Bhakti as an Enabler of Jnana

This article is part 16 of 20 in the series Puranas

ātmārāmāś ca munayo nirgranthā apyurukrame|

kurvantyahaitukīṁ bhaktimittham bhūtaguṇo hariḥ || (1.7.10)

It can be said that one of the specialities of the Bhagavatam is its depiction of Bhakti imbued with tender love. It narrates how the Gopis attained exaltation through this tender love whose origins lay in the sexual impulse. The Bhagavatam clearly says that although their love was initially tainted with lust, because it was centred on the Paramatman himself, they were ultimately elevated. Akin to how raindrops which fall inside the pearly shell themselves become pearls. Thus, it is the intent of the Bhagavatas that because the Bhakti of the Gopis was concentrated on the Highest, its consequence was similarly excellent.

Mere performance of Karma does not fully extinguish the bonds of Karma. The person who has not realized the Atman becomes qualified to perform Karma. The line, “trayyāṃ jaḍīkṛtamatiḥ madhupuṣpitāyāṃ vaitānike mahati karmaṇi yujyamānaḥ  (6.3.25)” reminds us of Bhagavad Gita’s “yāmimāṃ puṣpitāṃ vācaṃ pravadantyavipaścitaḥ.”  Thus, the path of Karma is for those who have not acquired the knowledge of Atman. In the final reckoning, the Bhagavatam says that the Vedas do not prescribe Karma as the final goal: “āhurdhūmradhiyo vedaṃ sakarmakamatadvidaḥ (4.29.48).”

The Bhagavatam advocates Murti-Puja (incorrectly translated as “idol worship) for the seeker. However, while performing it, the seeker must imbibe within him an attitude that the Bhagavan exists in all emotions and impulses and must this worship for developing inner poise and equanimity. On the contrary, if he confounds the Murti with the Bhagavan himself, the Puja becomes a mockery:

yo māṃ sarveṣu bhūteṣu santamātmānama īśvaram ।
hitvārcāṃ bhajate mauḍhyād bhasmanyeva juhoti saḥ ।। 3.29.22 

Bhakti as an Enabler of Jnana

Although the role of Bhakti is extolled as a vehicle for attaining Moksha via Jnana, in reality, it is merely a causal factor and it is not Jnana by itself. Both Jnana and Vairagya will be strengthened through Bhakti, as we recall the story of the Padma Purana. Likewise, we can cite this verse from the Bhagavad Gita:

bhaktyā māmabhijānāti yāvānyaścāsmi tattvata: |
tato māṃ tattvato jñātvā viśate tadanantaram ||18. 55||

The Bhagavatam also clearly avers that Bhakti is an instrument for Jnana:

1.    tāvat paricaredbhaktaḥ (11.18.39)

2.    The son of Vena, king Pruthu attained the Jnana imbued with renunciation and eventually gave up his mortal body through incessant contemplation on the Bhagavan. (4.23.11)

3.    The Bhagavan himself gives a discourse to Devahuti saying that through intense Bhakti Yoga, the human joins the Paramatman (3.27.5 thru 16).

4.    Through my benediction, my Bhakta will realize the ultimate philosophy and attain Kaivalya (3.27.28 and 29)

Finally, this appears to be the summary of the Bhagavatam: Karma Yoga is ideal for those people in whom renunciation is yet to take root. Bhakti Yoga is ideal for those people who are neither deeply interested in either renunciation nor have intense attachment for worldly life. Jnana Yoga is ideal for those who have already attained renunciation.

Who are the Bhagavatas?

The word Bhagavata can be derived as bhagavān bhaktiḥ asyeti bhāgavataḥ. This term acquires its meaning from Panini’s aphorism, bhakti (Asthadhyayi: 4.3.95). Further, the meaning of the word bhaktiḥ can be derived as bhajyate sevyate iti bhaktiḥ. Bhakti is that which is worthy of being served. The word Bhakti is not an abstract noun, it is an instrument of Karma. Thus, a Bhagavata is a Bhakta of the Bhagavan.

However, when we call this Purana as the Bhagavatam, the word derivation becomes different: bhagavanta adhiktya kto grantha bhāgavata. That is, the Bhagavatam is work written for the purpose of extolling the Bhagavan. This derivation of adhiktya kto grantha is supported by Panini’s aphorism: 4.3.87.

Even among the Bhaktas, the most excellent Bhagavata is he who:

  1. The person who sees the boundless wealth of Sri Hari who resides in all of Creation and vice versa is the most excellent Bhagavata (11.2.45).
  2. The person who, despite grasping the objects of sense organs from the medium of sense organs does not feel happy nor develop enmity and regards the whole Creation as the triumph of the illusion woven by Mahavishnu is the most excellent Bhagavata (11.2.48).
  3. The person who in matters of money doesn’t make a differentiation between “my money “and “others’ money,” and who has an equanimous attitude towards all of Creation, he who is endowed with true internal peace is the highest among the Bhagavatas (1.2.52).

These traits are applicable only to the one who has realized the Atman. The ardent seeker among the four categories of Bhaktas may be compared with the Bhagavad Gita’s verse, jñānitvātamaiva me mata (7.18). The Jnani is the Most Exalted among all the Bhagavatas.

Dhyana Yoga or the Yoga of Meditation

Archana is among the Nine Methods of Bhakti. Murti-Puja is one such method. The Bhagavan says that it is Kriya Yoga (i.e., a subset of Karma Kanda). Among the Eight Forms of Murtis, the Murti which comes handy in Manasa-Puja (Mental Contemplation) is notable. The Homam performed with Agni is one among the Archanas. It is said that the Four-Armed Vishnu must be meditated upon in all these methods of worship.

And then, among the Nine Methods beginning with Shravana (Concentrated Listening), contemplation is regarded as Dhyana Yoga. This is called Upasana. In Upasana, Vishnu, the All-Encompassing Splendour must be invoked in the mind of the seeker in the First Stage of Seeking. Thus, the mind of the seeker will be firmly embedded in all the organs of this mental form of Vishnu. After this, the Seeker has to contemplate only on the face. He must not think about other organs. Thus, the Seeker’s mind will earn the strength to fully focus on the face. After mastering this strength, the mind must be fixated upon the Formless non-manifestation. Once the mind acquires sturdiness in this state, it must be affixed in Pure Brahman. If this is achieved, the distinction between the meditator and the Meditated will be erased. And then, Brahman will no longer remain an object of meditation. Because of this, the Bhakta will ascend to the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. At this stage, akin to how light merges with light, the Dhyana Yogi will realize the Oneness with Paramatman. In this State, the Yogi will be free from the illusion that “this is matter, this is knowledge, this is action.” (11.14).

The Seventh chapter of the Sixth Amsa of the Vishnupurana describes this Dhyana Yoga in a lovely manner.

To be continued



Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  



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