The Four Paths of Spirituality
All Faiths, June 15, 2008
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950)
“Churches, orders, theologies, philosophies have
failed to save mankind because they have busied themselves with
intellectual creeds, dogmas, rites and institutions … as if these could
They have neglected the one thing needful, the
power and purification of the soul.
We must go back to the one thing needful, take up
Christ’s gospel of the purity and perfection
Muhammad’s gospel of perfect submission,
self-surrender and servitude to God, Chaitanya’s gospel of the
perfect love and joy of God in man,
Ramakrishna’s gospel of the unity of all
religions and the divinity of God in man, and gathering all these
streams into one mighty river, one purifying and redeeming Ganges, pour
it over the death-in-life of a materialistic humanity… so that there may
be a resurrection of the soul in mankind.
Here at All Faiths, we recognize
that there are many paths of spirituality. We are fortunate that we
embrace many faiths, finding wisdom where we can, and accepting that
each of us has a unique appreciation for various forms of spiritual
Most faith traditions
have emphasized one particular type of spirituality. Yet thousands of
years ago in the Indian scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, we find
descriptions of four religious paths of yoga, suitable for four types of
More recently, Unitarian
Minister Peter Tufts Richardson wrote a book, Four Spiritualities,
A psychology of Contemporary Spiritual Choice, in which he
combines ancient wisdom with modern psychology. He uses the Myers Briggs
Type Indicator (MBTI) in his analysis of the four personality types, and
describes their four kinds of spiritual journeys. (A couple years ago,
Emily Palmer informed us that Rev. Richardson would be conducting an
all-day workshop at the UU church on Shire Lane, and several of us
So what is the relevance of all this to
It matters that we understand and
accept that our world contains many kinds of people. They all play their
roles in enhancing our lives. While at times all of us can use all the
different modes of perceiving and reacting, we do have dominant modes
that generally influence our lives and worldviews.
Richardson asks us to consider where we
are on two continuums:
Thinking vs. Feeling. (T – F)
2) External Sensing vs.
Internal Intuition. (S – N)
When we make our
selections on each of these two continuums, we have four possible
combinations, or personality types:
– Intuitive Thinking
– Sensing Feeling
– Sensing Thinking
– Intuitive Feeling
Four Paths to our Source - Brahman
In Hinduism, the spiritual aspirant is called a
Yogi. He engages in one of the Four Yoga Paths. Yoga has the same base
word as Yoke – It is the spiritual means of connecting to our Source.
Here in the west, we are most familiar with the yoga exercises and
meditation, but those represent only a small portion of Yoga.
I. Path of Knowledge – Journey of Unity
Jnana yoga – Way to God through Knowledge
– taken by very few.
This involves attaining Direct Knowledge and
Union with the Spirit.
This appeals to intellectual thinking type of
It involves knowing one’s deepest Self.
The goal is to know Brahman, the God beyond
God is Truth, and Truth can be found within.
It involves an intuitive discernment that
transforms the knower into the Known.
The person identifies the self with the Spirit.
Eventually there is a total identification with
Unitarian Minister Richardson calls this the
Journey of Unity, taken by Intuitive Thinking personality
types, who represent about 12% of the population.
They engage in the search for Enlightenment
by direct Knowledge.
People who take this path are interested in finding
basic principles, truth, justice and mental clarity.
Education and Reforms are imperatives for
They love to develop systems and are the leading
change agents and strategic planners. They are good critics,
and want to reform the world.
They think in terms of the global past and
Examples are: Akhenaton – the Egyptian
monotheist, Socrates, Buddha, Einstein and Buckminster Fuller.
II. Path of Love or Bliss (Ananda) – Journey of
Devotion (Sensing Feeling)
Bhakti Yoga – The Way to God through Love
This is the most popular form of religious practice
in India and much of the world.
It involves Devotion and Worship in pursuit
of a strong personal relationship.
The relationship may be with God the Father, the
Mother, the Friend, the Beloved.
God is the role model, or the ideal – like
Jesus, Buddha, or Krishna.
This worship involves the Otherness of God –
rather than Union with God.
One wants to Love the Other, to Adore God,
to have God as a Friend – like St. Theresa, or the poet Mira Bai in
One loves a God of attributes – in one of
God’s manifestations, like Krishna or Jesus. Here myths and stories of
the Gods are very important.
There are hundreds of images, rituals, chants and
Peter Richardson calls
this the Journey of Devotion, the path taken by about 38%
of the people, who are Sensing Feeling types.
They live for sociability.
They gather their information through their senses.
They perceive the world empirically, objectively,
but with deep feeling.
They want things that are tangible, immediate,
present, personal and interactive.
They are the opposites of those on the Journey
They like to take pilgrimages to holy places
– Mecca, Jerusalem, Stonehenge, Assisi, Benares. Churches, temples
and shrines are important to them. These people like statues,
rosaries, flowers, incense and candles.
They tend to be traditionalists, but will
seek changes that bring more love.
These are lovers who perceive God as a person,
out there but approachable, to be loved and adored. God is love.
They feel the rapture of being in love with God.
God is approached through a relationship, but the
goal is not union with God, but only the unselfish pleasure of
In the story of the
sisters Mary and Martha with Jesus, Mary practiced Devotion, or Bhakti
yoga, by anointing Jesus and sitting at his feet, while her sister
Martha practiced the Journey of Works, or Karma Yoga, by cooking for
Muhammad and St. Francis of Assisi are
examples of the Path of Devotion.
III. Path of Work or Power - Journey of Works
Karma Yoga – The Way to God through Work.
