Ramakrishna Vedanta Ashrama
Ramakrishna Vedanta Ashrama
Afiliado à Ordem Ramakrishna da Índia
Vedanta Movement
What is Vedanta
What is Yoga
Vedanta Movement

Ramakrishna Order and Vedanta Movement

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) was recognised and worshipped in his lifetime as an avatar or incarnation of God. He is one of the greatest mystic of India. The advent of Sri Ramakrishna was to re-establish religion in its universal framework.  He realized God first in Hinduism and then practiced Christianity and Islam. After realizing God in different religions, he proclaimed, “As many faiths, so many paths.”

He created a band of monastic disciples with Swami Vivekananda as their leader. As the first step in realising this goal, he enabled and empowered his disciples with spiritual illumination and inspired them, through Swami Vivekananda, to work in an organised manner for the spiritual awakening of mankind.

The spreading of Sri Ramakrishna's ideas based on the realisation of God through various paths in accordance with Vedantic dictum “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti – The Truth is One, sages call it by various names” is commonly known as the Ramakrishna Movement or Vedanta Movement or Neo-Vedanta Movement.

Although Vedantic teachings have influenced prominent Western thinkers for centuries, the formal Vedanta movement in the West was initiated in 1893 by Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Vivekananda, also simply addressed as 'Swamiji’ burst on the world-stage at the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He represented Hinduism and then disseminated the teachings of Vedanta throughout the United States and Europe.

After returning to India, Swamiji, with the support of the sannyasi and householder disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, established the Ramakrishna Mission Association on 1 May 1897. In 1897, the sannyasi disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were able to set up a permanent monastery at Belur in the Howrah district of present West Bengal state. Popularly known as Belur Math, it became the centre of the Ramakrishna Movement with branch centres springing up across India and in foreign countries. Thus, the Movement took a concrete organizational shape as Ramakrishna Math, registered as a Trust in 1901, and Ramakrishna Mission registered as a Society in 1909.

The Ramakrishna Math is the monastery where young men seeking to realize the Truth join from all faiths, castes and countries. In the Ramakrishna Mission, the same sannyasis work with lay devotees to serve men, women, and children without any distinction of caste, religion or race.

The spirit behind such service is “Shiva jnana Jiva Seva, or Serving individuals seeing the living God in them”. The Math and the Mission, the twin organisations, are together referred to as the Ramakrishna Order or Ramakrishna Sangha.

There are now around 1800 monastic members in the Order.

The Motto: The motto of the Ramakrishna Order was formulated by Swami Vivekananda as “Atmano mokshartam, Jagat-hitaya cha” or “For one's own salvation and for the welfare of the world."

The Ideals: Work as worship, potential divinity of the soul, and harmony of religions are three main ideals on which the Order stands. This ideal of 'service to man is service to God' sustains the hospitals, dispensaries, mobile medical units, schools, colleges, rural development centres and many other social service institutions run by the Order.

The Emblem: The emblem of the Ramakrishna Order depicts Sri Ramakrishna's message in a visual form — harmony of all the paths of sadhana in realising God.

The components of the emblem are “A lake ruffled by the wind; the sun rising, as it were, from its waters; a full-blown lotus rearing its head above two floating leaves; a swan sailing gracefully on the troubled waters; and a serpent with outstretched tongue, upraised hood; and a Mantra in the central part of its body “Tanno Hamsa Prachodayat” meaning 'May the Self inspire and guide us:

Here Sun = Jnana or Knowledge, Stormy water = work, Lotus = love, Serpent = Yoga, and Swan = the Self.

Headquarters: Belur Math, on the banks of river Ganga, is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order. On the other bank of the river is Kolkata, one of the major cities of India.

Services: The Math and the Mission run around 1200 educational institutions (formal & non-formal), 13 hospitals, 124 Dispensaries, 58 Mobile-Medical Units, 7 Nursing Training Institutes, and a number of Tribal and Rural development centres.

Centres: The Ramakrishna Order has 221 branch centres all over the world of which 167 centres are in India, and rest 54 are spread out in 23 other countries.

Since then, the message of Vedanta has continued to spread in the West under the leadership of the swamis of the Ramakrishna Order of India, a monastic institution with headquarters at Belur Math near Calcutta. The Ramakrishna Order is an important religious and philanthropic organization with branches all over India and permanent Vedanta centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, Japan, and other countries. The Order’s spiritual lineage is the ancient Vedantic order of sannyasins (monks) which from the earliest time has existed in India in an unbroken line of teachers and disciples.

The movement has exercised a significant influence in the last hundred years, through Vedanta centres in the United States and Europe, Latin America and other parts of the world. 

