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Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Hermetic Library Figure Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekananda Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga

This volume collects two of “the Yogas” by Vivekananda in their standard English edition. They are paginated separately, and in this review I’ll refer to (K #) for Karma-Yoga and (B #) for Bhakti-Yoga.

These short books are quite inspiring. As always, Vivekananda writes as a Vedantist whose essential spirituality is universalist. He often pauses to point out the good and bad in various world religions, and Christianity is certainly not immune to criticism. He implicitly derides the doctrine of original sin and Christian self-hatred (K 16ff.), and he makes numerous anti-Protestant remarks: “at present there is scarcely any difference between the advanced Protestants and the followers of Auguste Comte, or the Agnostics who preach ethics alone” (B 46).

His occasional praises for Christianity concern the features of the Christian legacy most clearly presented in Thelema. Writing of the point at which Karma, Bhakti, and Jnana become indistinguishable, he says: “The worshipper, by keeping constantly before him the idea of God and a surrounding of good, comes to the same point at last and says, ‘Thy will be done'” (K 80-1). And in reference to Vatsalya: “The idea of loving God as a child comes into existence and grows naturally among those religious sects which believe in the incarnation of God” (B 98-9).

The second section of Bhakti-Yoga, concerning “Para-Bhakti or Supreme Devotion,” is the very best part of this volume. In it, Vivekananda describes the agape of the adepts, and he explains how it is that the obligation of the Master of the Temple to “interpret every phenomenon as a particular dealing of God with my Soul” is in fact the “central secret” of bhakti yoga (B 73).