Can you talk about jnana yoga, and is jnana yoga part of raja yoga?
The vedic tradition speaks of three paths that an individual has to follow for personal evolution. Just as you have evolution of a society, a political system, an education system, so on and so forth, in the same way, there is something known as personal evolution, which relates to you alone. It does not include even your nearest and dearest ones, such as your husband, wife, children, mother, father, brother or sister. It is perhaps the only aspect of yourself that you can truly call your own.
The three paths of personal evolution are karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. In each of these paths you deal with yourself, but the methods of dealing are different. In the path of karma yoga, you deal with yourself through enactment of karma, action. In bhakti yoga, you deal through emotions, feelings and devotion. In jnana yoga, you deal with yourself through buddhi, intellect. When I use the phrase ‘deal with yourself’, I mean dealing with your mind. Throughout life, that is what you are doing: dealing with the mind. Your life is just a play of the mind; therefore, to deal with life you have to deal with the mind, or vice versa.
When I speak of dealing with the mind, I do not just mean the conscious mind or the gross material awareness. In fact, I mean that all dimensions of the mind have to be dealt with, from the conscious to the unconscious. In order to deal with the mind at all levels, you have to remove the avarana or covering in the form of karmas that prevent your access to those deeper realms. This refinement of mind from all extraneous material is enhanced by karma yoga or the yoga of perfection.
The refined mind then begins to perceive the reality and the process of knowledge begins, as the second barrier of avidya, ignorance, that prevents access to the deeper realms is slowly removed. This is accomplished through jnana yoga. This is why all yoga books begin with the sentence, “Now, therefore, I teach you yoga.” This is the first line in all yoga texts that expound the system of yoga. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the sage starts his exposition by saying, Atha yoganushasanam – “Now, therefore, the disciplines of raja yoga.”.
So, in order to learn jnana yoga and practise jnana yoga, first of all, you have to fulfil certain conditions. Otherwise, your foray into jnana yoga will only be intellectual and not experiential. Intellectual knowledge is not experience; intellectual knowledge is just information. If you have not eaten a particular sweet, but have read about it, you may be able to say everything about that sweet, but your knowledge will be incomplete because you have not tasted it and have no experience of it. Experience is personal knowledge and this applies to jnana yoga, which provides personal knowledge of the Self.
The prerequisites for jnana yoga are a peaceful and balanced mind, restrained senses, disenchantment from worldly pleasures, endurance, faith in guru and God. They are defined as sama or balance; dama, control of the senses; uparati, indifference to worldly pleasures; titiksha, endurance; shraddha, faith in the unseen; samadhana, the final realization. These six conditions are the prerequisites for a jnana yogi.
Following these principles makes him fully prepared for the experience of jnana or knowledge of the Self. If he does not fulfil these conditions, but only goes through the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Vedas, then it will only be intellectual knowledge, not experiential.
Every yoga has its own textbook. Just as the Yoga Sutras is the textbook of raja yoga, Sandilya Bhakti Sutras and Narada Bhakti Sutras are the textbooks of bhakti yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, the Mimamsa Sutras and the Dharma Sutras are the texts of karma yoga. In the same way, the textbook of jnana yoga is the Brahma Sutras, which consists of aphorisms on Brahma. The Brahma Sutras should be studied after studying the Panchadashi, which is an important text of fifteen chapters defining in technical terms the highest reality. Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda and Yogi Aurobindo have written very good commentaries on jnana yoga.