The paths of Devotion and Knowledge – Bhakti vs Jnana | Advaita Vedanta

The following is taken from the wonderful text Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Spiritual Practice) written by Sri Sadhu Om, a direct devotee of Sri Ramana’s. This text not only gives us the essence of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, but also directs us to the true Vedanta teachings. The notes are written by Sri Sadhu Om himself. You can download the full text as a PDF using the above link.

Devotion and Knowledge – Bhakti and Jnana

  1. To the extent to which love for God arises in one’s heart, to that extent will one acquire knowledge about Him. And to the extent to which one knows the nature of God, to that extent will the mind gain steadfast love for Him. Thus, knowledge (jnana) will be increased by devotion (bhakti), and devotion (bhakti) will be increased by knowledge (jnana).
  2. By means of our love for God, He will give us more knowledge of Him, and by means of our knowledge of Him, He will give us more love for Him. Therefore, of these two paths, bhakti and jnana, follow that one for which you first gain a liking, because that one path will lead you to follow the other one into the heart.
  3. In the life of an aspirant who is seeking liberation, bhakti and jnana will be experienced as inseparable, like the two sides of one sheet of paper. Hence, each one is equal to the other. They are not two different things, for the true nature of both of them is one and the same; know that bhakti and jnana are merely two names for that one thing.(Garland of Guru’s Sayings (Guru Vachaka Kovai) verses 722, 731)
  4. The state of abiding firmly in Self-alone is wisdom (jnana). Would it be possible to abide thus in Self if one did not have love for Self? Love for Self-alone is bhakti; abiding firmly in Self on account of that love alone is jnana. What difference is there between these two? Discriminate and know this truth. (Maharshi’s Gospel p.24)
  5. If there did not exist the power of gravity, which attracts and pulls everything towards the earth, would anything remain stable on earth? On scrutiny, devotion (bhakti) is found to be similar to the gravitational power of attraction, while the state of wisdom (jnana) is found to be similar to the state of objects remaining stable on earth as a result of that attraction. If either one of these two, the power of attraction or bhakti and the state of abidance or jnana, were absent, the other one would not exist.
  6. An aspirant who practices Self-inquiry, which is the path of jnana, denies his own individuality by knowing, “I, this insignificant ego, am not the doer of any action”; while a devotee denies his own individuality by knowing, “God alone is the doer of all actions.” Thus, since an aspirant who follows either of these two paths refrains from assuming the sense of doership, understand that these two paths are not different even during the time of practice, and follow either of them.
  7. We should not allow our minds to become bewildered and confused by trying to deliberate and decide, “Which of these two, the practice of bhakti or the practice of jnana is the best means for attaining liberation?” For whichever path a liking arises in the heart of a person, for that person that path alone is the best.
  8. According to the strength of habit continuing from former lives, in this life the mind will acquire a liking either for the path of devotion or the direct and unfailing path of Self-inquiry, and will feel that particular path to be the best and most suited to itself. Therefore, follow at least one of these two paths to its very end.

Inquiry Becoming Easy Due to Devotion

  1. When, having wept and wept with intense yearning for a long time, unceasingly thinking of and adoring the Gracious Feet (of the Lord), the mind which rises (as “I am so-and-so”) dissolves and becomes pure, the blemishless Self-inquiry (jnanatmavichara) will become firmly settled (in the heart) and the experience of Self (swarupa-anubhava) will of its own accord arise very easily indeed. – Sri Muruganar

Note: from Sri Ramana Jnana Bodham v.1286

  1. O, you who say, “We have never seen you closing your eyes and practicing Self-abidance (nishtha); tell us, how did you attain the state of inner silence (mauna)?” Understanding the above verse, know the secret of (how to attain the true experience of) God, who is not seen even though one waits closing one’s eyes (for a long time in expectation of seeing His true vision).

Note: the previous verse is the answer to the above question

The perfect awakening into Self-knowledge happens in just a split second | Ramana Maharshi

The following is taken from Sadhana Saram, a wonderful text that explains the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi written by Sri Sadhu Om, a direct devotee of Sri Ramana’s:

48. The Manner of the Dawn of Knowledge (Janodaya Vidham)

268. Death happens in a split second. Awakening from sleep happens in a split second. Similarly, the destruction of the delusion of individuality happens in just a split second. True knowledge is not something that can be gained and then lost. If a person feels that true knowledge is coming and going, he is still only in the state of practice (or abhyasa). It cannot be said that such a person has attained true Self-knowledge.

