Better than any ritual is the worship achieved through wisdom; wisdom is the final goal of every action, Arjuna. Krishna speaking to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita 4.33, about jnana yoga, tying together both devotion and action in the pursuit of knowledge.
Jnana yoga is the path of understanding and the foundation of Vedanta. It uses a process called viveka or self inquiry. While bhakti works with the emotional sheath and karma yoga with the ego/do-er, jnana pronounced nyana, targets the intellect.
“The buddhi, intellect, is the discriminative power one is endowed with as a human being and is the greatest wealth, the greatest treasure, that one can have. Therefore, its primary use should be for gaining self-knows.”
Jnana Yoga involves three stages:
1. Shravanam, immersion into the teachings via listening, reading and spending time with a qualified teacher.
2. Mananam, reelecting on the teachings, employing reasoning, and raising doubts to a qualified teacher.
3. Nididyasanam, where the student applies the teachings to daily life, refines his or her knowledge and then fully assimilates the knowledge of Self.
Krishna shared the truth of Self with Arjuna right at the beginning of their friendship but Arjuna was not yet qualified and therefore did not understanding who he was. So, Krishna shared with Arjuna that he must begin with Karma Yoga, which reduces the binding nature of vasanas (fears and desires) and prepares the mind to assimilate the knowledge of self.
Karma and Upasana yogas prepare the seeker for Jnana yoga, the final Sadhana or practice. With Karma and Upasana yogas, the student transitions from a triangular format (a limited jiva asking for support from Isvara/creator) to a binary format (in which the jnani is Self dependent).
With jnana yoga, the student discriminates between satya, the real, from mithya, the apparently real. What is real? You, awareness. What is apparently real? All objects and experiences that appear within you. Our suffering is a function of our attachment or identification with mithya, the apparent realm of creation.
Along with discrimination between satya and mithya, dispassion is key to self inquiry. Dispassion is knowing that objects and experiences can’t give you what you already are – whole, complete, and always good. You are already purna (full) and tripti (totally content) as the self.
The classic snake and rope story describes the predicament of the jiva (embodied soul) walking in the twilight with equal amounts of ignorance (darkness) and knowledge (light). When approaching the town well, the thirsty and weary traveler mistakes the coiled well rope for a snake and freezes in fear. A person not far from the well says, “relax my friend, it’s just a well rope.” That friend is Vedanta and this example depicts the concept of superimposition, where we superimpose one thing over another.
The great superimposition a yogi seeking knowledge is working to resolve, the world of duality which covers non-duality. Through the practice of inquiry, the jnana yogi, comes to understand the nature of the jiva, the dharmic field, Isvara the creator, Maya a power within consciousness that gives rise to the creator and creation and the self which is the substratum of all. In time duality is seen for the mirage it is and non-dual, limitless, action-less, ordinary awareness is revealed as our essential nature.
The practice of self inquiry, transfers our identification with the jiva to the self – limitless conscious existence. And with our continued practice of karma yoga and work on the qualifications, our knowledge of self transitions from indirect (enlightenment is something outside myself that I need to experience) to direct (I am the light).