Jnaneshvar, Sagely Yogi-Philosopher of Divine Love-Play

Jñâneshvar (Jñânadeva) of Âlandî (c.1275-96):
Shining Sage-Adept-Philosopher-Poet of Medieval India

--Compiled by Timothy Conway, Ph.D., with excerpts from the Chângadeva Pâsashtî, translated by Swami Abhayananda (posted with permission of S. Abhayananda).


Jñâneshvar was one of the most illustrious sages of India, a child spiritual prodigy of Maharashtra state in west-central India who within just several years in his teens composed 1) the long, sublime Jñâneshvarî commentary on the ancient Bhagavad Gîtâ Vedânta scripture; 2) the Amritânubhava poetic-philosophic presentation of his unique approach to nondual/advaita wisdom; and 3) the 65-verse Chângadeva Pâsashtî, a moving letter of nondual instruction and friendship to the yogi Chângadeva. All these works are marked by a mature, broad-minded outlook, and a deep love for humanity, the world, and the transcendent-immanent Divine. Note: there are also many Abhanga verses of poetry attributed to Jñâneshvar, though this attribution has been contested and they may have been by composed by someone else in his movement.

Jñâneshvar traveled over Maharashtra establishing the Vârkarîs, an egalitarian sect within the overall stream of medieval Hindu Bhâgavata devotional religion. After a very short but fulfilling life, Jñâneshvar applied his mastery of yogic power in making an unexpected “conscious departure from the body” by burying himself alive in a deep crypt. He was only 21 years old.

In his writings, which are truly among the very most sublime and spiritually balanced works in the history of mystical religion, Jñâneshvar advances the teachings of Shankara’s Advaita (nondual) Vedânta and the outlook of Kashmir Shaivism with a mystical thrust highlighting the awesomely beautiful, wondrous power of Divine Love, Prema. “The Absolute is not mere Knowledge and Will, but also Affection or Love… Who loves to manifest Himself as the knower and the known.”

A depiction of (left) Jñâneshvar (c1275-1296) and (right) Tukârâm (c1607-49), the last great poet-saint of the Vârkarî movement founded by the brilliant young yogi-sage-saint-poet Jñâneshvar in the late 13th century. Jñâneshvar is pictured composing his famous Jñâneshvarî (Bhâvârtha-dîpikâ) commentary on the Bhagavad Gîtâ (though it was his older brother and guru Nivrittinâth who wrote down the work as dictated by Jñâneshvar). Tukârâm is shown with his musical instruments which he used to accompany himself in the singing of the Names of God. Both men composed and sang devotional poetry in the Abhanga meter, revering God as Formless and also with Form, Transpersonal and Personal, especially as Lord Vishnu in the form of the child God Vithobâ, Vitthala or Pânduranga, enshrined at Pandharpur in Maharashtra.

Jñâneshvar's Wonderful Letter of Friendship to Chângadev

A jealous man once brought to Âlandî the fierce, proud yogi, Chângadev, to challenge Jñâneshvar in a psychic contest. The saintly youth preferred the loving way of preemptive diplomacy: he won over the yogi with a beautiful letter of friendship and nondual wisdom, the 65-verse Chângadeva Pâsashtî, a gorgeous literary gem deserving much wider readership. We give excerpts below, from a lovely translation by Swâmi Abhâyânanda.

* * * * * * * * *

Salutations to the Lord of all, Who is concealed within the visible universe. It is He who causes this universe to appear and it is He who causes it to vanish as well. // When He is [fully] revealed, the universe disappears; when He is concealed, the universe shines forth. Yet He doesn’t hide Himself, nor does He reveal Himself; He is always present before us at every moment. // No matter how diverse and varied the universe appears, He remains unmoved, unchanged; and this is just as one would expect, since He is always One, without a second. // Though gold may be wrought into many ornaments its “gold-ness” never changes. In the same way, He never changes, though the universe contains so many varied forms. // The ripples on the surface of a pond cannot conceal the water; this universe of many forms— can it conceal His Being? (1-5) … Truly, everything is Himself, and He is the cause of everything. (8)

The condition of separation does not exist in one whose vision is clear; He remains alone, amidst all duality. To him, the perceiver and the perceived are one. (10)

It’s the one pure Consciousness that becomes everything— from the gods above to the earth below. Objects may be seen as pure or impure, but the ocean of Consciousness, ever pure, is all that ever is. (12) // … Though the shadows on the wall are ever changing, the wall itself remains steady and immobile. Likewise, the forms of the universe take shape upon the one eternal and unchanging Consciousness. (13) // Consciousness always remains in its pristine state, unmoved by feelings of sorrow or joy; even though It may suddenly become aware of Itself, Its state and Its unity remain forever undisturbed. (16) // From within Its own divine pure depths, It gives birth to the perceivable world. The perceiver, the perceived, and the act of perception: these three form the eternal triad of manifestation. // Throughout the triad of perceiver, perceived, and the act of perception, One pure and primal Consciousness enchantingly shines and sparkles alone. // Though It always has existence, It sees Itself only when this “mirror” [the triad] is present. Otherwise, there is no vision; there is only the [formless] Awareness of Itself. // Without causing any blemish in Its unity, It expresses Itself through this triad as substance; these three are the ingredients in the creation of this perceptible universe. (18-21) // … The three dissolve [ultimately] into absolute unity; then, only One exists. The three exist in the void of imagination; only Oneness is real. All else is a dream. (25)

