Bhakti in Other Traditions? – Jiva Institute of Vedic Studies

( – Bhakti in Other Traditions? – Jiva Institute of Vedic Studies

Question: The impersonal aspect [of God] (Nirakara, Nirguna) is called Brahman, or ‘unknowable’ by Herbert Spencer, ‘will’ by Schopenhauer, Absolute Noumenon by some ‘substance’ by Spinoza. The personal aspect (Sakara) of that Being is termed ‘Ishvara’ or Allah, Hari, Jehovah, Father in Heaven, Buddha, Siva, etc. Just as vapor or steam is formless, so also God is formless in His unmanifested or transcendental state. (Swami Sivananda)

Where are the inaccuracies in the above quote? Other Advaitavādīs accept God and bhakti as the only means to liberation. How then are they not devotees? 

Answer: A true bhakta is a śuddha-bhakta, one who engages in bhakti to attain bhakti and not to attain something else. The Advaitavādī’s bhakti is covered in jñāna because they want to achieve Brahman.

I hope you understand the definition of bhakti and bhakta. Bhakta means one who wants to do seva and does not want anything in return. Do you think this is the mood of Advaitavādī?

Question: Recently I went to a Seventh Day Adventist (Christian) church with relatives. They worship God very nicely in their own way, so that is bhakti. Once again, here is another religion that worships Kṛṣṇa in their own way. We know that Kṛṣṇa is the fountainhead of all religions, but is their liberation any less than that of a Kṛṣṇa bhakta? I have a hard time believing this.

Answer: I advise you to spend time studying the first chapter of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, especially the definition of bhakti. Unless you become clear about the definition of bhakti, such doubts and questions will keep coming up. Bhakti may look very simple but it is not that simple to understand.  

Question: Are you saying that other theist systems are not doing bhakti? How can the bhakti of our tradition be the only kind of bhakti that is accepted as pure? I understand kṛṣṇa-anuśīlanam but just because someone doesn’t call God “Kṛṣṇa” doesn’t change their love or devotion to Him. Jesus Christ was an empowered incarnation of the Lord and taught pure bhakti; I know this to be a fact. Is cognizing every little detail of the tattva obligatory for bhakti to manifest? Most of the theistic systems of the world, especially Abrahamic religions at their core, are teaching the exact same attitude and loving service to God. So, if that is cultivated in the right way and their service is favorable, I don’t see how they could not receive entrance into the spiritual world. Like you said—Vaikuntha is a kingdom with many planets. I’m sure that Jesus Christ has his planet with Viṣṇu there. I’d like to believe that Kṛṣṇa Consciousness is not so much the specific practices that we as Vaiṣṇavas do but more so a mood, an attitude, and a practice of devotion.

Answer: I did not comment anything on other traditions—whether they perform bhakti or not. It is not my position to evaluate other traditions. I only advised you to understand the definition of bhakti because your questions were all related to bhakti. My understanding is that if the definition of bhakti is clear, then many of the doubts you raised will be cleared. Christians, etc. may be doing bhakti in their own way. But their bhakti does not fit into our definition of bhakti. Words such as “bhakti” or “love” do not have just one objective meaning like the word “apple.” Therefore, a Christian may also use the word bhakti but that does not mean his bhakti conveys the same sense as when we use it. I use the word bhakti as it is defined in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11). Unless you give the meaning of bhakti as used in other traditions, I have no means to answer you. But I can say that their bhakti does not fit our definition of bhakti.

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