[Advaita-l] ’upAsana' and 'bhakti'

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Feb 28 13:56:14 CST 2012

On Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 9:49 PM, Anand Hudli <anandhudli at hotmail.com> wrote:

> Vidyasankar wrote:
> >It seems to me that everyone on this thread associates different meanings
> >with the words upAsana and bhakti. When talking of how upAsana = bhakti
> >in a generic sense in advaita literature and how bhakti = jnAna in a
> specific
> >author's works, it would be best to clarify what one means by these terms
> >and what influences one's understanding of these terms.
> This is exactly my thought too. Let us start with Shankara's definition of
> upAsana:
> "upAsanaM nAma samAnapratyayapravAhakaraNam" (sUtra bhAShya 4.1.7)
> Making similar ideas flow continuously is called upAsana.
> Bhakti also involves this "making similar ideas flow continuously",
> where the bhakta is thinking of God and is making thoughts of God flow
> continuously. He does not think of anything else, so dissimilar ideas
> are kept out. One may object and say that upAsana can involve
> technical things such as Yantra, tantra, and mantra, while Bhakti to a
> personal God may not involve these. For example, there is the shrI
> Yantra, there is a
> particular procedure of worshipping it, and there is a specific
> mantra, the ShoDashAkSharI or the PanchadashAkSharI. But Bhakti to a
> personal God is just emotional outbursts and lot of singing and
> dancing.
> However, I would ask: what is  purpose of these Yantras, tantras, and
> mantras? They serve the purpose of, again, making similar ideas flow
> continuously.
> The main argument for differentiating upAsana and bhakti seems to be,
> if I am interpreting it correctly, that upAsana is a more formal,
> technical discipline, while bhakti is informal and perhaps for the lay
> person.


Yes, I do recognize this differentiation.  But I see a lot of overlapping
between bhakti and upAsana as your old post very nicely puts:

// The second form of upaasana or worship of a God is probably derived from
the first version. This is because even meditating on the saguNa aspect of
Brahman is difficult for many people. By practising the ritual form of
upaasana, such as puujaa, homas, fasts, etc., they will be in a position to
take up the first form of saguNa upaasana. But such upaasana must be done
without asking for rewards or boons from God! That is why we find in the
PuraaNas that true devotees do not ask for any boon from God even when they
are encouraged to do so by God. Such devotees will be constantly thinking
or mediatating on God, and in course of time will be in a position to take
up nirguNa upaasana. Advanced devotees are capable of doing a maanasa
puujaa or mental worship of their chosen deity. Shri Chandrasekhara
Bharati, who was not only a jnaani but also a great devotee of Shiva, used
to perform the mental form of Shiva puujaa on pradoshha days.   //

It would be nice to note that the  12th  Chapter of the BG is called '*Bhakti
yoga*' where this important verse occurs:

ये तु सर्वाणि कर्माणि मयि सन्नयस्य मत्पराः ।
*अनन्येनैव योगेन मां*  *ध्यायन्त उपासते *॥ (गीता १२/६)

Shankara does not say anything for the word 'upAsate' taking dhyAyante to
be the same as this.  For a devotee who has no one as the refuge other than
the VishwarUpa Bhagavan is called 'ananyaH'.  As I had pointed out before,
the words भक्त्या तु अनन्यया of the 11th chapter 54 about which alone in
the 12.6 above Bhagavan says 'dhyAyanta upAsate'.  So, we see that both the
terms upAsana and bhakti are used in the same sense, synonymously by
Bhagavan too to mean the same practice.  As Anand ji points out it is the
thinking of or rather even having the Lord or any other upAsya
subconsciously in one's activities. Sri Vidyaranya in the Panchadashi gives
a rather 'unholy'  example: of a woman always recalling  the joyful times
she experienced with her paramor even while she is engaged in her household
chores. What shall we call this? Dhyanam or upAsana or Bhakti?

As said by the Lord in 'yat karoShi yadashnAsi.....tat kuruShva madarpaNam'
is definitely a bhakti practice of the above kind.  Even an 'upAsaka', like
for example a srIvidyA upAsaka has a number of things included in the daily
practice.  Japa of the mantra is just one part of it, the others being
archana, abhisheka, neivedya, stotra paThanam, pradakshiNa, namaskara,
etc.  It is needless to say that even such an upAsaka, if he is genuine,
will be following the  'yat karoShi yadashnAsi.....tat kuruShva madarpaNam'
to the Devi when not doing the formal srIvidya puja/japa/Araadhana.

It is in the above sense that I meant that the terms upAsana and bhakti are
non-separate.  One can see exactly this kind of a practice in the life of
the Sringeri Acharya who is described in the book 'Yoga, Enlightenment and

Incidentally I wish to point out a Brahma sutra bhashya 2.2.42
(utpattyasambhavAt) quote.  Here Shankara is refuting the PaancharAtra
school's philosophy but wholeheartedly accepts/approves their bhakti

//यदपि तस्य भगवतोऽभिगमनादिलक्षणमाराधनम् अजस्रम् अनन्यचित्ततया अभिप्रेयते,
तदपि न प्रतिषिध्यते । श्रुतिस्मृत्योरीश्वरप्रणिधानस्य प्रसिद्धत्वात् ।//

[Meaning: As for the predilection for His propitiation, consisting in
visiting His temple etc. and so on, with exclusive devotion and for long,
that also is not denied.  For the contemplation of God is well in evidence
in the Vedas and Smrits.]

*This shows that Shankara does not see any difference between a pAncharAtra
upAsaka and a VishNu bhakta. * There is no such a difference existing
according to Shankara. For we see the traits of a Bhakta *(of the
pAncharAtra school) * in the above characterization of the Bhashya as not
at all differing from the Bhakta/upAsaka we have characterized above from
the Gita, etc.

It is in this sense, as Shankara says even in the above quote, that *karma,
bhakti *('upAsana' is the word He uses in the Mandukya karika bhashya I
quoted recently and Ishwara praNidhAnam is the word (of the Yogasutra too!)
Shankara uses in the above BSB which evidently anyone will equate with
Bhakti pratices) *and Advaita Jnanam as enshrined in the Shruti.  Which
again is what Krishna says to Uddhava in the verse I quoted recently from
the Bhagavatam.  *What remained foremost in my mind at the time of writing
this is an upanyAsam in Tamil, perhaps of 1958, by the earlier Sringeri
Acharya in Madurai where He took up this verse and elaborated on it.  *

> The bhakti of even seemingly lay persons achieves great results that the
> technical upAsana does. We hear of how KanakadAsa was able to make the
> image of Krishna turn towards him, despite being kept out of
> the temple by priests who were well versed in "formal" worship.
> Actually, instead of reproducing what I wrote in more detail earlier,
> let me give the reference to the earlier message of mine.
> http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/1996-December/005747.html
> Anand

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