jnAna, bhakti, and karma (was Re: bhakti)

Anand Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Oct 14 17:04:36 CDT 1998

The BhAgavata clearly identifies the roles of jnAna, karma, and
 bhakti in Self-realization and also the types of people who
 are suitable for following a discipline.

 In the 11th skandha of the bhAgavata, there occurs the popular
 teaching of Krishna to uddhava. This teaching has been called the

 Let us look at a few verses from the uddhava-gItA.

   shrIbhagavAnuvAcha: The Lord said

   yogAtrayo mayA proktA nR^INAM shreyovidhitsayA |
   jnAnaM karma cha bhaktishcha nopAyo .anyo .asti kutrachit.h ||

   Three yogas (disciplines) have been prescribed by Me, desiring
   the liberation of people. These are the yogas of jnAna, karma,
   and bhakti. There is no other means to liberation anywhere.

 BhagavAn shrIkR^iShNa says here that there is no other means to
 liberation besides those of jnAna, karma, and bhakti. The questions
 now arise: Are these three yogas to be practised by the same
 person? Or, are these to be practised by different people depending
 on their inclinations? AchArya Shankara has pointed out in the
 gItA bhAShya that karma and jnAna are incompatible and, as such,
 cannot be practised by the same person at the same time. But
 bhakti seems to be compatible with both karma and jnAna!
 MadhusUdhana SarasvatI also affirms this in his introduction to
 his commentary on the gItA:
  yataH samuchchayo naasti tayorativirodhataH |
  bhagavadbhaktinishhThaa tu madhyame parikiirtitaa ||

  Since there cannot be a combination of the two (karma and jnaana),
  due to their complete incompatibility with each other, practice of
  devotion to God (bhakti) is explained as intervening (between the

  Further he says that bhakti is three-fold:

  ubhayAnugatA sA hi sarvavighnopanodinI |
  karmamishrA cha shuddhA cha jnAnamishrA cha sA tridhA ||

  That bhakti is compatible with both jnAna and karma and it removes
  all obstacles (to spiritual progress). It (bhakti) is of three
  types - bhakti mixed with karma, pure (shuddhA) bhakti, and
  bhakti mixed with jnAna.

  From this much it is clear that -

  1) No person can practice karma and jnAna yogas together at the
     same time. (Note that the same person may practise karma at
     one stage in life and jnAna in another stage. Only simultaneous
     practice of karma and jnAna is ruled out.)

 2) A person can practice karma yoga and bhakti yoga simultaneously.
 3) A person can practice jnAna yoga and bhakti yoga simultaneously.
 4) A person can practice karma yoga alone.
 5) A person can practice bhakti yoga alone. (shuddha-bhakti-yoga)
 6) A person can practice jnAna yoga alone.

  The next question that arises is: Are these combinations of yogas
  or single yogas to be practiced by any person regardless of his/her
  inclinations? Or, are there any characteristics of a person that
  make him/her suitable for a particular yoga?

  BhagavAn kR^iShNa answers these next in the BhAgavata:

  nirviNNAnAM jnAnayogo nyAsinAmiha karmasu |
  teshhvanirviNNachittAnAM karmayogastu kAminAm.h ||

  For those who are disgusted with works and have renounced them,
  ie. the true sannyAsins, jnAna-yoga is (suitable). For those whose
  minds are not disgusted with works,  and who have desires (attached
  to works) karma-yoga is suitable.

  And, (mark this verse for it applies to a majority of us,
  I think:-))

  yadR^ichchhayA matkathAdau jAtashraddhastu yaH pumAn.h |
  na nirviNNo naatisakto bhaktiyogo .asya siddhidaH     ||

  For one who, by sheer fortune, comes to have faith in My glories,
  stories, etc., and who is neither disgusted with works nor is too
  attached to them, bhakti-yoga yields success.

  Thus, in a matter of just three verses, kR^iShNa very succinctly
  and very clearly tells us about the three yogas and the
  compatibility of different people with the yogas.

  jnAna-yoga, which involves the renounciation of all works, secular
  and Vedic, is clearly meant for those who take up sannyAsa. Here
  the jnAna in the jnAna-yoga does not stand for Atma-jnAna which
  cannot be practiced. The jnAna here is a lower kind of jnAna that
  accompanies the sAdhana-chatuShTaya, or the four qualifications
 that Shankara mentions that a student of VedAnta must have. This
 jnAna corresponds to the word sAMkhya in the gItA and Atma-vichAra,

 karma-yoga is the renounciation of the fruits of actions without
 renouncing the actions themselves. As Shankara notes in his gItA
 bhAShya, karmayoga makes the mind pure and (automatically) leads to
 jnAna.  karmayoga is  for those who are too attached to actions,
 for those who are passionate.

 Most of us, are neither without worldly desires nor are too attached
 to them and we believe and have some faith in God. We lack the
 commitment that is required for relentless Self-inquiry, but then
 we would love to make spiritual progress somehow. We are neither
 masters of our senses nor are we a complete slave to them. We
 are engaged in materialistic pursuits but occasionally we do make
 attempts to learn about spiritual disciplines and engage ourselves
 in spiritual discussions and other such activities. In short,
 we want to be primarily engaged in worldly matters and in a small
 way in spiritual matters, with no plans in the near future to
 renounce worldly life.

