Sakhyam’s Razor Revisited
Published on June 11th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff74
In this article I will address the contentions of Dhanurdhara Maharaja that I missed the main point of his article, that I put forth a straw-man argument, and that I failed to apply Ockham’s Razor to my own arguments. For those who do not wish to read this whole article, I would humbly suggest scrolling to the end and reading the section entitled, “Applying Ockham’s Razor to the Evidence.” This section synthesizes much of the evidence so far about Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual sentiment.
Let me begin by expressing my regret that Dhanurdhara Maharaja thought that I did not see merit in anything he wrote. Although I did say that his review exemplified all-too-rare brahminical discussion and prayed to live up to the standards he set and ended my article by appreciating Maharaja’s courteous and thoughtful review, it is true that the body of my article consisted of refutations of arguments he made in his review of Babhru’s booklet.
In Maharaja’s response, he mentions the spirit of vada in which he responded to Babhru’s article, acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of Babhru’s arguments. This is certainly true and laudable.
I would point out that I was also trying to write in the spirit of vada, yet my task was categorically different. I wasn’t writing a book review, which by definition examines the strengths and weaknesses of an author’s argument. I was asked to address Maharaja’s objections, so naturally it was difficult if not impossible to do this without being somewhat controversial. Nonetheless, as I tried to establish by quoting Krsnadasa Kaviraja’s verse about not avoiding controversial conclusions because discussing them strengthens the mind and helps attach it to Krishna, I attempted to navigate this inherent controversy in a spirit of vada, searching for the truth.
I’m also sorry that Maharaja feels I ignored his point about having sensitivity for the various Vaisnavas who have been inspired by Srila Prabhupada. However, I addressed this point in the section, “The Opinion of an Advanced Vaisnava.” Before responding to the charge that I made a straw-man argument and misapplied Ockham’s razor, I would like to respond to the idea that I missed the main point of Maharaja’s paper, namely when and where it is proper for dialogues like this to take place.
Maharaja may want to consider that many might argue that the main point of his paper was to address what he saw as weaknesses in Babhru’s argument, as over 80% of the arguments he made address this, not when or where the topic should be discussed. So the reason that I didn’t spend more time on this issue is that I didn’t take it as the main point, not only because of the limited amount of time he spent discussing it, but because the very fact that Maharaja wrote a long paper discussing the issue suggested that despite reservations, he was able to resolve them to his own satisfaction. After all, it certainly wouldn’t be fair to give lengthy public arguments and then expect that others shouldn’t discuss them because these topics shouldn’t be discussed publicly.
Furthermore, I think the verse of Krsnadasa Kaviraja, as well as the context of the verse, is strong evidence in this matter. Rupa Goswami’s putting a verse about Mahaprabhu’s bhava on a palm leaf and posting it on his hut for anyone to see (because no one else but Rupa Goswami and Svarupa Damodara could understand Mahaprabhu’s bhava and Rupa Goswami wanted them to) is another example. These two examples are in relation to Mahaprabhu, and there are examples of recent acaryas in Babhru’s booklet. The examples I give are instrumental in making the bhava of Mahaprabhu known and discussed the world over, the Internet included. Thus Maharaja’s question about the appropriateness of the Caitanya-caritamrta verse on the grounds that Krsnadasa Kaviraja wasn’t thinking of the Internet does not seem well-founded. Did Krsnadasa Kaviraja want this information widely disseminated? Yes, I’m sure he wanted it to flood the entire world.
Maharaja says that I made the following straw-man argument: “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.”
So the context is this: Babhru quoted different statements of Srila Prabhupada, for example, “One must realize his relationship for himself. One cannot just jump ahead. When one is ripe and ready, it will be revealed from within…I am a cowherd boy” and “My Guru Maharaja’s rasa is that of gopi, manjari, but I am in relationship with Krsna as cowherd boy.” Babhru then said, “It is virtually impossible to construe Prabhupada’s responses and statements above in any other way than as an affirmation of his affinity for sakhya-rasa.”
Dhanurdhara Maharaja gave this as an example of “excessive and assailable claims” in Babhru’s booklet. He then said, “Even Srila Sridhara Maharaja graciously offers a possible way to read these statements otherwise: “That Srila Prabhupada may have held an affinity within [for madhurya-rasa], and owing to his empowerment by Lord Nityananda Prabhu, he showed an affinity for sakhya-rasa.”
In establishing that I was making a straw-man argument, Maharaja says, “I was making the point that Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s statement supports the possibility that one can see the issue in other ways.” I realize that this is how Maharaja was using the quote. Yes, it can be taken to show that indications of affinity for sakhya-rasa do not prove conclusively that Srila Prabhupada is situated in sakhya-rasa; however, this does not invalidate Babhru’s point that statements like “I am in relationship with Krsna as cowherd boy” are affirmations of affinity for sakhya-rasa. If Maharaja can’t prove that “I am in relationship with Krsna as a cowherd boy” is an affirmation of affinity for madhurya-rasa, then he has no point in calling Babhru’s statement excessive and assailable because this is all that Babhru was saying. He did not claim that the fact that the statements show an affinity for sakhya-rasa is absolute proof that Srila Prabhupada is in sakhya-rasa.
So my point was that the quote of Srila Sridhara Maharaja does not prove that the statement “I am in relationship with Krsna as a cowherd boy” is actually an affirmation of affinity for madhurya-rasa. In fact, when the quote is applied to the statements, it confirms that the statement of Srila Prabhupada indicates affinity for sakhya-rasa. How so? Because Srila Sridhara Maharaja said he may have held an affinity for madhurya-rasa within, but that “he showed an affinity for sakhya-rasa.” One may interpret that even though the statements directly indicate sakhya-rasa they don’t mean that Srila Prabhupada was in sakhya-rasa because he held an affinity for madhurya-rasa within, but nonetheless the fact remains that Srila Prabhupada’s statements showed an affinity for sakhya-rasa. Again, this doesn’t prove that Srila Prabhupada was in sakhya–rasa beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it does confirm exactly what Babhru said, that the statements affirm his affinity for sakhya–rasa. Therefore, it is incorrect to call this statement of Babhru “excessive and assailable.” That was the point I was making.
It is important to underscore that Srila Sridhara Maharaja did not make the above statement in relation to the direct statements of Srila Prabhupada that affirm sakhya-rasa. As I said previously, “When Srila Sridhara Maharaja gave the explanation of suppressing madhurya-rasa due to the empowerment by Nityananda Prabhu, he had much less evidence to consider than that which has been collected in O My Friend! In particular, he wasn’t aware of the direct statements by Srila Prabhupada that he was in sakhya-rasa or Srila Prabhupada’s unique interpretations of pertinent verses in Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s Gurvastakam. Thus it is unclear whether Srila Sridhara Maharaja would extend the possibility if he had been aware of this additional evidence. After all, with comparatively scanty evidence he said that the possible veiling of madhurya-rasa by Srila Prabhupada “cannot be denied, maybe.” Nor was it Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s personal opinion. He made his own opinion clear as cited by Babhru: “He [Prabhupada] is in sakhya-rasa, and he has entered into those pastimes. This is my understanding about his present position.”
In conclusion I will respond to Maharaja’s objection that I didn’t apply Ockham’s razor to my own arguments. Maharaja says, “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.” I said in my conclusion “an understanding that harmonizes the evidence for both sakhya and madhurya-rasa.” So, yes, I was referring to the simplest explanation of the totality of the evidence. Obviously the most simple explanation of madhurya evidence is madhurya-rasa and the most simple explanation of sakhya evidence is sakhya-rasa. That really goes without saying.
As for having the confidence to take contrary evidence seriously without explaining it away, to say this seems rather unfair, as I have taken contrary evidence head-on in numerous places in my article, for example, the “Priya-Narma-Sakhas” section and the “Evidence for Manjari-Bhava” section. Maharaja says, “her explanations of how Srila Prabhupada’s expressions of madhurya-rasa point to priyanarma are tedious and unnecessarily complicated.” I really don’t see what is so tedious and complicated about my explanation that some priya-narmas have Radharani as their gopi group leader. The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu quote is straightforward. Perhaps Maharaja was referring to some other explanation, although I don’t find any of the evidence complicated. By and large, the evidence is verses or purports to verses like Rupa Goswami’s reference to the priya-narma-sakha‘s bhava being referred to as sakhi-bhava.
Maharaja says, “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.’ ” Maharaja implies that my explanation of this statement of Srila Prabhupada, which is one of the main pieces of evidence for manjari-bhava, hinges on my comments about the significance of Srila Prabhupada’s addition of “somehow or other.” That is very misleading, as I gave a comprehensive explanation of how a priya-narma is engaged in Radharani’s service. My “somehow or other” comments are a small side point, in which I say that it is not impossible that Srila Prabhupada’s saying that “somehow or other” he is now engaged in Radharani’s service could be taken with a special meaning. My statement “it is not impossible” indicates that I’m not claiming a high probability. The explanation is charming to one with affinity for sakhya-bhava and possibly has some relevance, but it certainly is not my main explanation of this piece of evidence.
And finally, Maharaja says, “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.” I left it to the reader to apply Ockham’s razor based on the conclusions reached in the article, but I see that I should have explicitly made my case. I will attempt to do so now. I believe this will show that as opposed to disavowing data that is contrary, the priya-narma sakha understanding is the only understanding that is able to harmonize the totality of the evidence, although I remain open to evidence to the contrary.
