Jnana yoga

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Jnana yoga is one of the four principle paths of yoga. Jnana yoga is the path of union with God through knowledge.

Jnana yoga is best suited to the contemplative or monastic person; it entails union with God through the dissolution of ignorance. Knowledge, of course, begins with self-knowledge. The jnana yogi seeks knowledge not only through study but through direct experience of God. Jnana yoga is also the path of discrimination between the real and the unreal. It falls in the second quadrant of the Cosmic Clock, the mental quadrant.

Teaching of Shankara

Shankara, the great ninth-century Hindu saint and scholar, writes in the voice of the guru advising the disciple:

It is through the touch of ignorance that you, who are the supreme self, find yourself under the bondage of the non-self, whence alone proceeds the round of births and deaths. The fire of knowledge, kindled by discrimination between the self and non-self, consumes ignorance with its effects.”[1]

The guru first instructs his pupil in the four great Vedic statements.[2] The first is “Tat Tvam Asi” (“That thou art”), which means “Brahman thou art,” “Thou art made in the image and likeness of Brahman.” This statement can be placed in the etheric body, the first quadrant of the Cosmic Clock.

The second statement is “Aham Brahma-smi” (“I AM Brahman”). This is the affirmation of the conscious identification with the Great God Self—Brahman. This statement belongs in the mental body, the second quadrant of the Clock.

The third affirmation is “Ayam A-tma Brahma” (“This Self is Brahman”). This Self is not the self of lesser desires. This Self is consumed by the all-consuming desire to be Brahman and to know the Self as Brahman. This desire is the spiritual fire that consumes all lesser desires, leaving the soul draped and drenched in only one desire, the desire to be Brahman. This statement is tied to the desire body, the third quadrant of the Clock.

The fourth statement is “Prajna-nam Brahma” (“Consciousness is Brahman”). This mantra is the affirmation that all physical consciousness is Brahman. It delivers us from the agitation of the five senses, from the temptations of the flesh. It guards the temple of man as the temple of Brahman.

The fourth statement applies to the physical body, the fourth quadrant of the Clock. When the physical houses the Lord, then the desire body, the mental body and the etheric body follow. And the four sides of the pyramid mirror the flame of Brahman on the central altar of the King’s Chamber.

After the pupil has learned these affirmations and embodied them, the guru instructs his pupil to meditate on his real nature.

That which is ... devoid of name and form,... that which is infinite and indestructible; that which is supreme, eternal, and undying; that which is taintless—that Brahman art thou. Meditate on this in thy mind.[3]

Through this meditation, the disciple frees himself of the habits that bind him to the world. Piece by piece, he separates the real parts of himself from the unreal, like cream from milk.

The student next devotes himself to meditation on Brahman ... [until] there arises within him a mental state which makes him feel that he is Brahman.... With the deepening of meditation, the mind, which is a manifestation of ignorance and a form of matter, is destroyed, and ... the Brahman reflected in the mind is absorbed in the Supreme Brahman.... This unity, indescribable in words, is known only to him who has experienced it.[4]

This mystical union does not mean that the yogi loses his capacity to think or to exist. “The mind is destroyed” means that the lower mind is gradually displaced because the mind of the yogi is one with the Mind of God, which is infinite in capacity. More and more of the Mind of God is in him, and less and less of the lesser mind.

Krishna has this to say about jnana yoga: “When wisdom is thine, Arjuna, never more shalt thou be in confusion; for thou shalt see all things in thy heart, and thou shalt see thy heart in me.”[5]

See also



Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Masters and the Spiritual Path.

  1. Swami Nikhilananda, Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit (London: Allen & Unwin, 1958), p. 121.
  2. Ibid., pp. 124–25.
  3. Ibid., pp. 125–26.
  4. Ibid., pp. 126–27.
  5. Juan Mascaro, trans., The Bhagavad Gita (New York: Penguin Books, 1962), p. 64.