Understanding Jnana Yoga
Jnana Yoga is practical Philosophy/Metaphysics. It is both theory and practice.
This spiritual practice uses the intellect as a tool to understand that our true Self is behind and beyond our minds. It is, however, a mistake to think the Source could be found with the intellect alone. For the purpose of personal self-discovery, Jnana Yoga probes your own nature through the question “Who am I?”
Thus Jnana Yoga may be called the “Quest for the Self” or the self-inquiry of the true knowledge and absolute truth of “who we are.” It’s the spiritual path to the pure consciousness of the ultimate reality of our inner self.
The Importance of Jnana Yoga Spiritual Practice
Jnana Yoga is the epitome of all yoga. Jnana Yoga’s essence is Jnana, knowledge that liberates. Jiva or Jivatma are bound by ignorance i.e., Avidya. Jnana yoga is the path to Liberation from Ignorance and the cycle of death and birth. Jnana or knowledge is Jivatma’s true nature and Jiva is Jivanmukta, free from ignorance and bondage.
It utilizes a one-pointed meditation on a single question of self-inquiry to dissolve the veils of Maya, the Hindu term for illusion. This yogic path allows you to recognize the temporary and illusionary nature of Maya, as well as the oneness of all things.
The Other 3 Paths: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga
In a nutshell, Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge; Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion, the practice of karma yoga is the practice of yoga of action, and Raja yoga is the yoga of meditation. Each offers a path to moksha (spiritual liberation) and self-realization.
If you’re new to the yogic path, practice karma, bhakti, or hatha yoga to lay a strong foundation for Jnana yoga. The act of sitting still for a few minutes is not only the essence of many yoga postures but also a powerful and tangible way to develop some of the four pillars of knowledge.
The Four Pillars of Knowledge
1) Jnana yoga practice is Jnana or knowledge.
2) Jiva attains Jivanmukti through Jnana yoga’s first stage – Jnana Marga or Jnanayoga’s middle path.
3) To practice karma yoga is to practice Jiva’s Karya, Jiva doing karmas to attain liberation.
4) Jiva or Jivanmukta is Jnana yoga’s Jiva or Jivanmukti, Jnana yoga’s ultimate goal, and Jnana Yoga’ s very essence.
Four Stages in Practicing Jnana Yoga
1) Discrimination between Purusha and Prakriti.
2) Understanding the full meaning of this Discrimination.
3) Acquiring Jnana or knowledge through meditation on the Jivatma and its ultimate merger in Paramatma.
4) Living a Jivanmukta, a liberated life of a Jivanmukta on earth as a witness of the play of Prakriti’s three gunas. Jivanmukta is Jnana yoga’s ultimate goal and Jnana Yoga’s very essence.
These four stages are likened to a staircase leading from the base of ignorance to the top of Jnana or Liberation. The first three or Jnana Marga: discrimination or Viveka, understanding discrimination and meditation, or Nidhidhya are Jnana yoga’s middle path.
Jnana Marga is Jnana yoga’s first stage through which Jiva attains Jivanmukti or Liberation. Jivanmukta sheds the body as a snake sheds its skin and lives as a Jivanmukta on earth, experiencing this world as a Jivanmukta. Jiva becomes Jivanmukta through Jnana yoga’s Jnana Marga or Jnana Yoga’s first stage – Jnana Marga or Jnanayoga’s middle path.
Jnana yoga can be called Jivayoga because Jiva or Jivatma is a false manifestation of the true Self hidden behind and beyond the mental practices.
How Do You Practice Jnana Yoga?
Jnana Yoga practice is also called the Jnana Marga (path of knowledge/wisdom). It is not an easy path to follow. Jnana yoga covers all areas of human activity, but always with a goal in mind: the attainment of self-knowledge or self-realization.
For Jnana yoga, self-knowledge can only be attained through Jnana (knowledge) and Vijnana (self-realization). Jnana Yoga, therefore, requires sustained effort on the path of experiential knowledge, while keeping in mind that it is not an intellectual pursuit.
