[Advaita-l] ’upAsana' and 'bhakti'

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Wed Feb 29 03:44:26 CST 2012

On Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 10:55 AM, Ramesh Krishnamurthy
<rkmurthy at gmail.com>wrote:

> 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.

I think we are not disagreeing!!  I have never said that 'bhakti' of the
'intense' type on the analogy of Mira, Prahlada, etc. is what upAsana is
and that such bhakti is sine qua non for mukti.

Having said that since you have raised some points I shall gives some

> 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.

I agree it is an intense bhAvana that is involved in these cases.  But all
the Acaharyas of the Shankara sampradaya have cited these as examples at
some or the other time, in some or the other sense, even as they would
include Prahlada and the Gopi-s.  This is well within the teaching of
Vedanta.  The Acharya-s know that even a small step in that direction will
help an aspirant immensely.  There is a verse which says:

*मन्त्रे*  तीर्थे *द्विजे* दैवे *दैवज्ञे*  भेषजे गुरौ
*यादृशी भावना यत्र सिद्दिर्भवति तादृशी -* समयोचितपद्यमालिका.

which means: in the case of mantra, a place of pilgrimage, a learned
Brahmana, in a devatA, an astrologer, a doctor and a Guru - the benefit one
gets out of these is directly proportional to the bhAvanA, attitude, one
has towards (each of) them.  This is an underlying thought in all our
scriptural teachings.  The upanishadic 'mAtR devo bhava, pitR devo bhava,
AhArya devo bhava, deva pitR kAryAbhyAm na pramaditavyam...etc. have this
bhAva imbedded in them.  Shankara uses the term 'stuti namaskara, bali
upahArAdi..' with respect to deities where the offering of prayers,
prostrations, neivedyam,etc. is a part of the practice.

> 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.

The mantraa-is-deity is a pUrvamimamsa concept which has been rejected in
the Vedanta.  In fact it is dubious too.  They avoided accepting a sentient
entity called Ishwara but ended up designating a 'deity' in/for/as the
mantra itself.  The word 'deity', 'devatA' stems from the root 'div',
light, which is a, nay, the characteristic of a conscious entity. Vedanta
insists on an Ishwara as the karma-phala giver.

> 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.

We see expressions such as 'bhajate mAm ananyabhAk' and 'upAsate/dhyAanta'
being used synonymously in the Bh.Gita.  A 'process' without the attendent
'bhAva' will not be efficacious.  That is why in our system even for a
daily gayatri japa there is the panchopachAra pUja involving just a
symbolic offering of pushpa, gandha, neivedya etc. This is found in
Srividya upAsana also.  This is intended to please the deity.  So the
effort to please the deity has to emanate from the devotee, both of whom
are sentient beings.

> 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.

Yes. that is what is termed 'bhakti' in that verse, as one of the three
'paths' the Lord has instituted for the uplift of man.  This term 'bhakti'
gets the name 'upAsana' in the Vedic context as used, as a trio, by
Shankara.  He also uses the term 'Ishwara praNidhAna' in the place of
'bhakti'/upAsana.  In fact 'upAsana' is often explained as 'upa = samIpe'
which gives the sense: aasanam, sitting, close to the deity.  In other
words it means relating oneself to the deity in one bhava or the other.
This is the heart of bhakti.

> 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.

Actually this opens another dimension of the main question.  The central
point in opposing the samucchaya is: while karma, both purely physical and
mental, like meditation, involve 'I am the doer' attitude, jNana defies
this kartRtva bhAva.  Likewise bhakti too, while in the first three types
(given in the BG) involves a distinction between the devotee and the Lord,
the fourth type alone transcends this distinction culminating in Advaita.
That is why Shankara equates only the fourth type, parA bhakti, the bhakti
to one's own self, Atman, with Jnana.  That way we can see that on the
grounds of presence of duality ( aham kartA, bhakta, dhyAta as different
from the dhyeya vastu) upAsana / karma / bhakti all are same.

> 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.

Somehow I am unable to appreciate the concept of 'mantravAdin' as a
standalone.  In Vedanta-based sadhana there is no such distinction.  That
is why the Acharya who practiced srividya, the mantra-rAja of Narasimha or
any other mantra invariably involves a bhaava too with that, for without
this there is no sadhana in Vedanta.  I have not seen any upAsaka giving
initiation to another into the mantra without the exhortation to cultivate
bhakti too to the deity of the mantra.  We can see such an instruction
explicitly given by the Senior Acharya to the newly inducted one.  For the
adepts have realized that the mantra siddhi, in terms of Vedantic sadhana,
can come about, can be quickened even, by the bhakti included into it; the
more the merrier.

> 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.

