The Way of Knowledge (Gnan Yoga – Tilak B. Shrestha, Ph.D.

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The Way of Knowledge (Gnan Yoga).                   January 2005

Tilak B. Shrestha, Ph.D.                                 


‘Satyam eva jayate’ – truth always triumphs.

Socrates – ‘Unexamined truth is not really truth.’


Dharma: It is the study of own nature and the discipline of self improvement. The Dharmic discipline is about: a. the search for truth (Satya), and b. ways of spiritual growth (Yoga). Spiritual growth is transcending – a. first from own ego, and then b. to the universal reality. Dharma is not religion. Religion is to believe a set of doctrines and to obey a set of commandments. Dharma is mainly internal and personal issue. However, it also does express in external social level as – c. issues of social harmony, and d. cultures.


Different Dharmas emphasizes and practices different aspects of these two factors. Thus, there are many overlapping Dharmas. Hinduism is the collection of all these Dharmas evolved in the Indian sub-continent, e.g. Vaishnav, Baudha, Shaiva, Tantra, Jaina, Charvak etc. It is a gographical definition. An individual may learn from all these Dharmas and create his/her own spiritual system or a tradition (Parampara). For example, Budhha dharma uses techniques only within human faculty and is independent of revelations. Thus, the Baudha sect emphasizes on empirical truth seeking and meditation. Shaiva sect emphasizes on empirical truth seeking, meditation and the revelations of Seers. Vaishnav sect will emphasize on love and devotion aspect more. However, they do overlap and are not exclusive. A Hindu goes to all these schools, learns and creates his/her own way.


Yoga: The ‘way’ or discipline is referred as ‘Yoga’ in Sanskrit, ‘Tao’ in Chinese and ‘Do’ in Japanese. These ‘ways’ are for spiritual journeys, which ultimately lead to the salvation or liberation (Nirvan, Mokshya). Salvation cannot be defined. It is beyond human comprehension or perception. Salvation is variously defined as ‘freedom’, ‘bliss’, ‘being with God’, ‘union with the absolute reality’ and so forth; and as well as ‘fools gold’. These terms are cheap substitutes given in the understandable vernacular. All a person can do is to make a spiritual journey, and every thing will fall in its own place.


Four yogas: In the Indic culture four groups of ways (yogas) are recognized. The ‘Way of knowledge (Gnan)’ is one of them. The other three being – ‘Way of love & devotion (Bhakti)’, ‘Way of selfless duty (Karma)’, and ‘Way of meditation & self realization (Raj).’ We all do practice all of these ‘ways’ whether knowingly or otherwise. It is like being mathematicians. We all use mathematics in our daily life, like using our fingers to count eggs. However, there are individuals far ahead of us in the ‘way’ of mathematics. Like sports, it is purely a matter of the individual interests and initiative. More you practice, healthier you are. More you practice ‘yogas’ higher your spiritual awakening. These ‘yoga’s are merely practice, not destination. Each person has to make his or her own journey. ‘Scriptures’, ‘Gurus’, ‘Temples’, ‘Prophets’ can provide only guidance. We may take different routes, but ultimately we all will reach the same summit.


These four groups of disciplines (Yoga) though seems radically different, have same effect of improving spirituality. Different individuals have different inclinations, interests and faculties. Thus an individual may find certain disciplines more practical and useful, and may stress on them. Different ‘Yoga’ deals with different aspects of the same entity. It is like human response to ‘honey.’ The way of knowledge is about ‘knowing’ honey. The way of selfless duty is about ‘producing’ honey. The way of love and devotion is about ‘tasting’ honey. The way of self realization is about ‘being’ honey. At the end, no matter which route or routes you take, there will be the realization of the truth which includes all the four faculties.


Practice of Yoga leads to liberation or salvation. However, it is not like ‘running’ to a theatre. It is rather like ‘running’ for fitness. The effect is the health, not the entertainment. The practitioners can observe the spiritual improvements themselves. The hold of your desires on you will lessen, and you will feel more freedom. Many of our mental cob webs and complexes will be slowly cleared and clarity of mind and heart will come forth. Such clarity is welcome development and it makes the individual a better person. However, such developments are still within the human faculties and pertain to our individual ‘ego’. Here an ‘ego’ or ‘Jiva’ is defined as an individual made of body, mind, environments, limitations, degree of freedom, desires and package of emotions. The goal is to free the ego from the limitations and vagaries of the natural laws. One way to achieve it is to go beyond the ego to realize our own true nature. The other way is to be with God.


