"All paths are the same"

Is it Fanatical to Believe in Bhakti’s Superiority?

Question: In the book The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has been reported to have said several times that a combination of the highest jñāna and the highest bhakti in one person is a rare gift of the Lord. This view is quite opposed to the Gosvāmīs’ dictum that jñāna-miśra-bhakti is second only to pure bhakti.

I have come to believe that Vaiṣṇavas are extremists and sometimes fanatical about bhakti yoga. How can one realize the Absolute Truth by being one-sided? A mature practitioner is one who appreciates the fact that different paths are for people of different psychophysical natures. Isn’t it fanatical to believe and promote the notion that bhakti is the highest path and that only bhakti can take one to the highest goal?

In several texts, jñānayoga is said to be the highest path although it is also said that in Kaliyuga, people are quite body-conscious and therefore, jñānayoga is not the common path. But that doesn’t imply that jñānayoga is second to bhakti.

Answer: Hindus have a prevalent disease—everything is the same or all paths lead to the same goal, like the old English saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” It is a sort of cowardliness. They will not stand up and say, “This is the highest Truth.” They are so scared to be branded as fanatics or Hindu fundamentalists. The reality, however, is quite different. Not all roads lead to Rome. Everyone knows this! But as soon as you make a statement like this, you are branded a fanatic. Why is it fanaticism to make a statement about the Truth? 

Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (6.47) that of all yogīs, the bhakti yogī is the best:

Better than even all yogīs is someone who is full of faith and worships Me with his mind fully absorbed in Me. I consider such a person to be the greatest yogī.

Is Kṛṣṇa a fanatic or a fundamentalist? People adhering to different paths – karma-yogīs, jñāna-yogīs, raja-yogīs,  all accept Bhagavad Gītā and nobody says that Kṛṣṇa is a despot. In Chapter 12 of the Gītā, Arjuna asks directly who is superior—a bhakta or a jñānī. Kṛṣṇa clearly replies that a bhakta is superior (BG 12.1-2):

Arjuna said:
Between those devotees who exclusively worship You and are ever devoted to You as described, and those who worship the imperishable, unmanifest Brahman, who are those who know yoga best?

Śrī Bhagavān said:
Those who worship Me, are absorbed and ever united with Me and endowed with transcendental faith, I regard them as the best knowers of yoga.

In the remainder of the chapter, He continues to praise bhaktas. He says that bhaktas are dear to Him; nowhere does He say that jñānīs are dear to Him. He is called “bhakta-vatsala,” never “jñānī-vatsala.” So if a Vaiṣṇava accepts Kṛṣṇa’s words, does that make him a fanatic? Arjuna says that no one is equal or superior to Kṛṣṇa (BG 11.43)—is he a fanatic? Many such statements can be cited from different śāstra. 

Now please tell me why a Vaiṣṇava is a fanatic. Can you define ‘fanatic’? You probably believe that all gods like Śiva, Brahmā, Indra, Varuna, Ganeṣa and Durgā are equal to Kṛṣṇa. But that is not what Kṛṣṇa says in the Gītā (10.2 and 10.8). Either Kṛṣṇa is a fanatic or you are in ignorance. “Neither the divine beings (suras) nor the sages (maharñis) know the reality of My birth, because, in all respects, I am the cause of the  divine beings and sages.” And “I am the source of everything and everything functions because of Me. Knowing thus, the wise, endowed with devotion, worship Me.” Nobody has challenged these words of Kṛṣṇa.

You ask: “How can one realize the absolute truth by being one-sided?” Have you read Bhagavad Gītā? Kṛṣṇa requests Arjuna to give up all dharma and to just surrender to Him. Kṛṣṇa is specifically asking Arjuna to be one-sided, not multisided (BG 18.66).

“Abandoning [dependence] on all duties completely, take refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not grieve.”

His most confidential instruction is to become a devotee: man manā bhava mad bhaktaḥ (18.65). Where does He say that you should mix all the paths? If you want to reach a destination, then you take one route. You do not keep changing roads and going in different directions. If you are not serious about one route, you will never reach your destination.

You write: “In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has been reported to have said several times that a combination of the highest jñāna and the highest bhakti in one person is a rare gift of the Lord. This view is quite opposed to the Gosvāmīs’ dictum that jñāna-miśra-bhakti is second only to pure bhakti.”

So you have to decide whether you want to follow Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Śrī Kṛṣṇa.  Each will lead to a different destination. The Gosvāmīs are followers of Kṛṣṇa and not of RK Paramahamsa. 

You write: “A mature practitioner is one who appreciates the fact that different paths are for people of different psychophysical natures. Isn’t it fanatical to believe and promote the notion that bhakti is the highest path and that only bhakti can take one to the highest goal?”

