Question: In the book The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has been reported to have said several times that a combination of the highest jñāna and the highest bhakti in one person is a rare gift of the Lord. This view is quite opposed to the Gosvāmīs’ dictum that jñāna-miśra-bhakti is second only to pure bhakti.
I have come to believe that Vaiṣṇavas are extremists and sometimes fanatical about bhakti yoga. How can one realize the Absolute Truth by being one-sided? A mature practitioner is one who appreciates the fact that different paths are for people of different psychophysical natures. Isn’t it fanatical to believe and promote the notion that bhakti is the highest path and that only bhakti can take one to the highest goal?
In several texts, jñāna–yoga is said to be the highest path although it is also said that in Kaliyuga, people are quite body-conscious and therefore, jñāna–yoga is not the common path. But that doesn’t imply that jñāna–yoga is second to bhakti.
Answer: Hindus have a prevalent disease—everything is the same or all paths lead to the same goal, like the old English saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” It is a sort of cowardliness. They will not stand up and say, “This is the highest Truth.” They are so scared to be branded as fanatics or Hindu fundamentalists. The reality, however, is quite different. Not all roads lead to Rome. Everyone knows this! But as soon as you make a statement like this, you are branded a fanatic. Why is it fanaticism to make a statement about the Truth?
Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (6.47) that of all yogīs, the bhakti yogī is the best:
Better than even all yogīs is someone who is full of faith and worships Me with his mind fully absorbed in Me. I consider such a person to be the greatest yogī.
Is Kṛṣṇa a fanatic or a fundamentalist? People adhering to different paths – karma-yogīs, jñāna-yogīs, raja-yogīs, all accept Bhagavad Gītā and nobody says that Kṛṣṇa is a despot. In Chapter 12 of the Gītā, Arjuna asks directly who is superior—a bhakta or a jñānī. Kṛṣṇa clearly replies that a bhakta is superior (BG 12.1-2):
Between those devotees who exclusively worship You and are ever devoted to You as described, and those who worship the imperishable, unmanifest Brahman, who are those who know yoga best?
Śrī Bhagavān said:
Those who worship Me, are absorbed and ever united with Me and endowed with transcendental faith, I regard them as the best knowers of yoga.
In the remainder of the chapter, He continues to praise bhaktas. He says that bhaktas are dear to Him; nowhere does He say that jñānīs are dear to Him. He is called “bhakta-vatsala,” never “jñānī-vatsala.” So if a Vaiṣṇava accepts Kṛṣṇa’s words, does that make him a fanatic? Arjuna says that no one is equal or superior to Kṛṣṇa (BG 11.43)—is he a fanatic? Many such statements can be cited from different śāstra.
Now please tell me why a Vaiṣṇava is a fanatic. Can you define ‘fanatic’? You probably believe that all gods like Śiva, Brahmā, Indra, Varuna, Ganeṣa and Durgā are equal to Kṛṣṇa. But that is not what Kṛṣṇa says in the Gītā (10.2 and 10.8). Either Kṛṣṇa is a fanatic or you are in ignorance. “Neither the divine beings (suras) nor the sages (maharñis) know the reality of My birth, because, in all respects, I am the cause of the divine beings and sages.” And “I am the source of everything and everything functions because of Me. Knowing thus, the wise, endowed with devotion, worship Me.” Nobody has challenged these words of Kṛṣṇa.
You ask: “How can one realize the absolute truth by being one-sided?” Have you read Bhagavad Gītā? Kṛṣṇa requests Arjuna to give up all dharma and to just surrender to Him. Kṛṣṇa is specifically asking Arjuna to be one-sided, not multisided (BG 18.66).
“Abandoning [dependence] on all duties completely, take refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not grieve.”
His most confidential instruction is to become a devotee: man manā bhava mad bhaktaḥ (18.65). Where does He say that you should mix all the paths? If you want to reach a destination, then you take one route. You do not keep changing roads and going in different directions. If you are not serious about one route, you will never reach your destination.
You write: “In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has been reported to have said several times that a combination of the highest jñāna and the highest bhakti in one person is a rare gift of the Lord. This view is quite opposed to the Gosvāmīs’ dictum that jñāna-miśra-bhakti is second only to pure bhakti.”
So you have to decide whether you want to follow Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Each will lead to a different destination. The Gosvāmīs are followers of Kṛṣṇa and not of RK Paramahamsa.
You write: “A mature practitioner is one who appreciates the fact that different paths are for people of different psychophysical natures. Isn’t it fanatical to believe and promote the notion that bhakti is the highest path and that only bhakti can take one to the highest goal?”
The first statement is true, and we accept that. But if people have different natures, then their paths are different. This means that they are not same. If there are many paths to a destination, they generally have a hierarchy. Some paths will be superior to others. At the same time, a particular path may be more suitable for a particular person, even if it is not the highest.
You write: “In several texts, jñāna–yoga is said to be the highest path although it is also said that in Kaliyuga, people are quite body-conscious and therefore, jñāna–yoga is not the common path. But that doesn’t imply that jñāna–yoga is second to bhakti.”
Unless you give some pramāna, this statement does not mean much. Anyone can make any statement. The truth is known by pramāna, not by mere statements—lakṣaṇa-pramāṇābhyāṁ vastu-siddhir na tu pratijñā-mātreṇa.
If you want to follow jñāna-mārga, we have no problem. You are most welcome, but don’t call us fanatics without properly studying śāstra. We are not fanatics, and therefore we have no objection to you being a follower of jñāna-mārga. Nor will we tell you that you are following an inferior path. We do not do that. And if you think that jñāna is the best path, we will not debate with you. We do not hate jñāna-mārgīs. But we do believe, on the basis of śāstra and personal experience, that bhakti is the best path, and nothing comes close to it. If you can invest some time studying what is bhakti, you may also agree with us.
I have a question for you. Is bhakti to Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, Durgā, Ganeśa, Hanumān, etc. all equal? If yes, how? If not, are you not a fanatic?