Why am I here?

“Why am I here?”

We’re guessing this is a question you’ve probably asked yourself. Once or twice. Maybe a million times. It’s a question most on the yogic path have queried the Universe many times. And today we’re going to explore this journey through the lenses of Jnana and Karma yoga.

Jnana yoga

Jnana translates to ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge’ and Jnana yoga is one of the main ‘paths’ of yoga. As the translation suggests, those on the Jnana yoga journey harness the mind to dig deep into wisdom and knowledge and drop the illusions and false perceptions which often show up in life.

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” – Anton Chekhov

The fundamental aim of Jnana yoga is to liberate the mind from illusion and achieve union between self and the oneness of the world.

How do we do this?

By relentlessly questioning, reflecting and exploring our beliefs, thoughts, ego and the world around us. Jnana yoga provides us with a framework in which to do this called the Four Pillars of Knowledge.

The Four Pillars of Knowledge or Sadhana Chatushtaya can be thought of as signposts, directing you along the path towards the goal of Jnana yoga – the liberation of the mind.

Like a lot of yoga philosophy, the Pillars have been designed in consecutive order, one building upon each other. It really is like you’ve got a roadmap laid out in front of you!

We start with viveka, which translates to discernment or discrimination. What we’re discerning is the thoughts, differentiating between what is real and unreal.

Try this: Sitting in stillness and let thoughts pass through your mind. Tag these thoughts as either ‘real’ or ‘unreal’. While this sounds like a simple concept, noting thoughts like this takes some practice!

The second Pillar is vairagya, which translates to detachment or renunciation. What we’re detaching from is our material possessions and activities – and yes, it is as hard as it sounds!

Try this: Start with your possessions in one room of your house, like your kitchen or wardrobe. What can you let go of? What isn’t bringing you joy or serving a practical purpose? Rather than throwing things in the garbage, try donating to charity or repurposing.

Next up is shad-sampati, which is made up of six virtues contributing towards one’s greatness in character (they are also known as the sixfold qualities of inner-wealth). Briefly, they are:

  • Kshama – inner tranquillity of the mind.
  • Dama – alignment between your mind and your senses.
  • Titiksha – patience and to have forbearance.
  • Shraddha – faith in something that you don’t entirely know.
  • Uparati – finding joy in anything you do.
  • Samadhana – contentment.

Try this: Spend a week focussing on one of these virtues. Do some further research and spend your week exploring the virtue experientially – in your day to day life, at work, at play, in your yoga practice and during meditation. The following week move onto the next quality and repeat.

The fourth Pillar is mumukshutva which translates to ‘desire for liberation’. This is a commitment or a burning desire for the attainment of self-realisation. When we work through the previous pillars, mumukshutva will naturally come by itself.

Try this: Focus on the three previous Pillars and let mumukshutva organically develop.

Karma yoga

Jnana yoga is only one path we may choose to take, another is Karma yoga. Karma yoga is the discipline of selfless action as a way to perfection (oneness). It is another journey we may seek to find our way to self-realisation.

I believe that Karma yoga shows us that true happiness comes from serving others!

“Not the maker of plans and promises, but rather the one who offers faithful service in small matters. This is the person who is most likely to achieve what is good and lasting.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Making a choice to help others intentionally opens us up for fantastic freedom, not only for ourselves but for those we are serving. We can choose to reject society’s idea of “climbing to the top” and flip notions of authority and hierarchy upside down. Instead, we live a life of kindness, charity and joy – by choosing to serve others.

This isn’t just philosophy or my opinion, studies have shown that those who volunteer their time are happier and in better HEALTH than those who don’t!

“Happiness… consists in giving, and in serving others.” – Henry Drummond

I feel incredibly blessed to be able to travel the paths of Jnana and Karma yoga in my life. To live a life committed to both liberation of the mind and serving others. The best bit is that this passion I exist with means that I never “work” a day in my life.

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Marc Anthony

One last note

Something to remember is that no matter the path we choose, or whether we try more than one (you probably will!), the journey will not be without bumps, side tracks and detours. Sometimes these things may be labelled as ‘failures’. I say that failures are only opportunities to grow, redirect or try something new!

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford