Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of Wisdom

Jnana (wisdom or knowledge) is considered the most difficult of the four main paths of Yoga, requiring great strength of will and intellect. In Jnana yoga, the mind is used to inquire into its own nature and to transcend the mind’s identification with its thoughts and ego. The fundamental goal of Jnana yoga is to become liberated from the illusionary world of maya (thoughts and perceptions) and to achieve union of the inner Self (Atman) with the oneness of all life (Brahman). This is achieved by steadfastly practicing the mental techniques of self-questioning, reflection and conscious illumination that are defined in the Four Pillars of Knowledge.

The Four Pillars of Knowledge (sadhana chatushtaya) are the prescribed steps toward achieving liberation in Jnana Yoga. These practices build upon each other and thus should be practiced in sequential order. Even if one does not have the goal of achieving liberation, practicing these techniques will cultivate spiritual insight and understanding as well as reduce one’s suffering and dissatisfaction of life.

Viveka (discernment, discrimination) is a deliberate, continuous intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the temporary, and the Self and not-Self.

Vairagya (dispassion, detachment) is cultivating non-attachment or indifference toward the temporal objects of worldly possessions and the ego mind. “It is only when the mind is absolutely free from the attachment of all sorts that true knowledge begins to dawn.” – Swami Sivananda.

Shatsampat (six virtues) are six mental practices to stabilize the mind and emotions, and to further develop the ability to see beyond the illusions of maya.
• Shama (tranquility, calmness) is the ability to keep the mind peaceful, through moderating its reaction to external stimuli.
• Dama (restraint, control) is the strengthening of the mind to be able to resist the control of the senses, and the training of the senses to be used only as instruments of the mind.
• Uparati (withdrawal, renunciation) is the abandonment of all activities that are not one’s Dharma (Duty). A simple lifestyle is followed that contains no worldly distractions from the spiritual path.
• Titiksha (endurance, forbearance) is the tolerance of external non-conducive situations that are commonly considered to produce suffering, especially in extreme opposite states (success and failure, hot and cold, pleasure and pain).
• Shraddha (faith, trust) is a sense of certainty and belief in one’s guru (teacher), the scriptures and the yogic path.
• Samadhana (focus, concentration) is the complete one-pointedness of the mind.

Mumukshutva (longing, yearning) is an intense and passionate desire for achieving the liberation from suffering. In order to achieve liberation one must be completely committed to the path, with such longing that all other desires fade away.

It can be difficult to grasp or comprehend the intellectual approach of jnana yoga, and since one can easily overemphasize intellectual attainment it is important to cultivate humility and compassion on this path. It is easy to become entangled in the constructs and thoughts of the mind and loose sight of the goal of jnana: to realize the divine oneness inherent in all beings. Obviously, this approach would be contraindicated for anyone with a history of mental disease or emotional instability. It is also highly advised to find a competent teacher before divulging deeply into the path of jnana yoga.


Comments 25

  1. Why cant dont you advise it for people with mental illnesses or emotional instability?? Doesnt make sense since this is supposed to help people, and people with “mental illnesses”, let’s say, the psychotic condition are actually going through a psychospiritual emergency, meaning they are naturally connected to other realms of reality… so why keep them away from something that comes naturally to them, for example, a lot of psychotic themes are about the oneness of the universe, and a lot of religious themes for that matter…..

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      Encouraging them to experience other realms of reality would be destabilizing and most likely make their condition worse. What they need is to solidify their reality and/or emotions, and to diminish their experience with fluctuating states of reality/emotions.

      1. Don’t “yogis” teach that our “everyday” reality is not real, or illusory in some substantial way? Why would you want someone to become “solidified” in this “unreal” reality?

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          I think you are referring to the concept of maya. While this word translates as “illusion” it is used to describe a concealing or veiling phycological effect that hides certain aspects and truths of reality/nature. These are hidden from us as seeing them is a very mind-blowing and frightening experience.

    2. @Mi mALOSSO It is probably not recommended to people with emotional instability because, the more one tends to go down this path, the more they start questioning the reason for their traumas that they might have suffered. This in turn can negatively effect one and if the intensity is high, one might succumb to suicide. If you can observe a certain level of detachment and be able to put mind at ease by letting go of the past and forgiving others. i.e. bring the emotional stability and maturity, then only you will succeed through this path. Be sure that the order is followed or you are under a guru to keep a check on your emotions. Be sure to counsel if negative emotions start taking over. Looking for fairyland is fruitless without living realities of life.

    3. I agree with you and I am so glad you raised this question regarding mental illness. I think it is quite achievable for one who has a mental illness to follow this practice as long as they are stable and on medication.
      Why because I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and spiritually speaking can have “one foot in and one foot” out of this reality to an alternate reality. This is not uncommon for people who are diagnosed.
      The key for me is to take medication that allow me to practice this type of yoga in a very centered grounded space.
      I actually did not appreciate the blanket statement that people with mental illness should not choose this path. Are we all not ONE? Excluding only reinforces separation. I enjoyed the article until I read his statement, and frankly quite shocked!

      1. It is very stigmatizing to state that people with mental illness should not take this path.

    4. I am thinking the same. I do this for my own wellbeing. If you have emotional or mental issues, which most people do, than working on yourself in this way helps.

  2. Hi, I’m writing this essay on Jnana Yoga and I am using your text as one of my references. Can you please tell me in which year you wrote this? Thank you, your text is full of great information.

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    2. I would not usually comment on a general article, but as you are writing an essay on the subject, some clarification would be useful as, with all due respect, it is not entirely accurate. The Four Pillars and Six Virtues are not a sequential syllabus that lead to Moksha, or Liberation of consciousness. A roof cannot be supported on one corner. The Pillars raise themselves – they are not built – as the essence of Jnana is discarding not acquiring. “Let come what comes, let go what goes, hold fast to that which remains” as the great Jnani Ramana Maharishi said.

