The Gaudiya Vaishnava refutations of Mayavada

In the previous article, we saw some examples of the speculative interpretations of Mayavada and how they are totally against the conclusions of the sastras, especially the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, the essence of all Vedic literatures.  We also learnt that Sripada Sankaracharya, through his way of vivarta vada or word jugglery, concocted new meanings from the Vedic statements to prove that the insignificant and bewildered jiva is one with God. And that the difference between him and God is only apparent as a result of ignorance.  He also taught that God is impersonal and hence the form of the Supreme Person is imaginary and therefore a product of maya. Bhakti, or devotional service is also an activity in the material modes and a jiva has to ‘transcend’ this stage and ‘realise’ that he is God through cultivation of knowledge. Of course, all the bona fide sampradayas have strongly disagreed and effectively defeated this philosophy through their various works. Ironically, one of the sampradayas that have refuted the conclusions of the mayavada philosophy is the Rudra sampradaya whose preceptor is Lord Shiva, the source of the incarnation of Sri Shankaracharya. A list of these refutations and their authors was also given in brief.

In this part, we will understand the explanations and refutations of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya, led by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. He incarnated in this world to practically demonstrate the ultimate principle of unconditional surrender to God through ahaituki bhakti or devotional service untinged by speculative knowledge, false logic or fruitive considerations. We know that Lord Sri Krishna appeared as Sri Chaitanya for rescuing the world from the various tribulations posed by the advancement of Kali Yuga, especially that of impersonalism and other atheistic philosophies. Petitioned by the earnest prayers of Sri Advaita Acharya, the Lord’s incarnation and the chief of the devotees of Navadvip in Bengal, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in this world to redirect the misguided populace back to the unalloyed path of devotional service.

The two principal biographies of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, namely, Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata by Srila Vrindavana Dasa Thakura and Sri Chaitanya Caritamrita by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami describe the various activities of Lord in relation to fulfilling the ardent desire of the Vaishnavas to convert the non-devotees into lovers of God.  Srila Prabhupada’s personal commentary on the Chaitanya Caritamrita, profuse with scriptural references and quotations from the Acharyas is the guiding light for appreciating and understanding the personalist philosophy of Lord Chaitanya. While the entire literature of Chaitanya Caritamrita establishes the supremacy of the Vaishnava siddhanta as taught by Sri Chaitanya and His associates, three episodes specifically focus on the Lord’s activities pertaining to the defeat of Mayavada and the conversion of the staunchest impersonalists to celebrated pure devotees in the path of devotional service. The simple yet profound verses composed by Srila Kaviraja Goswami, accompanied by the lucid Bhaktivedanta translations and purports, not only defeats the Mayavada theory of speculation completely but also establishes the bhakti conclusions in the minds and hearts of the reader.

These three episodes involve:

–    the visit of Lord Chaitanya to Varanasi and his debates with Prakashananda Saraswati and his group of impersonalist sannyasis,
–    the deliverance of Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya in Puri and
–    further elaboration of Lord Chaitanya’s explanations in Varanasi and the subsequent conversion of all the residents of the city into Vaishnavas.

In this article, we will concentrate on the episode where Lord Chaitanya visited the city of Varanasi, also known as Benaras or Kasi and held meetings with the sannyasis, who were followers of Shankaracharya.    

The advent of Lord Chaitanya saw the deliverance of all kinds of people including those who were addicted to fruitive activities (karma nistas), false logicians(kutarkikas), blasphemers(nindakas), non-devotees (pasandis) and degraded students(adhama paduyas). Even the mlechhas and yavanas, who were accustomed to meat eating and such impure acts, were also delivered by the munificent grace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. However, only the impersonalists escaped from His mercy as they were the worst offenders at the lotus feet of the Lord. They tactfully avoided Lord Chaitanya and as an Acharya, He accepted sannyasa to attract their attention and deliver them from the clutches of maya. Srila Prabhupada explains the reason why impersonalists are categorised as the most offensive class in the following words:

“The Mayavadis say that the ultimate source of everything is impersonal, and in this way they deny the existence of God. Saying that there is no God is direct denial of God, and saying that God exists but has no head, legs or hands and cannot speak, hear or eat is a negative way of denying His existence. A person who cannot see is called blind, one who cannot walk is called lame, one who has no hands is called helpless, one who cannot speak is called dumb, and one who cannot hear is called deaf. The Mayavadis' proposition that God has no legs, no eyes, no ears and no hands is an indirect way of insulting Him by defining Him as blind, deaf, dumb, lame, helpless, etc. Therefore although they present themselves as great Vedantists, they are factually māyayāpahṛta-jnana; in other words, they seem to be very learned scholars, but the essence of their knowledge has been taken away.”

