[Advaita-l] (Advaita) Bhakti vs. Jnana

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Tue Aug 9 11:01:23 CDT 2011

Here is another way of looking at this whole issue of bhakti and its role
(vis-a-vis j~nAna) in advaita-vedAnta.

As pointed out earlier, the term 'bhakti' is used in a fluid sense and is
quite contextual in its usage. By contrast, the terms 'j~nAna' and 'karma'
are used with a fair amount of precision and a huge amount of traditional
vedAnta literature is dedicated towards addressing the roles of j~nAna and
karma in the pursuit of mukti. In particular, j~nAnakarmasamuchchaya is
soundly rejected and this is a key difference between advaita-vedAnta and
various bhedAbheda traditions.

Now, coming to bhakti, instead of listing out its various meanings,
conventional as well as unconventional, and then addressing each such usage,
the proponents of bhakti should just answer one question.

Is bhakti towards AtmA or towards anAtmA?

If it is towards AtmA, then it is no different from j~nAna (i.e. Atmaj~nAna)
and hence there is no question of bhakti being a distinct path.

If it is towards anAtmA, then such bhakti (like karma) is born out of avidyA
and cannot be a direct means to mukti. At best, it can be a temporary

In fact, when advaita AchArya-s use the term 'bhakti' unconventionally to
mean vichAra/ j~nAna/ j~nAnaniShThA, they are actually revealing a great

As yAj~navalkya famously says in the bRhadAraNyaka: "Atmanastu kAmaya sarvaM
priyaM bhavati" - anything that is loved is loved not for the sake of that
thing, but for one's own sake, for the sake of the AtmA. In fact it is the
AtmA alone that is truly priyam, since it is AnandasvarUpa.

We experience this in daily life. Whenever we have great love for somebody
or something, we say that he/she/it is "close to me". What can be closer
than the AtmA, which is oneself per se. Therefore, all prema that we
experience is really an expression of the AtmA alone.

The human problem, of course, is avidyA in the form of adhyAsa, mutual
superimposition of AtmA and anAtmA, wherein the limitations of the body and
mind are superimposed on the AtmA. The boundless self appears to be bound,
and the problem of self non-acceptability arises. The problem is one of self
non-acceptability, but the usual solution is to try and "make it acceptable"
by running after anAtmA, which is bound to fail. The problem is solved only
when it is understood that the self is really boundless; AtmA is
unobjectifiable and nirvisheSha.

The mukta has complete self-acceptance because he knows that the AtmA is
boundless, and see all things as himself (distinctions being mithyA). This
is Atmaj~nAna and only this can be termed real bhakti. Any other bhakti that
falls short of this is only an attempt to seek fulfilment from anAtmA, which
is bound to fail at some point, and can at best be a temporary solution.

This was the insight of the advaita AchArya-s and that is why they sometimes
used 'bhakti' to mean AtmavichAra, Atmaj~nAna or j~nAnaniShThA. Among other
things, they wanted to convey a certain message to their contemporaries (in
many cases pUrvapakShI-s of bheda or bhedAbheda persuasions who were
enthusiastic proponents of bhakti) that seeking solace in anAtmA can, at
best, be a temporary solution.

Note: This entire analysis is based on Atma-anAtma-vivechana, a central
feature of advaita-vedAnta, in contrast to the more usual format of
jIva-jagat-Ishvara. Hence, I have skipped the entire discussion on
chittashuddhi and sAdhana chatuShTaya, which have been addressed in another

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