In Brasil, Vedanta centres promote the study, practice and teaching of the philosophy and religion of Vedanta, especially as expounded by Sri Ramakrishna and his disciple Swami Vivekananda and demonstrated in their lives.

What is Vedanta

what is VEDANTA

Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India. It is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds.

Vedanta affirms:

· The oneness of existence,

· The divinity of the soul, and

· The harmony of all religions.


A closer look at the word “Vedanta” is revealing: “Vedanta” is a combination of two words: “Veda” which means “knowledge” and “anta” which means “the end of” or “the goal of.” In this context the goal of knowledge isn’t intellectual—the limited knowledge we acquire by reading books. “Knowledge” here means the knowledge of God as well as the knowledge of our own divine nature. Vedanta, then, is the search for Self-knowledge as well as the search for God.

What do we mean when we say God? According to Vedanta, God is infinite existence, infinite consciousness, and infinite bliss. The term for this impersonal, transcendent reality is Brahman, the divine ground of being. Yet Vedanta also maintains that God can be personal as well, assuming human form in every age. Most importantly, God dwells within our own hearts as the divine Self or Atman. The Atman is never born nor will it ever die. Neither stained by our failings nor affected by the fluctuations of the body or mind, the Atman is not subject to our grief or despair or disease or ignorance. Pure, perfect, free from limitations, the Atman, Vedanta declares, is one with Brahman. The greatest temple of God lies within the human heart.

Vedanta asserts that the goal of life is to realize and to manifest our own divinity. This divinity is our real nature, and the realization of it is our birthright. We are moving towards this goal as we grow with knowledge and life experiences. It is inevitable that we will eventually, either in this or in future lives, discover that the greatest truth of our existence is our own divine nature.

Vedanta further affirms that all religions teach the same basic truths about God, the world, and our relationship to one another. Thousands of years ago the Rig Veda declared: “Truth is one, sages call it by various names.” The world’s religions offer varying approaches to God, each one true and valid, each religion offering the world a unique and irreplaceable path to God-realization. The conflicting messages we find among religions are due more to doctrine and dogma than to the reality of spiritual experience. While dissimilarities exist in the external observances of the world religions, the internals bear remarkable similarities.

Unity of Existence

The unity of existence is one of Vedanta's great themes and an essential pillar of its philosophy. Unity is the song of life; it is the great theme that underlies the rich variations that exist throughout the cosmos. Whatever we see and what we experience is but a manifestation of this eternal unity. The divinity at the core of our being is the same divinity that lights up the sun, moon and stars. There is no place where we, infinite in our nature, do not exist. 


While the concept of oneness may be intellectually appealing, it is undoubtedly very difficult to put it into practice. There is no difficulty in feeling this unity with the great and noble beings or with those we already love. It's also not It is difficult for us to experience a feeling of oneness with the trees, the sea and the sky. 


But most of us refuse to experiment with unity with repellent beings such as the cockroach or the mouse – not to mention the obnoxious coworker we can barely tolerate. However, this is precisely where we need to apply the teachings of Vedanta and realize that all these multiple aspects of creation are united in and through divinity. The Being that is inside of me, the Atman, is the same Being that is inside of you, no matter if the “you” in question is a saint, a murderer, a cat, a fly, a tree, or an irritating driver who we come across in traffic. 


“The Self is everywhere,” says the Isha Upanishad. “He who sees all beings in Being, and Being in all beings, hates no one. For those who see oneness everywhere, how can there be disappointment or sadness? ” All fear and all unhappiness arise from our sense of separation from the great cosmic unity, the network of being that surrounds us.


“There is fear of the second/the other”, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Duality, our sense of separateness from the rest of creation, is always a misnomer, as it implies the existence of something other than God. There cannot be any others. “This great preaching, the unity of all things, which makes us one with all that exists, is the great lesson to learn,” said Swami Vivekananda a century ago. …. 


The Self is the essence of the universe, the essence of all souls…. You are one with the universe. One who says he is different from others, even if only by a hair, becomes immediately unhappy. Happiness belongs to the one who knows this unity, who knows he is one with the universe.


The Concept of Maya

Vedanta declares that our real nature is divine: pure, perfect, eternally free. We don't have to become Brahman, we are Brahman. Our true Self, the Atman, is one with Brahman. But if our real nature is divine, why then are we so incredibly unaware of it?


The answer to this question lies in the concept of maya, or ignorance. Maya is the veil that covers our real nature and the real nature of the world around us. Maya is fundamentally unfathomable: we don't know why she exists and we don't know when she started. What we do know is that, like any form of ignorance, maya ceases to exist at the dawn of knowledge, the knowledge of our divine nature.


