Question: How can we apply proper discrimination and judgment in our search for knowledge of the Infinite?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Discrimination may take place in different planes, but it must have a connection with the higher plane. Judgment and discrimination should be in the right plane. Judgment and discrimination come from our side, but our progress depends on the favour of the higher side. It must have that connection, so surrender is required. Then, the Lord will approach us and take us up to that higher plane. Somehow, we have to persuade the highest authority to favour us. We must invite the higher authority to accept us. It does not depend so much on our own ability, but on our submission and surrender, our hankering for mercy — not our positive capacity but our negative character, our surrender. As a subject, I cannot make the Infinite the object of my discrimination; He is always the supersubject. I cannot make God the object of my discrimination. He is supersubjective. My position, my attitude, must invite the higher authority to come down to my level and help me, favour me. Real discrimination or knowledge should take us to self-surrender. Surrender is necessary to attract the attention of the Lord. Everything depends on His sweet will. He is an autocrat: His sweet will is everything. To attract His sweet will, to increase our negative side, our tendency for surrender, to attract His favour, this will be our real problem if we wish to progress in spiritual life. And to attract the Lord’s attention, all our qualifications must be of a negative character: we shall require surrender, submission, humility. And then we can press our position by praying, «O my Lord, I’m in the worst need; without Your grace I can’t stand. I am helpless. I cannot endure without Your favour.» That sort of hankering, earnestness, and necessity for His mercy will help us. In other words, we are to improve our negative character, and in that way we shall attract the positive, Krishna.

Then we shall develop proper discrimination, for at that time our subjective character will be to act only as His agent. He will inspire from within in whatever we do. Our discrimination will be utilised in carrying out His order. It will not be possible for us to have any separate interest, any original discrimination. I will carry out His order, or the order of the higher officer of the Supreme Lord. I may use my discrimination about how to make the lower arrangements in carrying out that order. But towards the Lord, who is higher than me, my attitude will always be one of submission, surrender, obedience, allegiance, unconditional slavery. The slave mentality will help us in entering that plane. If we truly feel ourselves to be low and in want, then the supply of mercy will come from the higher plane. This should always be the tenor of our thought: high and low, subjective and objective. And Krishna is not subject to any rule; He is an autocrat. These are the data we must keep in our mind always. Everything moves according to His sweet will. Our problem, then, is how to draw His attention. This will be possible only by increasing our negative tendency, by proving to Him, in a bona fide way, that I’m the most needy. At that time, we shall develop proper discrimination and knowledge; that is, our discrimination will be utilised in carrying out His order.

Question: In the Isopanisad, there is a mantra:

vidyam chavidyam cha yas tad vedobhayam saha
avidyaya mrtyum tirtva vidyayamrtam asnute

The translation has been given by Sripad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj as follows: «Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessings of immortality.» What does he mean by learning the process of nescience and that of knowledge side by side?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: One is negative and another is positive. Knowledge means to know what is false and to leave that and to recognise what is true and to accept that. Do you follow? To cultivate an understanding about falsehood and truth means to know, «This is false, we must reject it; this is truth, I must accept it.» In that way, this verse may be understood. To know the bad, to culture the bad, means to know when a thing is bad and to reject it, and to culture the truth means to accept it. Not that culture means that we should culture ignorance in order to have it. What is encouraged here in this mantra is rejection of falsehood and acceptance of truth. The defects of maya should be analysed. We must know: «Oh, this is maya. This is bad, this is hopeless, this is undesirable.» We must know to avoid these things. We must reject nescience, and we shall try to attain science, knowledge. We shall try to understand the bright side and aim for the light, to accept it more and more and progress towards truth.

Question: A fifteenth century German Catholic philosopher, Nicholas of Cusa*, taught the doctrine Of Learned Ignorance. How would that compare to Vaisnava philosophy?

* The Dictionary of Philosophy contains the following entry: «Nicholas of Cusa (or Nicholas Cusanus) (c. 1400 — 64) German cardinal, whose «theological negativa» was influential in the Renaissance. Main philosophical work: De Docta Ignorantia (Of Learned Ignorance) (1440). Using the methods of medieval logic, Cusanus examined the nature of God (Book I) and the Universe (Book II). His view of their relationship was fundamentally Neoplatonic; the Universe (maximum contractum), seen as the totality of finite things, flows out from and returns to God (maximum absolutum), whose nature is unknowable. Hence all human knowledge is simply learned ignorance.

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: We may accept the bright side. Noble ignorance in our view is jnana-sunya-bhakti, knowledge-free devotion. Noble ignorance means not to attempt to calculate in this world but to surrender: to lose our faith in calculation, in our subjective capacity of calculation, and to surrender to the Supreme. We may interpret jnana-sunya-bhakti like that. «Learned ignorance» is when learning understands its own limit, when one realises, «I’m finite, my learning is also finite; learning cannot make me a bona fide enquirer about the Infinite.» It is better to surrender to the Infinite and let Him work within us for our best interest. Submission, surrender to the Infinite, is the highest reach of learning. Learned ignorance means to realise that we can’t know the Infinite. If he makes Himself known to us, then we can know Him, otherwise not.

Question: Nicholas of Cusa said, «God is inconceivable by thought.» What do you say?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, only through devotion and by His grace may God be known. Our cultivation of knowledge won’t give us God. That is the failure of knowledge — investigation about God, the Infinite. Only His grace can give Him. We have to come to the side of devotion and do away with knowledge. Our attempts to make much of knowledge will be stopped when coming in connection with the Infinite. Knowledge has got its limit. And when knowledge fails, faith begins. Knowledge fails and faith develops. You must develop faith and give up hope in knowledge. A research laboratory cannot give you God. When the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from space, an old lady enquired from him: «You went so high; have you seen God there?» But he was an atheist. He said, «God is like a horse drawing our cart. What do you think about God for? We use God in our service. With our knowledge and our research science we have forced God to serve us.» This is the proud boast of science: «We have engaged God in our service; we are above God, superior to God. God is our creation.» As if He is the creation of a particular half-mad section of society.

Question: Nicholas of Cusa also taught that «in God, opposites coincide. Opposites — smallest and greatest — come together in God.» What is your understanding?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Not only big and small, but even good and bad, even anti-parties, everything is harmonised in God. Good-bad, friend-enemy, everything is harmonised and accommodated there. And they lose their poison; all become good. He is the all-accommodating, all-harmonising, all-adjusting principle, both directly and indirectly. Thesis and antithesis find their highest synthesis in the Krishna conception of divinity.

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