By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.


Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Hinduism: Week 1

Thursday, September 17, 2015

As I mentioned yesterday, there is allowance for great variety within Hinduism. Surely there are some temperamentally rigid Hindus, but the religion of itself emphasizes concrete practices (yogas) which allow practitioners to know things for themselves. I often wonder if conservative Christians are afraid of the word yoga because they are in fact afraid of concrete orthopraxy! They prefer to strongly believe things but have very few daily practices or yogas.

The summary belief in Hinduism is that there are four disciplines, yogas, toward which different temperaments tend to gravitate. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit for the yoke which unites the seeker with the Sought. Hindus believe that all four yogas can lead one to enlightenment; in other words, there are at least four foundationally different ways of praying and living in this world. C. G. Jung built on these in his human typology of Feelers, Thinkers, Judgers, and Perceivers, now used in the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator. Yet the West has too often tended to try to fit everyone into one and the same box. In Catholicism we at least had Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan, Charity, and Ignatian spiritualities, along with many others.

The four basic Hindu disciplines are:

  • Bhakti yoga—the way of feeling, love, and the heart, preferred by Christianity and most mystics
  • Jnana yoga—the way of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, or head-based enlightenment, preferred by some forms of Buddhism
  • Karma yoga—the way of action, engagement, and work, which can be done in either a knowledge way or a service/heart way, preferred by both Judaism and Islam
  • Raja yoga—this roughly corresponds to experimentation or trial and error with mind and body through practices and empirical honesty about the inner life and the world, preferred by Hinduism itself

Each of these paths leads one to union with the Supreme Reality. For example, Raja yoga focuses on the mind’s ability to create our world through eight sequential steps, ending in enlightenment:

  1. Yamas—five moral “thou shalt nots,” calling for non-violence, truthfulness, moderation in all things, no stealing, and not being covetous
  2. Niyamas—five “thou shalts,” requiring purity, contentment, austerity, study of the sacred texts, and constant awareness of and surrender to divine presence
  3. Asanas—postures (Westerners typically use the word yoga to simply mean asanas.)
  4. Pranayama—controlling the breath
  5. Pratyahara—withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana—concentration of the mind
  7. Dhyana—meditation
  8. Samadhi—enlightenment, union with the Divine

Gateway to Silence:
Moving toward love and union

Image credit: Mariko Bhakti Hirakawa at Veerupaksha Temple, India; photo by Ramnath Bhat
Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Nothing Stands Alone. What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the world? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.