Brahman is the real truth of our existence: in Brahman we live, move and exist. “All this is truly Brahman,” declare the Upanishads – the scriptures that make up the Vedanta philosophy. The changing world we see around us can be compared to the images moving on a movie screen: without the changeless screen behind it, there can be no film. In the same way, behind this changing world, it is the changeless Brahman – the substratum of existence – who gives the world its reality.


However, for us, this reality is conditioned, like a deformed mirror, by time, space and causality – the law of cause and effect. Furthermore, our view of reality is still clouded by misidentification: we identify with the body, mind and ego, rather than identifying with the Atman, the divine Being.


This original misperception creates further ignorance and pain, in a domino effect: as we identify with the body and mind, we fear illness, old age and death; as we identify with the ego, we suffer from anger, hatred, and hundreds of other torments. Still, none of this affects our real nature, the Atman.

Maya can be compared to clouds that cover the sun: the sun remains in the sky, but the dense cloud prevents us from seeing it. When clouds disperse, we become aware that the sun has been there all along. Our clouds – maya, which arise as selfishness, hatred, greed, lust, anger, greed – are blown away when we meditate on our true nature, when we engage in altruistic actions and when we consistently act and think about ways to manifest our true nature. : that is, through truthfulness, purity, contentment, self-control and patience. This mental cleansing drives away the clouds of maya and lets our divine nature shine through.


Shankara, the great seventh-century Indian philosopher-sage, used the example of the rope and the snake to illustrate the concept of maya. Walking down a dark street, a man sees a snake; your heart beats faster, your pulse quickens. On closer inspection, the “snake” turns out to be a piece of coiled rope. Once the illusion is gone, the snake is gone forever.



Thus, walking down the dark street of ignorance, we see ourselves as mortal creatures, and around us the universe of name and form, the universe conditioned by time, space, and causality. We become aware of our limitations, bondage and suffering. “On closer inspection,” both the mortal creature and the universe are none other than Brahman. Once the illusion is gone, our mortality and also the universe are gone forever. We see Brahman existing everywhere and in all things.

Karma & Re-incarnation

Human suffering is one of religion's most compelling mysteries. Why do innocent people suffer? Why does God allow evil? Can't God do anything or does He choose not to? And if He decides not to, does that mean He's cruel? Or just indifferent?


Vedanta takes the problem out of God's jurisdiction and firmly hands it over to us. We cannot blame either God or a devil. Nothing happens to us at the whim of some external agent: we ourselves are responsible for what life brings us; we are all reaping the results of previous actions, in this life or in past lives. To understand this better we must first understand the law of karma.


The word karma comes from the Sanskrit verb kri, to do. Although karma means action, it also means the result of the action. Any action we have taken or any thoughts we have had created an impression, both in our minds and in the universe around us. The universe gives us back what we gave it: “We reap what we sow,” said Christ. Good thoughts and actions create good effects, bad thoughts and actions create bad effects.

 

Mental impressions

Whenever we perform some action and whenever we have some thought, an impression – a kind of subtle imprint – is created in the mind. These impressions or marks are known as samskaras. We are sometimes aware of this printing process; but just as often we cease to be. When actions and thoughts are repeated, the marks become deeper. The combination of these “marks” – samskaras – creates our individual character and also strongly influences our subsequent thoughts and actions. If we feel angry easily, for example, we create an angry mind that is predisposed to reacting with anger rather than acting with patience or understanding. Just as water gains strength when it moves into a narrow channel, so too do mind imprints create channels of behavior patterns that become extraordinarily difficult to resist or reverse. Changing an ingrained mental habit literally becomes an uphill battle.

If our predominant thoughts are of kindness, love and compassion, our character reflects this and those same thoughts will return to us sooner or later. If we send thoughts of hate, anger or pettiness, those thoughts will also come back to us.

Our thoughts and actions act more like boomerangs than arrows – they eventually find their way back. The effects of karma can come immediately, later in life or in another life; what is absolutely certain, however, is that at some point they will appear. Until liberation is achieved, we live and die within the limits of the law of karma, the fetter of cause and effect.

The Harmony of Religions

"Truth is one, the sages call it by different names," declared the Rig Veda, one of the oldest texts of Vedanta, thousands of years ago.


We all seek the truth, asserts Vedanta, and this truth appears in numerous names and forms. The truth – the spiritual reality – remains the truth, although it appears in different guises and approaches us from various directions. “Whatever path people travel, that is My path,” says the Bhagavad Gita. "No matter where you walk, all roads lead to Me."


If all religions are true, why so much struggle?


