Ideally, the question “why bother?” should have been addressed before delving into details of the four slokas allegedly declaring other forms of the Lord as svayam bhagavān. It would have spared an embarrassment if proper refutation of the evidence couldn’t be found, for one thing. More importantly, though, we should not descend to the level of many of our adversaries regardless of whether we can win an argument or not. I couldn’t resist the temptation because it appeared too easy but it doesn’t mean that “why bother” could be skipped or that, in fact, nothing has been won whatsoever.
There are certain established rules for any debate on the correct interpretation of the scriptures. First of all, such debates should be conducted between pure souls searching for the Absolute Truth, and the word debate itself does not really fit in the Vedic framework. “Discussions” would probably be a better translation and these discussions could be had between guru and disciples, too, which is the most common form anyway.
In our own tradition we rarely agree to “debates” and there are instances when our ācāryas admitted defeat just to get out of the unwanted invitation. On one occasion, for example, Śrīla Rūpa and Sanatana Gosvāmīs asked the challenger what was the point of the debate and when he said that it’s to establish a winner they immediately wrote him a letter acknowledging their defeat. He went to brag about it but ran into Jīva Gosvāmī who put an end to his useless pride.
One could argue that Jīva Gosvāmī accepted the challenge, negating my point, but he did it not to find a winner but to defend the honor and authority of his uncles, and the result of that debate was that the challenger became a devotee, Śrī Rūpa and Sanatana Gosvāmīs gave him a new name, Rūpanārāyaṇa, and he had a long and glorious history that completely overshadows whatever initial pride was there in his youth (Premavilasa 19).
I mean you read all of this and then the matter of the initial argument fades away completely, it’s not something to dwell on at all.
Besides the stated goal of the discussion there are other rules as well. One should declare who he is speaking for, for example. This is meant to weed out bothersome upstarts devoid of necessary qualities right away. The underlying principle that Vedic knowledge is automatically revealed to those with firm faith in guru and śāstra cannot be overwritten and discussions should be had only between two legitimate “revelations”, so to speak. If one brings speculative interpretations that ought to be wrong from the start then there should be no debate at all.
We live in an age when speculations are highly valued because that’s how the entire science works so this prohibition usually falls on deaf ears but we should know better. People naturally assume that if they don’t know something then they can speculate a little, test their hypotheses in debates with fellow speculators, and that’s how they can ascertain what they think is “truth” but that is not the Vedic way. We accept truth from our authorities, not invent it with our own brains, even if it’s result of debating teamwork. The truth cannot be produces by one, two, or more ignorant people coming together, two wrongs do not make a right, as they say.
So, whoever comes to challenge us first have to prove his credentials. His knowledge must come from recognized authorities and be certified by those authorities as well. It would be even better if he comes to us on the orders of his guru, too, not on his own accord. People who follow their own urges automatically prove that they are not in control of their minds and so whatever they say will be faulty. There’s only one source of absolute knowledge in this world – guru, and whatever else is there is born of ignorance.
If we are challenged by atheists then there’s no question of such a debate being authorized according to śāstric rules, we can indulge only for the sake of preaching but preaching attitude automatically disqualifies us according to atheistic rules, too. All we can do is pretend and use the opportunity to speak before our opponents realize there was absolutely no chance of us changing our views and we were preaching all along. Once that realization hits them they’ll lose all their goodwill towards us and reject everything they’ve heard from us as cheating. What good could ever come out of this?
When challenged by followers of advaita we can immediately disqualify them because they follow Śaṅkarācārya and espouse deliberately false philosophy. We should point to passages in several Purāṇas where Lord Śiva described his mission in Kali yuga and it would become immediately clear that we can’t ever consider advaita seriously. They would say that our Purāṇas are made up and offer us to exercise our brains anyway. What would be the point, though? Sometimes it’s fun to find out how a wrong view is actually wrong but there is a limit to possible usefulness of such an exercise. We don’t need actual advaitins for this purpose, too.
We are not here to increase our brain power by offering ourselves ever more complicated tasks, we should never forget that. We can’t compete with neither Lord Śiva nor with material nature in general, if we go down this way we WILL eventually hit the wall. Atheists and advaitins think that arguments bring out truth but that is not the Vedic way. The truth reveals itself not to argumentative but to a submissive hearer.
When challenged by tattvavādīs we should ask if they really speak for their tradition, which would be impossible for them because there’s no injunction there to hunt Gaudiya vaiṣṇavas on the internet. They cannot be on anything but their personal crusade and that should disqualify them right away. That is not to say that tattvavādīs have no legitimate arguments against our philosophy but to say that they do not tell their followers to harass us and set up illegitimate debates for selfish purposes.
Likewise, the arguments I used in these last three posts are meant for our internal consumption, not to go and try to win a superiority fight against people we have no business arguing with in the first place.
Tattvavādīs actual arguments deserve a separation consideration. Not to go and challenge them but for our own elucidation. Maybe next time.