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॥