Tag Archives: Jnana-Yoga

Relation between Jnana and Bhakti

Question: How is jnana dependent on bhakti? Does it mean a jnani has to practice bhakti along with his practice of jnana to be successful? Or does it mean that a jnani has to come to path of bhakti as a result of his jnana?

Answer:  The word jnana when used in relation to jnana-yoga or jnana-marga has a specific meaning. It is not to be understood in the sense of knowledge but experience of oneness with Brahman.  To have that jnana, a janan-margi has to practice bhakti to Krsna or Visnu as secondary to jnana.

Question: If he has to practice bhakti, the question comes up how can he practice bhakti if he is doing devotion with the objective of liberation? How can that be bhakti?

Answer:  It is sakama bhakti, kaivalya-kama to be exact. He performs bhakti as a means to achieve kaivalya or mukti.

Question: Can bhakti also be directed to the demigods?

Answer:  Primarily not. Bhakti in its primary sense is only to God. In secondary sense, bhakti can be for devas, for parents, for one’s country – deva-bhakti, pitr-bhakti, matr-bhakti, rastra-bhakti.

Question: Then it seems it is not bhakti, as it is kaivailya-kama and also not directed toward Krishna. Then how is jnana dependent on bhakti?

Answer:  Why is it not bhakti? It is not uttama-bhakti. Of course it has to be to Visnu-tattva. Only Visnu can give the result of jnana. Only He can give mukti, not even Shiva. Krishna says in Gita (14.25) that only by executing bhakti, one transcends the gunas of prakrti and becomes Brahman-realized.

Question: It seems the point is that somehow Krishna is reciprocating and giving them the results of their efforts, but why is Krishna reciprocating, if it is not love or devotion? In other words, what is the difference between kaivalya-kama and jnana, that Krishna is reciprocating?

Answer:  He reciprocates because jnanis are following a path prescribed by Him in shastra. They have respect for shastra. Otherwise, there was no need to propagate sayujya mukti. It is not unconditional love, but conditional.

Question: Isn’t the idea that for the jnanis to be successful, Krishna has to give them the results, but why, when they are neither worshipping Him directly nor trying to please Him? Or is it only when they worship Krishna that a jnani can become successful? But do they worship Krishna?

Answer:  Krishna says chaturvidhA bhajante mAm – four types of people worship Me. He says they are all udAra. He reciprocates so that people in general have faith in Him and worship Him. If they are not worshiping Him directly, then they can only get material results, not mukti. Jnanis can become successful only when they worship Krishna or Vishnu. If they do not worship Him, then there is no question of mukti.

Which Is the Best Path to Follow?

Question: What is the relation between bhakti marg and jnana yoga?

Answer: Jnana yoga is a technical word. There are many misconceptions because the word jnana has many meanings. It generally means knowledge, but jnana yoga, although it is translated as path of knowledge, refers to a very specific knowledge – the oneness of the self with Brahman. So the path on which one wants to merge into Brahman is called jnana yoga. That does not mean that if one studies scriptures one is following jnana yoga. Jnana is there on every path – whether it is karma yoga, bhakti yoga or astanga yoga. When you follow it, you have to have knowledge of it.

There are three manifestations of God: One is Bhagavan, one is Paramatma and one is Brahman. And there are three main types of transcendentalists. There are bhaktas (who follow bhakti). Their goal is to realize Bhagavan. There are also astanga yogis or raja yogis, whose goal is to realize Paramatma. And then there are jnani yogis who are also called impersonalists or Advaita-vadis. Their goal is to realize Brahman, the impersonal aspect of Bhagavan.

So jnana yoga is the path on which a spiritualist has the goal to realize the impersonal aspect of Brahman and not Bhagavan or Paramatma. Even if they worship Bhagavan, it is only a means for them to realize Brahman. They think that by worshiping Bhagavan, then by His blessings they will be able to merge into Brahman. So their ultimate goal is to realize Brahman. And the word jnana in jnana yoga signifies that the knowledge that the self and Brahman are one.

Question: Can one follow a spiritual path without love?

Answer: You can follow, but without success.

Question: So we cannot really follow a path without love. Even jnanis?

Answer: It will be not successful. Everybody has to take help from love or bhakti.  So better to follow the path of love only.

Question: Do we choose our path according to our own nature or samskara or what?

Answer: Yes, usually you choose according to your samskaras. You may also become influenced by a particular saintly person whom you meet. If you don’t have previous samskaras you may become influenced by such a person and if you have previous samskaras then you will be attracted to the person who is teaching the path which is related to your samskaras.

Question: How did you get your personal relationship with God? How did you choose?

Answer: I came in contact with my guru. He is following that relation and so I also get it from him. He taught it to me.


