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Gaudiyas Vs. Others - On properly representing our tradition

Madhava - Wed, 23 Feb 2005 23:23:57 +0530
I'd like to quote from a post by Evakurvan in another topic where she raises an important point for our consideration.

QUOTE(evakurvan @ Feb 23 2005, 06:09 PM)
I also think it strange to not be curious about the profuse criticisms against other paths, taking those critisisms at face value even if they represent a ridiculously reductionistic understanding of those other paths.

I think a better understanding of those other paths can enrich one's understanding of Gaudiya in a serious way, though it is by no means necessary. It is necessary however to stop the reductionistic dismissive interepreting of those other paths since it will only make people who are knowledgeable in them get a very bad impression of Gaudiyas.

Though the human nature seems to be such that it seeks to assert its own discoveries as great and contrast them with those of others to establish its own greatness, we would do well to tread forth with care and attention in our inter-traditional exchanges so as to not turn ourselves, along with our tradition, into a laughing stock in the eyes of the educated public.

If we are not well acquainted with another's path, we would do well to inquire before we comment on it. Even if we heard of it from our guru, summarized in simple language, we are not in a position to repeat that as our repetition will not be much better than that of a parrot unless we are equipped with the same knowledge our guru had as he reached the conclusions he narrated. In other words, don't repeat without understanding, and particularly, don't repeat without understanding if it is something critical of another's philosophy or practices.

Also, I find it strange that some Gaudiyas deny that these paths are critisized, when it is there in visible quotations, and when you have Tarunji referring to his Gaudiya reading list and the critisims of those paths you find therein.

With regards to the two paths that have been mentioned, namely the paths of Advaita-vada and Buddhism:

Advaita-vada - There is a long-standing philosophical conflict between the followers of Shankara and the Vaishnava-traditions; and by Vaishnava-traditions, I certainly do not refer to the Gaudiyas alone. As a matter of fact, I believe the traditions of Madhva and Ramanuja are far more active in this fronteer. Among others, Sri Jiva has discussed the issue in his Tattva-sandarbha at some length. The extent in which the issue is treated in Vaishnava-texts is by no means a reductionist presentation. However, given the fact that these issues are not all that relevant to all that many, as they are not all that directly related to our direct methods of worship and moreover are often written in Sanskrit in a fairly lofty language, featuring complex philosophical issues, they are not that widely read among Gaudiyas.

Buddhism - Caitanya Caritamrita (2.9) narrates an encounter between Sri Chaitanya and some Buddhist monks (of an unspecified tradition) who were eventually not too fond of him. Sri Chaitanya, the story goes, refuted their conception and eventually converted them to Vaishnavism. However, the discussion is not presented in any detail. Evidently, then, the specifics of the refutation of the Buddhists' views were not considered all that relevant.

Besides that, I cannot think of a single instance in which the Buddhist philosophy would have been given much attention in classical Gaudiya literature. The Buddhists are considered nAstika, roughly translated as disbelievers or atheists on account of their not accepting the authority of the Vedas. Hence, as they are on a different domain, there has been little need to address their views, unlike in the case of Shankara who presented commentaries on the very same texts the Vaishnavas use.

Of course, some contemporary Gaudiyas have seen it fit to present simplistic refutations of any and all traditions they come across. This, however, is not the case in the line I represent, so I am not really in a position to defend them or explain their reasons for the same.
Radhapada - Wed, 23 Feb 2005 23:31:28 +0530
QUOTE(evakurvan @ Feb 23 2005, 05:09 PM)
I think a better understanding of those other paths can enrich one's understanding of Gaudiya in a serious way, 

I do not fully agree with this. Religious faith is something of the heart and mind. It does not enrich one's understanding by dabbling in other paths. Gaudiya Vaisnavas follow in the footsteps of the saints. Most of the saints were not experts, or even knowledable of other paths, nor dabbled in them to see what others think or believes in. We have our own faith to learn and cultivate, why waste time with other's, a Gaudiya Vaisnava bhajananandi may think. Bhakti does not arise from argumentation and debate, but through the grace of Vaisnavas. What enriches a Vaisnava's faith are the very items of bhajan. The items of bhajan nourish the heart of Vaisnavas with more faith and experiences of bliss and sweetness. Contrasting of paths or faiths may have its benefits for those seeking truth in the beginning, but it is trashed out at the end in pursuit of the honey like lotus feet of Sri Krsna, reflected on the sensitive heart of a sincere seeker of prema bhakti.
evakurvan - Wed, 23 Feb 2005 23:35:07 +0530
Here are some things I have already said, if you were to read the style of my posts you would see that I agree with everything you said dead-on.

I think a better understanding of those other paths can enrich one's understanding of Gaudiya in a serious way, though it is by no means necessary.

Also, i think i said Gaudiya is PERFECT within itself and you do not need to become a 'pandit' in other vedanta to be religiously potent.

Bhajananandi. I think I know what that word means, doesn't it mean a person absorbed in the actual bliss of sadhana? I have a hunch the raganugas would also agree these things are to be experienced through japa and kirtan, after all, to my knowledge, it appears that that is all Caintanya ever did, dance around to prove his points, not go around partaking in sastra-battles or scholastic debates. Plus he never even wrote anything except a few verses. Plus, didn't he answer challenges using his own form of performative way of responding instead of getting caught up in the kind of pandit-debates that we are wont to get into? You can correct me if I'm wrong I have no idea.

