Jñāna literally means “knowledge, wisdom, understanding, or cognition,” and refers to existential knowledge. The Greeks called this revealing power epiginosko (ἐπιγινώσκω). The word yoga means “union.” Thus, jñāna-yoga is a path that aims to realize the essential unity of the part and the Whole through knowledge. It is one of the four classical yogic methods of development. It leads to the dissolution of ignorance and to the revelation that the world is an illusory projection and our true nature is Brahman.
Jñāna-yoga is closely related to Advaita, the branch of Vedanta that recognizes a single reality behind this universe of names and forms. This yogic system is the practical aspect of Vedanta. According to jñāna, the Self (Ātman) resides in every place and in every being.
This path of wisdom leads you to the discovery that the center of your existence is not only yours, but the center of all that exists; it is the Self, or consciousness. It suggests restructuring the Western concept of consciousness. From our dualist and relativist perspective, we believe consciousness to be a capacity or faculty that we possess. In fact, from the perspective of the Absolute, it is consciousness that possesses us. Consciousness does not belong to us; we belong to it. Consciousness precedes us because as minds, we occupy a later step in the process of cosmic manifestation.
Jñāna-yoga is considered a destructive path, since it destroys our habitual cognitive state of subject–object. It encourages us to question the source of our existence. Its basic teaching is that our true nature is divine; it is the ultimate reality that lies in the depths of every living being.
Although jñāna-yoga is the path of wisdom par excellence, it should be clarified that this is not knowledge that is known by a knower; rather, it is wisdom that eliminates all distinctions between knowledge, the known, and the knower. Jñāna is not the result of thinking but of becoming aware of reality.
Many think that embarking on an inner search is selfish. However, examining our own consciousness is an universal investigation and not a personal one. As we observe, the walls that demarcate our supposed individuality collapse and all differences evaporate. Clearly, what we intuit is beyond the mental domain and cannot be defined. However, we should not get frustrated by this inability to verbalize it, since we may be looking precisely for the unspeakable.
Jñāna-yoga aspires to aparokṣānubhava, or “the direct experience of our own authenticity”: to realize Ātman as the absolute reality, or Brahman.
The Kaṭha Upanishad states:
nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo
na medhayā na bahunā śrutena
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyaḥ
tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanūm svām
“This Self cannot be attained by study of the scriptures, by intellectual perception, or by hearing about it frequently; those whom the Self chooses, by them alone is it attained. To them the Self reveals its true nature.” (Kaṭha Upanishad, 1.2.23)
Jñāna-yoga does not aspire to intellectual knowledge, but instead to reject the mind. It uses the mind for a broader evolutionary process. The intellect explores and examines its own functioning. More than a philosophical inquiry, Vedanta promotes self-investigation: a study of the cognitive act itself.
The study of the Upanishads is an important aspect of this path, but it is wrong to believe that erudition is enough to lead us to self-realization. Scriptures, the master’s teachings, and sādhana aim to awaken the memory of the disciple. The ego is just forgetfulness or amnesia. This wisdom cannot be instilled the way it is at school because jñāna-yoga is not a process of studying but of remembering who we really are, our true nature.
Nowadays, we acquire knowledge much faster than wisdom. Our skills allow us to manufacture smartphones but our conversations lack depth. We assemble sophisticated computers but end up wasting our time playing games. We have made great progress on the surface but internally, we are stuck. Although we have matured superficially, we are psychologically and spiritually trapped in childhood.
When we were bored as children, we obsessively looked for ways to kill time. As adults, some turn to newspapers, the radio, television, and computers, while others find entertainment or distraction in spirituality. Many people have turned this pursuit for Truth into a fun shopping trip. They window shop for retreats, courses, teachers, books, and so on. If our spiritual life is simply another form of recreation, the search will be limited to empty words and will certainly keep us on the surface. If we use spiritual life as entertainment, we turn God into another diversion and enlightenment into a simple source of pleasure.
The mystery of the unknown cannot be pursued the same way as money, fame, or sex. The mind cannot seek what it does not know. It can only aspire to what it manages to project from its own content. If we try to think about God, we end up with a mental projection from our past. To think about the Truth is to deal with the cultural legacy of our society. The Truth does not accept objectification and, therefore, it cannot be sought. If it is found, it loses its vitality. In this life, consciousness is the only thing that, despite being indefinable, is impossible to ignore.
The Truth reveals itself when the search for it stops. When we stop chasing our mental projections of the Truth, we realize that we are enlightened. As Master Kokuan expresses it in The Ten Bulls of Zen:
“Mediocrity has disappeared. The mind is free of limitation. I do not seek any state of enlightenment; nor have I stayed where there is no enlightenment. As I do not stay in any state, eyes cannot see me. If hundreds of birds covered my path with flowers, such praise would be meaningless.”
As an egoic entity, you are an illusion. An unreal being cannot aspire to be authentic. Truth can only be revealed in a moment free of what is known, of memory, of past.
We cannot seek, attain, achieve, or know the Truth: we can only be it. Suddenly, we notice that we are what we aspire to be. Obviously, we cannot find Truth by seeking it, but without seeking we would never find it.
(An excerpt from Prabhuji’s writings)