I think I’m largely done with tattvavādīs position paper on ISKCON though there are a few points that should be mentioned in general. And then there are links in the “postscript” that explain their position far better than the paper itself.
We call ourselves Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas and everybody addresses us the same (when not talking about ISKCON in particular). As such we say that our movement has been founded five hundred years ago by Lord Caitanya and so it’s younger that tattvavāda or advaita. That’s not how Lord Caitanya Himself saw it, however, and we should remember that even when we use “Gauḍiyā” label for convenience.
In advaita and tattvavāda framework a philosophy is laid out by their founders. Before Śaṅkarācārya and Madhvācārya respectively both of these systems did not exist, especially with tattvavāda. The birth of a philosophical system or a “tradition” therefore starts with writing a commentary on Brahma Sūtras, Bhagavad Gītā, and a set of major Upaniṣads.
In support of this view they cite the conflict with Rāmānandīs who did not allow us to worship Govindajī deity in Jaipur because we were not a “real” vaiṣṇava school. Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana had to quickly compile our Govinda Bhāṣya, a commentary on Brahma Sūtras, and only after he completed it the conflict was resolved and we proved our worth. No books, no philosophy, no recognition. That’s their view.
Our view should be that we don’t need a commentary on Brahma Sūtras because we accept Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as a natural explanation of Vedānta. Therefore “Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism” did not start five hundred years ago in Bengal but it is practiced by every sincere student of Bhāgavatam. We did not start a new school or create a new philosophy, we just follow the Bhāgavatam. Our movement did not start with Govinda Bhāṣya the way advaita started with Śārīraka Bhāṣya, it started with Bhāgavatam. Anyone who accepts Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as the ultimate friuit of Vedic knowledge is a “Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇava” regardless of his origins. Of course nowadays geographical designation is a must. To be accepted as Gauḍiyā one must come in line of Lord Caitanya but for Lord Caitanya Himself that wasn’t a requirement at all. One just needed to accept Śrīmad Bhāgatam.
One could say that Bhāgavatam existed for possibly thousands of years, depending on who is counting, but there was never a school or a movement based on it until Lord Caitanya came along. It’s a fair argument, but, again, to be a Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava one must accept Bhāgavatam. Whether he becomes a part of a movement or starts a new one is irrelevant. There might have been very few people in history who understood Śrīmad Bhāgavatam before Lord Caitanya came along and they did not form a movement or a school of thought but that does not disqualify them from being Gauḍiyās.
Another matter is that until Lord Caitanya the meaning of Bhāgavatam remained largely hidden. I mean everybody read it and was familiar with the pastimes described there but no one accepted Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord or love of gopīs for Him as supreme manifestation of bhakti. No one that we know of – to be correct. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t devotees who appreciated Bhāgavatam at all. Bilvanmaṇgala Ṭhākura lived a few hundred years earlier and he knew the value of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in full, for example. From Lord Caitanya’s point of view he was a true Guaḍiyā regardless of anything else. Typically we say that the science of rasa was brought to us by Mādhavednra Purī but that means it was brought into our Brahma-Madhva-Gauḍiyā sampradāya. Bilvanmaṇgala Ṭhākura wasn’t a part of it but he was still a Gauḍiyā.
Funny thing about Mādhavendra Purī and Īśvara Purī, too – they were apparently māyāvādī sannyāsīs initiated into the order of Śaṅkarācārya. That’s the only place they could have gotten their “Purī” titles. We count them as gurus in the line of Madhvācārya but sannyāsī in that order get the title “Tīrtha” and no others. The explanation, don’t know how true, is that they WERE initially advaitins but later were converted to vaiṣṇavism after meeting someone in Madvha’s line. Well, Mādhavendra Purī converted Īśvara Purī himself, but his guru is listed as one Lakṣmīpati. At this point our official paramparā talks about śīkṣā gurus rather than dīkṣā. Vyāsa Tīrtha, who is listed a couple of steps above, was practically a contemporary of Lord Caitanya. In dīkṣā chain it would have been impossible but in śikṣā he could have easily been a friend of a friend of a friend who first told us about Kṛṣṇa.
Some also say that our connection to Madhva was invented by Baladeva Vidyābhūsana himself who was originally from Madhva’s line but the same paramparā was also given by Kavi Karṇapūra who lived hundreds of years earlier and was born and offered to Lord Caitanya as a baby. Lord Caitanya gave him the Hare Kṛṣna mantra to chant, too. I don’t know what our detractors say to that, except possibly argue that someone edited his works later on.
Anyway, on to the postscripts. The first item there is a letter from a head of a Pejavara Matha to members of ISKCON. It’s short and to the point – he advises us to withdraw any statements that, in his view, appear as disgraceful to Madhvācārya. He doesn’t specify which statements but our devotees understood this to mean the story of Lord Caitanya appearing to Madhvācārya in a dream I mentioned the other day.
We think that it’s actually cements Madvhācārya’s position rather than disgraces him but for this sannyāsī any mention that Lord Caitanya was Kṛṣṇa Himself is apparently blasphemous and so is any association between Mahāprabhu and Madhvācārya. Well, maybe if Madhva appeared to Lord Caitanya in a dream and blessed Him it would be okay but who knows.
The story comes from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Navadvīpa Dhāma Mahātmya and, needless to say, we are not going to stop reading it and preaching from it. It’s just not going to happen. What was tattvavādī sannyāsī thinking? His letter is nicely worded, we can give him that, but did he not foresee that we have no other choice but to ignore it? He could have requested not to cite this story when talking with Madhva’s followers but no, he issued a blank demand to cease and desist. Did he write a similar letter to Śaṇkarācārya’s Maṭhas, too, so that they stopped propagating a false philosophy? Did he sent a letter to the Pope? Or was he thinking that, due to his position in Madhva’s line, he was some sort of an authority to us to order us around?
With all due respect, he didn’t think it through, made a kind of fool of himself, and we have no choice but to ignore him. Another advantage of ignoring him is that we would not talk about this faux pa and would not make unnecessary offenses. I probably just did but only for elucidation of the principle – old people cannot be blamed for anything but listening to them all the time is not very wise either. Sometimes it’s better to pretend we did not hear them at all.