The first statement is true, and we accept that. But if people have different natures, then their paths are different. This means that they are not same. If there are many paths to a destination, they generally have a hierarchy.  Some paths will be superior to others. At the same time, a particular path may be more suitable for a particular person, even if it is not the highest.

You write: “In several texts, jñānayoga is said to be the highest path although it is also said that in Kaliyuga, people are quite body-conscious and therefore, jñānayoga is not the common path. But that doesn’t imply that jñānayoga is second to bhakti.

Unless you give some pramāna, this statement does not mean much. Anyone can make any statement. The truth is known by pramāna, not by mere statements—lakṣaṇa-pramāṇābhyāṁ vastu-siddhir na tu pratijñā-mātreṇa. 

If you want to follow jñāna-mārga, we have no problem. You are most welcome, but don’t call us fanatics without properly studying śāstra. We are not fanatics, and therefore we have no objection to you being a follower of jñāna-mārga. Nor will we tell you that you are following an inferior path. We do not do that. And if you think that jñāna is the best path, we will not debate with you. We do not hate jñāna-mārgīs. But we do believe, on the basis of śāstra and personal experience, that bhakti is the best path, and nothing comes close to it. If you can invest some time studying what is bhakti, you may also agree with us. 

I have a question for you. Is bhakti to Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, Durgā, Ganeśa, Hanumān, etc. all equal? If yes, how? If not, are you not a fanatic?

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Is it Fanatical to Believe in Bhakti’s Superiority?”

  1. Love,bhakti is a driving force for living and knowing(jnana) experiencing more and more…
    “I am the source of everything and everything functions because of Me. Knowing thus, the wise endowed with devotion, worship Me.” said Krishna in BG
    One-sided versus multisided
    Be devoted to yourself to know yourself.
    All paths are in one path
    It seems there are many paths, but in essence, they all are only one
    Even if it looks like you are changing roads and going in different directions, you are always on the road of your destination
    Knowledge and devotions are your steps
    The highest jnana and the highest bhakti in one are for One
    There are no superior or inferior paths, only yours which is unique
    As there is not a ” person in general”, there isn’t a description of the path suitable for everyone
    Bhakti is jnana, and jnana is bhakti the steps on the same path you walk already on
    Bhakti and jnana are interwoven with each other
    They complement each other
    So enjoy

    1. There is a fanatical approach to spirituality that exists with in the Gaudiya Vaishnav tradition. ‘Bhakti is the superior path’ ‘Krishna only likes Bhakta’s’ and so on. This is the common rhetoric you hear in Iskcon temples. The Vaishnavs seem to be obssesed with attacking Gnani’s whom the consider to be ‘Mayavadis’ However, I have seen many Vaishnavs get destroyed in debates or simply run away due to their own misconceptions. Some of the greatest talks on Bhakti have been from Gnani’s.

      I think alot of Hindus consider the teachings of vaishnavs to be quite similar to the Abrahamic traditions it at times can feel like Christianity or Islam. There is this superiority and ‘elitist’ mentality that exists.
      You said:

      “Hindus have a prevalent disease—everything is the same or all paths lead to the same goal, like the old English saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” It is a sort of cowardliness. . They will not stand up and say, “This is the highest Truth.”

      This is not cowardliness it is appreciation for the absolute truth to be discovered in many paths depending on the nature of the practitioner. This is the essence of Sanatana Dharma it’s Islam or Christianity. Also, the statement ‘ this is the highest truth’ to me does not make much logical sense. We know that 2+2 =4 we also know that 1+1+1+1=4, 3+1=4 the list goes on. Please let me know which is the highest truth?? They all provide you with the same answer just as all the Yogic paths lead to the same destination. The highest truth as a statement in itself is contradictive.

      “But we do believe, on the basis of śāstra and personal experience, that bhakti is the best path, and nothing comes close to it.”

      According to who? Again, this is entirely dependent on the path you follow. For a Jnani that will be the ‘best’ path for a Karma yogi that will be the ‘best’ path etc. How are you going to prove that your path is better than anyone else’s?? Perhaps you should abandon the word ‘best’ in comparison to other paths.

      I think it’s also important to note that there are lots of translations of the Gita from different traditions. They put emphasis on the path they follow that does not mean that theirs is superior than anyone else’s. It is all subjective to the individual. It is easy to provide a biased answer based on the texts that we follow that validates our own view.

      “I have a question for you. Is bhakti to Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, Durgā, Ganeśa, Hanumān, etc. all equal? If yes, how? If not, are you not a fanatic?”

      If someone performs Bhakti to all forms of god and they have a love and attachment to all forms or one specific form. Will you say to them that your way is incorrect and not equal. Mine is superior?

      All the Yogic paths are connected to each other there should be no higher or lower. They exist in perfect unity and harmony.
      Bhakti is a beautiful path to follow and there are things which I really like in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and things which I dislike and reject.

