The topic “Gyan vs Bhakti” is one of the most intensely debated topics in Indian philosophy, and followers of advaitvad, dwaitvad, visishtadvaitvad, vishuddhadvaitvad, achintya bhedabhedvad, all hold strong opinions on either sides of the topic. It has been very skillfully debated here by those who have participated in the discussion.
It is difficult to do justice to this topic in brief, but I must contribute something, since I had initiated this discussion. Gyan and Bhakti are definitely inter-related. For example, if someone gives us a piece of jewellery, and we have no knowledge of its worth, you will have no love for it either. But if we come to know that the gold is 24 carats, and the diamond studded in it is worth a million dollars, we will immediately develop immense love for our new possession. Similarly, as we get knowledge of the glory of God and our relationship with Him, our devotion towards Him will also increase. So true knowledge definitely leads to bhakti.
And as we engage in bhakti, God seated within the heart gives us deeper and newer realizations. Thus, bhakti leads to knowledge. Gyan and bhakti are thus intimately inter-related: gyan increases bhakti, and bhakti increases gyan.
However, Gyan yog, or the path of gyan, is different from this. It suggests that the soul is itself God, and so by situating oneself in the knowledge of the true self as atman, one will attain liberation. Such knowledge is incomplete without the understanding that soul is only a tiny fragment of God, that it has an eternal relationship with God, and that it needs to surrender to God, to attain His grace.
Consequently, the meditational styles of the gyanyogi and the bhakti yogi are quite different. The bhaktiyogi meditates on the Supreme, All-powerful God, and relates to Him in a personal form as his ishta dev. However, the gyan yogi considers meditation on God as inferior, and aims to still the mind by meditation on the breath, or the eyebrow center, etc. Such meditation aimed at merely stilling the mind is not only exceedingly difficult, it is also bereft of the grace of God.
The mind is a product of the material energy of God, and it cannot be conquered without His grace, no matter for how many ages we may endeavor. Hence, the writer the the Yog Darshan, Maharashi Patanjali, has mentioned in three places in his brief treatise: Ishwara pranidhati – for success in meditation and for conquering the mind, surrender to God. Bhakti thus becomes essential in the path of gyan as well.
Theres is yet another kind of gyan, called shabdik gyan, which means dry intellectual knowledge, without concurrent practice. Such gyan, without realization leads to pride, and does more harm than good. It has thus been criticized by the scriptures.
We must thus acquire the right knowledge of our eternal relationship with God, and then endeavor to put it in practice. That knowledge will then help us increase our devotion, and devotion will increase our knowledge, and knowledge will increase our devotion, and devotion will increase knowledge, and so on.