In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the four paths of yoga:
- Karma Yoga: the path of action
- Raja Yoga: the path of meditation
- Jnana Yoga: the path of wisdom/knowledge
- Bhakti Yoga: the path of love/devotion
Each of these paths has the potential to lead a yogi to enlightenment, so you choose your path based on your temperament and personality. Choosing the wrong path will make it much more difficult to make progress, because essentially you’re fighting your nature. This month, my assignment is to consider the four paths and decide which one appeals to me the most.
Today I’ll talk about Jnana yoga (pronounced Yah-Nah), the path of knowledge. This is the most difficult path but can be the shortest. A yogi drawn to the Jnana path naturally gravitates towards contemplation, thinking about spiritual questions, and studying spiritual books. The Jnana yogi is often solitary, quiet, and introspective, and may be interested in renouncing the world for spiritual study and reflection. The Jnana yogi is less interested in the Divine in the person of a figure like Jesus or Krishna, and more interested in the idea of the Divine, in unmanifested form or as universal consciousness or energy.
To progress along the path, the Jnana yogi uses reason and discrimination to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal, what changes and what remains unchanging. The Jnana yogi practices mental collectedness and concentration, not allowing anything to distract from the spiritual path. To that end, you stop looking for personal gain from the results of your actions, instead doing your duty simply because it’s what’s required, and you make enlightenment your top priority, refraining from actions that aren’t relevant to this quest. For more on Jnana yoga, take a look at books 4 and 7 of the Bhagavad Gita.
At first it seemed like maybe Jnana yoga would be my path. There are a lot of appealing things about it: I love to read and I’m good at studying, for one. But the more I think about it, the more this path doesn’t seem to go with my nature. I’m smart, but I’ve never been a big thinker – I never enjoyed philosophy classes or philosophical debates, and while I can be quiet and introspective, I don’t think I’d call myself contemplative. I think this path requires more discipline in study than I think would work for me – there are many things I can be disciplined about, but for me, reading has always been for the love of it, and I wouldn’t want to turn that into work. It’s a path that is a little more removed from the world than I think I can be. In many ways it’s a path I wish I could follow, but I don’t think it’s the right one for me.
Stay tuned for more on the other three paths!