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.
“Thus, it is very clear that performing karma is not against moksa, even though it cannot produce moksa. Only knowledge can be said to ‘produce’ moksa, moksa being an already accomplished fact. In other words, atma, oneself, is already liberated, mukta, and knowledge alone ‘makes’ one recognize this fact. And to prepare the mind for this recognition, there are a lot of means that one can use. This is the reason that there is nothing equal to knowledge for gaining liberation.” Swami Dayananda, Bhagavad Gita Home Study, 3rd Book, p.121.
Jnana Yoga is the path of understanding and the foundation of Vedanta. It uses a process called vichara or self inquiry.
“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-knowledge.” Unknown author
The Three Stages of Jnana Yoga:
1. Shravanam, immersion into the teachings via listening, reading and spending time with a qualified teacher.
2. Mananam, reflecting on the teachings in contemplative meditation, employing reasoning and raising doubts to a qualified teacher.
3. Nididyasanam, is the process of absorption in the truth of Self to remove habitual notions.
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 understand 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, Upasana and Jnana yogas, the student transitions from limitation and dependency to fullness and independence.
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 (viveka) between satya and mithya, dispassion (vairagya) 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, per ignorance, superimpose one thing over another.
The great superimposition, that a yogi seeking knowledge is working to resolve, the world of duality which covers non-duality. Or put another way, how name and form (nama and rupa) apparently cover existence consciousness.
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 from the jiva to the Self – limitless conscious existence. And with our continued practice of karma yoga and exploration of the values and qualifications, our knowledge of self transitions from indirect (enlightenment is something outside myself that I need to experience) to direct (I am the light).