The word “Jnâna,” being derived from the Sanskrit root Jnâ,” to know, means knowledge; and the ideal which it holds up before its followers is the realization of that Absolute Truth, which is the one common source of all subjective and objective phenomena in the universe. It teaches that there is one life, one Being, one Reality, and that all notions of distinction and differentiation, that all beliefs in the permanent duality or multiplicity of existence are unreal and illusory.
Jnâna Yoga is based entirely upon the monistic principles of the Advaita or non-dualistic system of Vedânta. Its purpose is to show that subject and object are but the two expressions of one Absolute Being or Substance; that God and man, the Creator and the created, are only different aspects of one Universal Reality. Its aim is to resolve the divers phenomena into one ultimate Being, from which proceed all powers and all forces manifested in external and internal nature, and which is the abode of infinite intelligence and eternal happiness.
According to Jnâna Yoga, matter, mind, intellect, sense-powers, names, and forms are but the apparent manifestations of that one Substance which is called in Sanskrit Brahman. They may appear to us as real, but they have in truth only relative reality. The phenomena of the universe are like the waves in the ocean of Brahman. As waves rise in the sea, and after playing for a while, once more merge into it, so the waves of subject and object rise, live, and dissolve in the ocean of that Absolute Substance Brahman. Brahman is described in Vedânta as “That of which all animate and inanimate objects are born, by which they live, and into which they return after dissolution. It should be known and realized by all.” It is the essence of Divinity. It is like the eternal canvas upon which the Creator or the Cosmic Ego and the created or individual egos are painted by Maya, the inscrutable creative power of the Infinite Being.
The chief object of Jnâna Yoga is to unify God and the individual Soul and to show the absolute oneness that exists between them on the highest spiritual plane. The individual ego; being the reflection or image of Divinity or Brahman, in its true nature is divine, and this true Self is known in Sanskrit as the Âtman. The knowledge of this oneness of the Âtman or subjective reality with Brahman, the Universal Truth, is described in Jnâna Yoga as the only means of attaining to complete liberation from the bondage of selfishness and from attachment to body and senses, which are the causes of all worldliness, unhappiness, and misery. The light of the knowledge of the Âtman and of its unity with Brahman alone will dispel the darkness of ignorance which prevents us from reaching the abode of Absolute Existence, Intelligence, and Bliss, and which now deludes us into identifying the individual Self with the body, senses, mind, and their modifications. This ignorance is designated in Sanskrit Avidyâ or ne-science, and is the source of all false knowledge, egotism, attachment to the lower self and to the world. Being deceived by the illusive power of Avidyâ, we mistake body for soul and soul for body, matter for spirit and spirit for matter. In ignorance of our true Self, we work solely to gratify selfish motives and to reap some result from our actions. But Jnâna Yoga would waken us from this sleep of ignorance, by showing us that the Âtman is immortal, unchangeable, all-knowing, and free by its own nature from eternity to eternity; that through the influence of Avidyâ, the individual ego thinks of itself as changeable and subject to birth and death, and forgetting that the fountain-head of freedom, knowledge, and everlasting happiness is abiding within, it seeks knowledge and happiness from outside and becomes the slave of desires and passions. It further reminds us that whatever we think or perform mentally or physically is like a dream in the sleep of self-delusion caused by the power of Avidyâ; that these dreams of the sleep of ignorance can be removed neither by work, nor by devotion, nor by meditation, but by the light and power of Vidyâ, the knowledge of the Âtman or Self and of its relation to Brahman.
This knowledge cannot be obtained as the result of any virtuous act or prayer, but comes to the soul when the intellect and heart have been purified by unselfish and righteous works, and when the individual ego begins to discriminate between the real and unchangeable Âtman and apparent and changeable matter or force. Jnâna Yoga teaches that right discrimination and proper analysis are indispensable to the acquisition of knowledge of the true Self and of the Reality which underlies phenomenal objects. It also declares that knowledge of the Self will bring to the soul the realization of Absolute Truth more quickly than the practice of Râja, Karma, or Bhakti Yoga.
The path of wisdom, therefore, is best fitted for those earnest and sincere seekers after Truth who have no leaning towards active life, who are not devotional in their nature, but who are preeminently intellectual, and who, having realized the transitory and ephemeral character of phenomenal objects, are no longer contented with sense-pleasures. It is for those who wish to be free from all fetters and attachments, and who care nothing for earthly prosperity, success, social honor, fame, or the fulfilment of personal ambitions; but whose sole desire is to know who they are in reality, what is their true nature, and what relation exists between their soul, God, and the universe.
A traveller along this path should be philosophical in tendency, should have a sharp intellect and a keen power of analyzing the true nature of things. He should also have a firm conviction that the ultimate Truth or Reality of the universe is unchangeable. Using the sword of right discrimination between the Self and the non-self, he should sever all ties, and should never allow himself to be overpowered by any external or internal influence. His mind should be undisturbed by passions or desires, his senses well controlled, and his body strong, healthy, and capable of bearing all hardships as well as of overcoming all environmental conditions. He should have dispassion; and be ever ready to renounce anything that does not help him in his realization of Truth. He must have absolute confidence in the teachings of Jnâna Yogins, or those who have become Seers of Truth by following the path of wisdom; and he must likewise have faith in the final Truths expounded by the monistic system of Vedânta.
