You can’t just study: the three paths to God

Someone made a comment last week (and I can’t remember now where it was, whether here or Facebook) that western Hindus are all about philosophy and not bhakti, which is devotion practices.

He has a point. Leaving aside ISKCON which is full of westerners practicing bhakti, many of us follow Advaita and the emphasis is on learning, reading, studying, intellectually understanding.

In Hinduism it is said that there are three different channels of spiritual growth and each person (or each family or each guru’s school) will emphasize one of these three:

Jnana yoga is the path of study
Karma yoga is the path of action (or seva, service of others)
Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion

The way that I grew up had a lot of emphasis on study. We read scriptures, we learned the Sanskrit and dissected it. We talked and discussed experiences and applying the teachings to daily life.

At the same time there was devotion in the respect we were expected to show to our superiors within the organization. (And I would argue that women were taught to be path of devotion while men were taught to be path of knowledge).

Still, it was a very intellectual endeavor, which is something that suits me. I ponder and I think. I think too much, some would say. I want to study and understand everything about the world.

But these three paths are not simply pick one and discard the others. All three are necessary for every individual, I think. Just in different measures.

It’s like the gunas, the three qualities that are present in all things. Everything in the world has a combination of rajas, tamas, and sattva but in different amounts. Some things are predominantly sattvic while others are predominantly rajasic.

I am predominantly a jnana yoga person, but I still need some amount of the other two to progress spiritually. There are times when you have to step back, get out of your head, and just experience faith. Let it wash over you.

And I don’t think all the study in the world does a bit of good without helping and responding to the needs of our fellow human beings.

My own balance is still a work in progress. I study the scriptures and I ponder the philosophical aspects of Hinduism here at the blog. I do bhakti when I go to my Sathya Sai Baba group and lose myself in the joy of singing bhajans and also when I dance bharatnatyam. The seva is the part I still need to work on. I would like to do more volunteering and that’s an aspect of my life that I need to get up to par.

bhajan singing

On my way to bhajan singing

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • TF1

    all saints gained
    gyaan(knowledge) through bhakti & karma & other rituals can u
    name some rishis in Hinduism who got gyaan without bhakti or faith in
    god. HOW can u seek oneness with god ie MOKSHA without bhakti.(probably
    except for kapil muni-avatar of vishnu but he too believed in the
    highest being)
    hence in olden days people perused gyaan(ultimate
    knowledge) through bhakti & karma once u get knowledge u r
    automatically set on the path of moksha
    in olden days people perused
    gyaan(ultimate knowledge) through bhakti & karma once you get
    knowledge you are automatically set on the path of moksha
    goal is to get moksha but final gyaan(knowledge) can set u on path of
    moksha but real gyaan does not come from reading books & arguing it
    comes from ur soul

    kapil munis view
    “Kapila said, “Acts only cleanse the body.
    Knowledge, however, is the highest end (for which one strives). When
    all faults of the heart are cured (by acts), and when the felicity of
    Brahma becomes established in knowledge, benevolence, forgiveness,
    tranquillity, compassion, truthfulness, and candour, abstention from
    injury, absence of pride, modesty, renunciation, and abstention from
    work are attained. These constitute the path that lead to Brahma(towards
    moksha). By those one attains to what is the Highest.(towards MOKSHA)”
    (Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CCLXX, p. 270-271).

    • Ambaa

      I didn’t say that people would get moksha without bhakti and karma. In fact, that’s exactly the opposite of what I said. I do think there is a place for book knowledge and studying. I do think that can help some people on the path to moksha, depending on one’s temperament and personality. But there will always come a time when reality is too big for you to understand with your brain.

  • 5w_haul
  • Ambaa

    Sorry if I sounded harsh :) Thank you for commenting!

    • Gopan, Dubai

      All the very best Ambaa…

      Gopan, Dubai.