Each individual has a unique way of relating to and developing his spiritual aspiration. Those who are more intellectually inclined may find that they naturally incline towards what is known as the yoga of knowledge. Those who have a nature more inclined to devotion and emotional expression may take up the yoga of love and devotion. Those who have an active vital nature will probably find that the yoga of works is the best path.

Some believe that these choices are ‘fixed’ for an individual by their nature for an entire lifetime. Yet a close examination makes it clear that these paths are not necessarily entirely mutually exclusive, nor are they static in the life of an individual. There may indeed be a leading power of the nature that predominates, but that does not exclude the action of the other powers; indeed, the further one progresses, the more the elements of the other paths may become active. Further, as the nature develops, and old obstacles in the nature are removed or ameliorated, one may find an opening to another path as the spiritual development occurs. The example of Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi, is obvious. He went to his guru Marpa with great devotion, but was put to work building, and then unbuilding, and building again various structures through heavy labour. He was not permitted to take part in any teachings or meditation practices. At a certain point in time, however, his devotion waivered and he began to doubt his spiritual destiny. It was just at that phase that Marpa intervened, and gave him the deeper teachings and set him on the path of meditation, which he then followed throughout the rest of his life. As evidenced in his compositions, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, he had a strong devotional nature that shone through and uplifted and carried him through all his tribulations. He experienced the fruits of all three paths, intertwining and acting forcefully, one or the other, at various stages in his development.

Dr. Dalal writes: “Numerous are the paths that have been discovered for achieving inner growth and realising the Truth. The various psychological paths may be classified into three broad types, corresponding to the three basic psychological aspects of the human make-up: the Path of Knowledge, corresponding to the cognitive or thinking aspect; the Path of Devotion, related to the affective or emotional side of human nature; and the Path of Works or Action, based on man’s conative aspect which has to do with striving and willing. Almost all paths contain elements of each of the three broad types just mentioned, though one particular type element — Knowledge, Devotion, or Works — may predominate. The seeker is drawn to one path or another depending on what predominates in one’s psychological make-up. Regarding the best path to follow, the rule is contained in the celebrated words of the Gita: ‘Better is Swadharma — the law of one’s own being — even though itself faulty, than an alien law well wrought out; death in one’s own law of being is better, perilous it is to follow a law foreign to one’s own nature.’ (III:35)”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. xviii-xix

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.