(Words, even if found in sastra, have only partly to do with the inner meaning of those words and how they are explicated inside your soul during intense moments of sadhana. Words are just words. And sastra words are not always what they seem on the surface, but have hidden words inside them that add often disparte dimensions to them. If it was all about logically understanding the words, then one would read a quote, understand the meaning logically, and be Realized. We need kripa and sadhana to understand anything truly, our own effort of logically deciphering texts with our human reasoning and rationale is a footnote).
Tapati - Thu, 24 Feb 2005 00:19:49 +0530

While I don't suggest it is necessary for everyone to take up inter-faith discussion once they have settled on their own spiritual path, I'd like to be an advocate for it.

My experience has been that learning about other religions has been a way to enhance and deepen my understanding of my own. Other writers and thinkers may discuss a particular concept in a way that increases my understanding of it, or lets me see it from a different angle. Even a contrasting viewpoint can serve to highlight for me why I choose to retain my own belief.

I am as excited by others' spiritual journeys as I am by my own.

Srijiva - Thu, 24 Feb 2005 04:17:02 +0530
This topic brings to mind one of my favorite quotes:

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance -- that principle is contempt prior to investigation.
-- Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)
Mina - Sat, 26 Feb 2005 22:48:59 +0530
Perhaps even more importantly for us Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Australians is the interface between our tradition and Christian (and to some extent Jewish) sects. On the one hand you have Premananda Bharati's aggressive response to the allegations of idolatry that those faiths have lodged against our puja, in which he turns the argument around and makes the same claim against them. At the other extreme you have the people that seek to use gentle persuasion in order to somehow convince them that we are not just part of some cult inspired by the Devil.

With the pope in Rome being in serious condition, I started to contemplate what I would do if I were to be his successor (which obviously is never going to happen - I just like to perform thought experiments sometimes). The first order of business would be to change the whole policy regarding the Catholic Church being the only true faith. The next step would be to get Catholics to take a serious look at what other faiths have to offer, and to get them to overcome their innate phobia of all things non-Christian.

Since there is no historical evidence that Rupa, Jiva and Sanatana had any encounters with Christian missionaries, we really don't know what they would have said to them. Certainly we see a certain percentage of the Christians and Jews that are not so hard line and that possess a healthy curiosity about Vaishnavism.

Knowledge of the field of History of Religion goes a long way in our making a presentation of Caitanyaism to outsiders, in my own opinion. It allows one to demonstrate commonality on acount of the patterns that overlap from one faith to another. It is also valuable, because by its own ground rules it prohibits any type of missionary approach. I really don't see the point in making conversion an objective in our presentation. We just need to provide accurate information and let them decide for themselves.
Mina - Sat, 26 Feb 2005 22:53:44 +0530
Addendum to my last post:

I strongly suggest that anyone who seeks to engage in interfaith dialog should study the standard texts in HR, particularly the books by Mircea Eliade. Otherwise they are going to be pretty much ill equipped for that arena.
Tapati - Sat, 26 Feb 2005 23:45:44 +0530
QUOTE(Mina @ Feb 26 2005, 09:23 AM)
Addendum to my last post:

I strongly suggest that anyone who seeks to engage in interfaith dialog should study the standard texts in HR, particularly the books by Mircea Eliade.  Otherwise they are going to be pretty much ill equipped for that arena.

Why thanks, Mina, and if you'd be willing we'd love to have you post such a reading list when we are up and running. smile.gif I haven't taken that particular discipline, but I did take an Anthro course that covered religion from a cross cultural perspective and wrote more than one paper involving the history of Christianity.

I have had the conversation about idolatry (and many others) with various Christians over the years. I seem to have a knack for speaking to them in such a way that they leave feeling heard and respected, but accepting that I am serious about my own path and am not going to take up their standards. One particularly tense one involved my children's friendship with their children. Once they realized "what" we were (still Vaishnava at that time) I received a letter basically saying, "We won't send our children to you in case you might convert them, but they are welcome here. We won't hide the Truth from them, though." and "The blood of your children is on your head."

My advantage in dealing with them is that I was a devout Catholic and had read the Bible cover to cover. I can't remember what I wrote back in detail--It's been almost 20 years--but I quoted various Bible verses that demonstrated Christ's tolerance and emphasis on love, contrasted that with what she wrote, and explained that while I respect others' traditions and wouldn't dream of trying to convert her children, I could no longer be sure that she would similarly respect mine. (So thanks, but no thanks, to the idea of my just sending my children there.)

I ran into her over the years after that at various events and she behaved more respectfully after that.

I've had other Christians express that they were impressed with my ability to articulate and stand up for what I believe in while behaving respectfully towards them. Usually these conversations involved my children interacting with theirs, as the names of mine were obviously different and we lived in Iowa for several years. They were not used to running into people like us.

I also had a Jehovah's Witness group at my door a few months ago, and when they asked if they could speak to me about their faith (I didn't have time) I simply said, "No thanks, I support you in following your faith by coming here today and I have a faith that I am very happy with already."

The leader of the group simply said, "Yes, I can see that you do." and she thanked me for my time.

I think it is possible to engage in interfaith dialogue even without knowing the other person's faith in advance, if one is open minded, respectful, and willing to learn about it from the other person. My vision of interfaith dialogue is not a debate that seeks to convince the other person my way is the right way, but rather an exploration of how we see various issues of doctrine or spirit from our different angles. In such a dialogue, it is up to each of us to represent our own point of view on the particular area of spiritual life to the other, and listen carefully, ask questions as needed, and come away with a new appreciation for that area of ours and others' faith.

Blessed Be--