    2. “This is not cowardliness it is appreciation for the absolute truth to be discovered in many paths depending on the nature of the practitioner. This is the essence of Sanatana Dharma it’s Islam or Christianity. Also, the statement ‘ this is the highest truth’ to me does not make much logical sense. We know that 2+2 =4 we also know that 1+1+1+1=4, 3+1=4 the list goes on. Please let me know which is the highest truth?? They all provide you with the same answer just as all the Yogic paths lead to the same destination. The highest truth as a statement in itself is contradictive.”

      2+2=4 and 1+3=4, but 1<4, 2<4, 3<4. Why? Each number is real, but all numbers are not equal. It would be silly to insist that they must be equal, just because one wants it to be so. In the term "the highest truth", the word "highest" means most complete. The truth can be partially known in some of its aspects, or it can be completely revealed in all its aspects. There is nothing illogical about it.

      “But we do believe, on the basis of śāstra and personal experience, that bhakti is the best path, and nothing comes close to it.”

      "According to who? Again, this is entirely dependent on the path you follow.

      Bhakti is the best path according to our understanding of shastra and our personal experience. Babaji wrote that clearly in his reply.

      "For a Jnani that will be the ‘best’ path for a Karma yogi that will be the ‘best’ path etc. How are you going to prove that your path is better than anyone else’s?? Perhaps you should abandon the word ‘best’ in comparison to other paths."

      * We are happy to abandon the word 'best' if you can convince Sri Krsna to speak the Bhagavad Gita again, and omit comparisons that place bhakti over other paths.

      "I think it’s also important to note that there are lots of translations of the Gita from different traditions. They put emphasis on the path they follow that does not mean that theirs is superior than anyone else’s. It is all subjective to the individual. It is easy to provide a biased answer based on the texts that we follow that validates our own view."

      * Since you think Babaji is providing a 'biased answer', you provide the 'unbiased answer'. Explain the Sanskrit verses Babaji cited and teach us what they mean. The jnanis interpret the Gita as stating that Brahman is the highest reality and that the Gita teaches jnana marga as the best. The karma yogis like Lokmanya Tilak state that the Gita teaches karma marga as the highest. Why dont you go accuse the jnanis or the karma yogis of fanaticism? Why only Vaisnavas? In fact, Sri Jiva Goswami accepts Brahman and also accepts Bhagavan. He states that Brahman is an experience of Bhagavan only - except it is a partial experience, not a complete one. Bhagavan is the complete experience. So who is 'biased'? Those who consider Bhagavan's form as material, or those who accept both Bhagavan and Brahman as eternal spiritual realities?

      "If someone performs Bhakti to all forms of god and they have a love and attachment to all forms or one specific form. Will you say to them that your way is incorrect and not equal. Mine is superior?"

      * Babaji already replied to this kind of rhetoric. We believe that one can worship other forms as seats of Bhagavan, as vibhutis of Sri Krsna or as Vaisnavas. We believe that all devas in the material world have spiritual counterparts who are expansions of Sri Krsna. So why do you think we would go about telling others what to do or what not to do? We are not out to preach to others or convert others.*

      All the Yogic paths are connected to each other there should be no higher or lower. They exist in perfect unity and harmony.

      * Really? Perfect unity and harmony? According to jnana-marga, all the devas you are so concerned about- Siva, Ganesh, Durga, Visnu, etc. are mental projections. Just like you might mistake a rope for a snake when you see it in low light, you mistake formless, qualityless Brahman, for the objects of this world, including cars, phones and also the devas. Turn on the light in the room, and the snake will disappear. Achieve moksa and all these devas will disappear, and only Brahman will remain. At the level of Brahman, Siva, Ganesh, Durga, Visnu- whoever it may be, do not exist. We, on the other hand, believe that Siva and Durga are eternal. They are not products of our imagination but individual, worshippable persons. So- what unity and harmony are you talking about? These are diametrically opposite views. You seem to be laboring under a utopian vision.

      Bhakti is a beautiful path to follow and there are things which I really like in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and things which I dislike and reject.

      * What is so beautiful about bhakti? From your objections, it seems that you think bhakti is a narrow-minded, sectarian path.

  2. Those conceptualizing bhakti as fanaticism don’t know what bhakti is. A mother’s love for her baby is closest to bhakti here in our experience, although technically it is founded upon kāma. Is there any relationship more selfless and delicate? Isn’t the mother’s devotion, bhakti, for her baby the sweetest of all human interactions? Is there anything more intoxicating than mutual devotion, bhakti, of teenage romance? Even devotion based upon false identification of mind-body is the most relishable human experience.

    Our tendency to love and be reciprocated is undeniable. It finds completion in bhakti for Bhagavān: ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते तांस्तथैव भजाम्यहम्।

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