The terms hatha-yoga, karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, bhakti-yoga, laya-yoga and others are familiar to everyone and they play an important role in positioning yoga as a system. Although they are not used in Yoga Sutras (except for the term kriya-yoga), these terms are rather old and one can find them already in Mahabharata . This division of yoga into types was often mentioned in yogic Upanishads and other medieval texts. For European people this division (in some simplified version: only hatha, raja, karma, bhakti and jnana yoga) became available due to Vivekananda.
Yet when coming to study habitual (for instance, those widely spread in the Internet) definitions one cannot but notice that rather often there is some ordourof religiosity in them. An inexperienced reader may have difficulties in understanding: where is the yoga in all this? The term “karma yoga” is being actively and constantly used for direct exploitation of western students in India, not to mention the “bhakti”…
That is why I’ve decided to deviate a bit from the text of “Yoga Sutras” in order to explain these two notions.
An erroneous or, better to say, degenerate perception of karma yoga lies in thinking that a person can advance through “devotion” and “dedicated work”, by carrying out some useful social activity. I will latershow that this idea has some reasons yet in order to become a truly sound one it lacks a fundamental element. Some religionized schools take this statementand draw from it a simple (and there fore incorrect) practical conclusion, “loading up” the students who come to learn with various socially beneficial activities like washing floors or peeling potatoes.
The ideology of this act, just like its effectiveness, painfully resembles that “sending” of scientific workers and intellectuals “to dig potatoes” that was practiced in the USSR.
In order to understand what karma yoga is let usturn to the concept of the development, the advance as such, based upon Yoga Sutras and common sense.
The development is the expansion of one’s range ofcapabilities, mastering of new skills and abilities, crystallization of inner observer, gaining the independence from vritti and expansion of one’s consciousness.
And if we take a look from any of the mentioned positions it will be obvious that it is notevery type of socially beneficial activity that leads to one’s development but only the one related to ultimate self-exertion, the attempt to do more than you were able to do before. The activity “on the verge of one’scompetence”. It is here that we understand the corepoint and the action mechanism of karma yoga whichidea is that a person can develop through his social activity.
Let us take the simplest and the most widely spreadvariant of such development – one’s adaptation to new activity, new profession and social environment. Person’s getting into some activity it is inevitably associated with some hardships. And on the contrary: the activity that is too easy and obvious is not that attractive. In their bones people feel that they canadvance only when they set themselves inevident tasks, by reaching up the “ceiling of their competence”. Eachtype of activity in implicit form contains the Laws of Nature that a person must comprehend in order to become effective. In this sense the social medium is transcendental in relation to a person, and finding by a person of these regularities comes as the act of self-expansion and extension of his consciousness.
The most curious thing is that these laws may be obvious toeveryone but for the searching person himself, they canbe even more than once uttered by his colleagues or set forth in writing, but still taking these Laws as spiritual ones is a difficult act related to overcoming the habitual boundaries of one’s self. Thus karma yoga is not just the readiness to follow one’s dharma (social functions) but it is also the whole of efforts of mastering the skills and states required for this.
Let us notice that this interpretation of karma yoga totally resounds with its recital given in Bhagavad Gita where this term was actually used for the first time.
Arjuna experienced emotional difficulty in fulfillinghis dharma of a hero and a leader. In fact he faced theproblem that – no matter how banal it may sound – is known well to many leaders and managers: the need to sacrifice good fellowship with someone (or this person himself) for the weal of one’s own business. Krishnahelped to come out of crisis or, more exactly, gave anumber of variants of coming out of it, including exposition of the karma yoga doctrine that in fact camedown to total acceptance of one’s role: “If you are a warrior – fight as a warrior”. The same choice is madeby a leader who should choose between being a “Mr. Nice Guy” for an employee under dismissal or a “successful manager”.
Of course the methods ofdismissal used by Arjuna were a bit too drastic if compared with those conventional today, but the core point is the same ;). Similarly to this the religious degeneration of theterm bhakti-yoga also takes place.
The traditionaldefinition states that bhakti-yoga is the “yoga of divinelove” or “love for god”, but they forget about the most important thing that yoga is the development that has this love as its tool (or source). In order to understand this let us turn to the experience available – the love for another person or fascination with another person. Indeed, when you fall in love – and people always fallin love with those who are unlike them in some aspects – you suddenly find out that this other person is a whole world that is dissimilar to you and lies beyond you. And in order to even co-exist together you need tolet this world in, to get to know it, to master new skillsand capabilities that you earlier used to do fairly well without, to act in the way that you would never act before.
It is this very love that comes as your motivatorhere. Yet mere experiencing this state of love of itselfdoes not stimulate your advance. It will develop youonly in case when under the influence of this energyyou start to do something with your self – by changing yourself, or for this other person – by trying to improve his life. In the same way, the energy of fascinationupgrades a person only when having admired something the person starts to strive for something previously inaccessible, once again mastering the new skills. One’s mere staying within the state of dulladmiration and “drying scarce tears” does not develop.
Similarly, the state of love to a deity (even if onemanages to nurture
it) does not develop of its own accord but only when it incites to some certain actions.
Indeed, what does it mean “to feel love for God?” If translated to standard language this will mean to love this Universe. Including the aspects that are so far transcendent in relation to you, that go beyond the scope of your understanding and conceptualization. Itis a human norm – to love one’s own life, own small world, the nomos, if to have it in Greek. If a person does not love it – this is a symptom of a disease. But to love something bigger, the thing that goes beyond the scope of your habits, views and creeds (pramana,viparya, vikalpa…) – this is something more difficult.It always requires the ability to sacrifice one’s own habitual boundaries.
For instance, due to love of truthone has to sacrifice one’s conventional views. And the majority of people are not able to do this – to give up their views in order to see something bigger, more global. Not only in scientific sense but in the “commonplace” one as well (if it does exist).
Forinstance, to give up the habits in order to take a totally new experience… And this is it – the genuine,non-ambivalent bhakti-yoga: bright, emotional and – what is most important – active thirst for comprehending something beyond you, based upon genuine love for Life. And this one is far from ecstatic drumming and delirious mumbling of mantras.
But why did it happen – this degradation of the term and the practice? I think the situation here is similar to ordinary love that is also “over-chattered” in the social environment, in the sense that it is much and obtusely talked over so that people are istilled with erroneous stereotypes. Yet many people lack the veryexperience of this love.
Merely saying “I love you” iseasy, and suffering from “one-way” love is glamorous;and it goes without doing anything for another person,just taking offence at him or being jealous. But what’s love got to do with this? This is just an erroneous useof the “void notion” (vikalpa). However a substantial part of social life is based upon this very “void” understanding, giving rise to disappointment and aggression instead of development.
The same happensto the concept that they use to refer to as bhakti-yogain pseudo-esoteric environment. The external entourage has been preserved, the words used seem to be correct – but there is no sense there, and no development in it.
 Though the context of using these terms in, for instance, Bhagavad Gita, somehow differs from that of today.
Thereevery chapter ends by the words “here endeth chapter x entitled “…-Yog” and yoga rather means something we would treat as a method or certain psycho-practice, while today each type of yoga is associated with an institutionalized system.