Friday, 4 April 2008

07. Jnāna Yoga


7. Jnāna Yoga

Earlier we saw that the scriptures first present an ideal infrastructure for the fulfilment of the human goals or Purushārthāhā. After presenting the infrastructure the scriptures also present a course of discipline for the accomplishment of these goals. This course of discipline we classified into three – Karma Yoga, Upāsana Yoga and Gnana Yoga. Upāsana Yoga is also known as Samādhi Yoga.

Jnāna Yoga means a course of discipline meant for gaining knowledge. Jnāna Prāptyartham Yogaha. And when you talk about a course of discipline meant for Jnāna or knowledge, the question arises – knowledge of what ? Because knowledge should always have an object and here we point out in the context of Jnāna Yoga, the word Jnāna refers to self- knowledge of Atmna Jnāna i.e. knowledge regarding oneself. And when we sat knowledge regarding oneself, we already have some knowledge – our date of birth, name of parents, height or weights etc. So we do have some knowledge about our superficial personality.

But what we discuss in Jnāna Yoga is the essential nature of “I”, the basic nature of “I”, the real nature of “I” or the higher nature of “I” – the Parā Prakrutihi. In the scriptures the real “I” is called Ātmā. Hence Jnāna Yoga means Ātmā Jnāna Yogaha – a course of discipline meant for gaining self knowledge. The purpose of gaining this self knowledge, as pointed out by the scriptures, is that self knowledge gives us freedom or Moksha Purushārthaha – the highest goal called Moksha. So Jnāna Yogaha Mokshārtham.

Then comes the natural question – what is meant by Mokshaha. This has been briefly dealt with earlier when talking about Dharma Artha Kāma Moksha Purushārthaha. Moksha is freedom from bondage or dependence. This bondage is caused by the first three Purushārtha namely Dharma Artha Kāmaha. Anything or being in the creation can cause bondage. What type of bondage is this ? Bondage is of two types :-

- When an object is present – The presence of objects cause a bondage called Bhāraha. The stress or strain of handling the object or person. Handling the object or person or relationship itself especially if it is a human relationship, that itself becomes a very big Bhāraha. In fact when many people face problems, it is the stress and strain caused by human relationship.
- When an object is not present – This creates another problem called emptiness or loneliness.

So I am not sure whether I want them or I don’t want them. When I don’t have them I crave to have them and once I have them, I crave for freedom. Either way, I am in a soup. This is called Ubhayataha Pāshā Rajjuhu. And by Moksha we mean, I am free from this problem caused by the world. This means the presence of objects will not cause strain in me if I am a free person and the absence will not create emptiness in me. The presence of people will not create the strain of relating and the absence of people will not create loneliness without companion. So if I can have Dharma Artha Kāma when they are there and I can be happy even if the Dharma Artha Kāma are not there, either way I am fine – this is called Freedom. With objects or people I am fine, even without objects or people I am fine. And this Freedom is the result of self-knowledge. This inner freedom expresses in the form of threefold virtues which are very useful for human life.

7.1. Virtues of Inner freedom

The threefold virtues are presented in a prayer called Serenity prayer. Serenity means balance of mind – Samattvam. In this prayer we address the Lord and ask for these three virtues.

Oh Lord, grant me the serenity to accept what cannot be changed in life,
Oh Lord, grant me the courage to change what can be changed in life,
Oh Lord, grant me the wisdom to know what can and cannot be changed

These are the three virtues – acceptance, courage and discretion. And by acceptance, we do not mean a negative acceptance like “what cannot be cured must be endured” with a sense of being victimised. Acceptance in fact refers to balanced cheerful acceptance which will not lead to bitterness, hatred, sense of victimisation, sense of injustice or produce any negative reaction. This is healthy acceptance. Life will become beautiful when I can healthily accept all the choiceless situations and courageously change what can be transformed and I am able to discern which is which. These are the three virtues that I get through the freedom of self knowledge.

The next question is How can I get self knowledge ? What is the discipline of Jnāna Yoga that I should follow to gain the knowledge of myself ?

We say, any Jnānam can be attained only by one method and that is by using the instrument of knowledge. Any knowledge can be acquired only by using an instrument of knowledge. In Sanskrit an instrument of knowledge is called Pramānam . The one who uses the instrument of knowledge is called Pramātā and the knowledge that is generated i.e. the Jnānam is called Pramā and the object that is known is called Prameyam. This Pramātā uses Pramānam and acquires Pramā with regards to the Prameyam.

