Now we are at the very end of tattvavāda “position paper” on ISKCON. It would have been the end of the series, too, if not for the postscript notes that saved the best for last, so to speak. In fact, their entire paper needs to be viewed in the context presented in those notes rather than only on its own. It doesn’t hold much water as it is, however, and this last section is a good example why it should not be taken seriously, never mind apparently strong philosophical arguments presented earlier.
This section is called “Peculiar views of tradition” and of those they list three – acceptance of Lord Caitanya as an incarnation, the existence of Rādhā, and a “false attribution” of a book most have never heard of to Śrīla Madhvācārya.
Over the years the topic of Lord Caitanya’s divinity had risen again and again. We have a collection of śāstric quotes that support our view and others come and either refute them one by one or reject our sources as authentic. Sometimes ślokas cannot be found in existing texts, sometimes different extant versions render them differently, sometimes they can be interpreted differently – this battle can go on forever, most drop it because they get bored or tired of arguing. Maybe some neophytes can be swayed by such arguments but they utterly fail to impress real devotees of this or that tradition. I mean I seriously doubt that arguments for Lord Caitanya’s divinity ever changed the minds of those who spend so much time trying to prove that He was a mere mortal. They unavoidably commit many offenses and close their hearts to receiving His mercy, and without Lord’s mercy no one can see Him as the Lord. Without seeing Him as the Lord they won’t take any dry arguments for His divinity seriously even if they somehow accept them as proof, which is also very unlikely to happen. Similarly, for devotees in line of Lord Caitanya arguments against His divinity look ridiculous because they deny the obvious – that Lord Caitanya is the Lord of our hearts and souls.
In any case, I was expecting a long list of refutations against our claims but all this group of tattvavādīs had to say is that our interpretation of kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ verse is “baseless” (SB 11.5.32). They do not offer any reasons why it is baseless and so it is impossible to guess how they come to this conclusion. It’s just a word that appears out of nowhere and therefore cannot be taken seriously. Once again, I was expecting better from a tradition that prides itself on the precision of its philosophy.
Speaking of which, I would also take the note how they presented our “peculiar views”: “There are also some beliefs peculiar to ISKCON which are not shared by any of the three major Vedânta schools.” Why did they take “three major Vedânta schools” as some sort of a standard against which to measure our peculiarity? I think this self-affiliation gives them away as dry philosophers devoid of true spiritual knowledge. Let me explain.
By three schools here they mean Śaṅkara’s advaita, Śrī Rāmanuja, and themselves. They think, as I pointed out in last post, that they have philosophically defeated all of them and that victory, I believe, created some sort of a karma for them where they think they are the best among equals – they need to have respect for their enemies to engage them in the first place. That way their victory has value to them, otherwise what would be the point? They might as well have defeated a child playing in a sandbox and philosophizing about the world.
The philosophical nature of the debate also established the value of arguments as pramāṇa for them. They do not care for actual devotion anymore, nor for Lord’s manifested mercy, only arguments matter. In that way they are far more like advaitins than like vaiṣṇavas. This is why, I think, in a discussion with Gauḍiyās they self-identify themselves as philosophers akin to advaitins rather than as fellow devotees. That’s why they do not say “in three other major vaiṣṇava schools”.
In fact, other vaiṣṇava schools have their own underlying philosophical systems as well. Not only Śrī vaiṣṇavas but also followers of Nimbarka and Vallabhācārya offer variations of dvaita and bhedābheda but their existence is not even acknowledged by these so-called tattvavādīs. That is another argument that these people see themselves as philosophers first and as devotees later. It also shows that they think tattva, the Truth, rises out of arguments rather than revealed by the Lord within our hearts. They really behave like atheists here.
One could say that we, too, put śabda pramāṇa above all others and personal experience of transcendence does not even matter in debates with others but the key difference is that śabda for us IS a revelation, it immediately fills a proper recipient with transcendental knowledge and understanding. Unprepared hearers, however, only see the lowest, most mundane meanings of the verses. When we say “śabda” we mean revealed knowledge that is actually revealed to those who receive it, not mere printed words meant for playing with by mental speculators. When we say “śabda” we mean Absolute Truth in light of which all other phenomena must be explained. When they say “śabda” they mean some bricks for building their own theories.
Based on these common bricks of Brahma Sūtras, Gītā and Upaniṣads, “three major Vedānta schools” build three different theories, of which tattvavādīs think theirs is the best. Advaitins do not consider themselves defeated in any sense, btw, and Śrī Vaiṣṇavas probably were dragged into this grouping without asking.
Anyway, next there’s an objection to what looks like a story of Lord Caitanya appearing to Madhvācārya in a dream, which is told by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in Navadvīpa Dhāma Māhātmya. Or maybe they mean something else – they do not say what exactly it is they are objecting to here. They basically say that because their own biographies of Śrīla Madhvācārya do not mention any such dreams they must be untrue. Fair enough, but that is not enough to claim that it would have been impossible and that absence of their records disproves Lord Caitanya’s divinity. I have to check, but quite often Lord Caitanya explicitly prohibited people He revealed Himself to from disclosing it to others. That would explain why Madhvācārya did not share this dream with anyone. It doesn’t prove that it, indeed, happen, but that is the matter with our own authorities. We accept them and tattvavādīs don’t, no big deal. Accusing Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura of fabricating false stories IS a big deal, however, and a real vaiṣṇava would have threaded here carefully. This once again shows that our objectors are more of mental speculators than devotees.
I thought I would finish this section today but, alas, it was not to be. There are a few more points there I must leave for another day.