(from a Question-and-Answer session of an Seminar on “The Art of Love” in France)



Astanga and Bhakti Yoga

Question: I am wondering how this astanga-yoga is connected with bhakti-yoga, or if it is connected at all?

Answer: No, it is not connected.

Question: Then why is Krsna bothering to explain it?

Answer: He is saying that this is also a process that can be used to come to that level of realization. In general, people are not attracted to bhakti, but if they hear about meditation or pranayama, they are immediately interested. Even devotees are attracted. Because it is attractive, people are inspired to take up the practice, and claim to be following Krsna. Indeed, Krsna himself states this and incorporates it within his teachings. Furthermore, one day such souls also may become devotees.  Devotees benefit from having some knowledge of astanga-yoga and should not be completely ignorant of this field.

Question: What will a karma-yogi achieve?

Answer: Krishna has described that he will either follow the process of knowing Brahman or of Paramatma. He has to have some notion of the Absolute, of which there are only three concepts: Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan. The followers of Brahman are called jnana-yogis, those whose goal is Paramatma are called yogis, and those who follow Bhagavan are called bhaktas or devotees. Niskama-karma is not a process that leads to the Ultimate in and of itself. One has to be a jnana-yogi or a bhakti-yogi, since ultimately these are the only two processes. Karma-yoga is a process for purification, and Krishna says that a karma-yogi is either like a devotee or like a jnani. If he is like a jnani he becomes renounced and takes sannyasa. If he is like a bhakta he continues to work, although he still may be known as a karma-yogi because of the process he has followed. If he becomes devoted he will consider bhakti as his prime process, understanding that karma-yoga is secondary. This means that he is doing it only in order to set the standard for others, and no longer as a means.

Question: So at some point he has to decide what is his goal?

Answer: Generally this is there to begin with, because one starts out with a concept. Among the karma-yogis you will find two basic types: those whose concept of the Absolute is a person and those who have the concept that the Absolute is impersonal. So the concept exists in the beginning, but later on becomes more solidified as they start to realize it.

Question: If there are only two paths, where does this yoga fit in?

Answer: It is also a part of jnana because it is similar in that jnana-yogis also don’t participate in action. There are Yogi in Meditationtwo paths, pavritti marga and nirvritti marga, the path of action and the path of renunciation. One who follows the path of renunciation is called a jnana-yogi, and the one who follows the path of action, an astanga-yogi. The former places more emphasis on deliberation and the latter on meditation. Krsna prefers astanga-yoga to jnana-yoga, and specifies that astanga-yoga is superior, the reason being that astanga-yoga moves towards the personal form of the Lord.  In astanga-yoga, one meditates on Paramatma, whereas the jnana-yogis meditate on the impersonal feature of the Lord. So from that point of view, a yogi is better than a jnani. Krishna says that a yogi is better than a tapasvi, better than a karmi, and better than a jnani–he is better than all of them (tapasvibhyo ‘dhiko yogi jnanibhyo ‘pi mato ‘dhikah, BG 6.46).

Therefore it depends on one’s concept of the Absolute and one’s realization to consider one person more superior to the other.

Integration of Self into Reality

By Bruce Martin

The Vedic seers investigated and delineated the methods by which attention is shifted from the ephemeral and temporal to the real and eternal. Although different methods were devised for people of different temperament, the common thread running through them is higher order integration of self into an ever more encompassing Reality. The methodology that facilitates this higher order integration they termed as yoga, or the process of linking consciousness to its source.

This linking process may be summed up as that which enables attention to turn from a constricted, space-time-bound ego identity, to direct cognition of the conscious Whole, of which the individual atma is an infinitesimal spark. In Bhakti Sandarbha, Jiva Gosvami refers to this linking process as sammukhya, turning attention, as one would turn the face, from the phenomenal to the numinous, from insubstantial projection to underlying substance. This offers a simple yet effective measure to evaluate specific methods across a broad range of disciplines. Valid methodology is simply that which enables the radical shift from distortion to truth. In order to facilitate this shift of context for people of various dispositions, yoga has been divided into numerous branches, of which four are prominent: karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, raja-yoga and bhakti-yoga.


Karma-yoga is the path of consecrated action leading to detachment from desire. The proponents of this path recognized that all desire-based actions produce inevitable results that bind consciousness to an inextricable web, whirling relentlessly about the vortex of life and death. Since action is inevitable, the quality of action itself needs to be transformed from one that binds to one that liberates. Karma-yoga involves a highly sophisticated set of rituals to purify the performer of desire and the sense of doership, in which both action and its result are offered to the Supreme.

From a developmental point of view, the path of karma is designed to offer stability and order to the self system by clearly defining its role in relation to society within the larger framework of the mythic order. In ideal, this trains morality and responsibility to an entire network of social interactions, tying both individual and culture to God. Through the process of offering action and its fruit, egocentrism is gradually reduced, and the performer begins to recognize a vaster reality of which he or she is part. This leads to a falling away of desire that transports one to the gateway of the transpersonal. Karma-yoga, then, is geared primarily to the ego realm of development, supporting the maturing of ego into an integrated self-system that stands, finally, on the threshold of transcendence.


