The idea that jnana yoga is only about asking the question, 'Who am I?' is a mistake. The ability to ask such a question and arrive at the right answer requires you to transcend the lower levels of manas and buddhi. Therefore, jnana yoga does not begin with that. Rather, jnana yoga is a process of attaining a state of awareness and knowledge through abhyasa, practice.
There are seven sequential practices of jnana yoga. The first is shubhechha, the right intention. This right intention has to be practical. You cannot say, 'My intention is to discover God therefore I am going to question, 'Who am I? Am I God's part, God's extension, or God?''
People go through many different mental gymnastics when it comes to jnana yoga. However, jnana yoga begins with positive intention, in relation to oneself and also in relation to others. If I see you in pain and I am able to help you, that is also fulfilment of jnana yoga, not just seva or karma yoga. When you identify and connect with the right intention, it becomes your motivating factor, your inspiration to help someone else. You have to soften your mind and heart to come to this purity of shubhechha, the right intention.
The second practice is vicharana, contemplation, not on abstract things but on what matters. You will get nothing by contemplating on God or religion, as God and religion are nothing but sets of beliefs. I stick to my belief and you stick to your belief. A clash happens when you try to impose your belief on me or I try to impose my belief on you. Otherwise what is called religion is just a collection of beliefs. My God has four arms, your God has two. Both statues are placed somewhere, you don't like the four arms as my God does not conform to your idea of a two-armed God. So what do you do? At night you go and cut off two arms of my God, and that is how clashes begin. It is just imposition of one's ideas on others. Jnana yoga is not about that.
Contemplation is not on something abstract. It is on something that you can do to improve yourself. There is no use discovering you are the holy spirit if your family life is in crisis and turmoil. You have to deal with that first before you can start to think that about being the holy spirit. Thus, vicharana is prioritizing the efforts for your development.
The third is tanumanasa, observing the subtle mind. You have to observe what crops up from the deeper mind, you have to always be attentive to what is coming up and manage that.
These three stages of jnana yoga represent the condition that you have to cultivate in yourself through practice. Once these three conditions are created then you can say 'I practise jnana yoga'. Can you develop the condition where you have the right intention twenty-four hours of the day towards everyone, including yourself, your family, profession, the nature and the universe? Can you develop the condition where your mind is always following the right, the pious, the positive, the constructive and the creative? If you can, then you can say 'I practise jnana yoga'.
The first three stages of jnana yoga are abhyasa, practices, which create the sthiti, the condition. The next four are anubhava and prapti, experience and attainment.
The first experience of jnana yoga is sattwapatti, reaching the state of sattwa. This is possible when you are able to overcome the negatives of life. If you do not reach the state of sattwa, jnana yoga has no meaning.
Asamsakti is the second experience. It means separation and detachment from the material world. This is a natural process, but now it is done with awareness. A little boy plays with a toy and for him that toy is as real as you and me. There is so much identification with the toy that if you take it away, he begins to cry. As he grows out of that age and the state of mind where the identification took place, toys do not matter anymore.
The identification changes. By following the process of jnana yoga, a natural dis-identification and separation takes place from the inanimate and animate objects of the world.
The next attainment is padartha abhavana, lack of feeling for objects. It means that you are not emotionally attached to anything. There are people who feel so hurt and depressed if their car receives a little scratch. They are identifying so much with that object that just a little scratch becomes the cause of cerebral, mental, psychological tension for days to come. If you disconnect, a scratch is a scratch, you will get it fixed, finished, nothing to worry about.
Similarly, if you get a pimple on your body, then you apply some medication on it, finished. Or you may look at the pimple again and again, begin to worry and run to ten specialists, 'This doctor doesn't know, he did not give me the right answer. I know it is something different, I am different, this is different, it is not an ordinary pimple of the world.' You go to twenty specialists to prove to yourself that what you have is something unique, it is not an ordinary pimple; it is carcinoma! When you hear it is carcinoma, the mind suddenly changes. If you did not know what it was, it would be a simple pimple and it would go.
When you attain the state of jnana yoga, you see an object as an object, nothing more. Even your own body has the same significance for you as your house; you just look after it, but you don't have any attachment to it. When this state has deepened, then the final state of jnana is experienced: turyaga, the transcendental state where the mind becomes universal.
Thus, jnana yoga is a process where the ego awareness gradually dissolves and a higher awareness manifests. The ego awareness has to dissolve and a higher awareness has to manifest. Then the question 'Who am I?' has a different meaning. Right now you are asking your own ego 'Who am I?' That awareness has to dissolve. That is why jnana yoga cannot begin with the question, 'Who am I?' or 'Who are you?' That is reinforcing the ego, whereas the ego has to be dissolved in jnana yoga.
This is how you go wrong in your basics and in your beginning with jnana yoga. You have to start by developing the right intention, by developing the ability to observe and contemplate: observation of the little heads that come up in your mind from time to time. Then you reach the state of sattwa. Then you detach yourself from sense objects and develop a feeling that they are not relevant to you, you use them yet they are not relevant to you. That allows you to transcend the gross dimension and you become established in the wisdom component, the jnana and the vijnana component. From this follows a change in lifestyle.
23 October 2018, Munger Yoga Symposium