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.
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.
The core practice of jnana yoga is discriminating 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. As my teacher Ramiji often shares, why would you go out for burgers and beer when you have Dom Perignon and fillet in the fridge at home. 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 the essential nature of creation.
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).
A great place to begin the path of jnana yoga is with the book, “The Essence of Enlightenment,” by James Swartz (Rmaji) and the Shining World website. He is a long-time practitioner and teacher of traditional Vedanta or Jnana yoga.