Understanding the mūḍhatama and the three adhikaras

These thoughts are based on conversations I had in 2017, after I had posted on my response to Srila Narayan Maharaj's statements related to Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Sva-likhita-jivani (SLJ), which it would be advisable to read before going on here.

I am currently doing a bit of work on SLJ and the Thakur's frank description of his conversion to Chaitanya Vaishnavism is particularly important to us, who are also converts. I have heard that Swami Tripurari Maharaj coined the sobriquet "the first European convert to Vaishnavism" since the Thakur passed through a thorough indoctrination into Western thinking before being exposed to the Chaitanya Charitamrita and Bhagavata Purana when already in his 30's.

His English-medium education, which a strong element of Unitarian Universalism through the association of Reverend Charles Dall, was not monolithic. In fact, it reflected the contemporary debates in Europe and America about scriptural literalism and the nature of God and Jesus that were rocking the Christian world.  Dall impressed Bhaktivinoda with many aspects of Christianity, including its arguments in favor of a loving personal God, the personality of Christ, and the concept of the the "brotherhood of man." These were all factors in his rejecting the Brahmo movement started by Ram Mohun Roy, which was BVT's class contemporaries' home-grown alternative to traditional Hinduism and Christiantiy.

There is no doubt that these early influences had a bearing on the way that Bhaktivinoda Thakur engaged with Vaishnavism and we can see this clearly in his early pamphlet on the "Bhagabat"(Dinajpur, 1869), which is his first engagement with the subject in writing. And though his frame of mind was quite different by the time he wrote SLJ, his openness about his life's path exemplifies some of the things he wrote about in his earlier works. To be more clear, when BVT warns his son, to whom he is writing his memoir as a personal letter, not to misuse the work, he is making reference to the different kinds of adhikaras. The SLJ is not meant for the mūḍhatama.

Below is a passage from the introduction to Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā, a book that was written in Sanskrit by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and completed in Bhadrak (Orissa) in 1880 [though according to SLJ he wrote it mostly in Narail], most likely a little before his diksha connection with Srila Bipin Bihari Goswamipada, but not before coming into his association. In SLJ [149], he mentions that he wrote some of the verses of KS while in Jagannath Puri between 1873-75, at about the same time he was writing the shorter work Datta-kaustubha, which was his first complete book composed in Sanskrit.

The introduction to KS is an extremely important piece of writing from the Thakur's corpus, and we have Shukavak Prabhu to thank for publicly showing how the Thakur was engaging with Western or modern thought in a innovative fashion. [One can also look at the very informative work by Abhishek Ghosh, such as his article "Puranic Pasts and Colonial Presence: Bhaktivinoda’s Vaishnava Historiography of India" in the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 23,1 2014, pp. 19-54, and other articles in that issue of JVS, as well as Shukavak's ground-breaking Hindu Encounter with Modernity.]

Here then is the text that forms the basis of our discussion. There are two quotes in the footnotes to this text, but I will put them into the text with their translation, both in the Bengali and the translated version. I am not sure if the translation is Shukavak's work as I found it on the internet, HERE. I am taking the liberty to make changes where I see fit. Parenthetical remarks are in a different color.
পরমার্থ তত্ত্বে সকল লোকেরই অধিকার আছে. কিন্তু আলোচকগণের অবস্থাক্রমে তাঁহাদিগকে তিন ভাগে বিভাগ করা যায় ।
Everyone has the right to enter into spiritual topics. Yet those who discuss these matters can be divided into three categories according to their spiritual status. (1) 
যশ্চ মূঢতমো লোকে যশ্চ বুদ্ধেঃ পরং গতঃ ।
তাবুভৌ সুখমেধেতে ক্লিশ্যত্যন্তরিতো জনঃ ॥ (ভা. ৩.৭.১৭) 
yaś ca mūḍhatamo loke yaś ca buddheḥ paraṁ gataḥ | 
tāv ubhau sukham edhete kliśyaty antarito janaḥ ||
"এই সংসারে দুই প্রকার সুখী ব্যক্তি দেখা যায় । এক, যে অত্যন্ত মূঢ় বা অজ্ঞান-গ্রস্ত, আর দ্বিতীয়, যে বুদ্ধির অতীত হয়েছে । এই দুই প্রকারের থেকে ভিন্ন যে মধ্যবর্তী মানুষ, সেই কেবল দুঃখ ভোগ করে."

