Upanishads tell us that knowledge alone leads to Mukti. Not true, says Gita...Karma and Bhakti are also valid.

If Upanishads are Shruti, and Gita is Smruti, and, if Shruti trumps Smruti, should we ignore this Gita teaching? As Shankaracharya did, more or less?

  • How much Jivas are there in this planet that much ways are there to reach Brahman. You can sing and go to mukti, you can dance and go to mukti. You can do tapas and go to mukti. You can do pooja and go to mukti and you need not di anything and go to mukti. What is mukti? Dropping ahamkara is mukti. So in whats the matter if you do it anyway! Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 15:58
  • This is not an answer. The Q is not how to attain Mukti but the contradictory teachings.
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:02
  • There's no contradiction is what I told in the big comment! Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:24
  • 2
    Do you mean Jnana Yoga by Dhyana Yoga?
    – Pandya
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 4:01
  • In the title you wrote "Dyana" and in the body it's Knowledge (Jnana). Please edit your post to clearify it.
    – user6981
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 16:34

6 Answers 6


Upanishad does not say that Bhakti Yoga is not valid.

Mental activities[1] relating to the Saguna Brahman [2] - such as are described in the Shandilya Vidya [3] are Upasanas or devotions.

[1] Mental Activities - As distinguished from real knowledge. The Upasana is distinct from Jnana or knowledge as in the later case all differences between the meditator and the object of meditation are obliterated.

[2] Saguna Brahman - Brahman with attributes such as power of creation etc. The word Saguna is used to make a distinction between mental activities (Upasana) and complete absorption in the Highest Self, in which case all ideas of the object are entirely effaced.

[3] Shandilya Vidya - This is the famous chapter of the Chhandogya Upanishad 3.14.1 beginning with 'All this is verily Brahman'.

Vedantasara of Sadananda Yogindra 12 translated by Swami Nikhilananda

Chandogya Upanishad asks one to meditate. (one can't meditate on Nirguna Brahman). Chandogya Upanishad will not ask one to meditate on Saguna Brahman if it does not lead to mukti.

Verily, all this is Brahman. From Him do all things originate, into Him do they dissolve and by Him are they sustained. On Him should one meditate in tranquility. For as is one's faith, such indeed one is; and as is one's faith in this world, such one becomes on departing hence. Let one therefore cultivate faith.

Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1 translated by Swami Swahananda

Various scriptures stress the importance of meditation for spiritual realization. The Chandogya Upanishad [3.14.1] exhorts us: "Santa Upashita [Being tranquil, meditate]." The same Upanishad describes meditation as the key to success.

Meditation and other spiritual disciplines by Swami Swahananda

It is western Indologists and westernized Indian scholars who make the claim that the Upanishads do not talk about Bhakti Yoga.

Upasana of Saguna Brahman is of course Bhakti Yoga. However, does the word Bhakti appear explicitly in the Upanishads? The answer is yes.

yasya deva para bhaktir yatha deva tatha gurau, tasyaite kathita hy arthah, prakasante mahatmanah, prakasante mahatmanah.

These subjects which have been declared shine forth to the high-souled one who has the highest devotion for God and for his spiritual teacher as for God. Yea they shine forth to the high-souled one.

Svetasvatara Upanishad VI.23 translated by S. Radhakrishnan

  • Pradip, I am new here, so I don't know where my reply went! Thank you for your thoughtful comments.Is meditation,is Yoga Bhakti? Does Upanahad have the word Bhakti?
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 19:43
  • Certainly Upanishads do say Yog is one way to get self knowledge. Upanishad also describe Rath Kalpana for Indriya Daman. My understanding is for self realization what you do is understanding of Brahman, not worshipping it. Am I wrong? न चक्षुषा गृह्यते नापि वाचा नान्यैर्देवैस्तपसा कर्मण वा । ज्ञानप्रसादेन विशुद्धसत्त्वस्ततस्तु तं पश्यते निष्कलं ध्यायमानः ॥ Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8 – …….अथ योऽन्यां देवतामुपास्ते, अन्योऽसावन्योऽहमस्मीति, न स वेद, यथा पशुरेवम् स देवानाम्…… Brihad Aranyak Upanishad 1.4.10 He who worships god thinking 'I'm one he's another' doesn't know. He's like an animal’*
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 19:49
  • Upanishad has the word Bhakti explicitly. Nirguna Brahman can neither be understood nor worshipped. It can only be experienced. BU 1.4.10 is also right. Nevertheless Bhakti Yoga is also accepted by the Upanishads. Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 14:16
  • Can you give me reference re Bhakti in Upanishads? And also reference re Bhakti Yoga acceptance in Upanishads? Thanks!
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 17:07
  • Please reread my post where I have given the shloka Svetasvatara VI.23 which answers both your questions. Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 14:59

