What is Jnana Yoga?
Jnana yoga is one of the four main paths of yoga and the most direct road to reach the goal described in the philosophy of advaita vedanta: Self-realization.
The Ideal Case Scenario
As recounted many times in vedantic scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Yoga Vasishta, when the student is ready, liberation, or moksha, can come very quickly. Here is the three-step process that leads to self knowledge:
1. The guru explains to the students the teachings of vedanta and what is Brahman. He often uses stories and analogies to make his point. The students listen attentively and this step is called sravanam, which literally means listening.
2. The student reflects upon what he or she has heard, cogitates, and tries to really comprehend the subtle truths that have been taught to him or her. This is called mananam, which means reflecting or contemplating.
3. The student meditates on the Brahman of the upanishads and this leads to the intuitive, direct experience of Truth. This is called nididhyasana, or meditating.
Sravanam - Mananam - Nididhyasana
Sravanam is superior to mere reading of the scriptures. To get the full benefit from this practice, a qualified guru should impart the teachings directly to the student. A mystical transfer of the spiritual state of consciousness experienced from the guru to the student takes place at this time. This is one of the reasons the internet and books are just preparation before meeting a teacher and will never replace the direct contact with a live teacher.
Mananam indicates that the student should spend some time in solitude and quiet in order to think deeply about the implications of what has been learnt. This helps develop depth of thinking which is quite a rare quality in our modern times.
Nididhyasana is deep and constant meditation. From the last two steps it is now obvious to the practitioner that Brahman is the only reality that counts and its realization is all the aspirant wants. That eagerness leads to successful meditation.
How Long does it Take?
There are many scriptural instances where the student reaches the goal in a matter of just a few days or just a little longer. Results may vary with each case. Joking aside, most of us find that the results are not coming as soon as they should. What is the reason?
The reason is that the aspirant must be ready to receive that knowledge. He or she must be qualified for it, pure enough. Sri Sankaracharya explains that the student must be equipped with the four means of salvation.
The Four Means to Salvation
The jnana yoga student should equip himself with the four means of salvation in order to be fit to receive the knowledge of Brahman. These four means are called Sadhana Chatushtaya.
The student can work on these practices all at once or serially. For example starting with the first one for a week or two, or for a month, then proceeding with the second one for the same period of time, and so on.
These four means are:
Viveka means discrimination. This is the intellectual ability to discriminate, or discern, between the real and the unreal. Vedanta defines the real as being permanent and the unreal as being temporary. The absolutely real, Brahman, is eternal. It lasts for ever.
Vairagya means dispassion, detachment. There is a logical order in the four means. After sufficient practice of viveka, the temporary, ephemeral nature of the world and its objects becomes obvious and a natural lack of attraction to them takes place. This is vairagya. One should then endeavor to become more dispassionate in order to purify the mind and improve one's concentration and steadiness of mind.
Shad-sampat means the six virtues. This practice actually consists in developing six qualities or virtues. They are:
- Sama - Tranquility or control of mind. Calmness. This is the ability to keep the mind within and unaffected by the external world.
- Dama - Control of the senses. This consists in not letting the senses run out towards the sense objects. To the question, "Why do we need to control the senses when we can directly work on sama and control the mind itself - the mind being superior and more powerful than the senses?", the vedantins answer: If one were able to control the mind perfectly, dama would be unnecessary, otherwise it is a more powerful strategy to work on the mind apparatus from all sides.
- Uparati - Renunciation of activities which are not duties. Following the last two practices, the mind is so peaceful and calm most desires have been eradicated and there is no more reason to perform the activities in which most people indulge. Swami Sivananda beautifully expressed this practice in his famous motto: "Simple living, high thinking."
- Titiksha - Endurance, forbearance of the pairs of opposites. The mind must become strong enough to not waver in the face of the opposites: success and failure, hot and cold, pleasure and pain, sunshine and rain, etc.
- Shraddha - Faith. It is defined by Sri Sankaracharya as faith in one's guru, god, the self (atman) and the scriptures (shastras).
- Samadhana - Perfect concentration, one-pointedness of the mind. It takes a great degree of mastery to reach this level. Few reach it.
Mumukshutva means intense longing for liberation. When this stage is reached, moksha (liberation ) is not one of the jnani's desires, it is not even the biggest desire, it is the ONLY desire.
"An Ounce of Practice is Worth Tons of Theory"
So said Swami Sivananda. Sadhana chatushtaya is the foundation of the practice of jnana yoga. It is of paramount importance for the beginner and no one is too advanced for these important qualifications.