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

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Fri Aug 19 01:59:00 CDT 2011

On 10 August 2011 08:43, Shyam <shyam_md at yahoo.com> wrote:
<<  I do not necessarily disagree with you, but want to raise a couple of
points just to ponder over.... Instead of asking whence is bhakti directed
towards - atma or anatma, why dont we turn the question around and ask
whence is its souce? >>

Namaste Shyam-ji,

The intent of was only to present a certain way of looking at it. In fact, I
did point to the source of prema, bhakti, etc by saying that the AtmA alone
is priyam and that all such "feelings" are, in a way, only an expression of
the AtmA. yAj~navalkya's statement "Atmanastu kAmAya sarvam priyam bhavati"
is a very insightful one, although I have not yet looked at the bhAShya to

Also, bhakti is a  bhAva and no one can say what exactly went through the
minds of a purandaradAsa or a tyAgarAja. We hear their compositions, and
relate to them in our own ways.

By the way, I do enjoy Carnatic music though I am not technically very
knowledgeable about it. My favourite is shrIvallidevasenApate sung by
Ranjani and Gayatri.

It may seem from some of my posts that I am taking some kind of anti-bhakti
stance but that is not really the idea. Ultimately, it boils down to what is
it that one means by bhakti. If by bhakti one means
AtmavichAra/j~nAna/j~nAnaniShThA then of course there is no debate. If by
bhakti one means anything else, it is still a powerful means for
chittashuddhi, which in turn is essential for j~nAnayoga.

I am not sure if you read one of my earlier posts where I wrote about
arpaNabuddhi etc (the one just before the AtmA anAtmA post in this very
thread). As I pointed out, if one uses the term bhakti in a broad sense to
include all kinds of arpaNabuddhi, yaj~nabuddhi, etc there is no problem in
even saying that bhakti is a pre-requisite to j~nAnayoga.

The only hitch is that many diehard proponents of bhakti insist that bhakti
must necessarily involve a personal relationship with a deity (sakhA bhAva,
dAsya bhAva, etc), or that one must necessarily look at Ishvara as an entity
with a personality. They are not willing to accept something like performing
karma as an offering to the samaShTi, or performing karma in the spirit of
manuShyayaj~na, bhUtayaj~na, etc.

In Central India, there is apparently a small sect which practises yogAsana,
prANAyAma, etc with great vigour. At the same time, they say that Ishvara is
a matter of "false belief", and their slogan is "jai jIva". I feel that such
reactions are a result of the overemphasis on bhakti as a personal
relationship and on Ishvara as an entity with a personality. This may suit
many people but also puts off people with other temperaments.

Now if we also talk of Ishvara as samaShTi, or even just Ishvara as the
gross cosmos (virAT) the question of blind belief does not arise because it
is not even a belief. It is just a certain understanding and a certain bhAva
of looking at the universe itself as divine, a sense of "connectedness" with
all phenomena, whether sentient or insentient. One does not need to go to
the rarefied heights of advaita-vedAnta for this. The idea is actually
widespread in our culture, for we revere mountains, rocks, rivers, trees,
etc. Where else will you find something like Ayudha pUjA, where even tools
and implements receive pUjA?

In a sense, the idea of revering the ga~NgA, kAverI, himAlaya, sUrya, the
pipal tree, any rock in the neighborhood etc is as great an expression of
cultural genius and "bhakti" (if one may use that term) than something like
the (undoubtedly great) works of a tyAgarAja or a sUrdas.

Swami Dayananda (of Arsha Vidya) sometimes explains Ishvara in terms of
biological order, psychological order, cosmic order, etc, i.e. all these are
manifestations of Ishvara. This may sound a very modern explanation but the
idea is actually very old and ingrained in our culture. It is a great joy to
hear him speak *even* on topics other than advaita-vedAnta. Recently, he was
present for some inauguration function and gave a small talk on dharma,
where he said that dharma is a manifestation (and not a mandate) of Ishvara,
i.e. Ishvara is in the form of dharma. How frequently do we hear this kind
of insightful statement?

Everyone emphasizes the nimitta kAraNatva of Ishvara, but this kind of
understanding also emphasizes the upAdAna kAraNatva. So both the "hardware"
(the gross cosmos) as well as the "software" (the governing principles such
as the laws of physics or the laws of karma) are all just manifestations
(and not creations) of Ishvara. Ishvara is the universe and also the laws
governing the universe.

I don't see any reason to necessarily relate to such as Ishvara as an entity
with a personality. It is just a sense of "connectedness" (sorry I can't
think of a better word, but anyone who has been to places such as the
Himalaya or the Narmada Valley and spent a little time in contemplation will
definitely experience it).

It is a way of looking at things that seems to have taken a back seat in our
culture over the last few centuries, for various reasons that I don't want
to get into.

vedAnta is clear that j~nAna of one's svarUpa alone gives mukti. For
j~nAnayoga one needs chittashuddhi. chittashuddhi requires a certain
yaj~nabuddhi or arpaNabuddhi, which in turn can be expressed in different
ways depending on one's temperament.

There is no problem in saying that bhakti has an important role in this
scheme as long as one does not insist that it is necessary to think of
Ishvara as an entity with a personality. If someone wants to look at it that
way, good for him or her, but please don't insist that there can be no other

Sorry for the rambling post, but I hope it gave you an interesting


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