Jnana yoga is one of the main paths of yoga that a practitioner can follow on the way to self-realisation.
It is considered to be the most direct path, but also the most difficult path to find absolute truth. The name comes from the Sanskrit term meaning ‘knowledge’.
It is, therefore, the path of the search for knowledge and truth. However, this must be practical and experiential knowledge, and not purely theoretical. Jnana yoga is also sometimes described as the yoga of the mind or intellect.
The concept of Jnana yoga is described as the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. It may involve progressive study of the scriptures, training and meditation. It is also part of the non-dualistic tradition of Vedanta philosophy.
The intention in practicing Jnana yoga is to use the mind to understand and discover the truth behind the mind. This path requires a mind that is open and rational.
In the Hindu writings, there are some criticisms of the jnana yogis who only attempt to seek knowledge in a purely theoretical way. Since it is presented as an experiential way, simply accepting dogmatic teaching is not enough.
The practitioner, instead, needs to seek an experience of the knowledge of God, the universal Consciousness or the absolute Truth. They must seek to know God on a deeper level than the intellect.
Adi Jagadguru Shankakaracharya encouraged and fully described the way of Jnana yoga. He stated that a practitioner of jnana yoga, or a jnani, needed complete renunciation and a deep desire to be free from illusion.
It is said that once the student is ready, achieving the goal of jnana yoga can take only a few days. The ideal three-step path of jnana yoga is as follows
– The guru or spiritual master teaches the student about Vedantic philosophy and they listen attentively.
– The student reflects on these teachings and seeks to understand their subtleties.
– The student meditates on Brahman as described in the Vedantic texts and, through this combination of knowledge and meditation, experiences the absolute Truth.
Experiencing true knowledge through Jnana yoga enables the practitioner to know God and be liberated.
To achieve this, the Jnana yogis will also use elements of Bhakti yoga, as part of the experience of knowing that God is practising devotion.
The 4 Pillars of Jnana Yoga
Jnana (wisdom or knowledge) is considered the most difficult of the four main paths of yoga, requiring great strength of will and intellect.
In Jnana yoga, the mind is used to investigate its own nature and to transcend the identification of the mind with its thoughts and ego. The fundamental objective of jnana yoga is to free oneself from the illusory world of maya (thoughts and perceptions) and to achieve the union of the inner Self (Atman) with the unity of all life (Brahman).
This is achieved through the constant practice of the mental techniques of self-questioning, reflection and conscious enlightenment, which are defined in the Four Pillars of Knowledge.
The four pillars of knowledge (sadhana chatushtaya) are the prescribed steps for attaining liberation in jnana yoga. These practices build upon each other and must therefore be practised in sequential order.
Even if one does not have the goal of achieving liberation, the practice of these techniques will cultivate spiritual understanding and insight, as well as reduce suffering and dissatisfaction in life.
– Viveka (discernment, discrimination): It is a deliberate and continuous intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the temporary, and the self and the non-self.
– Vairagya (dispassion, detachment): You are cultivating detachment or indifference to the temporal objects of worldly possessions and the mind of the ego. It is only when the mind is absolutely free from attachment of all kinds that true knowledge begins to dawn.
– Shatsampat (six virtues): These are six mental practices to stabilise the mind and emotions, and to further develop the ability to see beyond the illusions of maya.
– Shama (tranquillity, calm): Is the ability to keep the mind at peace through the moderation of its reaction to external stimuli.
– Lady (restraint, control): Is the strengthening of the mind to be able to resist the control of the senses, and the training of the senses to be used only as instruments of the mind.
– Uparati (withdrawal, renunciation): It is the abandonment of all activities that are not one’s Dharma (duty). A simple lifestyle is followed which contains no worldly distractions from the spiritual path.
– Titiksha (endurance, tolerance): It is the tolerance of non-conductive external situations that are commonly considered to produce suffering, especially in extreme opposite states (success and failure, heat and cold, pleasure and pain).
– Shraddha (faith, trust): Is a sense of certainty and belief in the guru (master), the scriptures and the path of yoga.
– Samadhana (focus, concentration): Is the complete oneness of mind.
– Mumukshutva (longing): It is an intense and passionate desire to achieve liberation from suffering. To achieve liberation, one must be fully committed to the path, with such longing that all other desires fade away.
It can be difficult to grasp or understand the intellectual focus of Jnana yoga, and since one can place too much emphasis on intellectual achievement, it is important to cultivate humility and compassion on this path.
It is easy to become entangled in the concepts and thoughts of the mind and lose sight of the goal of Jnana: to realise the divine unity inherent in all beings.
Obviously, this approach would be contraindicated for anyone with a history of mental illness or emotional instability.
It is also strongly recommended that a competent teacher be found before the path of jnana yoga is deeply divulged.
Benefits of Jnana Yoga
1) Jnana yoga is ideal for relieving tension, stress and mild depression.
2) It can make your brain calm and relaxed.
3) You can increase your memory capacity by practicing this form of yoga regularly.
4) This yoga is excellent for increasing your power of concentration.
5) You can practice this yoga to cure insomnia.
6) Practicing Jnana yoga regularly will help you to rejuvenate your mind, body and soul.
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