Jnana yoga

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File:Raja Ravi Varma - Sankaracharya.jpg
Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904), propounding Advaita philosophy.

Jñāna yoga or Jnanamarga refers to the "path of knowledge",[1] also known as the "path of self realization" in Hinduism.[2] It is one of the three classical paths (margas) or types of yoga for the liberation of the Atman (self, soul).[3][4] The jnanamarga ideas are discussed in ancient and medieval era Hindu scriptures and texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.[2][5]

The jnana yoga is self-liberation through the pursuit of intellectual knowledge.[2] The other two are karma yoga (path of action, karmamarga) and bhakti yoga (path of loving devotion, bhaktimarga).[3][6][7]


Jñāna in Sanskrit means "knowledge".[8] The root jñā- is cognate to English know, as well as to the Greek γνώ- (as in γνῶσις gnosis). Its antonym is ajñāna "ignorance".


Jnana is knowledge, and refers to any cognitive event that is correct and true over time. It particularly refers to knowledge inseparable from the total experience of its object, especially about reality (non-theistic schools) or supreme being (theistic schools).[9] In Hinduism, it is knowledge which gives Moksha, or spiritual release while alive (jivanmukti) or after death (videhamukti).[6] According to Bimal Matilal, jnana yoga in Advaita Vedanta connotes both primary and secondary sense of its meaning, that is "self-consciousness, awareness" in the absolute sense and relative "intellectual understanding" respectively.[6]

According to Jones and Ryan, jnana in jnana yoga context is better understood as "realization or gnosis", referring to a "path of study" wherein one knows the unity between self and ultimate reality called Brahman in Hinduism. This explanation in found in the ancient Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.[10]

Jñāna yoga is the path towards attaining jnana. It is one of the three classical types of yoga mentioned in Hindu philosophies, the other two being karma yoga and bhakti.[6] In modern classifications, classical yoga, being called Raja yoga, is mentioned as a fourth one, an extension introduced by Vivekananda.[11]

Of the three different paths to liberation, jnana marga and karma marga are the more ancient, traceable to Vedic era literature.[7][12] All three paths are available to any Hindu, chosen based on inclination, aptitude and personal preference,[13][14] and typically elements of all three to varying degrees are practiced by many Hindus.[7][15]

The classical yoga emphasizes the practice of dhyana (meditation), and this is a part of all three classical paths in Hinduism, including jñāna yoga.[6][16][note 1] The path of knowledge is intended for those who prefer philosophical reflection and it requires study and meditation.[17][14][18]


In the Upanishads, 'jnana yoga aims at the realization of the oneness of the individual self (Atman) and the ultimate Self (Brahman).[19]

Bhagavad Gita[edit]

In the Bhagavad Gita, jnana yoga is also referred to as buddhi yoga and its goal is self-realization.[20] The text considers jnana marga as the most difficult, slow, confusing for those who prefer it because it deals with "formless reality", the avyakta. It is the path that intellectually oriented people tend to prefer.[21]

The chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita is dedicated to the general exposition of jnana yoga, while chapters 7 and 16 discuss its theological and axiological aspects.[22][23][24] Krishna says that jñāna is the purest, and a discovery of one's Atman:

Truly, there is nothing here as pure as knowledge. In time, he who is perfected in yoga finds that in his own Atman.

— Bhagavad Gita 4.38, Translator: Jeaneane D. Fowler[25]


The Advaita philosopher Adi Shankara gave primary importance to jñāna yoga as "knowledge of the absolute" (Brahman), while the Vishishtadvaita commentator Ramanuja regarded knowledge only as a condition of devotion.[1]

Classical Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Classical Advaita Vedanta emphasises the path of Jnana Yoga to attain moksha. It consists of fourfold practices,[26] or behavioral qualifications:[27][28]