      With reference to Mumukshutva, in the final reckoning even that must be discarded. It is the last desire and therefore also an attachment – to the concept of liberation. All concepts must be discarded for Truth to be unveiled.

      As a side note, the injunction against jnana yoga for those with a history of psychological unrest reveals a lack of understanding. The ‘realities’ revealed by the pursuit of jnana are not mind shattering and frightening – they are challenging only in that they reveal the essential unreality of the concept of a personal self – the ego – but also liberating in that they free you from attachment to the workings of the restless mind – a benefit to anyone. The truth is that the ‘human condition’ is essentially a form of spiritual psychosis in which a false reality is taken as real and treated accordingly. Only the completely self-realised have awoken from this illusion.

      For further study, I recommend the works of Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj.


      1. Thank you Egon! Very well put and makes a great deal more sense. I plan on checking out your recommendation.

  3. I feel as if this is my dharmic path, and I am searching for more guidance as to how to embark even more fully into this discipline. Is this something you offer or might you know of someone who teaches Janna yoga closer to me?! I live in St. Petersburg Florida. Thank you so much. ❤️???

  4. I also disagree with the contraindication of so called mental “disease” and emotional instability. I see this as the perfect path if one is truly seeking freedom for that type of suffering. Once I began mindfulness practice at the suggestion of a psychologist, I was able to see the thoughts and body sensations related to severe emotional states that were my so called “bipolar disorder”. By grace that led to self-inquiry and the discovery of the delusion of ego that was the root cause of suffering and is now leading more formally to the Jnana Yoga path. The other paths only fuel my delusions and fantasies and were more escapist, because I still believed in the broken self that had a mental illness. I no longer take medication. I am an RN and no longer believe mental illness is anything more than believing oneself to be inadequate and mistaking experience for reality, it’s just the extreme ends of the human condition, it’s just being sensitive and taking everything personally. When ones suffering is so great and one becomes truly desperate, even suicidal, the direct path is welcome because you see the one that you could no longer bear to live is an illusion, the ego. Just glimpsing that truth brings incredible freedom. Learning to integrate this path in daily life requires vigilance, but those who have truly suffered from the mind taking control are likely more willing to do the work it takes to continually reflect and inquire and far less likely to blindly trust the mind ever again. It would seem the mistrust of the mind common in “mental illness” actually helps on this path if one is truly tired of suffering. Otherwise great article! Thank you. Namaste

  5. There is a bit of truth to all that has been said here. First of all the traumas and deprivations that resulted in learned helplessness around needs and feelings led to our only being able to deal with our original needs and feelings symbolically and safely distanced from the original helplessness (damaged faith in love). There are forms of yoga that connect more to the non verbal times of our lives, what some would call the non ego of the infant mind. This also triggers helplessness too early and intense for us to unlearn and integrate. Thus certain practices are not good for a starting point for those deeply emotionally troubled as they are likely suffering from a lot of early damage (not their fault). An experienced yogi would know that. However, if you do start with practices that are more verbal and gradual some might progress. That said, some may need psychiatric medications along the way, be honest many may end up doing so whose vulnerability was not detected, and also some who are fully “normal” as some said here are still suffering from a tinge of “insanity” and may also need help along the way. It is a mistake to practice or teach yoga without integration into the greater health care system, at least at some level. There are a few exceptions to this in that non verbal techniques, which would include exercise such as taught in Hatha Yoga, can be helpful from time to time with very damaged souls depending on how much is done, how its done, and how intensely it is done and for how long a period of time. Ego strength (faith in love) has to be developed before doing the path to connecting to an enlightened ego less state. Regarding the ego less state however, it has been said in the Vedas “One that knows does not speak, one that speaks does not know.” Anyway, all here had an insight into the truth, and integration of such together is indeed part of the path of yoga. All of this IMHO.

  6. Have a look online at Mooji TV. There is so much free media here from this master. If it resonates with you, you can receive the video teachings from home including live satsangs. I have found it so beneficial. Good wishes on your jnana yoga path!

  7. Yes I agree with you.
    The path is difficult but is built upon calming the mind with right lifestyle and psycho-physical practice.

    There is no reason , indeed it is contraindicated in terms of mature practice to go off exploring mere other worlds. Reality and truth are based on sober ideas of the inherent suffering and nature of our experience.

    In and of itself there is no reason not to use the path you ae guided to use with the necessary disciplines .

    Once you find a teacher you trust or of this is not possible a wise approach and whatever support you can muster then there is no reason to choose one discipline over another except what you notice to be your experience.

  8. Thank You Timothy Burgin for writing this. Its opening up more than I could have thought of and it all makes sense to me(for once).. Thank You…Namaste!:)
    Hi Angela F,
    THANK YOU! I enjoyed your reply. I felt like Im not alone when I read your response and their are others like myself seeking a natural way of healing or redirecting the mind with out debilatating medications. Im so new at yoga and learning so much. I have a lot to learn and blessed to have stumbled upon this article and the replies. Thank You to All…. Namaste!

  9. I fail to understand why Jnana yoga is most difficult path. I am 59 years old male with good health practising Jnana yoga for the past six months. Do I have chances of attaining liberation considering my age?

    1. Yes, yes. You fail to understand. Once you actually discover Jnana then everything but your understanding fails. Hope that makes sense.

  10. I want to follow this path of yoga but I don’t have access to a teacher, should I follow it on my own.

  11. Mental disease is actually what kicked off my spiritual quest 15 years ago. My Spirit is what observed the brokenness of my delusional mind and kept me safe until I got treated. Just food for thought.

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