Bhakti In The Jīva: Inherent Or Inherited? Part 9: How To Reach Siddhānta (Even Through Apasiddhānta)

By Swāmī Bhakti Praṇaya Padmanābha

Additional articles in this series: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti; Bhakti, the Essence of the Svarūpa-Śakti; Is Rasa Totally Predetermined?; The Source Of Our Siddha-deha; Is There Scriptural Support in Favor of Inherence?; Nurture and Nature; The Origin of the Theory of Inherence; Teaching Strategies And Historical Presentism; How To Reach Siddhānta (Even Through Apasiddhānta); The Role of Adhikāra and Pramāṇa In Both Outreach and Inreach; Conclusion

Although we have already explained why someone such as Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda would come up with and teach the idea of inherent bhakti (despite overwhelming scriptural evidence to the contrary), we have not plumbed the depths of its reach. In this article, we will try to expand on this topic, showing how these types of adjustments were present even before Mahāprabhu’s times, and we will also further analyze the psychological impediments to our acceptance of this well-known phenomenon of teaching strategies.

To begin with, we would do well to invoke in this context two important terms coined by the Ṭhākura himself—sāragrāhī and bhāravāhī. While the former refers to the essence-seeking spiritualist, the latter literally means “heavy-load carrier.” A bhāravāhī identifies with a particular spiritual tradition but, in his or her commitment to and identification with it, identifies not with its essence but mostly with its externals, which are different from those of other paths. These are the people who are unable to accept that one of his or her gurus has used apasiddhānta (or, better put, “provisional siddhānta”) as a strategy to ultimately bring forth the proper siddhānta. Their emotional makeup tells them that this is totally unacceptable, because it would imply a minimization and deabsolutization of our pūrva-ācāryas. Or in the worst-case scenario, they are afraid to recognize this because they will think that Bhaktivinoda lied to his followers or cheated them. Since they cannot conceive of that, they accuse whoever presents a theory such as noninherent bhakti of this same flaw. But any person who claims substantial membership in the Bhaktivinoda parivāra should be ready to exhibit the kind of dynamic thinking that the Ṭhākura himself showed, especially when it comes to controversial issues that require depth and maturity—we need to become sāragrāhī Vaiṣṇavas.

As we have already explained, it is possible that an ācārya may come up with a novel insight. But for it to be bona fide, it should not contradict the previous ācāryas’ contribution; it should be a natural extension of their revelation. If an ācārya’s insight goes against the foundational teaching of our pūrva-ācāryas and śāstra-gurus, then we need to employ a different methodology for its analysis and understanding,1 taking it as a considerate teaching strategy, which tries to nourish one’s progress without creating unnecessary disturbance due to one’s present lack of capacity for understanding deeper possibilities. This classical principle of teaching strategy was clearly enunciated thousands of years ago by Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself in the Gītā:

So as not to disrupt the minds of ignorant people attached to the fruitive results of prescribed duties, a learned person should not induce them to stop work. Rather, by working in the spirit of devotion, he or she should engage them in all sorts of activities [for the gradual development of Kṛṣṇa consciousness].

Bhagavad-gītā 3.26

In other words, a sharer of truth should not make drastic and abrupt changes to people’s beliefs if that may threaten their progressive inner development.2 Instead, he or she should dovetail their existing beliefs in a way that gradually increases their divine faith and prospect, since it is hard for people to give up their old beliefs and habits. People in this world possess different natures, mainly influenced by sattva (intelligibility), rajas (activation), or tamas (restraint). In order to accommodate all of these psychological dispositions, Vyāsa wrote eighteen Purāṇas, which are divided according to the three guṇas. These Purāṇas adopt one of the three perspectives as primary to address those with the corresponding psyche. So although all Purāṇas were compiled by Vyāsa himself, they do not give the same level of knowledge: one has to be very discriminating to attain the highest knowledge. Every Purāṇa is for a different type of adhikārī, yet the sole purpose of each is to gradually elevate everyone and bring them to the level of following the Bhāgavata, the amala (spotless) Purāṇa. If this is not a teaching strategy, what is it? Another example regarding Vyāsa’s strategy is found in the Bhāgavata, in this case concerning the Mahābhārata and the Bhagavad-gītā:

