[Advaita-l] Did Madhusudana Saraswati Reconcile Bhakti and Advaita?

Rajaram Venkataramani rajaramvenk at gmail.com
Sun Jan 29 14:24:23 CST 2012

As per my understanding, Bhakti and Advaita are totally compatible even up
to and at the penultimate stage. This is because bhagavath bhakti, where
bhagavan is identified with the innermost self, is referred to in the
upanishads and bhakti rasas are known to the author of Harivamsa, which is
admitted to be quite ancient. Sankara Himself was aware of Bhagavatha
school and Harivamsa specifically. However, the popular conception is that
bhagavath bhakti is incompatible with Advaita. And due to the popularity of
bhakti movement, Madhusudana Saraswati had to reconcile bhakti and Advaita.
Prof. Lance Nelson, who did his thesis on Bhakti Rasayana feels that
Madhusudana Saraswati did not successfully reconcile bhakti and Advaita.
The following is from his abstract, which summarizes his case and would
like to know what the scholars on this list think.

>From the abstract of Prof. Lance Nelson's Ph. D. thesis, "Madhusudana
Saraswati (16th century), one of the greatest and most vigourous exponents
of post sankara advaita, was simultaniously, and somewhat paradoxically, a
great devotee of Krishna. He authored several works in which he sought to
give bhakti a more prominent place within Advaita, a system traditionally
regarded as hostile to devotional spirituality.
            The Bhaktirasayana (BR), the most important of these, is an
independent composition which attemps a theoretical integration of non -
duilist metaphysics and the ecstatic devotionalism of the Bhagavata Purana.
The work's main thesis, borrowed from the Vaishnava devotionalists, is that
Bhakti is the highest goal of life (paramapurusartha). To establish this in
the face of the orthodox Advaita doctrine that liberation alone is the
highest aim, Madusudhana argues
(1) that bhakti is God (bhagavat) appearing in the melted mind of the
devotee, (2) that since bhagavat is supreme bliss, so is bhakti, and (3)
that bhakti includes knowledge of the atman and is a more blissful
experience than moksha.
           While the arguement of the experiential superiority of bhakti in
the  state of jivanmukti ("liberation in life") is plausible, Madhusana
does not show, in Advaitic terms, how it can be experienced eternally after
death. Moreover, he fails to establish that bhagavat is ontologically equal
to Brahman, which makes it difficult to see how bhakti , as identified with
bhagavat, can be ontologically superior, or even equal to moksha. In short,
he does not present a convincing arguement for bhakti's being
          In later works such as the Gudarthadipika and Advaitasiddhi,
Madhusana abondens the idea that bhakti is an independent spiritual path
and itself the parama-purusartha. The commonly accepted view that he was a
champion of the cause of bhakti who successfully intergrated devotion and
Advita cannot therefore be accepted without serious qualification".

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