Jnana Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

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 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 you fully prepared for the experience of jnana or knowledge of the Self.

October 2007, published in Rikhiapeeth Satsangs 2