Jñana Yoga


Revealing Wisdom

On earth there is no purifier 

As great as this knowledge,

When a man is made perfect in yoga,

He knows its truth within his heart. [4.38] 

~translation Swami Prabhavananda

Among the esteemed routes of yoga in the Bhagavad Gita is Jñana yoga. The word comes from the root “jna” meaning “to know” and also “to investigate”. Because of this root it is common to hear jñana yoga described as a path for academics/scholars; an intellectual pursuit. Yet this is a limited understanding of the word and therefore the path. Jñana yoga is the pursuit of wisdom and wisdom is not isolated to those of us with the highest IQ. If we follow the reasoning of yoga, wisdom is not, in essence, an external pursuit. Wisdom is within us. It is our “vision” that is clouded by the interplay of the gunas limiting our perception of the truth. 

But what is wisdom? Merriam webster defines the word as…

  1. knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life
  2. the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand
  3. a wise attitude, belief or course of action

The yoga sutras and the Bhagavad Gita provide a helpful framework for this topic known as Jñana yoga. 

As we have already seen the yoga sutras lay out pramana (right perception) in three categories which are mirrored in definition #1 above…

  • agamah: hearing or reading from a trusted source
  • anumana: inference of truth from continuously contemplating the agamah
  • and Pratyaksa is the direct experience and eventual inherent ability to discern the truth for oneself

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna posesses the ability to guide this course as he understands that which most other people cannot yet. Defined as the “birthless, deathless, Lord of all that breathes” (Swami Prabhavananda) he is unbound by prakriti and therefore unbound by the covering of the gunas and resulting avidya. Krishna is the epitomy of the truest Guru, one who is unattached, not interested in the fruits of actions, and completely at peace. His aim is purely benevolent – to bring balance back to the universe by guiding Arjuna (humanity) towards right action to settle the scales. In this balance (of good and evil, of the three gunas, of dharma and renunciation etc) the aspirant can find moksha. 

Action alone is not enough. Therefore jñana yoga helps us to discern right action based on inquiry of the relationship between the true self (purusha) and the embodied form (prakriti). Through yoga sadhana and continued inquiry we commit to understanding who we are. This is not for the sake of accumulating information as may be the path of the academic scholar, but rather for discerning what we can hold as truth and what can be let go….where we belong and where we have attached a sense of belonging to what is ultimately fleeting. 

So how do we discern wisdom of the true self when it feels beyond the grasping of the mind? It is helpful to first look to what we can discern to be not true. This is the task of neti, neti : not this, not this. Through discriminative knowledge we can assess all aspects of prakriti from the standard of change vs. continuity. Having faith that consciousness is eternal, we use the intellect (buddhi) to assess all aspects of this body/mind complex. If it is changeable then inference says it can not be eternally true.

How are we supported in this journey? The impressions of our mind towards avidya and asmita are deep. Therefore it’s helpful to have a support of truth seekers around us. This is the sangha. We can study the great words of the rishis alone and together. Additionally commit to those activities which keep the mind unweighted, light and steady. Here Jñana yoga is a good partner to ashtanga yoga, to kriya yoga and to maintaining the proper bhavas (attitudes) (see sutra 1.33). This is important as it is hard to maintain faith and enthusiasm if the mind is dull or anxious. Therefore keep up sadhana and satsang.

The canon is vast. The point of jñana yoga is not to memorize every word of every upanishad, every veda, every shloka but rather to go deeper into each principle. Even by investigation of a single sutra, shloka, karika or even a single word (as we did with the word yoga earlier on) we can begin to reveal a well of wisdom within, with the wisdom of the ages as our guide. Krishnamacharya himself was a brilliant scholar. Studying all of the 4 vedas in detail (most only focus on one), traveling the subcontinent to study the subject of yoga and find texts nearly lost. And still his teachings referenced back to a few texts only by which to evaluate knowledge. This is jñana, a enthusiastic exploration of knowledge, often leading the seeker to reveal the simple truth in all. Pure consciousness, the self dwelling in all, is the highest knowledge. Unbound by the gunas, unaffected by the citta vrttis and the kleshas. Through continuous contemplation on the nature of the atman/purusha Krishna says the mind is prepared and slowly purified. Know thyself, See thyself in all. Then can we stand in total awe. Therefore take up the path of knowledge says Krishna, become a yogi.

I belong to …..?

I belong to this Universe

I am part of this Universe

In one part, Earth, the World

I love my world

I am a citizen of the world.

During nervous insomnious nights

I gaze at the skies for UFOs

That may bring in aliens from

Other parts of my Universe

I want my world be free of aliens

I belong to this world

I am part of the world

In a part that is my country

I love my country

I do not let aliens

From other parts of the world

To settle in my country

Except when they are

Useful to my country

I belong to my country

I am part of my country

In a part called my Home.

I love my home.

I do not let strangers

Into my home

Nor let neighbors throw

Garbage into my home space

I belong to my home

I am part of my home.

An individual part of my family

I love my family

My spouse, my children

But I keep my space

I belong to my family

I am part of my family

An individual part

Separate and distinct

Sometimes I find it

Difficult to be part of the family

I look at so many people

Leave their family

Letting the spouse and kids

fend for themselves

I am alone by myself

Occupying about 3 cft of space

And about 140 lbs of matter

Out of this huge universe

I love myself

I take care of myself

Like everyone else

But still when some get sick

And depressed and feel pain

Even think of taking their lives

To spare themselves of the pain

So much one loves oneself

As I love myself

So, I should know

Who I am with whom I am,

In so much of Love

Then I read Yoga Sutras

Then pancha kosa vidya

Of Taittiriya Upanishads

Oh yes

I am not the physical Body

I can see and experience that

Because, I cannot experience myself

I am not the physiological body

I am not the body of senses

Nor the subsystem of intellect

Nor the dominating ego

Because I am aware of all of them

I am not any part of whatsoever

I had considered to be myself

I am the one that is aware of all these

I know now that I am not

Any part of what I had

Thought to be myself

I am pure unwavering consciousness

The subject that

Experiences all

That is not I

I am free

Always free

Alak niranjan, 

Like every conscious being

I am no part of this universe

I do not belong to this Universe

~Srivatsa Ramaswami

Om Tat Sat

See you tomorrow,

Jennifer

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