What is the difference between a jnani and jnani-yogi?
From Anuj Agarwal
Is it mentioned somewhere in the Gita?
Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Edited by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: What is the difference between a jnani and jnana-yogi?
Answer: Jnani refers specifically to a person who possesses knowledge. Jnana yogi refers to a person who is following the process of jnana yoga which is one of the yoga within the Vedic tradition. This specific difference is not mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita because it is a philosophical book and not a lexicological book. It is not a dictionary which gives meaning of words and technically differentiate between the words. However, Bhagavad-gita does talk about these concepts broadly.
Jnana yoga is a particular kind of sadhana which focuses primarily on intellectual contemplation and by saying neti-neti (na iti, na iti or I am not this, not this). In other words, by saying no to matter, one understands the reality beyond matter.
In chapter 18 of the Bhagavad-gita, verse 49 to 53 roughly talks about the process of jnana yoga where there is detachment from the world, after which, the person comes to bhakti yoga (Verse 54 says brahma bhuta prasannatma and then there is labhate param – attains my bhakti). The acharyas generally explain that this section refers to jnana yoga. The word jnani is used by Lord Krishna in BG 7.17, tesam jnani nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir vishishyate (Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best).
Krishna has mentioned four kind of people who surrender to him in BG 7.16. In the very next verse (BG 7.17) Krishna is saying that among those four, jnani is special (vishishyate). Krishna is using the word jnani and is also subsequently describing his qualities – he is always engaged (nitya yukta) and one pointed in devotion (eka bhaktir). Such a person is special. Krishna is practically describing that although such a person may have come from the path of intellectual contemplation, but he is for all practical purpose, doing bhakti sadhana and so, he is one pointed in devotion. This jnani is not a jnana yogi but is a person who approaches Krishna with knowledge. He thinks, “There must be some reality beyond this world. I want to know what that reality is, I want to develop a relationship with that reality” and because of that, this jnani is free from material motives. That is why, connecting with Krishna becomes much swifter and easier. It is also much more pleasing to Krishna because this person is coming with a relatively selfless motive. The other three categories of people – artah (the distressed), artha-arthi (one who desires wealth) and jijnasuh (the inquisitive), they will become jnana-van or possessors of knowledge after some time as explained in BG 7.19 : bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate meaning “After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me”.
The word jnani is often used in a negative sense. Srila Jiva Goswami in his Bhakti sandarbhas and commentary of Bhakti rasamrita sindhu explains that there is good jnana and bad jnana (shushka jnana). Shushka jnana focuses on the oneness of the soul with the Supersoul but good jnana is that which focuses on the glories of Krishna and the difference between the soul and the Supersoul (the soul is tiny and Krishna is great). This jnana increases one’s devotion for Krishna.
Therefore, the word jnani is not a monopoly of the jnana yogis. Jnani is a generic term referring to those who have knowledge and bhaktas have the highest knowledge as the Chaitanya Caritamrita says, krishna yei bhaje sei bada catura – intelligent man is he who is Krishna Conscious. Also, according to Krishna, jnana-van (person who is in full knowledge) is who surrenders to him (BG 7.19 – jnanavan mam prapadyate) and those who become his devotees.
In that sense, jnana yogi refers to a seeker on a particular path, jnani refers to a person who has knowledge which can be from any path and the bhaktas are those with fullest knowledge.
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