disgusted with the performance of Karma and so they give up Karma. Karma Yoga is for those who are not disgusted with the performance of Karma but are attached to it. He who, perchance, becomes fond of what is said or spoken of God, but has no aversion for Karma, nor has any undue attachment to it, is fit for Bhakti Yoga.
One should perform Karma so long as one does not feel disgust for it or as long as one is not drawn by love for God. True to one’s duties, one should perform Yajnas but without any selfish desires. Do not perform prohibited Karma. Then one shall cross the limits of both Swarga (pleasure) and Naraka (pain). By the performance of one’s duties, the purified man may acquire pure wisdom (Jnana) and Bhakti. The dwellers of Swarga wish for the human body and so too are the dwellers of Naraka. For, this body is a means to the attainment of Jnana and Bhakti but not so the Swarga and Naraka body. The farsighted man does not wish for Swarga or Naraka. He does not even wish for human existence. Because connection with the body causes selfish distractions. The sage knows the body as leading to desired-for ends. But he succeeds at the same time, in striving for Moksha or liberation before the approach of death, even as the bird loses all attachment for its nest and flies away free and happy before the man who strikes at the tree succeeds in felling it.
The human body, which is the primal source of all attainment, is a well-built boat, so hard to secure and so cheap when once attained. The Guru is at the helm of this boat, and God is the favourable wind that drives it. The man who does not cross the ocean of births and deaths with such a boat is a killer of Self.
Jnana: When a man feels disgust for Karma and becomes dispassionate and when his senses are controlled, he should practise concentration of mind. When in the act of concentration, the mind suddenly goes astray and becomes unsettled, he should bring it back under the control of Self with unremitting efforts, after allowing it to go in its wandering course for a while. Never neglect, however, to check the course of the mind with your Prana and senses all controlled with the help of Sattvika Buddhi, to bring the mind under the control of Self. This control of mind is the highest Yoga. The horseman slackens the reins at first but never lets go the reins. Reflect on the creative manifestation of all objects and then the contrary process of dissolution according to the Sankhya method. Do this till the mind attains calmness. By cultivating a sense of disgust, by growth of dispassion, by constant pondering over the teachings of the Guru, the mind gives up its delusion. By practising Yama and other methods of Yoga, by discrimination of self and by worshipping God, the mind is able to think of the Supreme. If by loss of mental balance, the Yogi does some improper acts, he should burn up the impurity by Yoga alone, but not by any other means, i.e., not by expiatory rites.
Adherence to the particular path of one’s own following is the right thing. People have been taught to distinguish between right and wrong, not because the acts are not all impure by their very nature but because the distinction is necessary to regulate the acts themselves with a view to causing a final abandonment of all attachments to them.
Karma: It may be said that, according to scriptures, Nitya-Karma (acts ordained to be necessarily performed) and Naimitta-Karma (acts ordained to be occasionally performed) purify the mind. Hence they are right (Guna). The killing of animals and such other acts make the mind impure. Hence they are wrong (Dosha). Expiations (Prayaschitta) are required to be performed in order to remove the consequences of wrong acts. Therefore Prayaschitta is a right thing (Guna). How can impurities be destroyed by means of Yoga then and not by means of Prayaschitta? Therefore it is said that what is called Guna (right) and Dosha (wrong) by injunctions and prohibitions, is only a regulation of acts. The purpose is this: the impurities of a man are not the outcome of his own inclinations. Man is impure through his natural tendencies. It is not possible for him, all of a sudden, to have disinclination for all actions. Therefore ‘do this’, ‘do not do this’–these injunctions and prohibitions merely put a restriction upon the inclination of a man, and by this means they lead to disinclination. The Yogins have no inclinations. The roles of Prayaschitta are not meant for them.
Bhakti: He who has reverential faith in all that is said about God and who feels disgust for all actions, who knows that desires are identical with misery, but is yet incapable of renouncing them,–such a man should worship God with sincere devotion and firm faith. Though gratifying his desires, he should not have any attachment for them, knowing that they lead to misery in the end. Those that constantly worship God according to Bhakti Yoga have all the desires of their heart destroyed, as God Himself dwells in their heart. The bondage is broken asunder, all doubts cease to exist, the accumulated actions fade away when the Atman of all (God) is seen. The Lord’s Bhakta speedily attains everything that is attained by other means: Swarga, Moksha or even God’s Own Abode, if he has any desire for any of these. But the Lord’s Bhaktas who are solely devoted to God do not desire anything, even if it is offered by the Lord–not even final liberation. They are beyond the limits of Guna and Dosha.