madhye binduvibhAjitam girijayA puNyairagaNyairjitam
lAlityAdvayavAdi yasya chibukam kiM varNyate varNavat |
bAlAbAlabalena bhairavashivAkArAnusAram dvitAm
ekam yAtamadhaHsthakaNThavasanam yadyuktabhUtyujjvalam ||
Question #1: I am a doctor and find it very difficult to recite many things. Should I do more of Gayathree or Sreevidya?
Sri Guru is the best person to advice in these cases. However, it is best to recite shrIvidyA mantra more as that is the iShTa mantra and it takes precedence over every other mantra including gAyatrI. As sandhyA and tadamga gAyatrI japa is mandatory, it can never be abandoned but the mUla mantra, shrIvidyA in your case, should be given greater importance. shrIvidyA is considered to be a step above or non-different from turiya gAyatri and hence, there would be no pratyavAya in making the above assumption. tripurA tApinyupaniShad, accepted as Shruti by shrIvidyopAsakas, is the pramANa here. One may argue that this upaniShad was a later composition, that gAyatrI is superior to shrIvidyA as the latter is only tAntrika etc. But, if any of these doubts are entertained in your mind, it is a proof of your unreadiness for an advanced mode of upAsanA such as shrIvidyA. For a shrIvidyA upAsakA, the 15 or 16 or 18 or 28 or 32 lettered mantras are everything and there is nothing superior to them. Though in essence all mantras and tadadhiShThAtr devatAs are the same, in practice, vyAvahArika nyAya calls for the need on the part of the sAdhaka to believe his iShTa/mantra as the highest and devote every possible second in upAsanA. Nothing can steal the focus from shrIvidyA japa for an upAsaka, as that is his very life. Some practice sampuTa with gAyatrI etc., but there seem to be no real pramANas for these as the Tantras describe abheda between gAyatrI and shrIvidyA.
Question #2: What is more important, bhakti activities like bhajanam etc or japam? Is only japam sufficient?
upAsanA necessarily involves bhakti. bhaktimAnupAsIta is the instruction. As stated above, shrIvidyA japa and shrIchakrArchana are the primary duties of an upAsaka and anything and everything else can be done only if one has already done enough justice to these two aspects. Moreover, I assume you are referring to nAmasmaraNa when you
say bhajan. Analyze carefully the AchAryokti, tava janani nAmAvayavatAm. Both from this verse and the commentary on trishatI, as also the mantroddhAra khanda of yAmala, it becomes clear that the panchadashI includes letters which describe nAma, rUpa, vibhUti, aishvarya etc of shrI parAmbA. Hence, japa itself amounts to nAmasmaraNa. Now, I can go on and on tell you how japa and chakrArchana include not one but all the nine expressions of devotion, termed as nava vidha bhakti.
From your question, it appears that you are a novice at upAsanA and all you need to do is just that: upAsanA. We need not really complicate what this term is inclusive of as the shAstras clearly state: japarUpopAsti. Due to angAmgi nyAya, japa and saparyA are simply what upAsanA denotes and everything else are only additives. One should not bother excessively about anything - bhakti, dhyAna, dhAraNA etc., and simply perform japa and saparyA to the best of one's capacity. The mantra, when imparted by the right Guru in the right mode, will have enough vIrya to bring about an inner and outer transformation in the sAdhaka and everything required - call it bhakti, jnAna, kuNDalinyutthApana etc. - will happen at the right time.
Question #3: How should I practice advaita in sreevidya?
advaita is not really the sAdhana but sAdhya instead. upAsanA is the sAdhana. So 'practicing advaita' does not really sound right. As stated before, an upAsaka has to concentrate on upAsanA and not get distracted by giving more importance to additives rather than the core. Moreover, ShaDvidhaikyAnusandhAna etc., are not prescribed for those who are not uttAmAdhikArins. Every naiShThika shrIvidyopAsaka is given the necessary tattvopadesha, when ready, by the yuganAtha mithuna and the pAtratA for tattvAnusandhAna is obtained by the grace of parAmbA, upAsanA being a tool that will most likely earn this grace. My Guru clearly instructed: "Do some Japa instead of wasting time thinking this and that". Is not mano laya really an important goal of mantra japa? Moreover, one should analyze if ShaD sampatti and other qualifications for tattva chintana are satisfied before undertaking such practices. It is said that one should have virakti to an extent characterized by shunaka pAyasa nyAya. One should have virakti towards viShayopabhoga to the same degree as one would have towards the pAyasa that was consumed by a street dog and later vomited.
Question #4: Is it a must to learn shreechakra pooja?
I would think yes. As stated earlier, upAsti is described as japa rUpa and this includes japa and saparyA. It is an unfortunate trend prevalent today where people know no nyAsas, no mudras, learn no chakrArchana and throw in terms such as advaita, bhakti, jnAna, turIyAvasthA, bhAva samAdhi, svecChAchAra etc to defend their flaws. People can claim to indulge in all these and probably it is even beneficial when compared to laukika vyavahAra but that is NOT upAsanA. Statements such as 'in our lineage we do not do purashcharaNa' can only earn responses such as 'So, do you eat popcorn instead?' Tantra is a practical system and practice is more important than everything else here. Yes, unless you are an uttamAdhikArin who can perform antashchakropAsanA, shrIchakrArchana is absolutely necessary. A pUrNAbhiShikta who does not perform saparyA even during the pancha parvas is a pAtakI and has to undergo dIkShA all over again.
