Found in Sanga, Sanga 1999.

Scholar: Swamiji, you said that “Karma and jnana are to be practiced by those who do not have faith that the scriptures advocate, as difficult as it may be to believe (particularly for those versed in the religious and salvific sections of scripture), that bhakti alone is sufficient if not more expedient and more far reaching in is scope of deliverance, and that it is available for only the price of one’s faith.”

How much easier it would be to have such faith if the scriptures (prasthanatraya) really said that it were so! But they don’t, and in order to make it appear that they do, one has to be extremely selective in one’s quotations (and/or employ semantic jugglery). I find it telling indeed that you consider scriptural learning disruptive to faith.

Swami: I find it telling that you consider the Gaudiya saints merely word jugglers. Again, I have more regard for Ramanuja. You have concluded that, objectively speaking, Ramanuja has understood what the scriptures actually say. Otherwise Madhva among other saints would strongly disagree with you. Scriptural learning is not necessarily disruptive to faith, but it can be, especially when it is pursued without the guidance of a guru. Sri Rupa has advised that one not read too many books. bahu-sastra-vyakhya-vivadadi-tyagah (in the words of Visvanatha). Many people are intellectually conversant with sastra such that it impedes their ability to understand its import. In our tradition, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya is an example.

Scholar: You said, “Ironically that which you label exclusivism, elitist, and intolerant has posited a scripturally based doctrine that makes salvation and love of God open to all. If for no other reason, the Gaudiyas are justified in claiming the superiority of their path in that it is open to all regardless of birth, learning, etc.”

No. Other Vaisnava schools are equally open, even those more pro-caste. You might not be eligible for study of the Veda in everyone’s eyes, but certainly for Vaisnava initiation and liberation. And casteism (and racism) is definitely well-known in Gaudiya circles, as I am sure you know.

Swami: I really do not think that this is true, although Ramanuja’s school comes close to the openness of the Gaudiyas. Casteism is prevalent in Gaudiya sects in practice, but not in theory.

I would go so far as to conjecture that your own interest in bhakti found its beginning through Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

Scholar: Rather an elementary conjecture, my dear Watson, even if I hadn’t told you so.

Swami: Forgive me, I don’t remember your telling me so. Otherwise, the dialogue is digressing here to a level I am not comfortable with.

Scholar: I am not declaring war on Gaudiyaism; I’m merely annoyed by its self-proclaimed superiority.

Swami: Everyone feels their path is best. At least I hope they do. We proclaim that love of Krishna is best and we explain why. You call it word jugglery and other such things all in the name of your perception of a Gaudiya bias and deprecation of other paths. Others proclaim that Sri Vaisnavism, etc. is best and explain why. We call this a bonafide spiritual understanding. I quote our revered Krishnadasa Kaviraja:

krishnake kahaye keha nara-narayana
keho kahe, krishna haya saksat vamana
keho kahe, krishna ksiroda-sayi avatara
asambhava nahe, satya vacana sabara

“Some say that Sri Krishna is directly Nara-Narayana. Others say that he is directly Vamana. Some say that Krishna is the incarnation of Ksirodaksayi Visnu. None of these statements is impossible; each is as correct as the others.” (Cc Adi 2.114, 115)

We do, however, believe that from the consideration of rasa vicara Krishna is most perfect. If you desire any of the varieties of rasa, you can fulfill your desire if your Deity is Krishna. If you say you can get it by worshiping Narayana through his incarnation as Krishna, fine, but you cannot experience all of the rasas with any other incarnation. This fact means a lot to us and we do make much of it.

Scholar: Which are less attractive and belong to lower spiritual realms where the supreme bliss is not realized.

Swami: Which are more attractive to you.

I do not think that the Gaudiyas are the only Vaisnavas who posit a gradation of liberated experience. I believe the five types of mukti of Vaikuntha are usually considered as a gradation of spiritual excellence by other sampradayas.

Scholar: I have no objection to anyone being a Gaudiya, but it is nevertheless the least universal, most sectarian Vaisnava sampradaya I know of.

Swami: I have a different experience.

Scholar: Actually, I’m not advocating any “school.” I’m just trying to read scripture with my eyes open and see what it really says. And like so many other scholars, I have come to the conclusion that of all the schools, Ramanuja’s comes closest to the Gita.

Swami:

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
prakasante mahatmanah

“Through unflinching faith in the guru the entire import of the scripture is revealed.”

Scholar: As for your Svetasvatara quotation, do you mean to say that scripture can only be understood through the explanations of the guru? If so, there is no sastra-pramana at all; just guru-vakya, and guru must be accepted blindly—or at least not by his adherence to sastra, as sastra cannot be examined independently.

Swami: I think that the direct influence of a sad-guru in one’s life is overwhelming and it will forever color one’s understanding of sastra. Otherwise, the meaning of the verse is clear.

Scholar: You said. “I find it telling that you consider the Gaudiya saints merely word jugglers.”

In response, I never called any saint—Vaisnava, Advaitin, Buddhist, Muslim, or Christian—a mere word juggler. But as a matter of plain fact, there are some very fishy translations and reinterpretations in, for instance, the books of your own gurus (Bhaktivedanta and Sridhara Swamis)—both of whom I respect on other counts. If you won’t admit this, so be it. But you simply can’t make the Gita support Gaudiyaism without some sleight of hand.