"In this world, two kinds of happy people can be found. One is the person who is extremely foolish (mūḍhatama) or steeped in ignorance; the other is one who has transcended intelligence. Distinct from these two is the one in between, who alone suffers." (SB 3.7.17) [I previously discussed this verse HERE also.] 
যাঁহাদের স্বাধীন বিচার শক্তির উদয় হয় নাই, তাঁহারা কোমলশ্রদ্ধ নামে প্রথমভাগে অবস্থান করেন । বিশ্বাস ব্যতীত তাঁহাদের গতি নাই । শাস্ত্রকার যাহা বলিয়াছেন তাহা ঈশ্বর আজ্ঞা বলিয়া না মানিলে তাঁহাদের অধোগতি হইয়া পড়ে । তাঁহারা শ্রীকৃষ্ণ তত্ত্বের স্থূলার্থের অধিকারী, সূক্ষ্মার্থবিচারে তাঁহাদের অধিকার নাই । যে পর্যন্ত সাধুসঙ্গ ও সদুপদেশ দ্বারা ক্রমোন্নতিসূত্রে তাঁহারা উন্নত না হন, সে পর্যন্ত তাঁহারা বিশ্বাসের আশ্রয়ে আত্মোন্নতির যত্ন পাইবেন ।
Those who do not have not yet developed the independent power of discrimination are in the first category and are called those with soft faith (komala-śraddhā). They have no alternative to belief. If they do not accept whatever the compilers of the scriptures have stated as being the order of the Lord, then they fall down. They are qualified only for understanding the gross aspects of the Krishna principle; they have no qualification for understanding the subtle meanings. As long as they have not followed the gradual process of advancement through good association and instruction, they should try to make progress by taking shelter of faith. 
বিশ্বস্ত বিষয়ে যুক্তিযোগ করিতে সমর্থ হইয়াও, যাঁহারা পারংগত না হইয়াছেন, তাঁহারা যুক্ত্যধিকারী বা মধ্যমাধিকারী বলিয়া পরিগণিত হন । পারংগত পুরুষেরা সর্বার্থসিদ্ধ । তাঁহারা অর্থসকল দ্বারা স্বাধীনচেষ্টা ক্রমে পরমার্থ সাধনে সক্ষম । ইহাঁদের নাম উত্তমাধিকারী । 
Those who have are capable of associating reason with the object of their faith, but have not yet succeeded in fully connecting the two, belong to the second grade and are called "qualified for reason" (yukty-adhikārī) or "of middling qualification" (madhyama adhikārī). And those who are expert in connecting these two are perfect in all respects. They are able to attain spiritual meaning (paramārtha) through their independent endeavors in understanding all other matters (artha). They are called topmost, or uttama adhikārī.
[BVT uses the terms artha (value) and paramārtha (supreme value) to distinguish between material objects of knowledge and the spiritual or higher realm of knowledge. The two are connected as type to archetype and therefore connected as the reflections of the Supreme in the conditioned state. This is why for him it is possible for one, through sahaja-samādhi to arrive independently at direct knowledge of the Supreme. Whether this idea is entirely consonant with classical Gaudiya Vaishnava thinking or is a residue of Christian Unitarian influences is a matter that is subject to debate. As already pointed out, this book was written in the period prior to taking Vaishnava initiation. But to a greater or lesser extent, remains present in BVT's thought to the very end. At any rate, the idea that through proper use of reason, a faithful person comes to the point of seeing the transcendent truth in all things of this world.]
এই ত্রিবিধ আলোচকদিগের মধ্যে এই গ্রন্থের অধিকারী যে, তাহা নির্ণয় করা আবশ্যক । কোমলশ্রদ্ধ মহোদয়গণ উহার অধিকারী নহেন । কিন্তু ভাগ্যোদয়ক্রমে ক্রমশঃ উচ্চাধিকার প্রাপ্ত হইয়া পরে অধিকারী হইতে পারেন । পারংগত মহাপুরুষদিগের এই গ্রন্থে নিজ নিজ সিদ্ধান্ত দৃঢীকরণ ব্যতীত আর কোন সাক্ষাৎ প্রয়োজন নাই । তথাপি এতদ্গ্রন্থালোচনদ্বারা মধ্যমাধিকারীদিগকে উন্নত করিবার চেষ্টায় এই গ্রন্থের সমাদর করিবেন । অত এব মধ্যমাধিকারী মহোদয়গণ এই গ্রন্থের যথার্থ অধিকারী । 
It is necessary to ascertain which of these three is the proper candidate for studying this book. Those with soft faith are not qualified, but if they are fortunate, they can gradually become qualified by attaining a higher stage. The expert topmost persons have no direct need for this book other than to strengthen their own conclusions. Still, they should discuss this book with due respect in order to benefit the madhyama adhikārīs. Therefore it is the madhyama adhikārīs who are the proper candidates for studying this book. 
