Jnana Marga Yoga: The Way of Self-Inquiry and Self-Knowledge
“The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature”
– Swami Vivekananda
The primary objective of ‘Jnana Yoga’ is the ultimate realization of one’s innate nature through correct knowledge and analysis. It is what leads to the cognizance of the presence of divinity within oneself. The word ‘jnana’ literally means knowledge. However, within the realm of yoga, its connotation is not just limited to mere theoretical or practical knowledge. In fact, it is viewed as the very means to attain salvation or Moksha.
This is a commonly shared goal in all of Hinduism; diverse paths or journeys undertaken towards the collective aim of achieving ‘Moksha’ or liberation. One such path is that of Jnana marg, apart from ‘Karma’ and ‘Bhakti’ marg, as discussed in the Bhagavad Gita. Jnana Yoga is the pursuit of this purifying and liberating knowledge that aids our ultimate union with the supreme universal consciousness; the divine light that is omnipresent within oneself, as well as all of creation. Grasping this eternal truth is the be all and end all of all of our existence.
A person committing to the Karma Marg Yoga follows the path of duty, or service, just as a Bhakti Marg Yogi follows one of absolute devotion and surrender to a personal God. Similarly, the ‘Jnani’ dedicates his life to treading on the path of eternal knowledge. The domain of Jnana Yoga opens speculation to the thinkers and philosophers of the world, in seeking answers to some of the most fundamental questions like: ‘Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is the reason for existence? What is the true purpose of my existence?’ The Vedic literature offers guiding principles of Ancient Indian sages and their wisdom gained from traveling along the same pathway. It is a path of elaborate mental discipline and challenge, which seeks to bring one from mere contemplation to ultimate knowledge, and eventually provide spiritual emancipation. Through continual usage of logic, intuition, reflection, examination, and discourse, the dawn of the ‘one imperishable truth’ is what ultimately sets the jnani free from this complicated maze of thought and contemplation.
Unity of self with the Supreme Consciousness. – The very bedrock of Jnana Yoga.
“Brahma Satyam. Jagat Mithya. Jivo Brahmaiva Na Prah.”
– Sri Shankaracharya
God alone is real. The world is an illusion.
The individual is no different from God.
This abstract unity is the very bedrock of Jnana Yoga. Only by rigorously practicing the belief of acknowledging Brahman as the sole truth and our oneness with it, can one transcend the concept of ‘duality’ and escape all fleeting emotions of sorrow, pain, desire, and suffering. This notion of non-duality is known as ‘Advaitism’ and is the very essence of the Vedanta Philosophy in Hinduism.
Shankaracharya was the most exceptional teacher and propounder of this philosophy. His contribution provided a background of concrete reasoning to distill the solid truths of Vedanta, upon which he constructed the system of Jnana Yoga. The power of pure reason and practicality is what sets this path apart from that of Karma and Bhakti, although the objective remains the same. It seeks to train and regulate the mind to discover or realize the self- beyond any reason or thought. To seek this kind of unrestrained freedom, one must begin by first shunning any obsolete beliefs, desires, preconceived notions about the world and the self, and also any superstitious presumptions. A combination of this complete renunciation, as well as the desire to free oneself from the shackles of illusion or ‘Maya’, and focused meditation, is an absolute prerequisite for anyone who wishes to tread on this path. The highest ideal sought by all these three yogic paths, and Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, and also many branches of Buddhism and Christianity- is that of absolute self-abnegation. Jnana yoga aims to free the individual from the bondage of illusion, ‘Maya’, and recognize himself as ‘not a drop in the ocean, but the very ocean itself.’ It is devoid of any concept or definition of ‘I’. Man is inherently the source of divinity and is the very manifestation of the One, Supreme Consciousness, here on earth. The Jnani’s role is to strive beyond the apparent reality, the illusion, and delve deeper to discover the ‘Supreme Reality’ of ‘The Infinite’ or ‘One without a second’; the One with no name, no form, no time, no space.
Understanding the hidden truth of the universe.
‘Aum Tat Sat’- To know ‘Aum’ is to understand the hidden truth or secret of this universe. The highest form of enlightenment is to discover the reality of the Self. This self-realization cannot be grasped or put into words. It must be experienced. The Realization of the absolute reality of existence is infinite and cannot be compartmentalized as a mere subject of knowledge. It is limitless and eternal; destroying the veil of ignorance or ‘avidya’ which arises from the illusion of the senses, for man to then look beyond the visible or known. It is this truth that enables him to recognize himself as Brahman.
“Soul, mind, or ego are mere words. There are no entities of the kind.