Your friend, the great sage Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa, has already described the transcendental qualities of the Lord in his great work the Mahābhārata. But the whole idea is to draw the attention of the mass of people to the descriptions of Śrī Kṛṣṇa by embedding them within the framework of mundane topics.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.5.12

This famous verse implies that not all the statements in the Mahābhārata can be taken in an absolute sense. One has to see whether they conform to the tenets expounded on in the Bhāgavata, which is the mature fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge. This is because the Mahābhārata is for less intelligent people, and the Bhāgavata is for the most intelligent—nirmatsarāṇām. Actually, the whole karma-kāṇḍa section of the Vedas (which is approximately 75 percent of the whole text), compiled by Vyāsa, is part of a teaching technique. Someone who is not inclined to directly serve Bhagavān is encouraged to worship different gods as supreme and thereby engage in fruitive rituals, their ultimate end result being not the desired material fruit in itself but a higher level of faith in śāstra. This faith is acquired after realizing that śāstric statements, when properly followed and applied, actually work. Thus, the Vedic canon gradually takes its followers to the remaining 25 percent of its content—the metaphysical Upaniṣadic sections, where higher levels of advice will be found.3 Thus, if there is a gradation even in the writing of Vyāsa, the literary incarnation of God, what to speak of in the outreach of others? No genuine sharer of bhakti can be denied the right to apply this principle.

Regarding the Bhāgavata itself, we find a similar example in connection to its most ancient commentator, Śrīdhara Swāmī, who was extremely venerated by he who personified the Bhāgavata in its ultimate reach: Śrīmān Mahāprabhu.4 Although his commentary was Gaura’s favorite, ācāryas such as Jīva and Sanātana Goswāmīs did not accept everything from Śrīdhara Swāmī as siddhānta. The reason is that he added some Advaitin concepts in his writings just to attract the followers of Śaṅkara to the philosophy of the Bhāgavata. This tactic is called baḍiśa-āmiṣa nyāya, using bait to attract fish. Following Śrī Caitanya’s verdict about Śrīdhara Swāmī, we should accept everything he wrote. However, it appears that our Goswāmīs disregarded the words of Mahāprabhu and rejected Śrīdhara Swāmī. But that is not the case—our Goswāmīs understood that Śrīdhara Swāmī’s monistic statements were merely a dissemination technique, so they dismissed them but accepted and venerated his devotional conclusions. When one uses bait, the purpose is not to feed the fish but to catch them. Similarly, these mixed presentations are not to nourish the opposing party but to attract them or keep them on the path of bhakti.

We even see abundant examples of these techniques in the very lives of Bhagavān’s own manifestations: as Gaura avatārī himself, Śrī Caitanya accepted the renounced order from Keśava Bhāratī, a sannyāsī from the Śaṅkara sampradāya, for the purpose of receiving particular attention from his audience. Lord Buddha is another example of someone who applied strategy in outreach: although he is God himself, he promoted atheism and rejected the Vedas to protect those who misunderstood them from committing offense. As Śaṅkarācārya, Mahādeva Śiva wanted to bring the atheistic Buddhists back to the Vedas, so he acted in a similar vein by delivering his confused Advaita Vedānta. Actually, when the masses are too attached to mundane activities, it may take centuries before the real intention of the outreacher is actually revealed. For the sake of dissemination, the outreacher may have to hide the real siddhānta, as in the examples that will be shown below.

So did the ācārya lie to us? Was Vyāsa a cheater? Were Buddha and Śaṅkara ultimately deceptive agents? No. They had to hide certain aspects of the truth since their audience was not yet ready for them. They were just like a mother who technically lies to her child by telling him that a stork dropped him through the chimney. In a substantial sense, she actually protects her baby by providing a digestible version of some deeper truth that she expects him to eventually learn about.

