Yoga of Synthesis
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Swami Sivananda's approach to yoga was to combine the four main paths - karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga along with various sub-yogas such as kirtan and hatha yoga. This is reflected in the motto of the society that he formed, the Divine Life Society. The motto says, "Serve (Karma Yoga), Love (Bhakti Yoga), Meditate (Jnana Yoga), Realise (Raja Yoga)." In his own words, "One-sided development is not commendable. Religion and Yoga must educate and develop the whole man - his heart, intellect and hand."
These paths are usually seen by others as different and separate, suited to different people addressing their individual temperaments or approaches to life. There is consensus that all the paths lead ultimately to the same destination - to union with Brahman or God. Swami Sivananda, however, saw a need for balance in every individual's spiritual development. He maintained that though the seeker would naturally gravitate toward one path, the lessons of each of the paths needed to be integrated by every seeker if true wisdom is to be attained. Thus he did not see them as different paths but as methods to be used in concert for the one destination. He even gave a simple formula for application by way of a song. As if to express his conviction in this winning formula to his disciples during his last days, he wrote “Serve, love, meditate, realise” when asked to write a note.
Four paths of yoga
Karma yoga is path usually chosen by those of an outgoing nature, Swami Sivananda recognised that every seeker needed to be selfless and see no difference in "all these names and forms". Service purifies the heart by teaching one to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching oneself from the fruits of one's actions and offering them up to God, one learns to sublimate the ego. To achieve this, Swami Sivananda recommends that we serve with Atma Bhav i.e. with an attitude and conviction that everything is yet another aspect of God. "He who works in the world with Atma Bhav will eventually reach Atma.".
Normally appealing to the emotional by nature, Swami Sivananda urged bhakti yoga for all to develop love for God and creation. Through prayer, worship, ritual and ultimately developing a tangible relationship, a seeker surrenders himself or herself to God, channeling and transmuting his or her emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of bhakti.
Taking the philosophy of Vedanta, jnana yoga uses the mind to inquire into self-nature. We perceive the space inside and outside a glass as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from God. Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the glass, dissolving the veils of ignorance. In a nutshell, Swami Sivananda said, "To behold the one Self in all beings is Jnana". Before practising jnana yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realisation can become mere idle speculation.
Raja yoga is often called the "royal road". It offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. Raja yoga is also called ashtanga yoga referring to the eight limbs leading to absolute mental control. The chief practice of raja yoga is meditation. It also includes all other methods which helps one to control body, energy, senses and mind. The hatha-yogi uses relaxation and other practices such as yamas, niyamas, mudras, and bandhas to gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called prana. When body and energy are under control meditation comes naturally. Swami Sivananda recommended the various aspects of raja yoga to develop strong will power and a healthy body to all seekers.