  1. Discrimination (Nityānitya vastu viveka (नित्यानित्य वस्तु विवेकम्), or simply viveka) — The ability (viveka) to correctly discriminate between the unchanging, permanent, eternal (nitya) and the changing, transitory, temporary (anitya).
  2. Dispassion of fruits (Ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga virāga (इहाऽमुत्रार्थ फल भोगविरागम्), or simply viraga) — The dispassionate indifference (virāga) to the fruits, to enjoyments of objects (artha phala bhoga) or to the other worlds (amutra) after rebirth.
  3. Six virtues (Śamādi ṣatka sampatti (शमादि षट्क सम्पत्ति), or simply satsampat) —
    1. Śama, temperance of mind
    2. Dama, temperance of sense organs (voluntary self restraints[note 2])
    3. Uparati, withdrawl of mind from sensory objects [note 3]
    4. Titikṣa, forbearance
    5. Śraddhā, faith
    6. Samādhāna, concentration of mind
  4. Drive, longing (Mumukṣutva (मुमुक्षुत्वम्)) — intense yearning for moksha from the state of ignorance[26]

Correct knowledge, which destroys avidya, psychological and perceptual errors related to Atman and Brahman,[32] is obtained in jnanayoga through three stages of practice,[28] sravana (hearing), manana (thinking) and nididhyasana (meditation).[33] This three-step methodology is rooted in the teachings of chapter 4 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:[34][35]

  • Sravana literally means hearing, and broadly refers to perception and observations typically aided by a counsellor or teacher (guru),[36] wherein the Advaitin listens and discusses the ideas, concepts, questions and answers.[33][34]
  • Manana refers to thinking on these discussions and contemplating over the various ideas based on svadhyaya and sravana.[34][36][37]
  • Nididhyāsana refers to meditation,[web 1] realization and consequent conviction of the truths, non-duality and a state where there is a fusion of thought and action, knowing and being.[38][34]


Both the theistic and monistic streams of Shaivism include jnana yoga ideas, along with those related to karma yoga, and in the case of Saiva Siddhanta ideas related to bhakti yoga. The Shaivism traditions do not consider renunciation necessary for practicing jnana yoga, leaving ascetic yogi lifestyle optional.[39] Spirituality can be pursued along with active life (karma), according to Shaiva traditions, and it believes that this does not hinder ones ability to journey towards self (Shiva within) realization. The traditions dwell into this integration of karma yoga with jnana yoga, such as by ranking daily behavior and activity that is done by choice and when not necessary as higher in spiritual terms than activity that is impulsive or forced.[39]

The methodology of sravana, manana and nididhyasana similar to Advaita Vedanta are also found in various traditions of Shaivism. However, nistha or samadhi is sometimes added in Shaiva methodology.[40] The meditational aspects of Shaivism focus on the nirguna form of Supreme Reality (Shiva).[41]


The Pancharatra (agama) texts of Vaishnavism, along with its Bhagavata (Krishna, Rama, Vishnu) tradition, are strongly influenced by jnana yoga ideas of the Upanishads.[41] However, Vaishnavism also incorporates Bhakti yoga concepts of loving devotion to the divine Supreme personally selected by the devotee, in saguna form, both in silent meditational and musical expressive styles.[41]

The aim of jnana yoga in Vaishnavism differs from that in other schools. Advaita, for example, considers jnana yoga as the path to nondual self-knowledge and moksha. Vaishnavism, in contrast, considers it a condition of devotion.[42]


See also[edit]


