[Advaita-l] ’upAsana' and 'bhakti'

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Tue Feb 28 23:25:18 CST 2012

Namaste Subbu-ji,

Regarding your view on the equivalence of upAsana and bhakti.

For once, and probably the first time ever, I must say that I respectfully
disagree with your view. I fully accept that the terms are often used
interchangeably, but there are important technical points that
differentiate the two.

If one uses the word bhakti in an extremely fluid sense, to mean anything
from conventional bhakti bhAva to upAsana to dhyAna to AtmavichAra, then
pretty much anything can be equated with bhakti. There are contexts where
such fluid usage is justified, but if one is to develop an insightful
understanding of the matter and have a meaningful discussion on it, then
some boundaries need to be imposed on the usage of terms.

There is a certain bhAva which comes out very clearly in the works of the
medieval bhakti saints, such as mIrAbAI, sUrdAs, tukArAm, etc. The bhAva is
one of an intense, deeply emotional relationship with their deities, a
bhAva that is much celebrated in Indian literature ever since.

The situation of the adept mantravAdin, however, is markedly different. The
focus here is on **correct application of the mantra**. In many systems of
the mantra-shAstra, it is common to consider the mantra itself to be the
deity (this comes as a shock to many people), and the focus is not on an
intense personal relationship but on getting the details of the mantra
deployment right, including pronunciation, accent, sequence, ritual steps
(if applicable), etc.

Strictly speaking, upAsana is a *process* rather than a bhAva, whereas
bhakti is a bhAva and not a process. One *has* bhakti, but one *performs*
upAsana. The grammatical distinction itself is enough to show that the two
are not synonymous.

In a general sense, upAsana may be categorized under karma, but in contexts
where it is categorized separately from karma (as in the bhAgavatam verse
you quote), karma is used to mean physical action and upAsana to mean
mental action.

However, please note that the arguments against j~nAnakarmasamuchchaya (and
you will surely accept that the vedAnta shAstra is full of arguments
against j~nAnakarmasamuchchaya) apply to upAsana also. This itself rules
out an equation between upAsana and bhakti.

Now, all this does not in any way mean that the adept mantravAdin cannot be
a bhakta or vice-versa. No two people have exactly the same temperament,
and an individual may combine these in various ways to suit his or her
requirements. The description provided in the book "Yoga Enlightenment and
Perfection" only shows that the AchArya was an adept in the yogashAstra and
the mantrashAstra, in addition to displaying bhakti bhAva. This does not
mean that every bhakta will also be a mantravAdin, or vice-versa.

Now, one could argue that there is a certain functional equivalence. Just
as the bhakta's mind is centred on his personal deity, the mantravAdin is
absorbed in his mantra practice. Either way there is a certain ekAgratA
achieved and one may even go all the way up to samAdhi. For that matter,
one may achieve the same end through other methods such as focusing on
one's breath.

The quotes from sha~Nkara and Anandagiri you mentioned do not in any way
*equate* upAsana and bhakti. All sha~Nkara does is to broadly define
upAsana in terms of focusing one's thought on a particular object. But
there is nothing to suggest that such an object must be a deity with whom
one has an intense personal relationship. In fact, the object can very well
be a mantra, yantra, breath, etc. Also, focusing one's thought involves
process and this again brings out the distinction.

It may be argued that a bhakta will naturally keep thinking, or at least
try to keep thinking, of his deity; so every bhakta is an upAsaka of sorts.
Even so, there is still a distinction in emphasis (bhAva versus process)
and also, every upAsaka need not be a bhakta.

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