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Knowledge And Devotion In Advaita Vedanta

An excerpt from the editorial of Prabuddha Bharata Magazine September 2020 issue on the topic ‘knowledge and devotion in Advaita Vedanta.

Advaita speaks of direct knowledge and indirect knowledge. Indirect knowledge is the means to direct knowledge. Direct knowledge is subjective and immediate, whereas indirect knowledge is gained through the combination of the senses, mind, and intellect. The Upanishads say that the knowledge of the ultimate Reality is subjective and is experienced beyond the realm of the senses. However, we first require indirect knowledge in order to realise the subjective intuitive knowledge.

The intellectual knowledge gained through Shravaa, hearing; manana, contemplation on the truths of the Upanishads; and nididhyasana, profound meditation is merely an indirect knowledge.

This knowledge removes the cloud of ignorance called avidya that has veiled the Reality, which is sat, pure being or existence; chit, pure consciousness; and ananda, pure bliss. In the subjective experience of our identity with the Atman, the ideas of the knower, the known, and knowledge merge into a common awareness or consciousness. Hence the Upanishads declare: ‘Vijnanam brahma; Brahman is consciousness itself.’

There are two connotations of bhakti in the Advaita Vedanta. The adoration of the Bhagavan of the universe is essential to attain purity of mind, which makes one eligible to reach the highest goal. It is upheld in an age-old saying: ‘Ishvaranugrahadeva pumsam Advaita-vasana – one can get the tendency for practising Advaita or non-duality only through the grace of Ishwara, the supreme Lord of the universe.’

The devotion that is practised with faith for self-purification is termed preparatory bhakti. But as that bhakti becomes pure and mature, we begin to feel our oneness with the eternal Reality. Adi Shankaracharya says in his Vivekachudamani: ‘Svasvarupanusandhanam bhaktirityabhidhiyate; bhakti is the state of absorption in one’s own real nature as Atman or Brahman.’ This can be considered as the highest state of bhakti.