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)
In karma-yoga–or the art of selfless action–we learn to act in harmony with dharma, or the role we have been assigned in life, without expecting any results. The fact that every human being, regardless of age, sex, race, or nation, is doomed to act, makes this path one of the most essential within yoga.
The word karma stems from the Sanskrit root kri, whose meaning is to do or act. Karma means action or activity, and also includes the result or effect of the action. Karma-yoga is “union through action”.
It involves the complete dedication of all our actions to the supreme will, renouncing any interest in selfish gain or desire for the fruits of our efforts and devoting them to humanity as the manifestation of God.
Karma-yoga or the path of action is based on love and attention to the work and not merely out of interest in its fruits. We learn to situate ourselves in the present and appreciate the process of the work, relinquishing the results which are to come in the future.
This path of liberation goes far beyond acting with intentions to do good, or philanthropy. Good works do not lead to liberation, but to continued reincarnations, albeit in more favorable conditions. Charitable works can lead us to a more pleasant cell, but not to release from prison. Instead, the direction of karma-yoga is to stop the accumulative process of reactions, both good as well as bad, liberating us from the repeated births and returning us to our divine origin.
Karma-yoga is that wisdom that allows us to act without becoming bound or fettered by the action. It teaches us the delicate art of turning action into a tool that liberates, rather than enslaves.
Karma-yoga is the art of transforming our automatic reactions into conscious actions, and thus, our karma into yoga.
The way of action does not see in activity and work an obstacle to a meditative life. Far from advising us to leave our jobs and dedicate our lives solely to prayer and meditation, this path suggests instead that we transform our labor into worship and meditation. It suggests that we adopt a new perspective that will transform our tasks and our work, however boring, difficult, or demanding, into instruments to grow and evolve, into tools to reach higher levels of consciousness.
Hinduism is no justification for escapists. The Sanātana-dharma religion does not allow itself to be utilized as a pretext to elude responsibilities towards family, society, and country. Rather, Hinduism advises that we consciously engage with the world, to know, confront and understand it, in order to ultimately transcend its limitations, which cannot be overcome without first being understood.
Thus, every spiritual aspirant should enter deeply into the art of action and make it a part of his sādhanā. Karma-yoga offers us a spiritual life without the need to isolate ourselves in a cave in the Himalayas. It allows us a spiritual development in the midst of the activity required by life in our modern society.
(An excerpt from Prabhuji’s writings).
We usually refer to karma yoga as “the yoga of action” or “the yoga of activity.” However, more than just teaching what action is and how to act, classic karma yoga is a wisdom that guides us to transcend reaction or the deed at its instinctive, mechanical, and automatic levels in order to wake up to the world of action. For this purpose, it is very important to understand the difference between reaction and action.
Reaction emerges from the mind; its origin is our internal, subjective world of dreams, nightmares, chaos, and disorder. Therefore, reaction always originates in the past, because the mind is past; it is yesterday. Reaction comes from the world of thought, which is past. Being past—coming from the memory— reaction has no relation at all to the moment, the other person, the situation. It is totally disconnected from the now because reaction is no more than an activation of specific behavioral patterns that were acquired in a past.
Action emerges from the moment, the present. Its roots are in the depths of existence, as it’s an expression or manifestation of it. Action has the vitality of what’s real; it doesn’t originate in the past. Like dancing with the present, it’s to be in harmony with this instant, to be in tune with the other; it’s a kind of conversation with the moment. Action occurs in the present, meaning everything you do, everything you touch, will have a profound meaning because it’s alive. The difference between an action and a reaction is something like the difference between a genuine, natural flower, and a plastic flower. A reaction may be pleasant, but it’s always trite.
(An excerpt from Prabhuji’s book “What Is As It Is“)
Rāja-yoga is the path that studies and analyzes the mind. The Yoga-sūtras of Patañjali begin by defining yoga in the following manner:
“Yoga is the cessation of mental activity.” (Yoga-sūtras 1.2)
This yogic path teaches us to transcend the mind, with all its concepts and preconceived ideas about ourselves, and to discover our true identity above all limited mental conclusions. It is a path that leads us from what we believe ourselves to be, to what we really are.
Different theories have tried to explain the origin of the term rāja-yoga. According to one theory, this path received its name because the mind is considered a king- rāja in Sanskrit- who rules over all the functions of the body. This is also indicated in the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā (4.29):
indriyāṇāṁ mano nātho
mano nāthas tu mārutaḥ
mārutasya layo nātaḥ
sa layo nādam āśritaḥ
“The master of all the senses is the mind, the king of the mind is the breath, laya or dissolution is the master of the breath, and laya is dependent on the interior sound of nāda.”
The term rāja-yoga can also be said to connote a system that transforms us from slaves of the mind into masters of ourselves. We live as servants of our mind, constantly satisfying its demands. Rāja-yoga leads us to the realization that in reality, we are not the subject of the mind, but its ruler or mahā-rāja.
According to another interpretation, rāja-yoga received its name because it is the king of all the different yogas, and of all wisdom:
pavitram idam uttamam
susukhaṁ kartum avyayam
“This is the king of all knowledge and the sovereign mystery. It is pure and excellent. It can be directly experienced, is in accordance with dharma, imperishable and easily performed.” Bhagavad-gītā (9.2)
The fact that primary importance is bestowed upon the mind in Vedic scriptures, to the point that in many texts the mind is spoken about to a greater extent than God, never ceases to surprise.