শ্রীমদ্ভাগবত পূর্বোক্ত ত্রিবিধ লোকেরই অধিকার আছে । ঐ অপূর্ব গ্রন্থের প্রচলিত টীকাটিপ্পনিসকল প্রায় কোমলশ্রদ্ধ পুরুষদিগের উপকারার্থে বিরচিত হইয়াছে । টীকা টিপ্পনীকারেরা অনেকেই সারগ্রাহী ছিলেন, কিন্তু তাঁহারা যতদূর কোমলশ্রদ্ধদিগের প্রতি দয়া প্রকাশ করিয়াছেন ততদূর মধ্যমাধিকারীদিগের প্রতি করেন নাই । যে যে স্থলে জ্ঞানের চর্চা করিয়াছেন সেই সেই স্থলে কেবল ব্রহ্মজ্ঞানের উল্লেখ থাকায় বর্তমানে যুক্তিবাদীদিগের উপকার হইতেছে না ।
All the above-mentioned three categories of people are qualified to study Srimad Bhagavatam, yet most of the commentaries on this matchless book are composed for the benefit of the neophytes [of soft faith]. The commentators were mostly essence-taking persons (sāra-grāhī), but they did not exhibit as much compassion towards the madhyamas as they did to the neophytes. Whenever they discuss jñāna, they are referring to brahma-jñāna, or the impersonal understanding of the Absolute Truth. Therefore modern rationalists are not benefited. 
[The original translation for sāra-grāhī here was "swan-like persons" That is essentially correct, since a swan is said taking milk from the mixture. This is also the same as the concept of the sāra-grāhī, the essence-taker. The sāra-grāhī is used by BVT as a focal point of his entire argument here and in nearly all his writings. There is really no distinction between the sāra-grāhī and the uttama adhikārī, whose knowledge comes from direct perception. The three stages can be seen as analogous to the vicāra-pradhāna devotee's śravaṇa (simple hearing of the text), manana (reflection on its meaning, which is limited by the gross mind and intelligence) and nididhyāsana (entering into direct insight into the transcendent meaning of the text (See BhaktiS 202).  The actual text of KS gives some insights in how to make this jump, which I will perhaps talk about in an upcoming post.] 
সম্প্রতি অস্মদ্দেশীয় অনেক বিদেশীয় শাস্ত্র ও বিজ্ঞান আলোচনা করিয়া তাৎপর্য্য অন্বেষণ করেন । পূর্বোক্ত কোমলশ্রদ্ধ পুরুষগণের উপযোগী টীকা-টিপ্পনী ও শাস্ত্রকারের পরোক্ষবাদ* দৃষ্টি করিয়া তাঁহারা সহসা শ্রদ্ধ হইয়া, হয় কোন বিজাতীয় ধর্ম অবলম্বন করেন, অথবা তদ্রূপ কোন ধর্মান্তর সৃষ্টি করিয়া ভিন্ন ভিন্ন নামে পরিচিত হন । ইহাতে শোচনীয বিষয় এই যে পূর্ব্ব মহাজনকৃত অনেক পরিশ্রমজাত অধিকার হইতে অধিকারান্তর গমনোপযোগী সম্যক্ সোপান পরিত্যাগপূর্ব্বক নিরর্থক কালক্ষেপজনক সোপানান্তর গঠনে প্রবৃত্ত হন । মধ্যমাধিকারীদিগের শাস্ত্রবিচার জন্য যদি কোন গ্রন্থ থাকিত তাহা হইতে আর উপধর্ম্ম, ছলধর্ম্ম, বৈধর্ম্ম ও ধর্ম্মান্তরের কল্পনারূপ বৃহদনর্থ ভারতবর্ষে প্রবেশ করিত না । উপরোক্ত অভাব পরিপূরণ করাই এই শাস্ত্রের প্রধান উদ্দেশ্য । বস্তুতঃ এই শাস্ত্রদ্বারা কোমলশ্রদ্ধ মধ্যমাধিকরী ও উত্তমাধিকারী ত্রিবিধ লোকেরই স্বতঃ পরতঃ উপকার আছে । অত এব তাঁহারা সকলেই ইহার আদর করুন ।
Nowadays many people of our country discuss foreign literature and science with a desire to scrutinize its significance. They quickly become faithless after observing the indirect presentations by the writers of the scripture and the scriptural commentaries that are appropriate for the above-mentioned neophytes. They then either adopt a different religion or introduce new ones, which are then identified under different names. The tragedy here is that such people uselessly waste their time inventing a new level of understanding while leaving aside the previous mahājanas' perfect path, which automatically uplifts one from a lower qualification to a higher one. If there were some literatures appropriate for the madhyamādhikārīs to discuss, then no anarthas, or unwanted things, in the form of sub-religion, cheating religion, or irreligion would have entered India. The principal purpose of this book is to fulfill the above-mentioned requirement. Actually this book will directly and indirectly benefit all three types of persons the uttama, madhyama, and kaniṣṭha. Therefore they should all respect this book. .
parokṣa-vādo vedo'yaṁ bālānām anuśāsanam
karma-mokṣāya karmāṇi vidhatte hy agadaṁ yathā
The Vedas speak in a covert manner in order to discipline the ignorant. They prescribe karma in order to release them from the bondage of karma just like one gives a child medicine [coated with sugar]. (11.3.44)
["Covert manner" or "indirect speech." In other words, the idea is to get you to act in a way that is beneficial to yourself, because you are sick with the material disease. "Discipline the ignorant": here ignorant is the same as mūḍha above.]

