In this volume we will include another little chapter from the VFA produced book, “Vedic Culture: The Difference it can Make in Your Life.” This will help to show that no matter what a person’s background may be, there is something there in the Vedic path for everyone.
All the best, and Hari Om,
Stephen Knapp, email@example.com
The Main Vedic Spiritual Paths:
Something for Everyone
By Stephen Knapp
In the Vedic system it is described that the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Reality, manifests in three forms; namely the impersonal and all-pervading Brahman, the localized expansion of the Supreme known as the Paramatma or Supersoul or Lord in the Heart, and then Bhagavan, the Supreme Person. These different traits of God are also presented in other religions as well, but the information they provide are only hints compared to the depth of understanding that we find in the Vedic knowledge. The Vedic information gives a full elaboration on the nature of the impersonal Brahman, as well as the localized expansion of the Paramatma, and Bhagavan, the Supreme Being.
There is not enough room to fully explain each aspect in this article, but the Vedic system provides the means and methods so that any individual can realize any one or each of these aspects of the Supreme. In fact, it is said that until one realizes all three of these aspects of God, his or her understanding of the Supreme remains incomplete. The uniqueness of the Vedic system is that it expects that everyone should have their own realizations of the Absolute Truth. It is not enough merely to have blind faith in a dogma or whatever is propounded by a religion without the means to have one’s own perception of the Highest Truth. To keep one bound by Faith alone without the means for furthering one’s spiritual development is to keep people stifled, limited, undeveloped, or more easily controlled.
The Vedic system provides the means for the individual to decide how much spiritual progress he or she wishes to make, and thus gives the methodologies that a person can use to progress. It also provides the system that will allow a person to more completely understand and realize any of the three particular aspects of God, as mentioned above. So let us get a glimpse into the four main types of spiritual paths that are offered by Vedic culture. Let us not forget that other spiritual avenues are also offered and contained within the Vedic system.
THE PURPOSE OF RELIGION
Obviously, the purpose of religion is to raise our consciousness, to preserve our moral standards, and to further develop our devotion to God. This is, essentially, the way of piety. However, it does not necessarily provide one with the means of being truly spiritual. Being spiritual means to recognize one’s spiritual identity and practically see the spiritual essence of all others. It also means to see that we are all parts and parcels of God and to respect each other in that light. But how can we be convinced that there even is a God?
We need to understand that all things that are spiritual function on a higher plane of existence, one that is hardly perceptible by our mind, intelligence or senses. The spiritual dimension can only be detected when our consciousness reaches a higher level of awareness. It is similar to radio and television waves. These are not perceptible by our mind or senses. They remain invisible, yet they are all around us. In our base level of awareness, or unawareness, we may think that such things as radio waves and television frequencies are not real. Of course, we may be viewed as quite retarded by those who are familiar with their existence. So the thing is, even if you cannot perceive them, if you have a receiver that can detect or even utilize such subtle waves or frequencies, then you will know that radio and television waves are not only a fact, but can be used for many practical purposes.
The same thing goes for religion, or a genuine spiritual path. They are meant to bring our consciousness up to a higher level of awareness, to fine tune it so that we can receive or perceive the higher vibrations of the spiritual strata. As we practice a genuine spiritual tradition, then our consciousness can become refined and focused enough so we can receive the subtle frequencies and perceive the reality of the spiritual domain. Then we can have our own spiritual experiences. The point is that the more spiritual we become, the more we can perceive that which is spiritual. As we develop and grow in this way, the questions about spiritual life are no longer a mystery to solve, but become a reality to experience. It becomes a practical part of our lives. And how to reach that level of perception is supplied in the methodologies that have been preserved and handed to us by the previous sages who have also used them for their own development and spiritual experience. And that is what the Vedic system has been giving to humanity for thousands of years.
