Four Paths to the Goal (Hinduism)

Reference: Hinduism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types.

All of us dwell on the brink of the infinite ocean of life’s creative power. We carry it within us: supreme strength, the fullness of wisdom, unquenchable joy. It is never thwarted and cannot be destroyed. But it is hidden deep, which is what makes life a problem. The infinite is down in the darkest, profoundest vault of our being, in the forgotten well-house, the deep cistern. What if we could bring it to light and draw from it unceasingly?

We have tremendous creativity, wisdom and joy in a fully assimilated mental matrix. What if we could achieve that assimilation? 

This question became India’s obsession. Her people sought religious truth not simply to increase their store of general information; they sought it as a chart to guide them to higher states of being. Religious people were ones who were seeking to transform their natures, reshape them to a superhuman pattern through which the infinite could shine with fewer obstructions. One feels the urgency of the quest in a metaphor the Hindu texts present in many guises. Just as a man carrying on his head a load of wood that has caught fire would go rushing to a pond to quench the flames, even so will the seeker of truth, scorched by the fires of life—birth, death, self-deluding futility—go rushing to a teacher wise to the ways of the things that matter most. 

This question became India’s obsession. The answer amounted to transforming the very nature of man. 

Hinduism’s specific directions for actualizing the human potential come under the heading of yoga. The word once conjured images of shaggy men in loincloths, twisting their bodies into human pretzels while brandishing occult powers. Now that the West has appropriated the term, however, we are more likely to think of lithe women exercising to retain their trim suppleness. Neither image is totally divorced from the real article, but they relate only to its bodily aspects. The word yoga derives from the same root as does the English word yoke, and yoke carries a double connotation: to unite (yoke together), and to place under disciplined training (to bring under the yoke, or “take my yoke upon you”). Both connotations are present in the Sanskrit word. Defined generally, then, yoga is a method of training designed to lead to integration or union. But integration of what? 

The techniques that Hindus developed for the assimilation of mental matrix is called yoga.

Some people are chiefly interested in their bodies. Needless to say, they have their Indian counterparts—people who make their bodies the prime objects of their concern and endeavor. For such people India, through centuries of experimentation, has devised the most fantastic school of physical culture the world has ever seen. Not that she has been more interested in the body than the West; her interest has simply taken a different turn. Whereas the West has sought strength and beauty, India has been interested in precision and control, ideally complete control over the body’s every function. How many of her incredible claims in this area can be scientifically corroborated remains to be seen. It is enough here to note that her extensive instructions on the subject comprise an authentic yoga, hatha yoga. Originally it was practiced as preliminary to spiritual yoga, but it has largely lost this connection so it need not concern us here. The judgment of the Hindu sages on this matter can be ours as well. Incredible things can be done with the body if you are willing to give your life to the project, but these things have little to do with enlightenment. If their cultivation stems from a desire to show off, they can actually impede spiritual growth. 

Where body is concerned, yoga is interested in precision and control; but it is only preliminary to spiritual yoga.

The yogas that do concern us are those designed to unite the human spirit with the God who lies concealed in its deepest recesses. “Since all the Indian spiritual [as distinct from bodily] exercises are devoted seriously to this practical aim—not to a merely fanciful contemplation or discussion of lofty and profound ideas—they may well be regarded as representing one of the most realistic, matter-of-fact, practical-minded systems of thought and training ever set up by the human mind. How to come to Brahman [God in Sanskrit] and remain in touch with Brahman; how to become identified with Brahman, living out of it; how to become divine while still on earth—transformed, reborn adamantine while on the earthly plane; that is the quest that has inspired and deified the human spirit in India throughout the ages.”

The purpose of spiritual yoga is to unite the human spirit with Brahman (the fundamental spirit to evolve). This may be described as the union of the individual matrix with the universal matrix.

The spiritual trails that Hindus have blazed toward this goal are four. At first this may seem surprising. If there is one goal, should there not be one path to it? This might be the case if we were all starting from the same point, though even then different modes of transport—walking, driving, flying—might counsel alternate routes. As it is, people approach the goal from different directions, so there must be multiple trails to the common destination. 

The spiritual trails that Hindus have blazed toward this goal are four. 

Where one starts from depends on the kind of person one is. The point has not been lost on Western spiritual directors. One of the most noted of these, Father Surin, for example, criticized “directors who get a plan into their heads which they apply to all the souls who come to them, trying to bring them into line with it like one who should wish all to wear the same clothes.” St. John of the Cross called attention to the same danger when he wrote in The Living Flame that the aim of spiritual directors should “not be to guide souls by a way suitable to themselves, but to ascertain the way by which God Himself is pointing them.” What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types and the disciplines that are most likely to work for each. The result is a recognition, pervading the entire religion, that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its distinctive mode of travel. 

What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types and the disciplines that are most likely to work for each. 

The number of the basic spiritual personality types, by Hindu count, is four. (Carl Jung built his typology on the Indian model, while modifying it in certain respects.) Some people are primarily reflective. Others are basically emotional. Still others are essentially active. Finally, some are experimentally inclined. For each of these personality types Hinduism prescribes a distinct yoga that is designed to capitalize on the type’s distinctive strength. The types are not sealed in watertight compartments, for every human being possesses all four talents to some degree, just as most hands of cards contain all four suits. But it makes sense to lead with the suit that is strongest. 

Some people are primarily reflective. Others are basically emotional. Still others are essentially active. Finally, some are experimentally inclined. 

All four paths begin with moral preliminaries. As the aim of the yogas is to render the surface self transparent to its underlying divinity, it must first be cleansed of its gross impurities. Religion is always more than morality, but if it lacks a moral base it will not stand. Selfish acts coagulate the finite self instead of dissolving it; ill-will perturbs the flow of consciousness. The first step of every yoga, therefore, involves the cultivation of such habits as non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-control, cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, and a compelling desire to reach the goal. 

The first step of every yoga involves the cultivation of such habits as non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-control, cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, and a compelling desire to reach the goal. 

Keeping these common preliminaries in mind, we are ready for the yogas’ distinctive instructions.

.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: