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Jnana Yoga: Enlightenment Through the Path of Knowledge

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

Jnana Yoga: Enlightenment Through the Path of Knowledge

Fishing by Torchlight in Kai Province, from Oceans of Wisdom by Hokusai

When Nina wrote her post There Are Many Yoga Paths, she asked me if I would write something about Jnana yoga because that was one of the paths she knew very little about and she wanted to learn more. I took my time with this post because Jnana yoga is a deep and complex philosophy and I wanted to make sure that what I wrote was clear and understandable. To keep it simple, I decided to use a basic question and answer format.
Q: What is the true definition of Yoga?A: Yoga is that state of being where the mind is at its quietest, the sense organs are not distracted, there is no bodily awareness, and the thought process is at its ebb. In this state there is nothing to think about, the individual is not distracted and there is a complete state of satisfaction. This is also the state when a process turns into something totally natural and there is nothing else you want to think about. It is the state when you experience oneness and complete peace. You are totally unaware of “I” or “mine” with your body, mind and intellect working in complete unison. This may be momentary—may last for a fleeting second—but it is an experience of truth, uncontrollable joy and peace.This state of being is defined in the Yoga philosophy as: “Yogas chitta vritii nirodhah”. Swami Jnaneshvara translates this as: “cessation/channeling of mental fluctuations/turbulence”In other words, when you achieve a union of the body, mind and intellect, all mental fluctuations/turbulences cease. Dissect this tenet in simpler terms and this is the message: Human being as a whole is a combination of body, mind and spirit—physical, mental (psychological) and intellectual/spiritual dimensions. When we just think of ourselves as a physical body and lose our connection with the mind and spirit, we become susceptible to stress that triggers mental and physical diseases. Healing is the process of returning to harmony by becoming one with mind and intellect. Once back in harmony the body, mind, and intellect have no reason to communicate symptoms. The body is at ease; the mind attains peace.Q: How do we achieve the union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirit?A: Yoga philosophy describes achieving Body-Mind-Intellect union through a four-fold path:Karma Yoga: Union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirit can be achieved through selfless-action without expectations for service provided.Bhakti Yoga: Union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirit can be achieved through the path of devotion. The path of devotion has always been interpreted as chanting, singing devotional hymns, engaging in devotional ceremonies, and spiritual practices. The path of devotion need not always be a spiritual one; it could include, among others, family, work, society, and environment.Raja Yoga: Union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirit can be achieved through the path of practice. A good example of such a practice would be Ashtanga Yoga or the eight-fold path of self-realization.Jnana Yoga: Union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirit can be achieved through attainment of knowledge. Through study, inquiry, reflection, and awareness, a practitioner’s consciousness is able to pierce through the illusory world, achieve mind-body-intellect awareness and ultimately attain enlightenment. Those who are not aligned to any of the above mentioned paths can still achieve the union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirt by performing any task or technique that incorporates the following factors: 1) concentration and focused attention, 2) a loss of feeling of self, 3) a loss of time (feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time), 4) lack of awareness of physical needs, and 5) complete subjugation of emotions.Q: Can you elaborate on Jnana Yoga?A: One of the methods by which we attain Yoga (union of the body, mind, and intellect/spirt) is through attainment of knowledge—not any knowledge—but specifically knowing:
  1. Who am I or who are we?
  2. What is my/our purpose in this world?
  3. If there is a purpose, how do I/we achieve it?
  4. What happens when I/we fulfill that purpose? 
Through attainment of this deep knowledge, we begin to realize the illusory world. We begin to realize that we are now—and have always been—free, perfect, infinite, and immortal. We recognize our true nature as that oneness or pure consciousness (Brahman in Sanskrit), and we recognize that same divinity, purity, and perfection in others as well. We free ourselves from the bondage of “I” and “mine,” as we notice that oneness of pure consciousness in ourselves, everywhere and in everything. In this state, there is no “I” or “You”—basically there is no judgement, because there is no multiplicity or duality. There is only oneness and this oneness is our own true self. Thus, there is no need to look outside of ourselves for divinity; we ourselves are already divine. This realization of unity and oneness as pure consciousness is the core belief system of Jnana Yoga. Q: I am still confused. Can you enlighten me through some example?A: These are not easy concepts to digest so it would be better if you keep exploring and reading these aspects as there are no suitable examples to explain these concepts. But let’s look at a metaphorical understanding of Brahman or pure consciousness and its manifestation. Pure gold metal is the most malleable and ductile of all elements. Due to its very soft nature, pure gold (24K) cannot be used for making complex and sophisticated jewelry or ornaments. Therefore, gold is usually alloyed/contaminated with other metals, such as silver, copper, bronze,  platinum, or palladium, resulting in numerous and endless combinations of colors and structures of jewelry. Can you stretch this metaphorical meaning to pure consciousness and its manifestations? Our trueness is tainted/contaminated with our ego, emotions, proclivities, and tendencies. To continue, in the process of gold manifesting into ornaments, a ring is different from a bracelet which is different from a necklace. Each is different and has distinct attributes that differentiate one from another. But they all have one common underlying factor: the material/substratum have all come from gold. If the gold were to talk, it would say, “I have not undergone any transformation—I am what I am.” But ask the ornaments and they would not only highlight their individual creation and existence, each one would also arrogate their individuality as a superior ornament (humans in action with our ego) and in the process forget that each one at the core is the same: gold. The ring would say it is more powerful than the rest because through it people get engaged and married. The necklace would flaunt its own grandeur as it is closest to the heart of the owner. But each ornament is ignorant of its true nature that they are all from that one entity which pervades them—from which they all arose, are sustained, and go back into. In a similar way, while creation is nothing but varied, different names and forms arose from that underlying principle, true consciousness or Brahman. It is true consciousness only in a variety of names and forms.Q: Okay, I am getting it and I am able to gradually appreciate my true nature. So am I a Jnana Yogi?A: No, just acquiring mere knowledge does not turn you into a Jnani yogi. Besides attaining knowledge or wisdom about the real and unreal, the permanent and temporary, the self and the non-self (viveka), a Jnana yogi needs to overcome all comforts, material attachments, and attractions (vairagya), reign in the mind and senses (shama and dhama respectively), be non-judgmental in all matters of life (titiksha), develop the conviction about oneness in self, all and around (shraddha), and sustain these practices through single-minded devotion and concentration (samadhana). Additionally, a true Jnana yogi is one who puts to practice what he/she has acquired and learned. An aspiring Jnana yogi is expected to follow through these teachings practically. A true Jnana yogi has to understand, conceive, and practically experience his/her true self. The Upanishads warn about the consequences if a Jnana yogi acquires the theory but fails to practice it. A spiritual arrogant individual with a false spiritual pride would be an example of such an individual. He/she is not a “true” Jnana yogi. Q: What are the resources available to learn more about Jnana Yoga?A: Anyone who wishes to move on the path of Jnana Yoga may refer to the highest philosophical texts including: The Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Brahma Sutras. You can also go to the nearest Vedanta center and attend the various discourses. Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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