The Path of Jnana Yoga

Yoga Samvād:  Dialogues on Yoga,  a series  of insightful dialogues on Yoga, began with its first talk in the series—Dynamic spirituality through Jnana Yoga—co-anchored insightfully and elegantly by Swami Mitrananda of Chinmaya Mission, Chennai, and Shri Raghu Anthanarayanan of Ritambhara.

Let’s look at these well known incidents from our Ithihasa-Purana tradition:

In the Ramayana, King Dasaratha tells Sri Rama of his impending coronation.

Rama smiles in acknowledgment of his father’s communication.

Just a little later, Queen Kaikeyi sends for Rama and informs him that contrary to his father’s wishes, he would no longer be crowned as the King. Besides, he would have to give up the kingdom and go to the forest in exile for 14 years.

Rama once again merely smiles.

Kurukshetra battlefield:  Kaurava and Pandava armies are pitted against each other. Arjuna, the person through whom Sri Krishna hopes to re-establish Dharma, is despondent over what  he perceives as a futile war and wishes to withdraw from the battle.

Sri Krishna, rooted in equanimity,  merely smiles. He then reveals the Bhagavad  Gita to Arjuna  and exhorts him to follow his kshatriya svadharma or his purpose as a kshatriya. 

Sri Rama and Sri Krishna were exemplar Yogis. In both letter and spirit, they  demonstrated the yogic ideal of equanimity or the art of fine balance even in the most distressing situations.

What is Yoga and how do we live a Yogic life in contemporary times?  Given the fact that yoga and meditation have become the most “abused” and “distorted” words in recent times, how do  we reconnect with the essence of these practices  to lead a rasatmic life  that enables us to connect with the essence of life in deeper, meaningful and fulfilling ways? How can  we invest even simple every day actions with the Yogic ideal of excellence?  How can we imbue our lives with purpose and  poise?

These profound reflections  emerged in  Yoga Samvād:  Dialogues on Yoga,  a series initiated by Ritambhara as part of the ‘Peace & Sustainability Through Yoga’ initiative during International Yoga Day 2020. This series features experts from diverse fields engaging in insightful dialogues on Yoga. The session Dynamic Spirituality through Jñana Yoga, was co-anchored by Swami Mitrananda, (a disciple of Pujya Swami Chinmayananda)  of the Chinmaya Mission, Chennai, and Shri Raghu Ananthanarayanan,  Co-Founder, Rithambhara.

Shri Raghu Ananthanarayanan underlined the importance of Antaranga Yoga Sadhana in today’s context where Asana and Pranayama have gained prominence to an extent where they are even distorted! Asana and pranayama refers to Bahiranga Yoga and then one transitions to Antaranga Yoga where one cleanses one’s psyche through which the mind becomes capable of Ekagrata (single pointed focus).

According to Yoga Acharya Sri T Krishnamacharya (Shri Raghu’s Guru), without this important transition of the mind of an individual to one that is capable of Ekagrata, him/her talking of areas which are referred to as Parama Antaranga Yoga (states of Samadhi, etc.) becomes Vikalpa. Shri Raghu  shared that at  Ritambhara the focus  is largely on Antaranga Yoga, which deals with this transition of mind.

The seven swaras that constitute SaptaSwara are:

  • Maitri: Understanding friendship and compassion both for yourself and others.
  • Karma: Intensity and acting with full emotional power one has
  • Dharma: When I act, can I act in a way that I can enliven myself, others and the context?
  • Jnana: Deep understanding and insight into what I am trying to understand or know.
  • Ramyam: Beauty and inner delight
  • Yogam: Integration of all our energies into a mindful focus
  • Abhyasam: How to apply these in daily living

Shri Raghu concluded by stating that the SaptaSwara enables a person to live a rasatmik life where a person can live life experiencing all the different rasas fully.

“The word Yoga is  derived from the Sanskrit word yuj which means to join or unite. In its deepest sense, it refers to the union of the Jivatma (loosely translated as  the individual soul)  with the  Paramatma (loosely translated as the Supreme Soul) and highlights that the human being  has the potential to  recognise and transform himself or herself into the Divine,” says Swami Mitrananda.

Well known for his  imaginative and compelling approaches to make the knowledge of Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita accessible to young people through innovative ways, the eloquent and elegant Swami Mitrananda highlighted two lines from the Bhagavad Gita that captures the essence of Yoga–samatvam yoga uchyate (Bhagavad Gita 2.48)  and Yoga: karmasu kaushalam (BG 2.50).  