The mind of a beginner in Jnâna Yoga must possess the power of perfect concentration and meditation; and his soul must be filled with the longing for absolute freedom from all relative conditions and from the laws which govern phenomena. He must realize that even the enjoyment of heavenly pleasures is a kind of bondage, since it keeps the soul entangled in the meshes of phenomenal relativity. Being well-armed with all these noble qualities as his weapons, a Jnâna Yogi should fight against phenomenal appearances, and with the ideal of the unity of the true Self and the Absolute Brahman ever before his mind’s eye, he should march onward toward its realization, breaking down all names and forms with the hammer of right analysis, and cleaving all ties of attachment with the sword of proper discrimination. Nor should he stop until the goal is reached. He who goes through the path of wisdom, burns the vast forest of the trees of phenomenal names and forms by starting in it the fire of right knowledge. All these names and forms are produced by Maya, the inscrutable power of Brahman; and according to Jnâna Yoga this power of Maya is inseparable from Brahman as the power of heating is inseparable from fire. A Jnâna Yogi, in his search after Brahman, should reject all names and forms by saying “Not this,” “Not this,” until he realizes the one nameless, formless, and absolute Being of the universe, where the subject and the object, the knower, knowledge, and its object, losing their relativity, merge into the infinite Ocean of Blissful Existence and Supreme Intelligence.
A sincere seeker after Truth should hear over and over again that the Âtman or true Self is one with Brahman or the Eternal Truth; and should repeat such phrases as “I am Brahman,” “I am one with the Absolute Source of knowledge, existence, and bliss.” He should constantly think of the meaning of “Tat Twain asi”–“That thou art,” and should devote his time to meditating upon this oneness until the light of Brahman illumines his soul, dispelling the darkness of Avidyâ and transforming his ego into the essence of Divinity.
Instead of worshipping a personal God like a Bhakta, a Jnâna Yogi should clearly understand the true significance of all His attributes as given in the different Scriptures–such as Creator or Governor of the universe, He is Spirit, infinite, omniscient, all-powerful, unchangeable, true, and one; and rejecting the worship of the personal God as an act proceeding from Avidyâ or ignorance of the divine nature of the Self or Âtman, he should seek that which is above all attributes and beyond all descriptions, which transcends the realm of thought and cannot be revealed by human intellect or understanding. He should realize that all conceptions of a personal God are more or less anthropomorphic, and that the Creator himself must be phenomenal since He can exist only in relation to the created object. A Jnâna Yogi, consequently, does not pray to the personal God or to any other Spirit or Being. To him prayers and devotions are useless and unnecessary. He does not seek any supernatural help or Divine mercy, for he is conscious of the omnipotent and omniscient nature of the Âtman, and knows that his true Self is beyond good and evil, above virtue and vice, unlimited by all laws, and that it reigns over nature in its own glory. He feels that it is the same in essence as the Creator or personal God. Instead of identifying himself with body, mind, senses, or intellect, he always remembers that he is the Âtman, which is birthless, deathless, sinless, fearless, immutable, eternally peaceful, and ever undisturbed by pleasant or unpleasant experiences, sensations, or mental and physical changes.
A true Jnâna Yogi constantly tries to keep himself above all phenomenal conditions, and incessantly repeats “I am Brahman,” “Soham”–I am He, I am He. He says within himself:
“I am neither mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor senses; I am neither earth, nor water, nor air, nor fire, nor ether, but my true nature is absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. I am He, I am He.”
“I am neither the organic activity nor am I the elements of the body, neither the sense of knowledge nor that of action, but I am absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. I am He, I am He.”
“I have neither hatred nor love, neither greed nor delusion, neither egotism nor pride nor vanity, neither creed nor faith, nor aim nor desire for freedom. I am absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. I am He, I am He.”
“I have neither virtue nor vice nor sin. neither pleasure nor pain, neither Scriptures nor rituals nor ceremonies. I am neither food nor am I the eater. I am absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. I am He, I am He.”
“I have neither death nor fear of death, nor birth nor caste distinction; neither father nor mother, neither friend nor foe, neither master nor disciple. I am absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. I am He, I am He.”
“I have neither doubt nor question. I am formless and all-pervading. I am the eternal Lord of nature and the master of the senses. I am neither bound nor free. I am one with Brahman. I am the omnipresent Divinity, I am the immutable Lord of all. I am absolute existence, knowledge, and bliss. I am He, I am He.”
Thus constantly practicing discrimination and rising above all relativity and phenomenal appearances, a Jnâna Yogi realizes the Absolute, Unchangeable, Eternal Truth in this life and ultimately becomes one with it; because Jnâna Yoga declares that he who knows Brahman becomes Brahman, for the same reason that the knower of God can be no other than God himself. A Jnâna Yogi never forgets that his true Self is Brahman. Having attained to this supreme God-consciousness, he lives in the world like an eternal witness of all mental and physical changes. Ever happy and undisturbed, he travels from place to place, pointing out to mankind the way to absolute freedom and perfection. A perfect Jnâna Yogi, indeed, lives as the embodiment of the Absolute Divinity on this earth (From the Teachings of Swami Abhedananda)