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Supremacy of Jnana, Karma or Upasana

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Came across this piece written by Harish Chandra which I am producing below (lost the link). I do subscribe to what he says. Of course, the basic premise is God is the originator so if someone is questioning that premise then this piece may not be of any value. Still his comments on the intellect are interesting so please read fully. Do give comments.

- Dr Harish Chandra
B. Tech. (IIT Kanpur)
Ph. D. (Princeton, USA)

Volume I, Number 12, January 2010

Last month we had discussed three-fold functions humans are engaged in: 1) acquisition of knowledge, 2) performing karma, and 3) being communion with God. The corresponding Sanskrit terms are: Jnana, Karma and Upasana. The purpose of knowledge is to select the right kind of karma among diverse choices that we have. Performing good quality karma enables us to seek nearness to God when we attempt to sit for meditation. In this respect, one could say that karma is more important than Jnana because the purpose of the latter is to select the former. Similarly, one could further say that Upasana is more important than Karma because the purpose of the latter is to succeed in the former.

However, this view is true only in a small part. Maharshi Kapila, the author of Samkhya states:


i.e., one achieves emancipation through Jnana, the knowledge. Thus, the ultimate objective of the human life, namely salvation is obtained through knowledge (Jnana). That is to say, Jnana brings the greatest reward and hence, Jnana is the most important. This contradicts the earlier observation that Upasana is the result of Karma and that, in turn, is the result of Jnana.

Supremacy of Jnana, Karma or Upasana

Let us try to reconcile the seemingly paradoxical statements about the supremacy of Jnana as stated by Kapila and its subservient status in the description that we laid out in the beginning. Kapila’s concept of Jnana is experiential knowledge about the self, i.e. self-realization and not the trivial worldly knowledge that is acquired from books and others. Self-realization is gained in the highest echelons of Upasana when the practitioner has subdued the functions of (body and) mind thoroughly as prescribed by Patanjali in Yoga treatise. A devoted practitioner when proficient in Yoga practices captures a certain flash of subtle knowledge and then begins a new life. Knowledge so gained is received direct from the omni-present and all-pervading God. It may be referred to as intuitive knowledge. This is well summarized in the trilogy of Aditi, Anumati and Sarasvati. Aditi is the universally prevalent instinctive knowledge that is present among every human being. Anumati is the intellectual knowledge that we gather from diverse sources that allows us to tread on the righteous path. Sarasvati is the state of the higher intellect that obtains the intuitive knowledge. All the three mechanisms have the common origin, namely God, the creator of the universe and knowledge, too.

Today even the great professors in reputed academic institutions lack the true spiritual knowledge. The present system of education doesn’t encourage one to obtain the sublime subtle spiritual knowledge direct from God. There is another lacuna that needs to be pointed out. A sharp intellect is fine for the intellectual knowledge (Anumati) but it is important that the same sharp intellect must be pure too and must obtain the Grace of God to deserve the flash of spiritual knowledge. This is what was missing in the last 5000 years of the world history. After the Great India war (Mahabharata) the greatest casualty was the great Vedic tradition of knowledge – the Rsi tradition – literally, the ‘seers’ blessed with the intuitive knowledge in the high state of Upasana. Then several scholars began to interpret Vedas from their sharp penetrating intellect without reaching the required proficiency in the Upasana faculty. The result was that their interpretations were faulty and lacked the depth and height of the spiritual knowledge that Vedas discussed. The greatest contrast can be seen between Professor Max Mueller and Maharsi Dayananda (1824-’83), both contemporary. The former was a representative of the modern academic intellectual tradition that emphasizes knowledge (Jnana) that may be void of Upasana while the latter inherited the true Vedic tradition of backing the intellectual prowess with purity and loftiness of Upasana. The result was that Max Mueller’s interpretation of the Vedic literature was un-inspiring but Maharshi was able to open the closed vistas of true light of the Vedic knowledge. Today’s absence of ‘Jnana backed by Upasana’ has led the humanity to all kinds of miseries and there is a vicious nature of the downslide that the decline gets rapidly accelerated. Further decline in the human quality leads to further decline. Indeed, nobody would today bother if the top scientist in a university lives a wrecked personal life, say, having extra marital relationship. The moral code of conduct may not be necessary to obtain high laurels in the modern society though such a person may not deserve the true spiritual knowledge experientially.

In summary, the three-fold human pursuits of Jnana, Karma and Upasana present echelons of human progress in a continuous sense that every day must include each of the three pursuits. A truly developed human being gradually reaches a superior quality of all the three pursuits and then comes a time that the knowledge (Jnana) is not merely second hand (from books, teachers and other external sources) but is obtained experientially by Grace of God in deep meditative moments. Generally, there is a shift in the particular human beings from gross knowledge of matter to subtle knowledge related to spirit as they progress.

The Vedas state:

Yasminnrcah sama-yajunsi yasmin-pratisthita rathanabhavivarah
Yasminscittam sarvamotam prajanam tanme manah sivasamkalpamastu. Yajurveda 34.5

Its meaning: In that mind converge the hymns (of Rgveda), lyrics (of Samaveda) and prose (of Yajurveda) as do the spokes of a wheel into its axle. The all-pervading and omnipresent God inspires it in the intellect of a noble soul. May my mind (of such immense attributes) harbour benevolent thoughts.

