The Four Paths to Enlightenment & Why Meditation Is NOT Your Only Option

What are the four paths to enlightenment? How can you practice each spiritual path and become more self-aware? Here are tons of examples!

This has to be one of the biggest concerns that people have, when they talk to me. That they can’t meditate, and so, something must be wrong with them. The very simple explanation to counter this argument, is talking to them about the four paths of enlightenment.

I want to share this with you as well, because you can’t limit your spiritual journey to meditation only. Meditation is just a small tool, amongst many other methods, to experience a deeper sense of internal peace.

Let’s talk about what the other tools are, explained through the ancient, eastern philosophy, called the four paths of yoga.

The Four Paths to Enlightenment

As first described in Vedantic texts like the Bhagvat Gita, there are multiple paths to enlightenment. They can be used in combination, or walked on in isolation, to reach our ultimate goal of self-awareness.

Here is what each of these four paths entails for us, and how you can apply it to your modern life.

The Path of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga)

This is where my own journey began – by reading lots of books on spiritual topics. I have slowed down with the reading, but the learning has been continual.

The purpose of this path, to approach enlightenment by becoming more knowledgeable about our true nature.

As you gain more knowledge and awareness, the shadow aspects and darkness which come from lack of knowledge disperse.
focus on the light, walk on the path of wisdom and knowledge, disperse the darkness

Jnana Yoga is the way to eliminate the fear of the unknown, by stepping into your all-knowing nature. There are many topics to help you with that, such as –

Note that the more time you are spending learning, you should also be spending reflecting. I always encourage people to practice embodying their truths, by using simple internalization practices.

The Path of Prayer (Bhakti Yoga)

While the first path was based on logic and using our left-brains, the path of bhakti yoga is all about trusting the process and building a truly powerful connection with the Creator.

That’s not to say to have blind faith. Rather to have some acknowledgement of the bigger picture. And then, to be willing to accept it, even if it’s not what we personally believe should happen.

Of the four paths of enlightenment, this may be the trickiest because it can be easy to mistake it as becoming passive. Or thinking it’s okay to step away from one’s duty towards the expansion of the collective consciousness, because everything is “perfect anyway”.

The more you walk on this path, the more you realize you are able to surrender easily and let go, when the situation calls for it. And then you are able to have a dialogue with the Universe, and set the right intention, instead of feeling like God hates you.

Here’s an example of what it looks like to hold a conversation with the Universe.

Prayer is a ritual, only if we don’t understand why it is being done.

So, focus on finding the underlying meaning of the different prayers you were taught, while growing up. You will find the one that truly resonates with your path forward. And then, every time you say that prayer, be more intentional with it.

I’ve shared some of my favorite prayers and their deeper meanings in this post.

The Path of Right Action (Karma Yoga)

This one came as a reality check to me, when my healer reminded me that just because my parents don’t meditate, doesn’t mean they’re not spiritual. And it’s true!

The whole point of being a Karma Yogi, to walk on the path of right action, is to work towards the greater good. To not limit yourself to your personal agenda, but to be able to spread the most amount of joy possible, with your one action.

If the whole world only sat down to meditate or pray for wellbeing, who would actually do the work to make it happen?

The other paths of enlightenment are a means to help us feel grounded and connected with the truth. And then this path is the final nudge to get the ball rolling on all your “good” intentions, and create the manifestation in real life.

charity, be of service, karma yogi, help the world, humanity, four paths to enlightenment

There are so many reflections that I’ve been putting together around what it’s like to be a modern karma yogi. Maybe someday, it might be worth writing it in a book? 🙂

But until then, this is the crux of this path.

When you understand that you are a conduit of the Universe, it is no longer about taking credit or sitting around and waiting for the reward. You will find joy in simply being of service.

As you heal, and help the world around you, your light will spread and automatically grant you bigger opportunities to be of service.

The Royal Path (Raja Yoga)

This is the most intricate of the four paths, because it contains eight steps to be a true Raja Yogi. Interestingly, it was actually introduced to the other three paths at a later point.

Here are the eight steps, and some examples of what they mean in modern times. They are interlinked, but some of the steps can be practiced independently of another. While others occur in a sequential order.

Self-restraint (yama)

Not to be associated with celibacy only. But think of more practical uses, like building self-control and NOT binge-watching TV shows late into the night, because you know you need to wake up early.