The Gnan yoga is about spiritual journey using knowledge as means. It is about understanding, not about believing. ‘To believe’ is also a human phenomenon. However, it is dealt in the ‘way of love & devotion’. A person may believe ‘E = MC²’, but he is not a scientist. A person has to go through the rigor of studies and understand it to be a scientist. A scientist may pause, appreciate, thank and might even light candles to Einstein. However that is not the way of knowledge, study is.


Practice of the ways (yogas): Students of ‘yoga’ begin with the practice of the following first set of discipline. These are the basics of physical and mental well being to be practiced by every body.


1. Basic physical exercise (Hatha yoga) for good health.

2. Basic ethics:

A. Virtues (Dharma) to uphold are honesty, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, generosity and ascetism.

B. Self control (Yama) from violence (Ahimsa – non-violence) both physical and mental, falsehood, stealing, coveting, lust, anger, greed, infatuation and pride.

C. Proper conduct (Niyama) of cleanliness, contentment, continence, austerity, study and devotion.

D. Behavior\attitude (Byabahar) of respect for parents, teachers and others; cheerfulness, positive thinking and enthusiasm.

3. Breathing exercise (Pranayam) for better oxygen input, cool thinking and concentration.

4. Meditation (Dhyan):

Part A. Concentration: For longer attention span and critical thinking. Students are encouraged to develop discipline in thinking thoroughly, understand own biases, be objective and view an issue from different perspectives.

Part B. Non-attachment. Relaxation, not concentration: The discipline is for controlling ego related problems like passion, anger, greed, infatuation, pride etc. It leads to freer mind. It is done by isolating such human emotions and making objective analysis. For example, if a person gets a slap then it will invoke anger. The anger can be studied objectively as how the mind is designed or works, by dissociated ‘anger’ from the ‘slap.’ The slap remains a fact. The duration of anger depends upon the emotional fuel created by the ego. Then it will slowly fade away. Now the slap can be studied without encumbered by the anger.

Part C. Transcendental: It is to remain only a witness to the passing thoughts and stay unattached. The thought process is like waves on the sea of consciousness. Going beyond thinking is required to go beyond.


After practice of these basics, the students of different ‘ways’ will specialize in different, though not exclusive, practices.


The ‘way of love and devotion (Bhakti)’ will stress on compassion, prayers, singing hymns, dances, rituals, pilgrimage etc. A simple rule of thumb to follow is ‘be good’ and ‘do good.’ The ‘way of love’ component does not require the belief in God. Mere love of all the humanity and the nature suffice. The ‘way of devotion’ component assumes the existence of the divine being. The divine being can be approached through love and devotion. It is further postulated that the attribute less God manifests with attributes in person to fulfill our human need. Our mental image of God is essentially partial and dependent upon our up bringing. Thus different individuals will necessarily have different images. However, the partial image is sufficient for practicing devotion. The total surrender (Sharanagati) to the Lord is the way to liberation. The way is ‘simple’ and ‘unconditional’ love. It is not about politics or joining any institutes or subscribing to any doctrines. There are many ways of prayer, dancing and singing. It is not relevant what you do out side. They are mere cultural expressions. What really counts is how much love and devotion you can pour out from your heart. The way is about emotion, not about rational thinking. There is no place for arguments and hate. ‘Argument’ is a valid tool in the way of knowledge, but not here. The human feeling of hate is recognized as the result of conditional love or love with boundary. These boundaries are created in the social plane by politics, pseudo spiritual institutes and human history. The boundary creates the sense of ‘we’ and ‘they’, and resultant sense of love\security and hate\fear. The discipline of ‘way of love’ is about expanding the boundary. As the boundary expands, more people and nature will come within and the yogi gets closer to the divinity. Almost all religions and even ordinary social organizations practice the ‘Bhakti Yoga’ in some form or the other. A bumper sticker urges, “Let us do random acts of goodwill”, the Bhakti in nutshell. Some of the sages practicing ‘Bhakti’ among the multitudes are Ramanujam, 11th century AD; Madhvacharya, 13th century AD; Mira Bai, circa 1500 AD; Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, circa 1500 AD; Tulsidas, circa 1500 AD; Tukaram, 17th century AD. Their longing for the personal God and resultant epics, prose, poetries and songs are heart warmers even today.

