In this episode, we explore the work of Swami Vivekananda, who came to the US in the early 1900s and gave us the Four Paths of Yoga - Jnana, Karma, Raja and Bhakti. We discuss:
Which Yoga is the Right Spiritual Path for You? Transcript
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to soul sessions. I am Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob with CreativeMinds. We're bringing you this series on the great minds of philosophy. Today we're going to talk about our favorite philosopher, Swami Vivekananda, and the four spiritual paths. But before we begin, I wanted to remind you to subscribe. If you’re listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, or other wonderful podcast hosting services, and you're thinking “This is interesting, I think I want to hear more”, click Subscribe to our podcast so you can get the next episode as we continue our series.
Robert Maldonado 01:11
Thank you for that great introduction. Vivekananda, one of our favorites. It's hard to condense his personality and his work because he's really an important philosopher, for us especially and for those interested in non-dualistic philosophy. He's one of the greatest, his work has been really influential. He inspired Tesla, not the carmaker but the original, Nikola Tesla, the great experimenter, discoverer, and mentor. He also was a big influence on Gandhi, on Tagore, great essayist, writer, poet, philosopher of India, as well as Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo, if you don't know his work, look him up. He's an incredible psychologist, philosopher, Hindu teacher and guru, just amazing work on yoga.
Debra Maldonado 02:21
Wasn't he actually the first person that brought the Eastern thought and Hindu philosophy to the West? He came over here first, before Yogananda, because Yogananda came over here and started centers, but Vivekananda was actually here first and didn't stay. He was very young when he passed, but he made a big impact on the world. When I read Vivekananda, it sounded to me like I've heard it before. I grew up listening to those New Thought authors, like Wallace Wattles, these ideas of your thoughts creating your life. When I read gyana yoga by Vivekananda, I said “This is what they talked about, it's based on Hindu philosophy.” I'm sure those authors were also influenced by Vivekananda. I like it because he puts it in a very practical application, even though for a new person it may take a little while to get what he's saying but in more common modern language, than 800 BCE, when a lot of the other philosophers lived, the original texts. You’re getting this knowledge in a more modern way.
Robert Maldonado 03:35
He was born in 1863, in Kolkata, India. You can imagine the world back then, this is the middle of the 1800s. He gets to the US after meeting his guru, Ramakrishna in India, he's sent over as an emissary.
Debra Maldonado 03:57
He didn't want to go, he resisted it a little bit.
Robert Maldonado 04:00
It's hard to say because there's so much mythology that grows around such a person, to untangle all that. But he ends up in Chicago, speaking at the World's Fair in around 1900, around the turn of the century, and just blows everybody away with his speech. He then becomes the representative of Hindu philosophy in the world but particularly in America, where he actually founded a few centers that are still here, the biggest one and the first one in New York City.
Debra Maldonado 04:43
We lived in Santa Barbara. There's a beautiful temple there. If you're ever there, it’s incredibly beautiful, the location is amazing. But can I read a quote? I think if we read this, you start to think that this sounds familiar. The quote is “Take up one idea, make that one idea your life, dream of it, think of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, the body muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea. Leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” How many times have you read people saying “You got to imagine what you want, you got to feel it in your body.” Where did they get all this from? They didn't just make it up themselves. He had a big impact. Every person can apply the Eastern wisdom in their life, apply it to success. I like success, so it really resonated with me to see the two come together.
Robert Maldonado 05:53
He was very influential. With all these great thinkers, in the general culture, he influenced the culture by introducing Eastern philosophy in a very powerful way. He is best known for his work on the four yogas. He's got a whole set of volumes about his work but there are four books that correspond to the four yogas. We wanted to focus on those because they are so amazing. Any one of these you choose will introduce you to his thought. As we talk about these different yoga systems, think about what calls out to you, which system, which approach fits your personality, your temperament, your way of learning. The whole idea is that whatever you choose will get you there. It goes to the same place.
Debra Maldonado 07:04
There's this confusion, sometimes people ask us “What is the right path? What is my path?” You don't want to just take someone's word for it. This is what you should do, you have to discover it within yourself. All paths do lead to the same place. But also you can do all four paths. If you want, you can incorporate all of them as we go through them. Let's start with the four, then we'll dig down to each one. The four are karma yoga, because everyone's heard of karma, bhakti yoga, gyana yoga, and raja yoga. Let's start with karma yoga, everyone heard of karma.
