Jnana is a Sanskrit word meaning knowledge or wisdom and bhumikas means stages or levels. Jnana bhumikas are levels of knowledge or stages of wisdom that, when undertaken by a jnana yogi or a jnani, can lead to liberation or moksha.
There are seven jnana bhumikas that chart a path of self-inquiry, inner transformation, and eventual attainment of superconsciousness.
Each step enlightens you about your true self and opens your eyes to true reality. They encourage you to embark on a spiritual path to understand that you are one with the universe.
In addition, these seven bhumikas also serve as a guide to exploring your own personality, thoughts, and the causes of emotions, and help build a healthy relationship with those around you.
Historical Significance of Jnana Bhumikas
The Jnana Bhumikas are mentioned in the Varaha Upanishads and elaborated upon in the book Yoga Vasistha, a dialogue between Sage Vasistha and Lord Rama. These seven stages outline the path of spiritual development for those seeking liberation or moksha. The teachings in Yoga Vasistha provide a profound exploration of self-realization, unmatched in the teachings of Yoga and Vedanta.
Seven Stages Jnana Bhumikas
In the Yoga Vasistha, it is emphasized that the practices of the Jnana Bhumikas are essential to eliminate confusion and transcend the ego. These stages are necessary to attain the eternal bliss of one’s true nature, as they enable the mind to overcome its disturbances, impurities, and false beliefs.
The first three stages called the jagrat or waking stage, mark the seeker’s initial awakening to the need to dispel ignorance and embark on a quest for knowledge.
The following four stages, known as jivanmuktas or liberated beings, denote a state in which the seeker has discovered the inner light, achieved complete detachment from the material world, and attained the highest level of consciousness.
Each of these stages has a profound significance on the path of self-realization and liberation.
Stage 1: Subheccha (good desire)
The first stage is when people begin to ask themselves questions about the meaning of life. They begin to look for answers to their aimlessness and desire to get out of an ignorant life through spiritual growth.
They are encouraged to read scriptures, talk to wise people or saints, and practice vairagya (detachment from worldly pleasures).
Reading scriptures helps us understand the basics of spiritual wisdom and open our hearts. This is well complemented by associating with people who can guide one on the right path. It is wise to learn from other people’s experiences in order to get in touch with your own inner self.
Also, when you practice vairagya, you tend to naturally suppress any attraction to sensual objects. Cultivating vairagya is essential because it ensures that you are not driven by personal gain and that your morals and ethics are given a strong foundation.
At this stage, it is crucial to have a discernible intention and an unquenchable urge to improve your spiritual practice.
As we advance to higher levels of wisdom, this will aid in the development of consciousness and a clear, centered mind.
Stage: 2 Vicharana (self-inquiry)
When you read the scriptures, there is an urge for self-reflection. You are automatically driven to self-exploration because you have reflected on the scriptures and the lessons you have learned from the saints.
At this stage, you question the nature of true reality and your beliefs and check them against the knowledge you have gained from various sources.
You are trying to gain clarity about the nature of your assumptions, whether they are true or false.
Through meditation and deep introspection, the sources of disturbances and distractions you had before fade away. They will not cause a reaction from you because you now understand the nature of consciousness and the functions of the mind.
You also begin to understand what your tensions, worries, anger, traumas, and fears are based on and take appropriate steps to get rid of them.
The seeker gains a deeper understanding of the essence of life as he begins to shed the veil of ignorance and misconceptions that hinder his vision.
Simply put, if subheccha is the determination to realise the true reality, vicharana is the implementation of that determination.
Stage: 3 Tanumanasi (subtle mind)
In the third stage, your mind has become “thin as a thread (tanu)”.” Your mind can now overcome all kinds of distractions and focus only on your spiritual path. The seeker can dwell in contemplation for hours without being disturbed by external distractions.
One can reach this stage only after cultivating vairagya, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), and inner silence by practicing meditation, pranayama, bhakti-yoga, tapas (abstinence), and other yogic practices.
