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Prelude to the Ishvara Gita - Jnana Yoga

We will soon be publishing a translation of the Ishvara Gita from the Kurma Purana on this blog. As it is a complicated text, we thought it would be wise to release a series of smaller articles as preludes, to enable an understanding of the fundamentals that the work is based on. This is the first of the preludes. Here, we will explain what Jnana-Yoga is according to the Shastra, as it is relevant to the Ishvara Gita.
Jnana-Yoga is realization of the individual self. Among the various puruṣārthas that can be attained, the intrinsic bliss of the individual self is sought after by some. This is brought out in the following Gita shloka:
catur-vidha bhajante mam janah sukrtino 'rjuna arto jijnasur artharthi jnani ca bharatarsabha (Gita 7.16)
Meaning: Some people seek refuge in me, to attain the wealth they had lost (arta) and some for acquiring new possessions (artārtin). Still some others take refuge in me to experience the individual self (jijnāsu). Some noble persons do self-surrender to me to attain me (jnāni). All these four types of people are of meritorious deeds.
Shankaracharya and Madhvacharya interpret “jijnāsu” as “One who seeks knowledge of Brahman” and “jnāni” as “One who has attained knowledge of Brahman”. This is wrong. This is because Bhagavan is dividing these noble people into four classes based on 4 different goals they seek. If jijnāsu and jnāni bear the meanings given by Shankaracharya and Madhvacharya, then it means both have the same goal of Brahman – as one is seeking Brahman and the other has attained Brahman. So, the classification itself is thwarted. Hence, “jijnāsu” means a seeker of the individual self which is a different goal to that of the “jnāni” who seeks to attain Brahman.
Moving on - Since the self is jnānānandamaya, it can be realized, perceived and experienced, as divested of prakrti. This Jnana-Yoga can be of two types – it can be a gateway to Bhakti-Yoga, since self-realization should result in a realization of the Lord who is the indweller of the self. And thus a Jnana Yogi can progress to Bhakti Yoga. Alternatively, Jnana-Yoga is an end in itself for those who consider experience of the individual self as their sole aim.
This Jnana-Yoga has Karma-Yoga, which is performance of desireless works, as its’ accessory. Since it is very difficult to attain the state of meditation on the self, Karma-Yoga is performed. The aspirant performs all duties to engage his senses and at the same time, he is constantly thinking of the self as different from the body. So, he does not hanker after the fruits of the works. This eventually allows him to attain the state of meditation constituting Jnana-Yoga.
Alternatively, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that one can attain the experience of the individual self by Karma-Yoga, skipping the need for Jnana-Yoga. Because a Karma-Yogi is also constantly contemplating on the self as distinct from the body while doing actions – it thus has a knowledge component to it. Thus, this is a much easier path than Jnana-Yoga to attain the same goal.
To attain an experience of the self, it is not possible to constantly fix the mind on the individual self. So the only means to attain such an experience of the self is to meditate on the Lord. The idea is, one must meditate on the auspicious body of the Lord, using the praṇava, to wean one’s senses away from sense objects. By meditating on the Lord, one attains the highest similarity with him in the form of experience of the individual self. Thus, pranavopāsaṇa is thus an important anga of Jnana-Yoga.
This is mentioned in Gita 8.13 as follows,
om ity ekaksaram brahma vyaharan mam anusmaran yah prayati tyajan deham sa yati paramam gatim
Meaning: Constantly uttering “OM” which denotes me, the Brahman, and contemplating me, if a person fixes his life-force in the head and departs from the body, he attains the highest state which is the experience of the pure individual self that is similar to my form.
“paramam gatim” here means he attains the goal of the pure self, which is higher than other goals such as material objects, svarga etc under the dominion of the Lord. The pure self is immutable in nature, all-pervasive in knowledge, devoid of karmas and hence is similar to the Lord.
Jnana-Yoga has 4 very important stages. These stages are described by Sri Krishna in the Gita as follows:
Stage 1: The First Stage of Equality – Gita 6.29: The first stage of equality is that the Yogi sees equality everywhere. He sees himself in all other selves and all selves in him. Meaning, he sees that all selves are of identical natures everywhere and there is no difference between them, just as there is no difference between grains of rice which are identical. Differences of man, deva etc lie in the body. Thus, he sees himself everywhere in the same manner as one says, “this is the same rice that I saw in another place”. This is sameness or oneness of vision with all Jivas.
