Talking About Something Indescribable

[Krishna with the gopis]“Generally, the bhakti-yogis are engaged in five different ways: 1) shanta-bhakta, engaged in devotional service in neutrality; 2) dasya-bhakta, engaged in devotional service as servant; 3) sakhya-bhakta, engaged as friend; 4) vatsalya-bhakta, engaged as parent; and 5) madhurya-bhakta, engaged as conjugal lover of the Supreme Lord. In any of these ways, the pure devotee is always constantly engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Supreme Lord and cannot forget the Supreme Lord, and so for him the Lord is easily attained.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 8.14 Purport)

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FriendOne: Tell me the difference between jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga?

FriendTwo: First off, what do you think “yoga” means?

F1: In Sanskrit the definition is “plus.” Like the addition of two things, it means “union.”

F2: And what is being added? What is being united?

F1: The individual soul and the Supreme Soul. In simpler terms, me and God.

F2: Good. So jnana and bhakti are two terms that can exist outside of yoga. Jnana is knowledge. A person who knows how to do something has jnana. If I know how to read and write, it means that I have jnana for that particular language. If I don’t know how to change the tire on my car, it means that I’m lacking jnana on that subject; I’m ajnana.

F1: Is there a jnana that covers everything, like in the broadest scope?

F2: Yes. So for this discussion, the jnana refers to the highest knowledge. It is the subject matter which incorporates all others, which is the most important. Jnana at the highest level is knowing the difference between matter and spirit. You touched on it earlier. There is an individual soul and a Supreme Soul. They actually reside right next to one another in the heart. What comes in between them is maya, or the illusory material energy.

F1: I’m assuming that jnana is important since most people likely have never heard of these things before.

F2: It’s impossible to figure out on your own. You have to learn it from someone who knows it already. Sort of like you can’t get a tree without first getting a seed from a previous tree. You can’t make yogurt unless you take cultures from existing yogurt. In the same way, true jnana does not come on its own. It has to be learned from someone.

[Shrila Prabhupada]F1: So what is bhakti?

F2: Bhakti is devotion. It is also love. What we normally consider to be love is actually lust. It’s an embarrassing truth, but when we say that we love certain people, we really don’t. They all offer us something in return; that’s why we think we love them. In most cases it is lust; which explains why relationships can break. Bhakti is pure love, not expecting anything in return.

F1: So jnana-yoga would be uniting with God through knowledge and bhakti-yoga through devotion?

F2: Exactly. One is the mental route and the other is the spiritual route. There is a physical route as well.

F1: Okay, so I’m glad you explained it like this. I’ve been bothered by something for the past few days.

F2: What is that?

F1: So you just explained bhakti-yoga and jnana-yoga nicely. I know that there’s a lot more to bhakti-yoga as well. Devotion is an umbrella term; it can encompass a host of different activities.

F2: Chanting, hearing, remembering, serving the lotus feet, surrendering everything – there are nine processes, as outlined by Prahlada Maharaja in the Shrimad Bhagavatam.

[Narasimhadeva with Prahlada]F1: And there are the different rasas too, right? You can be devoted to God in a mood of parental affection, friendship, or servitude. I think I’m forgetting a few.

F2: Yes. Conjugal love, madhurya-rasa, is considered the highest, but any of the rasas, even shanta-rasa, qualifies as bhakti-yoga.

F1: Okay, so here’s my question. If bhakti-yoga is love and devotion to God, how can it be explained? By describing the different rasas, by comparing bhakti to jnana, aren’t you practicing jnana-yoga?

F2: Since there is mental effort involved?

F1: Yes, exactly. You’re studying so much in bhakti-yoga. Shouldn’t that be absent? If you really love God, wouldn’t it be better to not know so many things? Wouldn’t the plethora of information interfere with your connection to Him?

F2: Those are good questions. You’re actually correct. In the highest stages of bhakti-yoga, the person loses all awareness for spirit, matter, rules and regulations. Take mother Yashoda for example. She is in vatsalya-rasa, loving God as a parent. She holds the Supreme Lord in her arms, as He appears as the tiny child named Krishna to her. She has pure love for Him. She is not thinking to herself, “Okay, I am in vatsalya-rasa. This is my service. If I can continue on this path, I will make advancement.”

[Mother Yashoda with Krishna]F1: That makes sense. If that is the case, why continue to offer so many explanations?

F2: Though bhakti-yoga is intrinsic to the soul, in the conditioned state it is very difficult to take up.

F1: What do you mean by conditioned?

F2: We have a choice. We can serve maya, the material nature, or Krishna, the Supreme Lord. Every person makes this choice in life. Even if they don’t know that Krishna is God, they still have some idea of spirit. They have this notion inside their head of what is spiritual and what is not. A person is very fortunate if they simply attempt to understand God. This is because they’ve chosen in favor of spirit; they’ve taken a first step in the right direction.

F1: So the purpose to these explanations is to convince people to take up bhakti-yoga?

F2: Right; exactly. If you simply practice it, you don’t need to worry so much about the philosophy. Just reciting the maha-mantra every day will be enough.

F1: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

[Worship of Radha and Krishna]F2: And if you think about it, the philosophical understanding has to be suppressed to some degree in pure bhakti-yoga. If you know that what you’re doing is good for you, that it will help you in the future, you’re likely looking for something from God. On the other side, if you forget that God will do all these good things for you, then when you practice bhakti-yoga you’re not seeking anything for yourself. That is true selflessness. That is pure devotion, and it is the original state for all individual spirit souls.

In Closing:

In jnana knowledge accepting,

Difference of matter and spirit detecting.


If bhakti love and devotion to be,

Should not of explanations be free?


Rasas and such for one purpose to know,

So that convinced in bhakti-yoga to go.


Mother Yashoda of son’s divinity not thinking,

Sweetness of Krishna’s image the eyes drinking.

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