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Activity 3: Four Paths to the Ultimate (20 minutes), Workshop 4: Hinduism—One God, a Thousand Faces

In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Leader Resource 5, Children's Chalice Lighting with Gestures
  • Old, respectable-looking book, preferably with no title on the front cover
  • Pair of work gloves
  • Rose, red paper heart, or other symbol of love
  • A polished stone
  • Lined paper and pens or pencils

Preparation for Activity

  • Look over Leader Resource 5, to familiarize yourself with the words and gestures.

Description of Activity

Participants learn about the four yogas, or paths to enlightenment, of Hinduism.

Share with participants, in these words or your own:

Absolutely fundamental to Hinduism is its recognition that people are different. Like Unitarian Universalism, Hinduism recognizes that people see the divine differently (hence, the many gods and goddesses), they think and act differently, and they respond to different things. Also like UUs, Hindus believe there is no one single path to understanding God: that the roads to enlightenment will differ as much as people do and that no one road is more legitimate than the next. There is only the one that is right for you. This is directly acknowledged in the four yogas of Hinduism.

In the United States, the word "yoga" typically brings to mind a type of physical exercise with a spiritual component. However, in Hinduism, the meaning is more significant. The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit word for union or joining. The four yogas are four different approaches to reuniting or rejoining with the divine.

Ask the youth if any of them have been Unitarian Universalists for a few years. Remind those who were UUs as children that they probably learned a simple chalice lighting that can help them remember the four yogas. Ask any youth who remember the words and gestures to recite it along with you (refer to Leader Resource 5, Children's Chalice Lighting with Gestures, as needed):

We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism. This is the church of the open mind. This is the church of the helping hands. This is the church of the loving heart. Together we care for our earth and work for friendship and peace in our world.

Share with the group that the first three yogas will be easy to remember from this chalice lighting: They are the yoga of thought or the mind (do the open mind gesture), the yoga of work or the hands (do the gesture), and the yoga of devotion or the heart (do the gesture). The fourth yoga is more abstract; it is the yoga of contemplation. So, the four paths to enlightenment are through knowledge, through good works, through devotion, and through spiritual contemplation.

The first two paths, "knowledge" and "good works," are self-explanatory. The third path, "devotion," does not mean just to love God; it also implies carrying out actions to demonstrate your reverence, such as worship and prayer. "Spiritual contemplation," the fourth path, is frequently achieved through meditation, but it can include physical action, such as the practice of yoga.

Every path is valid—all lead to God or the Ultimate Reality and are therefore equal—but all require steady, energetic effort. To transcend the delusions of the spiritual world and to fully understand the divine is no small task!

Also, the four paths are not always separate and distinct. For example, to demonstrate devotion to the gods, you might give to a charity—which is also a good work. To increase your ability to contemplate, you might take classes from a yoga instructor, in which you learn that mindfulness is part of the practice of yoga; learning yoga would be a good way to address both the first and fourth paths.

Ask the youth which of the four paths they suppose most Hindus follow—which do they think would appeal to the most people? Tell them that more Hindus follow the path of the heart, often called the path of Love or Devotion, than any other. This does not mean, though, that they neglect the other paths. Most Hindus would say that one should practice all four.

Ask which path each youth feels most drawn to. Which of these makes them feel most in touch with awe and wonder, most connected with something bigger than themselves?

  • Thinking through an intellectual problem
  • Feeling love or devotion to something or someone
  • Doing work
  • Meditating, or opening their minds to inspiration.

Lay out the book, the gloves, the symbol of love, and the polished stone. Explain that these are intended to stimulate ideas related to the four yogas. Distribute paper and writing instruments. Invite the youth to write why they feel drawn to a particular path or their observations about the four yogas of Hinduism. If they feel drawn to more than one path, they can write what appeals to them personally about several or all of the yogas. Their writing could take the form of a paragraph or a poem. If they express their thoughts better in pictures, youth can draw instead of write.

When the youth have completed writing or drawing, ask if any are willing to share with the group. Listen respectfully and thank participants who read or showed their work.

Thank the youth for their thoughtful participation and willingness to share with the group.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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