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Jnana Yoga

Posted by on Sep 8, 2010

Jnana Yoga is meant for those of a more intellectual bent. If you find yourself always thinking of rational outcomes, or consider yourself inquisitive and curious, then you may be drawn to Jnana yoga. Aspirants who practice this type of yoga aim to remove mental obstacles in order to stay on the path of yoga. Through discourse and learning, aspirants learn to see the difference between an intellectual understanding of the Universe and a more self-centered understanding of the Universe. As ever, aspirants are seeking the learning of the big Self in order to digest wisdom which lies past intellectual understanding. The irony is that in understanding our obstacles to attaining wisdom intellectually, we can actually eventually bypass the intellect altogether to tap into Universal knowledge which lies outside rational, linear thinking. 

It is easiest to understand Jnana yoga if you contemplate the different stages of human perception. Our perception of the earth, our place in the universe and our relationship to each has been modified many times in the span of history. If you traveled back into the human psyche several thousands of years, you would see the discovery of fire. If you were to go back only a few hundred years, you would see that we changed our perceptions about the possibility to overcome gravity in order to fly. Go back only several decades and you can see humanity struggle to redefine the roles of gender and sex. Our perceptions about what
is, constantly changes.

Through the intelligence of the mind, we do not really discover a NEW truth, but one which has always been, with new eyes. Jnana yoga aims to do the same thing.Although the logical mind is very useful for existing in today’s society, it is ideally only used to a certain point. In discovering the greater Truth of the Universe, we must overcome argument for argument’s sake, and refrain from inflaming the mind. Through systematic inquiry we can begin to understand consciousness better, but we must eventually bring the mind’s eye to a single point. It is at this single point that we tap into an Infinite knowledge which supersedes all other intellectual learning.

In order to begin to refocus the mind to this single-pointedness, we must remove excessive and discursive thought. We should attempt not to gossip about others, as this is only a form of ‘garbage’ which makes the focus hazy. Tranquility is first maintained by removing its obstacles. Excessive concern with other’s lives, except in a way to benefit humanity is a waste of our precious mental energies.

Next, we must remove the ego from our thinking. It is a formidable task to do so because the ego is expert at taking on different shapes and hues in order to keep itself active. The ego fears its own death, well aware that there is something beyond it which will eradicate it completely, so it conspires to keep itself alive by any means necessary. It can warp the thinking in a myriad of ways. The more our egos are active, the more intolerant we are of others, and the more easily we can see them as separate from ourselves. If we see someone as separate then it is easier to justify our anger, hatred of fear of them. Through jnana yoga we are able to burn the ego to ashes, replacing it with a truer fire made only of light.

Something to be careful of in the intellectual pursuit of spiritual realization is the mistaken belief that because you understand something intellectually, you have reached Infinite Wisdom. As stated before, the Infinite knowledge we are aiming for completely transcends intellectual thought, even though we use or minds to try to understand it. There is often an analogy used which refers to the experience of tasting a piece of fruit. You can explain intellectually that an orange is round, it is a piece of fruit, it is called a citrus, and it is the color orange with juicy pulp within a tougher, bumpy skin. You cannot, however, know what it means to taste an orange unless you have actually tasted it. Samadhi is the same way. Those who have already tasted it can describe it to us. They can tell us of the obstacles in the way of obtaining it.

Eventually, the experience has to be internalized in a non-intellectual way to be understood. The reason for this is that as long as we are in a dualistic experience of reality, we only see ourselves as the ‘do’er. We use words like ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ The Sage Ramanju called this, kshetra (the field of activity–that is, the body) and kshetra-jna (the knower of the body–that is, the soul). Once we are able to bring these two aspects of self into one, we become the Self. This is easier experienced than explained. In order to begin to merge the two aspects we can practice the following as described in jnana yoga:

1.Discrimination — or Viveka in Sanskrit. This is the ability to differentiate between what is infinite or eternal and that which is only fleeting.
Dispassion — or Vairagya in Sanskrit. This is the ability to detach from that which is not eternal.
The Six Virtues — or Shad Sampat in Sanskrit. These encompass:

  • Tranquility – the ability to control the mind
  • Dama – the ability to control the senses/body. Basically we attempt to control the senses first before controlling the mind.
  • Uparati – is the renunciation of activities which are not absolutely necessary. By practicing this we can focus solely on the goal and eventually unnecessary actions fall away naturally.
  • Titiksha
  • Shraddha – the ability to keep faith
  • Samadhana – the ability to have perfect concentration in order to reach Samadhi. At this stage controlling the mind has been accomplished.
4. Mumukshutva — the longing to reach Samadhi or release from all passing, non-Infinite sensationIn order to begin to put these practices to work, you can spend some time alone and in nature. Try to focus on the ultimate goal and listen to the intuitive answers that spring forward when you ask yourself, “What stands in my way?” or “Why are we really here on this planet?” Just take some time to contemplate some of the deeper meaning in life. Step away from the television set, away from the opinions of friends and loved ones, and spend time alone in your own thoughts. Observe them. Ask yourself how your own perception has changed over the last five, ten or fifty years. Allow all thoughts to rise to the surface, and just let them pass like waves over you. There is nothing to grasp onto, and nothing really to understand. Just use the intelligence to observe.This is jnana yoga, and it will bring you closer to the answers you seek.
About the Author

Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her 160-page ebook on yoga for curing disease is coming out in March. Reserve your signed copy here.

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.


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