Mainly because of politics, and the distortions that cultures and limited human minds impose on spiritual reality. What is generally considered “religion” is a mixture of essential and non-essential things. As Ramakrishna said, all scriptures contain a mixture of sand and sugar. We need to separate the sugar and leave the sand: we must extract the essence of religion – whether we call it union with God or self-realization – and leave the rest behind. Let us embrace anything that helps us to manifest our divinity, and avoid anything that takes us away from that ideal.


The carnage inflicted on the world in the name of religion has very little to do with genuine religion. People fight for doctrines and dogmas; we have not heard of anyone being murdered in an attempt to achieve divine union! A “religious war” is, in reality, enraged selfishness on a large scale. As Swami Prabhavananda, founder of the Vedanta Society of Southern California – USA would say, smiling: “If you put Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed together in the same room, they will embrace; but if you put your followers together, they could kill each other!”
The truth is only one, but it appears filtered by the limited human mind. This mind lives in a particular culture, has its own experience of the world, and lives at a particular point in history. Infinite Reality is then processed through the limitations of space, time, causality, and further processed through the human limits of understanding and language. The manifestations of truth – scriptures, sages and prophets – will necessarily vary from age to age and from culture to culture. Light, when refracted through a prism, appears in many colors when viewed from different angles. However, the light always remains the same and pure light. This is also true when we refer to spiritual truth.


We do not mean that all religions are “almost identical”. This would be an affront to the distinctive beauty and individual grandeur of each of the world's spiritual traditions. To say that each religion is equally true and authentic is not to say that one can be substituted for another, as we do with generic brands of aspirin.


Every Religion has a Gift


Every religion has a specific gift to offer mankind; every religion brings with it a unique point of view, which enriches the world. Christianity emphasizes love and sacrifice; Judaism, the value of spiritual wisdom and tradition. Islam emphasizes universal brotherhood and equality, while Buddhism advocates compassion and mindfulness. Native American tradition teaches reverence for the Earth and the natural world around us. Vedanta, or Hindu tradition, emphasizes the unity of existence and the necessity of direct mystical experience.


The spiritual traditions of the world are like different pieces of a gigantic puzzle: each piece is different and each piece is essential to complete the whole picture. Each piece must be honored and respected, while we stand firm with our particular puzzle piece. We can deepen our own spirituality and learn about our own tradition by studying other beliefs. And equally important: studying our own tradition well will make us better able to appreciate the truth of other traditions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                

Deepening Our Way


Just as we honor the world's different religions and respect their adherents, we must grow and deepen our own particular spiritual path – whatever it may be. We shouldn't explore a little Buddhism, a little Islam and a little Christianity and then try a new combo dish the following week. Spiritual practice is not a varied buffet. If we launch five varieties of desserts in a food processor, the most we'll get is an unpalatable hodgepodge.


While Vedanta emphasizes the harmony of religions, it also emphasizes the need to delve deeply into the spiritual tradition of our choice, clinging to it and working hard. To paraphrase Ramakrishna, if you want to dig a well you have to choose the place and dig deeply until you reach the water. It's no use digging a bunch of shallow holes.


While a shallow spiritual life is probably better than none, it nevertheless doesn't get us where we want to go: to freedom, to God-realization. When we choose the spiritual path we want to follow, we must persistently follow it until we reach the goal. The important thing is that we can do this while not only valuing other traditions, but also learning from them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                

Different Paths: The Same Goal


Vedanta claims that all religions contain the same essential truths, although the packaging is different. And that's good. Every human being on the planet is unique. None of us actually practice the same religion. Each person's mind is different and each person needs their own unique path to reach the top of the mountain. Some paths are narrow, others are wide. Some are meandering and difficult, while others are safe and tedious. In the end, we will all reach the top of the mountain. So we shouldn't worry if our neighbors get lost along the way. They will also be successful. We all need different approaches to match our different natures.


Despite the outward variations of the world's religions, the contents have more similarities than differences. Every religion teaches similar moral and ethical virtues; all teach the importance of spiritual struggle and the need to honor our fellow human beings as part of that struggle.


“As different rivers have their sources in different places, but all mix their waters with those of the sea,” says an ancient Sanskrit prayer, “so too, O Lord, the different paths people take by their different tendencies, though they look different. , winding or straight, all lead to You.”
What is Yoga

WHAT IS YOGA

According to the Vedanta teachings there are four paths we can follow to achieve the goal of understanding our divine nature.  These paths are known as the Four Yogas. We can choose a path based on our personality or inclination, or follow the practices of the paths in any combination.The Four Yogas are Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.


