What is Jnana Yoga?
Jnana Yoga in Hinduism is a direct path to liberation. This is the quickest way to liberate oneself from the stranglehold transmigration (birth-death cycle). The term roughly means “the way of wisdom”, and is one of the three classical paths for liberation in Hinduism. The other two are karma yoga (path of action, karma-marga) and bhakti yoga (path of loving devotion to a personal God, bhakti-marga). Jnana Yoga is a no-nonsense spiritual practice that pursues knowing one’s true self with questions such as “Who am I?”
Humans are conditioned to thinking that their body is their self. This path, however, asks searching questions that explore one’s real self. It makes the seer realize that their real self is nor their body, mind or intellect, but pure consciousness. It’s easy to grasp this concept intellectually. But the real magic of this path lies in its ability to make the seeker realize and be instantly liberated. Fundamental tenets of this path are discussed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. This path was adopted by Adi Shankara and Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, just to cite a few examples.
What are the basic concepts of Jnana Yoga in Hinduism?
Based on Advaita Vedanta, Jnana Yoga has 4 basic concepts:
- Discrimination (Nityānitya vastu viveka – नित्यानित्य वस्तु विवेकम्) — ability to discriminate between the unchanging, permanent, eternal (nitya) and the changing, transitory, temporary (anitya).
- Dispassion (Ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga virāga – इहाऽमुत्रार्थ फल भोगविरागम्) — dispassionate indifference (virāga) towards fruits of action both in this and other worlds
- Six virtues (Śamādi ṣatka sampatti – शमादि षट्क सम्पत्ति) —
- Śama, temperance of mind
- Dama, temperance of sense organs (voluntary self-restraint)
- Uparati, withdrawal of mind from sensory objects
- Titikṣa, forbearance
- Śraddhā, faith, sincere attention
- Samādhāna, concentration of mind
- Drive, longing (Mumukṣutva – मुमुक्षुत्वम्) — intense yearning for liberation
Jnana Yoga Bhagavad Gita – Gyan Yog in Geeta
Chapter 4 of the Gita titled ‘The way of Knowledge and Sacrificial Action’ (ज्ञानकर्मसंन्यासयोगः) explains this path in detail. It’s This chapter that contains one of the most famous verses of the Gita which is given below:
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥ ४-७॥
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥ ४-८॥Verses from Chapter 4, Bhagavad Gita
Whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness prevails, the Lord manifests himself for the protection of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked, and also for establishing order (dharma) in the world.
Gyan Yog Shlok
Here are some key verses from the 4th chapter of the Gita that describe some key concepts of Jnana Yoga:
ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥ ४-२४॥
अपि चेदसि पापेभ्यः सर्वेभ्यः पापकृत्तमः ।
सर्वं ज्ञानप्लवेनैव वृजिनं सन्तरिष्यसि ॥ ४-३६॥
यथैधांसि समिद्धोऽग्निर्भस्मसात्कुरुतेऽर्जुन ।
ज्ञानाग्निः सर्वकर्माणि भस्मसात्कुरुते तथा ॥ ४-३७॥
न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते ।
तत्स्वयं योगसंसिद्धः कालेनात्मनि विन्दति ॥ ४-३८॥
श्रद्धावाँल्लभते ज्ञानं तत्परः संयतेन्द्रियः ।
ज्ञानं लब्ध्वा परां शान्तिमचिरेणाधिगच्छति ॥ ४-३९॥
अज्ञश्चाश्रद्दधानश्च संशयात्मा विनश्यति ।
नायं लोकोऽस्ति न परो न सुखं संशयात्मनः ॥ ४-४०॥
तस्मादज्ञानसम्भूतं हृत्स्थं ज्ञानासिनात्मनः ।
छित्त्वैनं संशयं योगमातिष्ठोत्तिष्ठ भारत ॥ ४-४२॥Verses from Chapter 4, Bhagavad Gita
The fundamental tenets of the path of knowledge are clearly laid out in this chapter of the Gita. The Lord says that even the wise people are deluded as to what is action and what is inaction. He who finds inaction in action and action in inaction, he who remains in equipoise and is a performer of all action is wise. He who is free from attachment, he who is free from desires, he whose actions have been burned by the fire of knowledge is wise. Having renounced the attachment for action and desire for its fruits, one doesn’t get bonded although he is engaged in action. One who is content with just what providence brings, is not bound even by performing action. Lord Krishna goes on to say that even if one is the worst of sinners, the blazing fire of knowledge will cleanse all sins. The fire of knowledge alone can bun all actions and there is nothing as purifying as this. Having attained knowledge, one attains supreme peace. Whereas the one who is ignorant and has a doubting mind is ruined.
