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Means to Liberation

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli

There are three divisions of religion: The first comprises sacrifices, study, and charity (karma yoga); the second consists of austerities, such as fasting (bhakti yoga); and the third is the life of celibacy and living with the teacher in his house till death (gyana yoga.) People devoted to these three divisions of religion go to heaven after death. But one who is devoted to Brahman attains immortality.

Chandogya Upanishad 2.23.1

There are three paths (Yoga Traya or Yoga Sadhana) to liberation; they are called bhakti, gyana (also transliterated as jnana) and karma yogas. All aim at the same goal, self-realization. A Hindu as practitioner of these yogas or sadhanas is a Sadhak. Man is limited by upadhis (ie: body or mind), which are limitations as well as his means in evolution. The three paths prescribe different methods (though overlapping) to address different faculties and use the upadhis in different ways, depending on the nature of the seeker, to make him transcend the upadhis themselves.

Actions based upon sacrifice, charity, and penance should never be abandoned; they must certainly be performed. Indeed, acts of sacrifice, charity, and penance are purifying even for those who are wise.

Bhagavad Gita 18.5

The message of Hinduism is that liberation can be attained by anyone, and that there is no 'eternal hell' - there are 2 eternal paths available to the soul, which are eternal rebirths and eternal paradise. A person can move out of the cycle of rebirths through either bhakti yoga (devotion), karma yoga (virtuous actions), or gyana marga (asceticism.)

Scriptural class Amount
Vedas 4
Upanishads 108
Puranas 18
Vedangas 6
Shastras 8
Sutras 17


One is of devotion (bhakti) where an individual through devotion for God, attains moksha. This is prescribed for the heart-being. Worship is his method. Devotion means, bliss and love goals.

Realizing God and becoming one with Him is liberation.

There are two stages or forms of bhakti, gauna and mukhya. The former involves the three consciousness qualities, the latter is beyond them. Apara and Para bhakti too, is a similar classification. In the path of evolution the devotee treats devata as having all the noble qualities, a form, and worships with devotion. As inward looking develops (antarmukha), he transcends forms and objects. Alongside, he also transcends desires and attachments. The devotion then takes a para or mukhya form, where he is no more worshipping but actually merging in the infinite. This is the same end that a bhakta, gyani (also called jnani) and karma yogi arrives at.

There are five forms of Bhakti, in the Vaishnava pantheon - santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, madhura. The first is a calm devotion for God and it mainly aims at detachment from worldliness. The remaining four involve emotional attachment with God. Dasya is serving God. Sakhya is treating God as a friend. Vatsalya is treating God as a child and madhura is treating God as husband. Each one basically aims at a total surrender, and really there is no distinction in the true nature of devotion.

There are nine acts of devotion, described in Bhagavata: Sravana (hearing of God's lilas and glory), Kirtana (praising God's glory and his lilas), Smarana (remembering God throughout), Padasevana (service in general), Arcana (worshiping), Vandana (bowing), Dasya (serving like a servant), Sakhya (befriending God) and Atmanivedana (making total surrender).

Thus bhakti uses mind as the upadhi, directs it towards sublimation of its lower tendencies, through love and devotion.


The second is of knowledge (gyana), where one sublimates his lower being through gaining knowledge. This is for the intellect-being. Study/thought is his method. Curiosity is his means, Truth goal.

Knowledge of the True and Absolute is liberation. There are three means in gyana marga, sravana, manana and nidhidhyasana. The first one is listening to a teacher/learned person (about the True, Brahman). The next is manana, to remember and reflect on the teaching, its meaning and idea. The third is to meditate on the Truth spoken of. This eventually leads to discovery of Truth.

Intellection is the method of gyana marga. Differentiating True from untrue and making out the True is the way it is done. Tatva (natural philosophy) and Vedanta (spiritual philosophy) are the subjects to be studied. In general, the Hindu theory is that any sastra when studied leads to tatvic understanding.

There are four requirements for this. The first is Viveka or discrimination between True and untrue. This comes with learning. The second is Vairagya or dispassion or being passive or growing over worldliness. This comes with renunciation of desires. Unlike in Bhakti yoga where desires are directed towards God and hence sublimated without suppression, a level of renunciation is necessary in the sadhaka, in this path. Then concentration and surrender to the purpose, through jijnasa (curiosity) is needed. These qualities are summarized as the third requirement, named shad-sampatti or six "possessions". They are sama (peace of mind), dama (restraint), uparati (being passive to wordliness), titiksha (endurance and perseverance), sraddha (having single-pointed goal, faith and sincerity), samadhana (being equal to the duals and unwavering). Mumukshutva or totally surrendered to realization of Truth or desiring liberation is the fourth requirement.

The stages in evolution are:

  1. Being virtuous, thus purifying thought
  2. Inquiry into self, thus turning the mind inwards
  3. Becoming a mind-being
  4. Becoming an intellect-being
  5. Total detachment and becoming a blissful being
  6. Realization
  7. Liberation

In this, it can be seen that the sadhaka climbs the ladder of seven urdhva lokas and moves into the inner kosas. (More can be seen in the overview on consciousness.)


The third is of works (karma), where one through fulfillment of responsibilities as an individual and then serving fellow beings, attains moksha. This is for the social being. Service is his method. Selflessness is his means, universality, infinity and permanence goals.

Dispassionate, self-less action is the feature of this path. One should do action that causes well-being of people, without seeking results for oneself. The fruit of action should be surrendered to divine. Bhagavad Gita says "karmanyeva adhikaraste, maa phaleshu kadacana" - meaning one is the master of his actions, but not the master of the fruit of his actions. Cause-effect of action is the theory that drives this path. One is supposed to do that action which not only brings down karma sesha but also does not add to it. Selfless and detached action is of that kind.

Thus truth-beauty-permanence, the three aspects of eternal are the goals of these three paths. They are inter-mixing and overlapping paths, with each of them leading to and merging in the others.

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