Stop Arguing!

Recently I posted a quote by my Gurudeva, Śrīmad Dhanurdhara Swāmī, to a Facebook Page I maintain on his behalf. The quote is: “Argumentative logic is part of the ego of trying to establish oneself to be superior. Once you get into that mood you can never understand God. There is no way you can realize the Absolute Truth without becoming the humble servant of the Absolute Truth.”

The post generated a lot of attention and a few comments displaying a dissenting opinion and an enduring appreciation for the apparent value of argumentative logic. It was my honor that Gurudev asked me to reply to the comments, suggesting I base my reply on the 74th and 75th sūtras of Śrī Nārada Bhakti Sūtra.

Here is the reply I made:

वादो नावलम्ब्यः ॥७४॥ बाहुल्यावकाशत्वादनियतत्वाच्च ॥७५॥
vādo nāvalambyaḥ (74) bahulyāvakāśatvād aniyatatvāc ca (75)

“Do not depend upon logic and argument. They lead to endless debate, and no clear conclusion.” 

What should we do with our intellect, if not argue and debate? Sūtra 76 explains:

भक्तिशास्त्राणि मननीयानि तद्बोधककर्माणि करणीयानि ॥७६॥
bhakti-śāstrāṇi mananīyāni tad-bodhaka-karmaṇi karaṇīyāni (76)

“Respectfully apply your mind to the Bhakti Śāstras, and perform acts which empower you to comprehend them.”

We can justify our argumentativeness by saying that it is “for Krishna.” But in fact we are not supposed to be argumentative, period. We are supposed to apply our minds (manas) in a respectful, receptive spirit (mananīyāni) to the bhakti-śāstras, presided over by Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

“Preaching” does not involve argument, either. It involves respectfully and affectionately explaining the bhakti-śāstra to others. “Tad-bodhaka” (intellectual comprehension of bhakti) arises not from argumentative “preaching” but by affectionate and respectful mutual engagement in “tad-bodhaka-karmani” (the deeds and conduct which facilitates comprehension of bhakti).

Here is the statement of Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja, from Mahābhārata, Vana-Parva 313.117, quoted by the great logician Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī after he was impressed deeply by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu:

तर्को ऽप्रतिष्ठः श्रुतयो विभिन्ना नासाव् ऋषिर् यस्य मतं न भिन्नम्।
धर्मस्य तत्त्वं निहितं गुहायां महाजनो येन गतः स पन्थाः॥

tarko ‘pratiṣṭhaḥ śrutayo vibhinnā
nāsāv ṛṣir yasya mataḿ na bhinnam
dharmasya tattvaḿ nihitaḿ guhāyāḿ
mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ

“The many, many contradictory statements in Śruti (scripture) cannot be rectified by argument, nor is one even thought of as a scholar unless he exaggerates his own differences of opinion. The essential truth exists only with the hearts of great souls, and we should walk upon the path they have chalked out.”

Argument only leads to exaggeration of our differences, it does not lead to clear, unified conclusions. It does not grant vision of the essence of truth. The real path to truth is not traversed by debate, argument and logic – it is traversed by love.

Here is the statement of Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī . In Bhakti-Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.113 he enumerates the 12th – 14th principle practices of sādhana-bhakti:

शिष्याननुबन्दधित्वादि त्रयं यथा सप्तमे
न शिष्याननुबाध्नीत ग्रन्थान्नैवभ्यसेद्बहुन्।
न वाख्यामुपयुज्ञित नारम्भानारभेत क्वचित्॥

śiṣyān anubanddhitvādi trayam yathā saptame:
na śiṣyan anubādhnīta granthān naivabhyased bahūn.
na vākhyām upayuñjita nārambhān ārabhet kvacit.

“About the three principles beginning with not being attached to having disciples, the seventh canto says: ’Never, ever make a big effort to attract disciples, explain many books, or get involved in debates.’”

As the 76th śloka of Nārada Bhakti Sūtra pointed out, it is not that we should be dumb, silly, or voluntarily stupid. We should apply our intellects fully to the bhakti-śāstra in a receptive and respectful mood. It is the absence of the receptive and respectful mood that makes a debate a “debate” and an argument an “argument.” It is what separates “argument” from kīrtan, and “debate” from kathā.