No. In the BSB quote on 'Ishwara praNidhAna' Shankara acknowledges this
aspect as 'prasiddha' in the Shruti/smriti.  And in the Kenopanishad
bhashya I quoted on 'nedam yadidam upaasate' Shankara specifies
'IshwavAdi', Ishwara, etc. as the possible objects of upAsana.  No Acharya
would instruct an aspirant to do upAsana on Ishwara without any bhAva
involved.  There can't be an upasana on Ishwara who is a sentient being.
Even with symbols like Om, a light, etc. the acharyas ask one to imagine a
sentient being behind that which can respond. The 'etc,' gives a wide scope
to include everything that has the scriptural sanction, which point
Shankara highlights in the Ch.bhashya definition on upasana which I cited.
So when we consider the several sample usages of Shankara from a cross
section of the bhashya we do come to the conclusion that the terms get the
same meaning.

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.

As I pointed out a mantra or yantra will give results only depending upon
what bhavana one handles them with.  I have seen in Sringeri this
procedure.  Someone who has a long standing ailment or a dispute involving
property or matrimony or any other problem writes to the Mutt seeking
solace.  Generally a yantra or taayattu (talisman) is made to order and
kept in the Mutt pUja for some period of time, usually 45 days, a mandala,
and given to the supplicant.  Now, what has happened is that the yantra has
got the power infused in it due to the puja and this gives the supplicant
who takes it with devotion. The daily pUja in the mutt has a sankalpa for
the wellbeing of all beings.  The supplicant is satisfied that it has the
power to help him.  This bhaava that it comes from a place like Sringeri,
from the hands of the Jagadguru, is what is bhakti.  Most times the mutt
gives instructions also as to the mode of performing puja or japa with
that.  Thus the element of bhava cannot escape even the mantra/yantra at
some or the other stage, in some or the other degree.  We have the Gita
*अश्रद्धया हुतं दत्तं* तपस्तप्तं कृतं च यत् ।
असदित्युच्यते पार्थ न च तत्प्रेत्य नो इह ॥ २८ ॥

An act performed without shraddhaa is 'asat'.

//17.28 O son of Prtha, whatever is hutam, offered in sacrifice, poured as
oblation; and dattam, given in charity to Brahmanas,without faith; whatever
tapah, austerity; is taptam, performed without faith; so also, whatever is
krtam, done without faith, e.g. praise, salutation, etc.; all that ucyate,
is said to be; asat iti, of no avail, since it is outside th course of
discipline leading to Me. Ca, and, although involving great effort; na ca
tat, it is of no consequence; pretya, after death, for producing (some)
result; na, nor even for any result; iha, because it is condemned by the

It might look as if 'faith' does not cover the element of 'bhakti':

This is a phalashruti for the VishnusahasranAma:
इमं स्तवमधीयानः *श्रद्धाभक्तिसमन्वितः* ।
युज्येतात्मसुखक्षान्तिश्रीधृतिस्मृतिकीर्तिभिः ॥ १३२ ॥

So all our rituals, involving manas, vAk and body come with the above
instruction/requirement.  Without this element it is not potent -

> 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.

The BG last chapter says:
*इदं ते नातपस्काय* नाभक्ताय कदाचन ।
न चाशुश्रूषवे वाच्यं न च मां योऽभ्यसूयति ॥ 18.67

Thus, the Vedantic teaching does not function in a non-bhakti environment.
So an upAsaka in the Vedantic context cannot be a non-bhakta.  There is a
saying which is in general to any vidyA given by the Acharya to the seeker:

nAputrAya ashiShyAya matim dadyAt - do not give the teaching to someone who
does not come 1. as a son and 2. as a disciple.   The idea is that the
'natural love' coupled with the necessary respect is a must for transfer of
knowledge of this kind.

I am reminded of a similar discussion centering on 'the BSB says the dream
state is different from the waking, with several reasons.  But the Mandukya
karika bhashya says the waking is identical with the dream, with several

I am sure we understand each other well. Shankara has said that those
scripture-based upAsanas are conducive to chittashuddhi and arising of
Knowledge.  As I had pointed out before two types of upAsaka-s go to
Brahmaloka.  The first type which does not involve Ishwara returns after
the bhoga there.  It is only the second type which is upAsana on
Parameshwara that ends up getting liberated.  And what differentiates both
is the Ishwara bhakti in the latter and its absence in the former.  But
even in the former there is a desire, an intent attachment, to the goal.
As Bhagavan said in the context of describing four bhaka-s, even the first
three are 'udAra-s', great, because they are His bhaktas.  But the fourth
one alone is outstanding. Even the first named upAsaka might propitate this
or that god for removal of vighnas in his attainment of brahmaloka.  Since
he has adopted the veda-based vidyA-s for upAsana, he can be expected to be
an astika. But the second named one has bhagvaan alone as his goal.  So,
even here we see a certain bhakti is inevitable; towards what it is
directed differs.

I said all the above not with a tone of disagreement but only to elaborate
what I have said in my earlier posts on the topic.  I reiterate that I am
not advocating the bhakti of Mira, etc. as mandatory for Vedantic mukti.
For, there are Acharyas who have pointed out that the bhakti of these
stated luminaries would lead them to krama mukti.


> _

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list