Who Practices Jnana Yoga?
Some seekers, who do not require tools like Jnana yoga, already have an intense and passionate desire or strong belief in God and Spiritual survival. They require no other system than to believe in God and love God with all their heart.
That is the path of mainstream Religion and that of Bhakti Yoga. Other seekers feel they need to do good and selfless deeds. Some seekers have their beliefs but need a more systematic approach. Generally, they like systems like Raja, Ashtanga, or Kriya Yoga. At times, seekers feel they need more outside assistance; they are good candidates for Religion, Shaktipat, and Siddha Yoga.
Finally, there are seekers who want to believe but have a greater need to understand; they have lots of questions and need all of them answered. These seekers are the best candidates for Jnana yoga. Jnana yoga is not alien to other systems or religions. One could say that this type of yoga developed in Vedanta, the philosophy of Vedic Scripture. These writings are even older than the Bible and there are scholars who see the origin of all major religions in these ‘revelations of Truth‘ or sacred knowledge.
The relationship between the Bible and Vedanta was also pointed out by Ramana Maharshi, who once said that the whole Vedanta is contained in the two Biblical statements: “I am that I AM” and “Be still and know that I am God.”
Is Jnana Yoga a Mere Intellectual Exercise?
Definitely not. Practically all questions may be answered intellectually but not final questions like: Who or what is God? Or, who or what is the Self? The answer to “who is the Self,” must be the Self by ‘It-Self’. The answer to “who is God”, must be God by HimSheItself.
As the first result of Jnana yoga or introspection, we can intellectually realize that God’s nature must be pure Beingness or pure Awareness, or we may realize that at the center of our Being is pure Beingness and that this is the real Self – but to know the Self we must be the Self. To know Beingness, we must be Beingness or pure Awareness.
This could be compared with an orgasm: We may hear in detail what it feels like but to really know what it is we must have the actual experience. In order to have the experience of God’s omnipresence, we may intellectually realize, what Jnana yoga and Religion has taught all along, that we should not produce a single thought in the otherwise pure Awareness (Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God”), but to be still is not an intellectual exercise; that is done with Meditation.
The Main Spiritual Vision of Jnana Yoga
The meditation in Jnana yoga is to concentrate on the answer to the question: “Who am I?” Or, to simply hang on to the first of all thoughts which is “I”. That might sound strange and egotistical, but every thought we produce is added to “I”, follows the “I”.
Thus we may say: I see you, I do this, and so on. First comes I – then everything else. If we concentrate on “I” until the thought can be held, then we are already at the root of all problems and errors. In time, even this thought will disappear leaving nothing else but pure Awareness. That is the omnipresence of God. It should be quite clear that we still continue to exist without thinking.
We must also realize that such a thoughtless condition must be possible. However, if one simply tries to stop thinking just for a moment, we encounter the resistance of our ego. Since the ego cannot consist of anything more than thoughts, it is constantly weakened by our meditation, as long as we really try to stick with our Mantram, which for a Jnana Yogi may simply be “I”.
The Promise of Jnana Yoga
The best promise of the Jnana yoga system is the possible culmination into Sahaja Samadhi; that is when the natural condition of the Self continues even during regular activities, free of worries and anxiety.
Shankara and, more recently, Ramana Maharshi are the classic authorities concerning Jnana Yoga. Like Hatha- and Radja Yogis, Jnana Yogis also acknowledge the relationship between breathing and thinking. However, they found out that breathing slows automatically through the concentration on the “I-AM.” Through persistent probing, fixing our attention on the source of our
Being, we regain our supreme Self; we remember who we are. The inquiry, as the result of the core practices of Jnana yoga, leads us towards clear Awareness by removing our attention from that which we are not. We also let go of worldly possessions. Along with Bhakti Yoga (Devotion), Jnana is listed among the best approaches for becoming aware of the eternal Self (God).