3 Sacred Paths to Living an Englightened Life (without sitting under a Boddhi tree)

How to achieve enlightenment?

A question that we usually ask ourselves in between watching reality TV and during the last 30 seconds before we fall asleep each day.

It’s a big life question and many religious texts and practices have tried to answer it.

You may find that different people answer this question in different ways – drugs and alcohol will definitely get you enlightened for a few hours. Fancy cars and big houses may make you believe that you’ve been enlightened. A local visit to your temple or church may feel like enlightenment is right around the corner.

But what if you want enlightenment right now? Ok…during this lifetime?

Don’t worry – this story doesn’t end with you spending a lifetime under a Boddhi tree in deep meditation. (Although that has worked for others in the past)

The Bhagavad Gita – no, that’s not what you had for lunch at Taj India buffet.

The sacred Hindu scripture, known as the Bhagavad Gita, provides 3 sacred paths to living an enlightened life. If you’re thinking the Bhagavad Gita was what you had for lunch at Taj India buffet last week, you’re sorely mistaken.

The Bhagavad Gita or “Sacred Song” is a Hindu epic that takes place in a mythical holy battlefield. Arjuna, a hero in this battle and a representation of every human soul who seeks guidance, strategizes how to fight his distant relatives on the battle-field.

This epic conversation between Arjuna (enlightenment-seeker – i.e. you) and the God Krishna takes up about 18 chapters of the Gita and is filled with pearls of wisdom about living and enlightenment.

No matter what you think about Hinduism or holy battles, the message of the Gita is universal.  The Gita offers up three paths of salvation and enlightenment that you can put in practice into your life today.

The way of action (Karma Yoga) – Karma here is not in the sense of ‘don’t cheat your neighbor today or someone’s going to show up and slash your car tires tomorrow.’ While surely that can happen, we are talking about Karma in the unselfish action sense.

It is a path that states that you should do your duty in life (studying, working, raising children) but not for external reasons; glory, fame, wealth or praise. You do your life’s work without any expectations of a return.

Karma yoga instructs against taking action for selfish personal gain and suggests enlightenment by working for work’s sake.

When you ignore the ‘fruits’ of your actions, you become less attached to expectations, achievements and results. You can work for the sake of work, which Krishna calls divine work, and a sure-bet towards enlightenment.

So, in a nutshell, carry out life’s duties without expectations or seeking rewards.

The Way of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga)

This is enlightenment through knowledge; reading of texts or learning from wise teachers. Ok, I’ll agree with you – you’re right – reading Vishnu’s Virtues is probably a form of Jnana Yoga. So is picking up a copy of my book, Is God Listening? 🙂

Not the strongest form and definitely not recommended by 9 out of 10 gurus, but it’s one way. And many of you are great Jnana yogis as you may consume your fair share of wisdom-filled blogs (including www.tinybuddha.com, www.everydaygyaan.com, http://evolvingbeings.com/), spiritual texts and even read brilliant realized tweets to achieve the realized state.

Other ways include reading holy scriptures, being guided by wise men and women, meditation and even yoga.

Way of Devotion (Bhakti Yoga) This is the way of devotion or faith. It is the way of love, dedication, faith and worship.

If you sing in joy and celebration of a higher power, you’re practicing bhakti yoga.

Same if you’re praising, worshipping, or reflecting upon the higher powers.

This is a practice of love and praise. Constant and fervorous worship.

5 thing you can do to reach enlightenment today.

The Bhagavad Gita offers 3 ways to start on your path to enlightenment.

You can start on the path to self-realization today.

You don’t even have to sit under a boddhi tree for awareness. Or move to the Himalayas or jump the palace gates like the Buddha.

You don’t need to hit rock bottom or end up in your life’s lowest point to start your path to enlightenment.

You don’t need a groom running away at the alter, house foreclosure or income tax audit to help you get to the point of seeking spiritual realization.

1. Start working for the sake of work without minding so much about the results, achievements or goals. Yes, Hindu wisdom would say live a goal-free life. You can have goals in life but don’t expect enlightenment through a constant achievement of goals.

2. Read, inquire, question, learn. Check out practices, books, knowledge and other spiritual paths to start on your own path towards enlightenment. Enlightenment won’t happen overnight but you can start on your path today.

3. Worship, pray, meditate and make a connection with the higher powers in the universe.Some sort of an active spiritual practice can help you start your path to enlightenment.

4. Be a better human. Who knows? Maybe ultimately being enlightened is really about realizing that there’s a higher power that governs the universe. If this is the case, that higher power must be everywhere including within every human. Is enlightenment simply realizing this and being kinder, more loving and compassionate towards others?

