Jnana is knowledge. To know Brahman as one’s own Self is Jnana. To say, “I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness, the non-enjoyer, non-doer and silent witness,” is Jnana. To behold the one Self everywhere is Jnana. Ajnana is ignorance. To identify oneself with the illusory vehicles of body, mind, prana and the senses is ajnana. Jnana alone can destroy ajnana, even as light alone can remove darkness.
The identity of the Supreme Self and the jiva or reflected self is established through the statement of the Upanishad “Tat Tvam Asi”—“That Thou Art.” Self-realization or direct intuitive perception of the Supreme Self is necessary for attaining freedom and perfection. This Jnana Yoga or the path of wisdom is, however, not meant for the masses whose hearts are not pure enough and whose intellects are not sharp enough to understand and practice this razor-edge path. Hence, Karma Yoga and upasana (bhakti) are to be practiced first, which will render the heart pure and make it fit for the reception of Knowledge.
Brahman is Sat, the Absolute, Reality. That which exists in the past, present and future; which has no beginning, middle and end; which is unchanging and not conditioned by time, space, causation; which exists during the waking, dream and deep sleep states; which is of one homogeneous essence, is Sat. This is found in Brahman, the Absolute. The scriptures emphatically declare: “Only Sat was prior to the evolution of this universe.”
Jnana Yoga of Brahma vidya or the science of the Self is not a subject that can be understood and realized through mere intellectual study, reasoning, ratiocination, discussion or arguments. It is the most difficult of all sciences. A student who treads the path of Truth must, therefore, first equip himself with Sadhana Chatushtaya—the “four means of salvation.” They are discrimination, dispassion, the sixfold qualities of perfection, and intense longing for liberation—Viveka, Vairagya, Shad-Sampat and Mumukshutva. Then alone will he be able to march forward fearlessly on the path. Not an iota of spiritual progress is possible unless one is endowed with these four qualifications. These four means are as old as the Vedas and this world itself. Every religion prescribes them; the names differ from path to path but this is immaterial. Try now to understand these four essential requisites for salvation.
Viveka is discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent, between the Self and the non-Self. Viveka dawns in a man through the Grace of God. The Grace can come only after one has done unceasing selfless service in countless births with the feeling that he is an instrument of the Lord and that the work is an offering to the Lord. The door to the higher mind is flung open when there is an awakening of discrimination. There is an eternal, changeless principle amidst the ever-changing phenomena of this vast universe and the fleeting movements and oscillations of the mind.
The aspirant should separate himself also from the six waves of the ocean of Samsara—birth and death, hunger and thirst, and exhilaration and grief. Birth and death belong to the physical body; hunger and thirst belong to prana; exhilaration and grief are the attributes of the mind. The Soul is unattached. The six waves cannot touch Brahman which is as subtle as the all-pervading ether. Association with saints and study of Vedantic literature will infuse discrimination in man. Viveka should be developed to the maximum degree. One should be well established in it.
Vairagya is dispassion for the pleasures of this world and of heaven. The vairagya that is born of viveka is enduring and lasting. It will not fail the aspirant. Vairagya does not mean abandoning one’s social duties and responsibilities of life. It does not mean abandoning the world for life in a solitary cave of the Himalayas. Vairagya is mental detachment from all worldly objects. One may remain in the world and discharge all duties with detachment. He may be a householder with a large family, yet at the same time he may have perfect mental detachment from everything. He can do spiritual sadhana amidst his worldly activities. He who has perfect mental detachment in the world is a hero indeed. He is better than a sadhu living in a Himalayan cave, for the former has to face innumerable temptations every moment of his life.
The third requisite is Shad-Sampat, the sixfold virtue. It consists of sama, dama, uparati, titiksha, sraddha and samadhana. All these six qualities are taken as one because they are calculated to bring about mental control and discipline, without which concentration and meditation are impossible.
1. Sama is serenity of tranquility of mind which is brought about through the eradication of desires.
2. Dama is rational control of the senses.
3. Uparati is satiety. It is resolutely turning the mind away from desire for sensual enjoyment. This state of mind comes naturally when one has practiced viveka, vairagya, sama and dama.
