Bhakti in Advaita

“Bhakti” in common parlance is generally taken to mean a sort of Master – slave relationship of a seeker towards a superior Guru/Master/Lord/God, an attitude that in a way does reinforce duality.

Historically speaking, Bhakti as a cult took root in India after the Muslim invasions. The Abrahamic monotheistic religions with their proselytizing spirit attracted the masses offering the promises of a personal God who would fulfill their wants. Perhaps to counter this, indigenous Bhakti cults developed and continue to do so today. 

The Advaita scriptural texts, strictly speaking, do say that devotional approach to a personal deity is an inferior path for Enlightenment. Further, some of them explicitly state that the devotee has to be a “Shiva” himself in order to worship Shiva. Yogavaasishta says a Vishnu only can truly worship a Vishnu. The implication in these statements is that the devotee should lose the sense of being a separate individual from what is being worshiped – it insists on a total identity, Oneness, of the subject-object.

I feel that the techniques like meditation, Bhakti, rituals, pilgrimages etc. are useful at two levels to a seeker:

  • Bhakti etc. will work as a sort of aid to train the mind in its ability to stay focused (instead of wavering) and unbiased (being aware of one’s own hidden prejudices). These two aspects sharpen the mind and make it ready to take up Self-inquiry on one’s own.
  • Bhakti and other such techniques are useful once again at a later stage after the Advaitic message is completely ingested without any doubt but a seeker experiences some difficulty to abide constantly in Brahman. The mind out of its sheer old habit pulls him/her back to the lures of the world from unceasing abidance as Brahman. Using Bhakti and other such things as little crutches, it will be easy for the seeker then to come back to rest as Awareness instead of being driven by the vagaries of the mind.

From:  Place of Bhakti in Advaita – The Reply to the Question, Jul 27, 2012

Bhakti and j~nAna are the same

“Of all the means to liberation, devotion is the highest. To seek earnestly to know one’s real nature – this is said to be devotion.” – Shankara, Vivekachudamani.

“Devotion consists of supreme love for God. It is nectar. On obtaining it, man has achieved everything; he becomes immortal; he is completely satisfied. Having attined it, he desires nothing else. Having realized that supreme Love, a man becomes as if intoxicated; he delights only in his own intrinsic bliss.” – Narada, Bhakti Sutras.

Just as the Self and the soul cannot be separated one from the other, neither can j~nAnI and bhakti be spearated; though mutually exclusive, they co-exist as complements in everyone. And as our knowledge grows, we must learn to adapt our vision of the world to accept and embrace apparently contradictory views. We must learn to feel comfortable with the notion that a quantity of energy is both a wave and a particle; that our lives are determined, and that we are free; that our identity is both the Whole and the part. We are the universal Self; we are the one Consciousness – and we are also the individualized soul, which consists of the mind and its own private impressions. We are the Ocean – but we are also the wave.

The Supreme Self, Swami Abhayananda, O-Books. ISBN: 1905047452. Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK. Review Link

Bhakti, jnana and karma yoga reinterpreted

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness – that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what – at last – I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.”
- Bertrand Russell

Three human temperaments and three spiritual paths


In the context of the spiritual path one chooses (or is chosen for), love and devotion are parallel to the ‘faith’ or trust one has, or must have, in the validity and benefit attending that path. These are foundational elements or requirements in this regard. Without going into the four prerequisites of sadhana-chatustaya, the two above qualities plus sincerity (alternately, intense desire for liberation, or for the truth), which leads to persistent effort (the ‘skillful means’ of Buddhism) are essential. It is thus not just one or another, but all three of those requirements that must be present. But ‘three is one’, and, if one would have to choose, one would choose mumkshutva or earnestness, which is equivalent to intense desire for the truth.

