Ancient Yogic tradition identifies 3 pathways to G-d-realization: an “intellectual” path, a “devotional” path, and a path of selfless action. A fourth (“Raja Yoga”) is a term of somewhat more recent vintage (c. 500 years ago).
Because they were first delineated in India, these 3 pathways are commonly thought of as “Indian” or “Hindu” schools or practices. But this is as mistaken as it would be to think of Physics as “European science” because of Newton’s or Einstein’s formulations. Just as Physics describes universal laws, the tripartite division of Yoga describes universal modes of spiritual endeavor. The 3 types of Yoga are observable in every religious tradition and culture.
In “Intellectual” or “Jnana” Yoga, ideas about G-d are contemplated until a change of consciousness and perception is produced. The study of Vedanta, a well-known example of this, has parallels within Catholicism in the practices of the Jesuits, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. Within Judaism, the Rambam’s method in his “Mo’reh N’vu’chim” – “ The Guide for the Perplexed [or: Entangled]” — would be another parallel. Moreso, and perhaps in emulation of the Rambam’s model, the practice of “hisbonenus” among HaBaD Hasidim is the “jnana” approach, too. The study of “theoretical” Kabbalah itself is a “jnana” practice; the great Rav Kook, then, would be a “jnani,” or “jnana yogi.” Western philosophy, too, especially among the pre-Socratics, was once a spiritual practice, before it became a more primarily “theoretical” activity. On the other hand, Spinoza, who lived in the 17th century, might certainly qualify more as a “jnani” and true philosopher in the ancient sense, than as a representative of Jewish thought, when he taught that philosophical intuition (or “intuitive knowledge”) is the way to “true blessedness.”
In “Devotional or “Bhakti” Yoga,” the devotee’s love of G-d brings about a transformation in consciousness. A familiar example of this is the “Hare Krishna” movement (“ISKCON”), which is derived from the Vaishnava tradition of India (as opposed to the Advaita or non-dual tradition from which Vedanta comes). Even Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a teacher from the Vedanta – i.e. “intellectual” – tradition, wrote that one can also transcend through increasing feelings of love for G-d during the process of worship. Singing and dancing are often used to stimulate this love. Biblical descriptions of the prophetic “schools” in ancient Israel describe how the “schools of the prophets” would sing and dance to arouse themselves to a level of prophecy. The Charismatic and Pentecostal movements within Protestant Christianity reflect this approach so much that a “Charismatic/Pentecostal” movement was later initiated in Catholicism. “Gospel” music is unquestionably “bhakti.” Franciscan Catholicism might also exemplify this, when compared with Jesuit practice. In Islam, some Sufis – Rumi, for example – seem to represent a similar orientation. Hasidic Judaism, especially in the teachings of the Besht and Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, is, in essence, a “bhakti” approach to Judaism. One could arguably speak of Yehudah ha-Levy as representing the “bhakti” approach, when compared with the other great medieval Jewish poet, Shlomo ibn Gabirol, although the lines are not so clearly distinguishable.
The third category is the path of “selfless action:” “Karma Yoga” This is certainly reflected in the Talmudic ideal of “Torah lishma” – the study (and doing) of Torah “for its own sake” – i.e. without thought of rewards or pleasure. People experience this even in nominally “non-religi-ous” activities – “runner’s high,” for example, or “being in the ‘Zone’.” The practice of oriental martial arts seems to strive to achieve a similar “selflessness.” The experience of a work of art – whether music, painting, poetry, dance, etc. – easily crosses over into a “spiritual” experience, might also fall in this category (although “devotional art,” especially when viewed by a devotee, might fall more in the “bhakti” category).
It must be added that these modes rarely exist as pure and distinct. They are only “pure” as constructs. In actual practice, they’re almost always “mixtures.” “Jnana Yoga” can culminate in great feelings of love for G-d; this is, in fact, the stated goal of the HaBaD system of “intellectual” contemplation. “Bhakti Yoga,” characteristically emotive, can also require intellectual mastery of a set of ideas; for example, Bhaktivedanta’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, or Rebbe Nachman’s “Likutei Moharan.” Karma Yoga can be based on a love which is itself the outcome of contemplation; see Schweitzer’s principle of “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben/Reverence for Life,” for example, or the Talmudic comment on the Shema, that one must first accept the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” before accepting the “yoke of the mitzvot.” Spiritual practices, then, whether ancient or modern, often combine all three modes; the predominant mode gives the teaching its defining characteristics and identity.
Within Judaism, then, can be found manifold pathways to faith in G-d. What most characterizes Judaism is not a single pathway, but rather, the vision of a community – even a world – that venerates sincere faith, however it is achieved. Any one of us might become a “tzadik,” or saint, ourselves. But the world won’t be a “Home for G-d” until we also respect, honor and include those whose pathways differ from our own: “In that day the L-rd will be One and His Name One.”