After accepting the renounced order of life, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited Benaras, the center of Shankaracharya’s school of thought. The purpose of His visit was to defeat the impersonalists residing there and teach them the real meanings of the Vedanta philosophy. At the request of His devotees, Sri Tapana Mishra and Sri Chandrashekara Acharya, Lord Chaitanya accepted to meet the Mayavadi sannyasis at a brahmana’s house for lunch. In the brahmana’s house, the Lord attracted the minds of the sannyasis by His humility, gentle behavior, sweet words and brilliant effulgence.

Countering their claim that His ecstatic chanting of the Holy Names is sentimentalism, He established that chanting, dancing and such devotional activities are transcendental and practice of bhakti is the real message of the Vedantas.  

Next, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu pointed out the various flaws and deviations of Shankaracharya’s philosophy and effectively destroyed the sannyasis’ pride in their so called scholarship.  Accepting the words of the Lord, they requested Him to explain the right meanings and conclusions of the Vedantas. Following is a summary of Lord Chaitanya’s explanations:

Vedanta philosophy consists of words spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana in the form of Vyasadeva. The material defects of mistakes, illusions, cheating and sensory imperfections do not exist in the words of the Lord. A mistake is the acceptance of an object to be different from what it actually is. If we consider the rope and snake analogy of Mayavada philosophy, the rope is real and a snake is also real, for unless one has seen a real snake previously one cannot imagine a rope to be a snake. So, thinking a rope to be a snake is a mistake. Therefore the Mayavadi conclusion that the rope and snake are illusions created by the mind is incorrect. An illusion is a misunderstanding that arises from inattention while hearing and cheating is the transmission of such defective knowledge to others.

The final defect of a materialistic person is his imperfect senses. It is useless to acquire knowledge through the senses.  The Vedic process of acquiring knowledge is to hear from the authorities namely Guru, Sadhu and Shastra. A bona fide Guru transmits the knowledge of the shastras exactly as they are presented without any addition, omission or construing concocted indirect meanings. The Absolute Truth is described in the Upanishads and Brahma sutras, and must be understood according to their original statements. Shankaracharya gave up the direct method of Vedic knowledge and tried to present a meaning which is indirect. It is with this purpose that he wrote the Sariraka-bhashya commentary on the Vedanta Sutra and covered the real purpose of the Vedas.

The purpose of the discussions in the Upanisads and Vedanta Sutra is to philosophically establish the personal feature of the Absolute Truth. However, in order to push forward their philosophy, the impersonalists accept these discussions in terms of indirect meanings. Thus, instead of being Tattva-vada, or in search of the Absolute Truth, they become Mayavada, or illusioned by the material energy.

Srila Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati defines Mayavada as follows: "The Supreme Personality of Godhead is transcendental to the material conception of life. A Mayavadi is one who considers the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna to be made of maya and who also considers the abode of the Lord and the process of approaching Him, devotional service, to be maya. The Mayavadi considers all the paraphernalia of devotional service to be maya."

According to direct understanding, the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has all spiritual opulences. No one can be equal to or greater than Him. “ vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti shabdyate” (SB- 1.2.11).  “ Learned Transcendenatlists who know the Absolute Truth call this non-dual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan”.  The Absolute Truth is ultimately understood as Bhagavan, partially understood as Paramatma and vaguely understood as the impersonal Brahman. Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is opulent in all excellence; no one can be equal to or greater than Him. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-Gita (7.7) , where the Lord says , “mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya”- “O conqueror of wealth[Arjuna], there is no truth superior to Me”. It is also stated in the Brahma- Samhita, “isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah” – “The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, has a spiritual body which is full of knowledge, eternity & bliss.” Everything about the Supreme Lord is spiritual, including His body, opulence and paraphernalia. In this material world everyone’s body is just the opposite – temporary, full of ignorance and full of misery. Therefore the Supreme Personality of Godhead is sometimes described as nirakara. This is to indicate that He does not have a material body like us. This means that Supreme Lord does not have a form like ours but has a completely transcendental spiritual form. Not knowing this, Mayavadi philosophers simply advocate the one-sided view that the Supreme Godhead or Brahman is formless. Bhagavad Gita condemns this explanation as follows:

avajānanti māḿ mūḍhā mānuṣīḿ tanum āśritam
paraḿ bhāvam ajānanto mama bhūta-maheśvaram

"Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be."

It is said in the Brahadaranyaka Upanisad: “purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udacyate” – “The body of Supreme Personality of Godhead is spiritual, for even though He expands in many ways, He remains the same.” The Lord says in the Gita, “aham sarvasya prabhavah mattam sarav pravartate” –“I am the origin of all. Everything emanates from Me.”  Mayavadi philosophers materialistically think that if the Supreme Truth expands Himself in everything, He must lose His original form. Thus they think that there cannot be any form other than the expansive gigantic Virata – rupa feature of the Lord. Furthermore, they opine that since everything is nirakara, the conception of Vishnu and the conception of the individual soul are both products of ignorance. They refuse to accept the spiritual body of the Lord and refuse to accept that the living entity has an individual existence separate from that of the Supreme Lord. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord refers to the material energy as ‘mama maya’ or My energy. Maya is controlled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead; it is not that He is covered by maya. Therefore, Lord Vishnu cannot be a product of the material energy. If that were possible, material energy would be greater than the Supreme Brahman. The Mayavadis refuse to accept these arguments.  

