Spiritual pathways: practice and pitfalls

There are several common spiritual pathways. Each person will make their own unique journey of awakening, but typically will employ one or many spiritual yogas as part of their practice, including: service, devotion, inquiry, energy practices, and mysticism. While most spiritual practices may change or be dropped on the advanced path, each have their pitfalls and some of those tendencies may persist. Let’s take a closer look.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the yoga of service, the generosity of time and energy in service to others. It provides the opportunity to go beyond your limited self, to reduce focus on your own pain or concerns, and to give back. Doing something for someone else is one of the fastest ways to feel happy.

When offered selflessly, being of service tends to stop the activity of the ego. But sometimes the yoga of service is done to accumulate “good karma points” and instead of wearing down the ego, a form of righteousness or identity as one who is “generous” or “selfless” sets in.   To fully wake up, all forms of identity and all aspects of the self – those perceived as both positive and negative – must be released. If you notice any tendency to think that you are special for being of service, for teaching, or for your generosity in any form, let that go.

“You finally realize that good karma is just as binding as bad karma (if you believe in karma at all) and that you will never win at the karma game.”

Advanced Path book

Bhakti Yoga and Guru Yoga

Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion, and Guru Yoga, the yoga of dedication to your spiritual master, are both beautiful practices of love. Sri Ramakrishna is a gorgeous example of a bhakti yogi in his devotion to the Mother in all her forms. In Guru Yoga, visualization techniques or meditation on your guru’s form (using a murti or in person), are used to merge your mind with their diamond mind, or be granted the grace of awakening via their spiritual transmission.

Yogas of the heart are beautiful beyond measure, and as in the case of Sri Ramakrishna, can result in ecstatic samadhi and Self-realization. There is the risk, though, of seeing yourself as separate from the object of your devotion. That sense of separateness may prevent you from awakening to your own true nature as one with all things.

“There is no difference between you and your teachers. If you think there is any difference, you have created a false separation that will keep you in illusion.”

Advanced Path book

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga, or the yoga of self-inquiry, is often called the yoga of knowledge, because it involves coming to know your true nature as pure consciousness or God through the practice of discrimination. One of the core inquiries of this yoga is the potent question, Who (or what) am I? Another key practice is neti, neti (not this, not this), which allows practitioners to realize what they are not as a way to discover who they truly are. What is changing is viewed to be unreal, and what is changeless – consciousness, the Absolute – is seen as real.

Jnana yoga is a powerful practice that can cut through illusion to reveal Truth. However, discrimination practices can result in a type of dissociation, a feeling that the relative world is somehow “bad” or inferior and the Absolute is supreme. What is eventually seen through awakening is that samsara is nirvana (the relative world is the Absolute). In other words, there is nothing at all that is not consciousness itself.

“Valuing the absolute over the relative is a kind of judgment, a type of egoic clinging.”

Advanced Path book

Kundalini Yoga and Mysticism

Kundalini Yoga is focused on the flow of energy in the various bodies. Through a variety of practices, including meditation, energy is circulated throughout the body or directed through energy centers and results in healing, increased personal energy, and ultimately, the experience of samadhi, or perfect union with God. Mysticism is a broad term for the direct experience of God.

Kundalini Yoga and Mysticism can lead to union with the divine and total absorption in God. Both often result in powerful spiritual experiences, including visions, spontaneous healing, the acquisition of personal powers, and ascended samadhi. But those spiritual experiences can be addictive, often becoming traps and a focus in their own right, instead of merely signs or stepping-stones to real awakening. Many people have thwarted their own journey to enlightenment by loving the effects of the practice more than the intended result.

“The addiction to higher spiritual states is what often prevents full enlightenment.”

Advanced Path book

Every pathway to enlightenment offers a set of unique tools and a beautiful journey to the same ultimate outcome: full awakening. Yet any technique, strategy, practice or experience will have its limitations. Knowing the benefits, as well as the potential pitfalls, will help you travel with eyes wide open on your own path. Spending time in silence every day without expectations will keep your practice “real” and fresh by moving you beyond concepts into pure light.

© 2015 Mu. Mu is the author of the book Advanced Path: Guideposts on the Radiant Path to Liberation and Beyond, available on Amazon, Amazon CanadaAmazon UK and Amazon DE.

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