There are four paths that lead to spiritual emancipation

There are four paths that lead to spiritual emancipation

Sri Ramana often said that there are only two means by which we can attain the experience of true self-knowledge, namely self-investigation and self-surrender. However, he also said that these two means or ‘spiritual paths’ are truly one in essence. That is, though they are described in different words, in their actual practice they are identical. What exactly are these two means or paths, how are they one in essence, what is their one essence, and why did he describe that one essence in these two different ways?

According to the ancient philosophy of vedanta, there are four paths that lead to spiritual emancipation, namely the ‘path of knowing’ or jñana marga, the ‘path of devotion’ or bhakti marga, the ‘path of union’ or yoga marga, and the ‘path of [desireless] action’ or karma marga. Of these four paths, the former two are the principal means, while the latter two are merely subsidiary aspects of these two principal means. In other words, all the various types of spiritual practice or ‘paths’ can in essence be reduced to these two principal paths, the ‘path of knowing’ and the ‘path of devotion’. If any practice does not contain an element of either or both of these two paths, it cannot lead us to the state of spiritual emancipation, the state in which we are freed from the bondage of finite existence.

To express the same truth in a more simple fashion, we can attain spiritual emancipation or ‘salvation’ only by experiencing true self-knowledge, that is, by knowing ourself to be only the real and infinite spirit or consciousness ‘I am’, and not this unreal and finite individual whom we now mistake ourself to be. In order to know ourself thus as the absolute reality, we must be consumed by intense love for our essential being, because if we are not consumed by such love, we will not be willing to relinquish our false individual self, which we now hold more dear than any other thing. In other words, in order to attain spiritual emancipation we must know our essential being, and in order to know our essential being we must love it. Thus ‘knowing’ and ‘love’ or devotion are the two essential means by which we can attain emancipation from our present illusion of being a finite individual.

The more we love our essential being, the more we will attend to it, and the more we attend to it the more clearly we will know it. Conversely, the more clearly we know our essential being, the more we will love it, because it is the true source of all happiness. Thus love and knowing go hand in hand, each feeding the other. We cannot know without loving, and we cannot love without knowing. Therefore the ‘path of knowing’ and the ‘path of loving’ or devotion are not two alternative means, but are just two aspects of the one and only means by which we can regain our natural state of absolute being.

The two means to attain true self-knowledge taught by Sri Ramana correspond to these twin paths of ‘knowing’ and ‘devotion’. The practice of self-investigation is the true ‘path of knowing’, and the practice of self-surrender is the true ‘path of devotion’. Therefore self-investigation and self-surrender are not two separate paths, but are just two aspects of the same path, the only means by which we can experience the absolute reality, which is our true and essential being.





Happiness and The Art of Being
Michael James






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