Swami: I think that their translations are influenced by two things that may make them appear to be as you have described them. One, they are based on the work of Jiva Goswami, etc. Jiva in particular has justified with his elaborate explanations much of what one might call stretching the sastra in the writings of later Gaudiya acaryas. They in turn have not gone into the details of grammar, context, etc, by which they arrive at their renderings. They simply faithfully present the Gaudiya position in their translations. And two, their work is influenced by their bhava. This itself is the fruit of scriptural study. If you have not studied Sat-sandarbha thoroughly in Sanskrit or Bengali, I would strongly recommend it. You may find a greater wealth in Gaudiya Vaisnavism than you have to date. If you have studied the sandarbhas already, there does not appear to be much of a future for you in the Gaudiya sampradaya. Since the other sampradayas are very accommodating and open in your opinion, it might be best for you to seek out a sad guru in one of them.

ONE WEEK LATER.

Scholar: Swami, I found a report on the VNN about Narayana Maharaja’s statements in which he said that Swami Bhaktivedanta was not “ONLY a Visnu bhakta.” Here is a prominent example of what I am talking about: Gaudiyas do not respect other incarnations. They consider them lesser forms of divinity.

Swami: Well there are many things I could say. I am a Gaudiya Vaisnava. We do believe that in terms of rasa-vicara Vraja-bhakti involves a spiritual excellence that is not found in Vaikuntha. I don’t see how you can get around that. Whether it is “higher” is another thing. This would make for a good discussion. I would find it stimulating. I have pointed out to you that there is a gradation in Vaikuntha mukti as well accepted by Sri Vaisnavas (salokya sarsti, etc). Gradation is everywhere, and partiality is foundational to the spiritual world, as in a lower sense is impartiality. Previously I cited Krishnadasa Kaviraja on our view of the avataras. Our belief in the supremacy of Krishna is well reasoned in Krishna-sandarbha. Sri Jiva has written the entire book around his explanation of krishnas tu bhagavan svayam. It is quite remarkable, and in him you will have a much better Sanskrit scholar than yourself to contend with. There is much, much more to say. And I believe our Gaudiya saints have personally exemplified exalted states of divine consciousness. So without going any further, I must say humbly to your good self, as I did earlier, that I believe your feelings about our sampradaya are based more on modern examples of distortion than on a well-founded understanding of our siddhanta. The example you cited serves to bolster my conviction in this regard. When devotees who are themselves hardly such, hear about something “higher” and use it to criticize other avataras, rasas, etc., they commit offenses with their mundane thinking. Once Sridhara Maharaja conjectured that Prabhupada had affinity for sakhya-rasa. Some of my Godbrothers heard this and complained that he was minimizing Prabhupada. Sridhara Maharaja replied, “What do they think sakhya-rasa is? Is it a bad thing?”

Finally, forgive me for saying this, but don’t read VNN if you want to understand Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Read Sat-sandarbha.

Scholar: I think Narayana Maharaja has read it.

Swami: He told me he had not, only sections pertinent to his bhajana. Anyway, cute answer, I’ll give you that. My points still stand. You read it yourself.

Your opinion is based upon bad experience with “Gaudiyas” who misrepresent the tradition’s siddhanta, not on Gaudiya siddhanta itself. The spiritual expresses itself in various traditions, and in the course of doing do there is always distortion. Speak to me after ten or so years of first-hand experience of real world Sri Vaisnavism or any such sect. You may be an atheist by then.

By the way, be careful to avoid those nasty temples of Siva (as they are portrayed by the Sri sampradaya), and be prepared to be restricted from entering quite a few temples of Visnu established by the Sri sampradaya because of your white skin. Oh, and which side of the Sri sampradaya are you on (there are two branches at odds with one another for the last 1,000 years)?

Scholar: Gaudiyas don’t exactly put up a united front either, do they? Actually there seem to be more factions among Caitanya’s followers than Ramanuja’s. Just count the number of different positions that have developed since the time of Bhaktivinoda—in this very century! What side of this highly polygonal tradition are you on?

Swami: My point here is not to call names or to exonerate the Gaudiya sampradaya from sectarianism, infighting, name calling, etc. I have already acknowledged that this does go on. It is merely to point out that this goes on everywhere. As much as you can find Gaudiyas criticizing the Sri sampradaya, you can find Visistadvaitins criticizing the Gaudiyas, Saivaites, Madhvaites, etc. Therefore it is valid and important to differentiate our sampradayas from their misrepresentation, lest we abandon them ourselves. At the same time it is true (and we will both have to live with this) that as much as our sampradayas are misrepresented, this does shed light on the power of their doctrine to have a meaningful impact on our present human reality. Sudurlabha bhagavata hi loke— “A real devotee is hard to find in this world.”

A FEW WEEKS LATER.

Swami wrote: I came across this recently and I thought you might find it spiritually pertinent to our discussion.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote an article called, “Acyutananda” in the “Sajjana Tosani.” In it, he said that when his eldest son, Acyutananda, started working, he became ill. The disease only became worse, and in his final hours Bimala Prasada (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura) loudly chanted the holy name by his side for the whole night. A little before passing away, a tilaka sign from the Ramanuja sampradaya miraculously appeared on Acyutananda’s forehead. He then said in a sweet voice that he was a Ramanuja Vaisnava in his previous life, and that he had to take birth due to an offense to the feet of a Gaudiya Vaisnava. He further confided that due to the mercy of his brother (Srila Saraswati Thakura), he had been freed from the offense. Soon thereafter he departed to his eternal home.

(No response from scholar.)

End of Part 2.

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