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What Is Jnana Yoga?

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  • Written By: Lakshmi Sandhana
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Jnana Yoga, also known as Gyana yoga, is defined as the path of true knowledge. It is a form of yoga where a person achieves liberation through understanding their true self, through the mind. 'Jnana' is a Sanskrit term that symbolizes knowledge or wisdom. It involves meditating on the question 'who am I?' or meditating on 'I' and attempts to realize the eternal self, as a state of pure awareness, that is beyond the mind. This is considered one of the most challenging paths in yoga.

Jnana yoga is best suited for those who consider themselves intellectuals seeking answers. Introspective individuals are ideal candidates for jnana yoga, which continually questions the identity of the true self through various techniques. The practice seeks to understand the nature of God as pure beingness or awareness, by discriminating between that pure state and the objects of awareness that typically occupy the mind.

To use an analogy, a glass is seen to have an outside and an inside, with both being different from each other. This is similar to how people perceive themselves as apart from the eternal self. In Jnana yoga, the aspirant aims to break or dissolve the glass and perceive the essential unity of all things.

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The intellect is used as a tool and with constant probing and focusing the attention on the real self, the jnana yoga, attains 'moksha' or a state of enlightenment. This enlightened state continues even while occupied with mundane activities. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most revered books in Hindu philosophy, contains detailed instructions on the techniques and practices that jnana yogi's need to engage in, to achieve salvation.

'Viveka' is the practice of intellectual discernment, where the person continuously brings the mind back from distractions in a continuous effort to understand what constitutes the true self. 'Neti neti' is a Sanskrit term that negates. It literally translates as 'not this, not this' and is used by the jnana yogi to banish any object in his awareness, as this does not represent the true self. The principle behind this is that when everything the mind holds in its awareness is banished, what is left must be the true self.

'Vicara' stands for the quality of looking within, examining and reflecting on things. Other attributes that are important for a person on this yogic path are detachment and an intense longing for liberation. This yogic path is based on the 'Advaita Vedanta' philosophy in Hinduism, which propounds that all beings in the Universe share one soul. Some of the luminaries who taught this form include Ramana Maharishi, Adi Shankara and the sage Vashishta.

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