The Vedic system is practically non-denominational. It is not for any one culture or ethnic group. It is for all of humanity and is called Sanatana-dharma and yoga. Sanatana-dharma is both a path and a state of being. It means, essentially, the eternal nature of the soul. We are all spiritual beings within material bodies, so the goal is to regain that spiritual identity. This comes by a reawakening of our spiritual identity and consciousness. It is through the process of yoga and the path of Sanatana-dharma that we can reach this higher awareness and percieve exactly who we are.
We mentioned in a previous chapter about the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali that comprise the essence of yoga practice. However, yoga itself is a deep and serious process, and there are a variety of forms of yoga that can be performed. There is the path of intellect (jnana-yoga), the path of action (karma-yoga), the path of inward meditation (astanga or raja-yoga) and the path of devotion (bhakti-yoga). However, in the preliminary stages, Yoga is, essentially, for controlling the flickering nature of the mind, and for developing one’s finer qualities and expanding one’s consciousness from material to spiritual awareness. When you progress in yoga you can feel the unwanted burdens of the mind fall away, such as anxiety, anger, greed, envy, hate, discontent, etc. Then other qualities like peacefulness, tranquility, contentment, and blissfulness will be felt. These are qualities everyone is trying to find and are some of the many things that can be accomplished with yoga, at least on the elementary level. As you make further progress, you may enter into the deeper levels of understanding and transcending the mind and gradually go so far as to attain realizations as to what your own spiritual identity is and what your relationship is with the Absolute. Becoming free from material life and regaining one’s spiritual identity is the goal of all yoga. The Sanskrit root of the word yoga is yuj, which means to link or unite with the Supreme. And the word religion, which comes from the Latin word religio, means to bring back or bind to God. Thus, there is no difference between the goal of yoga and the goal of religion. So let us take a look at some of these forms of yoga.
There are thousands of people who practice hatha-yoga, some say more in California than in all of India. However, hatha-yoga is not a separate system of yoga as many people seem to think, but was developed as one of the eight steps of raja-yoga. It is described in such early texts as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita. Lord Shiva is said to be the originator of the system found in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This is highly regarded by the Nath tradition founded by Gorakshnath and his teacher Matyendranath, who was accepted to be a disciple of Lord Shiva.
In any case, hatha-yoga is one of the most popular forms of yoga, which can be done by anybody, regardless of how serious he or she may be about attaining higher levels of spiritual development. Although it is a part of a spiritual process, when taken as an isolated exercise technique it can be completely secular as well. It can be used strictly for physical and mental development, if that is all one wishes to do with it. It involves maneuvering the body through different asanas or exercises, along with breathing techniques for controlling the life airs within the body. This is the prana, the universal energy that comes through the body. Prana is divided into certain bodily airs that function in different ways. Prana is the incoming and outgoing breath; apana, is the air which expels bodily waste; vyana assists in the power of physical movement; samana distributes nutrition through the body; and udana is the air in the sushumna channel. Hatha-yoga is basically for helping keep the body in shape and free from disease, the mind peaceful and steady for spiritual pursuits, and the inner energy balanced and flowing. This, however, is very useful in whatever spiritual process we pursue because if our body is too diseased, and if our mind is too restless and unsteady, they become a hindrance in our quest for spiritual awareness or perfection. Thus, with the practice of hatha-yoga, the body and mind become healthier and our spiritual practice can continue with fewer impediments. Thus, it is beneficial regardless of what is one’s spiritual discipline or even when there is no spiritual interest at all.
