Jnana means knowledge. This knowledge refers to the knowledge of the higher being through a method which is not empirical but which is transcendental. Let me tell you first of all, knowledge is empirical and transcendental both. Empirical knowledge is through the source of books, teachers and gurus, and with the help of the mind. The transcendental knowledge is an unfoldment of what is already in man, or what is already in me. This jnana yoga refers to that process of attainment of knowledge in which you follow the path of refection and contemplation.
In karma yoga there is a constant redefinition, in bhakti yoga it is constant ecstasy, love and surrender, in raja yoga it is meditation on one point whereas in jnana yoga it is contemplation on a subject, on a topic, on a series of thoughts. It is not merely the subject of God or consciousness; jnana yoga aims at realizing the basic problem within yourself, without depending on any external agency. In bhakti yoga you have so many aids, you sing the Lords name, get into ecstasy, singing the name on the rosary, go on pilgrimages, go to saints and sages, temples, chapels and churches and so on, in raja yoga you have to practise asanas, pranayama, withdrawal of mind, concentration on some form or some symbol, in karma yoga you have to do something outside, in jnana yoga you have just to sit down quietly, and meditate on just a few things, not many.
The first principle of jnana yoga is that the Supreme Being or the Supreme Consciousness is homogeneous. It is not finite, it is not broken into pieces, it is not subject to changes, it is one whole and that is called infinite. It includes everything. This Supreme Being is the originator of consciousness. This is the first thing they attempt to understand, and on this they meditate.
Second thing, the question comes then what is that Supreme Being? On this second point they meditate. They contemplate on ‘I and the Supreme Being are identical’. Now, the problem comes. How can I be identical with the Supreme Being? Because the Supreme Being is without faults, is without sin, is without decay, is without death and mortality whereas I am subject to all these things. The third thing, this problem has to be worked out. This ‘I’ which is supposed to be identical with the Supreme Being, is not the ‘I’ which refers to this body and this name.
This ‘I’ is the pure‘I’ which transcends all physical barriers. This body is not ‘I’, definitely because this body is subject to disease, decay and death. It is never the same. Then this mind is also not ‘I’ which is identical with the Supreme Being because mind is also subject to changes. It is never consistent and everybody knows it, it fluctuates. The Supreme Being, the Supreme Consciousness does not fluctuate. It is always calm and quiet and like a great and vast ocean. So mind cannot be this ‘I’. Then what about the senses? Senses cannot be the ‘I’ because the qualities of the senses and the quality of the ‘I’ which is identical with the Supreme Being do not tally with each other.
Now, therefore, the qualities of the Supreme Being should be superimposed on the ‘I’. This ‘I’ should have the same attributes which the Supreme Consciousness has. At the same time, we see the difference between this ‘I’ and the body and the ‘I’ and the mind and the ‘I’ and the senses, and the ‘I’ and everything else that this existence means to me, I find a complete difference so I begin to say, “I am not the mind, I am not the prana, I am not the senses, I am not the intellect, I am not the subconscious, I am not the body, I am not the customs, I am not the habits, I am not the tradition, I am not death, I am not birth.” I am trying to separate this ‘I’ from its so-called associations. All these associations which I am talking about are superimpositions on the ‘I’ somehow or the other. This ‘I’ which is so infinite, this ‘I’ which is so immortal, this ‘I’, which is so great and pure and which is not a part but is the Supreme Consciousness has come to be associated with these friends that belong to the lower nature, and which belong to the realm of prakriti.
Now, through the process of jnana yoga we are trying to understand completely and correctly the difference between the ‘I’ which is the real ‘I’ and the ‘I’ which is the adulterated and misunderstood ‘I’. If you ask, “Who are you?” I answer, “I am a man or I am a girl.” Here the ‘I’ is identified with a body of a man or a woman. If you ask, “Who are you?” I always answer, “I am an Indian or an Irish or I am an American.” Now I identify the ‘I’ with these things, the nationality. I am intelligent, I am clever, so here the ‘I’ is misunderstood.
By the practice of jnana yoga the individual consciousness, which is also ‘I’, is disassociated from these limiting adjuncts, from these limitations, and then it is considered identical with the Supreme Consciousness. Now this process of disidentification and this process of fusing the ‘I’ with the Supreme ‘I’ or the Cosmic ‘I’ is the subject matter of jnana yoga.