JNANA YOGA and BHARTIâ€™S COMMENTARY
As one grows older, nothing in life is certain. The only certainty is death, for you know with certainty that you will perish. No one can escape death, for it is inevitable and has always disturbed inquiring minds from the beginning of history. This makes people search for a reality that transcends life and death.
However, many people are too shallow or superficial to undertake such a search, and some may even consider it futile. Many go merrily through life building castles in the air and making plans until life comes back to bite them with some sort of shock like the death of a beloved friend or relative. This starts the process of questioning as to where have they gone after vanishing from the face of the earth. This makes even a matter-of-fact kind of person start questioning whether the world is indeed real, for if it is, then why does a man suddenly disappear without leaving a trace behind him?
The question then arises that, if the call may come at any time for each one of us to leave the earth, why then cling to worldly activities?Â And if death is the end of everything, then why toil so much in this life? Such thoughts may temporarily paralyze a manâ€™s activities and make him feel unfit for this world.
Normally, for the average human, questioning whether the world is real or not, is a meaningless exercise. Most people have no doubt of the worldâ€™s reality because they live on earth, see the sun every day and feel the air constantly, so how can one doubt that these things are not real. Even when the shadow of a doubt arises, it soon gets suppressed, so there is no hampering or lessening of worldly activities.
The average manâ€™s philosophy of life is to have ambitions, ever newer forms of desires and employ their best energy to fulfill them. That life is full of conflicts and struggles is thought to be of the very nature of things. One is enjoined to face them boldly and not spoil oneâ€™s career by too much analysis or day-dreaming. This view-point asks us to see only a partial aspect of life and not to face lifeâ€™s cohesion, just as an ostrich buries his head in the sand, believing himself safe from chase and capture, and because his face is covered, the unthinking pleasure-seeker deludes himself that he is secure in his day-to-day existence in this world of sense. He dare not think deeply because if he did, the result might be alarmingly shocking to him, finding that it is a common experience to be frightened by oneâ€™s own deeper thoughts.
However much we avoid thinking about them, we cannot escape the certainty of life and death. The wheel of nature turns and brings before us its unending procession of phenomena whether we like them or not.
By contrast, the Jnana Yogi is brave and willing to face anything in life, even the specter of death, with fearless courage. He understands that however much we avoid thinking about them, we still cannot escape the stern facts of life and death. He/she is prepared to see all aspects of life – both the pleasant and the unpleasant – while at the same time devising means and ways to guard himself against their pitfalls.
Even though people glibly say that religious men are afraid of life, this is untrue. People of true religious belief are not only not frightened of life, they also consider death to be only a counterpart to life. Their aim is to go beyond life and death.
They realize that all mankindâ€™s activities, all their desires, hopes and fears rest on the one concept of â€˜Iâ€™ and the feeling that I exist, I think, I desire. From that feeling revolves the wheel of activities of the life of an average man, who never for a moment inquires what is the true nature of man. Even for five minutes, when he closes his eyes and thinks about this â€˜Iâ€™ which is the basis of all his feverish activities, he finds himself in a hopeless difficulty. When he figures out his hands and feet are not â€˜Iâ€™, his eyes and ears are not â€˜Iâ€™, even the mind is not â€˜Iâ€™, for he finally admits that he is separate from the mind, even then he puts so much faith and hope in his â€˜Iâ€™ that whenever someone is angry at him, he gets offended, or when someone says something nice that makes him happy.
Modern physics questions whether so-called solid matter is really material at all. In the last analysis matter does not reduce itself to thought, for we see before our eyes, only the illusion of the material world. Material existence for me and â€˜Iâ€™ does not seem to be as solid as other things, even though the citadel of life rests on the assumption that it is. However, there is no specific evidence to justify this. You canâ€™t hold your feelings in your hand.
The Jnana yogi rejects what is false and with a keen sense of discrimination seeks what is true. Like a valiant fighter he refuses to identify with anything that is unreal. He analyses everything belonging to the world of sense as neti, neti. With a sheer effort of the will, he keeps himself unattached to anything that is of a transitory nature.
On analysis, he finds that all earthly desires and relationships possess only a temporary value, and he guards himself against the danger of succumbing to their influence. Knowing his physical body will perish, heâ€™s always making an effort to kindle in himself the consciousness of his separateness from his body. When a person rejects everything that is not real, what remains as the residue is the Self or True Reality.
So, instead of employing a method of rejection, he may start with a positive idea that he is the Self as distinguished from the body. In spite of countless failures, he repeats this potent idea until one day, this cloud of unknowing suddenly clears away and he realizes that he is the Self. At night the stump of a tree can be mistaken for a ghost, but a friend comes along and tells the frightened traveler that it is just a tree and not a ghost.Â The traveler has this idea imprinted on his mind, so when he goes near he finds it is in reality a tree. This illustrates the method of jnana yoga.
