Can we choose whichever path we prefer – karma, jnana or bhakti?
Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Edited by: Keshavopal Das
Question: Can we choose whichever path we prefer – karma, jnana or bhakti?
Answer: We all are at different levels in our spiritual evolution. The soul is evolving over many lifetimes and because we are at different levels, there are multiplicities of paths available for us. In the Gita, there is a summary description of all the paths – karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga but at the same time, there is a clear recommendation of which path to follow. At the end of the Bhagavad Gita in 18.66, Lord Krishna says,
sarva-dharman parityajya maam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma suchah
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”
Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya meaning give up all other varieties of religious paths and then maam ekam saranam – just follow the path of surrendering to me. Before this, Krishna talks something similar in 18.56, 18.57 and 18.58
Krishna speaks about the path of karma yoga in Gita 18.40 to 18.46 and then from 18.47 onwards to 18.53, he talks about jnana yoga. Then in 18.54 and 18.55, he talks about how from jnana yoga, one will rise higher and higher and will ultimately come to bhakti yoga. Therefore, Krishna talks about a progression – from karma yoga to jnana yoga and then bhakti yoga. But in Gita 18.56, he says,
sarva-karmany api sada kurvano mad-vyapasrayah
mat-prasadad avapnoti sasvatam padam avyayam
Krishna is saying this is a gradual way of attaining Me but there is another way. Whatever work you are doing, do it for Me because if you do it for Me, then by My Mercy, you will attain the supreme destination. Thus, Krishna recommends the path of bhakti yoga.
One misconception that we have is, if we are working in our job, we consider it karma yoga and if we are doing pooja in a temple, then it is bhakti yoga. This is a very simplistic understanding. Both karma yoga and bhakti yoga have one thing in common – both involve action. In karma yoga, the focus is primarily on detachment – one must not have selfish intentions, one must give up the fruits of action and cultivate selflessness. However, the important question is – what is the purpose of selflessness? That is to develop detachment from the world. Do not be entangled emotionally and do not be captivated. Bhakti yoga, however, focuses that the one work in this world not just with detachment (as in karma yoga) but with attachment to Krishna. This means that whatever work we are doing, we do it as an offering to Krishna as explained in Gita 9.27:
yat karosi yad asnasi yaj juhosi dadasi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat kurusva mad-arpanam
“Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.”
Generally, if we search for a particular path on our own then based on our dispositions, we will gravitate towards a particular path. But bhakti is so inclusive that people of all disposition can be included in the path of bhakti. That is why, if we can get the association of devotees then we can learn, how we can practice bhakti in our particular position and disposition.
To summarize, all paths (karma yoga or jnana yoga) will lead to spiritual growth, but Krishna especially recommends the path of bhakti because it can elevate us from wherever we are to the supreme destination. On how to connect with and practice bhakti at our level is something that we can learn in the association of devotees.
End of transcription.