Bhakti In The Jīva: Inherent Or Inherited? Part 10: The Role of Adhikāra and Pramāṇa In Both Outreach and Inreach

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

Having gone through the many points presented in the last three articles, some may still want to make a case for bhakti’s inherence in the jīva on the basis that whatever Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda wrote was revealed to him in samādhi, or devotional trance. We dare not disagree with them. But whatever is revealed in samādhi is not necessarily to be accepted as absolute in every time and circumstance. Samādhi can also reveal dissemination techniques. And if we realize the subtle complexity of topics such as noninherent bhakti (especially for Westernized minds), we can then understand how some of our pūrva-ācāryas made necessary adjustments considering not only the (generally limited) adhikāra of their audience but also their own robust adhikāra—on the basis of their own samādhi.

These are the secrets of our ācāryas, and we need to understand their hearts in order to discover their ultimate intentions. This is not an easy task, since it requires two important things that will come in time for most: (1) discrimination, which comes from purity of the heart, and (2) the ability to reconcile the different statements of our ācāryas in such a way that each statement confirms the others, with them all resting on śāstra. In this connection, a very interesting example is seen in Jīva Goswāmī’s writing of his Tattva-sandarbha—to ascertain the ultimate message of the Bhāgavata, he examined the hearts of Vyāsa and Śukadeva (its main author and speaker, respectively) by carefully analyzing each of their words, and only then did he conclude that they all advocate Kṛṣṇa bhakti. In this way, our tattva-ācārya established the proper method to address a significant topic such as the one we are discussing here. But if we are not ready for such exhaustive research, it is quite possible that we may end up mere blind followers of a tradition—and a blind follower cannot be a true representative of his or her lineage. Actually, blind following (technically called niyamāgraha) is one of the main recipes for ruining our devotional life’s prospect.

That Śrī Jīva examined the hearts of both Śukadeva and Vyāsa implies that he studied their samādhi when speaking and compiling, respectively, the Bhāgavata. So what is samādhi? It is not just “entering trance and seeing something uncommon.” It also implies a particular type of absorption with a specific focus—and this is the case with outreach and dissemination techniques, which surely require a form of samādhi in order for them to be successful. The most immediate example is that of Vyāsa himself: he entered the unconditional awareness of devotional samādhi in order to present the Bhāgavata. But as we have shown in our previous article, it is full of outreach strategies, all of which came as a result of what Vyāsa saw during his devotional trance.1

Apart from having darśana of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Vyāsa saw in his trance both the māyā-śakti and the subsequent entanglement of the jīvas under its influence, as well as the means for their deliverance in the form of bhakti.2 Interestingly, he first saw how the māyā-śakti influences the jīva-śakti. Only then did he have a darśana of bhakti (svarūpa-śakti). After that vision, he thought about how to present the Bhāgavata in such a way that the baddha-jīvas could be released from their bond to Kṛṣṇa’s extrinsic energy and become bonded to bhakti.3 This we can see in how he carefully developed his presentation in the first nine cantos of the Bhāgavata—speaking about paths such as jñāna and yoga, dynasties of kings, atomic theories, and nuanced cosmography, and only then presenting in detail the summum bonum and real intent of his work, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Even after that, he dedicated two further cantos to philosophical content and various foundational points so that we can properly understand what he told us in the tenth canto—especially Kṛṣṇa’s Vraja līlā. In this way, he had some strategy in mind, but his plan came as a result of his samādhi.

In more contemporary times, creative luminaries such as Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī also showed this same example. Before starting his mission and innovative dissemination through the Gauḍīya Maṭha, he sat for śata-koṭi-nāma-yajña, or the chanting of a billion names, for which he spent almost ten years chanting three lakhs of harināma every single day—samādhi. He thus accessed divine trance and prepared himself for the task at hand that his father had entrusted him with. Sometime after finishing this vow, while he contemplated how to proceed in his outreach, a piece of paper with a verse from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (3.4.79–80) mystically appeared in the air, thus confirming Bhaktisiddhānta’s intent and thereby sharing the guidelines for what would be his unique approach to the contemporary spreading of Gauḍīya Vedānta in his time. Again, here we clearly see an example of devotional samādhi backing devotional outreach.