Question #5: Is there a need to study shastras? Is Bhakti really needed during Japa?
There are two aspects which should matter to anyone even faintly spiritual: dharma and paramAtman. Both these are adrShTa as they cannot be completely and correctly understood via either of the agencies, pratyakSha and anumAna. The pramANa that we would need here would be thus the shAstra. Hence, the prayojana or the use of shAstra is chiefly twofold: to know the svarUpa of the brahma vastu and to know dharma. The Lord states in the gItA shAstra:
tasmAcchAstram pramANam te kAryAkAryavyavasthitau ||
jnAtvA shAstravidhAnoktam karma kartumihArhasi ||
For a mortal devoid of the sense of right discrimination, shAstra alone can be the pramANa as to what dharma is and what is not. Mind, shadowed by ignorance, cannot be the judge of what dharma is and what is not. Similarly, to learn the svarUpa of the brahma vastu, the pramANa again is the shAstra, whose source is the same brahma vastu. The true knowledge is revealed only by the scripture as other sources, like direct perception and analogy, cannot help one comprehend the limitless Supreme. Thus, the status of shAstra as the highest pramANa becomes easily established. This truth is revealed by bhagavan bAdarAyaNa in the sutra, shAstrayonitvAt. Of the various shAstras, veda occupies the primary position on account of its apauruSheyatva and nitya siddhatva. Works of realized seers which elaborate the vedArtha without transgressing the original purport of the shruti [vedAviruddha], are accepted as secondary but valid pramANas. smrti, purANa, itihAsa, Agama, tantra etc. fall under this category. As human intellect cannot effectively aid metaphysical conclusions, the seers have accepted the shruti as the ultimate pramANa. And as a logical extension of this conclusion, anything that is not in accordance with the Shruti is considered inacceptable. The secondary shAstras aid our understanding of what is in accordance with the Sruti and what is not. If one examines other religions, there are various commonalities between them and the sanAtana dharma. But those schools of thought, disconnected from the veda vAngmaya, are of no use to an Astika like the milk tasted by a dog. Though it is the same milk as the one placed in a silver vessel in front of the deity, would one offer the former to his beloved?
The Shruti describes dharma through samhitA and brAhmaNa and Brahman through the vedAnta. It is said in bhAmatI:
pravR^ittirvA nivR^ittirvA nityena kR^itakena vA |
puMsAm yenopadishyeta tacChAstramabhidhIyate ||
Similarly, the secondary shAstras which are taught for the sake of upabrimhaNa of the veda are of two classes. Smrti represents the first class and purANa, itihAsa etc. the second, pre-dominantly. Again, shAstraika vedyatva becomes siddha for both these aspects as discussed earlier. As the culmination of every shAstra is in the realization of the brahma vastu, greater importance has been awarded to the portion describing Brahman, than that describing dharma. This also leads to the conclusion that dharma is useful in achieving the qualification needed to know the brahma vastu and hence, the prayojana of dharma and of the shAstra teaching dharma is truly Brahman alone. Thus, the culmination of the shAstra teaching dharma is in the shAstra describing the Brahman. When the lakShya of both these sections of the shAstra are thus concluded to be the Brahman, there is no further room for confusion. Thus, any karma which does not aid one in moving towards the Supreme cannot be dharma and such karma is tyAjya. The same is stated below:
AloDya sarvashAstrANi vichArya cha punaH punaH |
idamekaM suniShpannaM dhyeyo nArAyaNaH sadA ||
Also, one can see the following in the Smrti:
jitendriyatvam shaucham cha mAngalyam bhaktireva cha |
shankare bhAskare devyAm dharmo.ayam mAnuShaH smR^itaH ||
A true mahAtman is described as tapaH svAdhyAyanirataH, tapaH is upaniShad vAkya janya jnAna and svAdhyAya is it's sAdhana characterized by shAstra, and its injunctions. Same is described as shrotriyam brahmaniShTham elsewhere. Thus, one is advised to revere shabda brahman which is the shAstra and the parabrahman who is not only the shAstrayoni but also shAstra pratipAdya. shAstras are hence important, so are the vihita karmas but the lakShya of these should always be recognized as the paramAtman.
The goal of mantropAsanA is summarized as below:
shaiva vaiShNava daurgArka gANapatyendu smabhavaiH |
mantrairvishuddhachittasya kulajnAnam prakAshate ||
It may not be irrelevant to remember the following verses from shrImannArAyaNIyam:
tvadbhAvo yAvadeShu sphurati na vishadam tAvadevam hyupAstim
kurvannaikAtmyabodhe jhaTiti vikasati tvanmayo.ahaM chareyam |
tvaddharmasyAsya tAvat kimapi na bhagavan prastutasya praNAshaH
tasmAt sarvAtmanaiva pradisha mama vibho bhakti-mArgaM manoj~nam ||
nirviNNaH karmamArge khalu viShamatame tvatkathAdau ca gADham
jAtashraddho.api kAmAnayi bhuvanapate naiva shaknomi hAtum |
tadbhUyo nishcayena tvayi nihitamanA doShabuddhyA bhajanstAn
puShNIyAm bhaktimeva tvayi hR^idayagate mankShu nankShyanti sa~NgAH ||
parabhairavatAmuktAm grasamAnasya shAshvatIm |
tasyaiva yogino yecChAshaktistAm nigadantyumAm ||
brahma smarAmi kamalekShaNamabhranIlam ||