Stage 2: The Second Stage of Equality – Gita 6.30: He sees the Lord in all the selves and all the selves in the Lord. Meaning, just as he sees similarity between himself and the selves, he sees similarity between himself and the Lord. Both the Jivatma (in the liberated state) and Paramatma are devoid of karma. Thus, the Jnana-Yogi does not see himself as different from Paramatma on that account. This is sameness or oneness of vision with the Lord.
Stage 3: The Third Stage of Equality – Gita 6.31:  The phrase “ekatvamāstithaḥ” is used by the Lord here. In the second stage, the Jnana-Yogi realized his similarity with Paramatma in terms of both being outside the sway of karmas. Now, when karmas are removed, the Jivatma has uncontracted and all-pervasive knowledge (dharma-bhUta-jnAna). Bhagavan also has uncontracted all-pervasive knowledge. Thus, the Yogi increases his feeling of similarity with Paramatma here. He thinks, “As Bhagavan and I both have uncontracted knowledge, both are similar”.  Just as Paramatma pervades all things, the Jiva pervades all things by his knowledge. Though the mode of pervasion is different, the similarity is focused on. In this state, the Jnana-Yogi even says, “I am that Paramatma” – meaning, “I am verily similar to that Paramatma”. This is like saying, “This rice in shop A is the same as the rice in Shop B”. Though there are two different rice grains, they are claimed to be the same due to similarity. This is the higher state of sameness or oneness of vision with the Lord.
Stage 4: The Fourth Stage of Equality – Gita 6.32: In this state, the Jnana-Yogi has identified himself as all the other selves to such an extent, on account of similarity of natures, that he even considers the joys and sorrows of others as his own. This is the apex of Jnana-Yoga.
Jnana-Yoga is not just a separate means to experience the self. Both karma and jnana-yogas are accessories to bhakti-yoga as well. Upon realizing the nature of the self as distinct from the body, one then realizes the self is subservient to the Lord, who is the indweller of the self and hence has the self as his body. This then leads naturally to bhakti-yoga.
However, those seeking to only experience the bliss of the self, do not wish to progress to bhakti-yoga and hence do not meditate on the subservience (seshatva) of the self.
Thus, this is a brief description of ātmopāsaṇa according to śrī rāmānuja.
The jivātmopāsaṇa is not a favorite of the Lord. Because he feels upset that people would try to attain their own intrinsic bliss as opposed to desiring to attain him! The major Upanishads, the bulk of Bhagavad Gita (barring the first 6 chapters and the 8th chapter), the īthihāsās and the major purāṇās (viśṇu and bhāgavata) focus primarily on Bhakti-Yoga and explain Jnana-Yoga mainly as an accessory to Bhakti-Yoga.  Of course, they do contain references to Jnana-Yoga as a separate path to attain the self as well.
The sahasranāma says the Lord is “muktānām paramā gatiḥ” – He is the highest goal of the muktas. This implies that there is also a lower goal for the muktas, namely, Atmanubhava, is it not? Indeed so, vide the viśṇu purāṇa,
yoginām amṛtaṃ sthānaṃ yad viṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padam // ~ (viśṇu purāṇa 1.6.38)
According to Engalazhwan, this shloka says that those yogins who (among those in their respective Asramas) do pratikopāsana (meditate using symbols)  on   the   real   nature   of   their  own  selves,  reach  the  immortal  region  (amṛtaṃ sthānaṃ)  known  as “viṣṇupada” where they meditate on the bliss of their own selves.
That this statement does not refer to Sri Vaikuntha and only refers to kaivalya mukti (bliss of the Jivatma) is seen by the very next statement of the viśṇu purāṇa:
ekāntinaḥ sadā brahmadhyāyino yogino hi ye / teṣāṃ tat paramaṃ sthānaṃ yad vai paśyanti sūrayaḥ // ~ (viśṇu purāṇa 1.6.39).
This shloka says that for those yogins who constantly meditate upon the Supreme Brahman alone, considering him alone as the means and the goal (ekāntinaḥ), is reserved that Supreme Abode of his where the Nitya Suris perpetually perceive and enjoy him (as opposed to the yogins who meditate on their intrinsic bliss in the lower abode).
The usage of “ekāntinaḥ” and “sadā brahmadhyāyino” shows that these yogins who are constantly meditating on Brahman are different from those yogins of the previous shloka who are content with the bliss of their own individual selves.
The usage of “paramaṃ sthānaṃ” (that highest abode) qualified by “sūrayaḥ” (Nitya Suris perceiving Brahman) differentiates it from the previous “amṛtaṃ sthānaṃ” which is a lower state of mukti. The idea is, only Vishnu’s supreme abode is perceived eternally by the Nitya Suris like Adi Sesha, Garuda, etc. And thus “sadā pashyanti suraya:” is a distinguishing feature of Paramapada from Kaivalya Mukti.
The procedure of Jnana-Yoga as a separate means to attain the self (and not as an accessory to Bhakti-Yoga) is described in voluminous detail in other shruti and smriti as follows:
  1. Kurma Purana – 2 sections in pūrva and uttara bhāga (we will get to this)