Individuals practicing ‘way of selfless duty (Karma)’ will continue regular working life, as a part of the discipline. However, the individual will look at the labor as the selfless prayer on to the lord. According to the theory of Karma, like the Newton’s third law, whatever you do will come back to you. That is, you have to face consequences of all your actions, good for good, bad for bad, more for more, less for less. We human beings will be acting one act or the other, and consequently we are always bound by the resultant karma. Even if we do good deed, we still have to face its karmic reaction, though pleasant one. Thus we are in no win situation. One way to get out of the karmic bond is to transcend ego. However, it is difficult for ordinary working people to practice or achieve. Lord Krishna taught the Karma yoga for precisely those people. According to the theory of Krishna, when an action is committed by an ego, the karmic reaction will go to the same ego. However, if you do your duty as if you are merely a conduit of Lord then the karmic reaction will go to Lord, not to you. For example, it is a crime to imprison a person. But if you are a jailor on duty, then it is not. Thus even when you act, you are not bound by Karmic law and remain free. The ‘Karma yoga’ is stated and explained eloquently by Krishna in the ‘Song of the Lord’ or ‘Bhagwat Gita’ of ‘Mahabharata.’ There are number of exegesis available on Gita by different ancient and modern scholars.

The ‘way of meditation & self-realization (Raj)’ will practice meditation of the very nature of self. It is about the age-old question, ‘Who am I?’ The ‘resume’ answers deals only with the ego part of it. If we study the self in depth, then like layers of onion we will find body, mind, thoughts and emotions, awareness or consciousness. So far we are within our human faculties. Deeper meditation is required to go beyond human faculties and individual ego. It may merely be pointed out that it is possible to meditate beyond memory of personal ego. It will lead to the understanding of the underlying character of the awareness itself and erase the distinction between the meditator and the object. That will lead to the realization of our very essence or the soul (Atma) or the state of Nirvana. Patanjali’s ‘Yoga sutra’ is one set of such discipline. The ‘Raj Yoga’ is practiced mostly by the Theravada Buddhism, the Zen Buddhism, the Sankhya school, and the Adwaita or Vedanta school. Some of the important sages who wrote treaties on the subject among many are Sage Patanjali, circa 200 BC, of Sankhya school; Bhikhu Nagarjuna, circa 200 AD, of Buddhist school; Sage Shankaracharya, circa 800 AD, and Swami Vivekananda, 19th century AD, of Adwaita or Vedanta school.

The way of knowledge (Gnan): It is about critical thinking, following knowledge and sticking to truth. Sage Gautama, 2nd century BC, stated that the human suffering is due to the ignorance of reality. One way to achieve liberation is through understanding of our own true nature. The students will practice following second set of discipline to progress.


1. Reading (adhyayan) – available literature.

2. Listening (shravan) – teachers and others.

3. Thinking (manan) – critically about the issues at hand.

4. Questioning (prashna) – to clear misgivings.

5. Discussion (bimarsha) – with peers and teachers.


Views (Darshan): The next stage is to learn about different metaphysical views (Darshan). These are not doctrines to uphold. These views are merely speculations and believing them do not lead to heaven. Matter of fact some views do not even have the concept of heaven. These views like scientific theories help to understand the human phenomenon provide certain guidance for people to follow, and insights into the universal truths. There are many viewpoints. How many? As many as human beings. It may be stressed that the views are not to be believed but to be understood. Students are warned not to get attached to any of the views. Because attachment to a given view does cloud the mind and objectivity may be lost. Think of views or ‘doctrines’ as street lights. You may use and appreciate them but do not stick to them. These views are propounded by different sages and are not end but means to go forward. Each of these views contains not full but partial truth. Each view points have its own assumptions, logic, use, power of explanation and as well as difficulties. The real truth itself cannot be expressed, because both the human intellect and the language are not perfect. Ultimately a student has to make his\her own way ahead guided by pure critical thinking and nothing else.


If a Gnan yogi thinks he or she can contribute a new view (Darshan) to help others, then he or she is welcome to do so. It is like writing a doctoral thesis. The Gnan yogi may begin by citing existing views and their merits and limitations. The yogi may discuss and point out which assumptions in each of the views are acceptable and which are not. Similar acceptability of the explanations offered by and logical extensions of each view are discussed. The yogi may state his or her search for truth and resultant findings or the novelty of the proposed view. The yogi may lay out how he or she derived such view, to what extent the view dependent upon other views, what are the contributions of the proposed view and what will be logical extensions of the view. The view is then open to the tests of critical examinations and the time. If the proposed view passes the tests then it will be recognized as one of the important views (darshan) guiding humanity, and the yogi as a sage.

Theories: Theories are ideas connecting facts and events, which allow us to make sense and some time to make predictions. There are three levels of human understanding – Scientific, Empirical and Revelation. Scientific theories are strictly based on observable and repeatable facts, and are value neutral. Any disagreements, say in physics or geology, can be solved in laboratory. However, all human knowledge cannot be studied scientifically. Thus the next level of empirical study comes into the picture. The empirical studies use objective, subjective and intuitive facts; and human logic to build theories. For example we may state ‘healthy people are happy’. Here, the notion of being ‘happy’ is a subjective, unquantifiable but understandable phenomenon. Human understandings other than scientific and empirical theories are beliefs or revelations. There are issues beyond human objective or subjective understanding; because human beings have only limited intelligence and faculties. For example, the concept of ‘God’ is not proven either way, by either scientific or empirical means so far. These ideas if believed are called revelations.

Whenever the subjective and belief components are used in understanding, following observations may be made. An idea should not contradict facts, and a belief should not contradict logic. Empirical theories are less valid than and cannot contradict scientific theories. However, these theories are important and can be built to make sense of subjective phenomenon. Empirical theories are more valid than revelations; because an empirical theory can be examined and debated openly within human understanding. Whereas, a ‘revelation’ is a revelation only to the prophet. For others it is only a belief without any proof. If a revelation can be independently and openly corroborated then it becomes a scientific or an empirical theory.

An empirical theory should put forward all the facts, logic and assumptions it relies upon, and the phenomenon it can explain. A good theory explains more, assuming less. Difference of opinion is natural and incompatible ideas can coexist as parallel explanations. A theory should be built from facts, and should minimize the personal bias. A theory looking for facts is inherently weak. Debates should be within the reference of the issues involved. For example, debate about mechanics should be in the laboratory and the debate about human ideas\emotions should be within the human perception\logic.

If a revelation cannot be independently and objectively verified then it remains only as an opinion. A believer and a skeptic have same validity. Such revelations cannot be forced on to skeptics. The argument that it is God’s command is not acceptable. Because a counter argument can be made if it were really divine revelation then it would be written in the rock. You merely need to study geology to read it. Any prophets should be open to cross-examinations and any revelations to critical analyses. Claiming privileges make them only suspects. Any revelation being forced in the name of divine wrath or enticement of heaven need be kept in hold. First the fear factor and the enticement factor need to be eradicated. Only then the relevance of the revelation may be studied.

An idea has to stand on its own and compete in the market of ideas. An idea cannot be suppressed nor defended with force, neither in the name of King nor Church. Bad ideas will die natural death. Good ideas will survive the test of the critical examination and the time. With the expansion of the human knowledge base a so called good idea may turn out not to be relevant. Most of the time new ideas are based upon and improvements on the old ideas. We may appreciate old ideas, yet welcome better ones. We may honor old and new thinkers; and move on. It is a matter of human progress.

Metaphysical theories: The metaphysical theories are the subset of the human philosophy exclusively dealing with the universal nature and the ultimate truth. Any metaphysical view comes with a set of assumptions. We need to be aware of the different components of a metaphysical view. It may be an observable fact like a ‘tree’ or a non-observable concept like ‘God’. The source of speculation may be ‘scientific’ provable in laboratory, or ‘empirical’ achievable by meditation, or ‘revelation’ of divine being. A concept may be deterministic with universal agreements, or probabilistic with only partial agreements. Some speculations are within human intellect and observation, some are not. A given metaphysical view should be clear on its components. It is also obvious that different metaphysical views necessarily exist in the context of different sets of components.

However, it does not mean that every proposed view is valid. Views like ‘one plus two equals seven’ are not acceptable. Once, earth was considered flat, but no longer. It does not mean that we have less respect for our ancestors who thought so. As stated earlier, it is simply a matter of human progress. Respect comes from clarity of thoughts and contributions to posterity. Self serving philosophy and obfuscating the truth will be condemned as the ‘enemies of Galileo.’ However ‘respect’ is not an issue Gnan yoga is concerned about, understanding is. Discarding wrong views is also a part of the Gnan yoga. However, there should be clear understandings why a given view is acceptable or not. A Gnan yogi needs to speculate over any evaluation of a view. Is it strictly intellectual? Or is it because of our emotional attachment to, or apprehension of a certain view, or some thing else? A Gnan yogi needs to rise above personal attachments, intellectual laziness, inferiority\superiority complex, group thinking, institutional directives and emotional cowardice.


Metaphysical Views (Darshan): There are numerous metaphysical views in the world. Sages and philosophers around the world, ancient or modern, have contributed. A view dependent upon revelation is defined as theistic. Here only six views including four theistic views from the Indic culture are briefly discussed. The discussion does not even scratch the surface, let alone being exhaustive. It is only to introduce the concepts sages were grappling with. To understand the views properly, we have to use both intellectual and meditative faculties. These views do not have any specific persons as authors. However, there are sages well known for their teachings and writings; and scriptures and literatures on the subject.


  1. Materialism \ Science
  2. Empiricism (Buddhism)
  3. Duel (Dwaita) – God and nature
  4. Duel (Sankhya) – Soul and nature
  5. Non-Duel (Adwaita) – One universal reality
  6. Duel-nonduel (Dwaita-Adwaita) – Combining theistic views


1. Materialism \ Science (Lokalaya): It postulates that for every argument there should be physical basis. Any differences of opinion can be settled by examination of the facts. Materialists do not claim that God does not exist, but will insist on proof positive. To believe in God with mere faith, without any proof, is irrational. Atheist will argue that burden of proof lies on the school, which claims the existence of God. They further argue that God is not visibly doing any thing as being claimed. For example believers claim God takes care of poor and weak in the hour of need. However, there are no objective verifications of such claims. Therefore even if God exist; there in no practical need to believe in such an inactive entity. It is merely an illusion invented to satisfy human psychological need of parental figure and sense of security. It is merely mental tricks of lazy bones to claim some thing without working for it. The truth is ‘you have what you see.’


Buddhists and theists argue that atheists are making a fundamental mistake of demanding a proof within human cognition of an entity beyond human faculties. How can human faculties understand the entity, which created the faculties in the first place? We have to go beyond techniques useful in science. Even high sounding ontological, cosmological and teleological techniques are within our intellect and are simply inadequate for the job. They counter question how the materialists do explain our own awareness or consciousness. Some physicists claim that our knowledge of physics is close to within a few minutes from the big bang. Let us assume we came to know all the laws of physics and finally even quantum physics is no longer stochastic but deterministic. Will that make us absolutely knowledgeable? Not really. Because, physicists have not even begun to deal with the awareness or conscious part of the universe. That part can be dealt only by awareness itself or by practicing meditation. Thus the Buddhists and theists propose to begin with what we have in our own hand. That is the self. They forward the meditation of self as the way of realizing the supra-scientific truth. Theists further argue for the existence of the personal God.


Materialists simply point out that to believe without relevant facts is merely a superstition. Sage Charvak was one of the prominent proponents of this view in Indic culture.


2. Empiricism (Buddhism): Buddhist and Jain schools practice empirical methods. Empiricist agrees with the materialist that for any argument there should be some basis. However, it suffices to have the basis of the arguments within the human faculty. The basis need not be materialistic or measurable in a laboratory. The human faculties like ‘love\hate’ or ‘consciousness’ are understandable but not measurable entities. These issues can also be studied with the same rigor as science.


Gautam Buddha claimed to have achieved Nirvana using empirical means. He thus proposes that others can also. Suppose a person meditates and studies the thought patterns emerging in the mind. And suppose the person switches off the reason for each of the arising thoughts. If the process continues then the pure consciousness will shine through the clouds of thoughts. Thoughts are related to the ego. Ultimately the ego will vanish and the state of Nirvana will set forth. It is about search for truth or knowing, not about believing. It is a matter of personal effort. To believe either in Buddha or Nirvana is irrelevant. Buddha or other teachers are there only for guidance. If Buddha achieved Nirvana then it is his privilege. It has no bearing on you. To consider our ego as a permanent entity is the ignorance (Abidya), and the wisdom is to recognize this basic fallacy. Nirvana cannot be explained within and is beyond empirical frame work. However, empirical means can be a way towards Nirvana. In the state of Nirvana, you are no longer an individual ego, but a universal entity or Bodhi.


Since Gautam Buddha began his journey with the question of suffering, he addresses the issue in the light of his findings. The suffering is due to our unbound ego and attachments. The attachments are the very nature of our ego and are universal. Thus the suffering is also ubiquitous. This attachment can be dissociated. A training regime can be prescribed to do so. It requires personal effort to dissociate from attachments and end sufferings. Thus the problem of suffering can be studied and dealt within human faculties.


Materialist argues that the very concept of Buddha and Nirvana is not scientific. Theist argues that the Nirvana is a belief, and to state existence of such is a revelation. Buddhist counter argues that the materialistic view does not include all the human experiences. In another level Buddhist argues that the practice of Buddhism does not require believing in Nirvana. The Buddhist techniques including the ‘way of knowledge’ and the ‘way of self-realization’ are universal and independent of Gautam Buddha. It is a matter of personal effort guided only by understanding. A person may have some notion or belief to begin with. However, he or she has to go beyond that. It is up to you to learn from and respect Buddha or any other teachers.


Dwaita argues that since Buddha has achieved Nirvana, he is also a god. Buddhist argues that Buddha’s teachings are independent of Buddha’s status. Besides, Buddha has stated many times over that he is an enlightened person, not a god. Adwaita argues that Buddhist concept of ‘Bodhi’ is same as the ‘Brahman.’ Thus the revelation of ‘Brahman’ makes torturous Buddhist discipline unnecessary. Buddhist argues that it may be so. Since we have not achieved Nirvana, we are not in position to argue about Bodhi or Brahman. However, Buddhism does not require believing ‘Bodhi’ or ‘Brahman.’ Thus it is more rigorous than ‘Adwaita.’ A medical prescription is different from a medical degree.


3. Duel (Dwaita) – God and Nature: ‘Dwaita’ assumes that God exists; and God created and sustains the nature or the world. Here the duality is between God and the nature. Dwaita further argues that God loves its creation and manifests in the nature in different ways. Some of the black African tribes believe that there is God in trees. It may be truly so. Consider a tree giving fruit, firewood, shelter and protection to mankind; and asking nothing in return. What can be better representation of God than that? Perhaps monkeys knew all along and smirking at us. All you need is a very healthy eye to see the divinity in a tree. If you carefully look around, God is everywhere. God also manifests with human attributes in person to relate with us. Human beings may approach God through unqualified or simple love. To be with God is the liberation. It may not even be necessary to transcend ego. It is the grace of God at work. Thus Dwaita practices the ‘way of the love & devotion’ more often.


Materialist questions, “Where is the proof of existence of God?” Dwaita counter argues, “That is not really a question but a statement. You really need to question in the real sense, and run up and down the mountain or around and around in a forest to get the real answer.” They further argue the question should be put not through the head but through the heart. A thirst is not satisfied by knowing about it, but by drinking. Buddhist argues that assumption of God is beyond empirical knowledge. Therefore concept of God has less validity than knowledge gained by self-effort. Dwaita argues that they are less interested about validity and are not arguing a case in a court. Instead of self effort to know, they are interested in feeling the divine presence. Adwaita argues that the study of self leads to the self-realization of the universal reality. Dwaita argues that they are more interested in watching and enjoying a drama than playing it. Adwaita argues that to provide human attributes to the universal reality is not valid. The Brahman creates attributes, but it self is beyond such human attributes (Nirgun Brahman). Dwaita argues that the human attributes are merely a handle on the divinity. It is understood to be imperfect and partial. However, we need such human attribute or personification to relate with the divinity. For an ordinary person it is difficult to relate to an abstract idea. It is like falling in love with the damsel drawn by Picasso. And such abstract idea does not fulfill the human longing of a personal relation. The divinity not only understands the need but also manifests in person to address it. Sankhya argues that the two postulations of the soul and the nature suffice to understand the university. Dwaita argues that they are not interested to understand but to relate with the divinity.


4. Duel (Sankhya) – Soul and Nature: Sankhya postulates that the universal phenomenon is the product of two entities – the Soul (Atma) and the Nature (Prakriti). The assumptions of these two entities are enough to explain the world, and God is not hypothesized. Here the duality is between the soul and the nature. Individual souls and the nature always existed. There are infinite numbers of similar but separate souls. Souls are conscious, immortal and pure. These souls are all pervasive, motionless, unchangeable, immaterial, and without desire. Souls are always free, not subject to the laws of nature and karma, and beyond happiness or sadness. The nature may exist both in manifest and un-manifest form; and may also manifest either as material or as energy. The nature has its own rules and properties. When the soul combines with the nature, the individual ego (Jiva) with consciousness (Buddhi) is formed. Thus the ego is a composite of soul and nature, without its own separate existence. It is like water molecule made out of Oxygen and Hydrogen atoms. It is the illusion and ignorance to feel the separate existence of the ego. Our worldly life is about our ego (Jiva). It is subject to laws of nature or karma. The ego acts and feels the happiness and sadness. They are the properties of the nature. More the ego acts within the nature, more the ego is subject to the laws of nature. The salvation is about transcending ego. If the ego tries to extricate (de-phenomena) it self from the nature, then ultimately the soul will be free from the nature. It involves renunciation (Bairagya) of the ‘ego’, not of the world. It is not about running away from world, rather practice of non-attachment. Ultimately the illusion of ego or self will vanish. The discipline of ‘self-realization’ or ‘Raj Yoga’ is practiced to realize the true nature of the soul and achieve the liberation.


Buddhist and Adwaita argue that there are two unknown entities in Sankhya. In contrast Buddhism has none and Adwaita has only one. Sankhya argues that it is much easy to understand both concepts than either Buddhist or Adwaita concepts. You may see yourself in a mirror, and then go deeper to realize the soul. You may look out the window, and then go further to study the nature.


Some of the Sages proponent of this view are: Kapil muni, 6th century BC, Patanjali, circa 200 BC, Iswarkrishna, 3rd century AD, and Dayananda Sharaswoti, 19th century AD.


5. Non-Duel (Adwaita) – One universal reality: Adwaita postulates the existence of one absolute and universal reality. For the lack of better word it is termed ‘Brahman’ or simply the ‘big one.’ The term not to be confused with ‘Braahman’ or a priestly caste, or ‘Brahmaa’ the God of creation. Adwaita is also known as ‘Vedanta’ or the view given in the concluding or philosophical part of the ‘Veda’, 1500 to 1200 BC. Adwaita does not postulate God in person. Brahman manifests as the world (Samsar). Thus the world is not the absolute but a created reality. That is why the world is ever changing (Maya or Illusion), and has lesser validity. Brahman is the creator of and is free from the laws or nature. The ego or ‘Jiva’ is also a part of the created reality or the world, not an independent reality. The ego cannot perceive Brahman, but can perceive its two orthogonal natures – consciousness and material\energy. The ego exists in the world and acts. Thus ego is subject to the laws of nature and Karma, and resultant notion of sadness and happiness. To consider our ego as an independent reality is ignorance. The practice of ‘way of self-realization’ or ‘Raj’ will lead across the ignorance, beyond the ego, and to final realization of the soul (Atma). The soul (Atma) and Brahman (Permatma or supra-soul) is one and the same. Shankaracharya answered to a question, “Soul is not like drop of water, but like water in a drop.” That is, the duality between different souls and duality between soul and nature do not exist. Ultimately every thing is expression of one. Thus liberation or salvation is about shedding ego and realizing our true nature or Brahman.


Buddhist argues that Buddha’s way is independent of revelation, therefore more robust. Adwaita argues that ‘Bodhi’ and ‘Brahman’ is one and the same. So why re-invent the wheel? Dwaita argues that you cannot eat an abstract cake. Adwaita argues that to subscribe human attributes to non-attributable entity (Nirguna Brahman) is a fundamental error. Sankhya argues that the soul and the nature are so much easy to understand. Adwaita question who created the soul and the nature? Putting all the diverse aspects of the universe together is more important than being comprehensible.


Some of the exegeses on this view are ‘Upanishads’, 1000 to 600 BC, Bhagwad Gita, and Brahman Sutras, 7th century AD. Some of the Sages proponent of this view are: Gaudapada, 7th Century AD, Sankara, 8th century AD, Sage Shankaracharya, circa 800 AD, and Swami Vivekananda, 19th century AD.


6. Duel-nonduel (Dwaita-Adwaita) – Brahman manifesting in the nature: Buddism is about self effort independent of revelation. Dwaita is about believing God in person and treading the path of love and devotion. Sankhya is about going beyond the ego and freeing soul from the nature. Adwaita is about realizing Brahman and shedding the illusion of the world and the ego. All the four schools agree only in one issue that the ego and the world as we perceive are only secondary reality (Maya, Illusion); and to consider it as a reality is ignorance (abidya). However, the views differ both in terms of paradigms and the paths to follow. ‘Dwaita-Adwaita’ view tries to reconcile these different views and tries to create a single over arching view. It postulates that the non-attributable Brahman (Nirgun Brahman) also manifest as the God with human attributes (Sagun Brahman). Brahman creates the world as a divine play and jumps into the act as the God in person. The universe including we are the manifestation of Brahman. We are all actors in this huge divine play. Soul is divine and takes on the role of the ego. As long as the soul is ignorant of its nature, it will play along the role. As soon as soul sheds the role of the ego, it is free and no longer acts in the play. That is defined as liberation or salvation. If any individual knows it self as the Brahman and yet be part of the world, then it is God in the person. Any ego can realize it by practicing any of the yogas. One sage, after long reflection and meditation, exclaimed, “Aham Brahman asmi – I am Brahman.”


Conclusion: A sage began the discourse, “If you think you know, you do not know. If you are confused then you are on the right path. Do not be afraid to think and ask questions. Let no body, no religion, no scripture, no tradition, no ideology imprison your intellect. If you seek an easy and cookie cut answer then the yoga is not for you. Perhaps other yogas may be more appropriate. There are plenty of quacks and God men to tell you same simple answer to any of your complex questions. Keep on asking: how do you know, where is the proof, how is the answer relevant to the question, why am I obligated? If they get angry, stay away from them. If they begin introspection, stay with them. If you begin to see patterns in the confusion, you are progressing. Now you can teach me some thing.”


Practice: The practice of the way of knowledge (Gnan Yoga) is to contemplate and meditate on the implicit and explicit assumptions and questions arising out of any statements or doctrines. Let us take a few steps on the way of knowledge.


Consider the mantra, “Be good and do good. God will open heaven for you.” Let us lay out some of the assumptions inherent in the statement. God exist. Heaven exist. God recognizes and appreciates good behavior. Other issues are not or less important to God. God rewards such individuals by sending them to heaven. Heaven is nice place to be. Human beings can recognize and practice good behavior. Human beings are free to do so. Perhaps human beings can recognize and are free to do bad deeds too. God may punish for such bad behavior, or at least withhold the heaven.

Let us reflect on the following questions: How to analyze each of these assumptions intellectually and not swayed by other issues? What kind of emotion will be provoked if any of these assumptions is claimed to be true, or false? Can we see through our emotions and study the validity of the claims? Can we meditate away emotions and think objectively? Each of these assumptions is debatable and not necessarily universally agreed. Even if agreed, it may be in different degrees. How to deal with such disagreements? What can be the basis on which these assumptions are claimed? Is it merely because we like the idea? Or is there claim of being self-evident? A person may be absolutely convinced of existence or God. Another person may consider it only as a probability. How to deal with such absolute and probabilistic assumptions? How a believer tackles the question, ‘How do you know?’ Should such question provoke anger, curiosity or soul searching? Is it acceptable to make assumptions? How far can we insist an assumption being true? How to keep the factual and the assumptive parts separate?

Let us play around with different combinations and see what kind of conclusions can be drawn? What if God does not exist but heaven exists? What if God exist, heaven does not exist, and God appreciates a good behavior? What if God answers to prayers, likes only left handed people, and does not care about good behavior? We should check each set of assumptions for the internal and the external consistency. Each conclusion should be evaluated according to the validity of the assumptions used. Now let us introduce the probability and assign different values for each assumption and see what different conclusions can be drawn? How about making a subjective evaluation of the conclusions in terms of likely, unlikely, simple, complex, appreciable and unappreciable? How an adherent of one particular set of assumptions would view and criticize conclusions of other sets? These exercises are for expanding our knowledge base and to stay focused toward the truth. All we can do is to follow the truth as best as we can.

Consider the doctrine of ‘Devil’. It is used to explain away perceived ‘evil’ in our human society, and also as a tool to instill fear. Let us make cases against and for it. First a case against: Axiom 1: God is omnipresent. Axiom 2: God and Devil cannot be in the same place. Therefore ‘Devil’ cannot exist. Q.E.D. Now try to make a case for it.

Consider the proclamation, “I bear witness that there is no God, but Allah.” Let us make a few observations. The denial of other Gods comes before the confirmation of Allah. To witness a negative (there is no God) is a logical fallacy. To witness of anything, without seeing, is a perjury. Now try to argue defending it.

Let us try similar analyses on some of the well known doctrines: Truth is one, sages call it by different names. Sex can be a way towards enlightenment. God loves all of us regardless of race, gender, nationality or religion. God is truth, conscious, virtuous, beautiful and bliss. Jesus is the only way to the heaven. Many paths to the same summit. Non-violence is the highest virtue. All the lives are interdependent. Soul is eternal, immortal, sinless and divine. Unexamined truth is not really truth. Truth always triumphs.

Reference: Encyclopedia of World Religion. Merriam Webster. Springfield, MA. 1999.

Source: WHN Media Network

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