Shastra just means body of knowledge, which can be upgraded. Pāramārthika śāstra, i.e, the body of knowledge that leads to knowing God, is regularly upgraded by various people who have reached an exceptional level of realization. This is what BVT was referring to as knowledge being "progressive" in the context of his Bhagavata speech.

Those who add or revise this body of knowledge are then judged: Are they worthy? Are they truly ideal human beings? And they are tested. And their words are tested. And those who follow their words are tested.

And as many as find them true and authentic, there are thousands more who find their flaws. But those who are sat, closer to the truth or reality, go on nevertheless.

Those on the lowest level, the kaniṣṭhas, are according to the Bhagavatam the mūḍhatamas. The shastra speaks in two ways: one is external, the other internal. Bhaktivinoda points out that the shastra is mostly written for the mūḍhas, those who have blind faith, but that this gives an external meaning only. This is because they are the most numerous among the adhikārīs (or always have been in the past). But being the most numerous, they are also the ones most in need of mercy. Therefore a proportional segment of the scriptures is designed for them. These are BVT's "useless readers."

In view of the challenges of modernity, BVT takes greater aim at the "stupid critic," the one who fails to see past the covert manner of speaking meant for disciplining the ignorant (parokṣa-vāda). Though such people may be considered madhyama because their capacities for discrimination have been awakened, for the most part, they fail to be sāra-grāhī as above described and are thus misled by the exercise of a rationality that may operate well in the material sphere, but has no power to touch transcendence. nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo na medhayā na bahunā śrutena. For them, it would be impossible to take Krishna as the Reality, as literal truth.