4. Titiksha is the power of endurance. An aspirant should patiently bear the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, etc.
5. Sraddha is intense faith in the word of the Guru, in Vedantic scriptures and, above all, in one’s own Self. It is not blind faith but is based on accurate reasoning, evidence and experience. As such, it is lasting, perfect and unshakable. Such a faith is capable of achieving anything.
6. Samadhana is fixing the mind on Brahman or the Self, without allowing it to run towards objects. The mind is free from anxiety amid pains and troubles. There is stability, mental poise and indifference amid pleasures. The aspirant has neither likes nor dislikes. He has great inner strength and enjoys unruffled peace of mind, due to the practices of sama, dama, uparati, titiksha and sraddha.
Mumukshutva is intense desire for liberation or deliverance from the wheel of births and deaths with its concomitant evils of old age, disease, delusion and sorrow. If one is equipped with the previous three qualifications (viveka, vairagya and shad-sampat), then the intense desire for liberation will come without any difficulty. The mind moves towards the Source of its own accord when it has lost its charm for external objects. When purification of mind and mental discipline are achieved, the longing for liberation dawns by itself.
The aspirant who is endowed with all these four qualifications should then approach the Guru who will instruct him on the knowledge of his real nature. The Guru is one who has a thorough knowledge of the scriptures and is also established in that knowledge in direct experience. He should then reflect and meditate on the inner Self and strive earnestly to attain the goal of Self-realization. A sadhaka should reflect and meditate. Sravana is hearing of Srutis; manana is thinking and reflecting; nididhyasana is constant and profound meditation. Then comes Atma-sakshatkara or direct realization.
There are seven stages of Jnana or the seven Jnana Bhumikas. First, Jnana should be developed through a deep study of Atma Jnana Sastras and association with the wise and the performance of virtuous actions without any expectation of fruits. This is subheccha or good desire, which forms the first bhumika or stage of Jnana. This will irrigate the mind with the waters of discrimination and protect it. There will be non-attraction or indifference to sensual objects in this stage. The first stage is the substratum of the other stages. From it the next two stages, viz, vicharana and tanumanasi will be reached. Constant Atma vichara (Atmic enquiry) forms the second stage. The third stage is tanumanasi. This is attained through the cultivation of special indifference to objects. The mind becomes thin like a thread. The third stage is also known by the name asanga bhavana. In the third stage, the aspirant is free from all attractions.
The fourth stage is sattvapatti. This stage will destroy all vasanas [subconscious inclinations]to the root. This can be included under the svapana (dream) state. The world appears like a dream. Those who have reached the fourth state will look upon all things of the universe with an equal eye. The fifth stage is asamsakti. There is perfect non-attachment to the objects of the world. There is no upadhi or waking or sleeping in this stage. This is the Jivanmukti [living liberated soul] stage in which there is the experience of Ananda Svaroopa (the Eternal Bliss of Brahman) replete with spotless Jnana. This will come under sushupti (deep sleep). The sixth stage is padartha bhavana. There is knowledge of Truth. The seventh stage is turiya, or the state of superconsciousness. This is moksha [liberation]. This is also known by the name turiyatita. There are no sankalpas [consuming desires]. All the gunas [rajas, tamas, sattva—the qualities of nature] disappear. This is above the reach of the mind and speech. Disembodied salvation (videhamukti) is attained in the seventh stage.
Remaining in the certitude of Atma, without desires, and with an equal vision over all, having completely eradicated all complications of differentiations of “I” or “he,” existence or non-existence, is turiya.
About H. H. Sri Swami Sivananda
Sri Swami Sivanandaji is one of the most revered Yoga Masters of India. He is the Guru of Sri Swami Satchidananda. Swami Sivanandaji wrote extensively and the Divine Life Society website has a vast resource of his writings available online from the Divine Life Society
Source: Jnana Yoga by H. H. Sri Swami Sivananda or read online here