The perfect awakening into the state of Self-knowledge happens in just a split second. That state is not attained gradually over a long period of time. All the sadhanas that are practiced over a period of many years are meant only for attaining blemishless maturity.

Listen to an apt illustration. After people have placed gunpowder in the iron barrel of a temple-cannon, after they have added broken pieces of brick, after they have packed it tight with a ramrod, after they have placed a wick in contact with the powder, and after they have plastered the open end of the barrel with clay, as soon as the charge is ignited it will explode in a split second with a blast that sounds like thunder.

Similarly, after one has learnt the truth about the real Self through hearing and reading, after one has practiced sadhana for a long time, after one has wept and prayed with heart-melting devotion, and after one has thereby attained purity of mind, the knowledge of the reality will instantaneously shine forth in a split second as “I am I”. As soon as the dawn of Self-knowledge thus takes place, due to the clear shining of the reality of this state, which is an empty space devoid of objective knowledge, will be spontaneously realized to be the state of true knowledge, which is our beginningless real nature.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: the necessity of Meditation | Upasana | The Natural State | Sri Ramana Gita

The following verses are teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Sri Ramana Gita, Chapter 1 ‘The Importance of Upasana’. Let us start at verse 12:

  1. The seeker of knowledge does not achieve his end merely by a study of the scriptures. Without upasana [meditation] there cannot be attainment for him; this is definite.

Tom: But what is this Upasana? The next verse explains:

  1. Experiencing the natural state, during spiritual practice, is called upasana and when that state becomes firm and permanent that itself is called jnana [knowledge].

Tom: But what is this Natural State? Again, the next verse explains

  1. When discarding sense-objects, one abides in one’s own true nature as a flame of jnana, this state of being is termed sahaja sthiti [the natural state].

Tom: so we can see here that the teaching is to discard sense-objects, and abide in one’s own nature. This is called Jnana or Sahaja Sthiti. Remaining in this state is the principle sadhana (spiritual practice) – this is Upasana (meditation) and this leads to liberation, not just mere study of the scriptures.

You intuitively already know this in your heart | Self-Knowledge | Advaita Vedanta | Non-duality

This knowledge is already fully within you

All the Spiritual Knowledge you ever need is already within you (it actually is you). What is this Spiritual Knowledge? It is knowledge of what you truly are, namely Pure Ever-Blissful Ever-Full Eternal Formless Spirit.

You already fully know this

You already know this. You have always eternally known this. This knowledge has always been within you, intuitively, meaning non-verbally ie. NOT knowledge in the mind and NOT knowledge known by a person. It is innate inborn knowledge that cannot be lost, ever, and does not need to be gained ever.

If you look within, take the time to really feel, then perhaps you will intuit that you have always known that you are infinite, formless and divine, beyond time and space.

Intuitively you have always known that you are not merely flesh and bone, you are not this mere body and mind.

You do not need any new knowledge or understanding in the mind for this path.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, in truth there is no problem, and there never has been, and never will be (no problems are real, and time such as past and future are also not actually real)…and you already intuitively and deeply know that there is no problem…but…

…But so long as you believe the limiting ideas thrown out by the mind – and all the mind’s ideas are limiting – then you will consider yourself to be limited. You will consider yourself to have name and form, you will consider yourself to be flesh and blood, and to be subject to birth, disease, suffering and death. You will consider the world to be real and you will consider problems to be real.

In Truth you are Spirit Divine, Eternal, Lumonious, Blissfull, devoid of time, space, individuality, devoid of one iota of suffering, devoid of one iota of multiplicity or duality, ever whole, pure, pristine Beauty and Love.

This ‘knowledge’ is not in the mind – no body or mind is required for this ‘knowledge

As I said, you know this already – ‘in your heart’ – meaning intuitively this is known, ie. this is not known and can never be known with the mind or with concepts/thoughts, but it is always known in your Heart or Being.

Your True Nature always knows itself to be Divine, fully. This knowledge does not require and body or mind, both of which, together with the world, are non-existent and unreal.

In truth there is no you and me. There is only ONE, THAT. And ‘we’ are THAT ONE.