In SLJ, BVT states precisely that the purpose of the Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā was to answer this question.
When I published Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā the people of this country had many opinions [about it]. Some said that it presented a new point of view. Others said it was good. The younger, educated people also said it was good, but no one could understand its essence. The purpose of the book was to show that Krishna-tattva is transcendental. Some thought that the entire matter [of the book] was psychological (ādhyātmika), but they were altogether wrong. There is a subtle difference between aprākṛta [transcendental ] and ādhyātmika [psychological] which generally no one can grasp. Aprākṛta has as its basis the absence of speculative knowledge.
It might have been best to translate ādhyātmika here as reductionist symbolic, but I suppose psychological will do. The portions of KS referred to are no doubt chapters 7-9. In the first two (which are tellingly perhaps the most popular among the modern followers of BVT) the demons Krishna kills are said to represent different obstacles to spiritual progress. The 9th chapter takes the different features of Krishna's appearance, etc., to also symbolize divine qualities. BVT's goal is not reductionist however, which is no doubt why it escaped the understanding of the foolish readers and shallow critics. As stated above, BVT proceeds from the symbol to the Reality and then sees the Reality reflected in all manifestations of his energy.]

There are fairy stories that survive knowledge. Santa Claus is a good example. Parents continue the fiction of Santa Claus from generation to generation for reasons that only one who has been a parent and celebrated Christmas with young children can understand. I personally abhor modern commercial Christmas, but I can still appreciate the positive meaning of the image of Santa Claus when abstracted from the dung-heap of commercialization is removed -- difficult as that is.

Perhaps because it was completely new to us when Prabhupada began his preaching work, Krishna worked as a symbol of the Divine right away. We must understand something very important, the God symbol -- whichever one it is -- is not different from God -- whosoever one He is. God is, in a very real sense, not different from his symbols.

If the God symbol works, i.e., if it has transformative properties by being a genuine medium of spiritual experience, i.e., aparokṣānubhūti, then the symbol and the shastra will survive. That is achieved by the uttama. Only the uttama keeps the symbol alive by regurgitating the shastra like a Shukadeva, making the fruit sweeter with his own juices.

The mūḍhatama, like the infant believing in Santa Claus, does not see the internal truth. Although he has had some direct experience, it is not matured or mellowed. It is bouncing around on the external plane. And though everyone flies as high as they can, too many crash and burn, or just don't fly very high.

Then there are those who lie in between. They are the ordinary folk, who are too smart to be mūḍhatama, but who are too stupid to see the difference between a kaniṣṭha and an uttama. In that respect they share one of the traits of a mūḍhatama.

They cast doubt on the role of God. They think that reason will answer all questions, but all it does is reveal problems. All doubt is self-doubt. All doubt is lack of self-knowledge. All doubt is ultimately the sign of the conditioned soul, but the mūḍhatama tries to fake faith with memorized quotations and a belief that is intolerant of any blemish whatsoever. Who cover their ears and their eyes and chant louder and louder.

The uttama has passed beyond intelligence. He knows what he knows: There is one Truth present in all things. And for us Vaishnavas, that Truth is Krishna. And Krishna is always accompanied by Radha, without whom he would not be complete.

A lot of progress can be made by a kaniṣṭha, and a madhyama is far from safe. He may spend lifetimes in the wilderness. A smart kaniṣṭha, someone with lifetimes of sukṛti and the good fortune to know an uttama, might spend a very pleasant time in the madhyama stage before going on to the uttama. In some ways, there is no difference really. But generally speaking -- kliśyanty antarito janah. The guys in between suffer because of doubt.

The kaniṣṭha also suffers, but being mūḍhatama, he does not know it. His self-righteousness and powerful ego (weak but artificially strengthened by the mob and by Divine Possession) will not allow him to see himself as a failure who suffers.

The same thing can happen to the convert to doubt. He develops his own negative orthodoxy of non-belief. And as much as the mūḍhatama of the religious sort is blind to his own ignorance, so it is with the mūḍhatama of the atheistic sort.


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