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Jñāna yoga or Jnanamarga refers to the "path of knowledge", also known as the "path of self realization" in Hinduism. It is one of the three classical paths (margas) or types of yoga for the liberation of the Atman (self, soul). The jnanamarga ideas are discussed in ancient and medieval era Hindu scriptures and texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
The jnana yoga is self-liberation through the pursuit of intellectual knowledge. The other two are karma yoga (path of action, karmamarga) and bhakti yoga (path of loving devotion, bhaktimarga).
Jnana is knowledge, and refers to any cognitive event that is correct and true over time. It particularly refers to knowledge inseparable from the total experience of its object, especially about reality (non-theistic schools) or supreme being (theistic schools). In Hinduism, it is knowledge which gives Moksha, or spiritual release while alive (jivanmukti) or after death (videhamukti). According to Bimal Matilal, jnana yoga in Advaita Vedanta connotes both primary and secondary sense of its meaning, that is "self-consciousness, awareness" in the absolute sense and relative "intellectual understanding" respectively.
According to Jones and Ryan, jnana in jnana yoga context is better understood as "realization or gnosis", referring to a "path of study" wherein one knows the unity between self and ultimate reality called Brahman in Hinduism. This explanation in found in the ancient Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
Jñāna yoga is the path towards attaining jnana. It is one of the three classical types of yoga mentioned in Hindu philosophies, the other two being karma yoga and bhakti. In modern classifications, classical yoga, being called Raja yoga, is mentioned as a fourth one, an extension introduced by Vivekananda.
Of the three different paths to liberation, jnana marga and karma marga are the more ancient, traceable to Vedic era literature. All three paths are available to any Hindu, chosen based on inclination, aptitude and personal preference, and typically elements of all three to varying degrees are practiced by many Hindus.
The classical yoga emphasizes the practice of dhyana (meditation), and this is a part of all three classical paths in Hinduism, including jñāna yoga.[note 1] The path of knowledge is intended for those who prefer philosophical reflection and it requires study and meditation.
In the Bhagavad Gita, jnana yoga is also referred to as buddhi yoga and its goal is self-realization. The text considers jnana marga as the most difficult, slow, confusing for those who prefer it because it deals with "formless reality", the avyakta. It is the path that intellectually oriented people tend to prefer.
The chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita is dedicated to the general exposition of jnana yoga, while chapters 7 and 16 discuss its theological and axiological aspects. Krishna says that jñāna is the purest, and a discovery of one's Atman:
Truly, there is nothing here as pure as knowledge. In time, he who is perfected in yoga finds that in his own Atman.— Bhagavad Gita 4.38, Translator: Jeaneane D. Fowler
The Advaita philosopher Adi Shankara gave primary importance to jñāna yoga as "knowledge of the absolute" (Brahman), while the Vishishtadvaita commentator Ramanuja regarded knowledge only as a condition of devotion.
Classical Advaita Vedanta
- Discrimination (Nityānitya vastu viveka (नित्यानित्य वस्तु विवेकम्), or simply viveka) — The ability (viveka) to correctly discriminate between the unchanging, permanent, eternal (nitya) and the changing, transitory, temporary (anitya).
- Dispassion of fruits (Ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga virāga (इहाऽमुत्रार्थ फल भोगविरागम्), or simply viraga) — The dispassionate indifference (virāga) to the fruits, to enjoyments of objects (artha phala bhoga) or to the other worlds (amutra) after rebirth.
- Six virtues (Śamādi ṣatka sampatti (शमादि षट्क सम्पत्ति), or simply satsampat) —
- Drive, longing (Mumukṣutva (मुमुक्षुत्वम्)) — intense yearning for moksha from the state of ignorance
Correct knowledge, which destroys avidya, psychological and perceptual errors related to Atman and Brahman, is obtained in jnanayoga through three stages of practice, sravana (hearing), manana (thinking) and nididhyasana (meditation). This three-step methodology is rooted in the teachings of chapter 4 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
- Sravana literally means hearing, and broadly refers to perception and observations typically aided by a counsellor or teacher (guru), wherein the Advaitin listens and discusses the ideas, concepts, questions and answers.
- Manana refers to thinking on these discussions and contemplating over the various ideas based on svadhyaya and sravana.
- Nididhyāsana refers to meditation,[web 1] realization and consequent conviction of the truths, non-duality and a state where there is a fusion of thought and action, knowing and being.
Both the theistic and monistic streams of Shaivism include jnana yoga ideas, along with those related to karma yoga, and in the case of Saiva Siddhanta ideas related to bhakti yoga. The Shaivism traditions do not consider renunciation necessary for practicing jnana yoga, leaving ascetic yogi lifestyle optional. Spirituality can be pursued along with active life (karma), according to Shaiva traditions, and it believes that this does not hinder ones ability to journey towards self (Shiva within) realization. The traditions dwell into this integration of karma yoga with jnana yoga, such as by ranking daily behavior and activity that is done by choice and when not necessary as higher in spiritual terms than activity that is impulsive or forced.
The methodology of sravana, manana and nididhyasana similar to Advaita Vedanta are also found in various traditions of Shaivism. However, nistha or samadhi is sometimes added in Shaiva methodology. The meditational aspects of Shaivism focus on the nirguna form of Supreme Reality (Shiva).
The Pancharatra (agama) texts of Vaishnavism, along with its Bhagavata (Krishna, Rama, Vishnu) tradition, are strongly influenced by jnana yoga ideas of the Upanishads. However, Vaishnavism also incorporates Bhakti yoga concepts of loving devotion to the divine Supreme personally selected by the devotee, in saguna form, both in silent meditational and musical expressive styles.
The aim of jnana yoga in Vaishnavism differs from that in other schools. Advaita, for example, considers jnana yoga as the path to nondual self-knowledge and moksha. Vaishnavism, in contrast, considers it a condition of devotion.
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- See for example H. W. L. Poonja, who regarded knowledge alone to be enough for liberation.
- Example self-restraints mentioned in Hindu texts: one must refrain from any violence that causes injury to others, refrain from starting or propagating deceit and falsehood, refrain from theft of other's property, refrain from sexually cheating on one's partner, and refrain from avarice.
- nivartitānāmeteṣāṁ tadvyatiriktaviṣayebhya uparamaṇamuparatirathavā vihitānāṁ karmaṇāṁ vidhinā parityāgaḥ[Vedāntasāra, 21]
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