“The grandest idea in the religion of the Vedanta is that we may reach the same goal by different paths; and these paths I have generalised into four, viz those of work, love, psychology, and knowledge. But you must, at the same time, remember that these divisions are not very marked and quite exclusive of each other. Each blends into the other. But according to the type which prevails, we name the divisions. It is not that you can find men who have no other faculty than that of work, nor that you can find men who are no more than devoted worshippers only, nor that there are men who have no more than mere knowledge. These divisions are made in accordance with the type or the tendency that may be seen to prevail in a man. We have found that, in the end, all these four paths converge and become one. All religions and all methods of work and worship lead us to one and the same goal.”

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 1, Ch 8, “The Ideal of Karma Yoga”

Bhakti Yoga - The Path of Love

“The path of devotion is natural and pleasant. Philosophy is taking the mountain stream back to its force. It is a quicker method but very hard. Philosophy says, ‘Check everything.’ Devotion says, ‘Give the stream, have eternal self-surrender.’ It is a longer way, but easier and happier.”

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 7, Inspired Talks, Thursday, July 11

Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion. The devotee approaches God through a loving relationship. This path emphasizes practices such as prayer, chanting, repeating the name of God, Japa, worship and meditation on God as a loving presence in our lives.


For people who are more emotional than intellectual, bhakti-yoga is recommended. This is the path of devotion, the method of reaching God through love and loving remembrance of God. Most religions emphasize this spiritual path because it is the most natural. Like other yogas, the goal of the bhakta, or devotee of God, is to attain God-realization – unity with the Divine. The bhakta achieves this through the force of love, which among emotions is the most powerful and irresistible. Love is accessible to everyone: We all love someone or something, often with great intensity. Love makes us forget about ourselves, with all our attention devoted to the object of our worship. 


The ego loosens its pressure when we think of our loved one's well-being rather than our own well-being. Love gives us concentration: even against our will; we constantly remember the object of our love. Easily and completely painless, love creates the necessary preconditions for a fruitful spiritual life. Vedanta then says: do not waste the power of love. 


Use this mighty force for God-realization. We must remember that when we love another person we actually respond – albeit unconsciously – to the divinity within them. When we read in the Upanishads: "It is not because of the husband that he is loved, but by the Self. It is not because of the wife that the wife is loved, but because of the Self." Our love for others becomes selfless and unmotivated when we are able to find divinity in them. Unfortunately, we often have our love badly. We project our vision of what is true, perfect, and beautiful, and superimpose it onto the thing or person we love.  However, only God is True, Perfect and Beauty itself. 


Vedanta then says: Put emphasis again where it should be placed – on the divine Being within every person we meet. This is the real object of our love. Before becoming obsessed with a limited human being, we must think of God with a longing heart. Many spiritual teachers have recommended adopting a particular attitude of devotion to God: thinking of Him as your teacher, father, mother, friend, child, or beloved. 


The determining factor is knowing which attitude is most natural for us, and which attitude brings us closer to God. Jesus saw God as his Father in Heaven. Ramakrishna worshiped Him as a Mother. Many great saints attained perfection by worshiping the Godhead as baby Jesus or boy Krishna, as their beloved. Others have achieved perfection by worshiping God as their teacher or friend. 


The main point to remember is that God belongs to us: He is the closest to the next, the dearest of the dear. The more our minds are absorbed in thoughts of Him, the closer we will come to reaching the goal of human life, the realization of God. Many are driven to worship God by love and devotion. Other spiritual aspirants, however, are motivated more by reason than by love; for them, bhakti-yoga “peels the cork” of an erroneous spiritual tree. Those who are endowed with a powerful intellect and have a keen capacity for discernment may be better suited to the path of jnana yoga, striving for perfection through the power of reason.


Karma Yoga - the Path of Action

“Karma-Yoga is the attaining through unselfish work of that freedom which is the goal of all human nature. Every selfish action, therefore, retards our reaching the goal, and every unselfish action takes us towards the goal; that is why the only definition that can be given of morality is this: That which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral.”

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 1, Ch 8 The Ideal of Karma Yoga


Karma Yoga is the path of selfless work. Those who follow this path do work as an offering to God and expect nothing personal in return. Karma Yoga teaches us to practice detachment and equanimity in our work, and to understand that the results of any actions are beyond our control.
  • Dedicated work
  • Selfless service
  • Unattachment to the fruits of labor

Karma-yoga is the yoga of action or work; specifically, karma-yoga is the path of consecrated work: it is the renunciation of the results of our actions by performing them as a spiritual offering, instead of accumulating the results of actions for ourselves.


As we mentioned before, karma is the action and the result of the action. What we experience today is the result of our karma – good and bad – created by our previous actions. This chain of cause and effect that we create ourselves can be broken by karma-yoga: fighting fire with fire, we use the sword of karma-yoga to interrupt the chain reaction of cause and effect. By detaching the ego from the work process by offering the results to a higher power – whether it is a personal God or the Self within – we stop the whole process, which grows like a snowball.


