The word Yoga sounds similar to the English word “yoke” which means to join or attach. This attachment however is in the context of the soul. It is to conjoin the soul to the source, the super-soul or to the Paramatma (परमात्मा). The process of communion of individual consciousness with the Absolute or super-consciousness is Yoga. When the individual spirit is seen as different from the super soul and then a relationship is established, that Yoga is Bhakti Yoga. When there is perfect oneness seen in individual consciousness and the Absolute where the wall of separation is knocked down, that process is Jnana Yoga. Vedanta normally conforms to the latter approach. However the follower of Bhakti does not want the separation between his Self and that of the Supreme to dissolve. Such dissolution, for a Bhakta is like committing suicide. He wants to enjoy the communion of relationship with the Supreme, maintaining himself as “laghu” (लघु) or the small one and the Lord or the Supreme Self as “Vibhu” (विभु) or the mighty one.
In Kali Yuga or the Iron Age, human intellect is weak. Spiritual possibilities inside the modern man is limited, given that one’s mind is easily corruptible and the capacity to side with truth is almost non-existent. In such cases, one is usually a slave of the flimsy mind and shall resort to a life of convenience rather than siding with that which is appropriate and in line with Vedic scriptures. For a follower of Jnana Yoga, the path of intellect and wisdom, the standard of the practitioner has to be exceptionally high. The practitioner should have intense dispassion and should be unattached with the ways of the world. He should have no interest in the matters concerning the senses and should have overcome lust in its entirety. Unless the person has exceptional character and is incorruptible, following the path of Jnana Yoga is always going to be a tough ask. To see God in oneself and to see oneself as the spirit is a colossal undertaking. The first thing that shall happen when an ordinary person takes up the path of Jnana Yoga, is that the person shall lose his way, right from the word go. As one starts reading Vedanta and takes up meditation, Maya, the illusive power of the Supreme Being shall have begun Her work. The so-called practitioner shall start experiencing growing confidence, which shall be the outcome of ignorance and the churning of inner muck that masquerades as high-quality knowledge and lead the practitioner astray. This egoic tendency has no cure whatsoever. How can the man in a pit hold the rope of Vedanta and come out of the pit when there is no Guru holding the rope from the other end, outside the pit? Thus there are some requirements for one to take up Jnana Yoga as the means to reach enlightenment
(1) First, the practice of Jnana yoga can be practiced by an individual who is not attached to his body. On this condition itself 99 out of 100 people are out of the race. Next, one should not be interested in anything other than the spirit or Brahman, the source of all life.
(2) The practitioner should be exceptional in his qualities of humility. He should have complete control over his senses. He should only seek Truth with absolute disinterest in worldly matters. He should have the capacity to reject that which is false; that which is against inner conscience.
(3) He cannot make any progress unless he is guided by a strict spiritual master, who is already enlightened. The spiritual master should have a command on the Vedic scriptures and should be able to elucidate the scriptures relating to the Upasana Kand (उपासना कांड) of the Vedic scriptures. The Upasana Kand focuses on the nature of the Ultimate Reality and the means to attain it as part of the Vedantic teachings within the 4 Vedas. The Guru should also have an in-depth and practical understanding of the Bhagavad Gita.
(4) The relationship between such a practitioner and the spiritual master should be based on mutual love for Truth. The relationship should be above all worldly motives and should be based on the spirit of sacrifice and surrender. Other than spiritual perfection, there should be no area of interest common to both the Guru and disciple.
(5) The spiritual master should be able to get a complete hold on the practitioner and the practitioner should have complete faith on the spiritual master.
Jnana Yoga, is the path of enquiry. The enquiry of understanding one’s inner nature can only give results, only if one is blatant, on the path of truth. It is like walking on the edge of a sharp razor. Unless there is purity in intention and action, Jnana cannot be pursued. The goal of a Jnani is to end the duality of the mind. The Jnani tries to go to the root of all questions that arise on the lake of the mind. The ripples caused in the mind are due to karma which give rise to thoughts and emotions. The Jnani needs to be steadfast in his practices as he continues to execute his duties through a contemplative mindset. The role of a Jnani is to find answers to his questions through the teachings of the Vedanta as well by employing meditative means. The goal of meditation is to sharpen the intellect. A Jnani is an extremely logical person and uses rational means to get to the Truth. A Bhakta on the other hand uses emotion towards the Supreme to get to the Truth. The current times are unsuitable for the practice of Jnana as authentic means to get established in Truth. On the other hand Bhakti is more conducive for the current age.