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Jnâna Yoga or the Way of Gnosis

The Light of Consciousness The word Jnâna means "knowledge", "insight", or "wisdom," and in spiritual contexts has the specific sense of what the ancient Greeks called gnosis, a special kind of liberating knowledge or intuition.

In fact, the terms jnâna and gnosis are etymologically related through the Indo-European root gno, meaning "to know."

Jnâna Yoga -- (the pronunciation is approximately "Yah'-nuh y-O'-guh") also called Gyana Yoga, means, the path of knowing or wisdom etc. and is virtually identical with the spiritual path of Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu tradition of nondualism. (ma'rifat in Arabic)

As used in the Bhagavad Gita, the Advaita philosopher, Adi Shankara, gave primary importance to Jnâna Yoga as "knowledge of the absolute" (Brahman). Other teachers of Jnâna Yoga are Vashishtha, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta Maharaj.

In the Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna (10:11), "Out of mere compassion for them, I, abiding in their hearts, destroy the darkness [in them] of ingnorance, by the Luminous Lamp of Knowledge."

Pantanjali described this kind of knowledge as "pure and infinite," as opposed to the "knowable, finite" knowledge (Yoga Sutras 4:31). Iyengar has put it this way: "When the light of the soul blazes, the yogi does not need mind or intelligence to develop knowledge."

A similar nondualistic view of reality is held by many branches of Buddhism, including Zen, by Taoism, by Islamic Sufism, as well as by sapiental branches of Christianity that value the Gnosis as expressed particularly in, say, the Gospel of Thomas.

The close relationship between the Bible, for instance, and Jnâna was also pointed out by Ramana Maharshi, who once said that the whole Vedanta is contained in the two Biblical statements: "I am that I AM" and "Be still and know that I am God."

In a remarkable and highly recommended book by Sri Parananda (aka, Sir P. Ramanathan) entitled: An Eastern Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus According to Saint John, Being an Intrepretation by the Light of Jnâna Yoga, his pupil, assistant and later, wife, Lady R. L. Harrison wrote in the preface in 1902:

"Jnâna Yoga ... means Spiritual Communion in the holiest sense of the term. The Sanskrit word Yoga is derived from the same root as the Latin Jungo, to join, and the English Yoke (Matt. 11:29).

The fullest and most intimate union of the Sanctified Spirit in a person with the Illumining Spirit of the Universe is Jnâna Yoga.

And the commentary contained in these (Web) pages is based not on theory or speculation but on the actual experiences of Jnana Yogis, or those who, whether working or resting, are in constant fellowship with God."

It could also be said that Jnâna Yoga is the path of Self-realization through aperception of truth or, to be more precise the wisdom associated with discering the Real from the unreal or illusory.

Jnâna Yoga looks into the truth about who we are and what we are experiencing. The full realization of this truth brings enlightenment.

The true or 'sat' jnâna, while it can be discussed or written about, has its real value in direct experience. It isn;t based on any preliminary idea or dogma that you have to accept or believe in. It starts from a direct 'inseeing' or 'recognition' that anyone can have, even though the habit of abiding in gnosis may have to be developed intentionally.

Jnâna Yoga can be combined with other yogic paths, such as Bhakti Yoga, which is the path of devotion and service to God.

In Jnâna Yoga, the objective is to know the absolute truth about life, the truth that is constant (unchanging) and eternal. To come to the absolute truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about yourself and your experiences, you have to look beyond the ever changing aspects of your life-experience. You have to find that which is essentially you and is essential to all your experiences.

Jnâna Yoga uses the intellect as a tool to understand that our true Self is behind and beyond our mind. Along with Bhakti Yoga, Jnâna is among the best approaches for becoming aware of the eternal Self (God).

It is, however, a mistake to think the Source can be found with the intellect alone. For the purpose of Self-discovery, Jnâna Yoga probes the nature of the Self through the question: "Who am I?".

Initially, Jnâna Yoga may be thought of as the 'Quest for the Self' or the 'Inquiry into Who or What we really are', but when the seeker becomes 'a finder', then the term indicates the path of the 'seer'. 

By following this path diligently, we come to 'see' or realize that at the center of our Being is pure Beingness (the real Self).

But to experience the Self we must know ourselves to be the Self; to experience Beingness, we must know ourselves to be Beingness (pure Awareness). The Jnâna Yogi seeks this actual experience, which can't be compared with a mere intellectual exercise.

In Patanjali's classic yoga text, he describes a spiritual practice which included as one of its components a series of physical postures called asanas. In the West, the term yoga is generally taken to mean the practice of these asanas, which in addition to giving a sense of wellbeing, were also meant to prepare the body to be able to sit for long hours in meditation and contemplation.

Because Jnâna Yoga is based on a certain knowing or inseeing (wisdom), some have wrongly assumed that there are no asanas involved in this type of yoga. In an odd sort of way, the very opposite is the case. The number of asanas in Jnâna Yoga are almost infinite and are practiced throughout the life-experience of each practitioner (Jnâni) from the outset with consumate ease and naturalness.

What is meant here is that for the practitioner of Jnâna Yoga -- the path of wisdom or gnosis -- every bodily posture, whether sitting, standing or walking etc. is an asana and an opportunity to consciously abide in one's identification with our true nature which is infinite and eternal. For the Jnâni, every posture of the temporal body without exception is experienced by the pure Consciousness that is common to all sentient beings and which was never born and can never die.

The promise of Jnâna Yoga is the possible culmination into what in India is called: Sahaja Samadhi, when our awareness of the formless Self continues even during our regular day-to-day activities, keeping us free of worry and anxiety. Through the constant realigning of our attention on the source of our Being, we retain a true perspective; we remember who we are.

We come to effortless clear-seeing or conscious awareness by intentionally reminding ourselves of that which we are and others essentially are -- unique maniestations of the Absolute (or God).

Here are few Sanskrit expressions to do with Jnâna Yoga

  • Jnâna(m) [j^naan(aM)]: knowledge of the Absolute; enlightenment; Supreme Knowledge; Self-realization
  • Jnâna Chakshus [j^naan chuk^shus]: eye of wisdom
  • Jnâna Drishti [j^naan dr^shti]: wisdom-insight
  • Jnâna Lakshana [j^naan luk^shun]: sign of wisdom
  • Jnâna Marga [j^naan maarg]: path of knowledge
  • Jnâna Vichara [j^naan vichaar]: inquiry regarding knowledge
  • Jnâna Yoga [j^naan yog]: the way of realizing the Absolute through knowing
  • Jnânagni [j^naanaagni]: fire of wisdom
  • Jnânameva Chakshus: All-seeing eyes
  • Jnâni [j^naani]: sage; one who has realized the Self

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy our page on The Nondual Gnosis

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