The jnana yogi must be a fearless spirit with superhuman strength of mind, whose body must obey his highest thoughts as spontaneously as a supple twig bends at the touch of the wind. How many can sincerely say they possess such courage and strength that once in a century marks out a saint? The average person suffers from human weakness and his actions are at variance with his ideals and aspirations.
Recognizing this fact, the Bhagavad Gita says it is a harder task to aspire after the unmanifested for those who have not risen above body consciousness, for they will have to suffer if they try to realize the unmanifested Brahman.
Swami Vivekananda, who created the Ramakrishna Mission, said you may repeat one thousand times that you are not the body, you are the spirit, but it requires only a slight headache to draw your thoughts back to your perishable body. This is the common tragedy of life. There is a story that a patient repeated the Bhagavad Gita loudly to imbibe the idea that he was one with the eternal, but as soon as the surgeon walked in with his knife, the poor man shook with fear.
There is an idea of preliminary qualification to enjoin the aspiration to be a proactive jnana yogi, which is not for everyone, but only for those with a keen sense of discrimination between the real and the unreal, and the absence of desire for the enjoyments of this world or the world to follow. The jnana yogi seeks to acquire certain powers by establishing the following:
control of the mind
control of the senses
capacity to withdraw the mind from external objects
supreme faith in oneâ€™s own power
receptiveness to the guruâ€™s instructions
sincere longing for liberation from bondage to human existence.
These qualities must be combined to manifest as a jnana yogi – an almost impossible demand on the capacity of the average human. the ordinary mortal would be in despair if he is to be judged by these standards before he is fit to practice this form of yoga. The ancient scriptures say that only those who master the preliminary disciplines in their past lives would have the possibility of success in this life as a jnana yogi.
It is also true that if a man, in spite of his past samskaras, tries to obtain strength from the source of infinite power hidden in every being, there will come a time when the spring of all power and strength will be revealed to him and lead to a great illumination. Even the varied process of acquiring certain virtues will be expedited in this type of aspirant when he believes he is the eternal self and not the perishable self.Â It is proved by experience that all thoughts good and bad have a deep influence on oneâ€™s life, so when you think of yourself as strong, strength will gradually be developed in you almost without your being aware of it.
In the same way, if one can really imagine oneself to be the timeless self, a subconscious process will be set up by which the weakness of the flesh and the temporal body will gradually vanish. Thus when an aspirant perseveres he will be successful. The Scriptures advise that a disciple should learn from a Guru who has directly realized the Self as the nature of his own being. An Enlightened Master can help you to reach realization quickly.
The Guru advises the Jnana Yogi to meditate upon that idea until he has a direct experience of reality. To illustrate this, there is a story about a tiger cub brought up among a flock of sheep. He believed he was also a sheep until one day a tiger fell upon the flock and was surprised to find a tiger among the sheep. The tiger cub refused at first to believe he was a tiger, since he had no mother to teach him this, so the adult tiger took him to a pond and showed him his reflection in the water and thereby convinced the cub that he was indeed a tiger, thus removing his obsession that he was in fact a sheep. In the same way, a disciple can realize the truth much faster with the help of a Guru.
The Jnana Yogi realizes he is not flesh and bones, but spirit. However, this does not mean that it is easy for an ordinary mortal to act on the belief that he is the immortal Self. Ramakrishna gives a telling example of this, when he ridiculed the claim of someone who said he acted in the spirit of King Janaki by being at one with the deathless Brahman.
Some are duped into believing that, because they are intrinsically the Self, no bad effects can occur for the wrongful acts they commit. They consider the world to be but a dream of Maya, so it matters little what they do. They glibly quote the Bhagavad Gita and say the Self does not kill and cannot be killed, thus justifying all sorts of violence and even war on this basis. This is an example of the Devil citing Scripture for his own evil purposes. Thus spiritual illumination requires a degree of renunciation, which no warlord would impose on himself because, if he did, he would suffer unbearable agony whenever he injured anyone.
If follows that the hard discipline of Jnana Yoga requires an exceptionally strong and analytic mind. Without such equipment, the aspirant may make a mess of his whole spiritual life, or worse develop a false egoic life. It is not enough for the aspirant to have only intellectual convictions, he must be prepared to do spiritual battle all alone in an open field under an open sky. He will have to wrestle constantly with human weakness and with the subtle tricks that the mind plays on the unsuspecting. There will be no respite from the grim struggle until he reaches a state of mind where he is to some extent safe.
It must not be thought that this yoga of knowledge spurns aid from the other paths of yoga. A budding jnana yogi may not eliminate all elements of Bhakti Yoga. He may well derive strength from prayer and devotion to a guru. His longings for help towards the light and the blessing of a guru may be the only source of strength and hope he has.
At the same time, unselfish work of some kind undertaken in the spirit of Karma Yoga may be a preliminary to a practice of Jnana Yoga. It is in the very nature of things that it may be impossible for the average person to embark on the path of Jnana Yoga straight away, for there may be thousands of desires and attachments pulling him back from the straight and narrow course, and it is very hard to crush such desires.
