Jnana yoga – The Intellect Deconstructs Itself to Find Freedom

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by YOME – ‘The Yoga Portal For Wonderful Life’]

Whether you call it the path of wisdom or of ‘right knowledge,’ Jnana or Dhyana yoga (pronounced gi-ya-na) is a path of inquiry into one’s own mind in order to find deeper truths about the world.

Instead of looking externally, or practicing asana, the mind is cultivated and observed as a means of improving the self. Jnana yoga is based on a Vedic wisdom practice which sees the world as undivided, or non-dualistic. You can find this philosophy in Buddhism as well, in the form of dependent arising. This philosophy is not purely eastern in its understanding. Though it is also found in Sufism and Zen, the Gospel of St. Thomas also points to the non-dual nature of reality. As far as Jnana yoga’s Hindu teachers are concerned, Ramana Maharishi and Adi Shankara are two of the most prominent teachers.

In order to improve the ‘self’ one must see correctly. As long as we perceive ourselves as separate from all else, we are not seeing correctly and our actions will result from that ignorance. The path of Jnana yoga requires us to look past the veils of Maya or manifest reality, and see what is ever-present and non-changing. Some call it God. There are relative truths and then there is Truth, with a capital T and that is what Jnana yoga aims for us to uncover.

Who Am I?

One of the main teachings of Jnana yoga, in order that we might uncover greater truths about our world and the way we see it, involves asking one simple question – “who or what am I?” You are not your body. You are not your brain. You are not your parents’ ideas of you or your friends. You are not even your ideas about yourself. You are not a brother, mother, sister, wife, lover, etc. You are not any-thing that is singular. As long as you are tied to an individual reality, then you will suffer, because you don’t align yourself with your true nature – which is Infinite.

Peter Marchand writes in his book, The Yoga of Truth that Jnana yoga has such huge metaphysical underpinnings that it is often misunderstood. It asks you to rationally deconstruct everything about yourself, and this is a task, which the ego does not like to do. He states that, as difficult as this is, the more we remove the veils of body, mind intellect and ego; however, the closer we get to our divine nature, which shines through quite naturally, once the refuse and artifice are cast aside. Marchand also states that the concept of non-duality is a very simple concept – that we are all one – but one we make very difficult because we fear not being the concepts we have created for ourselves. After all, you can call yourself a woman and me a man, (or insert any other label you like) and when we die, we both become food for worms. These are only temporary definitions of a greater Wholeness, which more truly defines who we are.

The Practices of Jnana Yoga

The practices of Jnana yoga are primarily contemplative, meaning we use the intellect to deconstruct the intellect, much like the Zen saying “don’t’ mistake the finger that points at the moon for the moon.” Eventually, the intellect is subdued and one practices meditation, which is the opposite of intellect. It is a state of ‘no-mind’ and it is usually in this state that one can truly perceive their oneness with all that is.

Jnana yoga is considered one of the four pillars of knowledge (4 means and six virtues) required for a yogi to understand prior to reaching enlightenment. The school of Vedanta, a primary teacher of Jnana yoga) lists the following as important teachings for Jnana yogis:

  1. Viveka – discrimination, or the ability to see the difference between what is real and unreal, permanent and temporary, self and not-self. This principle is also found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
  2. Vaiargya – non-attachment, or the decreased yearning for the objects (material manifestations of this world) and a deeper yearning for the ultimate wisdom within.
  3. Mumukshutva – longing or strong passion for learning of the ultimate nature of reality, and thus oneself.
  4. Shat sampat – the six virtues, which include: tranquility, training, withdrawal, forbearance, faith and focus.

The use of mantra, and other tools is also common in Jnana yoga, but ultimately, one must do exactly as Marchand describes, and deconstruct the intellect to uncover the Truth of our Infinite reality.


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  1. Very intriguing ideas here. A lot of what you mention about Jnana yoga is what initially attracted me to yoga in the first place. It didn\’t take long after beginning a yoga practice to realize there was much more to it than just the physical movements. The thing is, the physical movements are so much easier! 😉

    I find it so much easier to both focus and let go of the mind while I\’m practicing yoga, regardless of my surroundings (for the most part), but meditation is another thing entirely. While I was away at \”yoga school\” for a month, I found I was finally able to start quieting my mind and tapping into some of the elements you spoke of. However, since I\’ve been home, they just seem to sleep further and further away.

    When one is alone in the mountains or on a deserted beach, peacefulness, tranquility, and non-attachment seem to come almost naturally…but in t he midst of the noise, business, and technology that\’s now part of everyday life, how does one go about \”deconstructing\” the self?? (Perhaps I\’ll have to check out the book you mentioned.)

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