[Advaita-l] Is bhakti necessary?

jagannathan mahadevan jagannathan.mahadevan at gmail.com
Fri May 23 11:36:17 CDT 2008


Please some responses immediately after your sentences below. I have
had similar questions before and hence feel compelled to respond.

On Fri, May 23, 2008 at 2:38 AM, Suresh <mayavaadi at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Friends,
> 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
> bhakti.

Bhakthi is needed for the recognition of abhEda, not the other way
around. For instance guru bhakthi is necessary before jnana is

> #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
> activities.

Although there is not much emphasis on bhakthi in the tradition of
advaita, it may not mean bhakthi is lacking. It goes back to the fact
that bhakti cannot be conveyed but only expressed as an emotion.
Although much of the traditional institution is mostly about teaching
the scriptures and their interpretation, I think from experience,
bhakthi through music and bhajanas is very much prevalent in advaitic
institutions. Others in this list that are closely associated with the
sringeri matha may offer more information. So singing bhajanas and
kirtanas are not exclusive to vashnavaite sects.

> 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.

Again, vivEka, constant dwelling in the self etc are not possible
without bhakthi. Also bhajana, kirtana are all activities that reflect
bhakthi. there may be other forms of action that reflect bhakthi-for
instance service to guru or teacher can be considered to be act of
bhakthi or devotion.

bhakthi should and does precede jnana. The first thing that comes
between you and jnana is the guru and guru bhakthi here is

> #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.

I think it has to do with rasana (or taste to put it simply). I mean,
if you go to a music concert, all of the listeners may not like the
way the artiste performs. Or take the case of art, some artistes,
especially modern art is ridiculously simple but contains messages.

> Warmly,
> Suresh
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