Whether we have this awareness or not, we all act all the time, since even sitting and thinking are actions. Since action is inevitable, an integral part of being alive, we need to reorient it to a path that leads to God-realization. As we read in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the holiest scriptures in Hinduism:


Whatever your action,

Food or worship;

whatever the present

That you give it to someone;

whatever you promise

To the work of the spirit...

put this too

As offerings before Me.

We all tend to act with expectations in our minds: we work hard at our jobs to gain respect and appreciation from our peers and promotions from the boss. We clean our gardens and make them lovely in the hope that our neighbors will appreciate them if they don't get decidedly envious. We work hard at school to achieve good grades, anticipating that this will bring us a good future. We prepare a splendid meal with the expectation that it will be greeted with applause and praise. We dress neatly waiting for someone's appreciation. So much of our lives is spent in anticipation of future results that it ends up being done automatically, unconsciously.


This, however, is a dangerous pattern. From a spiritual point of view, all these expectations and anticipations are like Trojan horses that, sooner or later, will bring us suffering. Suffering is inevitable because our expectations and desires are endless and insatiable. We will live from disappointment to disappointment because our motivation is to satisfy and magnify the ego; instead of breaking the shackles of karma, we are forging new chains.
Whatever our temperament, devotional, intellectual or meditative, karma-yoga can easily be practiced in conjunction with other spiritual paths. Even those who lead a predominantly meditative life benefit from karma-yoga, as thoughts can produce bonds as effective as physical actions.

Just as devotees offer flowers and incense in their loving worship of God, actions and thoughts can also be offered as divine worship. Knowing that the Lord exists in the hearts of all creatures, devotees can and should worship God by serving all beings as living manifestations of God. To paraphrase Jesus: what we do for the last of our brothers and sisters, we do for the Lord himself. Says the Bhagavad Gita: "A yogi sees Me in all things, and all things in Me." The highest of all yogis, the Gita continues, is the one “who is inflamed with happiness and suffers the sorrow of every creature” within his own heart.

The jnanis (aspirants following the path of discernment or reason) take a different but equally effective position. They know that although the body and mind perform actions, they actually don't work at all. In the midst of intense activity, the jnani rest in the deep stillness of the Atman. Maintaining the attitude of a witness, they continually remind themselves that they are neither the body nor the mind. They know that the Atman is not subject to fatigue, anxiety or excitement; pure, perfect and free, the Atman has no struggle to engage in, no goal to reach.

The goal of all yogas is to spiritualize our entire life, rather than compartmentalizing our days into "secular" and "spiritual" zones. In this respect, karma-yoga is particularly effective as it does not let us use the activity as an outlet. By insisting that life itself can be sacred, karma yoga gives us the tools of daily life to carve our way to freedom. Quoting again from the Bhagavad Gita regarding karma-yoga:

This way you will get rid of the good and the bad effects of your actions. Offer everything to Me. If your heart is united with Me, you will be freed from karma in this very life, and come to Me at the end.


Raja Yoga - The Path of Meditation

“The science of Raja-Yoga, in the first place, proposes to give us such a means of observing the internal states. The instrument is the mind itself. The power of attention, when properly guided, and directed towards the internal world, will analyse the mind, and illumine facts for us. The powers of the mind are like rays of light dissipated; when they are concentrated, they illumine. This is our only means of knowledge.”

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 1, Chapter 1 Introductory

 “…but all such are especially and earnestly reminded that, with few exceptions, Yoga can only be safely learnt by direct contact with a teacher.

“… each man is only a conduit for the infinite ocean of knowledge and power that lies behind mankind. It teaches that desires and wants are in man, that the power of supply is also in man; and that wherever and whenever a desire, a want, a prayer has been fulfilled, it was out of this infinite magazine that the supply came, and not from any supernatural being.”

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 1, Preface to Raja-Yoga


Raja Yoga is the path of meditation. Meditation is an important practice in all of the paths as it allows us to experience higher states of consciousness where we achieve a deeper understanding of our divine nature. Sri Ramakrishna, a modern day saint and his student Swami Vivekananda, who brought Vedanta to the western world, emphasized the use of a mantra based meditation technique and symbolic images of the divine.
  • Control of mind through meditation
  • Use of mental powers to realize the Atman, true Self
  • Instruction, initiation, is transmitted individually to an aspirant by a teacher, or guru

Raja-yoga is the real path of meditation. Just as a king controls his kingdom, we can also maintain control over our “kingdom” – the vast territory of the mind. In raja-yoga, we use our mental powers to realize and know the Atman through a process of psychological control.


