All Faiths

  Unitarian Congregation

Where Diversity is Treasured...

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The Four Paths of Spirituality

Joyce Ramay

at All Faiths, June 15, 2008


Opening Words:

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 save mankind...

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 again:

Christ’s gospel of the purity and perfection of mankind,

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 life.

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 people.

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 attended.)

            So what is the relevance of all this to us?

            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:

1) 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:

1) NT – Intuitive Thinking

2) SF – Sensing Feeling

3) ST – Sensing Thinking

4) NF – 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 (Intuitive Thinking)

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 people.

It involves knowing one’s deepest Self.

The goal is to know Brahman, the God beyond attributes.

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 the Divine.

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 them.

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 future.

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 India.

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 prayers.

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 of Unity.

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 adoration.

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 him.

Muhammad and St. Francis of Assisi are examples of the Path of Devotion.


III. Path of Work or Power - Journey of Works (Sensing Thinking)

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 caste.

This suits the person of Action. It involves doing one’s Duty.

Here you find God by engaging in the everyday world.

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 experimentally.

One works on one’s self, not on the external world.

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 concentrate on

Meditation – Separateness vanishes. Duality of knower and Known is resolved into perfect unity. We annihilate time. Eternity is in us.

Goal is SamadhiBeing 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 manner

When we go beyond imagining God is Energy, or Nature, or Universe

When we realize that God is Not a Thing that We can Conceive,

When we have totally cleared our minds and hearts and purified them of all externalities,

Then we can come to know the Pure Reality – Brahman.

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 of Harmony.

It is for the Intuitive Feeling type of people.

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 difficulty.

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 picture.

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 metamorphosis.

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 says:

“Religion is not in doctrines, in dogmas, nor in intellectual argumentation;

 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 of being,

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 suffering.

Excessive individuality leads to narcissism, fear, pride, jealousy, envy and most of our weaknesses.

To escape suffering and to experience joy, we must reconnect ourselves.

We must take on the yoke of togetherness, of cooperation, of sharing,

of reaching out to embrace each other and the universe,

and ultimately of discovering the source of our being.

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!