Our valuable time should be engaged in something that will actually make us happy: Krishna-kīrtan and Krishna-kathā. That is why the next sutra in Nārada Bhakti Sūtra says:

(77) सुखदुःखेच्छालाभादित्यक्ते काले प्रतीक्षमाणे क्षणार्धमपि व्यर्थं न नेयम्।
sukha-duḥkhecchā-lābhādi-tyakte kāle pratīkṣamāṇe kṣaṇārdham api vyarthaṁ na neyam

“Thus, give up the desires regarding loss and gain, and at each and every moment, never waste half an instant in something useless.”

Nārada-bhakti-sūtra is telling us that argument and debate (and their accouterments) only lead to material gain and loss. We should give them all up and focus all our energy on spending each and every moment engaged in truly profitable pursuits – the pursuit of genuine spiritual love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Krishna.

The only subject to be considered carefully is contained within the three words of this mantra:

हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे। हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे॥

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  1. Great post. I recall a verse in Srimad Bhagavatam that relates to this. It describes how Krsna cannot be revealed when one has “a polluted eagerness to arrive at the right conclusion”. The verse is SB 6.9.36


    1. Thank you for drawing attention to 6.9.36: arvācīna-vikalpa-vitarka-vicāra-pramāṇābhāsa-kutarka-śāstra-kalilāntaḥkaraṇāśraya-duravagraha-vādināḿ vivādānavasara uparata-samasta-māyāmaye. “They flock to modern speculative arguments and debaters with shallow evidence and useless theories backed by useless authorities of stubborn secterians. What good is that? The Absolute Truth withdraws from this flagrant controversy.”


  2. Your gurudeva’s quote and also those of Narada Bhakti sutra say to give up argumentative logic and argument and Srila Rupa Goswami also says to not to make a great effort to enter debates.

    And the advice given by Narada Bhakti sutra is to apply the mind to sastras in a respective manner…but isn’t this type of warning and advice related specifically to those who question the sastra with logic? It doesn’t seem to apply to the general applications of logic and argument, such as moments where it is useful in debates. You mention that we should be wary to rationalize that we are using such techniques in Krishna’s service, but Srila Prabhupada also entered many debates openly and publicly in confrontational manners and Nimai Pandit was a master of debate and nyaya. I suppose we can also say that the Supreme Lord and extraordinary personalities should not be imitated, but we are also meant to follow in the footsteps of those who lay out the path.

    It seems that the warning given is to safeguard those who are attached to logic as that there is no logical way to prove the existence of the Supreme Lord, so the antidote to this type of mindset is faith and doing those things that increase faith. But I do believe that this sampradaya up until the present time has used many instances of logic and argument to win points to sway the public to have faith in Krishna. Not always necessarily in the realm of sastric debates, but also about whether chocolate or milk is acceptable choices of food for humans and vaishnavas.

    So it seems to me that to use logic and argument specifically in Krishna’s service in order to perform activities that increase devotion may be favorable whereas using such devices to question the Absolute Truth is what is being recommended against. Do I have a point here, or have I missed the point of the article?


    1. One can question śāstra with logic, but one should do so in a receptive and respectful manner – on the premise that śāstra is the recorded statement of those who know more than we do.

      The injunction for the bhakta to avoid vāda (attempting to establish conclusions by debate) is not limited simply to the study of scripture. Logic is not prohibited, but the concept that logic is powerful enough to establish faultless conclusions on its own is fallacious and therefore is proscribed to the bhakta.

      When a devotee MUST enter a debate, he will. Otherwise he will avoid it at all costs. For example, Śrī Rūpa avoided debating with the pandit, and prefered to just sign a statement that he was defeated in argument. On the other hand when sent by his Guru, Viśvanātha Cakravarti, the disciple Baladeva Vidyabhuṣana attended the debate on the validity of Vaishnavism, and thus the Govinda Bhaṣya commentary on Vedānta was born. Similarly, when Prabhupāda had to debate, he would.

      Nimai Pandit was a logician prior to his becoming initiated as a bhakta. After initiating his life as a bhakta he immediately quit his post as a teacher of logic and stopped all his debating absolutely.

      Use of logic and intelligence in a receptive and respectful mood will reveal the absolute truth. Without the receptive and respectful mood logic and intelligence just generates argument, which is nothing but a disturbance of the peace on all levels.


  3. Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi.2.1

    śrī-caitanya-prabhuḿ vande
    bālo ‘pi yad-anugrahāt
    taren nānā-mata-grāha-
    vyāptaḿ siddhānta-sāgaram

    Glories to Śrī Caitanya Prabhu, by whose favor even a child can cross the ocean of conclusive truth, which is filled with the crocodiles of so many opinionated theories.


