The 6 Paths Of Spiritual Discipleship (And Choosing The Best One For You)

spirituality, spiritual paths, discipleship, spiritual practice, tantra, yoga, meditation, spiritual growth
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There are many, many ways to awaken and the wise ones understand that one method does not suit all.  People are individuals and have specific traits and tendencies.

Hence, a spiritual practice that is suitable for one person may hold little to no value for another…

Recently I’ve been attending a temple with devotional services and a philosophy that emphasizes service to others.

At least twice a day, devotees have the opportunity to open their hearts and raise their voices with praise to the patron deity and founding guru.  I do enjoy it, and like observing others.

There is one woman in particular who gets very absorbed in her practice.  It so takes her out of herself and into contact with something divine that she momentarily loses awareness of her physical self and surroundings.  It is quite beautiful to watch.  Though I find the program touching, the impact I feel is nothing compared to what she experiences.

On the way home the other night, Native American drumming and chanting was on the radio.  My soul leapt with joy and I sat in the driveway listening, not wanting to miss any of it.  The driving rhythm of the drums and the passionate cries as the spirits were called upon activated something deep within me.  I went inside, feeling exhilarated.  I happily greeted the animals and sang as I put away my groceries.

Both the woman at the temple and I had had similar experiences under different circumstances – one of bhakti and the other tantric.

In the yogic tradition, there are several main foci, or branches, that describe different paths.

Though there is a degree of overlap and most people engage in practices that fall under more than one category, one area of practice will usually resonate most strongly with a student.

Depending on whom you ask, there are four, six, or even more branches.

For the purpose of this piece, we’ll focus on six.

Raja (“royal”) yoga, is the path of meditation and concentration.  When people think of yogis, chances are their connotation is of this type of practitioner.  This path suits those who are introspective, drawn to meditation, and have an inclination towards mastering the mind’s wanderings.  These souls often live in religious communities where they systematically learn to control the restless mind and subdue any inauspicious desires.

The jnana yogis are on the path of wisdom.  Their intellectual side and nimble minds serve as vehicles for expansion.  These are the scholars who find divinity through study of religious scriptures and engage in progressive, rational inquiry of what is real versus what is illusion.  It has been described as both the most direct and the most arduous path.

Some people do not have excellent concentration or keen minds, but have an incredible work ethic and are motivated to help.  These people perform selfless service and thereby purify themselves of any desire to receive anything in return.  All yoga requires a degree of karma yoga as a means to transcend selfish motives, but tireless labor based in love is the hallmark of the adherent of this path.

The aforementioned devotional types are called bhaktis.  These yogis are heart centered and practice from a place of love.  Bhaktis are more emotional in nature and worship the divine as an external, rather than internal, construct.  Their open hearts create spiritual expansion and their capacity to praise the divinity in life and be in awe of the loving nature of creation catapults them to higher levels of awareness.

Mantra yoga is performed through the recitation of sacred sounds.  Traditionally a mantra is given to a student by his or her guru, and this process gives the syllables special power.  It is also possible to awaken the mantra through reciting it over and over again, sometimes tens of thousands of times.  Eventually the student’s energy is shifted towards the divine energy of the mantra.  The mantra can be recited aloud, murmured or hummed, or recited mentally.  The last option is the most powerful if the student has the necessary concentration.

The last branch, tantra, is the most esoteric and most poorly understood.  Unfortunately, Westerners seem to think it is the path of sacred sex.  Though a fringe minority do practice this, the tantric scriptures teach celibacy and this description cheapens the richness of the tradition.  Tantra teaches that the earth is a reflection of the heavens and embraces worldly life as sacred; just about anything can be used as a vehicle for developing consciousness and the body’s energies are manipulated through gross and subtle means to shift the vibrational frequency.  It is highly ritualistic and mystical in nature.  Tantra can be described as the easiest path because it makes use of the tangible, but can be riskier than other techniques as well.

Hatha yoga, which includes yoga poses, breath control, and meditation, is a subset of Tantra, as is yantra yoga (meditation on sacred geometry), kundalini yoga (raising the kundalini energy through esoteric techniques), and laya yoga (dissolving blocks in the subtle body).

The most important lesson of all is to know who you are and what stimulates growth. Many people are unaware of how many options there are and are surprised to know that any of these paths will get you to where you want to be.

This may take some trial and error, and it is not uncommon to try a few different roads before finding an orientation that opens you up.  Be careful not to invest in a path that is not fruitful.

Students waste a lot of time trying to make something work that simply doesn’t or worrying if what they are doing is as good as what someone else is doing.

Let go of any comparisons or peer pressure.  Trust your heart and do what works.

All roads lead to Rome.

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Tara hopes her writing captures her enthusiasm for all things spiritual and her love of fostering growth in others. She sees life as a mystical experience and believes it is far better (not easier) to embrace and explore the mystery rather than staying in your comfort zone.