Think of this; We all have that knowledge/Gyana that there is something called Mukti which is final destination. But all will attain mukti ? No. Because all are not doing the karma(like bhakti, dhyana etc.) prescribed in scriptures to attain it. Let's see what Krishna said in Bhagwat Geeta to support the statement.

In BG Chapter 3 verse 3; Lord Krishna says:

śhrī bhagavān uvācha

loke ’smin dvi-vidhā niṣhṭhā purā proktā mayānagha|

jñāna-yogena sāṅkhyānāṁ karma-yogena yoginām||

The Blessed Lord said: O sinless one, the two paths leading to enlightenment were previously explained by me: the path of knowledge, for those inclined toward contemplation, and the path of work for those inclined toward action.

With above verse, Krishna says there are two types of spiritual practices sAdhakas do; one who searches God within themselves i.e. do dhyAna and other who try to attain God from action. But without karma both practices are not possible and hence no Mukti.

  • This is not an answer. The Q is not how to attain Mukti but the contradictory teachings
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:03
  • The answer is not about attaining mukti, but to support that teachings are not contradictory. Read again @AjitDamle I gave Mukti as an example
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:26
  • Thank you again. Please help me understand what you are saying. So Gita does say that Dyana Marg is the right way, but to achieve that you need Bhakti? This I understand is how Shankaracharya saw it.
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 19:51

Sri Krishna was one of the greatest Yogi. It is not that easy to comprehend or correlate various issues.

Sri Krishna said:

ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंसः सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते।

सङ्गात् संजायते कामः कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते।।2.62।।

In the case of a person who dwells on objects, there arises attachment for them. From attachment grows hankering, from hankering springs anger.

रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः।

स्मृतिभ्रंशाद् बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति।।2.63।।

From anger follows delusion; from delusion, failure of memory; from failure of memory, the loss of understanding; from the loss of understanding, he perishes.

So desire (dwelling on objects) is the root-cause of all problems. Desire can be for sexual intercourse, enmassing riches, severe itching for gaining fame, etc.

Is it that easy to eradicate desires? If that is the case, neither am I writing here nor others reading this.

If a person engulfed with various desires tries for Dhyana or meditation, will his/her mind allow to meditate? A big NO. The desires will definitely hamper his meditation.

Then what is the method to overcome the thoughts on desires, in meditation?

That is where Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga will help one.

If a person is possessed with any desire he/she has undergo it, enjoy it and leave it, but without getting dissolved into it. That is Karma Yoga.

It does not mean to say that why getting one's desires fulfilled, one should not practice Meditation or Dhyana. Both can/should run in parallel. The lesser the intensity of the desires becomes, the deeper the concentration in meditation.

Some may not have taste for Meditation or Dhyana, but may be inclined for doing naama japa or bhajana. They can do in their desired way with dedication. Bhakti Yoga.

Yoga is derived from the root "yuj" "to attach, join, harness, yoke".

In Veda, it was mentioned as esoterically, yoking to a chariot, ie., joining the mind with the Divine.

एकस्मिन योगे भुरणा समाने परि वां सप्त सरवतो रथो गात | न वायन्ति सुभ्वो देवयुक्ता ये वां धूर्षु तरणयोवहन्ति || Rig veda VII.67.8

In a single common yoke, O Aswins, you who move quickly, your chariot goes around seven rivers. Your fast and powerful horses yoked by the Gods, do not waver as they carry you at the poles of the chariot.

So that which joins humans with the God can be called as yoga. Bhakti/Karma Yoga, is yoga because it joins humans with the God.

Whether it is Bhakti or Karma or Dhyana, it's aim is to concentrate on the Divine aspect. It does not mean that the Self Realisation occurs automatically, to anyone doing naama japa or Bhajan or Dhyana. If that is the case lakhs of people might have achieved Self Realisation.