The only ‘issue’ (not that there really is any issue) is that we take on wrong concepts, believing ourselves to be a body-mind entity living in a world when actually these are all false and non-existent In Truth.


All ‘we have to do’ to realise this is lose the wrong concepts, lose the wrong beliefs, which means to stop attending to them, to stop paying attention to the body + mind + world, especially our thoughts and concepts. All we have to do is have faith in our own innate unborn non-mental non-conceptual knowledge of what we are, and attend to and nurture that intuitive-faith-knowingness-self.

Then, as ignorance slips away, all will eventually be seen to be One and Yourself, Shining as Pure Consciousness, initially with Objects Present (Savikalpa, with forms or with objects) and then in its pure Divine Form devoid of objective phenomena (Nirvikalpa, without form or without objects).


This is Self-Knowledge devoid of a shred ignorance, this is what already IS, this is what you already are, this is what is already and eternally intuitively known ‘in the heart’, meaning never with the mind.

The Self always fully knows itself to be Divine and Full, without words, without a body and without a mind – ignorance never really ever was.

If anything is needed, all we have to do is to nurture and attend to this intuitive self-knowledge. It is the guru, it will teach us, it will reveal itself to us.

‘The Teaching’


Ignore body/mind/world and see/intuit only consciousness-beingness-love-bliss. Attend to your beingness-knowingness, which is Self-Knowledge. Nurture, stoke and tend to this intuitive knowing – it will grow and consume everything. This is what you truly are.

And of course, you know all of this already



Knower, knowing and known are all ego | Self-Knowledge | Jnana

True Knowledge is Being devoid of knowledge as well as ignorance of objects. Knowledge of objects is not true knowledge.

~ Forty Verses on Reality, Verse 12, written by Sri Ramana Maharishi


In Self-Knowledge, neither the knower, the knowing, or the known remain. If any of these three remain, that is ego, that is duality, that is suffering.

So how can this even be called ‘knowledge’? Know that the word ‘knowledge’ is just used to signify that thoughtless non-dual intuition of Reality that is Self.

It, the Self, is indescribable, so various words and phrases, all insufficient, are used, such as ‘knowledge’, ‘know thyself’, ‘be thyself’, etc, etc. None of these are quite right, but these words and phrases can convey something nonetheless, for you ‘know’ this already. You already fully know yourself, so these words can seemingly awaken you to that which you already know.


To know the Self is just to, having severed the identity with body-mind-name-form-ego, it is just to BE the Self, that which you ARE.


Self-knowledge is an inherent quality of the Self. Self and Self-Knowledge are one and the same. The Self always fully knows itself. You always fully know what you are. Not that the ego or mind knows – that is maya – but the Self, that which you are, always knows itself non-conceptually, without words, without any mediation by the body or mind.


This can never be known by the mind-ego. That is why even brain-damage will not remove self-realisation – because self-realisation is not related to the body-mind! Realisation ‘takes’ one ‘beyond body-mind-world! If it didn’t, it would itself be temporary, and liberation is neither temporary nor is it affected by time!


The Self is Self-Knowledge. But because there is no other that the Self, it cannot be said to be knowledge really, for there is no knower/knowing/known!


Does prarabdha karma* and suffering persist after realisation/liberation?

Questioner: I have a question, if Ajnanam (ignorance) is removed* that means the whole source of Samsara is removed. In such a case why should the Jnani (realised sage) even have Prarabdha Karma*. That also should not be present right?

Tom: In Truth, there is not even any such thing as a Jnani (meaning a person or body-mind that is ‘realised’) – there is only That Objectless Subject-Self-Brahman. So there is no karma whatsoever for ‘a Jnani’ (a Jnani here meaning the Self). The self has no duality, and no karma. Karma is born of ignorance and is maya, unreal. They are one and the same – karma and ignorance – or one comes from the other. This is also what is taught in the Upanishads (eg. Adhyatma Upanishad) and by Shankara, both in his commentaries and in texts such as Vivekachudamani.

*Removal of ignorance is the same as Self-Realisation, so say the Upanishads, so says Shankara.