Consciousness is the only truth. Its nature is bliss.”
– Ramana Maharishi
The great sage and yogi, Ramana Maharishi, sought to explain the eternal nature of our authentic state, which we fail to recognize because we are slaves to our minds. He questioned the reality and original source of all our thoughts and suggested tracing them back to their origin, in order to invalidate the pattern of egoistic thinking in terms of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. The very existence of this idea separates the identity of man from the one, single divine source, or the Supreme Consciousness.
The jnani must unravel and unfold the many layers of a preconditioned mind, to comprehend this union. The Vedanta claims- “We are it, but we can never know it because it can never become the object of knowledge.” Even modern science today suggests the same. This oneness of divinity in everything is the ‘summum bonum’ of all religious teachings.
It is noteworthy to understand the essence of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings. The realization of the true nature of self is not a new discovery. It is in fact, acknowledging the eternal presence of what already was. It is only the act of lifting the curtain of falsity or illusion to reveal the underlying truth. Only then does one realize the immortality of the Self, devoid of the painful limitations of ego. It is replacing the limited knowledge of identifying ourselves as a separate entity with ego and personal desires, with the higher and greater knowledge of mastering the mind and grounding the ‘Atma’ or spirit in order to liberate the self from the cycle of life. There is no individuality; Brahman is one with everything.
“I am spotless, tranquil, pure consciousness, and beyond nature. All this
time I have been disillusioned”- Ashtavakra Samhita (Advaita)
Practices leading to Jnana – Knowledge.
Samkhya Yoga, in the Bhagavad Gita, discusses the importance of practices that lead to Real Jnana.
- It preaches expanding our awareness of the mind, body, and the ‘Atman’ or Self.
- Rigorous self-discipline to purify the mind and senses (Atma- samyamyoga)
- Comprehending the distinction between ‘Sat’ (truth or supreme nature of self) and ‘Asat’ (False knowledge of self or illusion)
- Engaging in techniques developed to train the mind and undo its preconditioning. The consequential developments to follow from practicing the above are:
- ‘Sthithadhi’ or Impassivity of an unperturbed mind
- ‘Asangatva’ or Detachment
- ‘Virag’ or Impassion
- ‘Tyaga’ or Sacrifice
“The ignorant speaks of yoga as different from the path of knowledge. Yet a true follower of one of these paths achieves the results of both.”- Bhagavad Gita.
Yoga is learned through practice, which in turn gives rise to knowledge, and then love, and ultimately pure bliss. True knowledge commands us to look at everything with the same eyes. There is a shared similarity in all of us, in good and evil, in heat and cold, and so on. Everything, barring ‘The One’, is unreal. There is no distinction, no religion, neither caste nor creed. One has to transcend above all these man-made and self-imposed definitions and limitations. There is tremendous power and brilliance in renouncing everything to the One True Reality. There is no greater knowledge than this.
“If one understands his own self well, he is then himself a ‘Parmatma’ or Absolute Supreme Soul.”- Dada Bhagwan
The Vedas teach us that this liberating realization is what Nirvana is; one does not have to wait for life to cease in order to attain it. All of one’s restless reasoning, logic, analysis, and search for the truth will ultimately narrow down and culminate in finding peace in the intuitive knowledge of our unity with Brahman. The revered teachings in the Upanishads claim that ‘A wise man who sees that the consciousness within him is the same as that shared by all other beings, succeeds in attaining peace. This means that whoever sees the same Atman in every creation of God, and similarly all of creation in that Atman, will never lose sight of it. When one’s mental faculties are refined enough to discern this amalgamation, only then has one unlocked the secret to the universe. All falsity ceases to exist for such a person.’
Likewise, Sri Aurobindo’s commentary on Jnana Yoga challenges one to use their higher intelligence in unraveling the true cause of things and thoughts. This constant search and examination will ultimately lead to the discovery of a subtler, simpler truth. This truth will be the underpinning of everything- even what appears to be an illusion or coincidence, will then be replaced by the knowledge of a conscious will that is always functioning to express an all-encompassing, supreme vision. The physical mind cannot understand the divine omnipresence. This is because the very method of trying to understand this reality means that the mind is something that is separate from the divine, or foreign to it. Hence, absolute self-negation is the
only means of experiencing this union. It is only in this capacity that one can understand that the world has always been real to begin with, as has the Self. The only thing keeping us from acknowledging this truth was our own flawed perception of it.
“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature: external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy- by one, or more, or all of these- and be free.”
Eyjólfur Andrés Björnsson
Digital Blogger & Founder of Meditation Lifestyle.