Lord Krishna clearly strikes the difference between what qualifies as action and what doesn’t. Having firmly established one’s mind in the self, having controlled one’s sense organs with the mind, if one performs action with no attachment to its outcomes and no desires whatsoever, one doesn’t get afflicted by the type of action one performs. Even if it is a war which results in’s killing of people (which Arjuna is supposed to fight), it doesn’t accrue sin for the performer because his mind was established in the self and that the action was performed bereft of desire. On the other hand, if one takes to inaction, but has strong desires and carnal tendencies in his mind, he gets afflicted and bonded by it.
Jnana Yoga Benefits
Here are some key benefits of adopting Jnana Yoga:
- Ability to engage with the world, yet stay unaffected
- Being unaffected by the outcomes of action
- Neither desire to perform action, nor lethargy to sit idle
- Contentment, Peace & Bliss
Jnana Yoga Purpose in Hinduism
Not only Jnana Yoga, the ultimate objective of all the 3 paths is one’s liberation. For those who are able to grasp and imbibe this concept, this works wonders. If you’re bogged down by depression, diseases, relationship issues, work-pressure, or any other problems in life, you just need to realize this- all these issues are only affecting your body and mind. Your self is distinct from both. You are pure consciousness, which is already whole and free.
The reason for your worries is your ignorance by virtue of which you mistake your body and mind to be your real self. The moment you realize that you are neither the body nor your mind, you’ll realize that the problems that seemed to bother you do not touch you any further. Diseases can at best harm your body. Depression is just a thought in your mind. When you’re in deep sleep, neither your disease troubles you nor your depression. You’re in a deep state of bliss. Once you’re able to consciously rest in that state, you’re in sahaja samadhi, and your actions will cease to bind you. Following Jnana Yoga is a very effective method for people in all walks of life to continue in their current capacities as a professional, family-man, student etc., and gradually mature out of binding action. When you start performing action without desire for its outcome, action eventually leaves you (and you don’t have to renounce action). You’ll find yourself in a state in which you no longer have a compulsive urge to perform action, nor lethargy, you feel content whether you act or not, you’re at peace irrespective of outcomes of action and you’re at eternal bliss.
3 stages of Jnana Yoga
Jnanayoga for Advaitins consists of three practices:
- Sravana (listening): Sravana literally means hearing or listening, and broadly refers to the stage wherein the Advaitin listens to updaesha (teaching) of the Guru with regards to the primal ignorance, the real nature of self, that it’s already attained, and how ignorance can be removed
- Manana (thinking): Manana refers to thinking and contemplating over the ideas based on svadhyaya (self-stud) and sravana.
- Nididhyasana (meditation): Realization and consequent conviction of the truths, non-duality and reaching a state in which these are no longer intellectual concepts, and the seeker is able to sit still being absorbed in the self (samadhi)
This three-step methodology is rooted in the teachings of chapter 4 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
These practices, with the help of a guru are believed to lead to correct knowledge, which destroys avidya (ignorance), psychological and perceptual errors related to the nature of self.
Jnana Yoga examples
One of the recent and greatest examples of a Jnani is Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi. At age 16, he had a death experience, which could be described as a sudden fear of death in which he was struck by “a flash of excitement” or “heat”, a “current” or “force” that seemed to possess him, while his body became rigid. He initiated a process of self-enquiry, asking himself, “what it is that dies?” He concluded the body dies, but this “current” or “force” remains alive and recognized this “current” or “force” as his Self, which he later identified with “the personal God, or Iswara”. In one of his rare written comments on this process Ramana Maharshi wrote, “inquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving That alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.” Later in life, he called his death experience akrama mukti, “sudden liberation”, as opposed to the krama mukti, “gradual liberation” as in the Vedanta path of jnana yoga.
Although Ramana Maharshi could be the ultimate example for a Jnani in the recent times, he did not have to practise a certain teaching or follow a certain path to attain liberation. His was an original spring, which was however consistent with the teachings of scriptures. Bhagawan’s main teaching was self-inquiry, to unravel the nature of self. Self-inquiry is also very a part of Jnana Yoga. If you’re a sincere seeker, you’ll be well advised to pay a visit to Sri Ramanasramam. The Maharshi’s adhisthanam (tomb) is so powerful that it spiritually helps seekers accelerate their journey in their respective paths to realize their true self.