Sometimes it is said that there is only one path, meaning that the destination is always the same (“all roads lead to Rome”), and that the effort and dedication are also one and the same; but this does not take away from the fact that traditionally three paths are listed, which obeys to the nature of things, or of men. Evidently there are men (and women) more predisposed – vocationally, or by constitution – to follow one rather than another of the three – karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jñana yoga (there is a fourth one, Raja yoga – the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali being the classical text –  which requires complete control of the senses and mind, and where deep meditation and samadhi play  important roles).

Traditionally – in different cultures – three types of men have been considered to exist: men of action, men of devotion or passion, and then the intellectual ones (Salvador de Madariaga, Spanish professor of English in Oxford, UK, wrote an interesting book: ‘Ingleses, Franceses y Españoles’, where he described with psychological acumen and powers of observation three types of  - European – men: Englishmen (‘men of action’), Spaniards (‘men of passion’), and French (the intellectual, the ‘thinkers’). But also, in classical Antiquity, the same, or similar, characterization was made: hylic (action), psychic (bhaktic-karmic), and pneumatic (intellectual or contemplative predominantly).

In modern times the German psychiatrist Kretschmer, and the American psychologist Sheldon classified human types into pyknic, athletic, and asthenic or leptosomatic (Kretschmer), and, correspondingly, endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic, (Sheldon). The pyknic type can be intellectual or bhaktic, but certainly not given to athletic prowess or performances. A significant correspondence is also: sattva=pneumatic, rajas=psychic, and tamas=hylic or somatic.

It can be seen from the above that the bhaktas are an intermédiate category, the “higher” being pneumatics, and the “lower” psychics. The jñani, in principle, has the quality of a pneumatic. In fact, however, owing to human imperfection (if we may say so), he may “live beneath himself”, and, in the manner of a psychic, may have to make an effort of the will in order to become his “true self”.

Q.361 – Advaita and the Brain

Q: Hello, I have a question. Professor V. Ramachandran, a neurologist at UC San Diego, in his research outlined that  the Temporal lobe in the brain, which when excited by electricity results in the individual having a religious experience where they “now understand the cosmos” and feel as one with it. This has been characterized in press reports as “The God Zone”   He tells in his book:  “It seems somehow disconcerting to be told that your life, all your hopes, triumphs and aspirations simply arise from the activity of neurons in your brain. Science— cosmology, evolution and especially the brain sciences—is telling us that we have no privileged position in the universe and that our sense of having a private non-material soul “watching the world” is really an illusion (as has long been emphasized by Eastern mystical traditions like Hinduism and Zen Buddhism).”

So according to modern science, there’s nothing spiritual or paranormal. Consciousness in any form is produced only in the brain. How do those new information fit in the Advaita?

A (Ramesam): The quote of Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, if I am not wrong, seems to be from his 1998 book on “Phantoms in the Brain.”

By the late nineties the thrust given to Neuroscientific research through ‘The Decade of the Brain’ project was coming to an end. As a result of this concerted effort, illuminating light began to shine on many hitherto dark corners of the brain’s way of functioning – be it memory, emotions, thought process, neurological ailments or even the intractable mind-brain relation. The general atmosphere prevailing in those times was that of all round excitement and euphoria about the new findings which opened the doors to promising avenues of research in Neuroscience. Dr. Ramachandran made a name for himself with contributions to the advancement of our knowledge on the alleviation of pain from surgically excised limbs, synesthesia and even the application of neuroscientific principles to art and sculpture. Continue reading

Bhakti – Limitation of Accepted Paths

In our search for Truth, beginning with an examination of the world before us, we use
as our instrument the faculty of reason. This reason can well be divided into two. One
is lower reason, which is exercised by the mind in examining the mutual relationship
of objects, from intellect down to the gross world. The other is higher reason or
transcendental reason, which is exercised in examining the mind and its objects –
gross or subtle – with a view to discover their real content.

