Srila Sridhar Maharaj: The whole gradation has been described in the following way by Bhaktivinode Thakur in Caitanya-siksamrtam.
First there is ascadita-cetana, fully covered consciousness, like in the trees and stones; they are ascadita, covered, thickly covered. Consciousness is there, but it is thickly covered.
Next, there is sankucita-cetana, as we find in the animal kingdom a very narrowed consciousness. Then, mukudita-cetana, just opening consciousness, just awakening, as amongst the aborigine class. It is mukudita, not developed to a proper stage, to a standard it is half animal, half man, such a sort of civilisation. Here we find animism, worship of the various nature gods. Above this there is vicodita-cetana, in which there is some conception of God. And this is where varnasrama-dharma begins.
Student: Are Christianity and Islam at this stage, vicodita-cetana?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Yes. Then lastly there is purnovicodita-cetana, fully opened consciousness, and its corresponding conception of God; that is Vaisnavism.
This is the general gradation; but again, there is sub-division in the human section. In vicodita-cetana, in the human stage, even before we find proper theism, there is morality. No theism has yet emerged, but there is morality. That constitutes the utilitarian class, altruistic class: they have got recognition of morality, but they don’t find the necessity of the existence of any God.
There may be also theism without much moral conception. ‘Theism’, so-called theism, is there, but no moral conception. Those of this persuasion do himsa, violence, towards so many jivas by indiscriminately butchering, murdering, living creatures; they engage in this and other such immoral practices, and also go on with a conception of God, with theism.
After this, we find there is morality-plus-theism; and the lower part of this is morality plus imaginary theism kalpitasesvavada. The kalpitasesvavadi propounds an imaginary theism, combined with morality. For example, the thinker Comte, in France. He said, that to have a conception of God is useful to us because it can be of help to us in society, it can do the work of the police by keeping the people in good order. It is seen to be the case with the general population, that if you encourage them to be God-fearing, if you spread this consciousness, then we shall all enjoy moral benefit, moral order in society, automatically and very easily. This was Comte’s theory. And we may consider that the teachings of Sankaracarya, as we have mentioned previously, are also of such cateory: imaginary theism, with morality.
After this, there is real theism, with morality. Real varnasrama, as given by Sri Ramanuja, and other conceptions of a similar nature, are of both morality and theism, but real theism. Real varnasrama is theistic, and with a moral basis morality and true theism.
After attaining the stage of true theism real theism, on a moral basis the next higher stage of attainment for the jiva-soul is purnovicodita-cetana, and that is Vaisnavism. Vaisnavism represents purnovocodita-cetana, fully opened, fully awakened consciousness. It is full-fledged theism. It may be described as ‘theism without morality’ in that morality is existing there according to the complete theistic conception; morality, in and of itself, has got less importance.
The guiding principle employed at this stage is: whatever is necessary for the service, for the satisfaction of the Lord. For example, a devotee might also steal a flower to offer the Lord, so that the man who has cultivated that flowering tree may be benefited. It is theism in the fullest way, such that everything can be utilised for the satisfaction of the Lord; if this can be done, then everybody will be helped, will be benefited.
In this way, the theistic conception expands, it develops, to this point that everything is for Him: Reality is for Itself, it is for Him everything is for Him, not for any other individual ownership. The Owner is One. The conditioned souls are not conscious that they are His, that they belong to Him; they are like children who do not know of their guardian. But the devotees know, they are conscious of that: “This boy may not know that his guardian, his father, is there; but I know, I know it is so. The boy may be reluctant, but I must take the boy to Him; I must carry him, in spite of his reluctance, to his guardian.” The devotees are conscious that ‘Everything is for Himself’, and they utilise everything in that way, and thereby do good to all. Their life, their campaign in any and every way is such, whether or not it may be tasteful to the ordinary so-called religious or moral people. The devotees are right, independent of those others’ opinion.
Everything is for Him, for the Lord. Sri Krsna says:
aham hi sarva-yajnanamFrom this viewpoint, all conditioned souls in this world everyone, including those who are masters of the moral and scientific knowledge here all are considered ‘minors’. The soul in bondage, any baddha-jiva, any jiva in bondage, is minor. The ‘majors’ are those Vaisnavas who know that ‘everything is for Himself’, and the consequence of this understanding, that the soul must ‘die to live’. They know that there is only one Enjoyer, and that everything is meant for His pleasure, His satisfaction, and that it is by dying to any separate interest, to his false ego, that the soul can truly live, can live in the world of divine service. Those Vaisnavas are the guardians of the whole creation, and they utilise everything for Him, to the real benefit of everyone in the whole world. Can you conceive of this? Can you follow?
bhokta ca prabhur eva ca
na tu mam abhijananti
tattvenatas cyavanti te
“I alone am the Enjoyer, the Lord and object of all sacrifice. Those who do not recognise My true transcendental nature fall down.”
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: If you are able to understand this, then you will find some harmonious existence in this world. You will understand things in their proper perspective. Otherwise there is only ignorance of what is what.
And according to the degree, the density of the ignorance, there is gradation, subdivision: tamah, to maha-tamah, to maha-maha-tamah. Nature is divided into sattva, rajas and tamas, and within this there are many subdivisions. There are those of the very lowest section where the ignorance is very thick; then those a little above that, their ignorance a little less; and those above that still. Similarly, there is gradation in those under the mode of passion, under rajah-guna; and above that, in those under the higher, sattvic nature. And the nirguna plane is above all the various material qualities, a unified plane where one Guardian, one Master is guiding every limb and every idea of a person such a person is in touch with full-fledged theism.