This involves total dedication to doing all your
work as well as you can. You have a strong psychological drive and
need to pour yourself into your work for God’s sake – not for
your own benefit.
It is a life of Dedicated Work. The work
should be the Right Work.
Work should be according to one’s expected role or
This suits the person of Action. It involves
doing one’s Duty.
Here you find God by engaging in the everyday
In the Bhagavad-Gita it
is Arjuna doing what must be done. Arjuna is a warrior and must fight.
He must perform his work detachedly. The action should not swell his
ego, or be engaged in to get recognition or rewards. Krishna tells him:
“He who does the task dictated by duty, caring nothing for the fruit of
the action, He is a yogi.”
Peter Richardson calls this the
Journey of Works, of those with Sensing, Thinking
Personality. About 38% of people are in this category. They tend
to be objective, empirical thinkers using the left brain.
They like law, order, systems.
They are people with a strong commitment towards
working to sustain their religious organizations, with clear mission
statements of purpose and systems of operation.
They tend to be practical. They like
matter of fact, down to earth action. They like to implement
things, just “Do it.”
They are often quite
righteous. They classify people and things as good or evil. They do the
right thing, and expect others to do so also.
They have a strong theme
of fairness and reciprocity.
If not balanced, they can
become quite fundamentalist in their literal viewpoints.
These types have a strong
sense of identity and authority. They want a clear definition of “Who we
are” and they prefer that the definition agree with their own.
Pragmatism is the basis of their
ethics. Their theology must be practical and verifiable in the
here and now, and in experiences from the past.
Examples are Moses and Confucius.
IV. Path of Freedom – Journey of
Harmony (Intuitive Feeling)
Raja Yoga – The Royal Way to God
through Psychophysical Exercises - Meditation
This is for people of a physical and scientific
bent, who enjoy experiments.
Affairs of the Spirit can be approached
One works on one’s self, not on the external
It involves probing the layers of the human self.
First we engage the Body.
Next the Conscious Mind.
Next the Individual Subconscious.
Then, underlying these three, there stands Being
Itself – The infinite.
There is a sense of I am the whole, I am
the state of divine beatitude.
The yogi seeks inspiration from direct contact
with this primary spring of Being –
“the beyond that is within”.
The Practice of Raja Yoga involves:
Body Control – Keep the body from
distracting the mind.
Attain balance and ease through various postures.
Breathing Properly –
Contemplation of the Divine
The deepest truth is opened only to those who turn
their attention inward.
Concentration. Close the doors of external
perception and distraction.
Relax the mind. Then select something to
Meditation – Separateness vanishes. Duality
of knower and Known is resolved into perfect unity. We annihilate time.
Eternity is in us.
Goal is Samadhi – Being together
with God, the mind is completely absorbed in God.
Now one realizes No Thing – seeing the
invisible, separated from all qualities, without form, without name.
Beyond all these.
God is No Thing. The Void. The Abyss
When we go beyond imagining God as a Father, a
Beloved, a Friend –
When we go beyond imaging God in an anthropomorphic
When we go beyond imagining God is Energy, or
Nature, or Universe
When we realize that God is Not a Thing that We
When we have totally cleared our minds and hearts
and purified them of all externalities,
Then we can come to know the Pure Reality –
Then we have gained Realization of the Sacred
We go beyond Form, Space and Time
We Experience Direct Harmony of the Infinite,
the Eternal, the Divine.
Peter Richardson calls this the Journey
It is for the Intuitive Feeling type of
They seek direct rapture with the primary
spring or Source of Being.
About 12% of people are in this category.
The mind explores intuitively for all the
many good possibilities,
and the heart appreciates them.
Consistency is not necessary.
Contradictions and complexity can be appreciated.
They can combine traditions without
They are natural peacemakers since they
don’t believe anyone has a monopoly on truth or virtue.
They are the most adaptable. They have an
eclectic reservoir of resources.
They are idealistic, and have wonderful
visions of possibilities for people to live in a humane world.
They live on a global stage, with feelings attuned to the big
They have a future orientation.
Their process of becoming never ends, and they
don’t worry about stability or security.
They accept the challenges of change and
They work to establish islands of harmony,
and like to participate in what UUs call “the
interdependent web of all existence”
Unlike the seekers for conformity of Unity,
they embrace the beauty of diversity within
an environment of peace and harmony.
Swami Vivekananda, a Vedanta spiritual leader
“Religion is not in doctrines, in dogmas, nor in
it is being and becoming. It is realization.”
So here, life is an adventure of individual
self-actualization through freedom.
Examples are Joseph, Jesus, Lao Tsu,
Tagore, Emerson, and Robert Blake
The god Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita:
“Whatever path men travel is my path:
No matter where they walk it leads to me.”
We should look beyond the differences to realize
the merit of all paths.
When we read the spiritual writings of many faiths,
we find they have a similar ring to them, the same sense of awe and
wonder, the same sense of experiencing something so overwhelming that it
defies our ability to describe it in mere language.
Whether we seek to escape from our own private
worlds of suffering,
or we wish to positively affirm the wonder and joy
we need to engage in our chosen spiritual quests.
We cannot do that in our separateness – our
alienation – from nature, from other people, or from God.
Excessive concern with our own egos causes
Excessive individuality leads to narcissism, fear,
pride, jealousy, envy and most of our weaknesses.
To escape suffering and to experience joy, we must
We must take on the yoke of togetherness, of
cooperation, of sharing,
of reaching out to embrace each other and the
and ultimately of discovering the source of our
Here at All Faiths,
You are all free to choose and embrace your own
paths, while you respect the paths of others.
May peace be upon you!