The final step into Self Realisation will be allowed by the God only to a few. It is a mysterious issue, which can never be explained by any saint also.

  • Thank you for the reply. Are you saying Yog is Bhakti? Certainly Upanishads do say Yog is one way to get self knowledge. Upanishad also describe Rath Kalpana for Indriya Daman. My understanding is for self realization what you do is understanding of Brahman, not worshipping it. Am I wrong? न चक्षुषा गृह्यते नापि वाचा नान्यैर्देवैस्तपसा कर्मण वा । ज्ञानप्रसादेन विशुद्धसत्त्वस्ततस्तु तं पश्यते निष्कलं ध्यायमानः ॥ Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 19:34
  • …….अथ योऽन्यां देवतामुपास्ते, अन्योऽसावन्योऽहमस्मीति, न स वेद, यथा पशुरेवम् स देवानाम्…… Brihad Aranyak Upanishad 1.4.10 He who worships god thinking 'I'm one he's another' doesn't know. He's like an animal’*
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 19:39
  • yoga is derived from the root "yuj" "to attach, join, harness, yoke". So that which joins humans with the God can be called as yoga. Bhakti is yoga because it joins humans with the God. However, it is applicable to ordinary people like me. It is one of the accepted methods.@Ajit Damle Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 0:33

Arjuna asks the same question to Krishna in the beginning of Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, called Karma Yoga:

Arjuna said:

  1. If, O Krishna you consider that Buddhi (mind-development) [jnana yoga] is superior to Karma (action), why do you urge me to engage in this terrible deed?

  2. You confuse me with statements that seem to contradict each other; tell me for certain the one way by which I could reach the highest good.

Ramanujacharya's commentary on verse 1 says:

If the steadfast practice of meditation is the only means to Self-realisation, then how can one accept the idea that commitment to action (Karma Yoga) also leads to Self-realisation? — this is the question.

Sri Vaishnavas say that only Bhakti yoga leads to moksha, whereas karma yoga and jnana yoga only purify oneself to be capable of performing bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is meditation on brahman, jnana yoga is meditation on the jivatma, and karma yoga is doing karmas while relinquishing the fruit. So according to Ramanujacharya, the order is: karma yoga -> jnana yoga -> bhakti yoga -> moksha.

Ramanujacharya says this:

Krishna says, "You have not properly understood what I taught you before!” This world, is filled with people with varying degrees of aptitude, I have therefore taught two forms of discipline — the way of meditation (Jñāna Yoga) and the way of action (Karma Yoga), according to the aptitudes of the aspirants. There is no contradiction in this. The ability to meditate does not spontaneously come to everyone in the world in whom the desire for Liberation has arisen. But one who acts, unmotivated by the desire for rewards but purely as a means of worshiping the Supreme Being becomes free of mental impurities, and by restraining the senses, one becomes competent for the practice of meditation.

  • I understand Krishna's Upadesh and also what the Littlenaruto is saying. But these are Smrti statements. Shruti explicitly say no Dyana Marg is the only way. I am not arguing what is right and what is wrong, or what is better. How the Shruti and Smruti sayngs not contradictory here?
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 10:17
  • @AjitDamle Bhagavad Gita is also saying dhyana is the only way. Karma yoga, etc dont give moksha by themselves but only purify the mind so that one can do dhyana.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 12:16
  • I understand what Ramanujaacharya is saying. I also understand Krishna's reasoning that people have different aptitudes. But is not Gita all Smriti? And if Uanishada say something different, Gits should not prevail?
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 19:28

Bhakti, Gyan, Karma and Dhyana Yog all lead to Gyan or wisdom of Self/God realization. Actually all the worldly things like body, ego, family etc., are Mithya or temporary but a normal bound soul similar to animals cant grasp it easily owing to past births intrinsic animal instincts. Thats why intellect is given to human in first place, that is used to remember one's experiences and understand Self, God and Maya through gained wisdom. Hence, Vedas declare that intellect/wisdom or Gyana alone in reality leads to permanent liberation.

Geeta:Chapter 5

Bhagavad Gita 5.3 The karm yogis, who neither desire nor hate anything, should be considered always renounced. Free from all dualities, they are easily liberated from the bonds of material energy.

Bhagavad Gita 5.4 Only the ignorant speak of sānkhya (renunciation of actions, or karm sanyās) and karm yog (work in devotion) as different. Those who are truly learned say that by applying ourselves to any one of these paths, we can achieve the results of both.

