What is jnana?

In his bhasya to Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.21 (the Yajnavalkya – Janaka dialogue), Sankara goes to great lengths to explain what is knowledge, ‘merging with Brahman’ or ‘unity with all’, by comparing it to the deep sleep state. I will take a large part of the quote – it is well worth the read:

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Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3 & 4.4

Brhadaranyaka means ‘great forest’; it is one of the longest Upanishads covering a breadth of topics, and one on which Sankara wrote the most extensive of commentaries.  As a result it is easy to get lost in this forest, to pick out specific trees within it, without seeing its broad sweep and context.

In BU4.3 and 4.4, Janaka is helped by Yajnavalkya, step by step to attain liberation.  At each significant step, Janaka offers Yajnavalkya a boon of a thousand cows as gratitude and to progress the teaching further; until at the final stage, when he is liberated, he offers his entire kingdom and himself.

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Manifesting Brahman – Vivekananda

An interesting, (occasionally side-tracked!) talk on Swami Vivekananda by the ever-ebullient Swami Sarvapriyananda:

His punchline – Vedanta is about manifesting the divinity within. Recall Sankara – neti neti and renunciation, with any action not for selfish ends but for the good of the whole.

Dennis and Shishya – I commend this to you both, for entirely different reasons.

To know Brahman is to be Brahman

Vedanta says that what we truly are is Existence-Consciousness-Infinity (= Brahman).

The universe is an illusory appearance on/of this substratum of Consciousness.  It is not real.

The jiva (= mind = I-thought = ego) is part of this illusory appearance.  It is a result of the erroneous super-imposition of an I-thought arising between the insentient appearance and Consciousness.  Thereafter desire, fear and suffering, like and dislike ensues.

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The logical coherence of Sankara’s body-mind dis-identification and sannyasa

Many teachers seem to selectively pick and choose what advaita means by jnana, dodge between relative and absolute truths, and argue that some Vedantic statements are figurative and should not be taken literally.  What they singularly fail to do is to consider holistically the teaching and the logical consistency inherent in its philosophy and method.

We have recently been discussing the extent to which Self-realisation is more than some knowledge acquired in the mind, but actually is equivalent to a total dis-identification with the illusory body-mind, dissolution of particular consciousness and identification with all. Sankara and the Upanishads continually emphasise this.

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Ignorance – the cause of the world

I think it is worth recaping the discussion to date. Dennis made two critical assertions:

(1) ”Ignorance is not the cause of the world; it is the reason that we fail to realize that the world is Brahman.”

As part of this discussion Dennis also disagreed that Sankara ‘approximated’ deep sleep to jnana.

(2) ”we superimpose ‘things’ upon the non-dual reality. That is adhyAsa. But that is not the ‘cause’ of the world.”

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Suresvara on action, knowledge and renunciation

Naiskarmya Siddhi

Suresvara, in his very first chapter of this independent work, establishes that Knowledge is the only direct means to liberation, but he also acknowledges the role of action to purify the mind.  He essentially says desireless action leads to turning within and renunciation of all actions, which facilitates the assimilation of knowledge, which destroys ignorance and yields moksha.

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Bhagavad Gita on ajata vada, jnana yoga and sarva karma sannyasa

The Upanishads say that the path of Jnana is like walking along a razor’s edge.  This is perhaps most true in acquiring a proper understanding of the Bhagavad Gita, which teaches both the path of Knowledge and the path of Action, and also has chapters referring to Bhakti Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, etc.   It can indeed be a razor’s edge to know which is being referred to at different points of this text.  Hence it is critical to be guided by Sankara’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, and to assimilate it as a whole.  In this article, I restrict myself predominantly to quotes from BG and Sankara’s bhasya thereon, in order to maintain Sankara’s consistency in exegesis, and also as BG is said to be the epitome of the Upanishads.

Chapter two of BG is said to articulate all that needs to be known, and the rest of the book is just an elaboration thereof, because Arjuna did not quite understand Krishna’s teaching.  In this chapter, Krishna articulates directly ajata vada, in verses 19 to 21. Let’s consider verse 21 as it is exemplary of this, and Sankara’s bhasya is extensive, covering many salient points:

2.21: “O Partha, he who knows this One as indestructible, eternal, birthless and undecaying, how and whom does that person kill, or whom does he cause to be killed”

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