[Advaita-l] ’upAsana' and 'bhakti'

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Fri Mar 2 06:12:47 CST 2012

Namaste Subbu-ji,

Thanks for your detailed response. As far as I can see there are
broadly 2 issues that you have raised in your post.

1. << A 'process' without the attendant 'bhAva' will not be efficacious.>>

You have mentioned this point at various places in your post. Now,
this is actually a moot point because any activity, even a laukika
one, requires an attendant bhAva. Surely, a mantravAdin requires
sincerity/dedication towards his practice; a certain level of shraddhA
in guru, shAstra and mantra, and so forth. If he thinks that his guru
isn't knowledgeable, or that mantra-s are mumbo-jumbo, he isn't going
to be successful in his upAsana. One may refer to all these bhAva-s as
"bhakti" and can even find instances in the shAstra of such usage.

But this boils down to the issue of "fluid usage of terms" that I had
brought up earlier, and this becomes clear if one sees the difference
in emphasis. For the archetypal bhakta, the focus is on the bhakti
bhAva itself. In the extreme case, this bhAva is both sAdhana and
sAdhya, even a puruShArtha. For the "technical" upAsaka, these
attendant bhAva-s are enablers to correct execution of the process,
and it is the process that yields the desired result. When this
distinction is appreciated, it should be the obvious that the bhAva
itself is unlikely to be identical in the two cases.

At any rate, saying that bhakti and upAsana are "synonymous" is not
proper, as it simply glosses over this important distinction. More
importantly, it simply dismisses the value of the entire karma-upAsana
complex that is really at the heart of the shAstra-s. I am sure none
of the great exponents of karma/upAsana over the centuries would
approve of such a dismissal. Indeed, why even bother to learn the
complex procedures and technical details of karma/upAsana, and risk
adverse effects if there are any errors in execution, if bhakti bhAva
alone could do the trick? Clearly, the shAstra-s do not hold such a
view. On the contrary, there is more literature on karma/upAsana than
on any other aspect of the sanAtana dharma.

2. Sentient versus insentient:

At various places in your post, you have mentioned the idea of
relating to "sentient beings". I submit that this sentient-insentient
divide is not so clear-cut, given that brahman (or Ishvara, if you
will) is abhinna-nimitta-upAdAna-kAraNa. A rock is as much brahman as
a human being is. Even when one interacts with a supposedly "sentient"
being, it is only the anAtmA that is objectified. The
shuddha-chaitanya itself is never objectified; it is simply available
in every cognition (including the cognition of say, a rock) as "asti".

Indeed, the only distinction one can definitely make is not between
sentient and insentient but between subject and object, and even the
subject-object distinction is transcended when there is
mithyAtva-nishchaya regarding objects (and corresponding loss of
"subjecthood" of the subject). Also, the so-called "sentience"
corresponds to chidAbhAsa rather than shuddha-chaitanya.
shuddha-chaitanya itself is "non-intentional" as Sri Vaibhav Narula
had explained in his superb post the other day.

But even if one does not go to as high a level in vedAnta as
subject-object analysis, and looks at the matter purely within the
realm of duality from an abhinna-nimitta-upAdAna-kAraNa angle, the
sentient-insentient divide is easily straddled. For example, instead
of saying that Ishvara is karmaphaladAtA, one could say that
karma/karmaphala are in themselves (manifestations of) Ishvara, or
that brahman appears as karma/karmaphala.

In fact, one contemporary AchArya often uses this kind of expression.
For example, instead of saying that Ishvara created the jagat or
Ishvara created dharma, he will say that dharma is Ishvara, karma is
Ishvara, the principles of cause & effect are Ishvara, the laws of
physics are Ishvara, and so forth.

I appreciate that many sAdhaka-s may find it useful to make a strict
sentient-insentient distinction, but I don't see it as technically
necessary within advaita-vedAnta. It may be necessary for, say, a
visShiShTAdvaitin, who makes a distinction between sharIra and

Lastly, on the issue of mantra-is-deity, you statement that it is
"dubious" was based on the sentient-insentient distinction, which I
have addressed above. I am aware that there is a certain pUrvamImAMsA
position on this issue and that sha~Nkara takes a somewhat different
approach in the devatAdhikaraNa of the sUtrabhAShya. Unfortunately, I
have not studied this adhikaraNa, but looking at the issue more
generally, I don't see any problems. If Ishvara can be
jagat/karma/dharma, then Ishvara can be mantra too.

Sri Venkata Sriram has rightly quoted bhAskararAya (one of the
greatest mantravAdin-s ever) to say that a devatA can be understood at
3 levels - sthUla, mantrAtmaka and shuddha-chaitanya. Also, the devatA
being mantrAtmaka is technically fundamental to the mantra-shAstra, so
I don't think it is a matter that anyone can reject offhand. It is
plausible that sha~Nkara may have differed on specific pUrvamImAMsa
ideas on this matter, rather than the general idea of devatA-s being
mantrAtmaka. One possibility (and this is just a guess) is that
pUrvamImAMsA rejects the possibility of any devatA-s apart from
mantra-s, whereas sha~Nkara is more accommodating. I will check this
matter with an AchArya when I get the chance. In any case, this is
peripheral to the broader upAsana and bhakti debate.


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