Interpretation: Our mind is a fantastic instrument. Besides performing karma through the five organs (for manipulation, locomotion, speech, excretion and procreation), acquisition of knowledge through the five organs (senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch), a wonderful memory and its ability to extrapolate events in different space-time (thinking), it can obtain true intuitive knowledge from the all-knowing (indeed, the creator of knowledge) that God is. In order to obtain true intuitive knowledge, the mind, particularly its innermost intellect (referred to as citta in the above verse) must be made receptive by:
1. subduing the functions of karma
2. subduing the functions of acquisition of knowledge through senses
3. subduing the ‘thinking’ operations [These three ensembles are collectively referred to as ‘overall subduing of the mind operations’ by Patanjali – Yoga 1.2]
4. purity of intellect by repetitive Upasana as only the proximity of God can cleanse the intellect of the inhibiting impressions (called Samsakaras).

Where Do We Go Wrong? There is a skewed thinking in the modern world that one’s intellectual ability is judged based on IQ alone. Besides IQ, EQ and MQ are important too – the Emotional Quotient and Moral Quotient, respectively. IQ refers to the intellectual strength whereas the EQ refers to the intellectual health and MQ will refer to intellectual purity. Then regular practice of Sandhya, the Vedic meditation will enable one to raise the SQ, the Spiritual Quotient. Now there is increasing awareness about EQ besides IQ because even if one is intelligent the poor balance of emotional health may not deliver intelligent solutions. For example, one could get angry unprovoked and spoil an important negotiation. Furthermore, one must be morally upright otherwise one may utilize the intellectual faculty to harm the society, say, by popularizing alcohol instead of spirituality. In the above-referred verse of Yajurveda, God has put important conditions for the humans to be able to receive true sublime knowledge from Him.

I agree with you that Jnana is very important for Mukthi. But I beg to differ in the case of karma. Karma has nothing to offer towards Jnana. in my opinion, Jnana can be acheived only through knowledge.

In our tradition, Jnana, Karma, and bhakti are said to be the ways to attain moksha. So, we cannot say which is higher or lower. They are just equal ways. In saivism, Appar - karma, jnanasambandar- jnana, Sundarar- bhakthi are said for these margas. How can we say one is superior than other???. Karma, we cannot leave that. If we leave karma, the karma wont leave us. Then Jnana. Jnana is the basic criteria to know things. Because of some jnana about this karma only we are knowing about it. Jnana is very basic. I can also say that since you have the karma to get jnana, you got it. Thus both these are intertwined. Bhakti is totally independent way. Bhakthi doesnt need jnana, but we can say it needs karma.

It is our eligibility, mode, convenience, sidesupport (Guru) to choose the path. I think the paths are not essential and the place to reach is essential.


I agree with you that Jnana is very important for Mukthi. But I beg to differ in the case of karma. Karma has nothing to offer towards Jnana. in my opinion, Jnana can be acheived only through knowledge.


My opinion is if the ultimate aim is god realization then both are necessary to achieve that aim. That is up to a certain stage till the mind gets refined with Jnana and karma. Afterwards those very things are forsaken because they no longer matter for god realization.
Supremacy of Jnana ...

Sir :

I have read with interest the views of my learned friends about
Jnana, Bakthi and Karma. Lord Krishna has dealt with all these
three in Srimad Bhagavat Gita in detail in six chapters each. All
are essential no doubt.

Karma as enjoined in the shastras gives chitta suddhi. This is the
first step. Next is chitta-yaikagraham, which is gained by Bakthi.
Mind which is cleansed thus will be able to understand correctly
the upanishad teachings. Thus, karma is the stepping stone. But,
Sri Adi Samkara cautions that even thousands of years of plain
karma will not lead one to liberation , vide sloka 11 of ' Viveka
Choodamani '. Knowledge of the Absolute is possible only through

Sri Sankara gives the true meaning of Bakthi in sloka 32 when he
says that sva-svaroopa-anusandhaanam alone is bakthi. This
means that constantly meditating upon the real self , which is
Brahman, is bakthi. So, what we usually mean by bakthi is not
a real one.

Sir, I have given a short version only.


With due respect to everyone's view,

In my opinion, karma is not essentially nithya karmanushtanam, japa & thapam; all these things essentially bring out the descipline. I personally don't subscribe to karma carried over from the previous 'janmas' either. Karma is not just work either. As I understand, descipline and learning through questioning and applying the knowledge to the individual's life. That may be the way to obtain jnana.

I don't understand if one doens't subscribe to karma carrieover from previous births then how do we account for different levels of suffering in people?
I don't understand if one doens't subscribe to karma carrieover from previous births then how do we account for different levels of suffering in people?


Let us look at this more closely.

'அரியது கேட்பின் வரிவடிவேலோய்! அரிது அரிது மானிடராய் பிறத்தல் அரிது;
மானிடராய் பிறந்தக்காலும் கூன் குருடு பேடு நீத்தல் அரிது;
கூன் குருடு பேடு நீந்தகாலையும் தானமும் தவமும் தான் செய்தல் அரிது......'

So, one has to be so fortunate to be born as a human being; some say, it is even harder to be born in a higher caste or in a influential family or as a prodigy...etc. Unless there was an account of 'good karma' one would not have born as a human being. So, carrying over 'bad karma' from previous birth does not make sense.

That is why I don't subscribe to 'karma carrying over' from the previous birth. Then how do we explain different levels of suffering? It can't be explained that easily. We have to lok at the society, who holds the power, the circumstances of 'suffering' etc. Huge debates have taken place in the attempts to explain your single line enquiry.

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