The basic premise of raja-yoga is that our direct perception of Self is obscured by mental disturbances. If the mind can be kept in a calm and pure state, the Self will shine automatically, instantly. As the Bhagavad Gita says:


When, through the practice of yoga,

The mind ceases its restless movements

and become calm

The spiritual aspirant will realize the Atman.


If we can imagine a lake torn by waves, contaminated by pollution, made muddy by tourists, and turbulent by boats, we can understand what the usual state of mind is in most people.


If anyone doubts this, let this intrepid soul sit quietly for a few minutes and think about the Atman. What is going to happen? Thousands of different thoughts attack us, all of them taking the mind down. The fly that flies nearby suddenly becomes very important. Perhaps the thought of dinner arises. We don't remember where we left the keys. The fervent discussion we had yesterday becomes even more powerful; this is the repertoire we composed during our “meditation”. The same moment we leave a thought, another one jumps on us with the same force. If it weren't so tragic, it would be funny.


Most of the time, we are not aware of erratic mental movements, as we are used to “letting go of the reins” of our mind: we never bother to observe it, let alone control it. Just as undisciplined parents raise children whose company everyone avoids; likewise, our lack of mental discipline has created a turbulent, misbehaving mind that brings us endless difficulties. Without psychological discipline, the mind becomes like a wild monkey. And all of us, sad to say, have suffered in our lives a lot of mental agony because of it.


Mastering the mind


While we may have become accustomed to living with an uncontrolled mind, we must never assume that this state is acceptable or inevitable. Vedanta says that we can control the mind, and that, by constant practice, we can make it our servant instead of being its victims.


Now, instead of the polluted lake we imagined earlier, think of a beautiful, clear lake. No waves, no pollution, no tourists, no boats. He is transparent as glass: calm, quiet, peaceful. Looking down through the crystal clear waters, we can clearly see the bottom of the lake. The bottom of the lake, metaphorically speaking, is the Atman that resides in the depths of our hearts. When the mind becomes pure and calm, the Self does not remain hidden from our view. And Vedanta says that mind can be yours.


But how? Let us quote again from the Bhagavad Gita:


Patiently, little by little, spiritual aspirants must free themselves from all mental distractions, with the help of intelligent will. You must fix your mind on the Atman and think of nothing else. No matter where the restless mind wanders, it must be brought back and submitted only to the Atman.


 The mind can be purified and tranquilized through the repeated practice of meditation, and the practice of the moral virtues.


Folk wisdom aside, it is impossible to practice meditation without practicing moral virtues side by side. Trying otherwise will be as effective as navigating the ocean with a boat with a leaky hull.

 

To accomplish this Herculean task of knowing the Atman, all mental areas must be fully engaged. We cannot compartmentalize our lives and assume that we can have both a "secular" area (in which we can live as we wish), and a "spiritual" area. Just as we can't cross the ocean with the flat-hulled boat, we can't cross the same ocean with two legs in two different boats. We must completely integrate all aspects of life and direct all energies towards the great goal, which is unique.


This does not mean that, in order to realize God, one must completely renounce the world and live in a cave, a monastery or a convent. What really matters is that all aspects of our lives are spiritualized so that they can be directed towards achieving the spiritual goal, which is the realization of God.


Since raja-yoga is the path of meditation, it is – when practiced exclusively – followed by those who lead contemplative lives. Most of us will never fall into that category. Raja yoga is, however, an essential component of all other spiritual paths, as meditation is included in the absorption of love for God, in the discernment of reason, and is an essential part of balancing selfless actions.


Meditation


Instructions and teachings on how to meditate, and what the object of meditation should be, should be learned directly from a qualified spiritual master. Meditation is an intensely personal matter; only a genuine spiritual master can accurately measure the personal tendencies of his students and properly direct their minds.


Furthermore, spirituality is something that must be absorbed, not taught. A genuine spiritual master kindles the flame of spirituality within the student by the power of his own inner achievements. We would say that the student's candle is lit by the master's flame. Our candles cannot be lit by books, just as they cannot be lit by unqualified teachers, who speak of religion but do not live what they preach. True spirituality is conveyed: only pure-minded, selfless masters who have had a certain spiritual awakening are able to light our unlit candles.

Taking all this into account, some basic instructions can be given: any concept of God – whether form or formless – that pleases us is good and useful. We may think that God exists both outside and within us. Sri Ramakrishna, however, recommended that we meditate within ourselves, saying, "The heart is a splendid place to meditate." The repetition of any name of God that pleases us is good, as is the repetition of the syllable “Om” beneficial. It is very good and advisable to have a regular, daily period for meditation, in order to create the habit; in the same vein, it is a great help to meditation to have a constant place for practices that is calm, clean, and peaceful.  

