Advaita Bhakti: Madhusudana and Karpatriji

I have been reading a book by Swami Karpatriji, Rādhā-sudhā (Vṛndāvana: Rādhākṛṣṇa Dhānukā Prakāśana Saṁsthāna, 2004), which I picked up last time I was in Vrindavan. I have to admit that I am more than a little impressed by Karpatriji's erudition, as well as by Madhusudana Saraswati, with whom he seems to have had a spiritual connection.

Madhusudan Saraswati is known mainly for a book called Advaita-siddhi, in which he counters the arguments of Vyasa Tirtha of the Madhva school, a part of the longstanding debate between the two views of the theistic and the monistic traditions of Indian religious thought. But as shown in the previous post, both in legends about him and in his own words, a distinct devotional streak can be observed in Madhusudan. His commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and another on the Bhagavatam are not the only books he wrote that have some interest for the devotionally minded. According to Anant Shastri Phadke, he wrote the following works: Bhakti-bhāṣya-nirūpaṇam, Bhagavad-bhakti-rasāyanam, Veda-stuti-ṭīkā, Hari-līlā-vyākhyā, Rāsa-pañcādhyāyī-ṭīkā, Śāṇḍilya-sūtra-ṭīkā, as well as a play on Krishna lila, Kṛṣṇa-kutūhalam.

It is sometimes difficult to follow Madhusudan's commentary on the Gita, as it seems that he is fluctuating between one doctrine and another. Devotees especially want clear statements of commitment to the reality of Krishna's form and pastimes, and easily get worried when they hear things that emphasize the monistic point of view. As we showed in our previous post, Madhusudan did make strong devotional statements, but he never abandoned his fundamental faith in the unity of all things. Nor should he have, as most Vaishnava acharyas, with the exception of the Madhva school, have conceded that the Supreme Truth is unitary, as indeed has the Bhagavatam in its lakshana verse 1.2.11, which is taken by Jiva Goswami to be the basis of his exegesis of the Bhagavatam.

But let us take a look at the Bhagavad-bhakti-rasāyanam, his best known work on bhakti, and see if that sheds any light on his doctrine, and indeed on bhakti itself.

Bhagavad-bhakti-rasāyanam is a fairly short work consisting of three chapters, called ullāsas, of 37, 79 and 30 verses respectively. The first chapter is elaborately explained in a commentary by the author himself, containing copious quotations, mainly from the Bhāgavatam, with a preponderance of verses from the 11th book. In the commentary to the first verse, he places bhakti above jnāna (See here.).

Karpatriji quotes (source to be added), which I think is safe to say represents the official post-Madhusudana position on bhakti:

dvaitaṁ mohāya bodhāt prāk prāpte bodhe manīṣayā |
bhakty-arthaṁ kalpitaṁ dvaitam advaitād api sundaram ||
pāramārthikam advaitaṁ dvaitaṁ bhajana-hetave |
tādṛśī yadi bhaktiḥ syāt sā tu mukti-śatādhikā ||
Duality leads to illusion for those who have not realized the truth. But after realization through knowledge, if one continues to imagine duality for the sake of devotion, that is more beautiful than even non-duality. Non-duality is the transcendent reality, duality is for the sake of bhajan. If one engages in devotion in a state of knowledge, then it is a hundred times greater than liberation.
Of particular interest is Madhusudana's commentary to Gita 18.66 where he says that there are three levels of śaraṇāgati:

tasyaivāhaṁ mamaivāsau sa evāham iti tridhā |
bhagavac-charaṇatvaṁ syāt sādhanābhyāsa-pākataḥ ||
Thought the maturing of the practice of sādhana, one's surrender to the Lord progresses through three stages: In the first, one thinks, "I am the Lord's." In the second, "He is mine." In the third, "I am nothing but He."
This last point is the one on which the devotee has a problem. What is really meant by the total identity of the lover with the Beloved? A popular Hindi couplet attributed to Kabir is often quoted in this regard:

prem gali ati saṁkari, tā meṁ doū na samāi
jab maiṁ thā tab hari nahīṁ, ab hari hai maiṁ nāhīṁ
The path of love is very narrow, two can’t pass through it at one time
When there was an I, there was no God (Hari), but now there is God and I am not.
To attain true love, one has to give up his ego. When the ego disappears, God appears. So the devotee must give up his ego to realize God
Madhusudan uses the Yoga-sūtra (1.22) terminology, mṛdu ("soft"), madhyaṁ ("middling"), and adhimātraṁ ("in greater measure"), in reference to the intensity of the sādhana. The first, which is an example of the state where one thinks "I am the Lord's," is the following. This verse is well known and is is quoted in Prīti-sandarbha 84 by Jiva Goswamipada:

saty api bhedopagame nātha tavāhaṁ na māmakīnas tvam |
sāmudro hi taraṅgaḥ kvacana samudro na tāraṅgaḥ ||
Even when there is no difference between us, O Lord, I am yours; it is not that you are mine. Waves are always "of the ocean," and it can never be said that the ocean is a product of the waves.
The verse is sometimes attributed to Shankaracharya, but I have not been able to find its original source. Jivapada does not reference a source.

