The Four Means – into the spiritual journey

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The spiritual path of Jnana Yoga – the Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom – speaks of four basic qualifications a spiritual seeker (sadhaka) should acquire in order to progress spiritually. These four means, as they are sometimes also called, form the basis from which we can exercise control over our Nature (Prakriti) and thus rise above the sway of life. The four qualities have been mentioned in the works of Advaita philosophers such as Adi Shankara (also called Shankaracharya), who explicitly mentions them in his work Vivekacudamani (the Crest Jewel of Discernment).

 Detachment (vairagya)

The first one is vairagya – detachment (to be in the world but not of the world). Human beings tend to perceive the world according to their personal likes and dislikes, attractions and aversions. The result is a highly subjective and misleading view of the world and oneself. Detachment means not to be influenced by selfish desires. Many people think you have to totally emotion-less to be detached, this is untrue, we need our emotions to function in the world, it is just to not allow your emotions to rule your life. According to Adi Shankara, vairagya is the refusal or inability to be satisfied by the limited and transitory.

 Discernment (viveka)

The first one is viveka – discernment (act of the soul) versus discrimination (act of reason, the ego).  Viveka is the ability to know how to handle our emotions and belief systems and comes about as our consciousness moves up the lower chakras into the higher chakras. Viveka is the arrival at that point in your life where you change your reaction to the outside, the emotions and the influences of the mind to be more spiritually orientated. Vedanta describes it as the ability to discriminate between the Real and unreal, the Self and the non-self. Viveka is sometimes likened to a sword that separates Truth from illusion, the Permanent from the transient.

 Six virtues (shat sampat)

The next qualification is a combination of six spiritual virtues which are different forms of mind control. They are shama (calmness), dama (sense control), uparati (self-withdrawal), titiksha (forbearance), shradda (faith) and samadhana (constant concentration).

 Desire for Liberation (mumukshutva)

Mumukshutva means the feeling of intensive longing to be liberated from our limited, separate existence. It is the desire to become one with the Divine, which Vedanta describes as Sat-Chit-Ananda or Being-Awareness-Bliss. It is essentially the yearning to go back to the Divine, to be one with God that is shared by all human beings, although in most cases, this yearning remains unconscious. Instead of longing for Absolute Freedom which is the very nature of all human beings, most people desire the lesser freedom of acting according to their ego-centred whims and fancies. Mumukshutva may be the most important quality of all, since it automatically helps develop all the others. However, it remains a rare quality. As Krishna says in chapter 7, verse 3 of the Bhagavad-Gita: “Among thousands of men, one perchance struggles for perfection.”

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