Chapter 8: Bhakti and Jnana
I have been telling you sometimes that there is some secret meaning behind the last words in the Eleventh Chapter of the Gita when we are told that bhakti is supreme. The bhakti that Sri Krishna speaks of here is not ordinary obeisance to an idol. It is not a mass you perform in the church. It is a meeting of your being before one Absolute. Therefore Bhagavan Sri Krishna says "Not charity, not philanthropy, not study, not austerity, is capable of bringing about this great vision that you had, Arjuna! Only by devotion can I be seen, contacted. Only by devotion am I capable of being known, seen and entered into". These three words are used in the Bhagavad Gita at the end of the Eleventh Chapter - knowing, seeing and entering. Arjuna knew and saw, but never entered into It. Therefore, he was the same Arjuna after the Bhagavad Gita also. He never entered into the Supreme Being.
Now, religion is knowing, seeing and entering into. Knowing is considered by such thinkers like Ramanuja, the great propounder of the Visishtadvaita philosophy, as inferior to devotion. Knowledge or jnana is not equal to bhakti, says Ramanuja. And Acharya Sankara says that jnana is superior to bhakti. It may appear that they are quarelling with each other. Really, they are not. They have some emphasis laid on different aspects of the same question. Why does Bhagavan Sri Krishna say that nothing can make you fit to see the vision of God, to behold Him, except bhakti? It would seem that He speaks like Ramanuja and not like Sankara. But they are only speaking in different languages ...the same thing. There is no contradiction between them. "Knowing, seeing and entering into" signifies the process of contacting God by degrees. There are, in the parlance of Vedanta, two types of knowledge - paroksha jnana and aparoksha jnana. Paroksha jnana is indirect knowledge. Aparoksha jnana is direct knowledge. "God exists" is indirect knowledge. "I am inseparable from God-being" is direct knowledge. Now, we do not feel that we are inseparable from God-being. That knowledge has not come to us. So we have not entered such a height of religious consciousness as to be convinced that we are inseparable from God's existence. But we are convinced enough to feel that God exists. He is, but we have not gone to such an extent to feel that we are inseparable from Him. That is a little higher stage. Jnana has come, but Darshana or vision of God has not come. We have not seen the Virat in front of us, notwithstanding the fact that we are seeing Virat. The whole cosmos is that, but we have somehow segregated our personality from Virat consciousness. A cell in the body is seeing the body as if it is outside it.
What would be the condition or the experience of a cell in our own body notionally isolating itself from the organism to which it belongs and considering the body as a world outside it? You can imagine the stupidity of it. This is exactly what we are doing. We think the world is outside of us, though we are a part of the world. So, the idea that the Virat is an object of perception, that the world is external to us, is notional, not realistic. All our difficulties are notional in the end. They have no reality or substance in themselves.
By bhakti Ramanuja means that love of God which supersedes intellectual activity or a mere knowing that God exists. And when Sankara says that jnana or knowledge is superior, he means knowledge which is identical with being and which is the same as Para bhakti or the love of God where the soul is in communion with the Being of God.
The highest devotion is the same as the highest knowledge. jnana and Para bhakti are the same. The gauna bhakti or secondary love of God, which is more ritualistic and more formal, is inferior. But Ramanuja's bhakti is the surging of the soul and the melting of personality in God-love as we hear in the case of Spinoza, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Mirabai and Tukaram. Their bhakti was not simply love of God as that of church-men or temple-men. It is a kind of ecstasy in which the personality has lost itself in God-love and God-being. That is jnana and that is bhakti. So there is no difference between Ramanuja and Sankara in the ultimate reaches. And Bhagavan Sri Krishna's dictum is also of a similar character.
By gradually losing attachment to this obsessional notion that we are this little Mr. or Mrs. Body and that we are located in a part of the physical world called India or America or Japan or Russia, we slowly try to become citizens of a larger dimension which is wider than this earth, perhaps larger than even the solar system and this physical cosmos.
When we enter into the true religious life, we become real children of God.