Jnana Yoga - The Path of Knowledge

“The sages of the world have only the right to tell us that they have analysed their minds and have found these facts, and if we do the same we shall also believe, and not before.”
― Swami Vivekananda, Jnana Yoga


Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. In this path the seeker uses reason and discernment to discover the divine nature within by casting off all that is false, or unreal. This practice shows us that the Supreme Reality resides within.
  • Discrimination between real and unreal
  • Non-dualistic, or advaita Vedanta
  • Self-affirmation
  • Discovery of one’s true nature

Jnana-yoga is the yoga of knowledge—not knowledge in the intellectual sense—but knowledge of Brahman and Atman and the realization of their unity. While the devotee who practices the path of bhakti-yoga follows the promptings of his heart, the jnani uses the powers of the mind to discriminate between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the transient.

The jnanis, followers of the non-dualistic Vedanta or Advaita Vedanta, may also be called monists, as they assert the unique reality of Brahman. Certainly, all Vedanta followers are monists: all Vedantists affirm the unique reality of Brahman. The difference here lies in spiritual practice: while all Vedantists are philosophically monistic, in practice those who are devotees of God prefer to think of God as distinct from themselves in order to enjoy the sweetness of a relationship. The jnanis, on the other hand, know that all duality is ignorance. It is not necessary to look for divinity outside of ourselves: we are already divine ourselves.

What keeps us from knowing our true nature and the nature of the world around us? The veil of maya. Jnana-yoga is the process of completely unveiling this veil, tearing it apart by a twofold approach.

An Unreal Universe

The first part of the approach is negative, the process of neti, neti – not this, not this. Everything unreal – that is, impermanent, imperfect, subject to change – is rejected. The second part is positive: everything that is understood to be perfect, eternal, unchanging – is accepted as real in the highest sense.

Are we saying that the universe we perceive is unreal? Yes and no. In the absolute sense it is unreal. The universe and our perception of it have only a conditional, not a definitive, reality. Returning to our earlier reference to the rope and the snake: the rope, that is, Brahman, is perceived as a snake, that is, the universe as we perceive it. As long as we are looking at the snake, it has a conditional reality. Our hearts flutter in reaction to our perception. When we see the “snake” for what it is, we laugh at our illusion.

Likewise, everything that we apprehend by our senses, our minds, our intellects, is inherently limited by the very nature of our bodies and minds. Brahman is infinite; it cannot be limited. Therefore, this universe of changes – of space, time and causation – cannot be the infinite and omnipresent Brahman. Our minds are constrained by all possible conditions; whatever the mind and intellect apprehend cannot be the infinite fullness of Brahman. Brahman must be beyond what the normal mind can comprehend; as the Upanishads declare, Brahman is "beyond the reach of speech and mind."

Yet what we perceive can be no other than Brahman. Brahman is infinite, all-pervading, and eternal. There cannot be two infinites; what we see at all times can only be Brahman; any limitation is only our own misperception. Jnanis forcefully remove this misperception through the negative process of discrimination between the real and the unreal and through the positive approach of Self-affirmation.

Self-Affirmation

In Self-affirmation we continually affirm what is real about ourselves: we are not limited to a small physical body; we are not limited by our individual minds. We are Spirit. We were never born; we will never die. We are pure, perfect, eternal and free. That is the greatest truth of our being.

The philosophy behind Self-affirmation is simple: as you think, so you become. We have programmed ourselves for thousands of lifetimes to think of ourselves as limited, puny, weak, and helpless. What a horrible, dreadful lie this is and how incredibly self-destructive! It is the worst poison we can ingest. If we think of ourselves as weak, we shall act accordingly. If we think of ourselves as helpless sinners, we will, without a doubt, act accordingly. If we think of ourselves as Spirit—pure, perfect, free—we will also act accordingly.

As we have drummed the wrong thoughts into our minds again and again to create the wrong impressions, so we must reverse the process by drumming into our brains the right thoughts—thoughts of purity, thoughts of strength, thoughts of truth. As the Ashtavakra Samhita, a classic Advaita text, declares: “I am spotless, tranquil, pure consciousness, and beyond nature. All this time I have been duped by illusion.”

Jnana yoga uses our considerable mental powers to end the duping process, to know that we are even now—and have always been—free, perfect, infinite, and immortal. Realizing that, we will also recognize in others the same divinity, the same purity and perfection. No longer confined to the painful limitations of “I” and “mine,” we will see the one Brahman everywhere and in everything.