5. Attend a rafastarian concert and rock out to reggae music. If you think enlightenment is utter nonsense and have no desire to get started on any spiritual path, I dare you to attend a reggae concert and not come out spiritually enlightened.  Sure, it may be a temporary state of euphoria (until the smoke clears) but you’ll have a taste of what enlightenment could feel like.

Will you become an enlightened soul in a life-time?

* Thanks to the book Hinduism by Vasudha Narayanan which I referenced for parts of this post and madam3181 for the Buddha photo.

To learn more about my book on spirituality and resilience, Is God Listening, click here


  1. working for the sake of work with no expectations or goals?? That’s hard to do if you’re striving for blog famous. haha. You have a point though.. When I traveled to Asia I went so with no expectations. But it still trips me up. How to have goals without actually striving for them?? I don’t get it! Stick to my no goals, no planned scattered self?? Or come up with to-do lists and organization?

    1. Janet! How are you? I remember exchanging ideas on the Philippines and being entrepreneurial a while back! I’m the Swede who grew up in Cavite… Are you still in Manila? I was just there… In Pasay.. Long story. But it did make me think of your uniquely cool lifestyle! I kept asking people how much it would cost to live there… I would love to move back for a couple years… How much is rent for a non-Makati one-bedroom apt nowadays?

      1. Hi Bjorn, I think I vaguely remember. Were we in Grace’s “Pinay on the Move” blog together?

        If you grew up in Cavite are you fluent in Tagalog?? We should meet up when you’re around again.

        My rent is only $50/mo in the slums. haha. But you can get a non Makati place for P6,000-8,000 studio type I think.

    2. hey Janet – I think I was referring more to not having expectations or goals on the road to enlightenment:) I think enlightenment is the journey, not the destination. I wonder how you know when we’ve gotten there?! As far as life otherwise, I’ve found goals to only help me get things done. I’m glad you finished one of your BIG goals recently with the blog makeover!

  2. As a Christian, I am struck more by the similarities to Hinduism you described here than the differences. God, through Christ Jesus, comes first in our lives. Everything else revolves around this – our work, our play, our interactions with others. It isn’t about us, it’s about the Lord. We, too, attend worship, spend time in prayer, and read the Scriptures. And, we are called to live attentively in the present moment, with gratitude for all our blessings, even in the midst of the storm.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom (and wit) with us, Vishnu!

    1. I’m with you Martha 🙂 I think we need to set aside our difference and join forces to find salvation, enlightenment and how to get motivated to begin our spiritual paths! Prayer, reading, worship are universal steps to enlightenment.

  3. Vishnu,
    This post was so educational! Thank you very much for breaking it down for us in a way that is easy to understand. It made me smile because in a lot of ways I am trying to practice exactly what you spoke of but without knowing how exactly to put it into words. Looks like that was already done a long time ago. With blogging I try hard to focus on the work and not the results. It is great for practicing that!

    1. Thanks for commenting Wendy. Each religion tends to break things down in easy to understand ways. And if not, I’m glad to break it down on VVirtues:) Blogging for the sake of blogging, instead of results is probably the secret to successful blogging:) or what Hindus would call karma yoga.

  4. Vishnu,

    I couldn’t agree more with the

    “The Bhagavad Gita.” suggestion or any of the suggestions in this post!

    I am equally humbled and honored you’d consider my website in that mix of websites.

    I want to pick your brain a little and see if you’d like to join me on a new website.

    Let me know if you’d like to have a conversation.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Tim. I’m enjoying reading your blog too and would be happy to get in touch. Talk soon.

  5. I really appreciated learning more about Hindu scripture. The three paths you described give us a wide range of approaches, one or all of which are easily applicable in our everyday lives.

    I especially appreciated what you said about a goal-less life. Seems to me that so many blogs I read are about attaining goals. I find as I get older that I have fewer and fewer goals. For a while that made me nervous. How will I get anything done if I don’t have goals? But things do get done somehow. I do have my little short term to do lists to remind me of calls I need to make and things I need at the store. What a relief to hear you say, though, that my life can be meaningful, even enlightened, without goals.

    Nice choice of websites to highlight, too.

    And by the way, let me say again that I love the way you write. Humor definitely has its place in enlightenment!

    1. thanks so much for your comments Galen. I’m not quite sure I’m living from that enlightened place of living. I do have some goals and they are helpful to get things done. But don’t live and die on the basis of my goals. Also, as far as attaining englightenment, I don’t know if setting that as a goal is the way to get there 🙂 I think like a lot of things in life, englithenment is about the journey, not the destination.

