By Purnima Yogi November 2010 Jnana Yoga, or the path of the intellect, is tailored to the modern mind. Here, the seeker takes nothing on trust. Instead, he uses the mind like a laser to penetrate the illusions of maya until only the truth remains. That God alone is At 16, I thought my life would be like anyone else’s,” says educationist Harvinder Kaur, ‘but very persistent questions wanted answers. Questions considering the mystery of life, of mind, which seemed more real to me than a career. Since then I have been on the path. I am prompted by an inner urge, an intense quest, and when I follow it, it leads me to places within myself that I did not know existed. I think awareness is what the process hinges upon.” “I love thinking,” says internationally renowned cartoonist and radiologist, Hemant Morparia. “I like to rotate the world in my head. I move around holding a mirror to my psyche.” “It all starts with the rhetorical question, ‘Who am I?’ This question itself takes one through the entire gamut of understanding the self as ego; the self as a truncated fragment – a random particle; then the self as the co-creator and ultimately, the enquiry comes full-circle to the Self not as a part of the whole but as the whole – the ‘one’,” says writer and trainer, Neelam Mehta. They may have different ways of expressing it, but these seekers are describing the path of jnana yoga. What is jnana yoga? All of us embark on the quest of the Self by a path that is most suited to our temperament. Love and devotion towards God is natural to some. Those whose hearts are filled with devotion and overflow with love follow bhakti yoga. Action-oriented souls who believe in doing things and serving society are on the path of karma yoga. A few are more inclined towards austere practices of yoga, meditation and pranayama and lead a life of severe discipline – they are followers of raja yoga. The intellectually endowed among us would love to believe, but we need to understand before we do. Those among us who question and probe and seek answers to satisfy the intellect first, are on the path of jnana yoga. Jnana yoga is the path of intelligent inquiry. Like a child who is fascinated by all that he sees and feels, a jnana yogi is interested in the workings of the mind, senses and the universe. He uses his natural curiosity, critical thinking and analytical skills to understand the real nature of himself, the world and its phenomena. He does this externally at first, and then turns the searchlight inwards and starts detached observation of his thoughts, speech and action. Central to the jnana yogi’s quest is to discover his real self. Who is he? In the course of this search he systematically peels away the layers of body, mind and ego-driven identities surrounding him and ultimately arrives at the pure essence of himself, the soul. Neti, neti (Not this, not this) is his war cry as he ongoingly goes beyond, until he finally rests in the dissolution of his egoic self and discovers that he is nothing other than the All. “Aham brahmasmi,” uttered Adi Shankaracharya in the utter wonder of that discovery. “I am God.” It is this discovery that is the core of the jnana path. There is nothing but God. There never was. There never will be. The world that we live in and that which comes alive to us through our senses, is, in the ultimate analysis, illusory. And that is because it is impermanent, a play of the Lord who resides in every atom of his creation. A couple of centuries ago, mankind believed that the earth was flat and it went round the sun, until Galileo came along and told us otherwise. Now we ‘believe’ that the sun ‘rises’ in the east and ‘sets’ in the west, and experience day and night according to its movements. But we know perfectly well that the sun neither rises nor sets nor travels. While dreaming, we experience all emotions. We even sweat with fear and have shortness of breath, but breathe easily when we wake up. We see our reflection in the mirror, but do not mistake the image for our real self. These are examples of illusion which we easily come out of because we can comprehend the truth behind them. Similarly the world too is an illusion. We can come out of this illusion too, if we wake up to a higher state of consciousness, to a higher reality. “Brahman satyam, jagat mithyam,” stated Adi Shankaracharya succinctly when he reached journey’s end. This discovery that God is all is crystallised into a philosophy called Advaita (non-dualism). The jnani’s path is paradoxical – he uses the mind to go beyond the mind. His movement, most often, is fuelled by insights or ideas. A spiritual truth surfaces from within or through a wisdom source, and if he were to spend sufficient time thinking and meditating about it or even simply allowing it to work within him, in time