Vanity thought #1707. Family matters 3

Yesterday I discussed some unfortunate tattvavādīs’ accusation that we, Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas, differ from Śrīla Madhvācārya in our understanding of the relationship between the soul and the Supreme. On one hand they took the matter into a technical area outside my [non-existent] expertise, on the other hand they made bold statements that simply can’t be true.

Their mistake could be attributed to the fact that Śrīla Madhvācārya did not argue against our bhedābheda philosophy because it didn’t yet exist in his day. Now that it’s there his followers try to differentiate themselves from it but to me it looks like an artificial attempt because bhedābheda is not meant to overwrite tattvavāda but to complement it by recognizing undeniable similarities between God and jīvas. We are both undeniably eternal, for example, and we are both fit to live in the spiritual world and have meaningful spiritual relationships. We are also God’s parts and parcels, plus the fact that Madhvācārya didn’t even think to argue against it in his purport to mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke verse. The quote from BNK Sharma’s book also does not seem to address our bhedābheda directly but talked about general things which are always, therefore, open to interpretations. I disagree that it was written against us anyway.

Let’s see what they have for us next – the chapter called “Authoritative sources”. They rightfully state that our main source of knowledge is Bhāgavata Puraṇa and that all other scriptures are accepted only when they support Bhāgavata conclusions. When there are inconsistencies between other Vedic sources we declare that Śrīmad Bhāgavatam reconciled them all already. What possible problem could they have with this?

They give a list of sources considered authoritative by Śrīla Madhvācārya and Bhāgavatam is surely among those. The list is beautiful by itself and deserves to be quoted:

    The four Vedâs beginning with the Rg Veda, Pancharâtra, Bhâratha, Mûla Râmâyana and Brahma Sûtras are accepted to be self-sufficient authorities.

    Whatever is not contradictory to these is also an authority and not otherwise. Whatever is opposed to them is not an authority under any circumstances.

    The Vaishnava Purânas (such as Bhâgavata) which establish the supremacy of Vishnu are also authorities as they also convey whatever is being conveyed by the Pancharâtra. Smritis like that of Manu and others are also authorities, as long as they are consistent with these.

We can subscribe to this without hesitation, however, we are accused of not putting Brahma Sūtras above others, as per next quote from Śrīla Madhvācārya:

    Since the Brahma Sûtras determine by valid Yukti (logical analysis) the import of the Vedâs (which, being Apaurusheya, i.e., authorless, are totally without defects), and have been composed by an Âpta, well qualified person, i.e., Sri Veda Vyâsa, they are the best authority and there is none comparable to them as the Supreme Authority for the purpose.

The answer to this is that we, following the example of Lord Caitanya, do not consider ourselves qualified to study Brahma Sūtras. It’s not that He didn’t know their meanings but that for numbnuts like us pontificating on Vedānta is bound to produce false and contradictory results. That’s why we stay with rather simple Bhāgavatam, which is Vyāsa’s own commentary on Brahma Sūtras anyway.

The Madhva’s quotes they give us also do not justify interpreting Bhāgavatam to fit with Mahābhārata, which they say is what Madhvācārya did. Why? Why would he put Mahābhārata above Bhāgavatam when Bhāgavatam itself talks about Vyāsa not being satisfied with Mahābhārata and even Brahma Sūtras? They rightly say that Madhvācārya resolved whatever inconsistencies that might appear between the two and other scriptures as well and that he refuted possible advaita interpretation of contentious verses but what has it got to do with our preference for Bhāgavatam?

Perhaps the last claim in this section explains it all – we do not follow Madhvācārya’s own commentary on Bhāgavatam. That seems to be our only real fault there. Well, they have Vijayadhvaja’s commentary on Bhāgavatam, too, as if Madhva’s wasn’t enough, so why go after us? We didn’t have our own commentary for hundreds of years, too, and it wasn’t a problem. After all, it’s the scriptures themselves that are infallible pramāṇa while commentaries help us to understand them correctly. Not reading a particular commentary is not a sin since there are plenty of others. Lord Caitanya happened to admire Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary and we are not sure Madhva’s had been even available to Him. We do not interpret Śrīdhara Svāmī in an impersonal way and Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī dealt with some advaitists undertones in his writings. Vijayadhvaja reportedly did the same and clarified Śrīdhara Svāmī’s apparently impersonalist comments, too. He certainly did not reject Śrīdhara Svāmī so why reading from him is considered a deviation? From our point of view the matter should be closed but someone is probably jealous we don’t rely solely on Madhva’s own rather short commentary on Bhāgavatam (only on 300 verses, I believe).

Next is the long section on “Other doctrinal digressions” which begins with criticism of us putting two armed form of Kṛṣṇa above all others based on Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam verse. I’ve written about that verse extensively already but, in the context of this paper, could add that we are not saying that four armed Viṣṇu forms or avatāras like Kūrma or Matsya are inferior. They are all Viṣṇu tattva, after all. They are like candles lit form one another – they all give the same heat and light and when looking at them all it’s impossible to say which one is superior or inferior.

What our critics really object here is expressed in this sentence: “Though it is admitted that the forms are identical in terms of `tattva’ (essence), they differ in `rasa’ or more complete manifestation of the capabilities.” What do we get for this? Damnation to hell: “All these concepts are not only totally against Tattvavâda, but are classified as major sins (`nava-vidha dveshha’ — indicating the nine forms of hatred of the Supreme Being, by denying His unique greatness and freedom from all defects and limitations) which lead to eternal hell.”

The question is – how can they deny that two armed form of Kṛṣṇa, especially the one that was manifested in Vṛndāvana had relationships with His devotees that are impossible to find in other forms? Are they implying that Mahāviṣnu, for example, flirts with wives of other people and sneaks out at night to dance with them? Are they implying that avatāras like Lord Nṛsiṁha have loving mothers who tie them up for stealing butter? There’s undeniable difference in pastimes and in manifestation of rasa. Why should stating the obvious lead us to hell?

I have no idea how tattvavādīs themselves deal with these differences, we aren’t given any alternative to our Gauḍiyā view here, only that acknowledging these differences is a sin. We can’t take such accusations seriously, and thank God they have been largely withdrawn, sooner or later the internet will forget that this page exists, too.

PS. Tattva isn’t just essence, as mentioned in the above quote, but “truth”. Same tattva does not mean merely same essence but the same true nature. They should not have diminish its meaning there.


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