Robert Maldonado 07:43
When Vivekananda read the Gita and studied it with Ramakrishna, he started discerning that the Gita contained four different approaches. Not only those that are the most obvious, the path of meditation and inward looking that we call raja yoga, but also a way of acting, staying in the world, doing your work, being a householder, having a family, having a job, but still being able to practice a spiritual path that is called in the Gita karma yoga.
Debra Maldonado 08:22
I’d say, the Gita is mostly focused on karma yoga. Not all of it, but the active part of it.
Robert Maldonado 08:32
It's definitely an important aspect. Let's start with karma yoga, also known as yoga of selfless action. Selfless here is more egoless, not so much the higher self, a non-attachment. Karma yoga emphasizes the importance of performing one's duties without attachment to results. Swami Vivekananda emphasized that by engaging in selfless action, one can purify the mind and overcome the ego.
Debra Maldonado 09:12
It's a practice of acting, letting go of attachment, dropping the ego. Through that action you're purifying your mind. It's not just sitting purifying your mind, it's actually moving. There could be some aspects of self inquiry when it's karma. But karma is not that you did something bad in a past life, maybe it is, then something's happening now. But it's really the idea of cause and effect, the cart follows the ox. What you put out, you get back. The more attached you are to your ego, to your action, you're going to repeat the action, we call it repetitive history. Our conditioned mind will keep giving us the same results. It's quite simple. If you are getting the same results in your life, if you feel you've been hitting a wall or can't get to the next level, karma yoga is amazing to break that pattern, because what you're really doing is you can't just visualize it and hope and pray that everything's going to turn out. It's like practicing letting go the ego, because that deeper self, the divine is ready to give you everything you want, your ego’s distorting your actions. It's keeping you stuck. The practice of non-attachment, purifying the mind, will free you up to create the things you want and free your up from misery too because even if you do get ten things from ego, you could still be unsatisfied.
Robert Maldonado 10:48
It's a powerful way of being in the world. The primary aim explained by both Vivekananda and the Gita is that the aim is self realization. It is to transcend the ego. The practice of purifying ourselves or our mind through action is the discipline of the karma yoga, the yoga of understanding the nature of action and how to act in the world without incurring more karma. We free ourselves through the actions instead of binding ourselves. The opposing element would be that if we act out of attachment, out of ego, we bind ourselves through conditioning to the things of the world. We're handing our power over to external circumstances to dictate what our state of mind is.
Debra Maldonado 11:52
What's really important is that you could still go for the things of the world, but you don't get caught up in them, you dedicate them to your enlightenment. You can go and be an incredible success in the world but you're dedicating everything for your enlightenment. Whether it's failure or success, it's all dedicated to your growth. You're free. That's really the most powerful part of what I found in learning because if you're doing it from ego, it's a failure/success loop that you're going in and are caught up in.
Robert Maldonado 12:24
Is this useful for us today? Of course, we're all conditioned by our environment. In his psychology Skinner showed in very scientific ways that conditioning is a very powerful force. All organisms are conditioned by their environment. Why? Because it serves adaptation. If we don't interact with the environment, if we don't adapt to it, we don't survive. It’s built into being a biological entity, we’re going to be conditioned. But here is a way, a discipline, a yoga that liberates us from that biological perspective or conditioning.
Debra Maldonado 13:21
What I love about it too is that people want to have things in life, they want to find love, to find great success, to live their purpose, to have better health. They want things of the world, and it's a way how to live in the world without getting caught up in it.
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Debra Maldonado 14:33
Let's move on to bhakti yoga. It's the path of devotion and love for the divine. Swami Vivekananda emphasized the power of unconditional love and surrender to God as a means of attaining spiritual growth and union with the Divine. I love this because I was raised Catholic, those of you who are Christian or Catholic, there’s a devotional love to Jesus. You see bhakti show up in other religions. It's a powerful force, prayer, devotion, dedicating your actions to the deity or the image of a divine love. That unconditional love is not only for the divine but for yourself. That's who you are. It's the path of love.