**Tom: Prarabdha Karma is the portion of karma that, according to the Vedas, gives rise to the body in the present birth and will play out and determine the specifics of the present life. A simple translation could be ‘destiny’ or ‘what is destined for this life’. The idea of this question is that, for example, if you have ‘been bad’ in the past and have accumulated negative karma as a result, even though you have realised the Self, this negative karma may continue and cause suffering for you even after Self-Realisation. The Upanishads are clear that all karmas and all suffering end upon Self-Realisation, so one need not even fear the negative results of one’s past actions if one realises the Self.

Shankara teaches two methods to ‘attain liberation’ (Self-Knowledge or Atma-Jnana) | Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) | Advaita Vedanta

Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (SSS) was a great Sanskrit scholar who made an extensive study of Shankara’s writings and commentaries and subsequently wrote many books on Advaita Vedanta. According to SSS, there are essentially 2 methods to ‘attain liberation’ outlined by Sri Shankara:

1. Firstly, in those who are ripe, merely hearing (sravana) a teaching equating oneself with Brahman, will result in liberation. For some who are slighlty less ripe, some repeated contemplation (manana) upon this teaching will be required too. (Tom’s addition: A ripe mind may be a mind that is rendered extremely pure and subtle by long and sustained spiritual practice, or a mind may be ripe due to other more mysterious factors including ‘God’s Grace’.)

2. Secondly, for those who are not able to ‘attain liberation’ merely by hearing +/- contemplating a teaching such as ‘you are that’, one must also undergo prolonged meditation (nididyasana) which will directly result in liberation.

We can see that Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi broadly states the same here.

SSS in his text the Theory of Vedanta writes on p. 153:

‘In addition to Karma and Upasana, there is a kind of concentrated contemplation called the Adhyatma-Yoga which leads to immediate intuition [of Brahman, ie. Self Realisation]’

You can see that SSS is stating that this Adhyatma-Yoga is not classified as ‘karma’ or action, and is also not classed as Upasana (meditation on objects), but is something else that is a direct means of knowledge or liberation.

SSS writes in ‘The Method of Vedanta’ p. 147:

‘The aim of the one practising sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different [to Upasana, defined here as meditation on forms/objects]. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else [ie. all objects]. And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done. It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Kathha Upanishad I.ii.12 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga’. In the Gita it is sometimes called ’Dhyana Yoga’ (e.g. XVI11.52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ’restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work. Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation (sadyo-mukti).’

You can see that SSS defines Upasana as meditation upon objects, and that this is considered to be action or karma (and so will not directly lead to realisation), whereas nididhyasana is a special type of meditation which involves turning away from objects, and this type of meditation is not considered to be ‘karma’ or action, but a direct means to knowledge (as karma pertains to objects only, not to the actionless subject).

Here again this is stated more clearly in the introduction to the text Adhyatma Yoga:

‘The subject dealt with here viz. Adhyatma Yoga, also known as Dhyana Yoga, Mano-nigraha Yoga, Samadhi Yoga and Nidhidhyasana, is treated these days as a Kartru Tantra Sadana. But in the Shankara Bhashya throughout, this Adhyatma Yogi or Dhyana Yoga is treated as a Vastu Tantra Sadhana’

Kartru Tantra Sadana means action, which being limited, will therefore not lead to something unlimited (ie. liberation or the Self). Vastu Tantra Sadhana means something that will lead directly to the Supreme Truth (Vastu), ie. that which is a means of Knowledge or Liberation.

In summary, SSS writes on p 143 of The Method of Vedanta’:

‘the highest kind of candidate is able to acquire immediate intuitive vision that his Self is the Absolute from merely hearing the relevant upanishadic texts once. These people who realize the goal by merely hearing the texts once have nothing further to do…

‘…But those who are not able to acquire intuitive knowledge of the meaning of the texts in their own direct experience have to go on hearing the texts and reflecting over them to remove the doubts that prevent their meaning being understood, and they have to continue with this until intuitive knowledge arises. For we see that those of dull understanding acquire knowledge through diligent repetition…

‘…But those who cannot acquire intuitive knowledge of reality by hearing and reflection alone have to resort to sustained meditation also. In any case, the general rule is that hearing and the rest have to be continued until there is intuitive knowledge of reality. For attainment of intuitive knowledge of reality is their purpose’

To see how SSS and Shankara define meditation or nididhyasana, see here: What is Vedantic Meditation?

To see how Sri Ramana gives the same teaching, see here: Sravana alone can result in Self-Realisation! Sri Ramana Maharshi on Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana