Jnana and Bhakti

Often we equate jnana with jnana yoga. In Indian thought jnana means studying the scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Srimad Bhagavat, Ramayana, etc. This is considered jnana. This is the first meaning of jnana. The second meaning is realization of the truth: “I am Brahma.” Aham Brahmasmi, Soham, Shivoham, Satchidananda Swaroopoham.

Bhakti is independent of jnana. A bhakta may not have read any of the scriptures, he may not even know what kind of an object God is, he may not know whether He is inside or all-pervasive. However, if the emotion of bhakti enters one’s mind, like it did for Mirabai, Tulsidas or Surdas, then even one who is illiterate and has no knowledge of the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Aham Brahmasmi or Soham, can attain God. Bhakti is independent of jnana. This is the last word of our saints and sages.

I am not criticizing jnana. I am saying that not everyone in this world follows the same path. The path of bhakti appeals to many; it is a broader road. However, not everyone can walk the path of bhakti. Some people go the way of karma yoga, some jnana yoga and some raja yoga, the path of asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi, etc. Many people go on the path of jnana. It is a very subtle and narrow path, it is a short-cut, but there are many difficulties on it. There are many possibilities of a fall. I am not favouring the path of bhakti, I am only making an analysis. Those who walk the path of jnana face many difficulties, because in this path there is no method to sublimate emotions. In the path of jnana there is no method to channelize the sensitivities, feelings and emotions. It is a dry and lonely path. But it is right for some people, for the renunciates it is an excellent path. For the common person the path of bhakti is independent of jnana. Anandamai Ma, for example, was not educated. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was not educated.

The meaning of bhakti, however, is not ritualistic worship. It is believed that bhakti is of two kinds. Vedic bhakti and prema bhakti. Vedic bhakti is the path of rituals. But that is not the real path of bhakti. The real path of bhakti is that of love. Remove all the love and attraction that you have for the world and attach it to God. Many people cannot do it. Someone asked, “How should I practise bhakti of God?” How can that be answered! If someone asks how should I love my wife, what will you answer? This is a matter of experience.

Bhakti and love cannot be taught. Did anyone ever teach you how to love? Love and bhakti are within you. All sages say that bhakti is within you. If it wasn’t, how would you love someone? And how would you hate someone? The basis of love and hate are the same. Like and dislike, raga and dwesha, have the same basis. That is the basis of bhakti, too. If you put an end to raga and dvesha, bhakti will grow.

Bhakti can also grow by reading the Ramayana or Ramacharitamanas. These texts are like the sea, and we are swimmers in the sea. What a swimmer does when he goes in the sea is up to him. Many people try to chant the Ramayana and find inspiration through that. They get strength through that, they get encouragement for bhakti through that. In bhakti we like to hear and talk about God just as we like to talk about our children. God’s name sounds sweet to us whether we talk of Him or hear of Him. When you read about Rama, it sounds sweet to you. And when someone eats something sweet, he wants to have a little bit more of it because sweet things taste nice.

—28 April, 2000