shankaracharya with students image
arsha bodha center header image

Relationship between bhakti and jnana

Question: What is the relationship between bhakti (devotion) and jnana (knowledge)? It is said that there is a very thin line between them.

Answer: Bhakti and jnana are as inseparable as two sides of a coin. Jnana means spiritual wisdom. To gain the highest jnana–knowledge of God–an extraordinary degree of effort will certainly be required. But will our limited efforts ever be sufficient to scale the lofty heights of jnana to finally know God? Without grace, without the Lord’s blessings, those heights will forever remain beyond our grasp. Yet, when we invoke the Lord’s grace with our prayers and worship, then our sincere efforts to gain jnana will be blessed. Thus bhakti helps us attain jnana.

As for bhakti, consider this question: “How can we worship a God who is totally unknown to us?” In human relationships, we find it difficult to love people whom we do not know. Conversely, the more intimately we know a person, the stronger our bond of love grows. In the same way, the more intimately we know the Lord, the more intense our devotion will grow. Therefore, jnana, knowledge of the Lord, strengthens our bhakti.

In our lives of spiritual growth, we need both jnana and bhakti. How sad it is when someone says, “I am a very intellectual person; bhakti is not for me,” or when someone else says, “I am a very emotional person, so I avoid jnana.” We need both; we need all the help we can get! To focus exclusively on either bhakti or jnana and to ignore the other is to deny ourselves the very spiritual practices we need most to lift our minds and hearts to the Lord.