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Swami Vivekananda (Bengali: স্বামী বিবেকানন্দ, Shami BibekÄnondo; Hindi: स्वामी विवेकानन्द, SvÄmi VivekÄnanda) (January 12, 1863–July 4, 1902), born Narendranath Dutta is the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Mission. He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the end of the 19th century. Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India. He is best known for his inspiring speech beginning with „sisters and brothers of America“, through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893.

Swami Vivekananda was born in an aristocratic Kayastha family of Calcutta in 1863. His parents influenced the Swami’s thinking – the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his childhood, he showed inclination towards spirituality and God realization. While searching for a man who could directly demonstrate the reality of God, he came to Ramakrishna and became his disciple. As a guru, Ramakrishna taught him Advaita Vedanta and that all religions are true, and service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the death of his Guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, touring the Indian subcontinent and getting a first-hand account of India’s condition. He later sailed to Chicago and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. An eloquent speaker, Vivekananda was invited to several forums in United States and spoke at universities and clubs. He conducted several public and private lectures, disseminating Vedanta, Yoga and Hinduism in America, England and a few other countries in Europe. He also established Vedanta societies in America and England. He later sailed back to India and in 1897 he founded the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, a philanthropic and spiritual organization. Swami Vivekananda is regarded as one of India’s foremost nation-builders. His teachings influenced the thinking of other national leaders and philosophers, like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghosh, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Rabindranath Tagore.


Jnana Yoga according to Bhagavad Gita:

The aim of this article is to introduce the concepts of Jnana Yoga or the path of knowledge/wisdom in the light of the Bhagavad Gita…I will introduce only a few verses from the Gita to emphasize the approach to Jnana marga…at the same time, we will see practical methods for Jnana Yoga….The Gita is eminently a practice manual too.!


The Hindu approach to spiritual evolution leading to liberation or moksha or Self-realization is one of the four major paths or yogas:

  • the path of knowledge or Jnana yoga,
  • the path of mind control or Raja Yoga ,
  • the path of devotion of Bhakti yoga and
  • the path of action/work or Karma yoga.

This is the common mode of classification, mostly derived from Swami Vivekanada’s lectures. Other yogas are minor variations of these four .

Of these, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga have been given less importance in former times. The path of Knowledge, with focus on Hindu philosophy, has been in the forefront since the Vedic times…Some advaitins [non-dualists] would maintain that Karma yoga and Bhakti Yoga are preparatory steps or stepping stones [to purify the mind, chitta shuddi] and final liberation is possible only due to acquisition of Jnana or by Jnana Yoga as the final entry gate….[This was the stand taken by Shri Adi Sankara in Vivekachudamani too.]

The Jnana yoga is intellectually satisfying with abstract reasoning and can be devoid of rituals and formal worship of idols and symbols ;it is non-sectarian and asserts that the indwelling Soul or Atman and Self is the same in all.All these appeal to those who have a dislike for formal worship with rituals.[Yet devotion to Guru is essential in the Hindu context.]

Be that as it may, there are many saints and sages who would maintain that Bhakti yoga alone or Karma plus Bhakti is enough for final emancipation! I do not wish to dwell on this here because I have discussed this in greater detail in one of my books. [Refer: the Essence of the Bhagavad Gita…Pustak Mahal, New Delhi]

The significance of Jnana Marga

Among the four paths or yogas, Jnana marga is considered as the ‘direct’ path . If you consider the spiritual effort as that of climbing a mountain and reaching the summit, Jnana is like rock climbing without detours and winding roads.

Bhakti yoga can be likened to a sloping ,winding road leading to the summit and Raja yoga is like taking steep steps over rough stones. Thus Raja yoga is more difficult than Bhakti and Jnana is the most difficult of all.

Jnana yoga is admittedly difficult and certainly is meant for ‘dhiras’ –accomplished intellectuals with tremendous power of concentration for deep meditations on the abstract Self or Atman or Brahman. It is like rock climbing , with lot of training from expert mountain climbers and those with good physique…not for weaklings!…snd thode with ascetic bent of mind..

Therefore over the ages, there have been very few real jnanis .We are thrilled by the lives of great Jnanis or sages like Bhagawan Ramana or Sadashiva Brahmendra, Thayumanavar or Nisargadatta….again how many disciples they had who reached those heights?..may be a few again.

Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi stated that Jnana and the path of Self-enquiry or atma-vichara are really easy to encourage novices; , but among those who tread this path, many have fallen on the wayside many times. When you climb a rock face, a single mistake will result in crash to the bottom.!

I am not counting here excellent philosophers who may expound on the philosophy or nonduality [Advaita] and give lectures/satsanghs, but only those who have had deep experience of the Self; or reached Samadhi states.

