The concept of Jnana yoga is described in the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. It may involve progressive study of the scriptures, training and meditation. It is also part of the non-dualistic tradition of Vedanta philosophy.
The intention when practicing Jnana yoga is to use the mind to understand and uncover the truth behind the mind. This path requires a mind which is both open and rational. In Hindu scriptures, there is some criticism of the Jnana yogis who only try to seek knowledge in a purely theoretical manner. Since it is meant to be an experiential path, simply accepting dogmatic teaching is not enough. The practitioner instead needs to seek an experience of the knowledge of God, or universal Consciousness or absolute Truth. They must seek to know God on a level deeper than the intellect.
The path of Jnana yoga was first encouraged and fully outlined by Adi Jagadguru Shankaracharya. He stated that a practitioner of Jnana yoga, or a jnani, needed both complete renunciation and a deep desire to be free from maya, or illusions.
It is said that once the student is ready, achieving the goal of Jnana yoga may take as little as a few days. The ideal three-step path of Jnana yoga is as follows:
- The student is taught about Vedantic philosophy by a guru, or spiritual teacher, and they listen carefully.
- The student reflects on these teachings and seeks to understand their subtleties.
- The student meditates on Brahman as described in the Vedantic texts and, through this combination of knowledge and meditation, he/she experiences absolute Truth.
Experiencing true knowledge through Jnana yoga allows the practitioner to know God and be liberated. To achieve this, Jnana yogis will also draw on elements of Bhakti yoga, as part of the experience of knowing God is practicing devotion.