The path of knowledge, or Gñana Yoga, is the experiential knowledge of the Being. The literal translation of Jnana or Gyana is «knowledge». This path emphasizes a process of acquiring wisdom through cognitive engagement with the divine. Although one begins on this path by reading the scriptures and listening to the discourses of spiritual teachers, the knowledge eventually becomes experiential and takes root in the seeker through divine grace.
Gñana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge, not knowledge in the intellectual sense, but the knowledge of Brahman and Atman and the realization of their unity. When the devotee of God follows the impulses of the heart, Jnana uses the powers of the mind to discriminate between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the transient.
The jnanis, followers of non-dualistic or advaita Vedanta, can also be called monists because they affirm the only reality of Brahman. Of course, all the followers of Vedanta are monists: all Vedantins affirm the one reality of Brahman.
The distinction here is in spiritual practice: while all Vedantins are philosophically monistic, in practice those who are devoted to God prefer to think of God as something other than themselves in order to enjoy the sweetness of a relationship.
The jnanis, on the other hand, know that all duality is ignorance. There is no need to look for divinity outside of ourselves: we ourselves are already divine.
The steps of Gñana Yoga
There are four prescribed steps in Gñana Yoga known as Sadhana Chatushtaya (the Four Pillars of Knowledge). These practices complement each other to cultivate the spiritual insight necessary for this path:
* Viveka (discrimination): When you observe that change is constantly happening and at the same time recognize the unchanging nature of the divine being within you, then you experience discrimination. Although our bodies, thoughts and emotions renew and fluctuate, the part of you that witnesses this process does not change. Identifying your own ability to witness is a purpose of Jnana Yoga.
* Vairagya (renunciation): Also translated as dispassion, vairagya implies an attitude of acceptance and a lack of fever for anything. By becoming less attached to the pleasures and pains of the world and by remaining active and enthusiastic regardless of the satisfaction of desires, you can experience the second pillar of knowledge and free yourself from unfulfilled cravings and aversions.
* Shatsampatti (the six riches): Shama, the first wealth, is the tranquility of the mind. Lady, the second wealth, is the control of one’s own senses. Titiksha, the third wealth, is perseverance or tolerance, or not being shaken by what happens. Uparati, the fourth wealth, is rejoicing or being with your own nature. Shraddha, the fifth wealth, is faith or recognition of the unknown. Samadhana, the sixth wealth, is joy or tranquility, calm and serenity.
* Mumukshatva (constant struggle for freedom): From within, you want the best. Total freedom, enlightenment and the highest longing should be the goal of the yogi. All these pillars and riches already reside within you, although you do not know that they do. Still, you have the ability to conceive of the possibility of achieving them. This deep yearning for the supreme experience of bliss is the fourth pillar of knowledge.
Gñana Yoga Resources
There are countless resources on this Jnana yoga journey. The most widely used are the Upanishads, the Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. Other resources include the easy Drg Drsya Viveka, Panchdasi, the sensual Bhairaiva Tantra, and the elegant Shiva Sutras.
They all point to the same Ultimate Reality: that we are Divine Consciousness, infinitely expressing itself through all forms of the Universe. Everything is part of the same whole: the Uni-verse, all dancing together, composing a divine work of art, illuminated and inspired by consciousness.
Through Gñana Yoga, we listen to and study these simple yet profound truths so that our minds understand on an intellectual level how it all works.
Through dedicated study, preferably with an informed and trusted teacher, it is possible to break through the veils of Avidya and see clearly the workings of the body-mind-intellect system.
Know with the mind and experience with the heart
This part of the journey can only take us to the door of true wisdom. Our human minds are limited in their capacity for this kind of knowledge. The next stage leads us to surrender mind-based knowing and move into a deeper «knowing» that can only be felt in the realm of the heart.
This is called Vijnana, an experiential knowledge that cannot be understood by reading a text or listening to a lecture. It is the mystical aspect supreme of yoga, one that is often overlooked in the outer struggle for inner peace.
The greatest of life’s mysteries is how and when this experiential knowledge will present itself. When he does, he reveals magic and deep intelligence that goes far beyond what words can describe.
It is an instant of mind-based «identity» blossoming into a felt experience of being so much more. It is a shift from triputi, the three-way split between subject, object, and action, to identifying with life as one. It knows no distinction between knowing, knowing and known.
As with all yogic paths, we must do the practice with sincerity and lightness for the delight of the path itself. All the while trusting the process without expecting results.
Self-affirmation with Gñana Yoga
In self-affirmation we continually affirm what is real about ourselves: we are not limited to a small physical body; we are not limited by our individual minds. We are Spirit. We were never born; we’ll never die. We are pure, perfect, eternal and free. That is the greatest truth of our being.
The philosophy behind self-affirmation is simple: what you think, so you become. We have programmed ourselves for thousands of lifetimes to think of ourselves as limited, insignificant, weak, and helpless.
What a horrible, terrible lie this is and how incredibly self-destructive! It is the worst poison we can ingest. If we think of ourselves as weak, we will act accordingly. If we consider ourselves helpless sinners, we will certainly act accordingly. If we think of ourselves as Spirit, pure, perfect, free, we will also act accordingly.
Just as we have planted the wrong thoughts in our minds over and over again to create the wrong impressions, we must reverse the process by planting the right thoughts in our brains: thoughts of purity, thoughts of strength, thoughts of truth.
As the Ashtavakra Samhita, a classic Advaita text, declares: “I am spotless, tranquil, pure-conscious, and beyond nature. All this time I have been deluded by illusion.»
Gñana Yoga uses our considerable mental powers to put an end to the process of delusion, to know that even now and always we have been free, perfect, infinite and immortal.
By realizing that, we will also recognize in others the same divinity, the same purity and perfection. No longer confined to the painful limitations of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, we will see the one Brahman everywhere and in everything.
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