Samādhi is a higher mode of knowing in the context of divine perception, which lies far beyond the classical imperfections that characterize our conditioned view,4 allowing the direct perception of complete reality in a self-revealing way. In this context, it is possible that a seer of truth may establish a relative detail (teaching strategy) on the basis of an absolute principle (samādhi). But someone lacking substance may stick to only the relative aspect without grasping its absolute background, in this way absolutizing the relative and relativizing the absolute—relativizing the seer’s samādhi. With this in mind, we should be very careful not to rush into absolutizing whatever one particular ācārya has said, because we could actually be relativizing his or her backdrop of samādhi, which was the real motivating factor in whatever he or she said outwardly. And while dissemination necessarily implies some form of strategy, this does not at all diminish the standing of he or she who engages in it. Actually, it extolls his or her position in a very special way because his or her strategy is supported by samādhi. And this trance has caused him or her to visualize the particular condition of souls in some specific time, place, and circumstance, and take the necessary steps in that regard. If we want to fully realize this, we ourselves have to enter in samādhi.

Going back to our original theme, the word adhikāra speaks (in connection to the present topic) about the criteria of eligibility for both giving and receiving the revealed teachings. According to Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself, this has a lot to do with being willing to hear the real conclusions about a given topic. In the closing of the Bhagavad-gītā (18.67), he indirectly states this by using the word aśuśrūṣave, indicating one who “does not wish to hear” or who “is not wholeheartedly inquisitive,” and how such people should never be instructed regarding confidential subject matters of bhakti. In the Bhāgavata’s catuḥ-ślokī, concerning abhidheya (2.9.36), Bhagavān himself illustrates this same spirit by saying that “a person who is searching after the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, must certainly search for it up to this, in all circumstances, in all space and time, and both directly and indirectly.” The Bhāgavata (11.21.2) further elucidates this point by stating, “Being situated in one’s own adhikāra is real beauty.” And this beauty, which qualifies us with a proper understanding of bhakti, comes from bhakti itself—through the agency and grace of a bhakta.

Someone with the proper adhikāra for studying these subject matters, a progressive devotee, is actually willing to see his or her faith challenged and tested in a healthy way.5 He or she is open to proper arguments and points that may not concur with his or her present view but that nonetheless invite him or her to reach a higher level of devotional perspective and integrity. And that is what substantial surrender is about—being ready to sacrifice one’s ideal in the face of a higher one, ad infinitum. But one has to be realistic—not everyone will be ready for such a step, and on many occasions we see parties run to one extreme or another. Whenever a genuinely inspired shift of emphasis is introduced in spiritual circles, there are potential problems both for those resisting change and for those adopting it. The former risk becoming ineffective in sharing their ideals, by presenting them in a format no longer relevant. In contrast, the latter risk obscuring principles in their attempt to reformat them. While the guru is aware that he or she is stressing a point in relation to a specific circumstance, his chaste followers often are not—their tendency is to overemphasize the point being stressed. In this way, detractors surely misunderstand the necessity and innovation of certain presentations (such as Bhaktivinoda’s), thus viewing their proposer as deviant. Those who follow may also misunderstand him or her, misreading the context in which the message is presented. As a result, they see their leader as considerably independent of the tradition.

As adhikāra is essential for both outreach and inreach, it is also equally essential to know the proper method for attaining conclusive knowledge about transcendence. This in Sanskrit is called pramāṇa, and while Śrī Jīva Goswāmī establishes śabda (self-revealing sound) as the supreme form of pramāṇa in his Tattva-sandarbha,6 he nonetheless also accepts other types of evidence as supplementary. One of them is ārṣa, or diverse statements from the sages, but an ordinary person can hardly determine which sage’s affirmation is conclusive. So for Gauḍīyas, the criterion for determining the degree of validity of a particular ārṣa is the extent to which it conforms with śabda, or śāstric revelation. If it does not, we could indulge in aitihya, which is an untrustworthy type of pramāṇa that refers to the handing down of information without knowledge of its original source. According to Śrī Jīva, the latter may be considered some form of śabda-pramāṇa (in this case “evidence through sound”), but only pauruṣeya-śabda (human-origin sound), not apauruṣeya-pramāṇa (transhuman evidence).

