Yoga is an ancient practice that has remained relevant and even grown in popularity over the years. It originally began as a spiritual practice to become aware of techniques and methods of using the mind and body to relieve suffering and find peace, joy and contentment. Through the refinement and development of yoga, three main paths of yoga practice came to fruition:
- Karma Yoga (selfless service).
- Bhatki Yoga (devotion).
- Raja Yoga (meditation).
Later on, a fourth yoga path would be added to the list: Jnana Yoga (self-inquiry). Jnana, which means wisdom or knowledge, is widely known to be one of the most challenging of the four main paths of yoga. It is a path that calls on us to be headstrong and intellectual.
Here’s what you need to know about Jnana Yoga.
What Is Jnana Yoga?
The Sanskrit word ‘jnana’ means “knowledge” or “wisdom.” The most intellectual path of yoga, Jnana Yoga helps us to discover reality through the practice of self-inquiry, meditation, and contemplation. The purpose of Jnana Yoga is to become aware of absolute consciousness, as it is considered a practice of self-study (Svadhyaya).
When we practice Jnana Yoga, our mind is used to ponder its own essence and to transcend its identification with its thoughts and ego. The overarching objective of Jnana Yoga is to free ourselves from illusions, self-limiting beliefs, and perceptions (maya). Through doing this, we can merge our inner Self with all the consciousness of the universe.
Since Jnana Yoga is a deep inquiry to the nature of the Self, it entails a one-pointed meditation on a single question of self-inquiry to do away with the lenses of illusion that have been painted by our concepts, world views, and perceptions. By practicing Jnana techniques regularly, you will become aware of maya’s illusionary nature and begin to notice the oneness of all things.
Since Jnana Yoga is the science of self, there are steps you must take to achieve liberation. These steps are known as The Four Pillars of Knowledge.
The Four Pillars Of Knowledge
The steps you must take to achieve liberation through Jnana Yoga are referred to as The Four Pillars of Knowledge (sadhana chatushtaya). It is important to note that since each step builds upon the other, you must practice them in sequential order:
- Viveka (discernment, discrimination): The ability to continusously put conscious effort toward distinguishing between real and unreal, permanent and temporary, and the Self and not-Self.
- Vairagya (dispassion, detachment): The cultivation of non-attachment and indifference toward objects, worldly possessions, and ego. When we free ourselves from attachment, we are creating space for true knowledge.
- Shatsampat (six virtues): A set of six mental practices to stabilize our mind and emotions, and strengthen our ability to see past the illusionary, temporary world of maya. Here are the six virtues:
- Shama (tranquility, calm): Keeping the mind at peace by reducing its reaction to external stimuli.
- Dama (restraint, control): Strengthening the mind so that it can resist being controlled by the senses.
- Uparati (withdrawal, renunciation): Leaving behind any activities that are not aligned with your duty. Living a simplistic life free of distractions from the spiritual path.
- Titiksha (endurance, forebearance): Being able to tolerate external situations that are commonly known to cause suffering, especially in the presence of extreme opposites (hot and cold, pleasure and pain).
- Shraddha (faith, trust): Having faith and trust in your guru, the teachings, and the yogic path.
- Samadhana (focus, concentration): The total one-pointedness of the mind.
- Mumukshutva (longing, yearning): A strong and passionate desire to achieve freedom from suffering. It is a commitment to the path that is so intense that all other desires drift away.
Three Core Practices Of Jnana Yoga
Once you have successfully studied and practiced the four pillars, you are ready to start the three core practices of Jnana Yoga:
- Sravana (hearing): Hearing or experiencing the sacred knowledge in the ancient Vedic texts of the Upanishad. If you are working with a teacher or a guru, they will usually guide you through discussions on the philosophy of non-dualism.
- Manana (reflection): The act of reflecting on the teachings of non-dualism. In this stage, the student is expected to spend several hours contemplating and thinking about various ideas svadhyaya and sravana.
- Nididhyasana (meditation): Meditating on the inner Self and reflecting upon the true meaning of the Maha-Vakyas, the main mantras of the Upanishads.
The Seven Stages Of Wisdom
Swami Sivananda notes that there are seven stages that a Jnana student will go through during their practice of Jnana Yoga. By making yourself aware of these seven stages, you can use them as a roadmap to track your progress and carry on efficiently toward your goal. To move on to a new stage, you must first conquer the challenges of the previous stage. Overcoming the challenges of each stage will move you closer to becoming one with your higher self.
Here are the seven stages of wisdom:
- Subheccha (good desire): Study the ancient Sanskrit text and be passionate about unveiling the truth.
- Vicharana (philosophical inquiry): Reflect and contemplate the philosophy of non-dualism.
- Tanumanasi (subtlety of mind): Shift your focus completely away from external stimuli and turn your attention inwards.
- Sattvapatti (Attainment of Light): This is the stage where the world will begin to look like a dream and karma will start to disintegrate, leaving you to see everything in the universe equally.
- Asamsakti (inner detachment): Becoming detached and selfless, entering a deep state of bliss.
- Padartha Bhavana (spiritual vision): You begin to see the truth and understand the truth of ultimate reality.
- Turiya (supreme freedom): Becoming one with superconsciousness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some of the most common questions people have about Jnana Yoga.
What is Jnana Yoga basic concepts?
Jnana Yoga is one of the four main paths of yoga. Known as the intellectual path or the science of self, Jnana Yoga is fundamentally based on self-inquiry, meditation, and reflection.
What is the meaning of jnana?
The Sanskrit word Jnana means “knowledge” or “wisdom”, which is why Jnana Yoga is considered the Yoga of Wisdom.
Why Jnana Yoga is difficult?
Jnana Yoga is known to be one of the most challenging paths of yoga in existence. This is because it is a complex, comprehensive practice requiring a lot of will power, intellect and self-control.
What are the benefits of Jnana Yoga?
Though it is complex and involved in nature, Jnana Yoga is a path to liberation from suffering. If we are able to achieve oneness with total consciousness, detach from the ego, and see past the illusionary world of maya, we are able to free ourselves from suffering.