I’ve finally finished covering apparent discrepancies in interpretation of Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam verse between us and followers of Madhvācārya. Now I want to address other issues of their attack on us and whether we should take any of it seriously.
Once again a few words should be said about tattvavāda in general – they do not believe in letting just about anyone to read and comment on either their works or scriptures themselves. One needs to be a qualified brāhmaṇa to engage in such discussions. Consequently, internet is clearly not for them.
I don’t have enough information to judge whether this self-isolation has a positive or negative effect on their sampradāya. On one hand they spare themselves from frivolous attacks and keep their reputation clean by staying clear of the mud pit that is the world wide web. On the other hand they might be losing people who read about other schools and switch to going to other temples. I don’t think this downside is significant, though. Who is going to “steal” their people? Māyāvādīs? They don’t preach, they only criticize. Śrī vaiṣṇavas? They aren’t prominent on the internet either. Maybe some will start going to ISKCON but I seriously doubt that they would ever lose their ties to their original temples in tattvāvāda community because we are not ideological enemies at all.
Btw, we can’t go that self-isolationist way ourselves because preaching is the essence of our movement. If people spend several hours a day on the internet that’s where we should try to reach them, and also because our real life critics are most active there instead of actual real life. I mean if our people come to Sunday programs and like the experience but then google us out and find only criticism then we should do something about that.
Some gurus, wont’t mention any names, have dedicated PR task forces which make sure internet says only positive things about them. They do not engage in online battles but rather let internet bury controversial issues by itself – you just need to manipulate google search results to keep criticism off the first page. Our critics can’t be pacified by arguments anyway, they are trolls who strive on fighting so if we ignore them they’ll suffocate without our feedback.
Anyway, when internet first became a big thing some people in tattvāvāda community couldn’t restrain themselves and decided to build tattvāvāda presence there, too. It didn’t work and the effort soon fizzled out. Maybe it was because tattvāvāda is not meant for public consumption and they had to password protect all their resources, maybe because they ran into a confrontation with ISKCON and were shushed by their own community.
When their criticism first spilled out into the public arena our devotees quickly went over their heads and secured support of their leading members, thus isolating our opposition. Well, maybe it wasn’t OUR devotees but rather ex-ISKCON but Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas anyway. See the letters here. Maybe there was official ISKCON reaction, too, but I’m not aware of it at the moment.
Given how it all played out we should probably forget it ever happened but, I believe, some benefit can be extracted from analyzing how exactly we were attacked and what could have been our direct response to criticism. If we don’t do that there could be a lingering doubt left in our minds that we simply bullied the opposition while ignoring genuine concerns. Another reason is that these arguments are being brought up again and again whenever anyone wants to attack us as deviants from Madhva’s original teachings. We can’t silence all the critics and we need to know what to say in our defense.
So, let’s look at their “position paper” on ISKCON. In the introduction they have two paragraphs. First they imply that our reliance on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is insufficient, and in the second paragraph they talk about “feuding Gauḍiyā denominations” and that the entire Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is not well defined and lacks clarity, and that some of our positions are absolutely incompatible with tattvāvāda so we cannot claim ourselves to be followers of Madhvācārya.
The point about our reliance on Bhāgavatam is a crucial one and it will come up later again. We don’t see a problem with it but our attackers insist on building philosophy on the prastāya trana – Bhagavad Gītā, Brahma-sūtras, and Upaniṣads. Why? I strongly suspect that they have fallen into the māyāvāda trap and accepted rules laid out by followers of Śaṅkarācārya. They think that they have defeated advaita on the strength of their interpretation of the above three sources and so demand that if it worked for them everyone else should follow the same way to earn their respect.
Another fallacy they picked up from advaitins here is that they build their philosophy on the strength of their own intellect. If you are able to offer a commentary on Brahma sūtras you are accepted as genuine, if not you are rubbish. By now we have our own commentary, Govinda bhāṣya, but look how it came about – some priests in Jaypur denied Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas to serve the deities because we didn’t have a commentary on Brahma sūtras and so Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana wrote one in just a week. That settled the matter and gave us the legitimacy in that particular dispute.
The point, however, is that our sampradāya had plenty of spiritual strength for hundreds of years before that. Writing that Govinda bhāṣya did not suddenly make Lord Caitanya into Kṛṣṇa Himself and did not suddenly infused our tradition with spiritual power. That’s just nonsense, but our tattvāvāda critics went down that way – no books means no transcendental knowledge.
We can just as easily turn the tables on them – transcendental knowledge does not come from reading books or from studying the philosophy, it comes from the mercy of the Lord. If they are not able to see Lord’s mercy in our movement then they themselves are nothing but dry speculators. By accepting advaita rules they have lost their own spiritual potency which should have given them the eyes to see spiritual potency of fellow vaiṣṇavas – Gauḍiyās in general and ISKCON in particular.
I should add that this recognition of Lord’s energy flowing through our sampradāya was cited in Aṣta Maṭha letters I referenced above. They knew that this trumps all philosophical arguments against it but our critics missed this point completely and were reprimanded for that. I should also add that by ceasing their attacks they showed that they learned the lesson so it turned out well for everyone involved.