Regarding the Lord’s energies, it is stated that “vicitra shaktih purushah puranah” – The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original person (Purusha) has multifarious energies. The living entities are energies and not the energetic. The energetic is Krishna. This is also very vividly described in the Bhagavad-Gita, Vishnu Purana and other Vedic literatures. There are three prasthanas on the path of advancement in spiritual knowledge namely, nyaya prasthana, (Vedanta philosophy), sruti prasthana (the Upanisads and Vedic mantras) and the smrti prastahana (Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata, Puranas etc). Smrti refers to the conclusions drawn from the Vedic evidence However, the Mayavadi philosophers do not accept the smrti prasthana. If one believes in Vedic literatures, one must accept all the Vedic literatures recognized by the great Acharyas, but the mayavadi philosophers accept only the nyaya prasthana and sruti prasthana, rejecting the smrti prasthanaSrila Prabhupada denounces this mentality as “ardha-kukkuti-nyaya” or the logic of half a hen.

In all Vedic literatures, the jiva-tattva or living entity is mentioned to be one of the energies of the Lord. But Shankaracharya purposely claimed the jiva tattva, or living entities to be equal to the Supreme God. Therefore, his entire philosophy is based on a grave misunderstanding and it misguides people to become atheists. Due to accepting these wrong conclusions, their mission in life is unfulfilled. The mission of human life is to surrender unto the Supreme Lord and become His devotee, but the Mayavada philosophy misleads one to defy the existence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and pose oneself as the Supreme Lord.

In his Vedanta-sutra, Srila Vyasadeva has described that everything is but a transformation of the energy of the Lord. Not accepting the energy of the Lord, Shankaracarya thinks that it is the Lord who is transformed. He has twisted many clear statements from the Vedic literature to prove that if the Lord or the Absolute Truth were transformed, His oneness would be disturbed. Thus he has accused Srila Vyasadeva of being mistaken. Since his conception of God is impersonal, he does not believe that the entire cosmic manifestation is a transformation of the energies of the Lord, for as soon as one accepts the various energies of the Absolute Truth, one must immediately accept the Absolute Truth to be personal. A person can create many things by the transformation of his energies. For example, a businessman can transform his energies to establish many factories but he remains the same person. But Mayavadis do not accept this simple fact.

In the Vedic literature it is said “sa tattvato’nyatha buddhir vikara ity udahrtah”.This mantra indicates that from one fact another fact is generated. For example, a father is one fact and a son generated from the father is a second fact. Thus both of them are truths although one is generated from the other. Similarly, The Supreme Lord is a fact and therefore whatever is created by the Lord is also a fact. The cause being a fact, the effects are also factual. They are not illusion. Shankaracharya has inconsistently tried to prove that it is an illusion to accept the material world and the jivas as by-products of the Supeme Lord because (in his conception) the existence of the material world and the jivas is different and separate from that of the Absolute Truth. With this jugglery of understanding, Mayavadi philosophers have propagated the slogan brahma satya jagan mithya – which declares that the Absolute Truth is fact but the cosmic manifestations and living entities are illusions , or that all of them are in fact the Absolute Truth and that the material world and the living entities do not separately exist.

Shankaracharya tries to prove that Supreme Lord, the living entities and the material nature are indivisible and ignorant and hence attempts to cover the glories of the Supreme Lord. He maintains that the material manifestation is mithya, or false, but this is a great blunder. If the Supreme Personality of Godhead is a fact, how can His creation be false? Hence, Vaishnava philosophers say that the cosmic creation is not false but it is temporary. It is separated from the Supreme Personality of Godhead but since it is wonderfully created by the energy of the Lord, to say that it is false is blasphemous.  

Finally, Sri Chaitanya Mahāprabhu explained the Vedanta on the basis of sambandhaabhidheya and prayojana and declared that the Love of Godhead is the fifth and highest goal and the other four purusarthas are like straws in the street in comparison.

Hearing these perfect explanations of the Lord, the sannaysis’ minds changed and they all started chanting Krishna’s name. Thus, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu brought even the mayavadis of Varanasi in the network of His mercy and delivered them. 

In the next parts, we will present further refutations of Mayavada by Lord Chaitanya which led to the deliverance of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and the conversion of the residents of Kasi.

<<Previous                                                                                                     Next>>