These practices help the mind to become disciplined, centered, and calm, and to develop the willpower to focus on the subtle components of the mind by turning inward.
It is also said that a person who dies at this stage will remain in heaven for a long time and be reborn as a Jnani (sage).
Stage 4: Sattvapatti (attainment of light)
In the fourth stage, the seeker has attained spiritual light. They now understand the difference between the self and the ego and see everything as one. They are detached from worldly affairs and can feel the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. There is no suffering and one experiences deep spiritual peace and tranquility.
As a result, the world appears like a dream.
Brahmavit (Brahman-knowing) is the name given to one who has successfully reached this stage. The first step in discovering one’s true self is actually to have this understanding of the ultimate truth.
Stage: 5 Asamsakti (inner detachment)
Asamsakti means desirelessness. The seeker is no longer attracted to or attached to material possessions or emotions. There are no longer dualistic or multi-layered concepts. The seeker has a stronger understanding of the impermanence of everything, and the ego mind has been tamed.
This stage of the journey allows the seeker to rid himself of all material desires and focus on the search for spiritual liberation.
The seeker is now known as Brahmavidvara (superior knower of Brahman) and performs his essential duties without showing any signs of attachment. Even though the Brahmavidvara is busy with social duties, he understands that the material world is an illusion and can change.
Stage 6: Padartha bhavana (spiritual vision)
When the seeker reaches this stage, they have attained the knowledge of the truth.
This is the stage where mental activities have come to a halt and the mind can no longer distinguish between inner and outer sense experiences.
In this state, transcending all dualisms and boundaries, the seeker is aware that everything is interconnected and part of the same cosmic consciousness. The seeker is a Brahmavidvariyan, or one who is higher than Brahmavidvara.
From the understanding of the ultimate truth comes a tremendous sense of peace and contentment.
Stage 7: Turiya (supreme freedom)
The seeker has finally reached the state of pure awareness. He is now completely detached from all desires and free from thoughts. This is the stage of experiencing the state of superconsciousness.
In this final stage, the seeker has realized the true self and attained moksha or liberation. The concept of “I” is no longer separate from the universe, and the concept of duality has disappeared.
This is the highest state of consciousness that can be attained through deep introspection, self-inquiry, and contemplation.
The seeker’s quest for wisdom and enlightenment culminates in the realization of turiya.
The seeker has now become a Brahmavidvaristha or the best among the knowers of Brahman
Benefits of Progressing through the Stages
It is important to understand that the benefits of jnana bhumikas are not completely tangible. As you go through the stages, the changes are reflected in your personality and in your way of thinking. As your understanding of the world changes, you realize that this reality is only an illusion.
Your relationship with yourself and others changes, which may or may not be perceived positively. What matters, however, is that you are content with this realization and set out to know your true self.
With that in mind, here are some benefits you might notice when going through the 7 steps:
- Promotes self-knowledge and personal growth through self-inquiry and introspection.
- Deepen your spiritual understanding through reading scriptures and acquiring knowledge from saints.
- You are freed from egoic limitations and suffering as you recognize the subtle nuances of spirit.
- Builds healthy connections and relationships with others by eliminating negative emotions and thought patterns.
- Guides you through inner transformation and higher states of consciousness by removing the veil of illusion and misunderstanding.
- Cultivates wisdom, clarity, and inner peace when your mind is still and you work without expectations.
Going through each stage of Jnana Bhumika is not something that can be completed in 7 days (one day per stage). On the contrary, it is an arduous journey that requires a lot of perseverance, willpower, and commitment and can take years, decades, or even a lifetime.
Like an onion, you will slowly peel each layer of your true self to discover a side that was hidden by the illusions of the material world. This will help you live a purposeful life and give you the peace and tranquility you have always strived for.
Even if your goal is not to achieve spiritual enlightenment or liberation, the process will help you develop an awareness of the importance of wisdom and how important it is to cultivate it in your daily life.
This is also why it is important to practice meditation, pranayamas, and yoga asanas regularly, as they help prepare the mind to remain calm and centered.