Bhagavad Gita 5.7 The karm yogis, who are of purified intellect, and who control the mind and senses, see the Soul of all souls in every living being. Though performing all kinds of actions, they are never entangled.

Bhagavad Gita 5.8 – 5.9 Those steadfast in this karm yog, always think, “I am not the doer,” even while engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, moving, sleeping, breathing, speaking, excreting, and grasping, and opening or closing the eyes. With the light of divine knowledge, they see that it is only the material senses that are moving amongst their objects.

Bhagavad Gita 5.18 The truly learned, with the eyes of divine knowledge, see with equal vision a Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.

Actually Karma Yoga is not different from Gyana Yoga, only a true Gyani can follow Karma Yoga selflessly. Similarly, a Bhakta alone can eventually realize "I am not the doer" because a Bhakta identifies himself as a servant of the master God and a servant alone has least ego which eventually leads to Gyana. Thats why Krishna gave Geeta, a form of Gyana in the form of words as well as practical revelation in the form of Vishwarup of God that showed Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Omniscience of One God and the importance of true Guru in the path of realization.

After gaining Gyan and experience alone, Arjuna's Bhakti was strengthened and was cleared of his doubts arising from ego and his relatives during the Mahabharata war and therefore fought the war in Nishkama Karma Yoga for Dharma.

Bhagavad Gita 5.22 The pleasures that arise from contact with the sense objects, though appearing as enjoyable to worldly-minded people, are verily a source of misery. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise do not delight in them.

Bhagavad Gita 5.23 Those persons are yogis, who before giving up the body are able to check the forces of desire and anger; and they alone are happy.

Bhagavad Gita 5.24 Those who are happy within themselves, enjoying the delight of God within, and are illumined by the inner light, such yogis are united with the Lord and are liberated from material existence.

Bhagavad Gita 5.25 Those holy persons, whose sins have been purged, whose doubts are annihilated, whose minds are disciplined, and who are devoted to the welfare of all beings, attain God and are liberated from material existence.

The manifested universe is Maya but a bound soul cant comprehend the most divine Vedic knowledge of oneness of Brahman/God and Jeeva in one second or even one birth, hence Bhakti and Karma Yoga were explained and highlighted by Krishna during the advent of Kaliyuga, age of darkness where Vedas and Dharma are ignored by masses and true enlightened Gurus are rare.

Bhagavad Gita 3.3 The Blessed Lord said: O sinless one, the two paths leading to enlightenment were previously explained by me: the path of knowledge, for those inclined toward contemplation, and the path of work for those inclined toward action.

Bhagavad Gita 3.4 One cannot achieve freedom from karmic reactions by merely abstaining from work, nor can one attain perfection of knowledge by mere physical renunciation.

Bhagavad Gita 3.5 There is no one who can remain without action even for a moment. Indeed, all beings are compelled to act by their qualities born of material nature (the three guṇas).

Bhagavad Gita 3.6 **Those who restrain the external organs of action, while continuing to dwell on sense objects in the mind, certainly delude themselves and are to be called hypocrites. ** Bhagavad Gita 3.7 But those karm yogis who control their knowledge senses with the mind, O Arjun, and engage the working senses in working without attachment, are certainly superior.

Bhagavad Gita 3.8 You should thus perform your prescribed Vedic duties, since action is superior to inaction. By ceasing activity, even your bodily maintenance will not be possible.

Actually, Gyana Yoga is for introvert dominant static masculine natured souls while Karma Yoga is for extrovert dominant dynamic feminine natured souls. Hence, Hinduism has 2 main branches of scriptures Shrutis Vedas highlighting formless God while Smritis Puranas highlighting God with form because creation is made of both Nirguna formless Purusha and Saguna form Prakriti. And every soul and God has both Shiva/masculine/formless and Shakti/feminine/form nature. Hence, Krishna explained the importance of Karma Yoga even for Gyanis, because one who has Gyan of Self will never be bound by Karma. Krishna, Saguna Omniscience Brahman, gave his own example.

Bhagavad Gita 4.6 Although I am unborn, the Lord of all living entities, and have an imperishable nature, yet I appear in this world by virtue of Yogmaya, my divine power.

Bhagavad Gita 3.22 There is no duty for me to do in all the three worlds, O Parth, nor do I have anything to gain or attain. Yet, I am engaged in prescribed duties.