Without using an instrument of knowledge we cannot get the knowledge. For example, if I have to get the knowledge of the colour of an object I have no option but to use the instrument called the eyes. If I want to know what is the sound, I have to use the instrument of ears. Without using the eyes, Varna Jnānam cannot take place, without using the ears, Sahbda Jnānam cannot take place etc. Our scriptures have made an elaborate study on the topic of Pramānam and they point out that there are five instruments of knowledge at our disposal.

7.2. Instruments of knowledge

Since these five instruments of knowledge are available to human beings, they are called Paurusheya Pramānāni. These are


You get the knowledge by using the five fold sense organs – Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue and Skin and by perceiving through the five sense organs, we get perceptual knowledge. This is called Pratyaksham


In Sanskrit this is called Anumānam


In Sanskrit this is called Arthapattihi


In Sanskrit this is called Upamānam


In Sanskrit this is called Anupalabdhihi

These are the Pancha Paurusheya Pramānāni. And for all practical purposes, we can reduce the above five into two – Perception and Inference. Now we have to find, which Pramānam should I use to gain a particular knowledge especially self-knowledge. The Shāstrams point out that the instrument that you make use of will depend on the object that you want to know. It does not depend on your fancy or your will. If I have to know the colour of an object, I have not choice but to use the eyes. Jnānam is acquired by using the appropriate Pramānam.

We want to gain self knowledge and have to find out which instrument or Pramānam to use and when I make an enquiry I enter into a big problem. All the five instruments at my disposal, are extrovert instruments capable of studying only the objective world or external world. None of these instruments is capable of studying the very subject behind these instrument. This is the intrinsic limitation of the Pancha Pramānāni and also science. Science can only the objective universe but cannot study the student. The eyes can perceive everything in the creation but unfortunately the eyes have a peculiar limitation that the eyes cannot see themselves. This is because eyes are extrovert, they can never study themselves. The Law is – Subject is never subject to objectification. Similarly I cannot study myself.

Self knowledge will be elusive for the human being and all material sciences. But there is a way out. If I have to see my own eyes, I have to learn to take the help of another external object or factor – a mirror to see my eyes. I should be humble enough to accept that my eyes cannot directly see themselves and therefore I require the assistance of an external mirror. With the help of the mirror I can see my own eyes. Similarly all the Paurusheya Pramānāni are inadequate to give me self knowledge unless I introduce a sixth Pramānam or sixth factor that will serve as a mirror for gaining self knowledge. I have to accept the necessity of a sixth Pramānam which is not in my hands and this must come from outside. That sixth Pramānam is called Shāstra Pramānam – the scriptural teaching.

7.3. Shāstra Pramānam – Sixth Pramānam

This is also called Shabda Pramānam. And this Shāstram Pramānam is not already with me. It has to be brought from outside like a mirror and therefore it is called Apaurusheya Pramānam. This means not naturally available to human being and it has to be brought from outside. This Shāstra Pramānam has been gifted to use just like God has given mirrors for seeing our own face. If mirrors were not there, eternally our own beauty will not be available for us to see. Thus God has gifted us with Shāstra Pramānam to enjoy our inner beauty. If you refuse to use the mirror, it is only us who is going to be the loser. Using this alone can we get self knowledge.

The next thing we come to know is, even though the mirror is capable of showing us our face, to enjoy it we should know how to use the mirror properly. Anything will help only if we know how to use. In the same way, Shāstram or scriptures can help only if we study the scriptures properly. If you handle the scriptures properly we can see our beauty and get self knowledge.

7.4. Information – Direct Experience dichotomy

And when I try to study the scriptures and use the scriptures myself, I get into another big problem. Because scriptures, unlike other forms of literature, use a peculiar method to impart self knowledge. This is because of the uniqueness of the subject matter, the Self, and the uniqueness of the knowledge, the scriptures make use of a unique method.

Normally books deal with different object, places and people in the creation and therefore my orientation is that I should get the information first , and then later convert that into direct experience by contacting the object. E.g. I read what is Niagara Falls (getting the information first) and when I go there actually only then will I get direct experience out of contact. Therefore our orientation in any study is Information – Direct Experience dichotomy.

But when it comes to self knowledge the problem is that we do not have these two stages at all. Because if you are talking about the two stages, the information should be got first, then the direct experience will be got when I come in contact with the self. But unfortunately you will never come in contact with the self because you are the Self. Hence the information – direct experience dichotomy does not exist in self knowledge. But we always incorrectly study the scriptures with this orientation of first book knowledge then direct experience. Hence we never know how to utilise the scriptures properly and therefore we never get the self knowledge if we study the scriptures ourselves.

7.5. Threefold Exercise

If self knowledge is not information or direct experience, then what is self knowledge? Self knowledge is freedom from self ignorance. Therefore scriptural study is different from studying other books and scriptural study requires a difference type of operation or method called Jnāna Yogaha. And this Jnāna Yoga consists of a threefold exercise called Shravanam Mananam and Nididhyāsanam.


Shravanam means exposing myself to the scriptural teaching handled by a competent guide. Because it is unlike the study of another objective literature. If we study the scriptures by ourselves, we end up in information - experience dichotomy. Eternally we would be trapped in search of either information or experience. Therefore if you should not be trapped in this, this teaching should be handled by someone who knows expertly how to handle and remove the orientation of information experience and gives self knowledge removing self ignorance.

Therefore Shravanam is exposing myself to the systematic teaching or handling of the scriptures done by an expert guide and for a length of time – because orientation breaking takes time. The study has to be systematic because it is a gradual build-up from beginning to end. It should be a stray study of unconnected topics. It should be systematic in the sense that between one topic and another, there should be a gradual build-up with a connection. It is like building a house where a number of bricks are arranged in an orderly manner well cemented. Only then it becomes a house that can be occupied. But the same number of bricks dumped in one place cannot become a house and we cannot live in that house. And the bricks will be more of an obstacle than a useful thing. Similarly gathering stray ideas by reading books here and there, without building up gradually and without connecting the topics, then our brain will be full of piled up ideas like the piled up bricks and they will be cluttered in the brain. It will not be of any use and will create more problems than benefits. Similarly Vedāntik study will be beneficial only when there is a systematic study.

The study should be continuous. Even in the case of laying bricks, before the cement hardens we should lay the bricks and then some more cement on it and then more bricks before the cement hardens. The whole process should be continuous without gaps and for a length of time.

This Shravanam has to continue for a length of time during which time no questions are allowed. We have to get the comprehensive teaching from all angles in all aspects in its totality. And this process is called Shravanam. Even if you are not able to accept a part of the teaching or have a doubt regarding a particular aspect of teaching, you are allowed to keep aside those questions and doubts and listen with an open mind. You are free to disagree with the teacher. Be patient. Shravanam requires a lot of patience. Never be judgemental or critical.


During Mananam I try to tie all the ideas of Vedanta and make a garland out of the teaching so that every idea fits into the grand building of Vedanta. Every brick has got a role to play in the house. Every window is part of a grand scheme. Similarly every idea of Vedanta should become part of the grand design of Vedāntik teaching – the study of the individual, the study of the total, the study of Aikyam, the study of Sādhana Chatushtaya Sampattihi.

As even I am connecting, I must be able to go back, take all the topics and should know where they all stand. What is the role of Karma Yoga ? What is the role of Upāsana Yoga ? Everything should fall in its place when I look back at it. Doubts will surely arise.

When I look at a topic individually, doubts may not arise. But when I try to connect one topic to another, there may be seeming contradictions or one topic may not find its place properly. After comprehensively listening and being exposed to the teaching for a length of time, I bring out all my questions. Generally the beauty of the teaching is, by the time you complete your teaching systematically, doubts will not be there. Because the scriptures themselves handle the possible questions – hence it is in the form of a dialogue – Guru Shishya Samvādaha. You are given full freedom to your rational mind, logical mind, scientific mind, intellectual acumen to raise any question. The teacher is available to answer or to help the student in removing all kinds of doubts because doubts are obstacles to knowledge.

Vedanta encourages asking any number of questions. Vedanta is knowledge. Vedanta is not a faith or belief. In a system of faith, questions are discouraged as it is considered to be disrespectful to the teacher or teaching. Questions are to be asked until all the questions subside.

How do I know when all the questions are subsided or not ? I must be able to say I am the Parama Ātmā – Aham Brahma Asmi – I am immortal – I am all pervading – I survive the death of the body – the world cannot affect me. Each one of the statements, I must be able to make from the inner most core of my heart. And when I ask my own intellect whether it is convinced, it must say yes.

Hence Mananam removes all obstacles in the intellect and makes the knowledge into doubtless knowledge or conviction. Mananam is the process of conviction – solving the intellectual problems. Doubts belong to the intellect, therefore Mananam is solving the intellectual problem and hence Mananam isn an intellectual process.

Nisamshaya Jnānam with regards to my essential nature my real or higher nature. Shravanam removes ignorance, Mananam removes doubts or intellectual problems.


Then comes the process of Nididhyāsanam which is the process of internalisation or assimilation of this knowledge and the removal of my habitual behaviour. This also involves solving emotional problems in the light of Jnānam. Ultimately even though Samsara is a problem of ignorance, the ignorance is appearing or expressing in the form of emotional turmoil alone. Basic problem may by Ajnānam but I am facing this problem in the form of Rāga Dvesha Kāma Krodhaha Lobha Moha Mada Mātsarya and Bhayam. Unless the emotional problems are solved, I have not assimilated the knowledge totally.

