[Advaita-l] Bhakti

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun May 11 23:44:00 CDT 2003

On Sun, 11 May 2003, Hemant Kapoor wrote:

> Dear Jaldhar,
>            I had been off the list for a long while and was surprised to
> receive a mail including me again.

Apparently you were still subscribed but had the receipt of mails turned
off.  I've reset you to this status.

> Before I unsubscribe once again I
> would like to know something about the place of Bhakti and Grace in
> Advaita Vedanta as taught by Sri Sankara. Can some learned Mahashaya
> enlighten me. Thank you.

It is a great misconception to think as some do that Advaita Vedanta is
atheistic or minimizes the role of God.  True, Shankaracharya criticizes
the views of the 'Bhagavatas' (Vaishnavas) and 'Maheshvaras' (Shaivas) in
the Brahmasutrabhashya.  But if you look closesly at the former for
instance, he is criticising the vyuha theory of the Pancharatra Agamas and
he takes pains to note he is _only_ criticizing this particular
philosophical view and not the concept of the worship of Vishnu Bhagavan
itself who he repeatedly refers to as 'higher than the avyakta' (the
unmanifest Prakrti of Samkhya.)  Elsewhere in his writings, moksha is
refered to as 'Vishnoh param padam.'  Traditionally he is also supposed to
have installed the Sphatikalingam and Shrichakra in the mathas he founded
and in many other mandirs and tirths throughout India.  And of course
there are many stotras in his name dedicated to all sorts of deities.

But Advaitic Bhakti is slightly different in emphasis to that practised by
others.  Above all it must emphasise that the devotee and God, the object
of devotion are one and that God and His creation are also one.  The
Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote a book about the relationship with
God in his faith called "I And Thou"  An Advaitin would say "I Am Thou"
Also Advaitic Bhakti cannot be exclusive because to confine God to a
single form is an attempt to diminish Him which surely is the opposite of
Bhakti.  Shankaracharya demonstrated Advaitic Bhakti by starting the
practice of Panchayatana Puja in which all the major Deities of the Vedas:
Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesh, and Surya Bhagavans are represented.  Ones'
chosen form is placed in the middle to be the rightful center of ones'
attention but the others are placed all around so it is never forgotten
that God is in their forms too.

The goal of Advaita Vedanta, Mukti, cannot be given by another no matter
how powerful or wise.  It can only result from the ultimate knowledge that
breaks the bonds of Maya.  But the grace of God and the Guru is still
vitally important in a negative sense.  It is they who can help overcome
the obstacles that have caused the ignorant jiva to forget the knowledge
which ever exists inside himself.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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