Applying Ockham’s Razor to the Evidence
Ockham’s razor states that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is most likely the correct explanation. Einstein explained it brilliantly as everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. In examining the evidence in Srila Prabhupada’s life, we find indications of sakhya and madhurya to be prominent. Although there is an extremely high likelihood that a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddanta Saraswati Thakura would be in madhurya-rasa, this is not always the case. Krsnadasa Babaji is a widely accepted exception. Furthermore, this general tendency must bow to more specific evidence. More specific evidence in Srila Prabhupada’s life is found in the Jaladuta poem in which Srila Prabhupada clearly expresses the sentiment of a cowherd boy and several accounts that he directly said he was a cowherd boy. There is also evidence in the form of numerous poems and Vyasa-puja offerings in the early years of his mission in which he is described as a cowherd boy, one of which was published in the BTG at Srila Prabhupada’s request, the mood that Srila Prabhupada manifested in his final days before leaving the world, in which he expressed a great desire to go to Govardhana and repeatedly gazed at a picture of Krishna and Balarama, Srila Prabhupada’s family lineage, the relevance of his establishing the Krishna-Balarama mandira, and the insights of Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Puri Maharaja.
As for evidence that opposes sakhya-rasa, Dhanurdhara Maharaja has mentioned Srila Prabhupada’s father’s prayer for his son to become a servant of Radharani and Prabhupada’s statement that he was somehow or other engaged in Radharani’s service, Srila Prabhupada’s worship of Radha-Krsna in his childhood, and the opinions of Srila Narayana Maharaja and Srila Gaura Govinda Maharaja.
So the test of Ockham’s razor is to discern which is the most simple (often termed elegant) explanation of the entirety of the evidence. Let us first look at the implications of the understanding that Srila Prabhupada is in madhurya-rasa. Naturally all the madhurya evidence will be taken as is. To harmonize the sakhya evidence, one approach is to discredit the direct statements of Srila Prabhupada that he is in sakhya-rasa. However, this leaves the problem of his Jaladuta poem, which clearly expresses sakhya-rasa. Trying to explain the poem in terms of madhurya-rasa being inside of sakhya-rasa has clearly been shown to be faulty in my previous article. Therefore, we need another explanation. Dhanurdhara Maharaja has pointed to Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s statement that Srila Prabhupada may have outwardly expressed a sakhya sentiment, but held an affinity for madhurya within due to empowerment by Nityananda. However, Tripurari Maharaja’s point that Srila Prabhupada expressed a sakhya sentiment before his empowerment, which I quoted in my last article and which stands uncontested, is a serious problem with this argument, and it has yet to be resolved by anyone. The madhurya understanding also has to harmonize the insights of Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja. One might try to harmonize this according to the concept from the Jaiva Dharma that different devotees can have subjective vision of the Guru. However, as I pointed out in my last article, this subjective vision would not apply to Godbrothers, and there is also no evidence from Jaiva Dharma that it applies to external evidence, such as the poem. Thus we find serious problems trying to harmonize the evidence that points to sakhya-rasa with madhurya-rasa. We leave the matter open to anyone to find a resolution.
Let us now look at the implications of understanding that Srila Prabhupada is in sakhya-rasa. Again, the sakhya evidence will obviously stand as is. To harmonize the madhurya evidence, Tripurari Maharaja and Babhru dasa have pointed to the mood of the priya-narma sakha. This is the kind of sakha that Bhaktivinode Thakura introduces in one of his main characters in Jaiva Dharma, as well as the mood of the well-known Gaudiya acarya Gauridasa Pandit and that of Sanatana Goswami’s Gopa Kumara (Sarupa) in his Brhat-bhagavatamrita. As for the evidence that Srila Prabhupada’s guru is in madhurya-rasa, it is already well-established that it is possible for a disciple to have a different rasa than the guru. In regard to the evidence that Srila Prabhupada’s father prayed for his son to be a servant of Radharani, Dhanurdhara Maharaja quotes this as a “maidservant Sri Radha.” I’m not sure of the accuracy of this, as I didn’t find it in the Vedabase. There, Srila Prabhupada is quoted as saying the following variations: “He prayed for me that Radharani may be pleased upon me,” “He prayed to Srimati Radharani that in the future we would become a servant of the eternal consort of Sri Krsna,” and “Please bless my son that he can become a servant of Radharani.” I have already supplied several quotes in my last article that establish that it is not incongruent for a priya-narma sakha to be a servant of Radharani. As they are yet uncontested, I will not belabor the point. As for the opinions of Srila Narayana Maharaja and Srila Gaura Govinda Maharaja, we can accept the Jaiva Dharma explanation of subjective vision here without the difficulties encountered above because Srila Narayana Maharaja is a siksa disciple of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gaura Govinda Maharaja is a diksa disciple. As for Srila Prabhupada worshipping Radha-Krsna in his childhood, the priya-narma understanding finds no obstacle here.
As we see, applying Ockham’s razor comes out clearly in favor of Srila Prabhupada being a priya-narma sakha. Thus far, it is the only understanding that is able to harmonize the totality of the evidence. Perhaps someone else can show otherwise. Of course, the only final and absolute proof of whether Srila Prabhupada is in sakhya or madhurya bhava is to surrender fully to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna and by their grace gain entrance to our eternal home, Sri Vrindavana Dhama.