A rāja-yogī transforms the mind gradually into a true laboratory, in which, by means of observation and investigation of his psychic movements, he is able to become an alchemist of the mental contents. To enter into this aspect of yoga means to go deeper and to know ourselves.
To the extent that we allow this wisdom to touch our lives, we become involved in an integrative and holistic process that increases coherence between our feelings, thoughts, and actions. This involves not only theoretical knowledge, but also deep changes of an existential nature. Thus, we are not speaking of information, but of transformation. In this sense, it can also be stated that, unlike knowledge, this wisdom obligates us to change the way we live.
There are those who call this wisdom “yogic psychology”, since just as with western psychology, it is concerned with the mind. However, the difference between them is radical. While western psychology tries to harmonize our mind with society and our surroundings, leading it towards the state it considers “normal”, the intention of rāja-yoga is supranormal, because it aspires to go beyond the mind, transcending it completely. Therefore, although they essentially refer to the same thing, there is a basic difference between the two with respect to intentions and expectations.
No other method or discipline has reached a similar degree of precision, in its analysis of the human mind and its intricate activities, as rāja-yoga. This ancient wisdom holds that we are a reality which is transcendental to the mind. The rāja-yogī observes the mind, studies it, contemplates it, knows it, and finally, goes beyond it.
(An excerpt from Prabhuji’s writings)
Bhakti yoga is the yoga of love. Devotees aspire to a love different from the love in romance novels: it is not sentimental love that begins with sweet promises and ends in bitter disappointments, nor is it emotional love that arises from physiological processes and hormonal needs. For bhakti yogis, love does not depend on an external relationship. Instead, it is a state of the soul. Far from being an interaction with another person, love is the perfume that emanates from our own presence, here and now. Bhakti is the purest and most elevated love. It arises from the depths of consciousness and the peace and silence of meditation. When we experience this love, we discover that it is not an emotion or a feeling, but what is real within us. Because transcendental reality can only manifest itself in pure hearts, bhakti yoga offers a process of spiritual cleansing and purification.
Although it is said that the path of bhakti is accessible to everyone, I would say that it is a journey exclusively for those who hear the call of love from the depths of their souls. The message of bhakti yoga is unequivocal: love is the means and the goal. Without devotion, spiritual practice seems dry, prayer turns into unnecessary chatter, and religion becomes boring; it is reduced to a mere collection of laws, commandments, and ceremonies, and becomes more political than spiritual. Indeed, only by surrendering yourself to your own heart can you know what religion truly is..
(An excerpt from Prabhuji’s book Bhakti yoga, The Path of Love)
Kundalini-yoga is a yogic path that stimulates the conscious awakening of kuṇḍalinī-śakti, or “coiled energy.” This energy is the transcendental consciousness; it is the creative power of God, and therefore, the creative potential in the human being.
Kundalini yoga invites us to awaken our divine potential and unveil the very secret of creation that lies hidden in the core of human nature. This involution banishes any sense of higher-lower or inside-outside. Many spiritual paths suggest giving less attention to time and space and recommend isolation. Kundalini yoga, however, teaches that deep within every moment, lies the eternal; within all places, lies the infinite; within every human being, lies God.
Kundalini-yoga is a sophisticated system that prepares us to develop our energetic nature. It includes four levels of sadhana: awakening of the serpentine power, its elevation, piercing the chakras, and meeting Shiva. These practices are intended to create the necessary conditions for reaching the highest level. Aspirants (sādhakas) who want to study kundalini yoga should comply with the essential requirements demanded by the scriptures: be properly initiated by an authentic spiritual master and loyally follow the master’s guidance and teachings. As egos, we are immersed in a noisy world saturated with ideas, concepts, and conclusions. Thus, we lack the necessary internal space to allow the Divine to manifest within us. Through sadhana, we silence the noise and expand our inner space.
Kundalini-yoga is a path that begins when we become aware that we are buried in the earthly. The master will say that there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we do not make the mundane our hearth and home. Kundalini yoga leads us to responsibility, maturity, freedom, and the heights. It teaches us that we are a seed of light with infinite potential, which, from the depths of the earthly and mundane, is capable of growing, elevating, and transcending, until it manifests as the most fascinating lotus of creation, as the most marvelous flower in the garden of the Lord.
(An Excerpt from Prabhuji’s book Kundalini Yoga: The Power is in You.)
Tantra-yoga is a yogic methodology that combines a variety of techniques, such as mūdras, mantras, prāṇāyama, and dīkṣā in order to realize the very essence of the universe through delving into our own body. The practice of most of these techniques is aimed at cultivating the kuṇḍalini energy.
The Tantric path includes two very different ways. The left-hand one involves a certain ritualism. The right-hand one lacks ritualism and is much more abstract and subtle, contemplative, and internalized.
The practice of tantra-yoga demands great discipline and inner responsibility. One of its fundamental principles is that everything that can bring us down can also lift us up. If we slip because the floor is wet, by leaning on the ground we can stand up. If the senses can lead us to degradation, it is also possible to elevate ourselves through sensual effort.
In general, human beings denigrate themselves through food, alcohol, and sex. Tantric methodology will make use of these same elements in pursuit of elevation. Through ordinary sex, we descend to the lowest levels of our energy system. In Tantra, we use the basic instincts in order to strengthen the energetic system and make the energy flow from the heights.