Jnana Yoga

From On the Wings of the Swan, Volume VI, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Jnana means to know, and a yogi is one who is living what he knows. Therefore, a jnana yogi is one who is established in wisdom, and such a person is not going to ask silly questions. When you travel by train from one place to another, it is not logical to keep asking yourself, ‘Where am I?’ because you are moving and you know that you will reach your destination. In the same way, the jnanayogi, who is established in wisdom,began his journey with the focus of discovering ‘Who am I?’ The question arises only once in a lifetime, not every day. If it arises every day, it means that the person is not a jnana yogi, but is stuck in one place and cannot move forward. As the process of discovery begins, the enquiry is left behind and each day is a new discovery. This discovery continues until the jnana yogi becomes established in wisdom. To become established in something and to realize its importance, it is necessary to go through a crisis. If everybody in the world were healthy, medical science would not exist. Disease, death and suffering have led to research and the advancement of medical science. If we change an idea, it is because the previous idea was shattered. If there is a change in thinking, it is because the previous thought no longer has any purpose. Crisis acts as a catalyst for change.

The first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is about vishada yoga, the yoga of grief. It is a beautiful concept. If you are grieving and you are able to provide a direction for yourself, that becomes yoga. If you fail to provide yourself with a direction and go further into the grief then it becomes imbalance. It is like achieving balance in stress. Negative stress is distress; positive stress is eustress and the balance point is zero stress. If the string of a bow is too loose, there is no stress, no force, and the bow becomes useless. If the string is too tight, it may break because distress is created. There has to the right tension. Similarly, grief in itself is not bad or negative; it is the management of grief that is important.

If we are able to provide a direction to our thoughts and energies, grief becomes a factor in creating positive change and causing greater achievements in life. The same grief, when mismanaged, becomes a disease or imbalance which then governs the behaviour of the body, the brain and the mind, so there is sweating, dry mouth, frequent urination, sleeplessness, nervous breakdown.

Everyone should have the experience of positive grief; not grief in the way we understand it, but in its positive sense, where it gives the desire for a change, knowing the futility of the condition in which we have been living. Once that stage comes, the process of purification begins. It happened to Sri Rama, to Arjuna, to Buddha, to Christ, to Prophet Mohammed; it has happened to so many people who have become luminaries in the world.

Knowing fully well that we cannot handle it, we do not subject ourselves to grief. Our intense effort, tapasya, is not grief; it is pleasure. We meditate because there is pleasure in meditation. We like to practise mantra because there is pleasure in mantra. If we did not derive pleasure in meditation, we would not even practise it. If we do not derive pleasure from something, we are not attracted to it. However, here we are not talking of those things that give us pleasure and therefore become our sadhana, but of those things that give us the opportunity to change an existing pattern that was the cause of our previous conditioning. Grief is the catalyst for that inner transformation. As seekers, as aspirants, we have to face this grief within ourselves and provide ourselves with a direction.

There is a beautiful concept in tantra. The tradition says there are eleven Rudras who are manifestations of Shiva. The meaning of Rudra is ‘one who cries’. How can a person who cries all the time be identified as a manifestation of Shiva? Shiva is consciousness, and there are various layers and stages of progression in that consciousness, defining different levels of existence and experience. In the same manner, the eleven Rudras represent eleven stages of consciousness and each one has a specific pattern, a specific design, a specific yantra and a specific mandala. As we move from one to the other, there is a letting go of the things that previously held us back. When those things are left behind, then grief comes.

Grief can be experienced in different ways. You can be a drashta, a witness, to it and this is taught in yoga. You can use a meditative process like antar mouna to discover the real cause; or you can practise swadhyaya and analyse a state in which you have felt helpless and hopeless, and see what options there are for you to outgrow and move out of that situation. We are always given choices in the world. The right choice makes us succeed in life. The wisdom has to prevail where we are able to make the right choice, not follow the wrong one. In order to make the right choice, we should be able to also look at the whole picture.

If there is a photograph of yourself lying on the floor and an ant wanders across the surface, it will only see blobs of colour, not your face. If you want the ant to see your face, you have to pick it up, so it can see the whole image. In the same manner, when we are involved in a situation, we do not see the full picture; we only see blobs. We are frightened by these meaningless blobs and we don’t know how to handle ourselves in that situation. That is known as the pull of pleasure and pain, like and dislike. We get so involved that we feel we are a part of it; however, being able to look at oneself by taking a step back is the concept of drashta. To be able to manage situations and go through changes, crises and grief in an optimistic and positive frame of mind is viveka. Viveka is handling the mind with wisdom, being unaffected by different influences.

If somebody says you are ugly, or beautiful, these words make a difference in your mind and you respond. This is only a small example of the effect that words can have. Many other things affect you in the same way. To be able to maintain balance is sanyam. When we can maintain a balanced witnessing attitude, it is known as vairagya, dispassion. We can be surrounded by money, yet it has no attraction, surrounded by people, yet remain in total isolation, be in the world, yet not belong to it. The classic example is the lotus flower. It grows in water, it is nourished by water, it is surrounded by water, it cannot exist without water, yet the leaves and the flower remain totally unaffected by water and are absolutely dry. That is how a yogi has to be. A yogi is like a magician who is able to manage the psychic, invisible and spiritual, the physical, material and sensorial, and find the balance there.

15 October 2003, Ganga Darshan, Munger