By activity in the service of his fellow beings and cultivating non-attachment, the Jnana Yogi may gradually rise above desires and attain the degree of self-purification necessary for the practice of Jnana Yoga. The greater the self-purification one can achieve, the fitter one will be for the exacting demands of the Yoga of Knowledge. Again, strict control of the mind and a high degree of concentration are essential for the practice of Jnana Yoga, and these can best be acquired by the methods prescribed by Raja Yoga.
A sceptic may ask:Â â€˜Can anyone born of the womb of a woman actually realize that he is a bodiless spirit – the Eternal Self?Â Does not the very idea sound impossible and fantastic?Â Has any human being ever experienced that condition; and if so, does history bear testimony to such an experience?â€™ Yes, for it is said that Alexander came across an old sage in India whom he wanted to take with him to Greece. However the old man refused despite all Alexanderâ€™s cajolery and even threats to take his life if he disobeyed. The wise man laughed and said, â€˜I have never heard a greater lie than that. For you can never kill me who am birthless, deathless, and ever-existent.â€™
The great sage Shankaracharya also realized that unity with the Ultimate Reality which is the final goal of the Yoga of Knowledge, as of the other three Yogas. He has analyzed and described in great detail the state of superconsciousness of the person who experiences this unitive knowledge of God. Some of his disciples also experienced this. Thus Shankara and other great Jnanis have not only proved by philosophical reasoning that there is only one Existence on which human ignorance weaves the dream of manifoldness, but have also unmistakably shown that the fact of such an Existence, outside the ambit of time and space, can actually be experienced by a human being, possessing the requisite spiritual insight and power.
This experience of the timeless, spaceless Reality must necessarily be beyond thought and speech; for when there is only the One, who will speak and think about whom?Â The person who has actually experienced such a state can, after coming down to the normal plane, only vouch for the fact of that experience; but it would not be possible for him to describe, within the limitations of time and space, what it actually was.Â Superficially the highest state experienced by a Jnani may be compared to the condition of deep sleep: because when the sleeper awakes, he also cannot describe that condition except as one of complete forgetfulness of the universe. However there is a great difference, for the man who has realized the Ultimate Truth is so transformed by his experience that his every word and action thereafter bespeaks the highest wisdom and spiritual insight. A fool goes into deep sleep and comes back a fool; but when a Jnani ascends to the highest state of knowledge, he comes down, armed with a vision that is of supreme value to humanity.
It has often been asked whether a man can survive the state during which he realizes that he is the Eternal Spirit, and not the body or the mind. A Jnani does not long survive in body that tremendous experience. However some like Shankara retain the noble desire to teach humanity the means of attaining such aÂ state. These souls voluntarily sacrifice the eternal freedom from bondage to bring salvation to others. To them the portals of the highest experience remain forever open, but they refuse to enter those gates until they can take along some who suffer and struggle for light and illumination. These are the great prophets, seers and mystics who keep the torch of the spirit burning when infinite darkness threatens to envelop humanity. They are the representatives of God on earth.
It is claimed that the path of knowledge or Jnana Yoga is the hardest of all, yet in this modern world, it is the path most often sought by many who come from diverse backgrounds in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. The path of Bhakti is often culturally specific and involves prayers and rituals belonging to a particular religion, society or nation which can seem alien to those of different climes and nationalities.
The path of knowledge has an appealing universality because it is accessible through all the spiritual wisdom traditions of the world. The Buddhist will read and gain illumination from the Dhammapada or The Tibetan Book of the Dead.Â The Taoist will follow the teachings of the Tao Te Ching, while the Christian will explore the inherent mystery of the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Sufi will write mystical poetry to the Religion of Love, as did Rumi and Hafez, while the Hindu will point to the flowering of Vedantist thought in the Upanishads.
The one commonality of all these wisdom traditions is their belief in the sacredness of the word of God, for as it is said in the Gospel according to John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Thus all these traditions of sacred knowledge can be accessed by the great books of each wisdom tradition which are the common heritage of all mankind.
Spiritual knowledge – the path of the Jnana Yogi -Â is acquired through the sacredness of words and metaphors which become symbols of Godâ€™s light and grace. This is possible because sacred words vibrate with a frequency of divine joy and love.Â By means of these symbols and the imagery embedded in them, the Jnani attains the ultimate spiritual experience which goes beyond words and thought, beyond speech and mind, into the ineffable joy of the discovery of union with the Supreme Reality, a state of indescribable bliss which floods both the mind and the heart of the seeker of divine truth. The Jnani attains the state of divine union which is a melting of boundaries, a merging into oneness.
In samadhi, the Jnani attains an awareness of the Pure Self, from which the surface diversity of life also arises. He/she realizes that the relative world of change and flux is in essence an expression of the unchanging absolute Brahman, and that spiritual life consists of living these two dimensions together, ie living in the relative world from the perspective of Cosmic Intelligence.