Returning to a post from day before yesterday – why is it that we are so different from all other students of Vedic literature?
Yesterday I talked about Sankaracarya’s translation of a controversial verse and how vaishnava acaryas don’t agree on its details either. At the end of the day everyone interpreted to fit with his own preconceived doctrine, so what makes us so different?
It was a typical example of dissecting Sanskrit verses and using grammar and dictionaries to extract a meaning, everyone did it regardless of the tradition. Results were different, of course, but the approach wasn’t. So, if we all use the same method, all use the same grammar rules, all use the same strategy of trying to fit whatever is said into an existing doctrine, what makes us in “not ducks”?
I think that it’s one of those cases where external activities of devotees are indistinguishable from non-devotees. Usually we take it to mean that devotees go to work just the same, take the money just the same, support their families just the same, but in this case the concept needs to be extended to studying shastra, too, which is somewhat unexpected.
In reality, however, it’s unavoidable. The books are the same, the grammar is the same, the goal is the same, so we can’t really do it any differently. I mean if we want to produce a commentary in support of a certain idea and we want this commentary to be accepted by others then we have to follow the rules. We have to resort to grammar and logic, we have to follow the format, we have to present it in the same way – written down in a decipherable form, there really isn’t any other option.
If we wanted to reach out to devotees and share our appreciation for the Lord then we would ditch grammar discussion, we would ditch alternative non-devotional readings so that we don’t have to refute them, we would ditch logic and rationality and simply talk about the Lord. The resulting work would not be acceptable to non-devotees, of course, and it would not be satisfying for devotees seeking solid arguments in defense of our siddhanta either.
Srila Prabhupada used both approaches. His Bhagavad Gita As It Is was a book meant for the masses, as an appeal to a neutral reader. His Srimad Bhagavatam was meant for devotees but it was still full of lessons on the superiority of the Vedic way of life. We take lots of arguments against atheists from there. Caitanya Caritamrita, otoh, was strictly a devotional literature without any appeals to doubting outsiders.
Srimad Bhagavatam is, of course, an amala purana dedicated solely to glorifying the Lord but Srila Prabhupada wanted to present it to a wider audience and he really wanted to convert westerners to its superior message, so there had to be a degree of logic and rationality. Even when he was writing for our own education he still had to talk in our language, gradually convincing us to accept each and every aspect of daivi varnasrama. He couldn’t afford to simply share the taste for Lord’s nectarian pastimes. There’s still a lot it there, though, more than we can possibly appreciate, but the point stands – when we have any other goal rather than glorifying the Lord we have to follow rules other than simply chanting the names and reciting pastimes. It was for our spiritual benefit and it was a perfect sankirtana but it is an explanation of why it had to contain a certain amount of philosophy, too.
Caitanya Caritamrita was largely free of these constraints. It didn’t argue for anything but simply told us the siddhanta, and once the Adi lila was over it was all only about pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Even Mahaprabhu’s teachings delivered to Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, even the arguments presented to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya were full of sweetness and nectar and didn’t entertain even a shred of doubt in Lord’s message. I mean, unlike the verse from Gita I talked about yesterday, there is nothing to argue with Caitanya Caritamrita at all. There are no different interpretations, no arguments meant for outsiders, it’s all more like “if anyone has any doubt in Lord Nityananda I will personally kick them in the head” line from Caitanya Bhagavata, and that’s all the author had to say about opposition.
So, how should we treat other books that are written by devotees but otherwise follow non-devotional norms? If it’s written by a bona fide acarya we simply accept it as siddhanta but we can’t use this argument when talking to atheists of mayavadis. We need to prove that acarya’s opinions are correct and so we need to resort to the same grammar and logic as atheists.
There are also cases when we have disagreements among ourselves, like with Flat Earth theory or female diksha gurus or falldown from Vaikuntha. We all read exactly the same books, have the same respect for our acaryas, and still we can’t agree on our interpretations. What do we do then? Resort to grammar and logic just like the atheists, sadly.
The argument is often put this way – this or that acarya was certainly authorized by Krishna to spread the glory of the holy name but it doesn’t mean he was omniscient and on certain matters he could have made mistakes. Insisting on acaryas being always correct is foolish and go against all evidence. Prabhupada had to be taught how to use the dictaphone, for example, and on the subject of the structure of the universe he sought help from the outsiders or referred people to Bhagavatam instead of clearly explaining it in his own words.
The other side says that treating acaryas as fallible is a great offense and their every word should be taken literally as the Absolute Truth. It’s all confusing and I think it puts us into a wrong framework where we discuss irrelevant things.
The gift of a guru is transcendental realization of the Lord. We are supposed to receive direct spiritual knowledge and free ourselves from shackles of the material nature so why are we still arguing how these things appear to those in spiritual ignorance? Why do we still care for logic and grammar and things being right and wrong?
If we do our job right we should be elevated above such petty arguments. We should not be interested in reliving experiences of conditioned beings and solving their silly right-wrong puzzles just as we are not interested in sorting out who was right and wrong in a kindergarten sandbox fights. That’s all what these debates should be for grown up devotees – little kids taking themselves way too seriously.
When an adult steps into a kindergarten dispute he would speak the language understandable to kids and appeal to their level of logic but it doesn’t mean he follows their train of thought, he only appears to be talking on their level. He might talk and walk like a duck but he isn’t a duck and neither are devotee commentators on Vedic literature. They speak from the position of knowledge of the Absolute Truth, not from the position of ignorance and using faulty brains to arrive at meanings.