Jnana, Bhakti and Karma
Karma, Bhakti and Jnana are the three main elements that are necessary for spiritual evolution. Every path to the supreme contains these elements- be it a Karma Yoga, or a Jnana Marga or a Bhakti. Moksha or Liberation is attained only through Atma-Jnana/Brahma-Jnana (i.e. Self-Realization), but one can attain Jnana through multiple paths like- Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, Raja yoga etc.
Every path involves two stages, the lower or preparatory stages through which one develops required qualities like- discrimination, dispassion, one-pointed concentration etc. And the second or higher stage wherein one is initiated and guided by a Guru towards Atma-Jnana.
Irrespective of the paths chosen, a person who wishes to attain Atma-Jnana, must develop dispassion towards worldly/sensory objects. He must renounce the sensory attachments and pleasures. He must develop firm discrimination between God who is real and eternal and the world which is temporary and unreal.Further, he should develop one pointed concentration, complete withdrawal from senses and external influences, faith in scriptures and complete surrender. These qualities that form basic qualifications for Jnana Sadhana or Moksha Sadhana is called as “Sadhana-Chatushtaya”.
A person would be able to attain these qualities only through the practice of Karmas (Karma Anushtana) and Devata-Upasana (i.e.Apara Bhakti) as prescribed in the scriptures. Irrespective of the paths, one must learn the scriptures, live life according to them by performing the all Karmas and must practice meditation and other Upasana. Only in this way a person would be able to get rid of Shad-Ripus, the internal impurities like desire, anger, delusion, pride, jealousy and greed and hence attain purification of mind (Chitta-Shuddi). Only a purified mind would be able to develop the qualities like viveka, vairagya required for Moksha Sadhana.
A Karma Margi may give more stress on performance of Karmas and duties according to Shastras. A Jnana Margi may give more stress on learning, contemplating and implementing the essence of the scriptures. A Bhakti Margi may involve himself more in worship of his Ishta_Devata. A Raja margi may involve hismelf in implementing Yama, Niyama etc. But for sake of spiritual progress, they must incorporate tenets of other paths. A Jnana Margi, if he does not perform his prescribed duties and Karmas and does not practice Upasana, would merely remain as Scholar or Intellectual without being able to completely develop the qualities like Nishkaama dasha, Samarpana Bhava etc. Similarly, a person who practices rites and rituals alone, without cultivating Bhakti or Self-analysis, would not be able to develop viveka or ekagra-chitta. Again, a person who practices Devata-Upasana alone, would neither be able to develop viveka nor Nishkaama dasha fully. Hence, such people become stuck in their spiritual paths.
On the other hand, a genuine spiritual practitioner, studies the scriptures, contemplates and tries to imbibe qualities mentioned in it. He would perform faithfully all the duties and Karmas mentioned in it. Further, he would practice Worship of his Ishta-Devata and surrender all his fruits to Ishwara/God. By, such a practice of Jnana (i.e. Scriptural study/lower stage), Karma(i.e. Karma Anushtana) and Bhakti (i.e. Apara-Bhakti), one would develop Nishkaama Dasha and Samarpana Bhava. He would perform all his actions with sense of duty by surrendering the actions, fruits of action and the doership of action with a firm conviction that God alone is real and eternal. By, such a practice, he would achieve purification of mind and acquire qualities like discrimination, dispassion etc that are needed for Moksha Sadhana.
Having acquired the required qualities, a person becomes competent to practice Jnana Sadhana or Moksha Sadhana. This higher stage is also called as “Para-Bhakti”. A Jnana margi, having developed a firm conviction that world is Unreal and Atman alone Real, will renounce the world and practice Atma Vichara-Self Enquiry and Atma Nidhidhyasa (SelfCOntemplation).
A Karma Yogi on other hand, would stay in the world and practice his duties with firm detachment and dispassion. He would perform actions without any sense of Doership and by surrendering everything to God with firm conviction that God alone is real and he inhabits everything in the Universe as their Innermost Self-Atman and a Jiva is merely an instrument through whom God/Atman manifests. Similarly, a Bhakti margi would practice “Para-Bhakti” by realizing that his Ishta Devata is not different from his own inner-most Self. Such, a Bhakta may completely renounce the world or may stay in the world. In both cases, having realized that Atman is God, he would be immersed in the Self Contemplation and worship.
Hence, by such Atma Vichara or Para-Bhakti or Karma Yoga or Samadhi one attains Atma Jnana and hence Moksha. Though the paths are many, the final destination as well as the intermediate milestone and the qualities required for them are same. Further, no path is a closed room distinct from the other. All the paths contain same principles and aim at developing same qualities. They only differ in practical implementation highlighting different principles in order to suite Sadhakas/spiritual-practitioners of different temperaments.