Bhagavan Ramana Explains the Four Paths
Given Below Bhagavan Ramana explains the paths for spiritual growth. These include the paths of Jnana (Self-Inquiry), Yoga (breath control) , Bhakti (devotion), and Karma (selfless actions). Note that Bhagavan starts with Inquiry first and then suggests the other paths for those who find inquiry difficult.
An examination of the ephemeral nature of external phenomena leads to vairagya (detachment). Hence Self-Inquiry (Atma Vichara) is the first and foremost step to be taken. When vichara continues automatically, it results in a contempt for wealth, fame, ease, pleasure, etc. The ‘I’ thought becomes clearer for inspection. The source of ‘I’ is the Heart – the final goal.
If, however, the aspirant is not temperamentally suited to Vichara Marga (path of Self-Inquiry, which is an introspective analytical method), he must develop bhakti (devotion) to an ideal – may be God, Guru, humanity in general, ethical laws, or even the idea of beauty.
When one of these takes possession of the individual, other attachments grow weaker, i.e., dispassion (vairagya ) develops. Attachment for the ideal simultaneously grows and finally holds the field. Thus ekagrata (concentration) grows simultaneously and imperceptibly – with or without visions and direct aids.
In the absence of Inquiry and devotion, the natural sedative pranayama (breath regulation) may be tried. This is known as the Yoga Marga. If life is imperiled the whole interest centers around the one point – the saving of life. If the breath is held the mind cannot afford to (and does not) jump at its pets (external objects). Thus there is rest for the mind so long as the breath is held. All attention being turned on breath or its regulation, other interests are lost. Again, passions are attended with irregular breathing, whereas calm and happiness are attended with slow and regular breathing.
A paroxysm of joy is in fact as painful as one of pain, and both are accompanied by ruffled breaths. Real peace is happiness. Pleasures do not form happiness. The mind improves by practice and becomes finer just as the razor’s edge is sharpened by stropping. The mind is then better able to tackle internal or external problems.
If an aspirant be unsuited temperamentally for the first two methods and circumstantially (on account of age) for the third method, he must try the Karma Marga (doing good deeds, for example, social service). His nobler instincts become more evident and he derives impersonal pleasure. His smaller self is less assertive and has a chance of expanding its good side.
The man becomes duly equipped for one of the three aforesaid paths. His intuition may also develop directly by this single method.
– Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi, No. 27