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.
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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.