SADHANA - The Vedic Spiritual Practices

Hindu spiritual practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. Hindus can engage in pūjā (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to the individual's chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory. In fact, many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through murtis (icons). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God. The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity.

Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable Om (which represents the Parabrahman) and the Swastika sign (which symbolizes auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus, chakra and veena, with particular deities.

mantra are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras. The epic Mahabharata extolls Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (the current age). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.

1. Om: Sacred Symbol and Sound
The sacred syllable om or aum functions at many levels. Hindus chant it as a means of meditating on the ultimate reality and connecting with the ātman (Innermost Self) and Brahman. At one level, om possesses a vibrational aspect apart from its conceptual significance. If pronounced correctly, its vibrations resonate through the body and penetrate the ātman. At another level, the three sounds that constitute the syllable—a, u, and m—have been associated with the states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, states to which all life can be reduced. Thus, by repeating the syllable the chanter passes through all three states. Other associations of the three sounds are with the three states of the cosmos—manifestation, maintenance, and dissolution—and with the three aspects of Ishvara who preside over these cosmic states: Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva. Om thus functions at a practical level as a mantra and at a cosmic level as signifying the trinity.

2. Guru: Teacher
Spiritual authority in Hinduism flows from enlightened sages called gurus. The guru is someone who has attained realization and acts as a guide for other human beings. He or she guides the individual seeker of truth and self-realization to the appropriate deity, practice, or yoga within Hinduism. The disciple’s goal is to transcend the need for a guru through direct experience of the divine and self-awareness. Having a guide is considered critical for traversing the complexities of spiritual practice and self-discovery. The guru thus constitutes an important center of spiritual activity in Hinduism. Numerous Hindu hymns express adoration for the guru.

3. Yoga: Paths to Brahman
How do we proceed if we wish to rise toward Brahman? Hindu thought takes the personality of the seeker as the starting point. It divides human personalities into types dominated by physicality, activity, emotionality, or intellectuality. The composition of our personality intuitively predisposes us to a type of yoga—that is, a path we might follow to achieve union with Brahman. Although many people associate the word yoga with a physical discipline, in its original Hindu meaning, yoga refers to any technique that unites the seeker with the ultimate reality.

Someone who practices yoga is called a yogi. The chief texts dedicated to Yoga are the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Overall, three distinct approaches or margas (paths) are recognized, with marga being synonymous with yoga (paths one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life moksha):
  • Karma Marga or Karma Yoga ("the path of action")
  • Jñāna Marga or Jnana Yoga ("the path of knowledge")
  • Bhakti Marga or Bhakti Yoga ("the path of devotion")
  • Rāja Marga or Raja Yoga ("the royal path ")
Yoga is a system of physical and spiritual techniques for achieving balance and harmony within yourself, the environment, and with others.
An individual may prefer one yoga over others according to his or her inclination and understanding. For

instance some followers of the dvaita-advaita school hold that bhakti ("devotion") is the ultimate practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for the majority of people, based on their belief that the earth is currently in the age of Kali Yuga (one of four stages, or epochs, that are part of the Yuga Cycle). Practice of one yoga does not exclude the others. In fact, many schools believe that the different yogas naturally imply, blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of Jnana Yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa. Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in Raja Yoga) must embody the core principles of Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, whether directly or indirectly.

1. Bhakti Yoga
The bhakti traditions emphasize cultivation of love and devotion for God as the path to perfection. Followers of bhakti typically worship God as a divine personal being or avatar, such as Rama or Krishna. Followers of the bhakti path strive to purify their minds and activities through the chanting of God's names (japa), prayer, devotional hymns (bhajan) and treating all living creatures with compassion. Bhakti followers seek to enjoy a loving relationship with God, rather than seek to merge their consciousness with Brahman as the followers of jnana yoga and raja yoga do.
Upanishad - sitting with the teacher.

2. Karma Yoga
The followers of karma yoga seek to achieve freedom by acting without attachment to the results of their actions. According to Hinduism, action is inevitable, and has one great disadvantage—any act done with attachment to its fruits generates karmic or psychological bondage. Followers of karma yoga follow the injunction in the Bhagavad Gita:

Without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme.

Many followers of karma yoga offer the results of every action to God, thus combining karma yoga with bhakti yoga. However, it is possible for even an atheist to follow karma yoga by remaining mentally detached from the fruits of their actions. Benefits of karma yoga include purification of the heart, freedom from bondage to the ego, humility, and the growing understanding that Brahman is in all people.

3. Raja Yoga
The followers of Raja yoga seek direct experience of spiritual truth through meditation and yoga practices. (perfect meditative posture), and continue with control of pranayama (the body's life force). From there, the yogi practices techniques of meditation that take him through the progressive stages of pratyahara (interiorization), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). The final goal of the raja yogi—and the eighth limb of Patanjali's Sutras—is samadhi, or oneness with Brahman.
Raja yoga is based on the Yoga Sutras of acharya-patanjali, which has eight 'limbs' that describe the stages a yogi must pass through to reach the goal of samadhi. The eight limbs begin with yama-niyama (right action) and asana

4. Jnana Yoga
Jnana yoga is the path of wisdom, or true knowledge, and appeals to people with an intellectual nature. The jnana yogi typically practices the four interrelated means to liberation:
  • viveka: discrimination between what is real (the immortal Atman, or true self), and unreal (the changing universe)
  • vairāgya, dispassion for the pleasures of this world.
  • shad-sampat, the six virtues, which bring about mental control and discipline.
  • mumukshutva, intense desire for liberation.
These practices lead to the unfoldment of wisdom (intuitive perception), rather than mere intellectual knowledge. Through discrimination and introspection, the jnana yogi eventually realizes the highest truth, that "I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness."

4. Satsanga: Fellowship
A popular form of participation in religious life is the satsanga, which literally means keeping company with sat (truth and goodness). The satsanga may consist of Hindus who gather for discussions of Hindu scripture or of a circle of devotees who have formed around a saintly figure. A sant (saint) in Hindu Dharma is someone who has realized the sat (Truth) and attained recognition from the community for doing so. Other forms of worship that occur at satsangas are chanting or singing, especially devotional songs called bhajans. On religious occasions the chanting the om sound is considered particularly holy.

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