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Jnana-Yoga is the Yoga of wisdom or knowledge. It is a rigorous discipline in which one uses the intellect to discern reality from maya . Maya is often misunderstood, and described as the cosmic delusion that our Self is this body in this life. However, Swami Vivekananda has offered an excellent explanation of what maya really is: simply a matter of fact statement about the nature of the world and of man (Vivekananda, 1955b). The philosophy from which our understanding of maya comes is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but it does challenge our basic understanding of everything we believe is real. There is no good without evil, no happiness without misery, no beauty without ugliness. Consequently, there will never be a perfect world, a world in which there is no suffering or death. Even the basic existence of the world must be considered in the context of no-existence. This strange and challenging philosophy is described by Vivekananda in the following passage:

What, then, does the statement that the world exists mean? It really means that the world has no existence. What, again, does the statement that the world has no existence mean? It means that it has no absolute existence: it exists only in relation to my mind, to your mind, and to the mind of everyone else. We see this world with the five senses, but if we had another sense, we would see in it something more. If we had yet another sense, it would appear as something still different. It has, therefore, no real existence; it has no unchangeable, immovable, infinite existence. Nor can it be said to have non-existence, since it exists and we have to work in and through it. It is a mixture of existence and non-existence. (pg. 27-28).

As you can see from this passage, Jnana-Yoga requires not only a keen intellect, but an open-minded willingness to embrace a different perspective. This perspective had a strong influence on the development of Chinese religion and philosophy, and similar concepts can be found in the famous Tao Te Ching of Lao Tsu, which provides the basis for Taoism (Lao Tsu, c. 600 B.C.).

The question of whether or not we recognize the reality of our world is central to cognitive psychology. In cognitive therapy, it is taken for granted that an individual does not view their environment realistically, that automatic thoughts of a maladaptive nature turn each situation into another instance of the person’s typical problem. With the help of an objective therapist, the individual may come to realize the nature of their maladaptive thought processes, and learn to control and re-evaluate their thoughts and feelings, so that they can react appropriately to other people and to new situations. In a similar way, the principles of Yoga, under the guidance of a guru, can help us to understand our world and the role we play in determining our future (creating good or bad karma).


Because we are inseparably compelled by the gunas (the three aspects of existence), existence involves action. Karma-Yoga teaches us to act without attachment to the consequences of our actions and without any expectations. But it is not enough to control our actions, we must understand why we are controlling our mind. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita :

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Personality theory in a cultural context. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11901/1.1
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