There are usually three accepted paths to the Truth. They are the paths of devotion,
yoga and jnyana. Of these three, devotion and yoga deal only with relative things
falling within the sphere of the mind and sense organs, taking into consideration only
experiences in the waking state. Their findings, therefore, can only be partial and

The jnyana path looks from a broader perspective and comprehends within its scope
both yoga and devotion. It takes into consideration the whole of life’s experiences – comprised in the three states – viewed impartially. It demands a high degree of real
devotion, in the sense that the aspirant has to have a high degree of earnestness and
sincerity to get to the Truth. This is real devotion, to Truth; and it is infinitely superior
to devotion to anything else, which can only be less than the Truth.

The yogin controls, sharpens and expands the mind to its maximum possibilities,
attaining samadhi and powers (or siddhis) on the way. But in the case of those who
follow the jnyana path, the mind is analysed impartially and minutely; and proved to
be nothing other than pure Consciousness itself, beyond which there is no further
power or possibility of development.

So it is through jnyana alone that Truth can be visualized, while yoga and devotion
only prepare the ground for it.

Note 63, Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda: Volume 1, Shri Atmananda and Nitya Tripta, Non-Duality Press, ISBN: 978-0-9563091-2-9. Buy from Amazon US
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Bhakti Is the Basis of Brahma-jnan

By Ted Schmidt

One of the chief critiques often hurled at Vedanta is that it is merely intellectual, that it is dry and devoid of heart. This critique, however, is wholly unjustified. In fact, the very foundation of Vedantic self-inquiry is bhakti, or devotion.

It should be understood, however, that truly speaking love, the purest form of which is devotion, is not in its essence the exhilarating emotion it is romantically portrayed as and in whose name intimate relationships of diverse character are universally pursued. Love is simply focused attention. On an exoteric level (i.e., within the context of vyavaharika satyam, the seemingly dualistic empirical reality), we love what we pay attention to. In other words, the focus of our attention betrays or indicates what we love. On an esoteric level (i.e., from the perspective of paramarthika satyam, absolute reality or pure awareness), we can simply say that we are love, that, in fact, love is all there is. For love is attention, and attention is awareness. And since what we are in essence—what indeed everything is in essence—is awareness, love is the essential nature of reality, the “substanceless substance” that is the universal self.

Thus, even dry old pedantic Vedanta is love.

In practical terms, love lies at the heart of Vedanta as well. Only by virtue of focused attention will one be able to imbibe and assimilate the teachings that reveal the true nature of reality. For one thing, the non-dual nature of reality is counter-intuitive due to the fact that maya, or ignorance, projects such a convincing virtual dualistic reality. Additionally, the overlay of conditioning that we as apparent individuals are subjected to from every sector of the apparent reality—parents, school, community, church, government, and media—is so intense that we need a strong constitution, what Vedanta calls mumukshutva, a burning desire for freedom from ignorance, in order to withstand and overcome the constant barrage of obstacles that we as seekers of self-knowledge inevitably face on our quest for understanding and truth. This burning desire can only be characterized as love. In fact, it is essentially the self, limitless awareness, whose nature is love, seeking to know itself through the vehicle of the antahkarana (i.e., mind or intellect) of the apparent individual with whom it has become associated due to the power of maya. Therefore, self-inquiry is nothing but the self engaging in an apparent love affair with itself, an affair that is consummated by the knowledge that negates any and all sense of separation and reveals the singularity of all existence.

It is in this sense that jnana and bhakti are one.

MokSha and bhakti


Among all means of liberation (mokSha), devotion (bhakti) is supreme. To seek earnestly to know one’s real nature – this is said to be devotion (bhakti).

vivekachUDAmaNi 31

In other words, devotion can be defined as the search for the reality of one’s own Atman.

vivekachUDAmaNi 32 (first sentence)

upadesha sAhasrI – Part 20


Part 20 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. This is the prakaraNa grantha which is agreed by most experts to have been written by Shankara himself and is an elaborate unfoldment of the essence of Advaita.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction