Jnana yoga is one of the several spiritual paths in Hinduism that emphasizes the “path of knowledge“, also known as the “path of self-realization“.

Jnana yoga is one of the three classical paths (marga) for moksha (salvation, liberation). The other two are karma yoga (path of action, karmamarga) and bhakti yoga (path of loving devotion to a personal god, bhakti marga).

Later, new movements within Hinduism added Raja yoga as a fourth spiritual path, but it is not universally accepted as distinct to the other three.

The jnana yoga is a spiritual practice that pursues knowledge with questions such as “who am I, what am I” among others.

The practitioner studies usually with the aid of a counselor (guru), meditate, reflect, and reaches liberating insights on the nature of his own Self (Atman, soul) and its relationship to the metaphysical concept called Brahman in Hinduism.

The jnana marga ideas are discussed in ancient and medieval era Hindu scriptures and texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

Jnana is knowledge and refers to any cognitive event that is correct and true over time.

It particularly refers to knowledge inseparable from the total experience of its object, especially about reality (non-theistic schools) or supreme being (theistic schools).

In Hinduism, it is knowledge which gives Moksha, or spiritual release while alive (jivanmukti) or after death (videhamukti).

According to Bimal Matilal, jnana yoga in Advaita Vedanta connotes both primary and secondary sense of its meaning, that is “self-consciousness, awareness” in the absolute sense and relative “intellectual understanding” respectively.

According to Jones and Ryan, jnana in jnana yoga context is better understood as “realization or gnosis“, referring to a “path of study” wherein one knows the unity between self and ultimate reality called Brahman in Hinduism. This explanation is found in the ancient Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

Of the three different paths to liberation, jnana marga and karma marga are the more ancient, traceable to Vedic era literature.

All three paths are available to any Hindu, chosen based on inclination, aptitude and personal preference, and typically elements of all three to varying degrees are practiced by many Hindus.

The classical yoga emphasizes the practice of dhyana (meditation), and this is a part of all three classical paths in Hinduism, including jñāna yoga.

The path of knowledge is intended for those who prefer philosophical reflection and it requires study and meditation.

Upanishads

In the Upanishads, ‘jnana yoga aims at the realization of the oneness of the individual self (Atman) and the ultimate Self (Brahman).

These teachings are found in the early Upanishads. According to Chambliss, the mystical teachings within these Upanishads discuss “the way of knowledge of the Self“, a union, the realization that the Self and the Brahman are identical.

The teachings in the Upanishads have been interpreted in a number of ways, ranging from non-theistic monism to theistic dualism.

In former, rituals are not necessary and a path of introspection and meditation is emphasized for the correct knowledge (jnana) of self. In latter, it is the full and correct knowledge of a Vishnu avatar or Shiva or Shakti (Goddess) that is emphasized.

In all its various interpretations, the paths are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A Jnana yogi may also practice Karma yoga or Bhakti yoga or both, and differing levels of emphasis.

According to Robert Roeser, the precepts of Jnana yoga in Hinduism were likely systematized by about 500 BCE, earlier than Karma yoga and Bhakti yoga.

Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita, jnana yoga is also referred to as buddhi yoga and its goal is self-realization.

The text considers jnana marga as the most difficult, slow, confusing for those who prefer it because it deals with “formless reality“, the avyakta. It is the path that intellectually oriented people tend to prefer.

The chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita is dedicated to the general exposition of jnana yoga, while chapters 7 and 16 discuss its theological and axiological aspects. Krishna says that jñāna is the purest and discovery of one’s Atman:

Truly, there is nothing here as pure as knowledge. In time, he who is perfected in yoga finds that in his own Atman. — Bhagavad Gita 4.38, Translator: Jeaneane D. Fowler

Classical Advaita Vedanta

Behaviors

Classical Advaita Vedanta emphasizes the path of Jnana Yoga to attain moksha. It consists of fourfold attitudes or behavioral qualifications:

  • Discrimination — The ability to correctly discriminate (Viveka) between the unchanging, permanent, eternal (Nitya) and the changing, transitory, temporary (anitya).
  • Dispassion of fruits — The dispassionate indifference (virāga) to the fruits, to enjoyments of objects (artha Phala bhoga) or to the other worlds (amutra) after rebirth.
  • Six virtues —
    1. Śama, temperance of mind
    2. Dama, temperance of sense organs
    3. Uparati, withdrawal of the mind from sensory objects
    4. Titikṣa, forbearance
    5. Śraddhā, faith
    6. Samādhāna, the concentration of mind
  • Drive, longing — intense yearning for moksha from the state of ignorance

Practices

Jnana yoga for Advaitins consists of three practices: Sravana (hearing), manana (thinking) and nididhyasana (meditation). This three-step methodology is rooted in the teachings of chapter 4 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

  • Sravana literally means hearing, and broadly refers to perception and observations typically aided by a counselor or teacher (guru), wherein the Advaitin listens and discusses the ideas, concepts, questions, and answers.
  • Manana refers to thinking on these discussions and contemplating over the various ideas based on svadhyaya and sravana.
  • Nididhyāsana refers to meditation, realization and consequent conviction of the truths, non-duality and a state where there is a fusion of thought and action, knowing and being.

These practices, with the help of a guru, are believed to lead to correct knowledge, which destroys avidya, psychological and perceptual errors related to Atman and Brahman.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.