Karma-yoga is another system that many westerners often talk about. This is for attaining perfection through right action, which is something that this world could use more of. This sort of action is based on religious texts for one’s purification and future happiness, such as entering heaven after death. These activities may include ritualistic worship of the demigods, as well as a variety of other things, such as avoiding the causing of any harm to all other living beings, and doing activities for the good of others who may be less fortunate, or digging public water wells, or doing other humanitarian work. The main interest of practicing karma-yoga is for oneself and in achieving good future results rather than transcendence. In other words, this path is for one who is still attached to materialistic fruitive activities. A karma-yogi works for acquiring good karma for himself so that he can get a better future, such as a birth in heaven or a higher status. But in the more elevated forms of karma-yoga, the results of whatever a person does are meant to be offered to God as regulated by the rules in the Vedic literature. When one gives the fruits of his work to God, the work becomes yoga or linked to the Supreme, which makes such actions free of all karma. Without dovetailing one’s work for God in this way, all activities that are performed for one’s own interest or development simply cause one to accumulate more karma, not to be free of it. So karma-yoga is meant to be a means to work in the world but in a way that can rid oneself of all karma and establish a strong connection with God. Then work becomes yoga. By giving the results to God, one becomes freed from the reactions of such work and also begins to make advancement on the path of yoga. Thus, as a person becomes free from all karma, he becomes free from taking any more births in the material world. So karma-yoga is considered to be the transitional stage between material and spiritual life. Nonetheless, one’s karma (as I have explained in my book The Secret Teachings of the Vedas) should be a concern for everyone.
Jnana-yoga is the path to enlightenment through the process of mental speculation and the study and acquirement of empirical knowledge. On a deeper level, jnana (pronounced gyana) or jnana-yoga is the process of discriminating between truth and non-truth, or reality and non-reality, maya, and understanding what is the Divine. This is the knowledge of the soul and God, and the relationship between them. Therefore, the acquirement of jnana or spiritual knowledge is one of the first steps in spiritual development.
The aspirant of jnana-yoga engages in long hours of study and discussion in the attempt to understand the highest truth. One following this path must also accept the authority of the great sages and study in their association. Without proper guidance along this path one can easily become confused about what is actually the Absolute Truth. By merely involving the cognitive intellect, which is the main activity of the jnana-yogi, one simply remains on the mental or intellectual platform. Therefore, it can be very difficult for the jnana-yogi to rise above material existence and enter the spiritual realm. The reason for this is that knowledge alone does not purify the consciousness, although it can help one understand the proper path to take. One should not forever remain a seeker of truth, but should reach a stage of following the path that will give one realization of what the Absolute Truth is and enable him to reach the spiritual strata. This is the level of vijnana or practical and realized knowledge. The spiritual strata should not always be a mystery to solve or a quest to reach, but through the proper perceptions become a reality to experience. Vijnana is this realize knowledge.
However, in jnana-yoga much of what we find today is advaita-jnana, the knowledge of the non-dual impersonal aspect of God wherein the idea is presented that the individual soul and God are the same, and that God is the impersonal Brahman.
The preliminary levels of jnana may be acquired from books, but it is generally accepted that a person must receive the deeper avenues of this knowledge from a genuine jnani, a realized teacher. When a student has attained the means of accessing this knowledge, he must continuously absorb his mind in the concepts that are presented until his mind and consciousness completely adopts it. This is a long process and in earlier ages would generally take many lifetimes. Even if a student tries to do this with utmost sincerity, the conception of the Brahman for the advaita-jnani is inconceivable and unimaginable. So it can be difficult to actually get a grasp as to what the soul’s identity is in connection with the Brahman.
After following this path perfectly, the mind is expected to become purified until it can perceive the reflection of the soul, which is beyond all mayic or illusory forms of experience, and thus beyond all external limitations. This level of perception is the stage of pure goodness or the pure sattvic level. Such a perception of the soul is when the jnani is said to have attained the stage of Self-realization. This level of enlightenment is as far as this process can take one. Though it is a major accomplishment, it still has not taken one all the way to God or to understanding one’s relationship with God. Knowledge and the perception of the soul removes the attachments of materialism and ignorance from the mind, however this is in preparation for what must come next to continue the process, if a practitioner gets this far. So, although he may be considered Self-realized in his perception of the soul, he is not yet thoroughly liberated from material existence, which means this path is not complete in itself. There is another level of yoga which must be added to it. Therefore, jnana-yoga is often combined with other forms of yoga, such as raja-yoga or bhakti-yoga.