Since we are speaking about pramāṇa, we should also invoke one of its important features in the form of logic—anumāna. Though insufficient in itself for bestowing an experience of the acintya plane, logic is nonetheless accepted as useful in this when supported by scriptural reference, but not the other way around—śāstra-pramāṇa is not there to fit in our separatist logic. In this connection, Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 2.4.5 says that “the self is to be realized, and so it should be heard about, reflected on, and deeply meditated upon.” Here the word mantavya refers to logical reflection. Similarly, in his Sarva-saṁvādinī commentary to Tattva-sandarbha 11, Śrī Jīva quotes an untraceable verse from the Kūrma Purāṇa that says, “The logical thought process by which the meaning of a scriptural passage is understood without contradicting the statements preceding and following it is known as the ‘primal,’ or highest, order of deliberate logic. Dry logic, however, should be abandoned.” Also, in Bhagavad-gītā 10.32, Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself declares, vādaḥ pravadatām aham: “Among logicians, I am that reasoning that establishes conclusive truth.” Finally, in the context of describing an uttama-adhikārī, Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī says, śāstre yuktau ca nipuṇaḥ—that he or she is conversant with both scripture and logic.7 In other words, to reconcile any real or apparent contradiction and thus reach a perfect conclusion (siddhānta), we have to resort to logic—but only śāstra-yukti, or scripturally based logic.8 Controversy should not be avoided, for it strengthens the mind, and since logic is the primary tool for resolving controversy, it must be based on the śāstra. That is to say, it must fulfill the siddhānta:

A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of siddhānta, considering it controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.2.117

Thus, a comprehensive, well-reasoned, and unbiased approach must be adopted when having philosophical discourse on Gauḍīya siddhānta. No sincere sādhaka presenting a viewpoint wishes to enter into such discussions with intent other than to arrive at a deeper and more spiritually nourishing understanding that conforms with the underlying ultimate reality. It is not simply a matter of putting forward the opinion of spiritual authorities we deem more appropriate at the cost of possibly diminishing the opinion of other equally significant ācāryas, both present and previous. Rather, such discussions must take into careful consideration all circumstances that may have contributed to variant presentations, arriving thus at the most well-reasoned conclusion that conforms with and confirms the overall siddhānta of the sampradāya we represent. As has been said, “Scripture is [an objective] truth that guides, controls, and legitimates certain experiences and particular philosophical avenues, and that proper argumentation and faith must involve an attempt to understand scripture.”9

Of all the Vaiṣṇavas engaged in dissemination of their teachings, the followers of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu should be exemplary in how the mercy of their master is delivered to one and all, and thus they should be concerned about how to represent him, distributing his gift in the best possible way. Therefore, out of real compassion and awareness of the beginner condition of some of their audience members, at times they may be flexible on certain points (such as the present issue on the noninherence of bhakti). But they will have the proper siddhānta in mind and thus gradually take their followers progressively toward a perfect understanding of the teachings, which will guarantee a perfect practice, which will result in a perfect fruit. The great Śrīla Prabhupāda is a unique example of this, and here he stresses this point while commenting on a famous Bhāgavata verse quoted by Śrī Rūpa: “Therefore, one may somehow think of Kṛṣṇa, by any of the favorable methods.”10 On this, Śrīla Prabhupāda comments, “An ācārya should devise a means by which people may somehow or other come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. First they should become Kṛṣṇa conscious, and all the prescribed rules and regulations may later gradually be introduced” (purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.7.37).

Again, speaking in terms of “teaching strategies” does not necessarily imply relativizing or underglorifying our guru-varga. It actually represents a genuine attempt to engage in a deeper kīrtana and understanding of the intention behind the words of each member of the paramparā, especially when they do not fully conform with śāstra-pramāṇa. To suggest such a possibility is neither improper nor new in the Gauḍīya tradition, and we need to understand this crucial point, since it is the main obstacle in being able to accept revealed truth. The main difficulty for opposers of this theory is not that bhakti is inherited but not inherent. Rather, it is the idea that accepting it would imply that the ācāryas who said something different made a mistake, lied to us, or contradicted our founding ācāryas, the Goswāmīs. In other words, inner conflict is experienced as a result of emotional denial (generally unconscious) due to weak faith (lack of adhikāra), rather than a thorough impartial investigation of siddhānta.