  4. Very nice post – so relevant and engaging. Prabhu, how do you reconcile the above with statements by Srila Prabhupada like this one:

    “Our business is to point out who is not a saint.”
    (Srila Prabhupada Morning Walk, 10/4/1974)

    While Srila Prabhupada certainly exhibited very loving mood guiding disciples, we also know that he was at times very ferocious in calling out the charlatans and deviations.

    So how do we following in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps without becoming engrossed in argumentativeness?


    1. Thank you Alexander Jī.

      “Ātmāvān manyate jagat” – that phrase answers a lot of questions, and I think goes a long way to answering the excellent question you posed here. The phrase means “what you have within your own mind is what you will think exists in the world.” We look at a pure devotee through our tiny, tiny eyes. And the funniest part is that we claim to understand and quickly be able to “represent” him by imitating the external gestures we see. If an untrained eye looks through a microscope, what can he see. Just blurs and blobs. But a trained scientist knows how to focus the thing and make perfect sense out of it, and sees so many fascinating details. If a grandmother listens to Slayer, what does she hear except screams and noise? But if an ear with a sense for that kind of noise listens to slayer, it hears all sorts of fascinating things. Similar what can we materialists and egoists really see when we look at a pure devotee? All we can see is what we already know – ātmāvān manyate jagat. So we look at Prabhupada saying what he said, and it looks to us like hes arguing and smashing people. And we love that. Just like we might look at a sexy picture of Krishna and Radharani and its appealing to our own base erotic interests. What will our eyes actually see when we look towards perfection? If we do not have perfection in our mind, how can we see it anywhere? Similarly fools see mundane erotics as similar to Radha-Krishna-lila, and fools see argumentativeness as similar to Srila Prabhupada’s preaching.

      Not engaging in argument does not mean being weak and meek. You can be very forceful, and very strongly and clearly present the conclusions of the Bhakti Sastras and show absolute disdain and disinterest in the useless opinions of idiotic fools whose have demented self-tormened, ego-soaked loveless-souless-mindless minds think it’s silly. That is not argumentativeness, that is simple fidelity to the bhakti-śāstra.

      There are all different personality types and all different types of situations. It’s not that one should always be calm or always be outspoken. The right time and place for the right thing. But one thing should always be there – RECEPTIVENESS AND RESPECT FOR THE BHAKTI-SASTRA.

      If you are Prabhupada and extremely highly elevated compared to the mass of people you are dealing with, then you have to be very authoritarian and not let neophytes screw up what you are trying to give and teach. But if you are the rest of us more or less on a par with everyone else, you should always be receptive and respectful even to opinions that you think are not perfectly bhakti-śāstra, although it is certainly important to foremost be true and faithful to yourself and your deep realizations of Krishna bhakti. But don’t look for opportunities to push on others and teach others. Rather, look for opportunities to learn. That’s the idea behind amānena mānadena in Mahāprabhu’s instructions.

      I am rambling on, but I hope you find this useful. I’ve found it useful to write it, so I’m thankful for your comment.

      Hare Krishna.


  5. People may not like it. It may be very unpalatable, but the fact is like that. Satyam bruyat priyam bruyat ma bruyat satyam abruyat. It is social convention that if you want to speak truth, you speak truth very palatable, flattering. Don’t speak unpalatable truth. But we are not meant for that purpose, social convention. We are preacher, we are servant of God. We must speak the real truth. You may like it or may not like it >>> Ref. VedaBase => Lecture to College Students — Seattle, October 20, 1968

    The truth (satya) is propagated in a twofold way viz. positively or by the method of direct support and negatively by the method of opposition. The truth cannot be made sufficiently known by the positive method alone. Propaganda by the method of opposition more than the presentation of the positive aspect brings about more brilliantly in this world the appearance and glorification of the truth. The positve method by itself is not the most effective mode of propaganda in a controversial Age like the present. The negative method which seeks to differentiate the Truth from non Truth in all its forms, is even better calculated to convey the directly inconceivable significance of the Absolute. It is a necessity which cannot be conscientiously avoided by the dedicated preacher of the Truth if he wants to be loyal servant of Godhead. The method is sure to create an atmosphere of controversy in which it is quite easy to lose one’s balance of judgement. But the ways of the deluding energy are so intricate that unless their mischevious nature is fully exposed it is not possible for the soul in the conditioned state to avoid the snares spread by the enchantress for encompassing the ruin of her only too willing victims. It is a duty which shall be sacred to all who have been enabled to obtain even a distant glimpse of the Abolute.”

