Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom. It is a discovery of human dharma in relation to nature and the universe. Jnana Yoga is described by tradition as a means to obtain the highest meditative state and inner knowledge.  Jnana literally means ‘knowledge’, but in the context of yoga it means the process of meditative awareness which leads to illuminative wisdom. It is not a method by which we try to find rational answers to eternal questions, rather it is a part of meditation leading to self-enquiry and self-realisation. 

Components of Jnana Yoga

  • Not believing but realising
  • Self-awareness leading to self-analysis
  • Experiencing knowledge
  • Realising the personal nature
  • Developing intuitive wisdom
  • Experiencing inner unity

In addition to its roots in the Bhagavad Gita, Jnana yoga is highlighted by the non-dualistic tradition of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. According to this school of thought, the knowledge acquired through meditation brings an understanding of one’s self (atman) as identical with Ultimate Reality (Brahman). Experiencing this is believed to dissolve the illusion of a separate sense of Self, ultimately leading to liberation from suffering.

Jnana Yoga in Bhagavad-Gita

Information and teachings related to jnana yoga or the path of knowledge can be found in the following chapters of the Bhagavadgita. They emphasize the importance of cultivating knowledge, which leads to discerning wisdom, devotion and detachment which are necessary to practice karma yoga, karma sanyasa yoga and bhakti yoga.

  • The Yoga of Self-discipline (Chapter VI)
  • The Yoga of Physics and Meta Physics. Chapter VII)
  • The Yoga of Imperishable Brahman. Chapter VIII)
  • The Yoga of Royal Knowledge. Chapter IX)
  • The Yoga of Divine Manifestation. Chapter X )
  • The Yoga of the Vision of Cosmic Form (Chapter XI)
  • The Yoga of Kshetra and Kshetragna .(Chapter XIII)
  • The Yoga of the Division of the Gunas (Chapter XIV)
  • The Yoga of Divine and Undivine Qualities (Chapter XVI)
  • Renunciation of Action with Knowledge. Chapter IV)

Practices that lead to knowledge (jnana)

The second chapter of the Bhagavadgita is known as Jnana Yoga or Samkhya yoga. According to some scholars it is a summary of the Bhagavadgita itself since it contains all the important concepts and ideas of the scripture. It reminds us that we should not identify ourselves with our minds and bodies as we are immortal, spiritual beings and that to transcend our limited nature we have to gain control over our sense organs and our desires through detachment and equanimity and work for our salvation by performing actions for the sake of God. According to the Bhagavadgita, jnana yoga consists of the following practices.

  1. Developing correct awareness of the mind, the body and the Atman or Self.
  2. Stabilizing the mind in the Self through self-discipline and self-absorption (atma-samyamyoga)
  3. Acquiring true awareness of the world around and the SUPREME-Self beyond (knowledge of Sat (Truth) and Asat (Falsehood) through discernment (buddhi yoga).
  4. Practicing various disciplines and other techniques as a means to self-purification, the predominance of sattva and suppression of rajas and tamas..

There are four prescribed steps in Jnana Yoga known as Sadhana Chatushtaya (the Four Pillars of Knowledge). These practices build upon one another in order to cultivate the spiritual insight required for this path:

  • Viveka (discernment, discrimination) – a deliberate, intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal.
  • Vairagya (dispassion, detachment) – cultivating non-attachment toward worldly possessions and the ego-mind.
  • Shatsampat (six virtues) – six mental practices to stabilize the mind and emotions.
  • Mumukshutva (longing, yearning) – an intense and passionate desire for achieving liberation from suffering.

After successfully practicing these four pillars, a practitioner is considered ready to begin the three core practices of Jnana Yoga, according to Upanishadic teachings:

  • Sravana – hearing or experiencing Vedantic philosophy through a guru or spiritual teacher, thereby achieving a deep understanding of the concepts of atman and Brahman and the philosophy of non-dualism.
  • Manana – thinking and reflecting on the teachings of non-duality in an attempt to understand their subtleties.
  • Nididhyasana – constant and profound meditation Brahman and the inner self in order to experience absolute Truth.