Concept of Bhakti in Upanishads is mainly viewed in the context of the issue of whether or not Bhakti yoga is advocated in the Upanishads as a direct means to moksha. This is an issue mainly because of two reasons. In the first place, the term bhakti is not mentioned in the Upanishads. The texts which speak of the upaya for moksha use other terms, such as jnana, vedana, darsana, dhyana, dhruva smriti, nididhyasana and upasana. Secondly, the Upanishads also state explicitly that jnana or knowledge of Brahman is the only means to moksha. Thus says the Svetasavatara Upanishad, "Having known Him, he (the individual) transgresses death (bondage) and there is no other means to attain Him." The Taittiriya Upanishad also asserts, "He who knows Brahman attains the highest." In fact, the Advaita Vedanta maintains, on the authority of such scriptural texts, that jnana alone is the sole means to moksha. The practice of upasana or nididhyasana (meditation) referred to in other texts is considered by the Advaitin as a subsidiary means to jnana.
Regarding the first point, it may be pointed out that the term upasana bears the same meaning as bhakti. Though the term bhakti is not used in the Upanishadic texts, the concept of bhakti is implied in them. This fact is evident from the verses of the Bhagavad Gita which explicitly mention the term bhakti, while elucidating the Upanishadic text in which bhakti is implied. Thus the Mundaka Upanishad says, "This Self (Brahman) cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, nor by meditation nor through much hearing. He is to be attained only by one whom the Self chooses. To such a person, the Self reveals Its true nature." The implication of this statement, as explained by Ramanuja, is that mere sravana (hearing), manana (reflection) and nididhyasana (meditation) undertaken without intense love for God (bhakti) cannot serve as means to attain God. Only that individual on whom God showers His grace can achieve Him. According to Ramanuja, the person on whom God chooses to shower his grace is that one who is dearest to God (priyatama eva hi varaniyo bhavati). The Bhagavad Gita provides the answer to the question as to who is the person most dear to God and why he is regarded so. Thus says the Gita. "To those who crave for eternal union (with Me) and meditate (on Me), I bestow with love that clear divine vision (buddhiyogda) by which they attain Me." It also says, "One who is most devoted to God is the one dearest to Me." By way of elucidating the statement of Mundaka Upanishad, it further points out that there is no other way of attaining God except by bhakti or intense loving meditation on God.
Further, according to Ramanuja the different terms used in the Upanishads such as upasana, dhyana, smriti santati, vedana and darsana are to be taken to mean the same as bhakti referred to in the Gita. If these terms are understood differently, it would amount to the admission of several means to moksha. Since the goal to be achieved is the same, the means cannot be different. It should, therefore, be admitted that all these terms bear the same import. According to the principle of interpretation laid down by the Mimamsaka, when different terms are used in the same context, the general term should be taken to bear the meaning of the specific term. Accordingly, in the present context, jnana, vedana, darsana, dhyana, upasana etc., are treated as general terms indicative of bhakti and bhakti as a specific term meaning unwavering devotion to God. Besides, vedana (knowledge) and upasana (meditation), which are the two key words indicating prima facie two different paths to moksha, are used in the Upanishadic passages as interchangeable words. Ramanuja, therefore, comes to the conclusion that bhakti or upasana as a spiritual discipline is the upaya to moksha.
(Last Updated on : 17-05-2010)