The present behaviour I have developed very gradually, it is a habit, a conditioning that I have – this I have to de-condition myself. This process is called Nididhyāsanam or assimilation. Only when the habitual behaviour goes away, do I get the full benefit of this knowledge. We have been Samsārī, petty, ignorant, bitter people and that personality has influenced our responses, our goals. Everything has been governed by our idea about ourselves. How you behave depends on how you look at yourself.

Every behaviour depends on your self image. As long as you have a miserable self image, your behaviour will be miserable. And even if the Guru transforms the self image, the old self image continues for a length of time. Hence we need some time during which we should allow the transformation to take place. And that process is called Nididhyāsanam in which I keep in touch with the Shāstram even if the study part is over. I keep in touch with the Jnānis or wise people, Satsanga or Shāstra Sanga because the association influences my personality. Not only do I keep in touch with Shāstra, I lead an alert life, monitoring my responses and making sure that every response in every situation is governed by the new teaching and not by the old misunderstood personality. And assimilated knowledge alone nourishes me like assimilated food nourishes food. It is not the amount of food that I eat that matters, but the amount of food that I digest alone that matters.

Swami Chinmayānanda put it “You may have gone through ten Upanishads. Wonderful. How many Upanishads have gone through you ?” Hence conversion of intellectual knowledge into emotional strength is called Nididhyāsanam. This can be done as follows :

All emotional problems will express themselves in two forms :
- One is choice-less situations which requires acceptance. We should sufficient emotional strength to accept whatever is choiceless
- Other is choice-ful situation which can be changed or improved where the emotional mind should not obstruct my effort to improve the situation.

A weak mind creates problems in two ways :
- When there is a choiceless situation, the weak mind goes on saying “Don’t accept it” – which means I keep mumbling and grumbling all time knowing that this will not change the situation because it is choiceless. Therefore strengthening the emotional mind to accept the choiceless is the purpose of this knowledge.
- If the mind is weak and is worrying over the choiceless, then the problem is that our time is spent in worrying that where we can improve we will not be available for improving the situation. Worrying over the choiceless becomes an obstacle in improving over the choiceful or where the improvement is possible. Hence I should work on the situations that can be improved.

This is called emotional strength. Face the situation. If the situation is a choiceless one, I learn to accept it and forget it and go for the next one. And I try to improve the situation to the extent possible. There also there may be a limitation. Once I reach another choiceless situation, again I understand it and I go for the next. Like the bulldozer I face the day-to-day life with emotional strength. And this emotional strength is possible only when the knowledge is presiding over my day to day life.

Therefore Shravanam and Mananam and Nididhyāsanam is Jnāna Yogaha. And this Jnāna Yoga will give self knowledge. Self knowledge will give Moksha which means I am free in the presence and absence of things, people, my life and even in death. This is Jnāna Yogaha the subtlest form of Sādhanā.

7.5.4.Role of Āshrama Dharma

You should remember, all the three Yogas, Karma Yoga, Upāsana Yoga and Jnāna Yoga are compulsory for all people and not given as optional Yogas. Every body requires these and the culmination is in self knowledge which give me Moksha. If at all there is a person who comes to Jnāna Yoga without Karma Yoga or Upāsana Yoga, he cannot be successful. And if at all a person skips Karma Yoga or Upāsana Yoga and successfully gains Jnānam, the scriptures say he must have gone through both of these in his past Janma . If you study the Āshrama scheme, you will find that the four Āshramas are designed for the pursuit of these three Yogas only.

Even though these three are not air-tight compartment compartments, there is a domination of a particular Yoga in a particular stage in life.

In BrahmĀchārya Āshrama it is primarily studying the theory – what is life, what is the goal. The other three Āshramas are meant for predominantly practicing the three Yogas.

Grihastha Āshrama is Karma Yoga Pradhānaha; Vānaprastha Āshrama is Upāsana Yoga Pradhāna; Sanyāsa Āshrama is Jnāna Yoga Pradhānaha.

These three different infrastructures are presented for predominantly practicing these three Yogas. Even if you do not go through these four Āshramas physically, you will have to make the appropriate modifications in your lifestyle depending on which Yoga you dominantly practice. And therefore adjust the infrastructure follow the three Yogas, gain knowledge and be free. Being a free person either enjoy Dharma Artha Kāma presence, or enjoy the absence of Dharma Artha Kāma. This is the vision of all the scriptures primary as well as secondary.

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