  1. See for example H. W. L. Poonja, who regarded knowledge alone to be enough for liberation.
  2. Example self-restraints mentioned in Hindu texts: one must refrain from any violence that causes injury to others, refrain from starting or propagating deceit and falsehood, refrain from theft of other's property, refrain from sexually cheating on one's partner, and refrain from avarice.[29][30][31]
  3. nivartitānāmeteṣāṁ tadvyatiriktaviṣayebhya uparamaṇamuparatirathavā vihitānāṁ karmaṇāṁ vidhinā parityāgaḥ[Vedāntasāra, 21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Flood 1996, p. 127.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 321. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 P. T. Raju (1985). Structural Depths of Indian Thought. State University of New York Press. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-88706-139-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2012). The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 89–93. ISBN 978-1-84519-346-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Jean Varenne (1989). Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 234. ISBN 978-81-208-0543-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Matilal 2005, p. 4928.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Klaus K. Klostermaier (2007). A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition. State University of New York Press. pp. 119–120. ISBN 978-0-7914-7082-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Apte 1965, p. 457.
  9. "jnana (Indian religion) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 15 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Jones & Ryan 2006, pp. 2, 215.
  11. Michelis 2005.
  12. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2002). Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-898723-93-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2002). Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 371–373. ISBN 978-1-898723-93-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 M. V. Nadkarni (2016). The Bhagavad-Gita for the Modern Reader: History, interpretations and philosophy. Taylor & Francis. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-1-315-43898-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2012). The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students. Sussex Academic Press. pp. xxviii, xl–xliv. ISBN 978-1-84519-346-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Jones & Ryan 2006, p. 73.
  17. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2002). Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 334–335, 371–373. ISBN 978-1-898723-93-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Yuvraj Krishan (1997). The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. pp. 112–114. ISBN 978-81-208-1233-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Jones & Ryan 2006, p. 511.
  20. M. V. Nadkarni (2016). The Bhagavad-Gita for the Modern Reader: History, interpretations and philosophy. Taylor & Francis. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-315-43898-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Eknath Easwaran (2011). Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation, and Indian Philosophy. Nilgiri Press. pp. 118, 281. ISBN 978-1-58638-068-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2012). The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 72–90. ISBN 978-1-84519-346-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Winthrop Sargeant (2009). Christopher Key Chapple (ed.). The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth–Anniversary Edition. State University of New York Press. pp. xiii–xvii, xxviii–xxix, 223–241, 610–612. ISBN 978-1-4384-2842-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Catherine A. Robinson (2014). Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and Images of the Hindu Tradition: The Song of the Lord. Taylor & Francis. pp. 50–57, 117–119. ISBN 978-1-134-27891-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2012). The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students. Sussex Academic Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-84519-346-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. 26.0 26.1 Maharaj, A (2014). "Śrī Harṣa contra Hegel: Monism, Skeptical Method, and the Limits of Reason". Philosophy East and West. Johns Hopkins University Press. 64 (1): 88, context: pp. 82–108. doi:10.1353/pew.2014.0010. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Puligandla 1997, p. 251-254.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Leesa S. Davis (2010). Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism: Deconstructive Modes of Spiritual Inquiry. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-8264-2068-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Heim, M. (2005), Differentiations in Hindu ethics, in William Schweiker (Editor), The Blackwell companion to religious ethics, ISBN 0-631-21634-0, Chapter 35, pp 341-354
  30. James Lochtefeld, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Rosen Publishing New York, ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, page 777
  31. Rao, G. H. (1926), The Basis of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, 37(1), pp 19-35
  32. Śaṅkarācārya; Sengaku Mayeda (2006). A Thousand Teachings: The Upadeśasāhasrī of Śaṅkara. SUNY Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-8120827714.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. 33.0 33.1 Mayeda 1992, p. xvii.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 K. Ramakrishna Rao; Anand C. Paranjpe (2015). Psychology in the Indian Tradition. Springer. pp. 6–7, 177–178, 215. ISBN 978-81-322-2440-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. John A. Grimes (1996). A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy. State University of New York Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-0-7914-3067-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. 36.0 36.1 Deutsch 1973, pp. 106-110.
  37. Robert P. Waxler; Maureen P. Hall (2011). Transforming Literacy: Changing Lives Through Reading and Writing. Emerald. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0-85724-628-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Dalal 2009, p. 16.
  39. 39.0 39.1 K. Sivaraman (1973). Śaivism in Philosophical Perspective: A Study of the Formative Concepts, Problems, and Methods of Śaiva Siddhānta. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 371, 392–397. ISBN 978-81-208-1771-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. K. Sivaraman (1973). Śaivism in Philosophical Perspective: A Study of the Formative Concepts, Problems, and Methods of Śaiva Siddhānta. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 384, 388–391. ISBN 978-81-208-1771-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Karine Schomer; W. H. McLeod (1987). The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 57, 42–43, 140–141. ISBN 978-81-208-0277-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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External links[edit]