From this stage of jnana, or jnana-yoga, many practitioners add or continue with yoga, if they have not already started it. This type of yoga may be in the forms of astanga-yoga, raja-yoga, kriya-yoga, or something of this sort. Yoga is the process to calm the mind and, ultimately, to become free of all sensual input and dictates from the mind. In that state lays the doorway to the spiritual dimension, higher ideals, inspiration and lofty states of being. In other words, it is the process of obtaining a perfectly thoughtless level of awareness in the state of pure sattva-guna, or mode of goodness, in which one can enter nirvikalpa samadhi–the thought-free form of meditation. In this state, the door opens to allow our consciousness to enter or at least have glimpses into the spiritual energy and the perception of it.
In this way, it is said that jnana is the theory or knowledge while yoga is the practice. By performing this perfectly, one can enter what is called kaivalya, the understanding of the Brahman, the impersonal form of God. The ancient Vedic texts, such as the Yoga Darshana, the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad-gita, and others, mention that in order to be successful in this path, it normally takes years of continued practice without falling down from the proper standard, along with following all the rules correctly, such as the yamas and niyamas, which are the essential regulations of things to do and not to do. Only then can one gradually reach the kaivalya position, the perception of becoming one with the Brahman, which is the final stage of advaita or the impersonalist form of yoga. So the difficulty to reach the highest stage of this path in this age should be obvious, which also makes it suitable only for the most serious, yet anyone can gain insights from the practice of it.
To explain it more completely, raja-yoga, sometimes called astanga-yoga, is the eightfold path leading to liberation. It is also called the royal (raja) way. It is one of the most popular systems of yoga today. The process involves calming all mental agitation, which gradually helps the meditator to fuse with the objects of meditation by supraconscious concentration. The process is divided into eight basic steps.
The first step is yama, the essential moral commandments. This means to avoid violence, lying, stealing, greed, possessiveness, and a lack of celibacy.
The second step is niyama or preparation and discipline for self-realization. This involves austerity or undergoing physical hardships for a higher result, along with study of scriptural texts, purity of mind and body, contentment, and devoting all one’s activities to God. Yama means the things to avoid and niyama means the practice one must do. Together they help keep the yogi’s passions quiet and stilled and keep him in harmony with nature.
The third step is asana, or posture for meditation, often used in hatha-yoga. Asanas help steady the mind and promote health. Asanas are exercises, some simple and some quite advanced, that can be performed alone with minimal equipment, like a blanket or mat, fresh air, and room to move around, preferably outdoors. Different asanas develop and affect different nerves, muscles, and organs of the body and keep the system strong, limber, and free from disease. Thus, the body becomes a fit instrument for spiritual development. Learning asanas can also help in other systems of yoga, too, and helps keep the body in a good, healthy condition. We will not elaborate on the different kinds of asanas one can learn since there are many books available that explain these.
The fourth step is pranayama, breath control for fixing the mind in concentration. Prana means life or energy, and also can mean spirit. Ayama indicates the length and retention of breath between inhalation and exhalation, and control of the prana within the body. Since it is considered that a person is born with a certain number of allotted breaths in a lifetime, the yogi learns breath control to strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nerves and steady the mind for meditation, and prolong one’s life. Simply by controlling one’s breathing a person can steady the beating of his heart. When one’s breathing is not smooth, the mind is also usually unsteady and easily agitated. So as one learns pranayama, the mind becomes equipoised and free from the pulling of the senses. It can also clean the nadis (subtle pranic channels) and open the pranic currents, as well as decrease the unwanted inner mental activity.
The fifth step is pratyahara, control of the senses and checking the mind’s attraction to external objects. It is necessary to control the senses to advance in yoga, and in pratyahara the yogi analyzes the mind’s attraction for external objects. By the use of his study and cultivated knowledge, he recognizes that sensual delights lead to one’s destruction, and the path of sense control leads to his salvation. By intelligently adjusting his consciousness, the yogi gives up sensual desires in order to achieve the proper frame of mind and freedom from the modes of nature to pursue successfully the goal of yoga.