  1. Garuda Purana – You can read a rough translation of Jnana-Yoga here - Don’t be fooled thinking this section refers to the Lord – it is an account of yoga performed to attain individual self, which is “moksha” or liberation from the distress of samsāra considering the self is higher than material objects. The Lord is describing the individual self by those adjectives to Garuda.

  1. Vayu Purana – The adhyāyās on pāśupata yoga or māheśvarya yoga are  sāttvika and describe Jnana-yoga. This section has been wrongly assumed by Shaivas to refer to rudra. The terms “paṣupati” and “maheśvara” are applicable to the individual self, as it is the master of the senses or mind that are associated with anger or attachments (paṣupati) and it is the great ruler of the mind, senses and body (maheśvara). We will see these in detail later.

  1. A few smaller Upanishads, which we will comment on later.

  1. And of course, in some of the major Upanishads like the Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka, the chapters 1-6 of Bhagavad Gita, as well as aksharOpAsaNa in chapter 8.

Shiva is a bestower of knowledge regarding Brahman. He imparts the tāraka mantra (praṇava) to seekers of the individual self at the time of death, because Brahman and praṇavopāsaṇa is the means to attain the individual self. Thus, he is a mediator in this type of upāsaṇa.
In fact, the Vayu Purana, in the pāṣupata yoga adhyāya (also called māhEśvarya yoga), says that those seeking the individual self, having conquered material attachments, are exalted in rudra-loka:
etena vidhinā yogo virakta sukśmavarjitaṃ prakrtiṃ samatikramya rudraloko mahīyate (~Vayu Purana 12.35)
Meaning:  The Yogi, by this procedure (of Jnana-Yoga), becomes detached from desire for material objects and being devoid of the (afflictions of) the senses constituted of the subtle elements, he crosses over prakrti (ie, attains experience of the individual self which is higher than prakrti) and is joyous or exalted in Rudra Loka.
The Yogis are said to cross over prakrti as they eschew material objects and attain the self which is higher than prakrti. It does not imply liberation.
Thus, they attain Shiva’s abode and partake of his knowledge to attain the individual self. This has again been wrongly understood by Shaivas as praising Rudra Loka as a supreme abode. The Garuda Purana shloka quoted by Dvaitins also reinforce this fact:
sthitaprajño'pi yastūrdhvaḥ prāpya raudraṁ padaṁ tataḥ | sāṅkarṣaṇaṁ tato muktimagād viṣṇuprasādataḥ || (~Garuda Purana)
Meaning: “A sthitaprajña (One who is unaffected by changes due to meditation on the individual self), who is also Urdhva (one who has risen above desire), obtained (reached) the abode belonging to Rudra (raudraṁ padaṁ), then the abode of Sankarshana (sāṅkarṣaṇaṁ) and thereafter obtained mukti by the grace of vishNu”.
Note that these aspirants progress to Sankarshana Loka only if they have progressed from Jnana-Yoga to Bhakti-Yoga. In that sense, this shloka is not an absolute reference to Jnana-Yoga as a separate path, but as an accessory to bhakti-yoga. Still, the role of Rudra as helping Jnana-Yogis is clearly brought out here.
It should also be noted that it is not 100% necessary to get the help of Shiva. However, many wise sages choose to do it on account of him being a celebrated guru. Thus, the attainment of Rudraloka is only for those types of upāsakās who seek his grace and who meditate on the indweller of Rudra to attain the self. The others go to a place near Meru.
Varanasi is thus, recommended as a place of stay for such Kaivalyartis. Shiva, at the time of death, imparts the knowledge of the Lord denoted by the praṇava, which enables them to attain liberation from the distress of samsāra by experience of the individual self:
“O Pot-born Sage, without the knowledge that roots out Karmas (ie, lack of ability to undertake meditation on the self), a person who dies in Kashi attains the state of the imperishable self (amRta), with the favor of the Moon-crested Lord. With or without effort on one's part, one shall abandon the body and die in Kashi. Through the imparting of the Taraka Mantra, he shall attain the state of the individual self that is imperishable (amRta)”. (~ Chapter 30, Purvavadha , Kasi Khanda of Skanda Purana).
Thus, the liberation that Shiva grants is that of attainment of the individual self, not the ultimate moksha.
Some dveshis with affiliation to the Sringeri Mutt argue that the well-known claim that Shiva whispers “Rama, Rama” in the ears of the dying at Kashi is refuted by this and that “tāraka” refers to the praṇava as follows (Source:
