Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

j~nAna yoga

flower picture

Definition - Professor V. Krishnamurthy

The word `yoga' can be derived in two ways:
yujyate iti yogaH - `union'
yujyate anena iti yogaH - 'that by which the union is effected'.

Anandagiri points out that, in the expressions karma-yoga, bhakti-yoga and j~nAna-yoga, the word `yoga' is used in the sense of `that by which the union is effected'. He says, "yujyate anena brahmaNA" -that by means of which the jIvAtmA is united with brahman. It is well known that the word `united' is not to be taken literally because there are not two entities to be united. It only means the realization of the identity of jIvAtmA and paramAtmA.

Thus karma-yoga means `karma as the means of realization' and similarly bhakti-yoga and j~nAna-yoga also. So, when j~nAna is the means of realization, it is j~nAna-yoga.

It is true that the phrase 'j~nAna-yoga' does not occur in the 10 major Upanishads. In the Gita text the only two times it occurs are III-3 and XVI - 1. On the first occasion the AchArya writes in the bhAShya: j~nAnam eva yogaH - j~nAna itself is the yoga. At the second appearance it is only intended to mean j~nAna and yoga.

When j~nAna is taken as the means of realization in the word `j~nAna- yoga', the natural question that arises is: `What may be defined as j~nAna?' . Krishna himself describes j~nAnaM in the 13th chapter in five shloka-s and says, at the end: `etat j~nAnam iti proktaM' (XIII -11) - `This is said to be j~nAnaM'.

Actually it is a no-compromise listing of a number of profound qualities: absence of pride; absence of deceit; non-violence; patience; uprightness; service of the teacher; purity; steadfastness and self-control; indifference to the objects of sense; self-effacement; perception of the evil of birth, death, old age, sickness and pain; non-attachment; absence of clinging to son, wife, home and the like; a constant equanimity to all happenings, desirable or undesirable; unswerving devotion to the Lord with whole-hearted discipline; resort to solitude; dislike for people/crowds; constancy in the knowledge of the Inner Self; and, finally, insight into the end of the Knowledge of Truth. This list is really formidable and does not give us any hint as to how to keep it as a `MEANS of realization', except to keep it as the ideal goal.

A hint at a direct answer comes from Krishna in XIII-24 where He says: By meditation, some perceive the Self in the self by the self; others by the path of knowledge and still others by the path of works.

So here we know what contrasts with Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, as a path to realization.

"AtmanI AtmanA AtmAnaM pashyatI" - `Perceive the Self by oneself in oneself'. This one does by j~nAna-yoga, (or, what is the same in this context, sAMkhya-yoga) as shloka XIII -24 says. This is the "yukta AsIta mat-paraH" that Krishna already uses in II-61 and again repeats in VI-14.

Although the end seems clear, what makes it a yoga – a means of realization – is not clear at this point. Though Krishna elaborates many times upon how one controls the senses, i.e. how one persists in one's yoga-sAdhanA, the sAdhanA aspect of j~nAna-yoga is spelt out only in bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShat 2.4.5 which says: "AtmA vA are shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyAsitavyaH". So j~nAna- yoga is the triad of shravaNam, mananam, nididhyAsanam. The end of it all is realization – revelation of the eternal truth, which is already there but which we have not realized because of our Ignorance. This self-revelation of the Self is not therefore an effect, (of yoga). What has been effected by the yoga is the removal of ignorance. And so the word j~nAna-yoga should not to be considered as the name for a path, though such calling is sanctified by usage, for want of a better way of communication. shravaNam - hearing the sayings and teachings of Seers; mananaM - reflecting on what has been heard; and nididhyAsanaM - contemplating on the conclusions thus arrived at; these are the three actions which together constitute what is usually called j~nAna-yoga. When the revelation comes, one perceives (that is what they say!) the Self by oneself in oneself - and the important point to note is that, thereafter, there is no slip-down!

Comment by Sunder Hattangadi:

There are three verses in the Gita where the 'perception' occurs only through the 'j~nAna (or divya) chakShu":

na tu maaM shakyase draShTumanenaiva svachakShuShaa . divyaM dadaami te chakShuH pashya me yogamaishvaram.h .. 11\-8..
But You are not able to behold Me with these Your own eyes; I give You the divine-eye; behold My lordly YOGA.

kShetrakShetraj~nayorevamantaraM j~naanachakShuShaa . bhuutaprakR^itimokShaM cha ye viduryaanti te param.h .. 13\-35..
They who, with their eye-of-wisdom come to know the distinction between the "Field" and the "Knower-of-the-Field, " and of the liberation from the "PRAKRITI of the being, " go to the Supreme.

utkraamantaM sthitaM vaapi bhu~njaanaM vaa guNaanvitam.h . vimuuDhaa naanupashyanti pashyanti j~naanachakShuShaH .. 15\-10..
Him, who departs, stays and enjoys, who is united with GUNAS, the deluded do not see; but they do behold Him, who possess the "eye-of- Knowledge. "

Comment by Madathil Nair:

This post is based on my memory of Swami Dayananda Saraswati's teachings.

BG 3.3. declares that there are only two paths. j~nAna yoga (saMnyAsa) and karma yoga. There is no separate path called bhakti. Bhakti is inherent and an essential part of both j~nAna yoga and karma yoga. Bhakti is as inseparable from the two like sweetness in honey.

Swamiji gives two definitions for yoga.
(a) yoga karmasu kausalam - Dexterity in action is yoga, i.e. performing actions keeping in view the total harmony of the entire creation is yoga
(b) samatwaM yoga ucyate - equanimity and equipoise is yoga.

This has a bearing on 2.47 and 2.48 of BG (karmayeva adhikAraste… and yogasta kuru karmANi…).

j~nAna yoga and karma yoga overlap as actions are involved in saMnyAsa and vedAntic knowledge is required for the performance of actions in a non-binding manner with prasAda buddhi in karma yoga. One wouldn't fail to notice the intermingling of the two paths in Chapter 2 of BG.

j~nAna yoga presupposes a firm advaitic conviction. One who embarks on this path has literally burnt all his boats and there is no more any going back for him to his pUrvAshrama [former way of life].

If the above meanings of yoga are imported into Br. Up. 2.4.5, then j~nAna yoga means a life of saMnyAsa, aimed at attaining Self-Knowledge (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti), embarked upon with an unshakable conviction of the truth of advaita, dedicated to listening (reading included), reflecting, contemplating and meditating on Brahman and performing actions required therefore in a non-binding manner with prasAda buddhi, equanimity and equipoise.

Return to the Contents page for the Terms and Definition.

Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012