It is safe to say that the path of Knowledge or Jnana is pretty difficult for this materialistic age, when ascetic methods are not even understood or appreciated, in the highly commercial atmosphere we live in.

What Jnana Yoga entails?

Swami Vivekananda had beautifully explained this path in his lectures, compiled into the book— ‘Jnana Yoga’ , published by Advaita Ashrama/RK mission/Vedanta societies.. I do not wish to elaborate on these, but point out a few things.

Jnana path entails two things: Viveka or discrimination and Vairagya or dispassion.

Viveka means distinguishing between unreal things [the phenomenal world, world of change ] and the Real, that is permanent [Self/Atman/Brahman].To get Viveka one may require intellectual analysis, cogitation, reflection and discussion….Satsangha would help ,but would not be always sufficient.

Vairagya or dispassion is to difficult to achieve…this is nonattachment to things of this world…little by little at first—the practice of sacrifice and renunciation….monkhood with severing of ties, with family ,society ,abandoning one’s property and possessions…Bhagwan Buddha [Sakyamuni], St Francis and Bhagwan Ramana are rare examples….Many jnanis may attain this stage in slow degrees too…

It is alright to talk of being in the world ,not of the world’ in a rhetorical sense, but not easy to practice…many so called Jnanis that I have come across still maintain contact with their kith and kin and friends , maintain personal bank accounts, own property—thereby making a mockery of real renunciation or sannyas in Indian /Hindu framework.

There are instances of great Jnanis making the break suddenly in a moment of intense vairagya or renunciation;they serve as beacon-lights for others and exemplify this path.

Let me add that in the Hindu context, only those who exhibit intense Vairagya would be respected in the Hindu society and acknowledged as real Jnanis, not those who profess enlightened state or give wonderful lectures or self-styled gurus.

A Jnani ,by definition ,has attained a state of equanimity or samatva;he looks upon pain and pleasure, friends and foes, glory and ignominy ,heat and cold, in the same light, without any feeling whatsoever. In other words, he does not exhibit attachment [ragha] or aversion [dvesha] against any one or any particular thing.

The message of the Bhagavad Gita.

Now let us turn to a few verses from the Gita.

The verses are most beautifully told in chapters 2,3,4,& 5.

  1. That calm man who is the same in pain and pleasure ,whom these cannot disturb, alone is able to attain to immortality—O Arjuna. [2-15]
  2. The Unreal never is. The real never is not.Men possessed of the knowledge of the Truth fully know both of these. [2-16]
  3. This verse is the distilled essence of non-duality or advaita.
  4. That by which all this is pervaded—that know for certain to be indestructible. None has the power to destroy this Immutable.[Self/Atman] [2-17]
  5. Being steadfast in Yoga, perform actions , abandoning attachment, remaining unconcerned as regards success and failure. This even-minded is known as Yoga..[2-48]
  6. Endued with this evenness of mind, one frees oneself in this life, alike from vice and virtue; devote thyself, to this yoga….Yoga is the very dexterity of work. (skill in action) [2-50]
  7. Attachment [ragha] and aversion [dvesha] of the senses for their respective objects [of the senses] are natural; let none come under the sway; they are his foes. [3-34]
  8. As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an embryo by the womb, so is It covered by that [desires]. [3-38]
  9. That man who lives devoid of longing, abandoning all desires, without the sense of “I” and “Mine” , he attains to peace. [2-71]
  10. Mahatma Gandhi attached great importance to chapter 2 and chapter 3 of the Gita and also the latter portion of Ch 2 –verses 58-72 on the man of steady wisdom.
  11. Whose actions are all devoid of plan [sankalpa] and desire for results, and whose actions are burnt by the fire of knowledge, him, the sages call wise. [4-19]
  12. Verily there exists nothing in this world as purifying like knowledge. In good time, having reached perfection in yoga, one realizes that [knowledge]oneself in one’s own heart.. [4-38]
  13. The place which is reached by the Jnanis is also reached by the karma yogis .He who understands knowledge and performance of actions as the same alone sees.(understands).
  14. To those whose ignorance is destroyed by the knowledge of the Self—that knowledge of theirs, like the Sun, reveals the Supreme. [5-16]
  15. Those who have their intellect absorbed in That, whose self is That, whose steadfastness is That, whose consummation is That, their impurities [sins] cleansed by knowledge, they go whence to non-return. [Moksha] [5-17]
  16. With the heart unattached to external objects, he realizes the joy that is in the Self. With the heart devoted to the meditation of Brahman, he attains unending happiness.[5-21]

A careful study of these verses will clarify many things relating to Jnana Yoga.

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