“The Taraka Mantra referred here is Pranava and not Rama Taraka. Pranava being the first and the foremost of all the Mantras, is the true tAraka mantra. Also, the scriptures explain anusandhana of Pranava as the path to Brahma Jnana. Some claim that Lord Mahadeva utters Rama mantra in the ear of a dying person in Kashi and grants him Moksha. This seems to be the belief of only some Vaishnavaite cults and has been well publicized. Though Rama mantra Japa can lead one to a state of Shuddha Chitta, required for Jnana, it is incorrect to assume that mere recitation of Rama mantra or any other mantra on deathbed can grant one Moksha.”
Well, where is the contradiction? The Brahman who is the referent of the praṇava is none other than Rama. This is confirmed by Shiva himself, vide the pramāṇa,
Omityevam sadā viprāh padatvam dhyāta keśavam” – “O Brahmanas! Always keep chanting “OM”. Meditate on Keshava” – These are the words of Shiva himself in the Mahabharata, who imparts the praṇava for those interested in ātmopāsaṇa.  Who is Rama, but Keshava himself!!
They are both correct. Shiva imparts the knowledge of Rama, through the tāraka mantra. As meditation on the Lord’s body is an anga of Jnana-Yoga, with praṇava japa, it is clear that Shiva, in his form as Vishvanatha at Kashi, himself meditates on the body of Rama and imparts the knowledge to those living there. Then they attain the state of meditation on the individual self, which is liberation from samsara.
There are many places in the Shastra where the Shatarudriya japa is glorified as capable of bestowing liberation. Now, there is a reason why great Acharyas like Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva have not given as much notice to the Shatarudriyam as compared to the Narayana Suktam (for instance). This is because while the Narayana Suktam is solely aimed at ascertaining the ultimate reality, the Rudram is a section that describes the qualities of the Lord to curb the distress of the senses. Thus, it has a lower level of importance than the Narayana Suktam or the Purusha Suktam, although it talks about the same Lord. The focus of the ṣatarudrīyam is not to determine the nature of the ultimate reality, but it takes the form of praise of the ultimate reality in the assumption that it is already known (as Narayana).
This is similar to the Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas. The Vishnu Purana is quoted by all Acharyas because it provides clarification on the nature of the Supreme Being. The Bhagavatam is more in the mood of someone who already knows all that, and is willing to simply immerse himself in the qualities and deeds of the Lord. Similarly, the Narayana Sukta is used to ascertain the nature of the ultimate reality, while the Rudram praises that ultimate reality which is already known, to curb the senses.
Since ātmopāsaṇa’s biggest challenge is curbing the senses, and since Shatarudriyam involves weaning the indrīyās away from sense objects to focus on the Lord whose meditation is a means to attain the individual self, the recitation of the Shatarudriyam becomes an accessory to Jnana-Yoga. It is thus glorified in Shastras wherever ātmopāsaṇa is described and its’ Japa is said to confer liberation in the sense of freedom from distress of samsara by focusing on attaining the individual self.
Thus, we will come across several places in later articles where Japa of Rudram is glorified or mentioned in connection with Jnana Yoga.
I assume this brief description of Jnana-Yoga will have enlightened readers on its’ nature to an extent. This article serves as a prelude to future articles which will dwell heavily on this particular type of Upasana. By referring to this write-up, your doubts on other future articles (if any) will be clarified.


  1. Dear all,

    On the auspicious occasion of Vaikunta Ekadashi, we have released the first of the preludes which constitute the precursor to our translation of the Ishvara Gita. These preludes will be published in the journal section. Hope you gain something out of this series.

  2. // Some dveshis with affiliation to the Sringeri Mutt argue that the well-known claim that Shiva whispers “Rama, Rama” in the ears of the dying at Kashi is refuted by this and that “tāraka” refers to the praṇava as follows (Source: //

    These haters have even denied the Rama Bhujanga stotra popular among them as a composition of Adi Shankara.