It is thus of paramount importance to understand and accept that for Gauḍīyas Vaiṣṇavas the śāstra-gurus of their sampradāya are the Six Goswāmīs, the very architects of the lineage, as well as their immediate collaborators, such as Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Goswāmī and, eventually, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, all of whom based their works on the topmost Gauḍīya pramāṇa, the Bhāgavata. And as we have shown throughout this series, in none of their writings will we find the proposal that bhakti is inherent—just the opposite. Now, if we find apparent opposing statements by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and others, it is our duty not to maintain the understanding that best suits us, but to place their words in the appropriate context, giving preference in that case to the founders of our sampradāya when trying to reach siddhānta. As Śrīla Prabhupāda has clearly said:

The paramparā system does not allow one to deviate from the commentaries of the previous ācāryas. By depending upon the previous ācāryas, one can write beautiful commentaries. However, one cannot defy the previous ācāryas.11

In this way, we can conclude that when presenting the truth, we are faced with four options: (1) presenting the traditional siddhānta as it is, (2) presenting an evolutionary development in the siddhānta (that does not contradict the original), (3) presenting a deviation from the siddhānta, and (4) presenting an outreach strategy (that apparently may not concur with siddhānta but that points to it). Considering these four options, it is a natural conclusion that Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and some of his contemporary followers have presented (and continue to present, maybe without even being aware of it) an outreach strategy in connection to bhakti’s inherence in the jīva. This is so because (1) their postulates do not concur with the siddhānta, (2) their presentation is not an evolution of the sampradāya’s siddhānta (because it contradicts the original), and (3) it is not a deviation arising from ignorance of the siddhānta, because many of these stalwarts have at times presented the proper siddhānta while at other times saying otherwise. Besides this, they have been possessed of an impeccable devotional character, which speaks to us about extraordinary personalities with deep insights, insights that have given them the capacity to establish the successful outreach techniques that they have.12

In the next and final part of this series, we will present a summary and final conclusion of all the topics presented throughout these articles.

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. In this regard, it is important to note the meaning of the Sanskrit term pracāra. Although generally translated as “outreach,” it is made of two parts: pra (a very special type of) and ācāra (behavior). In this way, the implication is that when we become absorbed in our practice (samādhi), the corresponding overflow will sprinkle others, and that is what is known as pracāra. []
  2. See Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.7.4–6. []
  3. For a thorough analysis of Vyāsa’s samādhi, see Tattva-sandarbha 30-49. []
  4. For more on this topic, see Tattva-sandarbha 9. []
  5. On the contrary, a nonprogressive sādhaka will require another treatment, and that is precisely why some of the Gauḍīya ācāryas have adapted their presentation, even leaving some contradictions because they knew that nobody could harmonize them. For example, a person with “adhikāra A” cannot comprehend a tattva meant for “adhikāra B”—and the noninherence of bhakti is for sure an adhikāra B type of tattva (or even higher!). []
  6. See Tattva-sandarbha 9-10. []
  7. See Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.17. []
  8. Some practitioners may try to harmonize the inherence topic by stating that it is acintya (inconceivable) and thus concluding that bhakti is simultaneously inherent and noninherent. To such a reply, we should first of all say that the term acintya refers to something’s being inconceivable for one who does not turn to śāstra, which is exactly what we are trying to do here: resorting to revelation to understand that which otherwise will remain as inconceivable. Furthermore, the idea that bhakti is both inherent and noninherent resembles the anirvacanīya concept of Śaṅkara, who says that the māyā-śakti is neither sat (real) nor asat (unreal) but anirvacanīya (unexplainable), which is actually an absurd idea. In truth, śāstra reveals that bhakti is inherent only as a “potential embrace” between the jīva and the svarūpa-śakti, but it is noninherent in the sense that jīvātmās do not have bhakti as part of their taṭastha constitution. []
  9. Jonathan Edelmann and Satyanarayana Dasa, “When Stones Float and Mud Speaks: Scriptural Authority and Personal Experience in Jīvagosvāmin’s Sarvasaṃvādinī,” The Journal of Hindu Studies 7, no. 1 (May 2014): 73. []
  10. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.1.32. Śrī Rūpa quotes this verse’s last half in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.4. []
  11. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.7.134 []
  12. As we have proven, and despite objections, the conclusion that Bhaktivinoda presented a teaching technique does not represent what in the study of religion is known as “internal overcoding,” which is typically employed when making claims to legitimize a preferred doctrinal view. By designating the Ṭhākura’s presentation as an outreach strategy, instead of reducing its truth, value, and importance in the hierarchy of teachings, we are recognizing his unique contribution in light of his knowledge of siddhānta and also his genius for devising such necessary techniques. []


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