Robert Maldonado 15:24
For our spiritual but not religious friends, putting your spiritual life as priority would be the way to do it. The cultivation of my connectedness to the universe is primary. It’s the aim and goal of my life. That is a way to practice bhakti yoga.
Debra Maldonado 15:49
Would it be Rumi too? We talked about Rumi in the previous episode. It was the bhakti yoga. Then gyana yoga. I like gyana yoga too. They can all fit together. Gyana Yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom, it involves intellectual inquiry, self analysis and contemplation to gain a deeper understanding of the true nature of oneself and the universe. Swami Vivekananda emphasized that through the pursuit of knowledge and self realization one can attain liberation. All you brainiacs out there with very logical minds, this would be a great path for you, if you're one of those people who love to read, study knowledge, understand from just sitting with the information. That's what gyana yoga is. We have a book here. This is the gyana yoga book from Vivekananda, one of my favorite books. I love learning the intellectual part of the spiritual work. If you're like that, you'll love the Vivekananda work. One of my favorite chapters in it is The Real or Apparent Man. You have to get over the man/woman thing, he’s talking about humans. Beautiful work, they're all lectures he did on these topics. Each chapter is a separate lecture within itself. He was speaking to the Western culture so it's easy to digest.
Robert Maldonado 17:18
The emphasis in gyana yoga is on higher knowledge versus lower knowledge. Lower knowledge is not meant to be diminutive. It means knowledge of the world. In non-dualistic philosophy, the appearance of the world is considered illusory, dreamlike, that knowledge is considered lower knowledge because it's temporary. Whatever we learn about the appearance of the world is up for debate.
Debra Maldonado 17:51
Would that include science too?
Robert Maldonado 17:54
Science comes through our senses, what we observe and what we experience. Science acknowledges that it's temporary. It's only meant to give us the best possible explanation up to this point with the understanding that we want to transcend that, augment it, refine it, whereas higher knowledge is knowledge that is of the permanence, of the absolute reality. It’s giving us information, knowledge that won’t change with time. It’ll inform us about the true nature of our self consciousness, pure awareness. Therefore it is considered primary.
Debra Maldonado 18:36
This quote goes perfectly with gyana yoga, which is “You can’t believe in God until you believe in yourself.” He was not talking about your ego. He was talking about your true nature. Sometimes we have to understand intellectually before we can really understand what it means to understand who we really are. It's like believing there's something beyond the conscious self, something beyond the persona, something beyond my life, my history, or even my past karma if you believe in that. There's something even deeper that's been untouched, unburned, undamaged, unhurt by the world. That's the divine self within you. Sometimes we need to hear it, read it, and sit with it. The idea of self inquiry is you pop self-help books, you read them and agree with them. You're like “I feel motivated.” With this book, you read a paragraph, then you sit with it, just contemplate that idea because it stretches your mind. It challenges you in a way because it's putting things in ways that weren't conditioned in you or the way the world is. It turns it around a little bit, changes your perspective. That’s what gyana yoga does, it starts to stretch your mind to see the world in a new way. Raja yoga is the last one, it’s known as the royal path. Raja means royal. It's a path of meditation and control of the mind. Swami Vivekananda highlighted the practice of meditation, concentration, and self discipline as essential tools for attaining self realization and experiencing union with the divine. It’s where we're getting, the meditative practice. They're all practices, but they're all different, devotion, practicing through action and non-attachment, practicing through studying. But this is how to manage this little mechanism I'm working with, my mind. How do I manage my mind? How do I direct it in the right way?
Robert Maldonado 20:40
Here we see some dualities. The karma yoga and raja yoga are two sides of the coin. One is active, one is passive. Karma yoga is about action in the world. Raja yoga is about going inward, meditating, having a direct experience of the inner self. The other dualities between bhakti and gyana is that bhakti is about the heart, opening up the emotions, devotional love, compassion, whereas gyana yoga is about the intellect, waking up the pure intellect that's able to cut through the illusion of the world.
