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Understanding the word Jnana – Knowledge in Hinduism

The word ‘jnana’ is derived from the root jna, which means to know, to have knowledge, to become acquainted with, to perceive, to apprehend, to understand, to ascertain, to investigate, to recognise, to regard, or to consider. When the suffix ‘ana’ is added, the resultant word ‘jnana’ means knowledge, knowing, perception, apprehension, understanding, ascertainment, investigation, recognition, or consideration.

‘Jnana’ can refer to both the process and corpus of knowledge. Consciousness can also be referred to by the word ‘jnana’. When taken to mean knowledge, jnana can be broadly categorized into two types: paroksha, mediate and aparoksha, immediate.

Paroksha Jnana

Any jnana or knowledge that is acquired through some medium like the sense organs or the mind is called paroksha jnana. The perception of any object by the eyes is a paroksha jnana and so is the study of any text or any branch of knowledge. In short, anything that has to be known with the help of the mind is known as paroksha jnana. That would encompass everything that we learn in this universe.

Aparoksha Jnana

The second kind of knowledge is called aparoksha jnana. It can be obtained only when one transcends the mind and the sense organs that is, the body-mind complex. It is the knowledge of one’s true nature, Brahman. That is why the experience of Brahman is called aparokshaanubhuti or immediate experience as opposed to the experiences of the material world that are paroksha-anubhuti or mediate experience.

When the prefix vi is added to the word ‘jnana’, it becomes vijnana, which means special knowledge. It refers to the in-depth study of a particular discipline, the sciences, or the knowledge of Brahman.

When the prefix ‘pra’ is added to the word ‘jnana’, it becomes prajnana, which means intelligence, consciousness, a mark, or a sign.

When the prefix ‘a’ is added to the word ‘jnana’, it becomes ajnana, which means ignorance.

If the prefix ‘su’ is added to ‘jnana’, it becomes sujnana, which means right knowledge.

If the prefix ‘aa’ is added to the word ‘jnana’, it becomes aajnana, which means complete knowledge.

If the prefix ‘sam’ is added to the word ‘jnana’, it becomes samjnana, which means knowledge and understanding.

Swami Vivekananda commented on the path of knowledge to understand one’s true nature, which he called Jnana Yoga. It involves a discerning analysis of the unreality of the universe to understand its basis, Brahman. This has to be done through the practice of continuous discernment called viveka combined with analytical reasoning called vichara.

By constantly doing this along with the practice of dispassion and renunciation called vairagya, one eventually understands the ephemeral nature of the universe and the illusion that this universe is, ceases to have any reality. Then, the ultimate reality, Brahman is comprehended.

Source Prabhudha Bharata Magazine June 2017 page 49