But if this is not convincing enough, let us share some further dissemination strategies from our topmost scriptural source, and the literary manifestation of the Godhead, the Bhāgavata:

1. Considering the variegated audience in front of him, Śukadeva Goswāmī at moments emphasizes practices different than bhakti. For example, he extolls the virtues of the yoga system (11.14), jñāna-yoga (11.28), and saṅkhyā-yoga (11.24). Also, for example, in first chapter of the second canto, considering the audience’s capacity, Śukadeva recommends meditation on the viśva-rūpa.5

2. In the beginning of the Govardhana līlā (Bhāgavata 10.24.13–23), in order to extoll the glories of Govardhana, Śrī Kṛṣṇa introduces different philosophies such as Karma-mīmāṁsā and atheistic Saṅkhyā when convincing Nanda to cancel the Indra pūjā.

3. At the very conclusion of the Bhāgavata, Śukadeva seems to instruct Parīkṣit before his death to absorb himself in Brahman thus: “When a pot is broken, the portion of sky within the pot becomes the sky element as before. In the same way, when the gross and subtle bodies die, the living entity becomes Brahman as before. . . . ‘I am that Brahman, the supreme state of being. Brahman is I, the supreme position.’ Considering this, place yourself in the Brahman devoid of upādhis. You will not see Takṣaka biting your foot with fire and poison and licking it with his tongue. You will not see your body or the universe to be separate from Brahman” (Bhāgavata 12.5.5, 12.5.11–12).

In order to solve this mysterious riddle, Viśvanātha Cakravartī introduces this chapter by paraphrasing Śukadeva in his commentary to verse 1 in a unique way:

Since I have revealed the greatest secret, I have become not so dear to the Lord. What shall I do now? I have completed writing the Purāṇa. Let that be. Now I will try to hide the great secret of bhakti. Someone may impetuously show off a great, secret jewel to all people and then, considering the matter, hide it in a box and place it in his treasure vault. He then shows off another jewel, praising it as the ultimate jewel. Thus now I will teach jñāna to Parīkṣit so that people will think, ‘Śukadeva is teaching Parīkṣit jñāna.’ By the influence of the Lord’s māyā, they will think that jñāna is ultimate and bhakti is only a means to attain jñāna. Also, I will test the development of bhakti in my disciple Parīkṣit by teaching him jñāna. The wise should know that this test is for the purpose of announcing to the world the steadiness of Parīkṣit’s bhakti.

Finally, I will produce a work including teachings of jñāna, which will be like Mohinī avatāra, with different faces for different people, so that the demons will be cheated from drinking the nectar of bhakti. In teaching about jñāna, I will utter words first with one meaning and then indicate another meaning smeared with bhakti-rasa to please the devotees. And then, by doing that, I will make all the elements of jñāna that are unfavorable for bhakti favorable for bhakti by including them in bhakti.6

As we have seen through the aforementioned examples, an empowered agent can speak provisional siddhānta and at the same time deliver the siddhānta—in one sense, siddhānta also implies engaging the bound jīvas in the process of gradual purification (and the person delivering it will know the real siddhānta and have the intention of taking his or her audience in that direction more and more). But just as one can lead a person to the siddhānta through some apparent apasiddhānta, one can also, in the name of presenting the siddhānta, actually promote apasiddhānta. We may like to think that a pure devotee cannot be mistaken (and he or she is not if surrendered to Kṛṣṇa). But if they say something “different” in the context of outreach, that is not a fault at all. And how do we know that something is actually a dissemination technique? Because if an ācārya says something that contradicts our siddhānta, that is the only option. Otherwise, we would have to consider that he or she has deviated, promoting real apasiddhānta—and that should not be a choice, ideally.7 But if instead of accepting this we try to alter our original siddhanta, not accepting that a certain ācārya either apparently made a mistake or established a teaching strategy, then that belongs to a whole different category altogether—disservice to the sampradāya.