Bhagavad Gita 3.23 For if I did not carefully perform the prescribed duties, O Parth, all men would follow my path in all respects.

Bhagavad Gita 3.24 If I ceased to perform prescribed actions, all these worlds would perish. I would be responsible for the pandemonium that would prevail, and would thereby destroy the peace of the human race.

Bhagavad Gita 3.25 As ignorant people perform their duties with attachment to the results, O scion of Bharat, so should the wise act without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.

Kathamrita: Ramakrishna Paramhans

Sri Ramakrishna — After one attains knowledge of the Absolute, God permits a little ego to remain. This ego is the ‘I of the devotee,’ or the ‘I of knowledge’. It is with this ‘I’ that one enjoys His infinite play. Rubbing the pestle for a long time, it was reduced to a very small size. But when it fell into the forest of willows, it brought the destruction of the entire clan of Yadus[40]. That is why the vijnani keeps the ‘I of devotion’ or the ‘I of knowledge’, to enjoy the Bliss of God and to teach mankind.

Paramahamsas can be broadly classified into two types—the gyani paramahamsa and the premi paramahamsa. The gyani prefers to be a self-contained man and is content with his own salvation. The premi commits himself to the spiritual edification of people after he himself has realized God. Some men, will eat a mango and be content to wipe their faces clean, while there are some who want to share the mango with others. Some men, after they have dug a well, will throw away the spade and basket, but you will also find others who will carefully store them so that a neighbour too, can use them when necessary.

Gospels of Ramakrishna Parmahansa

"When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive — neither creating nor preserving nor destroying —, I call Him Brahman or Purusha, the Impersonal God. When I think of Him as active — creating, preserving, and destroying —, I call Him Sakti or Maya or Prakriti, the Personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The Personal and the Impersonal are the same thing, like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre, the snake and its wriggling motion. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one."

Actually, God is Paramatma(Supersoul) and Jeeva is Aatma(soul). Aatma is a drop emerging from Paramatma Ocean in a frame of Maya/Time and does not exist for eternity, hence Gyani approaches Paramatma through eternal Brahman Gyan(which is permanent truth/Sat) because Satya Paramatma is collection of infinite Aatmas(liberated+bound) and is eternal but a Bhakta Aatma approches same Paramatma though Master(Paramtama)-Servant(Aatma) relation or some other relation like Father/Mother/beloved because thats why family was given to every individual in first place i.e. to learn love for other souls and one Supersoul.

  • Thanks ManuKumar for thethoughtful answer. So we have difference here: " Shrutis Vedas highlighting formless God while Smritis Puranas highlighting God with form" Now Shruti always trump Smriti, so we should not ignore Smriti here? श्रुतिस्मृतिपुराणानां विरोधो यत्र दृश्यते। तत्र श्रौतं प्रमाणंतु तयोद्वैधे स्मृति‌र्त्वरा॥ Ved Vyas
    – Ajit Damle
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:02
  • @AjitDamle Vedas highlight Gyana while Puranas highlight Bhakti. True Gyana cant be understood without Bhakti and Bhakti without Gyana leads to material slavery. Hence, both are inseparable and the difference between Vedas and Puranas is similar to the dual natured creation Day-Night, Man-Woman, Right-Left. Formless cant be understood without a form. Soul cant be understood without mind/intellect/body. Gyana is the fruit, Bhakti is the path. Self cant be understood without devotion to God/Guru. God, Guru and Self are one in reality- Ramana Maharshi
    – user16530
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:08

Jnyana Yoga alone has a chance of puffing up the ego and hence it is said that only Jnyana is not enough. Jnyana if done perfectly is enough to make you free. Bhakthi can eliminate the I even without the bhaktha being aware about it. Karma Yoga when practiced at the level of Akarma (giving up doership) can free a man to quite an extent. Well, Adi Shankaracharya himself composed the song Bhaja Govindam. Bhakthi marga and Jnyana marga and Karma marga were never incompatible. Whichever marga you follow sincerely, you will develop devotion (to form or beyond) you will develop Sathvika Karma traits and the wisdom of all being God.It is not possible to follow one yoga alone. All are developed simultaneously. One of them may be prominent. The Sruthis are correct for people who can handle their ego and the smiritis are correct who cannot.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .