Dhanurdhara Swami’s response to “Sakhyam’s Razor”
Published on June 9th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff22
by Dhanurdhara Swami
Vrndaranya asked me to respond to her article. To honor my doubts about the relevance of these discussions, I will be brief and mainly focus on an issue I feel is relevant, namely, when and where it is proper for dialogues like this to take place – one of the main contentions of my paper, and one that Vrndaranya failed to address.
I read and responded to Babhru’s article in the spirit of vada (seeking truth). Throughout my paper I thus acknowledged the strength of his arguments and lauded the substantial evidence he had collected. I then added my opinion that the issue could also be looked at in other ways. Finally, I pointed out a few cases where I thought his evidence was forced, like when he connected Srila Prabhupada’s strong preaching spirit to sakhya-rasa.
Requested by her guru to write something, Vrndaranya did not see merit in anything I wrote. Of course, it may be possible that I failed to make any relevant points – I’ll leave it to objective readers to decide. But her somewhat confrontational stance makes me wonder if she somehow missed my point altogether. So please let me state my modest claims again:
1) Although Babhru made a strong case for Srila Prabhupada being in sakhya-rasa, his attempts to show that there were no other possible options were weak.
2) It’s important to consider where philosophical discussions such as this one should take place.
To keep my paper brief, I will limit my response to one example, where “Sakhyam’s Razor” shreds only a straw man and not my actual argument. There is little need to get into more. Although I gave many reasons to support my case, to address only one now will be sufficient. I also think it will be edifying to correct Vrndaranya’s misapplication of Ockham’s razor as well as her narrow interpretation of Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s famous adage that we should not shy away from discussing siddhanta.
Before continuing, I stand corrected that Babhru never said that madhurya-rasa was only found outside Srila Prabhupada’s mission. He argued that the details of manjari-bhava were gleaned from outside his mission, as far as he knows. I am still uncertain as to the truth of his claim. I wrote Babhru for clarification, and await his reply.
Now, to again state the point of my argument about discerning Srila Prabhupada’s inner life: I argued that it is reasonable to look at this issue in other ways. Babhru, or at least Vrndaranya representing Babhru, argued that it is not. To contest their claim, I quoted Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s direct statement conceding the possibility of Srila Prabhupada’s inner life being in madhurya-rasa, although the evidence, in his opinion, points to sakhya-rasa. Vrndaranya argues that by using Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s quote I am actually supporting Srila Prabhupada in sakhya-rasa. But her reasoning misses my point. I was making the point that Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s statement supports the possibility that one can see the issue in other ways. Directly, clearly, and irrefutably the quote does that.
I also see a problem in Vrndaranya’s selective use of Ockham’s razor in that she does not apply it to her own arguments, which are often certainly not “the simplest explanations of phenomena.” For example, her explanations of how Srila Prabhupada’s expressions of madhurya-rasa actually point to priyanarma are tedious and unnecessarily complicated. A similar problem is found in her attempt to discount as evidence his clear cut and simple statement “that somehow or other he was now engaged in that [Radha’s] service” by giving undue importance to the phrase “somehow or other.” Prabhupada often used such phrases in ordinary conversation, and they are hardly indicators of deep theological significance. To juggle such a phrase’s meaning is unwarranted convolution.1
Again, I am not trying to prove that Srila Prabhupada can only be in madhurya-rasa. Rather, I argued that although Babhru presented a well-reasoned case for Srila Prabhupada in sakhya-rasa, there are good reasons to think he could be in some other mood. Therefore I personally feel that it is best to allow advanced devotees to follow their own spiritual conscience when making the determination.
Beyond just these few clarifications in reference to “Sakhyam’s Razor,” I don’t feel it necessary to say much more on this issue. I am confident in my accommodating conclusion and also satisfied to let thoughtful readers come to their own conclusions after reading Babhru’s paper, my paper, “Sakhyam’s Razor,” and any forthcoming response from Babhru.
The second main point in my paper is that we must consider where such siddhantantic discussions are most profitably held. I alluded to the following considerations:
1) the place (public or private)
2) the audience (its qualification and the relevance of the discussion for any particular group)
3) people’s sentiments (how the spiritual master can reveal himself to the disciple in different ways)
I then gave reasons why I thought some of these conditions apply to this topic, especially stressing the fact that there are contending groups serving under various advanced Vaisnavas who have been inspired by Srila Prabhupada in different ways. I was not arguing for censorship but for sensitivity.
Vrndaranya ignored these considerations and instead cited Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s well-known quote that we should never shy away from discussing siddhanta. Of course, this is true, but that doesn’t resolve the question of where and with whom such discussions should be held. Was Krishnadasa Kaviraja thinking of the Internet when he made his pronouncement?
By quoting Kaviraja Gosvami in response to my proposition that one should carefully consider the best way to hold dialogues such as these, Vrndaranya appears to endorse the following principle: “There are no conditions on where and with whom siddhanta should be discussed.”
I thus think that the proper way for any dialogue on this topic to continue is to first establish a principle to guide the discussion. Is the principle that there are no conditions on the “wheres” and “with whoms” in the discussion of siddhanta, or should a discussion like this one be held more exclusively? If more exclusively, then what should be considered and how will it best apply to the present discussion? Now, that’s a relevant topic for open dialogue.
- Of course, Vrndaranya may argue that she is applying the principle to the totality of evidence. If that’s the case, then she should have the confidence to take contrary evidence seriously and not explain it away. Her hermeneutical strategy is reminiscent of Sankaracarya, who only graced with the status of highest truth Upanashadic statements with which he agreed and who relegated those with which he disagreed to a lower status. The principle of Ockham’s razor is to posit the explanation for the data in the simplest way, and not to disavow data that is contrary. [↩]