The Paths of Devotion and Knowledge

Devotion versus knowledge. Is devotion a better path than the path of knowledge? What is the differences between jnana and bhakti?

"The perfected Bhakta no more goes to see God in temples and churches; he knows no place where he will not find Him. He finds Him in the temple as well as out of the temple; he finds Him in the saint's saintliness as well as in the wicked man's wickedness, because he has Him already seated in glory in his own heart, as the one Almighty, inextinguishable Light of Love, which is ever shining and eternally present."--Swami Vivekananda

Below is in response to a query as to what was a better path to follow: the path of devotion or the path of knowledge.

Dear Friend,

Thank you for your questions.

The following is a chapter from one of my books, Footprints Along the Shore of an Incoming Tide. It is a poem I wrote many years ago when my mind wrestled with the same questions with which you are now playing. In the scripture Tripura Rhasaya, a favorite of Ramana, talks about the Jnana of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma as the same. However, the expression of that One Knowing, that Jnana, from each of the Trinity is different. What we do in our ignorance is to divide that Jnana up into names. For those who follow the ways of Vishnu, the bhaktas, will say that devotion is the best way; those who follow Shiva and the path of Jnana, say that the path of discrimination is the most efficient; and the Karma yogis who follow the path of Action, of Brahma, say that doing good deeds and surrendering one’s will is the way to God.

Saints and prophets and avatars are all born into human bodies, into various cultures during various periods of time. All those elements color the expression of that Impulse of Consciousness. Those followers of the words of those teachers of humanity who have any sort of insecurity with that nagging thought, no matter how small it is, that their path is not the right one, will find a defensiveness rise up in them. God forbid, they may not following the right one! And if one is not following the right one then one is a loser and has wasted their time, because they didn’t choose the “right one in the first place.” These are the ones who become the fundamentalists who will not allow anyone to challenge their path because they are afraid deep down. They are stuck in the world of division, of us versus them.

Sometimes these masters also appear to be one pointed, not allowing for any other ideas as the right way. But these teachers are like strong flashlights in the darkened minds of humanity that have come for very specific purposes or impulses for that culture and time. Perhaps there have been too many following Advaita and have lost the true essence of that path, who have become cold, detached and stuck in mental enlightenment. So a Chaitanya enters the scene to bring the heart back into the picture. However, the mystics who come to the One do not engage in these debates because it generally only reinforces division and thus enhances the egoic mind.

Ramana, as you are now studying, would tell us not to try to figure it all out with the mind because it is the ploy of the ego, that delusional thought that we are separate from God, to stay alive. Who is it that has the question? Is it the ego or the Self? What question would the Self ever have when it rests secure in God, who is the All of All, the I AM THAT I AM?

Shanti, Janaka


Spring has arrived. The darkness of winter fades and becomes only a memory. And as the sun grows stronger day by day, so does the love blossom in my heart. My love for my lady, my son, my Master, my love for God.

The pull proves very strong to visit the Vedanta Temple of Hollywood these days, to visit the spiritual presence of Ramakrishna, to place my forehead to the ground out of love and reverence. I do not go alone for Ramana goes with me, as he does everywhere. The temple is filled with the hum of Silence. When the harmonium begins its drone and the chant rises from the monks and nuns, the tears flow in recollection.

But how does devotion enter into Advaita Vedanta? Who is there to worship when there exists only One? At times this troubles me, when my mind tries to prove that either dualism or non-dualism is right and the other is wrong. Now I feel no difference between contemplation and devotion.

Hanuman bows to Ram,
Says I know we are One:
Always have been,
Always will be,
This my Heart knows without doubt.

But my Lord,
While I still see this body
And this world all around,
Let me play Thy servant:

My mind always fixed on Thee,
My eyes swelling with tears,
My hair rising at Thy Name,
My lips trembling as I call for Thee.

Hear the words of the Master,
The words of the fool Ramakrishna,
Weeping with the Name of Kali.

He reached the highest:
One without a second;
Yet seemed to play the Child of the Mother.

Remember Sri Ramana,
The embodiment of the one Self,
Seeing no other;
Yet singing praises to Lord Arunachala,
Singing praises to the Name Ramana,
As devotee and Guru.

It’s all mystery.
Do not try to figure it out.

Sing your Heart’s song.

Chant the Holy Names.

Do not think.
Just be.

Dance if you would.
Sit without a word.

It matters not;
It’s all the same.

Just hold onto the One.

While there exist seasons for you,
Enjoy them.

In the winter
Sit in the darkness,
Let everything die in you—
Be empty, silent.

And in the summer
Worship the sun.
Dance with All That Is.
Sing the One Song in all Its variations.
Chant the many Names.
Bow and weep before the very One.

Do not force it;
There is nothing you can do anyway.
Let your body do what it must.

Trust in the Doer.

Let go of differences
Between jnana and bhakti;
Between all schools of beliefs.
Let the scholars and pundits debate.

Be the Self.
Love the Self.

Both are thoughtless.

How wonderful it is to be thoughtless.

Janaka Stagnaro

Guru, Friend or Mentor?
Satsang or Meditating Solo?
Meditation Techniques Basics
Hindu Meditation Techniques
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