[Advaita-l] Is bhakti necessary?

Suresh mayavaadi at yahoo.com
Fri May 23 02:38:47 CDT 2008


This subject matter has been bothering me for a long
time, the subject matter of bhakti and its relevance
to advaita. I am asking some straightforward
questions, and I hope no one will be offended.

#1 Philosophically, it seems a little
self-contradictory, perhaps also redundant. If there's
jiva-brahma abhEda, one doesn't see the need for

#2 Doesn't Sankara himself say that jnAna is the
highest? Doesn't he also define bhakti in terms of
jnAna, such as true bhakti is the love of atma-jnAna,
or something to that effect? The point I am trying to
stress is, none of the advaitins ever defined bhakti
the way vaishnavas and other devotional sects do,
namely singing, chanting, and other sentimental

They defined it as the love of the self, which is born
of viveka, the discrimination between the real and the
unreal. This definition of bhakti seems more logical,
and devoid of blind sentimentalism which often
characterizes bhakti. In short, bhakti in the advaiti
sense is simply the constant discernment of the real
amidst the unreal, constant dwelling in the self,
rather than activities like bhajans, puja-s etc.

#3 In vaishnava traditions, it's common to think of
the Lord in terms of His qualities, forms etc. I find
this contradictory and confusing, because what good
would it do to think of the aprAkrta Lord in terms of
prakrta guna-s? But unfortunately, I've seen this
advocated in our tradition too. While I understand the
deal with saguna brahmOpAsana, I just don't see how it
can be done practically. 

I'll cite an example to make this clear. There are
many people, dvaitins as well as advaitins, who marvel
at some 'divine' activity of the Lord, like the
mischief of baby Krishna, his lifting of the
gOvardhana hills, and so forth. They also describe
these activities using terms like 'divya,' 'adbhuta,'
etc. Frankly, I don't see anything 'adbhuta' or
'Azcharya' in these kriya-s, they seem to be pretty
normal to me. 

I don't mean to offend anyone, but I just can't see
activities like these-baby Krishna eating butter, his
running around the house-as worthy of contemplation.
This is because I can't spot anything divine and out
of the ordinary, they just appear to be normal
activities that any kid might do.

#4 In view of the above, I keep wondering again and
again whether bhakti in the traditional vaishnava
sense is required. And please understand, I am NOT
asking these questions as a follower of some
new-age/new-vedanta fan who ridicules bhakti just for
fun. I am only interested in classical advaita.

Still, I am forced to ask these questions about
bhakti, because my mind doesn't seem to reconcile
advaita with bhakti. So I am asking these questions in
all sincerity, in case people get the wrong idea that
I am trying to look down upon bhakti.

I hope learned members can share their insights on
this. And I also hope no one misconstrues this as an
attack on bhakti. These are just sincere doubts,
nothing more.



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