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Paths of Yoga

There are two predominant paths to the attainment or liberation. One is the path of effort (maryada marga) and the other is the path of grace (pushti marga). Marga literally means path. When we are ready to attain enlightenment our soul chooses one of these two paths.

In Jivamukti yoga Sharon Gannon and David Life tell an old Indian story about a baby monkey and a baby cat to illustrate the difference between these two paths:

When a baby monkey becomes separated from his mother, he will race around, swinging through trees looking for her. He is determined to find her. When he does finally find the mother, he grabs her body and holds on for dear life and the two, united, go swinging through the trees. But when the kitten becomes separated from her mother, she stays put. She does not run around looking for her mother. The kitten stays and cries out, “Meow Maaaa.” The kitten calls until the mother hears her. The mother comes to the kitten, picks her up by the scruff of the neck and the two go off happily to snuggle.

The monkey is on the maryada marga, the path of effort. The kitten, on the other hand, trusts in the mother and by chanting her name continuously gets her to come to the rescue. The kitten is on pushti marga, the path of grace.

The path of effort involves finding a system, perhaps like Patanjali’s eight limbs. The path of grace is the simple act of faith and surrender to the divine, perhaps by chanting a mantra or engaging in song or prayer.

For most spiritual seekers, enlightenment involves a little bit of travel on both these paths. Yogis use effort in the practice of breath work and postures in preparation for less effortful paths like dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightenment). At the same time the practice of meditation may start as effortful and culminate into a path of grace.