Jnana-yoga concerns itself with the path of transcendence proper. It begins where karma ends. Whereas the path of karma lends stability and organization to the self-system, jnana-yoga shatters it altogether. The strength of this path lies in its ability to expose and dismantle all false representations of reality. Thus even its descriptions of the Absolute whisper songs of denial, neti neti, “not this, not that”. By this stripping away, the Absolute can be only that which is devoid of everything conceived of as material imposition or limitation, such as name, form, action, feeling, thought, and quality.

Effectively, however, this is a denial only of material forms and qualities. The realm of transcendence that accounts, not only for oneness, but for variegatedness as well, is a higher order emergence lying beyond the purview of jnana. There is perhaps hidden significance in the reference to this path as Kevala-Advaita, or unadulterated nondual awareness. Kevala also means only, and, in fact, this path discloses the Absolute as awareness “only”, also known as Brahman.



Raja-yoga, otherwise known as the ashtanga-yoga of Patanjali, is principally concerned with the training of awareness, from preliminary practices, such as ethical and emotional training, to cultivation of breath and posture, through to advanced meditative states. In these enhanced states of awareness, technically known as samadhi, the subject-object dualism of “normal” waking state consciousness breaks down, revealing a unified field of consciousness.

In essence, this path discloses the same truth as that arrived at by jnana. The unique feature of this path is that its subtle-energetic and psycho-dynamic practices allow for optimization of health, activation of higher order mental faculties and profound integration of the body-mind system. This optimizes the potential of that system as a vehicle for the expression of Spirit within the manifest realm. For just this reason, however, raja-yoga is sometimes disparaged by the proponents of jnana. Because it brings considerable physical and mental well-being, practitioners may seek those benefits only, ignoring altogether the core transformation that the path is meant to engender. Considering the modern conversion of yoga from path of transcendence to a technology for health and sculptured physique, this seems a not altogether invalid critique. Yet when properly understood, both transcendence and a suitable vehicle for its expression within the world are of immense value, perhaps more so today than at any other time. Like jnana, yoga is directed primarily toward Reality as consciousness or Brahman, though it does accommodate a generalized sense of devotion through the principle of Ishvara-pranidan, or offering of the self to God.


Bhakti-yoga is the path of surrender and love, and like jnana, it too begins where karma leaves off, at the demise of the separate self sense. Unlike jnana, however, bhakti is marked not by absence of ego-based desire but of thirst for the transcendent. In the beginning this thirst takes on the aspect of shraddha, or trust in, and hence, active surrender to, the Absolute. This is based on the understanding that an inseparable connection exists between the infinitesimal consciousness of living beings and the infinite consciousness of God or Ultimate Reality. This awareness matures into sambandha, or relation with the complete Whole that is of the nature of awareness in love. In ordinary experience, when two beings feel consciously attuned, it allows for the growth of intimacy and love. Conscious attunement, devoid of love, would seem, somehow, still wanting.

Man lila / Vrindavan Art

Love, in the supra-mundane sense, is understood as an aspect of nondual awareness itself, endowed not only with all-consciousness, but the potency of all-bliss. Surrender of the self to God is the constant and total, loving submission of all faculties, and of awareness itself, to that of which we are intrinsically part. This offering of the essence of the being, accompanied by the emptying of all artificially acquired designations, allows consciousness to be permeated with the divine energy of love. Love in this sense, as a unique potency of transcendence, is inclusive of awareness, yet extends beyond it to encompass the hidden and mysterious domain of ecstasy. This love in transcendence, uniting the individual being ardently with its source, thus penetrates through the monochrome dimension of conscious at-one-ment to a multilayered weave of ecstatic and intimate relation. This radically alters the whole conception of love, from a force that necessitates and preserves the dualism of lover and beloved, to one that exists in the nondual state that recognizes no “other” to begin with.

Returning to our original point, that yoga involves higher order integration of self into ever more encompassing Reality, these various branches of yoga can then be seen to fit together to support various phases of Spirit unfolding, from the stabilization of ego in the personal realm, to the transcendence of ego and awakening of conscious unity in the transpersonal realm, to the pervasion of love in the realm of ecstatic all-knowing Being. From this perspective, love represents the highest potential of awareness itself. It is this transcendent love only that discloses the hidden, interior aspect of nondual awareness, in which one undivided, all-encompassing awareness itself becomes the vehicle for love’s infinite depth, tone, hue, freshness and variety. Awakening to this mysterious dimension of the transcendent allows for the highest completion of the being in regard to Reality, the Complete.