Last time (the post order has been screwed a little) I was talking about some zealous dvaitins attacking us for no good reason. They, of course, thought they had a reason and while the attack stopped many many years ago those reasons are still being picked up by our critics and we should know how to respond to these accusations.
On the most basic level we could say that these spurious accusations have been withdrawn and forgotten, even if they still sit on the internet. This should be enough to dismiss the attacks as ultimately groundless, just like we are not going to treat atheists arguments against Kṛṣṇa’s existence seriously.
In case there are lingering doubts, however, we need to be able to address the problems head on and demonstrate how the accusations are, in fact, groundless. It’s with this goal in mind that I want to go through that “position paper” on ISKCON point by point.
Last time I suspected that it betrayed its authors fascination with advaitavādā and advata rules of discussion – the need for having commentaries on major Vedic texts. Spiritual value of a tradition does not depend on texts, however, but on the flow of spiritual energy transforming the lives of its practitioners. When this is obvious then asking for books is too pedantic and misses forest behind the trees. Advaitins can ask for that because in their tradition there’s nothing by dry speculations but vaiṣṇavas should know better.
Second part of their introduction alludes to disputes within Gauḍiyā family itself which make our philosophical position unclear. As far as I can tell, however, this refers only to the jīva falldown issue that had just been brought up and gained prominence at the time dvaitins decided to present their position paper. It was/is being pushed by one single person who doesn’t speak for anyone but himself. Philosophically speaking, there’s nothing left of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism but Gauḍiyā Maṭha and ISKCON and between us there’s no disagreement – we all need to go BACK to Godhead.
The authors of the position paper give undue weight to single dissenting voice here, never mind how many followers it got among ex-ISKCON devotees. It should be noted that they are all ex-ISKCON, a label that defines them on many philosophical positions better then their philosophy itself – they just have to stand in opposition to the camp they just rejected. The authors also say that on some matter Gauḍiyā and tattvavāda positions are absolutely incompatible, which remains to be seen. The fact that they reject divinity of Lord Caitanya or the conversation between Mahāprabhu and tattvavādī scholar described in Caitanya Caritāmṛta is obvious and to be expected, or they’d be Gauḍiyās themselves.
Next the paper intends to talk about relationships between the soul and Supreme but does not do so and instead talks about differences between jīvas and God. Maybe it makes sense to tattvavādīs with their bank of knowledge but to me it appears as mumbling and making a case where there’s none. We, too accept their five-fold differences – that is there are differences between jīvas, between jīvas and God, between jīvas and matter, between God and matter, and between material elements themselves.
Take mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke verse (BG 15.7) and Madhva’s own commentary on it: “the atma or immortal soul although distinctly different is similar in quality to the Supreme Lord it is sometimes spoken of as a partial manifestation.” I bolded the part where Śrīla Madhvācārya uses our acintyabehdābheda language word for word. The problem could be with our translation of Madhvācārya’s commentary but it’s the only one we have.
They say the above mentioned five differences are absolute but I’m not sure if that claim is true because there are way too many verses in scriptures that describe similarities between jīvas and Brahman, not to mention the entire advaita theory which, although incomplete, is still somewhat correct – the souls and God are spiritual, eternal, and relatively higher than matter. I don’t believe that Madhvācārya openly denied the similarities in God and jīvas nature.
Likewise, we are not saying that some forms of God are less Godly than others. They should have given clear examples both from our Gauḍiyā literature and from Madhvācārya on the nature of some of “less Godly” incarnations. Is Vyāsa accepted as full Viṣṇu in tattvavāda? I don’t think so. They can’t deny that he is an ordinary soul either, because Puraṇas clearly endow him with powers of Viṣṇu. It’s in that sense that we talk about differences between avatāras. Some of them are full incarnations and some carry certain Viṣṇu potencies. The position paper failed to clearly explain its objection on this point and just made some noise.
Next they talk about the concept of viśeṣa and how we, in Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism, use it as an example of bhedābheda in Madhvācārya’s philosophy, too. They say we are doing it wrong. Maybe, but it’s a matter of interpretation because Madhvācārya did not differentiate his philosophy from Gauḍiyā’s acintya-bhedābheda because it simply didn’t exist then. We BASE our bhedābheda on Madhva’s work, we did not invent it from scratch. From our POV there are no contradictions there and we think that our interpretation of Madhva is legitimate.
Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to argue about this. We can only rely on the works of the Six Gosvāmīs and if we studied them in detail maybe we could give an informed answer. Our objectors, however, do not bring the discussion to the necessary philosophical level either, they simply make declarations like “it isn’t so” without bothering to explain where and how exactly we, allegedly, went wrong.
Anyway, on the “relationships between the soul and Supreme” they say that bhedābheda was clearly and specifically rejected by Madhvācārya in many compositions but they don’t give any actual quotes. Impossible to argue with that. They also rely on a book by one Mm. B.N.K. Sharma and expect us to take his opinions at face value. He says things like this, for example: “.. two basic concepts of achintyAdbhuta shakti of the Supreme Being to explain the apparently contradictory qualities in Him (such as being both aNu (atomic) and mahat (Infinite) — at the same time) and savisheshâbheda which is used to account for the simultaneous identity & difference between the properties of a substance and its essence has been mixed up “beyond its legitimate jurisdiction”.. Has it? What is the legitimate jurisdiction here? It’s impossible to answer an accusation like that. They also fail to establish Sharma’s authority even for tattvavādīs themselves – is he a recognized ācārya in their tradition or simply a prominent scholar and a follower?
There’s also a problem with the quote itself because it’s not how it appears in Sharma’s book here. It does seem to be a correct place and correct topic but wording is not the same. Why? I have no idea, but it makes the claims of our opponents very suspicious.
To be continued.