What is Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga according to Bhagavad Gita? | Difference between Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga

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The connotations of the various terminologies that appear in the Gita have to be understood in its various nuances so as to grasp the spirit of the Gita. The words Jnana (ज्ञान) and Karma (कर्म) have been used in the Gita in order the signify something special. These terms are not to be confused with the causal use of these terms in daily Indian vocabulary.

In the Gita, Karma and Karma Yoga (कर्म योग) are not identical. Similarly Jnana and Jnana Yoga (ज्ञान योग) mean two different concepts. According to the Gita, actions in consonance with the Vedic scriptures can be performed from the points of view of both the Jnana Marga (Path of Knowledge) as well as the Karma Marga (Path of Action). The Path of Knowledge is not opposed to action, while according to the Path of Action, performance of action alone is recognized as Sadhana (साधना) or spiritual practice (Chapter 6, Verse25 3) whereas the renunciation of action is deemed to be hindrance (Chapter 3, verse 4). In verses 47 to 51 of Chapter 2, verse 19 of Chapter 3 and verse 42 of Chapter 6, Arjuna has been commanded by the Lord to perform action following the Path of Karma while in Chapter 3, verse 28 and Chapter 5, Verses 8, 9 and 13 the Lord explains as to how actions need to be performed from the point of view of Knowledge. In these discussions it is clear and evident that there is no place for action with an interested motive in either of the two paths; on the other hand the Lord points out that men working with interested motives are said to be of meagre intelligence. These explanations of the Lord refer to Chapter 2, Verse 42 to 44 and 49; Chapter 7, Verse 20 to 23; Chapter 9, Verse 20, 21 and 23, 24.


The word Jnana too has not been used in the Gita in the sense of Jnana Yoga, the Path of Knowledge alone, it also signifies Self-Realization (आत्मबोध), which is the culmination of all spiritual knowledge; of the Path of Knowledge as well as the Path of Action. This is also the attainment of real knowledge or the Realization of Truth. Verse 24 and the latter half of the Verse 25 of Chapter 4 speak of Jnana Yoga and Verses 36 to 39 of the same Chapter refer to Jnana as Self-realization or as the Culmination of the Path of Knowledge or even that of the Path of Karma, the final destination. Thus it becomes important that words need to be interpreted in consonance with the context in which it is used. Following one of the two paths of Knowledge or Action, should be solely based on the qualities of the individual taking up the path.

It is interesting to look into the highlights of the two paths. The Gita declares that all objects of the world are illusory or unreal like water seen in a mirage or like the world painted inside a dream. Thus all actions proceeding from the mind, senses and the body are nothing but a movement within the Gunas (गुण), born of Maya (माया), Nature (प्रकृति), in the shape of the senses etc. The Gunas move in front of us in the shape of sense-objects (इन्द्रिय-विषय) that trap us and keep us engaged in them without break. Thus Nature, is Maya which keeps us bound to the Gunas or qualities represented by the sense-objects in the form of the objects of the world.

Once this knowledge is grasped, the follower of the Path of Knowledge, no longer claims the doership of actions say Verse 8-9 of Chapter 5. Remaining constantly established in identity with the all-pervading Supreme Spirit or God, who is the condensed pure form of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss (सत-चित-आनंद), he ceases to recognize the existence of any other entity other than God (Chapter 13, verse 30). Such is the Path of Knowledge. This is also called Jnana Yoga or Karma Sannyasa (कर्म-सन्यास).