Elaborating  on samatvam yoga uchyate, Swami Mitrananada said that a balanced mind is  the hallmark of Yoga.  How do we stay centred when we are buffeted by the storms of joy and sorrow; victory and  defeat; gain and loss; pleasure and pain—neither being elated  nor dejected but maintaining our equanimity when confronted by dvanda or polar opposites characteristic of temporal reality?

“How do I then stay balanced? This is possible only with clear understanding and insight and this is where Jnana Yoga comes in. According to Jnana Yoga, every experience has a  beginning and end. However, they have a quality of impermanence (anitya) in the physical world  and therefore we need to meet them with a smile,” he explained.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight the war without hatred for his enemies.

“Action performed in the spirit of Karma, without accumulating Karma, is another hallmark of a Yogi,” said  Swami Mitrananda. How  then do we find that elusive equanimity when we are overpowered and entrapped in dvanda or polar opposites that circumscribe human existence?

“We need to keep in mind the impermanence of life and therefore avoiding excessive attachment or aversion to experiences is key. As is developing a higher vision and purpose for our existence on this planet and strive towards it. Although we are born human, we have the capacity to die divine. While it is important we also enjoy the lower games, if the  lower forces become too intense, we lose our balance and fall off becoming a Yogi,” said Swami Mitrananda.

“All life is Yoga,” said Sri Aurobindo. Perhaps this is a reflection of yoga: karmasu kaushalam (BG 2.50). Dexterity or skill in action that is performed is Yoga.

“Any action that is performed skilfully with absolute attention is yoga. If the mind runs away to the future in anxiety or goes back to something in the past, the action cannot be skilful. To be skilful in action, mind and body should be connected and in the same place,” said Swami Mitrananda.

Drawing a parallel to the famous Zen Japanese tea ceremony, Swami Mitrananda highlighted that any action offered with a perfect blend of “right attitude, right mindset and attention is  Yoga” and even referred  to Zen as a “grandchild of Yoga” (presumably due to its Bharatiya origin with Prince Bodhi Dharma from South Bharat who travelled to China to propagate the ancient art which then travelled to Japan and transmuted itself to Zen).

The erudite Swami Mitrananada offered another analogy to highlight the principle of yoga karmasu kausalam. When Hanuman meet Sri Rama for the first time, it is in the disguise of a scholar.  He  presents his credentials and requests Sri Rama  to introduce himself.  When Sri Rama heard Sri Hanuman speak, (which was perhaps less than a minute) he turned to Sri Lakshmana and remarked, “This is a person who has read all the four Vedas.”

“Hanuman highlighted the principle of dexterity in action through his impeccable presentation that was a perfect blend of confidence and humility; he was neither brash nor servile,” remarked Swami Mitrananda, who reiterated that “even small actions can be imbued with Yogic spirit.” Simultaneously, Swami Mitrananda highlighted that we need to perform actions devoid  of Karmic residue or karma phala. 

“The principles of Karma Yoga are simple: dedicate our actions to the Divine; give up attachment to the outcomes of your actions and to the very actions don’t be attached. This involves giving one’s very best  and a graceful acceptance  of ones’ efforts without insisting on a particular outcome. Hence Sri Krishna exhorted Arjuna tasmad yogi bhava Arjuna (therefore become a Yogi, Arjuna),” explained Swami Mitrananda on the empowering qualities of Yogic excellence to transmute and transform our lives.

Swami Mitrananda  reiterated the  yogic ideal of dexterity with a simple yet profound example  from the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Sri M, his well-known disciple, went into a trance (samadhi) while watching his Guru fold a shawl with finesse, grace and skill.

The finale of the session was Swami Mitrananda’s laser-like reply to  a poser on the difference between Jnana and Vijnana. 

“Knowledge is of two kinds: Knowledge of the Absolute (Para vidya) and Knowledge of the  Relative (Apara vidya). We need both kinds of education as we live our lives on the relative plane. We need to seek the Absolute while  living in a relative world. Jnana refers to intelligent information that helps us to navigate the relative world. Vijnana is applied Knowledge; when the information is transformed into Wisdom through lived experience,“ said Swami Mitrananda who delightfully captured the essence of  embodied knowledge characteristic of Dharmic traditions.


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About the Author

Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera.