What is Jnana Yoga – We have already discussed the four primary divisions of yoga system. We also discussed in detail about Karma Yoga. Let’s discuss Jnana Yoga here and how jnana yogi ultimately becomes a bhakti yogi.
A jnana yogi tries to understand God by means of philosophical speculation. By philosophical speculation, which is also one of the ways of realizing God, a jnani can reach only the impersonal aspect of the Lord i.e., the Brahman realization. Srila Prabhupada elaborates this in Srimad Bhagavatam 3.32.33
A single object is appreciated differently by different senses due to its having different qualities. Similarly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is one, but according to different scriptural injunctions He appears to be different.
Purport: It appears that by following the path of jñāna-yoga, or empiric philosophical speculation, one reaches the impersonal Brahman, whereas by executing devotional service in Kṛṣṇa consciousness one enriches his faith in and devotion to the Personality of Godhead. But it is stated here that both bhakti-yoga and jñāna-yoga are meant for reaching the same destination — the Personality of Godhead. By the process of jñāna-yoga the same Personality of Godhead appears to be impersonal. As the same object appears to be different when perceived by different senses, the same Supreme Lord appears to be impersonal by mental speculation.
Prabhupada further says that just as one can appreciate the real taste of milk with the tongue and not with the eyes, nostrils or ears, one can similarly appreciate the Absolute Truth perfectly and with all relishable pleasure only through one path, devotional service. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad Gita 18.55
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā
One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.
There are four categories of pious persons who approach Lord Kṛṣṇa for shelter. Bhagavad Gita 7.16 says
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ su-kṛtino ’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
Translation: O best among the Bhāratas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me – the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.
Among these, a jnani is very dear to Kṛṣṇa as he is directly searching for the Absolute Truth. Lord Kṛṣṇa states this very clearly as:
BG 7.17: Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.
BG 7.18: All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider to be just like My own self. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he is sure to attain Me, the highest and most perfect goal.
But a jnani has to struggle for many births to understand that Lord Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate shelter. After many repeated birth, a jnani recognizes that nothing in this world can be described with perfection. Perfect understanding of an atom, a cell or even the cosmos remains elusive, inspite of great attempts of many intellectuals. Hence a jnani finally surrenders to Lord Kṛṣṇa recognizing that He alone is summum bonum of all that exists.
Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 7.19
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
Translation: After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.
The above verse states that a jnana yogi finally accepts the tenets of bhakti yoga. Sometimes, some argue that jnana yoga is superior to bhakti yoga. But Bhagavad Gita concludes just opposite that a jnana yogi becomes a bhakti yogi after many many births