A spiritual seeker asked a question “How to unify Bhakti and Jnaana in life?” Here is an attempt to answer the question.
First to start with, we have the example given by Sri Ramakrishna. “In the infinite ocean of Sat-Chit-Aananda, by the cooling effect of the Bhakti of a devotee, the ocean forms into an ice block taking the shape that is worshiped by the devotee. Again, by the rising Sun of Jnaana, the ice block melts into the formless water of the ocean.”
Always the worshiper and the worshiped can be of the same nature only. When you are in a mood of Jnaana, you see yourself as the Pure Conscious Subject and being so is the way to worship the formless attributeless aspect of God. When you are in a mood where you are very much aware of your body and mind, you worship the Lord also in the form of your Ishta with qualities like love, compassion, etc. This is called Bhakti. Thus they don’t contradict. They are just different ways to worship the Lord.
When talking about Bhakta in Gita, Krishna classifies them as four types. (7.16) The first two are lower types – aartha and arthaarti – seekers of worldly ends by means of worship of God. The third is of medium type – jijnaasu – one who seeks God as the Goal of life. The fourth is the highest type – jnaani – one who knows God. Thus Krishna talks about Jnaana as the highest form of Bhakti.
The Sat-Chit-Aananda that is “known” as the Self at the height of Jnaana is not different from the Ishta. In Gita, Krishna tells this at several places. “I am the string that runs through this wonderful maala of pearls that is the world.” (7.7) “Know that I am the Self who knows himself as the Subject in all embodied beings.” (13.2) Thus God is the Subject, the Conscious entity in you. This is the ParaaPrakriti nature of God. Jnaana is the way to worship Him thus.
God also has become the manifested Object or Nature or Prakriti. This is the AparaaPrakriti nature of God. Everything that you see as objects – living and non-living – tangible and intangible – they are all the manifestations of the Lord by his Maaya. Everything that happens is by this Maaya only. Krishna tell this in several places also. “Everything is done by Prakriti by its Gunaas. The egoistic deluded person thinks ‘I am the doer’.” (3.27) One way to overcome this egoism which is called Ignorance or Maaya is surrender to the Lord. God is everything. vaasudevah sarvam (7.19) And everything that happens is by His Will. Maaya is just another name for His Will. There is nothing that exists other than Him. And everything happens by His sweet Will. This is a variation of Bhakti where the Lord is worshiped as the world – Vishwarupa. The world is seen as the manifestation of the Lord.
Now, how to live everyday life with this attitude? Having known the Lord as everything, live a life treating everything and everyone as His aspects and every incident in life as a manifestation of His Will. Swami Chinmayananda puts it beautifully “Your life is a gift from the Lord. How you live is your gift to the Lord.” Do whatever you do as an offering to the Lord. Krishna says “by worshiping Him by doing your duty” (18.46). And take whatever happens as his prasaada. This is also Bhakti – the Karma Yoga way. When you are outside the puja room or temple, this is the way to worship the Lord.
When your mind is extrovert, see the Lord as the manifested world. Take a position as the servant of the Lord, because the body and mind are His servants. When your mind is introvert and when you identify yourself with the Subject, see the Lord as the Eternal Conscious Existence that is your own Self. When your mind is neither very extrovert nor very introvert, you worship the Lord in the form of the Ishta with attributes. Thus depending on the identity you take for yourself, your view of the Lord changes and the way of worship also changes.