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Jnana: A Yogi’s Guide to What It Is and What It Isn’t

Jnana - beyond the intellect

This article on Jnana is taken from “Living the Yoga Life,” a book by Abbot George Burke available for reading on our website here, or as a paperback or ebook here.

We must not mistake intellectuality and philosophizing for jnana, as is commonly done. Perfect jnana is Self-realization: liberation here and now.

Jnana is not a set of ideas or even of insights, but a condition of the buddhi itself, the state of enlightenment even in its beginning stages. So a jnani is not a philosopher but a yogi whose inner eye is opened and steadily developing.

Darkness and Ignorance

Darkness is not an entity, but only an absence of light. Therefore, no matter how dark the place, light will still shine forth, even if in a limited manner. Ignorance is darkness, and wisdom-knowledge (jnana) is light. In even the darkest mind if light enters, it dispels at least some of the dark, and the more light the less darkness. By holding on to the knowledge we gain, we make it possible for more to enter and more ignorance to recede. In time we shall be all light, and we can go home to the Light from whence we came. That is why Shankara insists over and over that jnana alone liberates and that it alone should be sought.

Intelligence (buddhi) and knowledge (jnana) are divine powers inherent in us. They are the highest levels of our being which in their totally purified (vishuddha) state actually “touch” Brahman and act as a conduit through which the divine life descends and transforms us. Eventually they themselves merge into Brahman and are revealed as Brahman.

Jnana consists of one thing only: Self-knowledge–not in the sense of philosophy about the Self, but as direct experience of the Self as the Self. And that is experience of Unity.

Attaining Jnana

True jnana results in renunciation of worldly things (vairagya), and adopting the practice of yoga which results in the realization of God. Everything else is elementary and only a reflection of jnana: steps to jnana, but not jnana itself. Only the dispassionate yogi has a hope of gaining Self-realization.

Three things are necessary for the attainment of jnana:

  1. It requires subtle thinking, thought that is beyond mere interior verbalization, thought that is more concept than word, progressing to intuition more than concept.
  2. The prana must be directed upward into the head, the sahasrara. This will automatically cause the breath to become calm and very subtle, even to the point of ceasing outwardly though continuing inwardly.
  3. The mind must be merged in sound, the sound of a mantra which through calm and continued repetition has become increasingly subtle.

Actually, it is tracing the subtle mantric sound that produces all three of these points. The sound is really the seed of a state of consciousness, a bhava. A moksha mantra is one whose essence is liberated consciousness, thus the mantra itself is liberation in seed form, and its japa and meditation will unerringly produce moksha for the yogi. It is all a matter of right practice supported by total observance of yama and niyama.


Discrimination (viveka) is not just intellectual, it is the empowerment and forward movement of the yogi’s buddhi, his intelligent, thinking and comprehending mind. This is the true jnana, not mere acceptance and citing of verbal philosophical formulas. It is not talk, it is living.

Those whose intelligence (buddhi) has developed fully, automatically possess perfect jnana because jnana is not intellection but insight and understanding. It is all a matter of essential consciousness.

It is evident that jnana yoga, the yoga of wisdom and intelligence, alone culminates in complete liberation.

Well worth the effort

To be continually established in true Awareness is not a simple, easy or quick thing, but it is the only thing worth pursuing because it opens the door out of what my healer-friend Ben Bibb called “this dumb kindergarten of earth.” To be centered in our eternal spirit and to need nothing else is the idea. “He whose happiness is within, whose delight is within, whose illumination is within: that yogi, identical in being with Brahman, attains Brahmanirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24). For such a one the Inner Light is sufficient at all times for it is the true wisdom-knowledge: jnana which is the essence of Self-realization.

Yogananda quote monastic lifeJnana is the fruition of a purified mind and life. Yogananda used to say: “When the ‘I’ shall die, then shall I know Who Am I,” Then, as he also said, we will be one with God. His entire life was a demonstration of that truth. Swami Sivananda wrote about him: “A rare gem of inestimable value, the like of whom the world is yet to witness, Paramhansa Yogananda has been an ideal representative of the ancient sages and seers, the glory of India.” The Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram wrote of him: “A bright light shining in the midst of darkness, such comes on earth only rarely, where there is a real need among men.”

We can do and be the same. If we will.

Further Reading:


What is Jnana?

Jnana consists of one thing only: Self-knowledge–not in the sense of philosophy about the Self, but as direct experience of the Self as the Self. And that is experience of Unity.

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