Overview of the Traditional Yoga of Knowledge Paths

The traditional yoga of knowledge starts with several core principles. First, there is an intuition of a reality which is unchanging, eternal and absolute, that is other than the outer reality we experience in our normal human lives with our physical-vital-mental being and faculties. There are variations as to how this ultimate reality is conceived, such as an emptiness or void, or a transcendent existence beyond the transitory phenomena of our lives. Second, that knowledge of this reality can be experienced through identity with it, as it cannot be grasped by the mind and its limited capabilities; and third, that through a discipline that systematically abandons attachment to the activities, perceptions and forms of the outer world, the seeker can escape the limitations of the mental framework and thereby achieve this knowledge by identity of the Supreme, which is the highest knowledge, not subject to change, decay or dissolution.

Sri Aurobindo describes this further: “All that is individual, all that is cosmic has to be austerely renounced by the seeker of the absolute Truth. The supreme quiescent Self or else the absolute Nihil is the sole Truth, the only object of spiritual knowledge. The state of knowledge, the consciousness other than this temporal that we must attain is Nirvana, an extinction of ego, a cessation of all mental, vital and physical activities, of all activities whatsoever, a supreme illumined quiescence, the pure bliss of an impersonal tranquility self-absorbed and ineffable. The means are meditation, concentration excluding all things else, a total loss of the mind in its object.”

This implies eventually an abandonment of all action. “In the end, in any severe and pure Jnanayoga, all works must be abandoned for an entire quiescence. Action may prepare salvation, it cannot give it….The supreme state of quiescence is the very opposite of action and cannot be attained by those who persist in works. And even devotion, love, worship are disciplines for the unripe soul, are at best the best methods of the Ignorance….Even thought-activity must disappear in the sole consciousness of identity or of nothingness and by its own quiescence bring about the quiescence of the whole nature. The absolute Identical alone must remain or else the eternal Nihil.”

This understanding has led to the path of the ascetic or the renunciate who removes himself from society in order to systematically undertake the severe austerities required to bring about the unity and identity of this path of knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 1, The Object of Knowledge, pp. 273-274