Spiritual Glossary: Jnana

Jnana is a Sanskrit word that means knowledge, particularly of the spiritual kind. It is used in many different Indian traditions. Jnana isn’t knowledge in the usual cognitive sense, but refers to knowledge embedded in the experience of the true nature of reality. It isn’t something that can be understood with the intellect because it is free of all concepts and dualistic thought processes.

Tibetan Buddhism has ten stages of jnana through which the practitioner progresses, arriving finally at enlightenment and nirvana. In Vipassana, there are many levels or ‘knowledges’ that are worked through over a period of years. And in Hinduism it is the realisation that your true Self, or Atman, is one with Brahman. Real knowledge is that which takes you to your true Self, while false knowledge is that which diverts or distracts you, and knocks you off your path.

A Jnani is someone who is liberated or enlightened: one who knows. But as Sri Ramana Maharshi said:

“There are no jnanis, only jnana.”

Shunryu Suzuki said the same thing from a Zen perspective:

“There are strictly speaking, no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.”

See also: Nirvana, Satori

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