The sixth step is dharana, concentrating on the object of meditation. However, it is more than mere concentration. It is becoming so absorbed in one’s focus on something that a person becomes oblivious to everything else. When the mind has been completely stilled by the previous steps, the yogi can totally concentrate on a single object of meditation. The seventh step is dhyana, when the mind is in a state of undisturbed flowing meditation. In this stage the mind takes on the likeness of the object being meditated on, and in his contemplation of the Supreme Brahman the yogi remains in that state of supreme bliss.
The eighth and final step is samadhi, in which, according to the eightfold path, the yogi becomes one with the Supreme. Samadhi means the absorption in the balanced, eternal awareness or knowledge. This is the state of Self-realization for the individual. It is when a person becomes free of ego, bodily identification, sense perception, mental activity, and all time and space. This allows for one’s consciousness to achieve its natural state of nonduality. This is in reference to the way the mind interferes with our perception of things around us and, thus, rather than seeing everything as parts of the Divine energy of God, we see the world of names, forms, images, desires, goals, and temporary illusions. In this state of being, we become absorbed in the finite and unaware or forgetful of the Infinite. In reaching the state of samadhi, we attain the Infinite. In Kundalini-yoga, the state of samadhi is considered the union of the kundalini or shakti, the female energy, with Shiva, the universal male energy. This union takes place in the top chakra, the Sahasrara Chakra.
So in the state of samadhi, the knower and the known, the seer and the seen, the soul and the Supersoul, become one. Thus, the yogi loses all individuality and merges into the Supreme or in thoughts of the Supreme. This is the result of reaching perfection on this particular path of yoga.
We should point out, however, that the path to samadhi through this eightfold system is arduous. Each of the eight steps calls for its own rigorous discipline. As in any science, if you do not follow the procedure properly, you do not get the results. Furthermore, such practices of mechanically trying to completely subdue or control the mind and senses by long, difficult exercises in sitting, breathing, sense control, etc., are nearly impossible for anyone to perfect in this age in which there are so many sensual and mental distractions. Nonetheless, through such attempts the mind may indeed become tamer, quieter, and various minor insights are possible. And the practice of this form of yoga with the use of pranayama can still provide a variety of benefits, depending on how deeply a person can enter into it. It can still show how best to still the mind so that real meditation can take place. The point is that in this sort of yoga, as established in the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali, the real goal is to become free from the dictations and disturbances of the mind. This can help us distance ourselves from the external drama in which we always find ourselves and the constant conversation that goes on in our mind. And once you are free of the mind, real concentration and meditation can begin. It can also bring some peacefulness into our lives and insights into our real identity. It can even lead to experiences in which we can perceive a higher state of consciousness. In that state of mind, whatever system we use to meditate on God can be more effective.
Once the mind has been brought to a suitable condition for meditation by performing this type of yoga, still the goal of yogis may differ. Some yogis meditate on God with the intent of merging into the body of God, or to become God or equal to God, as explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Others meditate on God as a form of service or devotion to God, which brings us to bhakti-yoga.
Bhakti-yoga, the process of simply developing devotional service to the Lord, is highly recommended in the Srimad-Bhagavatam as the ultimate end of understanding Vedanta. Bhakti is the unifying principle of all yoga systems, but in such texts as the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam it is the prime avenue for developing one’s loving relationship with the Lord. This is what especially paves the way for freeing oneself from the attractions and attachments to the temporary material world, and, thus, provides the means for genuine liberation from the repeated cycle of birth and death in this cosmic manifestation. Bhakti-yoga is a system that is highly recommended for this age of Kali-yuga and is generally practiced by the followers of Vedanta called Vaishnavas, or worshipers of Vishnu or Krishna. It is by far the easiest of all the yoga processes and has fewer requirements for the practitioners than any other process. Bhakti is the yoga that begins, continues, and ends with love and devotion to the Supreme. There is no stronger binding mechanism than love, and spiritual love is the natural sentiment that emanates from God and connects the living beings to God. Thus, it is said that attaining this sentiment of devotion to God holds the sum and substance of all other yoga processes and religions. This path is so powerful that even married people may practice it successfully, while in other systems of yoga it is expected that one should be celibate. There are no extreme austerities to undergo; yet, the results are sublime. It is a scientific method of expanding one’s consciousness to perceptions of unlimited joy and inner peace. Bhakti-yoga brings complete fulfillment to those who seriously practice it, and gives realizations and a perception of one’s real identity as a spiritual being, and what one’s relationship is with the Absolute. It also can be practiced anywhere at anytime.
