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Bhakti in Other Traditions?
Questions & Answers

Bhakti in Other Traditions?

cross, Christian tradition

Question: The impersonal aspect [of God] (Nirakara, Nirguna) is called Brahman, or ‘unknowable’ by Herbert Spencer, ‘will’ by Schopenhauer, Absolute Noumenon by some ‘substance’ by Spinoza. The personal aspect (Sakara) of that Being is termed ‘Ishvara’ or Allah, Hari, Jehovah, Father in Heaven, Buddha, Siva, etc. Just as vapor or steam is formless, so also God is formless in His unmanifested or transcendental state. (Swami Sivananda)

Where are the inaccuracies in the above quote? Other Advaitavādīs accept God and bhakti as the only means to liberation. How then are they not devotees? 

Answer: A true bhakta is a śuddha-bhakta, one who engages in bhakti to attain bhakti and not to attain something else. The Advaitavādī’s bhakti is covered in jñāna because they want to achieve Brahman.

I hope you understand the definition of bhakti and bhakta. Bhakta means one who wants to do seva and does not want anything in return. Do you think this is the mood of Advaitavādī?

Question: Recently I went to a Seventh Day Adventist (Christian) church with relatives. They worship God very nicely in their own way, so that is bhakti. Once again, here is another religion that worships Kṛṣṇa in their own way. We know that Kṛṣṇa is the fountainhead of all religions, but is their liberation any less than that of a Kṛṣṇa bhakta? I have a hard time believing this.

Answer: I advise you to spend time studying the first chapter of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, especially the definition of bhakti. Unless you become clear about the definition of bhakti, such doubts and questions will keep coming up. Bhakti may look very simple but it is not that simple to understand.  

Question: Are you saying that other theist systems are not doing bhakti? How can the bhakti of our tradition be the only kind of bhakti that is accepted as pure? I understand kṛṣṇa-anuśīlanam but just because someone doesn’t call God “Kṛṣṇa” doesn’t change their love or devotion to Him. Jesus Christ was an empowered incarnation of the Lord and taught pure bhakti; I know this to be a fact. Is cognizing every little detail of the tattva obligatory for bhakti to manifest? Most of the theistic systems of the world, especially Abrahamic religions at their core, are teaching the exact same attitude and loving service to God. So, if that is cultivated in the right way and their service is favorable, I don’t see how they could not receive entrance into the spiritual world. Like you said—Vaikuntha is a kingdom with many planets. I’m sure that Jesus Christ has his planet with Viṣṇu there. I’d like to believe that Kṛṣṇa Consciousness is not so much the specific practices that we as Vaiṣṇavas do but more so a mood, an attitude, and a practice of devotion.

Answer: I did not comment anything on other traditions—whether they perform bhakti or not. It is not my position to evaluate other traditions. I only advised you to understand the definition of bhakti because your questions were all related to bhakti. My understanding is that if the definition of bhakti is clear, then many of the doubts you raised will be cleared. Christians, etc. may be doing bhakti in their own way. But their bhakti does not fit into our definition of bhakti. Words such as “bhakti” or “love” do not have just one objective meaning like the word “apple.” Therefore, a Christian may also use the word bhakti but that does not mean his bhakti conveys the same sense as when we use it. I use the word bhakti as it is defined in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11). Unless you give the meaning of bhakti as used in other traditions, I have no means to answer you. But I can say that their bhakti does not fit our definition of bhakti.





  • Kurt Shoemaker December 1, 2023

    Christians do not have the goal of attaining love of God. They have the goal of attaining heaven. This is not the same goal as a Bhakta. How are Christian’s worshipping KRSNA in their own way if they believe idol worshippers are bound for hell? I think people forget that the core of Abrahamic beliefs are rooted in demonizing Vedic practices. If your religion demonizes the devotees of KRSNA, surely that is not Bhakti. This is of course my opinion. I am not a scholar. Certainly people feel love and devotion to Jesus when they worship. So do fans of Taylor Swift when they go to her concerts. I’m not trying to blaspheme in regards to Jesus, but have to a sense of devotion for something doesn’t make it Bhakti. Are Scientologist eligible for Vaikuntha? Is there an L Ron Hubbard planet?

    • Aparajita dasi December 5, 2023

      Haribol, Nice to read your comment Kurt, it’s been some time.
      I also have not been a scholar of Christianity, though I have studied it. There are sects of mystical Christianity that share similar beliefs and values, especially the role of seva, and being accountable to one’s faith. Jesus is often quoted saying something like “why do you notice the splinter in your own eye, yet cannot see the log that sits in your own.” Even the statement in Our Father prayer, “on earth as in Heaven..” reflects the mood of changing consciousness.
      Of course these statements don’t suggest embodiment of, or give the definition of Bhakti as I am trying desperately to understand. For me though, I see opportunity in understanding the similarities and true essence of spiritual processes like Christ consciousness. It helps me to become more humble, and to understand those around me better.

    • Aparajita dasi December 5, 2023

      I mistyped! “..why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye…”
      The giant log in my eye at its best!

    • Kurt Shoemaker December 13, 2023

      Haribol! I don’t think there is anything wrong with Christians or any other faith for believing whatever they believe. I think a lot of Christian practices are good, and some believers may have true devotion in their hearts. I just don’t think its equivocal to the bhakti described by the Goswamis and in the Bhagavatam. I apologize if I came off with an offensive tone. I thought after I had typed my comment that some of my commentary was a little too much of a failed attempt at humor. So I apologize if I came off as condemning Christians. I don’t think its wrong to respect their mood of worship and to avoid debating them. I find that the Bhagavatam reconciles all the various religious practices and we should see other religious sects through that lens. KRSNA is the receiver of all sacrifices, but only those who know this can realize the benefit. as KRSNA says in BG 9.23-24- “even those devotees of other devas who worship them, being endowed with faith, actually worship me alone, although in an improper manner, Indeed, I alone am the one for who all sacrifices are intended and the one who bestows their results. but they do not know me in truth and therefore, they fall down.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing from the Vedic Paradigm since there are multiple births to cultivate the proper faith. From the Christian’s perspective, not succeeding in this life means and eternity in hell.

    • Avadhuta Rama dasa December 13, 2023

      Read Matthew 22:36-40 to understand the goal of Christianity.

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