Or to NOT indulge that extra piece of cake, just because it’s sitting in your fridge.

indulge, eat, niyama, raja yoga, mindful living, four paths of enlightenment

Essentially, it’s about practicing moderation and refraining from over indulgence. It’s about taming the mind and becoming more mindful. And one of the best ways to step into the practice self-control, is to ask yourself this fundamental question.

Have I been over-indulging in any area of my life?

Discipline (niyama)

Most of us wait for the inspiration, or motivation to come, to do something. But this step asks us to remain persistent and do things that are good for our wellbeing and future, regardless of how we are “feeling” in the moment.

By practicing niyama, we are not only discouraging our inconsistent and moody tendencies, we are building our grit.

One reflection question that comes from niyama, is this.

What do I know is good for me, but I have been avoiding doing for myself?

Poses (asana)

What we, in modern times, loosely call yoga. As you can see by now, yoga isn’t just about poses. In actuality, the poses are a small (albeit essential) part of the many possibilities and paths of yoga.

meditation, asanas, poses, mindfulness

The purpose of learning and practicing asanas isn’t to become more fit, or become more strong. Those are actually the byproducts.

Rather, the purpose is for us to become more mindful in our bodies, and to feel every movement. As a consequence, also stilling our minds.

Breathe work (pranayama)

I think the book, Breath, has been a game changer for me, showing me how important our breath really is. Breathe work is quite intimate, allowing us to feel safer in our bodies, and expanding our lung capacity, as a starting point.

And then, going deeper and healing the subtle body, as your awareness grows.

Withdrawing inwards (pratyahara)

Something to the effect of minimalism and internalization. The two approaches where you stop consuming as much, and start tapping into the wisdom already within.

Or in other words, moving beyond the five primary senses. To move away from distraction.

But don’t be mistaken that overthinking or being checked out from the present moment means you are practicing pratyhara!
thinking, overthinking is not good for your spiritual journey, four paths to enlightenment through raja yoga

It means focusing more deeply on our inner needs. To move above the energy of the primal, root chakra. In fact, much above. To move into a more spiritual view of the world. And then, to investigate yourself through deep inner work and find what your soul needs for its evolution.

It may not always be clear, what it looks like to shift your focus beyond the five senses. If you’d like to talk about, let’s get on a call. No obligations, just set some time up!

Concentrate (dharana)

Concentration is the looser translation actually. The better way to look at this step, as explained in the book, The Heartfulness Way, is “something that holds”. As in, to be fully supported and held by our own Heart.

And you can only achieve that state, once you have withdrawn from the world’s materialism, and stepped into your deeper needs. When you focus on your spiritual development long enough, you will find yourself at ease. You will experience contentment.

This step is about moving past the emotional turbulences and becoming more calm. I’ve shared some ideas about finding this peace, through emotional intelligence here.

Meditate (dhyan)

This is the very thing we’ve been trying to do, and beating ourselves for not doing it. But it is the seventh step to happen in a series of many.

And meditation isn’t a tool that you use. It is a state of consciousness we are training ourselves to reach, by following certain practices.
woman practicing yoga

It is a natural outcome that happens if you are still for long enough, withdrawn of the material tug-of-war, centered in your inner nature.

I recently created a guided walking meditation that you can take with you on your introspections, and tap more into the three steps of raja yoga that we just talked about.

Self-realization (samadhi)

In other words, enlightenment. It is the state where all desires are suspended, or transcended. Even the desire to do good for others!

The state of self-realization becomes deeper and deeper, as we practice stillness and being present.

I share some powerful tools to help people quieten their mind and enter deeper states of meditative thinking. If that’s something you’d like to learn, come find me here.

Concluding Thoughts

So you see? Meditation is NOT your only option.

You could walk on all four paths to enlightenment, in a single day! And then, on some days, you might only feel like meditating – then just do that.

On other days, you might not have the time to do actually do any rituals or practices. But you can still have the intention to be true karma yogi, and be at the service of the Universe.

There is no right or wrong way to go back home – we are all headed there in our own unique ways! So, the only thing you should remember, is to remain intentional and put in some kind of work every single day, to attain enlightenment.

In doing this, you will not only learn how to love life, and show up with more energy than ever. You will also become closer to your truth, and glow inwards out!

The journey is neither about being passive, nor being a renunciate. It is simply about shedding the parts of ourselves that aren’t really who we are. And in that, discovering that our infinite Self was here all along!

Related read: 10 Spiritual Practices Worth Trying If You Can’t Meditate

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