he will be afforded one more insight. Even as one insight gives way to another, the seeker shifts and changes from within, for each insight has the capacity to completely shift the perspective with which oneself, others and life are viewed. For instance, an insight on the futility of expectation both from oneself and others can shift his relationship with himself and others and help him craft more space within himself for both. It is the jnani’s capacity to dwell persistently on a question or an insight until it yields an inner shift that enables him to authentically move forward. For there is always the danger of self-deception. Says Sunita Kashyap, a Mumbai-based writer: “I know of several Vedantins who are so conceited about being on the path of the intellect that they don’t seem to recognise what an ego trap they have fallen into.” Modern masters Although the word jnana is derived from the Hindu tradition, the path of the intellect is a familiar one in wisdom traditions such as Buddhism with its insight meditation. As it happens, jnana yoga is ideal for modern times. Our times have favoured the mind. The path for the modern thinker has to include the mind – blind belief is not an option. Little wonder then that foreigners flock into India chasing Advaita gurus such Ramesh Balsekar, Vimala Thakkar and others. Many teachers of our times like J Krishnamurti, UG Krishnamurti, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie and others have all favoured the jnana path. There are many approaches that these teachers have taken to enable us to come to grips with the truth. J Krishnamurti and Eckhart Tolle favour the approach of beginning at the end. Krishnamurti exhorted his followers to practice what he called choiceless awareness – a state where one is effortlessly aware of all that passes through the mind field without censorship. In other words, a state of perfect equanimity free from craving and aversion. Tolle favours being in the present moment and offers many techniques to experience this, if only momentarily. Both their attempts are to give us a glimpse of the enlightened state, after which we could safely be relied on to strive to make it permanent. Byron Katie talks of loving what is and offers four questions and a turnaround to all the thoughts that cause us to suffer. The questions: Is this true? Can you absolutely know this to be true? How do you feel when you believe this to be true? Who would you be without this thought? And then a turnaround which means reversing the thought. If the thought is “My husband does not appreciate me”, then the turnaround would be “My husband does appreciate me”. One needs to get at least three examples of this. Another would be, “I don’t appreciate myself.” A third would be “I don’t appreciate my husband.” Says Katie, “As I began living my turnarounds, I noticed that I was everything I called you. In the moment I see you as selfish, I am selfish (deciding how you should be). In the moment I see you as unkind, I am unkind. If I believe you should stop waging war, I am waging war on you in my mind.” Ramesh Balsekar, on the other hand, encouraged his followers to recognise that God ran the show. Therefore no matter what they did or did not do, there was no cause for guilt or vanity – a sort of escalator ride to surrender. Krishnamurti and Balsekar were vehemently against techniques of any nature, suggesting that any attempt to change yourself actually took you away from the quest. All you had to do was be with who you are. The traditional way In this, they are echoed by the traditionally Indian jnana yoga approach delineated in the Gita,and the Vedas. In thousands of ways the scriptures exhort us to recognise that we are already That which we seek. Therefore, the process was one of eliminating what we are not rather than accumulating fresh layers of personality on our already burdened Self. The Gita’s message of action in inaction and non-doership is quintessential jnana yoga. In verse after verse of its 18 chapters, Krishna breaks down the ignorance that clouds Arjuna’s indecision, his attachment to his people, his sense of ‘doership’, and shows him the immortality of the soul and oneness of the universe. The Gita’s heroes, the Pandavas, symbolise the powers of discrimination that one has to awaken with God’s grace, in order to overcome the wild, uncontrolled sway of the senses symbolised by the Kauravas. The Vedas too offer proof after proof of the essential oneness of creation and the divinity of the Self. Each of the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva – have a profound statement called a mahavakya which indicates ultimate reality that is revealed to a seeker upon enlightenment. Prajnanam Brahma (Consciousness is Brahman) say
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