Jnana Yoga

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Jnana Yoga Mean?

Jnana yoga is one of the four classical schools of yoga, alongside Bhakti (devotion), Karma (action) and Raja (meditation), each offering a path to moksha (spiritual liberation) and self-realization. Sanskrit for "knowledge" or "wisdom," Jnana is the intellectual path of scriptures and self-study, considered to be one of the most direct and yet challenging means of spiritual development.

The concept of Jnana yoga was first described in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text which focuses on liberation from suffering. Although Jnana yoga involves the progressive study of the scriptures, it is not solely theoretical, encompassing the practical, experiential knowledge which stems from meditation training.


Yogapedia Explains Jnana Yoga

Jnana yoga is essentially a deep inquiry to the nature of the Self. The intention when practicing Jnana yoga is to use the mind to understand and uncover the truth behind the mind. Simply accepting dogmatic teaching is not enough according to Jnana yoga, and as such, practitioners must seek an experiential knowledge of the Divine, universal consciousness or absolute Truth. In this sense, Jnana yoga moves beyond intellect and requires the mind to be both rational and open.

In addition to its roots in the Bhagavad Gita, Jnana yoga is highlighted by the non-dualistic tradition of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. According to this school of thought, the knowledge acquired through meditation brings an understanding of one's self (atman) as identical with Ultimate Reality (Brahman). Experiencing this is believed to dissolve the illusion of a separate sense of Self, ultimately leading to liberation from suffering.

The path of Jnana yoga was promulgated by Adi Shankaracharya, an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta around 700 CE. His commentaries on Vedic texts such as the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita established Jnana yoga as a prominent means of self-realization. He believed that Jnana yogis needed to engage in complete renunciation in order to be free from maya (illusion).

There are four prescribed steps in Jnana Yoga known as Sadhana Chatushtaya (the Four Pillars of Knowledge). These practices build upon one another in order to cultivate the spiritual insight required for this path:

  1. Viveka (discernment, discrimination) – a deliberate, intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal.

  2. Vairagya (dispassion, detachment) – cultivating non-attachment toward worldly possessions and the ego-mind.

  3. Shatsampat (six virtues) – six mental practices to stabilize the mind and emotions.

  4. Mumukshutva (longing, yearning) – an intense and passionate desire for achieving liberation from suffering.

After successfully practicing these four pillars, a practitioner is considered ready to begin the three core practices of Jnana Yoga, according to Upanishadic teachings:

  1. Sravana – hearing or experiencing Vedantic philosophy through a guru or spiritual teacher, thereby achieving a deep understanding of the concepts of atman and Brahman and the philosophy of non-dualism.

  2. Manana – thinking and reflecting on the teachings of non-duality in an attempt to understand their subtleties.

  3. Nididhyasana – constant and profound meditation Brahman and the inner self in order to experience absolute Truth.

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