    शिवो राम रामेति रामेति काश्याम् ।
    तदेकं परं तारकब्रह्मरूपं
    भजेऽहं भजेऽहं भजेऽहं भजेऽहम् ॥ ३ ॥

    यत् = That (which)
    काश्याम् = in kAshi (vArANasi),
    अन्तकाले = at the time of Death,
    कर्णमूले = in ones ears,
    शिवः = Lord Shiva,
    राम रामेति रामेति = as rAma rAma rAma
    आवर्णयत् = whispered (described)
    तत् = That form which is
    एकम् = Undivided,
    परम् = the greatest
    तारकब्रह्मरूपम् = of the form of tArakabrahma
    (rescuing devotees from the ocean of samsAra (the ephemeral world))
    भजेऽहं = I adore (worship)

    I adore shrI rAma ,the Unity, the greatest one,
    whose name is uttered in the ears of the blessed
    devotees in KAshi at the time of Death by none other
    than Lord Shiva Himself. This form/name of the Lord
    (tArakabrahma) is capable of rescuing devotees from
    the ocean of samsAra.

    It is a well known belief that Lord Shiva utters rAma
    nAma in the ears of dying devotees in kAshi, on the
    banks of the Holy Ganga, thereby granting them mokSha.

  3. Excellent work. All the best wishes to the blog authors

  4. Dear Readers,

    I recently came across this question on Hinduism Stack Exchange:

    In this question, three answers are given. A section from varAha purANa as follows:

    1)!topic/sathvishayam/UuQQF62dwwU - This I will discuss later.

    2) The prayers of the devas to Shiva for swallowing the poison from Srimad Bhagavatam -- we have already proven in a separate article on our blog that that was a hymn to Vishnu only and does not praise Shiva as supreme. No further explanation is required.

    3) The following section from Garuda Purana:

    It is this section on Garuda Purana we will address first. As we have pointed out in this article on Jnana-Yoga, that particular section of the Garuda Purana is describing Jivatma-Upasana. It is not a praise of Shiva as wrongly construed on that site.

    Bhagavan describes the nature of the individual self in its' pure state to Garuda as follows:

    asti devaḥ parabrahmasvarūpo niṣkalaḥ śivaḥ /
    sarvajñaḥ sarvakartā ca sarveśo nirmalo 'dvayaḥ // GarP_2,49.6 //

    Meaning: The Jivatma shines out external objects by its' knowledge (deva), is in the unique condition of being Supreme Self over the body, mind, senses etc (parabrahmasvarupa), partless as it is the same everywhere or cannot be divided into organs etc (nishkala), agreeable as it is Anandamaya (Sivah), omniscient (sarvajnah), which can perform all tasks by its' attributive knowledge (sarvakarta), the Ruler of the body-mind-senses aggregate (sarvesah), unsullied by karmas (nirmalah), without a second entity like it, ie, incomparable (advayah)

    svayañjyotiranādyanto nirvikāraḥ parātparaḥ /
    nirguṇaḥ saccidānandastadaṃśā jīvasaṃjñakāḥ // GarP_2,49.7 //

    Meaning: (The pure self) is self-luminous (svayamjyotir), without a beginning and end (anAdyanta), unchanging (nirvikarah), higher than the body which is other than itself (paratparah), devoid of the trigunas of prakrti (nirgunah), is the real as it is imperishable (sat), is sentient or knowledge by nature (cit), is blissful by nature (ananda). That insentient prakrti which is considered as "jIva" or that which gives life (by the ignorant), is the inseperable attribute (amsha) of the individual self on account of association (as its' body).

    This chapter of the Garuda Purana has Kaivalya as the theme, not Bhagavad Upasana. Thus, merely the reference to "Sivah" does not mean it is pArvati pati. This is the mistake that has led to Shaiva misinterpretations of Shri Rudram, Shvetasvatara etc.

    Will explain the Varaha Purana later when time permits.


      I had interpreted "parabrahmasvarupa" as "The Jiva is in the unique condition of being Supreme Self over the body, mind, senses etc"

      In my hurry, I had read "parabrahma" as "paramatma". It actually means, "the unique condition of being the higher Brahman (as compared to prakrti which is the lower Brahman)".


    2. Addendum: We will make the Varaha Purana section in a separate article sometime in between the Ishvara Gita chapter publications. It certainly merits its' own article. Rest assured it isn't praising anyone other than Hari.


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