 It is exactly for people like us that bhakti-yoga has been
 prescribed by kR^iShNa, the jagadguru. Actually, bhakti of some
 kind comes naturally to us. If at all there is a universal
 concept in all or many religions, it is not so much advaitic concepts
 as has been suggested before on this list, but the concept of
 bhakti or devotion to God. Almost any religion one can think of has
 elements of bhakti in it. This shows that bhakti is closer to
 human nature than either karmayoga or jnAnayoga. karmayoga seems
 to be for those who are given to myriad desires. jnAnayoga is
 suitable for those who have almost divine qualities. Bhakti-yoga
 is for the humans among us.

  Besides, bhakti-yoga has the promise of helping us to move to
 the lofty jnAna-yoga, which should, of course, be the ultimate
 objective, at least according to advaita. Making a transition from
 karma to jnAna will be hard. With bhakti as the intermediate step,
 one can hope to make the transition.  When karma is mixed with
 bhakti, one learns to perform all actions as a dedication or
 worship of God. Again, by practicing bhakti, the mind learns to
 concentrate on one concept only - God, and thereby achieves the
 stilling effect which is the goal of aShTAN^ga yoga.

 The nArada bhakti sutras define bhakti as "sA tvasmin.h parama-prema-
 rUpA". Bhakti is of the nature of the highest love felt for God.
 The culmination of bhakti, as described in the prabodha-sudhAkara
 of Shankara, is:

 tasminnanubhavati manaH pragR^ihyamANaM parAtmasukham.h |
 sthiratAM yAte tasminyAti madonmattadantidashAm.h      ||

 The mind experiences the supreme joy of the Self, being held
 in that (state of love for God). When that (state) is steady, the
 (mind) achieves the condition of an intoxicated elephant.

 The condition being described here is that which follows a
 feeling of love for God. From this condition, the absorption or
 dissolution of mind results. The devotee then passes into a
 trance or samAdhi, which has been confirmed by many great bhaktas.

 That bhakti can be mixed with jnAna is confirmed by jnAni's such as
 HH Shri Chandrasekhara Bharati and MadhusUdana SarasvatI, who were
 great bhaktas.


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"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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>From ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU Wed Oct 14 22:18:30 1998
Message-Id: <WED.14.OCT.1998.221830.0700.ADVAITAL at TAMU.EDU>
Date: Wed, 14 Oct 1998 22:18:30 -0700
Reply-To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
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To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
        <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan <vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU>
Subject: SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya: 2. 11 - Part I. (fwd)
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The introductory chapter ended with a reference to the verse
"dharmakshetre kurukshetre" (gItA 1. 1). As pointed out in an earlier
posting, there is no detailed commentary on the forty-seven verses of the
first chapter (arjuna-vishAda-yoga), and also on the first ten verses of
the second chapter (sAMkhya-yoga).

Verse 2. 11 of the gItA reads,

tam uvAca hRshIkeSaH prahasanniva bhArata |
senayor ubhayor madhye vishIdantam idam vacaH ||

tam - to him (Arjuna), uvAca - said, hRshIkeSaH - a name of Krishna,
meaning "He who has beautiful hair", prahasann iva - as if mockingly,
bhArata - descendent of bharata (here, the reference is to the blind king,
Dhritarashtra, father of the 100 Kauravas), senayor ubhayor madhye -
stationed between the two armies, vishIdantam - despondent, idam vacaH -
the following words.

Translation -
Oh King Dhritarashtra! To Arjuna, who sat thus despondently, in the middle
of the two armies, Krishna said the following words.

The actual words of Krishna begin with verse 12 of the second chapter. In
the introductory comments to the eleventh verse of chapter two,
SankarAcArya summarizes briefly the import of the verses that precede it.

Translation -
Here, the text beginning with "dRshTvA tu pANDavAnIkam" (1. 2) and ending
with "na yotsya iti govindam uktvA tUshNIM babhUva ha" (2. 9) is to be
interpreted as explaining that defects beginning with grief (Soka) and
delusion (moha) are the origin of transmigratory existence (saMsAra bIja)
of all living beings. Thus, through the error of thinking, "I am theirs"
and "these are mine" with respect to kingdom, teachers, sons, friends,
well-wishers, clansmen, in-laws and other relatives, Arjuna feared for the
breakdown of his affection towards them, and consequently felt grief and
delusion. Thus, he asked, "How can I fight against Bhishma?" (kathaM
bhIshmam aham saMkhye" - 2. 4) etc. Although he had voluntarily
prepared for the war, as part of his duty as a Kshatriya, grief and
delusion impaired his descriminative knowledge, and he prepared to desist
from the war and take up the life of a mendicant, a life that was not
suited for him.

Similarly, when blinded by grief and delusion, people may give up the
course of action best suited to their own nature, and take up a forbidden
course. Even if they are prepared to live according to their own dharma, a
desire for other kinds of results leads their speech, minds and bodies to
another dharma. The root of this wrong thinking is ahaMkAra - the sense of
I-ness. Thus, virtues and vices accumulate, and the cycle of
transmigration continues unchecked, consisting of desired and undesired
results, happiness and sorrow, and continued rebirths. Thus is it said
that grief and delusion are the seeds of saMsAra. There is no cessation
from this, except through Self-knowledge (AtmajnAna), preceded by a total
renunciation of all karman. To teach this central truth to Arjuna, and to
bless the entire world through this teaching, the Lord Vasudeva says,
"aSocyAn" etc. (2. 11).


To be continued ...


"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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