Easwaran’s Talks & Writings

Integrated Yoga: The Three Paths to Illumination

By Eknath Easwaran

The Gita gives us three paths to illumination: karma yoga, the path of selfless action, jnana yoga, the path of spiritual wisdom, and bhakti yoga, the path of love and devotion. All three are based upon the practice of meditation. 

Karma yoga appeals easily to people who are energetic and enterprising, but energy and effort are not enough. There must be no thought of feathering our own nest or of earning profit and prestige, for the moment these thoughts come in, our action is no longer karma yoga. This is what makes karma yoga so difficult, why it takes a giant like Mahatma Gandhi to practice it to perfection. But even though we do not have the stature of Gandhi, we cannot afford to wait until we are completely selfless to act, because that day is a long way off. We can begin karma yoga now, and through the practice of meditation, over a long period of time, we can gradually eliminate all our selfish motives. So for the vast majority of us, the practice of karma yoga has to be based on meditation.

 Jnana yoga is even more difficult; it is like climbing a ninety-degree precipice. Without meditation no jnana, or spiritual wisdom, will come to any of us. Jnana does not refer to intellectual effort but to leaping beyond the duality of subject and object, going beyond the finite intellect into the intuitive mode of knowing – a capacity which is characteristic of a great spiritual genius like Meister Eckhart, and present to some degree even in a great scientific genius like Albert Einstein. For most of us, however, the path of love or bhakti is the safest, the swiftest, and the sweetest.

This word “love” is easy to read and write, but very difficult to put into practice. The basis of all loving relationships is the capacity to put each other’s happiness first. Sometimes it is distressing to try to make another’s happiness more important than our own; yet when we keep at it, there comes a fierce exhilaration. We can go to bed knowing that we have grown a tenth of an inch that day; and one tenth of an inch every day will make us tall by the time the year is out. Spiritual awareness grows little by little; it is sometimes easy to make a spectacular, dramatic gesture, but it is very difficult to bear incessant pinpricks patiently. Life is a permanent state of pinpricks that come in the form of likes and dislikes. Through constant patience and the practice of meditation, we learn to bear these pinpricks until finally we can overcome them joyfully, without effort.

We call our age materialistic, but I notice there is a refreshing change in the younger generation, which has a good deal of detachment from material goods and money. But if detachment is going to be complete, we also have to become detached from our self-will, which often expresses itself in our opinions. People will give away their money, clothes, and gifts, but the one thing they do not know how to give away is their opinions. If we were to stand on a busy street corner tomorrow and distribute our opinions free to anybody who would come and take them, everyone would just ignore us. Nobody wants our opinions because everyone wants to keep his own. One of our strongest drives is to impose our will on others, yet we can never understand why anyone should want to impose his self-will on us. In personal relationships, love expresses itself in accepting the other person’s ways, particularly if they are better than our own.

To have harmonious personal relationships, the practice of meditation is necessary to keep the mind from getting agitated when someone goes against our grain. When we live together in intimate personal relationships, we have to expect a little bruising, a little spraining, and a little bumping, which are all part of life. Those who do not live together, who have not learned to accept the give-and-take of life, are forfeiting one of its fundamental joys: that of being a large family, in which we recognize the unity of life that is divine. In any home, whether with our family or with our friends, living together can multiply the joy of all, for the source of joy is in putting more and more people’s welfare before our own. When we follow the path of integrated yoga, there is a place for selfless action, a place for knowledge, and a special place for love. But all these are governed by meditation, which we should practice every morning and every evening.

This excerpt is from Eknath Easwaran's book End of Sorrow: The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Vol. 1.