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Bhakti-Yoga vs. Bhakti

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Fri Dec 12 1997 - 15:53:20 PST

Krishna Susarla asks:
> I was wondering if anyone could provide examples from the
> itihaasa-s or puraaNa-s of individuals who practiced the
> bhakti-yoga as described above.

Before I address what the term "bhakti-yoga" means to Ramanuja, 
I think it is important to understand his interpretational
approach.  For Ramanuja, the crown-jewel of all religious source
literature is the Upanishads.  The Upanishads are the concluding 
portion of the Veda that deals only with Absolute Divinity and 
how to attain It.  The Gita is the essence of Upanishads, restated 
by God himself for the benefit of humanity. 

	AtmA are draStavyaH srotavyaH mantavyaH
	nididhyAsitavyaH |

	The Self, my dear, should be seen -- should be heard about,
	thought about, and lovingly meditated upon.

			-- Yajnavalkya to his beloved wife
			   Maitreyi, Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad

To Ramanuja or any primary philosopher of Vedanta, the Gita and
Upanishads represent the same philosophy stated in different
words.  The bhakti-yoga Sri Krishna outlines in the Gita is none
other than the "nididhyAsana", "upAsana", and "vedana" repeatedly
enjoined in the Upanishads and formalized in the Brahma-sutras.
Each of the latter three terms means deep, undivided, loving
contemplation on the Supreme Self.  The Gita may emphasize the
"love" aspect more, and the Upanishads the "meditative", but it
is evident from even a brief glance that the two must go hand in
hand.  What one loves, one seeks to know more and delve into
deeper; when one delves deeper into as wonderful and satisfying
a thing as the Supreme Self, one cannot but love it more and

So what exactly is "bhakti-yoga", one may ask; as with any
discipline, there are many stages to it, and to begin with,
bhakti-yoga is simply "sneha-pUrva anudhyAnam", meditation filled
with love, practiced along with its auxiliaries as suggested by
the Veda.   But Ramanuja, thorough as always, also clearly
defines a very advanced stage of bhakti in a wonderful phrase 
in the "vedArtha sangraha"
(summary of the meaning of the Vedas):

	ananya prayojana anavarata niratiSayapriya viSadatama
	pratyakshatApanna anudhyAna rUpa bhakti

	bhakti is valued for its own sake, which is
	uninterrupted, which is an absolute delight in itself
	and which is meditation that has taken on the 
	character of the most vivid and immediate vision.

This advanced state of loving meditation is compared to sight
because it is the most direct of senses.  It is immediate and
automatic in the way it conveys knowledge to us.  The advanced
bhakti-yogi perceives in his or her mind's eye the essence and 
form of God so well that it is like seeing God directly.  This
"paramAtma anubhavam" is what is vividly described repeatedly in
the Upanishads and the Gita, and is the precursor to the bliss of

Ramanuja establishes this spiritual method as *the* main means
taught in all of Vedanta.  It requires discipline to sit down and
practice meditation, the ability to understand the Veda and Gita
to further ones understanding of reality, and the ability to
perform Vedic worship which helps purify the mind.  None of these
are absolute prerequisites to being an exalted soul, mind you -- 
the Lord works in mysterious ways and anyone or anything can
elevate itself by taking advantage of His grace and loving Him --
but the specific discipline of bhakti-yoga is a Vedic one and has
certain corequisites.

Sri Vijayaraghavan has already described the sAdhana saptaka or
seven qualities of mind and body we should practice to further us
in our path of yoga.  [These are not limited to the bhakti-yogi
-- even those of us who find ourselves incapable of this deep
form of bhakti can practice these and better ourself.]  By
regularly practicing these, along with our duties to humanity, 
animal life, our ancestors, our gods, etc., we purify our mind so
our perception of the Self can be easier and more vivid.  In the
Upanishads, this phase is described as tapas, dAna, etc.  In the
Gita, Krishna asks us to perform our duties selflessly
[karma-yoga].  Daily, the bhakta should set aside time to sit
down and meditation on the wonder of the Self, Its all-pervasive
presence and gracious power, and Its unique and auspicious
qualities.  This loving meditation will itself be transformed
into an altogether enjoyable experience, and the bhakta will
remain rooted firmly in the Beloved Self, seeing His presence
everywhere and deriving pleasure only from Him.

	"vAsudeva sarvam iti sa mahAtmA sudurlabhaH"

	So hard is it to find that great person who says
	"Vasudeva is my all." 
					-- Gita 7.19

Often people wonder why Visishtadvaitins regard bhakti-yoga as a
difficult path, when the popular belief is that bhakti is the
easy means to liberation.  It is all a matter of perspective.
How many people do we know who declare without reservation that
God is all they care about or think about, and act in accordance 
with that behavior? How many people who are like this have the
ability to sit in meditation and vividly perceive the Self? It is
no stretch to say that the number is miniscule, precisely because
such an attitude requires a tremendous amount of emotional and
mental strength.  Bhakti-yoga, therefore, is difficult.

"bhakti", or "love of God", by itself, however, is the natural
state of a living being.  It is easy; but it should not be
confused with the spiritual discipline of bhakti-yoga, which
involves meditation and cardinal behavior as explained
previously.  Bhakti can be as little as mere emotionalism; or it
can be as wise and advanced as in bhakti-yoga.  It is simply a
gradation of effort and ability.

I hope I have explained this clearly enough.

adiyEn Mani


As far as who in the itihAsas and purANas practiced bhakti-yoga,
so many examples abound.  Immediately, vyAsa and Suka come to
mind.  Most of the rishis who lived in the Dandaka forest
[Ramayana] practicing penances also were upAsakas of this sort.
Remember Visvamitra's statement to Dasaratha: "aham vedmi
mahAtmAnam rAmam satyaparAkramam" -- The deeper meaning of this
sloka is understood by Visishtadvaitins to mean that Visvamitra
regularly meditated on Rama, understanding him to be Absolute
Divinity Itself.

While there is no restriction as form of Vishnu one should
meditate upon, the Upanishads speak of many different modes of
meditation on the Absolute, i.e., Vishnu.  These can be
classified as 32 different "vidyAs" or ways of meditation. Any
one of them is as good as another; it is up to the liking of the
bhakta.   These are more abstract and philosophical than picking 
a "form" -- one vidyA may involve meditating on the paramAtmA 
as the Self of all; another may involve meditation on It as the
source of the universe. But in the end, all of them are
interlinked and lead to the same goal.