Category Archives: k. (Articles)

(Selected piece) Introduction to JNANI and BHAKTI

I am adding this to the blog because this is a really significant piece.  And this principle is not only applicable to Yoga.  It is a universal principle that applies to human nature (though in other esoteric traditions the terms may be different).

Source and sincere thanks go to:

The term jnani means seer, or one who has pursued spiritual growth through wisdom or insight. It is used as a noun to describe a type of person, or an individual like Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), and is also used as an adjective to indicate the concepts and practices of a particular path. In India the term is often contrasted with the term bhakti, meaning devotee or devotion.

 ”The understanding of the differences between jnani and bhakti is vital in one’s spiritual journey, and also in understanding the sometimes bewildering diversity of the spiritual life”

The real significance of jnani and bhakti is as a personal orientation to the spiritual, though we can often describe a whole religion as having either a jnani or a bhakti emphasis.

Jnani individuals: make their initial response to the spiritual through the mind; their attitude is one of enquiry and doubt; their stance is aggressive in that they wish to penetrate the divine; their instinct is to understand.

Bhakti individuals: make their initial response to the spiritual through the heart; their attitude is one of love and trust; their stance is passive in that they wish to be penetrated by the divine; their instinct is to surrender.

Note that care has been taken to point out that these are initial responses. The jnani grows in love just as much as the bhakti grows in understanding. These are preliminary definitions which will be expanded upon and illuminated with examples in the various sections of this site.

The significance of jnani and bhakti can be vividly seen in the life of the great 19th century Indian saint, Paramahansa Ramakrishna. Romain Rolland, Ramakrishna’s biographer, quotes him as saying:

 “Greeting to the feet of the Jnani [seeker on the path of awareness (knowledge)]! Greeting to the feet of the Bhakta [seeker on the path of devotion]! Greeting to the devout who believe in the formless God! Greeting to those who believe in God with form! Greeting to the men of old who knew Brahman! Greeting to the modern knowers of Truth.”

This quote captures the breadth of Ramakrishna’s vision, a breadth that is aspired to in the contents of this website. However it is the specific interaction between Ramakrishna and fellow seeker Tota Puri, and between Ramakrishna and his disciple Vivekananda that most vividly illuminate the distinction between jnani and bhakti (see ‘selected Masters / Ramakrishna’ for an account of this).

Amongst religions we can cite Christianity as having a mainly bhakti emphasis, and Buddhism as having a mainly jnani emphasis. Hinduism, being such an ancient and eclectic religion, incorporates both orientations, for example showing a pronounced bhakti emphasis in Krishna-devotion, and a pronounced jnani emphasis in the Advaita tradition of non-dualism.


Many years ago now I ran the Guildford TM Centre with my then partner.  One day the centre taught a lovely gentle woman who turned up in all innocence to learn meditation.  From the outset of learning she started to see angels and divine beings and in the absence of any reasoned explanation it troubled her deeply. There was nothing we could say because the very notion of the Super Senses was of another order entirely. She came for counselling on several occasions but in the absence of any proper guidance she eventually stopped meditating.  What she experienced was almost certainly the super-sense altered state of sight triggered by starting meditation.

Experiences of altered states are not, however, confined to practitioners of meditation.  They can happen to any one of us and can last for a brief moment or for several weeks.  Many years ago when I ran meditation courses for Surrey Adult Education I first asked people how many were there because they had had what they would describe as a Spiritual Experience.  Most hands would be raised.

During the process of Yoga practice the experience of altered states is a natural, all be it relatively rare, occurrence. The general advice in practice is always that they should be ignored and not spoken about.  The reason being because exploiting the experience runs counter to what one is attempting to do in practicing Yoga – reveal the Self by sublimating the Ego.  This is a process that brings complete stillness to the Mind and not mental chaos that sometimes accompanies altered states.  This advice is therefore sound because ultimately these are stages one wants to pass through not enjoy, (or at least be aware of the consequences of indulgence).  One of these stages is the Transition of the Super Senses in which the ordinary senses are magnified and accompanied by feelings of ecstasy.

When I was taught this aspect of Samkhya I naively assumed on hearing of it that passing through this fire would be a process of simply ignoring these magnified experiences.  I did not realise; could not imagine the effect they might have on my Ego/Mind and its compulsion to exploit and possess any appearance of happiness in the form of Bliss.  Altered states do not come alone.  They are startlingly beautiful and can overwhelm the small self, fundamentally altering the core reality. They change lives and forever.

One quite literally Sees differently for a short while and without guidance it is nearly impossible to navigate this ocean.  The result of being drawn in and trying to possess the experience sets up a cyclic process that is anything but quiet.  It can produce a state of frantic mental activity and as such this should be a warning, particularly if that person suffers unduly from powerful negative emotions such as fear or shame or an ongoing feeling of flat greyness or depression.  Hence it is that psychotic episodes are more prevalent in those who have encountered abuse in their young lives. Add to this an intelligent mind and the condition worsens exponentially.

The experience itself profoundly opens up perception and it is this enhanced perception that appears to support the experience and the Bliss that accompanies it.  Unwittingly one starts to ‘talk it up’ in an attempt to perpetuate the exalted state.  This, (not the initial experience) is ‘Spiritual Psychosis’ and the episode can leave one emotionally devastated.  This is the realm of madness.  Naturally, after a period of sometimes destructive delusional activity, awareness descends back into an ordinary state.  This usually leaves one utterly bereft or in despair; a condition that is familiarly called the Dark Night of The Soul.  We treat people we find in this condition (note not with) as sick when in reality they have just sipped nectar at God’s table before they were prepared and for a while they have been intoxicated.   What they need, however, is guidance not drugs and therapy.