His second example, illustrating "You are mine," is also well-known. It is found in the second century of Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta. No doubt you will have heard it before,

hastam utkṣipya yāto’si balāt kṛṣṇa kim adbhutam |
hṛdayād yadi niryāsi pauruṣaṁ gaṇayāmi te ||
You may forcibly push away my hand and run off, Krishna, what is so wonderful about that? I will only consider it an act of great power if you are able to escape my heart! (KK 2.95)
The example of the third state, "I am He," is taken from the Viṣṇu-purāṇa. It is an instruction from Yamaraj to his messengers, telling them to keep away from the devotees of Lord Vishnu:

sakalam idam ahaṁ ca vāsudevaḥ
parama-pumān parameśvaraḥ sa ekaḥ |
iti matir acalā bhavaty anante
hṛdaya-gate vraja tān vihāya dūrāt ||
Stay far away from those devotees in whose hearts the infinite Lord is fixed and who have the unshakable conviction that "All this, I too, and Vasudeva, the Supreme Person, the Supreme Lord, are one."  (VP 3.7.32)
Now, needless to say, after the first two verses, this last verse as an illustration of the highest level of conviction of pure bhakti in the sense of oneness with the Lord is extremely disappointing. First of all, the context is that of Yamaraj advising his minions to keep away from the devotees, and is mixed in with various other characteristics of the bhakta. From the point of view of bhakti itself, it does not show the grand glory of the identity in love such as that described in mahā-bhāva,
rādhāyā bhavataś ca citta-jatunī svedair vilāpya kramāt
yuñjann adri-nikuñja-kuñjara-pate nirdhūta-bheda-bhramam |
citrāya svayam anvarañjayad iha brahmāṇḍa-harmyodare
bhūyobhir nava-rāga-hiṅgula-bharaiḥ śṛṅgāra-kāruḥ kṛtī ||
The God of Love is a great craftsman:
he has taken the lac of Radha's soul and yours,
and melted them together with his perspiring heat.
O king of the elephants in the groves of Govardhan!
He has joined your souls together and washed away
any sense you had of difference between you.
Then, in order to paint the inner chambers
of the universal mansion, he added
yet more vermilion color to the mix. (UN 14.155)
Karpatriji has quoted the following verses (sources to be added) from less well-known works that also play with the idea of abheda-bhakti.

viśveśvaras tu sudhiyā galite'pi bhede
bhāvena bhakti-sahitena samarcanīyaḥ |
prājñeśvaraś caturayā milite'pi citte
cailāñcala-vyavahitena nirīkṣaṇīyaḥ ||48||
The Lord of the Universe is to be worshiped with love and devotion by the intelligent, even after the difference between the devotee and the Lord has melted away. Even when the Lord has been encountered in knowledge in the mind, one should look at him as though from behind a veil.
tavāsmīti bhajaty ekas tvam evāsmīti cāparaḥ |
iti kiñcid viśeṣe'pi pariṇāmaḥ samo dvayoḥ ||23||
antar bahir yadā devaṁ deva-bhaktaḥ prapaśyati |
dāso'haṁ bhāvayann eva dā-kāraṁ vismaraty asau ||24||
One person worships thinking, "I am yours." Another thinks, "You are mine." Even though there is some difference between the two, in the end they come down to the same thing. When the devotee sees God both within and without, the first syllable of the expression dāso'haṁ ("I am a servant.") drops away to become so'ham, "I am He."
In my opinion, in the rasāvasthā there is a state of complete self-forgetfulness and total absorption in the object of love. It is comparable to the relation of vyutthāna and samādhi in yoga. When this is understood, the difference between the Advaita and bhedābheda positions becomes inconsequential. However, by accepting the validity of the Advaita position, devotees are freed from the sectarian consequences that arise from absorption in duality. 


Anonymous said…
What is the category of a advaitavadi or mayavadi(are these different, is so what is the difference?) engaging in bhakti ie the goal is mukti or sayujya. Jnana misra bhakti or a simply jnani (sattviki bhakti).
Anonymous said…

On hearing Kṛṣṇa’s flute, with loving glances they offer puja simply by looking at him (enjoying Kṛṣṇa’s beauty); suddenly there’s a knock on the door… simply beautiful (-:

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