  6. Great, Vishnu. I really appreciate your point about reading, asking questions, seeking information and learning. I often tell people, “You have to be a sponge.” Then they look at me like I’m nuts until I explain how important is to not only absorb what’s around you, but to seek out knowledge from books and from other people (or at Reggae concerts, too, I suppose!). If don’t know about other paths, how can you know you’re on the right one for you? There are a lot of people who are so, so sure that they’ve got it all right and I can tell from their actions, their words, from their quick-to-vanish smiles that they are so, so far from enlightenment, it’s really astounding. They need to read this blog!

    1. Ha ha Jody – I think if you’re sending people to read this blog to reach enlightment, we’re all in trouble! I’m just trying to understand spirituality better for myself and sharing the journey with the 10 of you reading:) You’re right about learning more and trying out paths. I’ve sampled religions, practices like a box of chocolate to eliminate the ones I don’t like. I’m getting closer and closer to finding the path!

      Being open to continual learning, knowledge and wisdom can only make us better people and more open-minded. And land us on that path to self-understanding and realization.

  7. MAN! A quick Boddhi tree purchase would be a lot easier than attempting to live a goal-free life in California…. But point taken… I am frequently reminded that I am too type A when I read posts like this one and pretty much anything on ZenHabits:)

    Thanks Vishnu!

    1. haha I’m going to get you a boddhi tree but I think they are kind of big.

      you can live a goal-filled life in California – just live a goal-free life on your journey to enlightenment:) Goals do help me get things done – I’m not quite at that realized state of being completely goal-free.

      Anyway, where do I plant the tree at your place?

  8. Wow, this is a very educational post, Vishnu! I learned more than I ever knew about Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita. Thank you. It’s not easy to become enlightened in one lifetime, but it is possible if the right circumstances come together. I think practicing all these forms you suggestion (except for #5) can contribute. Of course, having a little fun might not hurt either depending on how you see it!

    1. Thanks Sandra. Can’t wait to go to a rastafarian concert with you. I think you’ll change your mind.

      I’m glad you found my take on the Gita helpful. I’m no expert – just how I understood the Gita and paths to enlightenment, through the Hindu perspective.

  9. For some reason I got this September post delivered in my mailbox today on January 17th 2013. Im glad that happened because otherwise I would not have discovered this enlightening post. Thank you for writing it and thank you for getting me to comment on a blog for the first time ever.

    You state “It is a path that states that you should do your duty in life (studying, working, raising children) but not for external reasons; glory, fame, wealth or praise. You do your life’s work without any expectations of a return”

    That’s fine but what is your response to someone who says “That statement presumes and requires that I have a duty in life and that i know my life’s work”. Do you have a take on the Bhagavad Gita’s take on finding my life’s work? Many (privileged) children and adults have abundant choices, this is the age of “Be what you want to be, do what you want to do”. Here are examples of common life choices people struggle with – Do I persist with that fat paycheque or do I go work for charity ? Do I choose a spouse that keeps the family peace or do I follow my individual desires? Should I pursue esoteric academic research or just get to practicing medicine or whatever ? All of these options are perfectly legitimate karma choices, does the Gita give me guidelines on how to choose ?

    IF you know your life’s duty, the B. Gita gives me the right approach (do it with no expectations) but I am yet to find the B. Gita useful in telling me how to make life’s choices or find life’s duty (as an individual or as a group). I say this with all due respect and ignorance as well.

  10. hi Niveditha – thanks for your first comment. And no thanks to my web team who is sending out old posts inadvertently 🙂

    I think you’re ready to start blogging with a comment like that one! But if you think I’m going to give you an in depth spiritual answer on the Gita’s thoughts on finding your life purpose, I think you’ve ended up in the wrong blog here. haha

    I don’t know if the Bhagavad Gita has a take on finding your life’s work. I think the Gita’s position would be whatever work you do, do it without attachment and for the sake of work. The happiness or joy doesn’t really matter.

    How do you find your life’s duty? That’s a good question. And to avoid an entire lengthy post there, I’ll write a future post on that topic. The answer may not necessarily be a religious or spiritual one.

    Find work and do things that serve others.

    Do work that’s personally satisfying and gratifying.

    Try different jobs, careers and move away from skills, duties you don’t like and move towards ones that you do.

    Finally, do work that’s spiritually satisfying. If you’ve found work spiritually in tune with you, do that! If not, keep going. I don’t think there’s a final destination = just a process of discovery. And you know what they say – the journey is more valuable than the destination.

    More soon!

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