By no means may It be understood by the intellect. It is always complete and whole…. // The pupil of an eye cannot see itself! … In the same way, even the Self-realized Yogi is helpless to see the Seer. Knowledge cannot know Itself; the Perceiver cannot perceive Itself. // Where Wisdom-Knowledge (Jñâna) is perfect and full, ignorance cannot exist at all; so how could even the desire to know Itself arise in Knowledge absolute? // Therefore, one should address It through silence by being nothing, if one would be free, all-knowing, all-pervading; for in that “nothing” all power exists. (30-3) // It is Seeing, without an object; It is Vision, clear, perfect, and free. It exists alone, without anything else; within Itself is everything—and nothing. // … It sees without any object to see. It enjoys without any object to enjoy; It is complete and whole in Itself. (35-6)

Jñânadeva says to Chângadeva: Your listening to my words is like my own hand accepting the clasp of my other hand. It is like words hearing themselves being uttered, or like taste having a taste of itself, or like a ray of light hoping to give light to other rays already bright. // It is like the attempt to improve gold by mixing it with gold, or like a perfect face becoming a mirror in order to see itself. // Our conversation, O Cakrapâni, … [is] like sweetness trying avidly to taste itself. Would its mouth not overflow with itself? So also shall our mutual love. (38-41)

A grain of salt went to fathom the ocean’s depths, but when it became immersed, where did it go? What can it do and what can it measure when it has altogether ceased to exist? // My plight is like the plight of that grain of salt; though I desire to see you, to play my role, how and where shall I find you? It is beyond my imagination to conceive! // Like one who awakes in order to encounter sleep, and misses encountering it, here I am in order to encounter you who are completely pure and free like Nothingness. // It is certain that there is no darkness in the light of the Sun, and it is just as certain that there is no awareness of “I” in the absolute Self. // Thus, when I embrace you in purity, “I” and “Thou” will swallow each other. Truly, our meeting shall take place when “I” and “Thou” are both devoured. (46-50)

… It is in this place of inner vision that we shall see the place where ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ both die. // Therefore, swallow altogether these limitations of ‘I’ and ‘Thou,’ and we shall meet, the pure harmony and joy of such a meeting we shall surely relish always. // It will be like taste eating itself for the sake of enjoying taste, or like an eye becoming a mirror in order to see itself. // … The perfect meeting with the Infinite is eternally within ourselves. // (52-4,57)

Regard yourself as a shining flame burning brightly, without name or form. (56)

Jñânadev says: You and I are one, without name or form; we are identical to the one blissful Existence in whom the blessed merge. //

O Chângaya, this knowledge has reached your door unbidden, of its own accord. Go now beyond both knowledge and what is known and reach the final state. // O Chângadev! My Guru [and older brother], Nivrittinâth, has spread this delicious feast for you with boundless, motherly, love. Please enjoy its sweetness. Thus, Jñânadev and Cakrapâni have met and merged, like two mirrors reflecting each other in the eloquent silence that is Eternity. // If anyone were to read these verses, using them as a mirror to see themselves, it’s certain they would find the pure and blissful Self of all. // Where there is nothing, what can one know? The eyes can see, but can they see themselves? How can knowledge be of use when all is oneself? To become one with the Self, surrender all the impulses of the mind. // Then you will know the ‘sleep’ beyond sleeping, the ‘awake’ which goes beyond waking.

Now this garland is at last complete, fashioned of the word-flowers which Jñânadev breathed. (58-65)



An excellent 1940 film on the life of Sant Jñâneshvar is "Sant Dnyaneshwar" (using the conventional transliteration of his name from Marathi language), 129 minutes long, black & white, in Marathi with English subtitles, made by the famous Prabhat Studios (Pune, India), now viewable in full at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg5oT5qfm7I&feature=related; also available for purchase. Starring Shahu Modak as Jñâneshvar; directed by V. Damle & S. Fatelal with music by K. Bhole (see this team's equally fine film, "Tukarama" on the 17th century Varkari poet-saint).

See Swami Abhayananda (Stan Trout), Jnaneshvar: The Life & Works of the Celebrated Thirteenth Century Indian Mystic-Poet, originally published by Atma Books, 1989, reprint: Delhi: Sri Satguru, 2000 (contains Swami Abhayananda's translation of Amritânubhava, 28 Abhangas of the Haripâtha collection, the Chângadeva Pâsashtî, and a beautifully-written dramatic recreation of Jñâneshvar's life). You can view for free the entire book Jnaneshvar at Swami Abhayananda's website, www.themysticsvision.com (and other books by the same author, such as one on the legendary sage Dattatreya, another on the Indian-influenced Western mystic, Plotinus).

See also Jñâneshvar's magnum opus, Ramchandra Keshav Bhagvat (Tr.), Sri Jnanadev's Bhavartha Dipika or Jnaneshwari, Madras: Samata Books ed., 1979 (first publ. in 1954); and V.G. Pradhan (Tr.), Jnaneshvari (Bhavarthadipika) (H.M. Lambert, Ed.), SUNY ed., 1987 (publ. in 2 vols. in 1967 as part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, Indian Series).

On Jñâneshvar, see also B.P. Bahirat, The Philosophy of Jñânadeva, Motilal Banarsidass ed., 1984/1956; R.D. Ranade, Indian Mysticism: Mysticism in Maharashtra (chapters 2-5), Poona: Aryabhushan Press, 1933—the book is reprinted as Mysticism in India: The Poet-Saints of Maharashtra by SUNY in 1983; and these specific chapters on Jñâneshvar have been reprinted as a separate title, Jñâneshwar: The Guru’s Guru, SUNY, 1994; P.V. Bobde, Garland of Divine Flowers: Selected Devotional Lyrics of Saint Jñâneshwara, Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

See articles on Jñâneshvar at the Internet site for the Here-Now4UOnline Magazine (go to Hinduism section, then Philosophy).