What is Jnana Yoga? Translated, the words mean the Yoga of Knowledge. And what is the knowledge that this Yoga deals with? It is not everyday knowledge - the kind of knowledge that we need to survive in the transactional world, but knowledge of another kind, the knowledge relating to Brahman.
Please note that the word is Brahman, and not Brahmin (as in the caste). The nearest single equivalent word for Brahman in English would be God, but that is grossly inadequate,as we shall see , to describe what Brahman is.
The word God has many connotations, especially for those who have been brought up in the Abrahamic traditions - Christians, Muslims, Jews. And the idea of Brahman is far removed from that. Brahman is not an anthropomorphic God, nor is Brahman a many-limbed God, nor is Justice dispensed by Brahman, and Brahman has nothing whatsoever to do with Heaven or Hell. There is no Saviour and no Prophet associated with Brahman.
Another important point of difference is that Brahman is both the maker of the Universe, and the Universe itself, unlike in the other religious traditions where God is the maker of the Universe.
So we need to keep these differences in mind as we proceed in our exploration of Jnana Yoga, and not imagine that we are going to learn about God. Once that is clearly understood, what follows will be easier to understand.
The word Yoga, of course, refers to a union, a coming together. And in this context, the context of Jnana Yoga, what are the entities that come together?
If you have sensed what is coming - the idea that the Universal energy is not different from that which animates us, and the coming together of these two entities is the essence of Jnana Yoga - you have already grasped the core of the issue at hand. However, it is one thing to intellectually understand this possibility, and it is another to constantly experience the truth of this insight.
In order to experience this truth, we need to look into ourselves, constantly attempting to deal with the question ;“Who am I?”
And how do we do this, make this enquiry into ourselves?
Most of us think that we know who we are, we face no identity crisis. When asked who you are, you might answer, for example that you are an engineer, or that you are an Indian, or an American, and so on. All the answers that we come up with refer to our identification with the body, or the mind.
And the Upanishads constantly question our easy acceptance of this identification, and offer a solution that is quite unlike any other. But the pursuit of this enquiry is difficult, and demands great energy from us. But when we actually deeply sense the falsity of our easy identification with the body and the mind, and the ways in which this identification has led to such sorrow in the world, the energy to enquire within springs up almost automatically.
There is one other key insight regarding Brahman, and this is something that the Upanishads constantly proclaim , and that is the notion that Brahman is only that which is satya, what is true.
The definition of truth, of Satya, and therefore of Brahman, that the Upanishads work on is this: the only truth that we really need to be concerned with is that which is constantly, eternally true, and something that is not subject to change of any kind. This truth is also not something that the mind can grasp, hold on to and use in the everyday world, because this truth, Brahman , is beyond the grasp of the mind.
The traditional Vedic learning method -one which was entirely oral in nature - involves three steps:
In reading thus far, you have been following the first of the three parts of the Vedic learning tradition, “sravana”.
There is, however, an art to such listening: if you have listened with attention, without letting your mind thoughts interrupt this action, then there can be great benefits, an opening to great possibilities. But if you are listen with your thoughts, looking to find arguments and loopholes, then there is no listening, and “sravana” has not happened.
The Sringeri Sankaracharya, in a discourse, talked humorously about the quality of “sravana”. He said that after one of his talks, a listener approached him and told him that his talk had been very nice, and that he had felt very happy. When the Acharya asked him what it was about the talk that been so nice, he said that he had mentioned his grandson’s name in the course of the talk, and that was why he felt so happy! This was certainly not “sravana”, and it is difficult to imagine that any benefits could have accrued from the time spent listening to the Acharya.
In the pursuit of Brahman (if one can call this enquiry a pursuit), whatever is false - that which is impermanent, keeping in mind the definition of Brahman as that which is true, as satya) has to be discarded, disregarded. This realization is the result of reflecting upon what has been heard (or “manana”).This actual act of constantly giving up that which is impermanent - termed as “neti, neti” in Sanskrit, “not this, not this” is nidhidyasana or practice, and is the key to the Upanshadic way of discovery of the true nature of one’s self.