Debra Maldonado 21:25
Learning these four paths, we all have one. Some people are very strong in meditation, but they don't read a lot. Some people are avid readers, but they don't meditate. Think about what your path is right now, if you have one, then go toward what feels the easiest for you. Then you can think about the second one, how to bring another element into my spiritual practice. I want to read another quote. This one is really the higher knowledge, a gyana yoga quote. “The moment I realized God’s sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and seeing God in him, that moment I am free from bondage, and everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.” It's that “The God in you sees the God in me, the God in me recognizes the God in you”, namaste. He uses the word “god”, some people are uncomfortable with that term because of their own religious stuff in early life that they want to try to get away from. I think he used the word God because he was speaking to a Western audience. At that time, that was the main verbiage that people used for talking about higher power, so don't let that turn you off. Be open to changing it in your mind if you need to but understanding that he's talking about that deeper, inner divine self. How do we apply this in our life? The best practice is to find the one that relates to you. Rob, which one did you start with?
Robert Maldonado 22:58
I came upon these books in grad school. I was renting a room in a student housing, the landlord lived in the bottom floor. Her husband passed away around the time we were there. She had a box of his books and she said “You guys are students, if you want to look at the box, take anything you find interesting.” I looked through the box, there was this little book called gyana yoga. It was the first one that came to me of the work of Vivekananda. I read it at that time, it was like a fresh point of view on philosophy. I was used to the stuffy Western philosophers. I was reading a lot of Jung as well, some of his work can be dense. But here was a new way of seeing the psyche, a new way of expressing a discipline of mind that was joyful and full of possibilities, incredibly deep and rich.
Debra Maldonado 24:15
We really like his work. Specifically because it's so hard to take something out of context, when you're from the West and reading something from the East. He did a beautiful job of speaking in our language, our culture, to disseminate this powerful information. I'm going to read another quote. “Stand up, be bold, and take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders. All the strength and succor you want is within yourself.” If you read any of those old guys from the late 1800s, early 1900s New Thought books, you see this sounds so familiar. This is where it comes from, this believing in yourself, understanding that you're more powerful than your persona, your ego, this human self. There's something deeper in you. We all want to find that, we all want to find what's beyond the curtain, what's beyond the surface of who we are, get a deeper relationship with ourselves. These books are really incredible to find that connection. For me, it changed everything. No matter what happens in the world, no matter the struggles I've had in life, whether it's family getting ill, or different elements of our business, wanting this thing, and it didn't work out, or just anything in relationships, we can really get to the root of what we're really experiencing. It helps us deal with life in a lighter way, so we’re not caught up in the storm, we can look and watch and have a different perspective.
Robert Maldonado 25:52
It can be taken and understood in many different ways, this concept of the four yogas. You can see it as “I need a little bit of practice in each and every one of these.” Or you can say “I'm going to lead and focus on one in particular, and maybe look at the other three, but not as much, focus on one.” Or you can see it as developmental, “I can start with a devotional love for my spiritual life, then go into the higher knowledge of it, then maybe the practice of karma yoga.” It all depends. That's the beauty of Eastern philosophy, we're free to approach it in our individualized ways.
Debra Maldonado 26:50
If you aren't calling it gyana yoga for yourself, you've already been on a path, those of you who listen to our work or not, this is new to your spiritual understanding. Think where you're at, honor that there's no right or wrong of what you did before, what you devoted yourself to, it's taking you here, where can you take it further? It's not about being wrong where you're at, it's that knowing that wherever you've chosen, there's a deeper wisdom within you, intelligence is leading you on the path. This is just a way to maybe accelerate it a little bit, understanding a little more, so you can move and accelerate your own growth. We’ll post the books in the show notes and in the information below if you want to check them out. But we appreciate you joining us for our Soul Sessions. We have more great minds, great philosophers to come, so if you are not subscribed, don't forget to click the button here in the corner if you're watching us on YouTube. If you're listening to us on the podcast services, please subscribe as well. Listen to our past episodes. We have some great episodes on Rumi and other great philosophers that we talked about so far. We're gonna continue this series through the summer, so we invite you to join us for another episode next week.
Robert Maldonado 28:10
See you next time.
Debra Maldonado 28:13
Debra Maldonado 28:14
Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.