Jnana Yoga uses the intellect as a tool to understand that our true Self is behind and beyond our mind. Along with Bhakti Yoga (Devotion), Jnana is among the best approaches for becoming aware of the eternal Self (God). It is, however, a mistake to think the Source can be found with the intellect alone. For the purpose of Self-discovery, Jnana Yoga probes the nature of the Self through the question: "Who am I?". Thus Jnana Yoga may be called the 'Quest for the Self' or the 'Inquiry into Who we Are'.
Shankara and, more recently, Ramana Maharshi are the classic authorities concerning Jnana Yoga.

Who practices Jnana Yoga?
Some seekers already have a strong belief in God and require no other system than to love God with all their heart, which is the main path of Religion and of Bhakti Yoga. Others also have belief, but still feel a need for a more systematic approach and are drawn to Radja, Ashtanga or Kriya Yoga. Some seekers feel they need to do good and self-less deeds, which is also a path of Religion as well as Karma Yoga. And there are those who, at times, feel the need for more outside assistance, making them good candidates for Religion, Shaktipat and Siddha Yoga.
Finally, there are those seekers who want to believe but have a greater need to understand - seekers who have lots of questions and need solid answers. These seekers are the best candidates for Jnana Yoga or introspection.

Jnana Yoga is not alien to other systems or religions. One could say that the beginnings of Jnana Yoga are found in Vedanta, the philosophy of Vedic Scripture. These writings are even older than the Bible and there are scholars who see the origin of all major religions in these 'revelations of Truth'. The close relationship between the Bible and Vedanta was also pointed out by Ramana Maharshi, who once said that the whole Vedanta is contained in the two Biblical statements: "I am that I AM" and "Be still and know that I am God."

Is Jnana Yoga a mere intellectual exercise? Definitely not.
Practically all questions may be answered intellectually, but not the final questions like: Who or what is God? Or, Who or what is the Self? The answer to Who/What is the Self? must be the Self by It-Self. The answer to Who is God? must be God by Him\She\Itself.

As a first result of Jnana Yoga, we can intellectually realize that God's nature must be pure Beingness or pure Awareness, and that at the center of our Being is pure Beingness (the real Self).
But to know the Self we must Be the Self; to know Beingness, we must be Beingness (pure Awareness).
The Jnana Yogi seeks this actual experience, which can't be compared with an intellectual exercise.

In order to experience God's omnipresence, we turn to what Jnana Yoga and Religion have taught all along: that we should not produce a single thought (Psalm: "Be still and know that I am God").
The Jnana Yogi meditates by concentrating on the answer to the question: Who am I? Or by simply hanging on to the first of all thoughts, which is: I.

This may sound strange and egotistical, but every thought we produce is attached to "I". Thus we may say or think: I see you, I do this, I love God, etc. First comes I, then everything else. If we concentrate on I until the thought can be held, then we are already at the root of all problems and errors. In time, even this thought will disappear leaving nothing else but pure Awareness: the omnipresence of God.

It should be quite clear that one can continue to exist without thinking, and that such a thoughtless condition must be possible. However, if one simply tries to stop thinking - just for a moment - we encounter the resistance of our ego. But since the ego cannot consist of anything more than thoughts, it can be weakened by meditation on a Mantram, which for a Jnana Yogi is simply I. Like Hatha and Radja Yogis, Jnana Yogis also acknowledge the relationship between breathing and thinking. However, they have found that breathing slows automatically through the concentration on the I-AM, and so less importance is placed on pranayama exercises.

The best promise of the Jnana Yoga system is the possible culmination into Sahaja Samadhi, when the natural condition of the Self continues even during regular activities, free of worries and anxiety. Through persistent probing, fixing our attention on the source of our Being, we regain our real Self; we remember who we are.
The inquiry, as the result of practicing Jnana Yoga, leads us towards clear Awareness by removing our attention from that which we are not.

Jnana Yoga Links and Resources

As the ultimate source for instruction in the tradition of Jnana Yoga, see Ramana Maharshi.
See also Self-Knowledge, a short outline based on Shankara's treatise, as an introduction to Jnana Yoga.
More information on Jnana Yoga can also be found in our book Awareness - The Center of Being.

Further Reading:  Self-Realization Articles  ~  Six Yoga Systems  ~  Yoga Style Glossary


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