In bhakti-yoga there is not much concern about the chakras and the practice for raising the life energy up the Sushumna nadi or freeing oneself of the subtle body, as we find in some yoga processes. The reason for this is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.25.33), which states that bhakti, devotional service, dissolves the subtle body of the living entity without separate effort, just as fire in the stomach digests all that we eat. In other words, being fixed in devotional service, which itself is a direct way of engaging in eternal spiritual activities, the yogi burns up the five coverings of the gross and subtle body, which includes the mind, as he or she becomes more and more spiritualized. Thus, there is no need to struggle in the separate endeavor of trying to open the various chakras within the subtle body or becoming free of it if the subtle body is automatically dissolved.
In this way, the bhakti-yogi naturally becomes free from ignorance, attachment to the body, false egotism, and material consciousness, and can rapidly reach the spiritual platform. In the deeper levels of bhakti-yoga, when the subtle body begins to dissolve, there is a decreasing amount of interference from the mind until there is unity between the spiritual dimension, in which the soul exists, and the loving devotional service to God that is performed by the body and consciousness. Thus, the physical and subtle bodies become spiritually surcharged as a vessel in which the soul serves God. Therein, whatever anarthas or faults and unnecessary attractions and distractions we have, or samskaras such as mental impressions or memories of both pleasant times and heartache that we may have experienced from previous relationships, all become dissolved by the overbearing ecstasy of our reawakened loving relationship with Krishna. It is like a slate wiped clean from all previous markings. In this way, a person becomes absorbed in pure consciousness and, thus, is said to become a pure devotee. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (14.26) where it states that one who engages in full devotional service and does not fall down transcends the material modes and reaches Brahman, the spiritual strata.
So, this process merely uncovers and releases the true loving potential of the soul. This inherent potential for full and unconditional love lies deep within all of us and is our ultimate motivation for all that we do. Motivated by our need to love and be loved, when that need is interpreted through the body it becomes perverted and mistaken for the need of bodily affection or sensual desire, lust. When freed from this bodily and mental influence, the true needs of the soul stand revealed. This is an impetus for spiritual love, beyond all bodily desires, a pure love for God and all that is His.
The way this works is that within our material body and senses are our spiritual senses, which are lying dormant. They have no spiritual engagement while covered by matter. Devotional service, and the ultimate goal of any other yoga or religious system, involves freeing our real senses from the confines of matter and material consciousness, and engaging them in direct spiritual activities to the Supreme. When the contamination of materialistic consciousness has been removed and the senses act in purified God consciousness, we then have reached our eternal sensory activities which are spiritual and in relation with our real identity as an eternal spiritual servant of the Supreme Spirit. Eternal spiritual activities means to engage in serving the Supreme, our natural occupation, while temporary material activities means to engage in the attempt to satisfy our dull mind and senses, which keeps us a prisoner within matter.
While the yogis of other processes are struggling hard to control artificially their mind and senses, the senses of the bhakti-yogi are automatically controlled and purified by engagement in devotional service. When the mind and consciousness are attracted to the Supreme Being through the attraction of love and service, it becomes easy to remain in such concentration without any other regulations, austerities, or mechanical processes.