    ~ Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.

    A chanter of the kirtana of Hari is necessarily the uncompromising enemy of worldliness and hypocrisy. As a chanter of the kirtana of Hari, it is his constant function to dispel all misconceptions by the preaching of the truth in a most unambiguous form, without any influence of person, place or time. That form has to be adopted which is least likely to be misunderstood. It is his bounden duty to oppose any person who tries to deceive and harm himself or other people by misrepresenting the truth either due to malice or genuine misunderstanding. This will be possible if the chanter of kirtana is always prepared to submit to be trodden on by thoughtless people if any discomfort to himself will enable him to do good to his persecutors by chanting the truth in the most unambiguous manner. If he is unwilling to chant the kirtana under all circumstances due to consideration of self-respect or personal discomfort, then he is unfit to be a preacher of the absolute truth. Humility implies perfect submission to the truth and no sympathy for untruth. A person who entertains any partiality for untruth is unfit to chant the kirtana of Hari. Any clinging to untruth is opposed to the principle of humility born of absolute submission to the truth.

    Those who serve the truth at all times, by means of all their faculties, and have no hankering for the trivialities of this world, are always necessarily free from malice born of competing worldliness; and are therefore fit to admonish those who are actively engaged in harming themselves and others by the method of opposing or misrepresenting the truth in order to attain the rewards of such a policy in the shape of a perpetuation of the state of misery and ignorance. The method which is employed by the servant of the good preceptor for preventing such misrepresentation of the truth is a part and parcel of the truth itself. It may not always be pleasing to the diseased susceptibilities of deluded minds, and may even be denounced by them as a malicious act with which they are only too familiar, but the words of truth from the lips of a loyal and humble servant of Hari possess such benefi-cent power that all effort to suppress or obstruct them only serves to vindicate to impartial minds the necessity of complete submission to the absolute truth as the only cure of the disease of worldliness. Humility that is employed in the unambiguous service of the truth is necessarily and qualitatively different from its perverted prototype, which is practiced by the cunning people of this world for gaining their worldly ends. The professors of pseudo- humility have reason to be afraid of the preachings of the servants of Hari (those whose duty it is to expose the enormous possibility of mischief possessed by the many forms of so- called spirituality), when they are taken to task for serving the untruth.

    So, we have to understand what is the BASIS of FOUNDATION of the teachings of an acarya or any person for that matter. And to understand the teachings of acharayas, the listener should be sara-bhuk (SB 1.8.17) like Maharaja Pariksit. He should be able to extract the essence of the message otherwise even the most straight forward and clear statements will appear to be sabda jala maharanyam and will bewilder the person – chitta brahmana karanam. The essence of the teachings of acaryas come from the mood of service to Krishna exhibited by them at every moment of their lives. The ‘mood’ or ‘intention’ of any person is a subtle entity and is not always easily percieved. Subtler than ‘precept’ is ‘practice’ and even subtler is the ‘mood’ or ‘intention’ that drives the ‘practice’ as well as the ‘precept’. A vast majority of people are carried away or turned away just by the ‘precept’ and do not even bother to see the ‘practice’ or acharan of the orator. Even those with better intelligence who try to probe into the ‘practice’ or acharan exhibited by an acharya are bewildered because of various wrong and preconcieved notions and their sheer inability to access the ‘mood’ exhibited by an exalted acharya. The latter category of people comprise of various kinds including those who envision a sadhu as someone holding a rose in their hand and carrying a big smile. There are many instances where people couldn’t understand the mood of Srila Prabhupada and left from the audience because they thought that SP’s conduct was improper. One such case is where Srila Prabhupada asked a belligerent hippie to come on stage in the midst of a pandal program in Delhi and picked up a heated argument with him. If one is unable to percieve the mood of an acharya and extract the essence of his message, he can come to a wrong conclusion based on his selective hearing or from that which appeals to his muddled consciousness.


    1. A short reply – in agreement and simplification of what you’ve kindly submitted: I think people misunderstand the phrase, “Stop Arguing!” It means “stop trying to prove that you’re better than anyone else.” If your intention is to present the conclusions of Bhakti-Sastra clearly and directly without dilution, then you are welcome to use any gentle or harsh, positive or negative technique to do so, and we will not call it argument.

      Since the conditioned nature of ego is so vividly to defend its superiority, we reccomend erring on the side of respectfulness.

      Not that I ever really follow this reccomendation very well, but here I am trying to represent Gurudeva only.


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