If someone is unable to accept that a sādhu may have had presented a teaching strategy, we can take this argument even further: it is clear from the history of the Gauḍīya sampradāya that one can be self-realized and not fully informed on every detail of its theology, while one can be fully informed on all such details and not be fully self-realized. Examples of this are the many great devotees who joined Śrīmān Mahāprabhu and loved him even before the sampradāya’s orthodox philosophy was fully put in place. Some of them came from Advaita Vedānta and carried those ideas with them until corrected (which is found in some of the poems offered to Mahāprabhu through Svarūpa Dāmodara); others expressed gaura-nāgara-bhāva; and so on. In other words, some great devotees are taught the theology after they have attained bhāva. Although the general rule is to encourage everyone to learn the details of the Gauḍīya theology, there is a possibility of such exceptions to the rule.

In the next and penultimate part of our series, we will approach our conclusion by examining the samādhi of both Vyāsa and Śukadeva (the author and speaker of the Bhāgavata, respectively) and how it connects with the concept of adhikāra, or eligibility, which is a critical aspect of both the practice and understanding, as well as the dissemination, of the ultimate teachings of Gauḍīya Vedānta.

Additional articles in this series: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti; Bhakti, the Essence of the Svarūpa-Śakti; Is Rasa Totally Predetermined?; The Source Of Our Siddha-deha; Is There Scriptural Support in Favor of Inherence?; Nurture and Nature; The Origin of the Theory of Inherence; Teaching Strategies And Historical Presentism; How To Reach Siddhānta (Even Through Apasiddhānta); The Role of Adhikāra and Pramāṇa In Both Outreach and Inreach; Conclusion

  1. For a clear example of this, see https://harmonist.us/2020/07/the-whys-and-hows-of-a-nitya-navadvipa-part-3. []
  2. In this connection, in the beginning of the Gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa inspires Arjuna to perform his duty (2.47–48). And then, at the conclusion of the Gītā, he instructs Arjuna to abandon all duty (18.66). The idea here is the same: different levels of instruction relative to different levels of advancement. []
  3. See Bhagavad-gītā 2.45. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna how the Vedas mainly deal with the three guṇas, and then he instructs him to transcend them (which also implies transcending that main portion of the Vedas primarily connected with karma-kāṇḍa and the guṇas). []
  4. Mahāprabhu said about Śrīdhara Swāmī, “He is the spiritual master of the entire world, because by his mercy we can understand the Bhāgavata. I therefore accept him as a spiritual master. One who comments on the Bhāgavata following in the footsteps of Śrīdhara Swāmī will be honored and accepted by everyone” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.7.133, 3.7.135). []
  5. See the Sārārtha-darśinī commentary of Viśvanātha Cakravartī to verses 2.1.5, 2.1.15, and 2.1.23. []
  6. For a further detailed analysis of these Bhāgavata verses, see Tattva-sandarbha 52. []
  7. Similar to the principle of outreach technique and how to understand the words of an ācārya, it is well-known that whenever the primary meaning (mukhya-vṛtti) of a scriptural statement is inappropriate, there must be a secondary meaning (gauṇa-vṛtti) intended, because scriptural statements, being apauruṣeya and thus free of defects, cannot be meaningless. For example, in Bhagavad-gītā 18.4, Śrī Kṛṣṇa addresses Arjuna as “a tiger among men” (puruṣa-vyāghra). In its primary sense, the word “tiger” refers to a ferocious animal with claws and fangs. Arjuna was certainly not such an animal, but since Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s words cannot be meaningless, the need arises for a figurative interpretation of puruṣa-vyāghra. Here, the phrase is a metaphor in which Kṛṣṇa is calling Arjuna a tiger only to indicate his courage and prowess as a warrior. Thus, while accepting these words literally would lead to confusion and contradiction, rejecting them outright may lead to contempt for the apauruṣeya-śabda, hence the need for some specific interpretation, which also applies to words from the ācāryas that do not fully concur with the siddhānta of their sampradāya. []


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