One example of this from the Vedic literature is of Visvamitra. He was a great yogi, seriously practicing and performing many austerities. However, even though in deep meditation, simply by hearing the tinkling ankle bells of a beautiful woman walking nearby, named Menaka, he fell from his yogic trance and had sex with her. After many years of living with Menaka he realized the futility of his position. He angrily gave up married life and again took to his yogic practices. However, when Haridasa Thakura was tempted by a prostitute while engaged in bhakti-yoga and chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, he did not fall down. In fact, while the woman waited for hours in hopes of having sex with Haridasa, she became purified by hearing his chanting. She then gave up her interest in sex and also took up bhakti-yoga. Therefore, by experiencing a higher taste, Haridasa Thakura was successful. This is the advantage of engaging in bhakti-yoga. This is confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.25.43-44), which states that those yogis who have spiritual knowledge and have renounced material interests engage in devotional service to the lotus feet of the Supreme Being for their eternal happiness. With their minds fixed in such devotional love and service, they are easily able to enter the spiritual kingdom. This, as it says, is the only means for one to attain the final perfection of life.
Therefore, those yogis or mystics who engage in devotional yoga are considered first-class because, while living in this material universe, they engage in the same devotional activities that are going on within the Vaikuntha planets in the spiritual sky. Thus, they have already attained their natural transcendental position. There is no higher perfection than this.
Presently, in bhakti-yoga the Vaishnava sect is one of the three major divisions of Hinduism, the others being Shaivism and Shakta. Vaishnavas have four major sects: the Ramanujas founded by Ramanujacharya; the Madhvas founded by Madhvacharya; the Vallabhas founded by Vallabhacharya; and the Gaudiya sampradaya, founded by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is regarded as an incarnation of Krishna Himself. This is the path that is most clearly enunciated by Srila Vyasadeva within the teachings of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and is the process for the complete form of God-realization and liberation that is indicated in all the essential Vedic texts.
To explain briefly, mantra-yoga is one of the oldest forms of yoga and is an easy system for enlightenment. It is recommended as the best means for focusing the mind on the Supreme in this age of Kali, so it is easily used in other forms of yoga and spiritual processes, such as in bhakti-yoga. The word mantra literally means to deliver the mind. The instrument used to accomplish this is the secret power of vibrations arranged in a particular formula, called a mantra. Different mantras have different purposes. Some bring happiness, some fulfill material desires, some are used in the worship of various demigods, some simply focus and steady the mind, some help raise the life energy up through the chakras, while others are incantations for casting spells and so on. But mantras used for spiritual enlightenment release vital energy, strengthen the mind, and prepare the consciousness for perceiving higher realms of existence.
Since it is especially difficult to void the mind of all sensual input in this day and age, and with so many distractions that invade our mind, the best way to concentrate on the higher vibrations and spiritual energy, making way for contact with God, is to fill the mind with the spiritual vibrations. This is the purpose and the advantage of mantra-yoga. By concentrating on the mantra, the mind associates with the energy within it and takes on the characteristics found within the sound vibration. The more powerful a mantra is, the more it can invoke the higher energies in the mind and consciousness. In this way, the mind can be purified by the spiritual vibrations within the mantra. One who chants a mantra generally repeats it a particular number of times each day while using a string of beads like a rosary. Mantra-yoga is a deep science and much more study can be given to it. It is especially useful in the practice of bhakti-yoga, and one of the most recommended mantras for this age is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
So with this brief introduction to the main spiritual paths that are offered in Vedic culture, not to mention many other types of yoga and philosophical outlooks found within the Vedic system, we can see that there is something for everyone. And this is regardless of a person’s area of interest, type of consciousness, mental makeup, or what level of the Absoulte Truth or aspects of the Supreme Being a person wants to realize. In any one of these paths, a person is still considered part of the Vedic process or a follower of Sanatana-dharma. Furthermore, this also has nothing to do with the background, ethnicity, race, or country in which one lives. These are based on the universal truths that are applicable to anyone. The Vedic system respects that. Thus, this is practically non-denominational. Anyone can pick up whatever part of this path that fits one the best and move forward to become as progressed as he or she can be. This is the unique nature of the Vedic culture and its spiritual knowledge.