“How could Adi Sankara, who preached the jnAna mArga, have promoted this work (Soundaryalahari) of bhakti? It cannot be his,” say some who profess ‘Philosophy’. But our Acharya was not a professor who isolated philosophy as a separate discipline. Having written very profoundly on advaita and its deepest implications in his several Bhashyas and the other works of his, he promoted the spiritual pursuit of the common man by writing and talking about the need to follow one’s swadharma by Karma and Bhakti. His intent was to raise the common man from his own level. For this purpose he went from one pilgrim centre to another all his life and composed hymns after hymns and also established yantras in temples.
The philosophers argue: JnAni says everything is One. But Bhakti can happen only when there is the duality of the devotee and the deity. Therefore, they say, the jnAni can never be a bhakta. These philosophers cannot themselves claim to have the Enlightenment of advaita ! But there have been those who could have so claimed, like the sage Suka, Madhusudana Saraswati or Sadasiva-brahmam. If we carefully study their lives we will know that they were devotees of God in the fullest sense of the word and have themselves written works of Bhakti. Even in our own times Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has been a great devotee of Mother Goddess and Ramana Maharishi has done works of devotion on God Arunachalesvara. Again, on the other side, great devotees like Manikka-vasagar, Nammazhvar, Arunagiri-nathar, Tayumanavar, etc. have themselves been convinced advaitins, and this is reflected in innumerable flashes in their compositions.
If a jnAni should not do a Bhakti composition, then I would say that he should not also do a work of jnAna. Why am I saying this? Let us go back to the definition of a jnAni. ‘ The world is all mAyA; the thinking of people as if they were separate separate jIvAtmAs is nothing but Ignorance’ - with such a conviction through personal experience, they have thrown away that Ignorance as well as its basic locus, the mind, and they live in the non-dualistic state of ‘ ‘I’ am everything’ – such should be the status of the jnAni; shouldn’t it be so? Such a person preaching, or writing a book, even if it be about the subject of jnAna – is it not a contradiction? Unless such a person thinks there is a world outside of him and there are jIvAtmAs outside, how can he think of ‘teaching’? Teaching whom? And when we look at it this way, all those great teachers of jnAna should really not be jnAnis ! What power will there be for such a teaching about jnAna from teachers who are not jnAnis themselves?
On the other hand what do we observe in our experience? Whether it is the teaching about jnAna in the Gita, or the Viveka Chudamani of our Acharya, or the Avadhuta Gita of Sri Dattatreya or the teaching in the Yoga-vASiShTa, or a song of Tayumanavar – even when we just read these we feel we are being taken beyond the curtain created by mAyA to some distant peaceful state of Calm. Just by reading, in one’s spiritually ripe stage, such teachings, there have been people who have renounced the world and reached the state of Bliss-in-one-Self !. If these teachings had not been written from that spiritual apex of Experiential Excellence, how could such things have ever happened?
Therefore, however much by your intellectual logic, you argue whether a jnAni can get bhakti, how the jnAni can do any preaching and so such possibilities cannot exist and so on, these are certainly happening, by the Will of the Lord which is beyond the Possible and the Impossible.
It is only the Play of the Lord that the jnAni, who is non-dualistic internally, appears to do things in the dualistic world. His mind may have vanished, mAyA might have been transcended by him; but that does not mean that the outside world of jIvAtmAs has disintegrated. What do we gather from this? There is a Super-Mind which does all this and in some mysterious way is compering and directing the entire universe. And it also means that it is the same Supra-Mind that is making the minds of men revolve in the illusion of mAyA. It is that Power which is known in advaita scriptures as saguNa-brahman or Isvara. In the scriptures devoted to shakti or Shiva , whenever they call the Actionless nirguNa-brahman as ‘Shivam’ they call this saguNa-brahman as ‘shakti’, ‘parA-shakti’ or ‘ambAL’. Just as that nirguNa-brahman exhibits itself and acts as the saguNa-brahman, so also, it must be presumed, that the enlightened jnAni also does his external actions and that again, is the work of the saguNa-brahman!
What is the path of jnAna? It is the effort through self-enquiry and meditation for the eradication of the mind and vanquishing of mAyA. But the other path is to dedicate oneself and all one’s thoughts and actions to that very parA-shakti (who produced this mAyA on us) with an attitude of devotion. It is like giving the house-key to the thief himself ! However much the parA-shakti may play with you and toss you and your mind hither and thither, Her infinite compassion cannot be negated. Only when we separate and rejoin, we realise the value of that union. To pray to Her for that reunion and for Her to get us back to Her in answer to our prayers – this is the great Leela of Duality wherein She exhibits Her Infinite Compassion ! So when one prays with Bhakti for such release She releases Him by giving Him that Wisdom of Enlightenment.It is wrong to think that the goal of Bhakti lies in the dualistic attitude of being separate from God. It is by this wrong assumption that people ask the question: How can a jnAni exhibit Bhakti? In the very path of Bhakti wherein it appears there is an embedded duality, the same Bhakti would lead the practitioner to the stage where he will ask: Oh God ! May I be one with You ! This is the subtle point which the questioning people miss. When that stage comes to the devotee, the very parA-shakti known as kArya-brahman or saguNa-brahman will bless him with that jnAna that takes him to the non-dual kAraNa-brahman or nirguNa-brahman.