Salutations to my revered Guru whose blessing and grace is the light of the Self and the guide of intelligence; may it be that we speak only of truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The path of knowledge as the highest undertaking for the attainment of truth is designed for the intellectually oriented seeker. There is a path for each type of man. Hinduism offers a clear outline of various temperaments and their appropriate paths toward liberation; thus we use its terminology for the sake of a systematic exposition of spiritual paths two of which interest us here:
The Semitic spirit, spirit of the people of Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has an affective temperament; it is suited to believe through faith, namely the path of love and devotion. This is what is known as Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. The Bhakti ignores reason and intelligence, and often belittles them, as means of attaining to truth. He/she relates to the personal aspect of the impersonal truth. His God has a personality and capable of love and hatred, mercy and punishment. It is due to his emotional temperament that the Bhakta, devotee, can’t but relate to the personal aspect of the supreme reality. The bhakta practices the outward form of religion, the exoteric aspect of revelation.
The Indo-European races, particularly Ino-Aryan, is by nature an intellectual and a philosopher. He/she is suited for the path of knowledge which is the fruit of the intellect, intellect being understood to be superior to mere reason, for intellect is the divine light in man. This is what is known as Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge, or universally speaking Gnosis. The Jnani, the seeker of the path of knowledge, relates to the immutable and the impersonal aspect of the supreme reality; he is a metaphysician by temperament; his aim is truth for the sake of truth; he is not interested in the personal aspect of truth, neither is he interested in its rewards or afraid of its punishments. Heaven and hell are child’s play for the jnani. A famous Sufi quote says “Heaven is the prison of the Sufi.” The jnani practices the inward and esoteric dimension of religion, hence being independent of outward forms and rituals. The jnani wants to know the supreme reality, the ground of Being, the truth for its own sake. His aim is the Absolute and the Infinite principle. The personal God of the bhakta is but one manifestation of this principle. While supreme reality is Absolute, the supreme personality, or God, is only the relative absolute. For the mystic even the personal aspect ought to be transcended. The aim of Jnana Yoga is perfect knowledge; this knowledge is the knowledge of the Supreme Identity, that the “I” in me is identical with the divine principle: Man is essentially divine. Atman (Supreme Self) is Brahman. However, the end of both paths is one and the same stage, union with the divine: Pure knowledge becomes one with perfect love, for in both cases the subject merges in the object, hence the Yoga or supreme union.
The whole philosophy of the nondualist Jnani, known as Advaita Vedantist, is summarized as follows which constitutes the principal doctrine of Advaita Vedanta:
Brahman is Real
World is illusory
Self is Brahman
From the phenomenological point of view, Brahman is experience; it is the experiencing itself; and it is known only in and through direct experience rather than reasoning or any mode of propositional knowledge: Reason can only tell us what Brahma is not; only direct intuition of pure intellect can see it directly. Self or Brahman is something to be directly seen in experience, in transcendental experience. Brahman as something to be known only in direct seeing is in principle inexpressible; thus, everything that is said about it is essentially false; one who attempts to articulate the Self or Brahman has not yet seen or known it. Truth is inexpressible. Thus the conversation goes: “Who am I?” is ultimately answered by “I am the inexpressible.”
The path of knowledge, Jnana Yoga, demands from the seeker the observance of The Four Means of Liberation:
The 4 Sadhana (means of liberation)
1) Viveka: Discrimination/Discernment: To discern between the Real and the unreal.
2) Vairagya: Detachment/Dispassion: Detachment from the unreal.
3) Shad-Sampat: The 6 Virtues below:
1-Sama: Control of mind
2-Dama: Control of the senses
3-Uparati: Renunciation/Withdrawal: Withdrawal from worldly activities including religious rituals.
4-Titiksha: Endurance/Tolerance: Strength and indifference in the face of pairs of opposites, such as pain and pleasure, heat and cold, love and hatred, etc.
5-Shraddha: Absolute Faith and Trust: This is other than blind faith; it is faith based on trust and understanding; it involves faith in the guru/God/Self, which at the end will turn out to be one and the same.
6-Samadhana: Perfect Concentration: The ability to concentrate on the Real, the immutable, supreme reality without being distracted by the mundane.
4) Mumukshutva: Intense longing for liberation.
These 4 principles, including the 6 virtues, are the necessary requirements of the path of knowledge. I summarize the path of knowledge based on the following 3 principles which contain the essence of what is mentioned above:
1) Discernment between the Real and the unreal
2) Detachment from the unreal
3) Concentration on the Real
These are the three requirements of the path of knowledge; we should see that the 6 virtues are the logical consequences of the application of these three to the practical aspects of life. Truth being absolute and infinite demands from man his total participation, both body and the intellect. True knowledge must be reflected in the life of the seeker, or else he is rather a hypocrite. Intellectual knowledge and moral virtue can’t exist apart from one another in one and the same constitution. Thus, moral virtue is the outward manifestation of the inward knowledge of truth.
The path of knowledge is the path of the perennial philosopher, the gnostic, the esoterist who longs for the essence of truth, that which is eternal: Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion.
The path of knowledge, Jnana Yoga in Hinduism, is followed in other traditions; these include, including Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism: Islamic Sufism; Zen Buddhism; Taoism; Christians following the gospel of Thomas. One of the highest mystics of the path of knowledge was Plato whose philosophy has impacted many mystics, particularly Sufis. We must understand that the whole idea of philosophy arose among the seekers of the path of knowledge. Philosopher meaning the “lover of wisdom” is the very definition of the seeker of truth. Thus, philosophy is itself a mystical-intellectual tradition grounded on truth; however, it is an esoteric practice that has separated itself from exoteric religious forms. All other paths, such as Jnana Yoga of Vedanta, Sufism, etc. are attached to one or another religion and play the role of the inward dimension of that religion; philosophy which is the father of science is the one truth-tradition operating independently of a revealed religion. In this sense, philosophy is the path of knowledge par excellence, for it demanded the highest standard for truth by attempting to be independent of all prejudice. But this attempt of philosophy in approaching truth on its own unfortunately failed in the case of modern philosophy. Perhaps Plato’s philosophy, besides Husserl’s Transcendental Phenomenology which is a modern and more rigorous embodiment of Advaita Vedanta, was the last of true philosophies. The modern philosopher is no more a lover of wisdom but against it in every sense, for it is enslaved to its own product and inferior, modern science.
The lesson is that spiritual paths are protected and survive longer when attached to an authentic revealed tradition. It is the very prejudice of tradition that helps protect the truth against misinterpretation and misuse, against intrusion of heterodoxy. Orthodoxy, then, is a necessary ambiance for the survival and health of the perennial wisdom, Sophia Perennis. Nothing is damaging to truth than religious innovation and attempts at originality unless it is revealed by God himself.