What is Jnana Yoga?
Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge or wisdom” and Jnana Yoga is the path of attaining knowledge of the true nature of reality through the practice of meditation, self-inquiry, and contemplation. Jnana Yoga can be defined as the “awareness of absolute consciousness,” and is a comprehensive practice of self-study (Svadhyaya).
In Jnana yoga, the mind is used to inquire into its own nature and to transcend the mind’s identification with its thoughts and ego. The fundamental goal of Jnana yoga is to become liberated from the illusionary world of maya (self-limiting thoughts and perceptions) and to achieve the union of the inner Self (Atman) with the oneness of all life (Brahman). This is achieved by steadfastly practicing the mental techniques of self-questioning, reflection and conscious illumination that are defined in the Four Pillars of Knowledge. Jnana Yoga utilizes a one-pointed meditation on a single question of self-inquiry to remove the veils of illusion created by your concepts, world views, and perceptions. This practice allows you to realize the temporary and illusionary nature of maya and to see the oneness of all things.
“Jnana Yoga, or the science of the Self, is not a subject that can be understood and realized through mere intellectual study, reasoning, discussion or arguments. It is the most difficult of all sciences.” – Swami Sivananda
Prerequisites of Jnana Yoga
The Four Pillars of Knowledge (sadhana chatushtaya) are the prescribed steps toward achieving liberation in Jnana Yoga. These practices build upon each other and thus should be practiced in sequential order. Even if one does not have the goal of achieving liberation, practicing these techniques will cultivate spiritual insight and understanding as well as reduce one’s suffering and dissatisfaction of life.
- Viveka (discernment, discrimination) is a deliberate, continuous intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the temporary, and the Self and not-Self.
- Vairagya (dispassion, detachment) is cultivating non-attachment or indifference toward the temporal objects of worldly possessions and the ego-mind. “It is only when the mind is absolutely free from the attachment of all sorts that true knowledge begins to dawn.” – Swami Sivananda.
- Shatsampat (six virtues) are six mental practices to stabilize the mind and emotions, and to further develop the ability to see beyond the illusions of maya.
(tranquility, calmness) is the ability to keep the mind peaceful, through moderating its reaction to external stimuli.
(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.
(withdrawal, renunciation) is the abandonment of all activities that are not one’s Dharma
(Duty). A simple lifestyle is followed that contains no worldly distractions from the spiritual path.
(endurance, forbearance) is the tolerance of external non-conducive situations that are commonly considered to produce suffering, especially in extreme opposite states (success and failure, hot and cold, pleasure and pain).
(faith, trust) is a sense of certainty and belief in one’s guru (teacher), the scriptures and the yogic path.
(focus, concentration) is the complete one-pointedness of the mind.