To remind myself – when I’m talking about tattvavādīs attacking Gauḍiyās I’m talking about someone’s personal activism and not the position of the Madhva sampradāya itself. Sometimes it looks like they can’t be following even their philosophy, what to speak of telling others (us) what to do. Take the next topic in their “position paper” – gradation of souls.
On one hand all jīvas are different and we can talk about relative value in their service to Kṛṣṇa – gopīs are closer to Him than members of His extended family in Dvārakā, but when tattvavādīs talk about it it’s as if they attach value of jīvas to their material bodies instead.
They start with declaring that Lord Brahmā and Mukhyaprāna (Madhva as Vāyu) are jīvottamas, the best among all souls, and their exalted position is a reflection of their inherent superiority (svarūpa uttamatva). Next they say that jīvas have their svarūpa unaltered through their eternal existence and unless this is accepted it would be like implying that the Supreme Lord displays defects of partiality and neglect. It’s not immediately clear why, at least not to me, but, on the other hand, why not? Jīva’s unaltered svarūpa is central to our Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, too, so if they are attacking someone here it’s not us.
What they really have the problem here is our interpretation of ānandamāyo ‘bhyāsāt, which they lifted from SB 9.24.58:
Both the Lord and the living entity, being qualitatively spirit soul, have the tendency for peaceful enjoyment, but when the part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead unfortunately wants to enjoy independently, without Kṛṣṇa, he is put into the material world, where he begins his life as Brahmā and is gradually degraded to the status of an ant or a worm in stool.
It’s this falldown of the jīva into the material world that bothers them, as they clearly state in their commentary: “This concept suggesting a fall from an exalted condition of the Jîva (though it is part of “the Supreme Personality of Godhead”) does not have any scriptural support.” I think I’ve said it already – this paper seems to follow the jīva fall issue that got prominent in our circles around the same time. I don’t think I can untangle it in this one post but look what Prabhupāda says – when jīva wants to enjoy independently, without Kṛṣṇa, he is put into the material world. There’s no falldown there, no one forces jīva to come to the material world against their will, the whole thing is a non-issue. It’s not like we walked on the roof, slipped, and gravity forced us to fall down. It’s more like we looked down, liked what we saw, and climbed down entirely on our own.
Another problem tattvavādīs have here is “part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead”, which they understood to mean that it’s Kṛṣṇa Himself who falls, because jīvas are parts of His body or some such. I’ve already addressed this objection earlier in one of the previous “family matters” posts – we are parts of Kṛṣna’s pastimes, which are non-different from Him. Kṛṣṇa does not exists without His pastimes and without His devotees, and it’s in this sense that we are His parts and parcels, not in the sense that tattvavādīs imply here.
Next is their accusation that in our philosophy jīva is capable of being both Lord Brahmā and a worm in stool mentioned in Prabhupāda’s quote. They say that according to Śrī Madhva our philosophy is incapable of causing mukti and they give a quote from him with their translation: “In other words, the gradation of souls is to be understood, and the quality of Hari as the Supreme to be understood based on this (that is, that Hari is not merely blandly superior, but is superior even to the highest of Jîva-s), and that without this understanding, no mukti is possible under any circumstance.”
This objection simply does not follow. They could use this verse to object to “parts of the Supreme Personality of Godhead” but it has no relation to the ability of the souls to degrade into lower species of life.
This is the part I don’t understand at all and where I seriously doubt they espouse true teachings of Śrīla Madhvācārya. Are they saying that degradation into lower species is impossible? Are they implying that jīvas get placed into the material world and they only way from there for them is up and up and up – judging purely by they material bodies they take in each life? Even that doesn’t make sense because if they attribute special features to Lord Brahmā and Madhva as jīvottamas then what to attribute the progress of mere mortals like us? If we get better and better lives as devotees – is it also because of special features in our svarūpa? Why do they insist on linking our material bodies to our svarūpa so much? Even Brahmā and Madhva do not exist in the spiritual world as Brahma and Madhva but as someone else. Their svarūpas and accumulated sādhana might have earned them the placement as founders of our sampradāya but so what? What has it got to do with the rest of us who get born here again and again millions and billions of times? Our svarūpa is not of much help here.
I understand how they might feel offended by the suggestion that Lord Brahmā as the founder of our sampradāya is capable of falling into lower species of life but Prabhupāda here talks about general Brahmās, not ours in particular. From Śrīmad Bhāgavatam we know that even our Lord Brahmā sometimes makes mistakes and it’s entirely plausible that, while dealing with the creation and māyā closely, he might become attracted to lower modes and exhibit lower states of consciousness. It is surely a long way down from his position to that of a worm in stool but once you start rolling with tamoguna everything becomes possible.
Speaking of worms – to us it might look like an extremely degraded form of life but it is actually a progress from whatever body that jīva had before – only humans can accumulate bad karma and go down, animal species can only go up. The body of a worm is attained by someone who was cast into hell and then got a chance to be born on Earth again. How that goes exactly – first jīvas fall down with drops of rain, then they get born as grains, I don’t really remember. Anyway, hell is real and jīvas do get punished there, I don’t believe real tattvavādīs would object to that.
So, they are surprised that we started with Lord Brahmā but any jīva born as a human can become a worm in stool, the only difficult part is how to get from Brahmā to humans, but that is not such a big stretch anymore. I wish Prabhupāda explained the matter in more detail but consider what could possibly happen to Brahmās after their lifespans are up and their universes are due for final destruction? Do they all go to the spiritual world? If not then becoming human is one of the natural outcomes. Maybe not in one step but eventually they will get there. The only way to surely escape the human form of life is to return to the spiritual world, and we can’t be sure all Brahmās in all the universes manage to keep their noses clean and achieve liberation.
Still, tattvavādīs can’t rely on one single sentence here and ignore the entirety of our teachings. We might not be able to explain what exactly Prabhupāda implied there but we take this verse in context and to us it means that Brahmā degrading into a worm in stool is a possibility, not certainty. More importantly, it still has nothing with gradation of souls. We accept the eternal unchanging svarūpa of every living being just as tattvavādīs do and so they object to god knows what here – more to their own interpretation of our take on falldown issue than to anything else. It’s all their minds, they’ve been corrupted by too much internet.