"Day after day countless living entities in this world go to the kingdom of death. Still, those who remain aspire for a permanent situation here. What could be more amazing than this?" (Maharaja Yudhishthira speaking to Yamaraja, Mahabharata, Vana-parva, 313.116)
If you’re really cornered in an argument, if the other side has you stuck on a position that is just not a winning one, you can always rely on the ad hominem attack to help you out. If you’re wise enough to know that your argument doesn’t hold any merits from the outset, you can employ the attack right away and save yourself the headache of dealing with logic and reasoning. While the technique is correctly labeled a fallacy, it works in the public arena, especially in an era where knowledge is more commonly accepted through sight than through sound.
What is the defect in sight?
Images appeal to emotion, while sound appeals to intellect. Intellect is superior to emotion when judging the proper course of action. If you’re at work and someone keeps agitating you with their boorish behavior, what is the proper response? The intellect says to ignore it, as the job pays you a salary that maintains your lifestyle. You are not a bad person. What others say to you is not a reflection on your character. Rather, it is a reflection on theirs, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong. Why should someone else’s stupid words upset you?
Emotion says to fight back. “I’d sure like to let this person have it. Just one time, I want to tell them off. They’re useless to the company. They don’t do anything but sit back and criticize others. If they were asked to do something, they couldn’t take charge. They have no courage of their own. As soon as they point out a flaw in someone else, they buy some more time. They think they prove their worth by nitpicking the work of others, while not providing any tangible help in the process. Such a useless person deserves no respect.”
If you follow emotion in this case it will likely be to your detriment. In the same way, if you are swayed only by the emotional response to images and short sound bites played on television, then you won’t delve deeper into the issue. With respect to politicians, stories about how many houses they own, where they went to vacation, whether or not they sipped water during a speech, and how much they earn in a year are meaningless. Even what they say during a televised speech and how well they speak are meaningless. They are politicians holding political office after all. The laws they pass are what affect the people; not just the words. Anyone can say anything; it’s how they act in office that matters. Yet the coverage on television rarely focuses on what is actually done or what real impact a piece of legislation will have. This is because emotion works when trying to sell a losing argument.
And through that same medium, personal attacks on others work as well. If you can find any odd statement that a person has made, you can use that against them. Never mind the fact that everyone makes mistakes or that every person is flawed to some degree. Just shine the public spotlight on that blemish and watch your problems disappear. In times past, such tactics were used to suppress critics of the government. People were labeled as belonging to this party or that, and then blacklisted for what they were accused of believing.
With knowledgeable devotees of the Supreme Lord, the arguments presented in favor of devotional service are without flaws. That is because they were originally heard from God Himself, who passed on that information through notable personalities in the subsequent generations. The teachings of the devotees can be summarized as such:
“Human life is meant for realizing God. The spirit soul is what identifies each of us. The body is a covering composed of the material elements. It is temporary and destined for destruction. Why should a perishable lump of matter be the primary focus for the superior living being, whose intelligence indicates an active spirit? God is not sectarian; He is for everyone. It is the soul’s dharma, or essential characteristic, to serve. That dharma is seen in all activities, where service is the driving component. God is the ideal object of service; all other objects are thus flawed, which leads the person offering the service to feel unsatisfied. Turn yourself to God by chanting His names, reading about Him, and worshiping His deity. Avoid behavior that makes it difficult to realize His true nature.”
Seems well and good, no? Nothing too controversial here. Ah, but the truth of the creation’s origin is what leads to the controversy. We are not just spirit souls who randomly entered into these perishable bodies. There was a choice in the matter. To serve God is to live in transcendence; real freedom. To serve yourself is bondage, and it has a commensurate playing field. The material world is thus the home for the souls who don’t want to serve God. As soon as their desires shift back to the right place, they follow a path destined for liberation, a return trip to the original home.
The souls who don’t make that choice are violators of the original dharma. Therefore they will not take too kindly to the teachings of the devotees. While the material is flawed, the spiritual is not. Therefore the spiritually infused devotees will always have arguments that are superior to the materialists’. Left with no other choice, the ad hominem attack is the savior for the materialist defiant of God’s will. Their arguments will be along the lines of the following:
“Look at those devotees. They couldn’t make it in life so they decided to worship an imaginary figure. They couldn’t figure out how to earn money, so they convinced themselves that they could live with very little. They worship cows and don’t eat meat. They worship these strange gods from a primitive time. They are taken in by mythology and hocus pocus. They are crazy to think that living entities control the planets and the elements. They are insane to believe that God can have a form and that originally He is bluish in hue and all-attractive in features.”
Take just one of these practices that seems strange to most and you have a good way of discrediting the devotees as a whole in the realm of public debate. Nevertheless, the practice of the devotees is not dependent on anyone. To be a surrendered soul means to accept the mercy of the Supreme Lord for everything. He ensures that His dependents can always stay connected with Him. Whether a million people think they are crazy or only a few has no bearing on their practice.
And in actuality, no one is crazier than the person who thinks that through imitating the animals they can be happy. The animals don’t worry about mortgage payments, unrequited love, the national debt, healthcare costs, or the price of gasoline. They eat, sleep, mate and defend without a problem. The human being is supposed to be more intelligent, and yet through imitating the animals they find a more hellish life. Is not the person who tries to imitate the flying of the birds insane, considering the fact that the bird already flies through nature’s arrangement? Is the bird superior to the human being? What, then, will flying do for the human being? Should not the advancement of the species correlate to an increase in real intelligence?
Maharaja Yudhishthira, a famous king from an ancient time, once remarked that the most amazing thing in life is the fact that people don’t think they are going to die even after they see so many others, including their elders, leave this world. It’s an interesting point if you think about it. Are we not crazy to act as if we’re never going to die, when we know that we are? Wouldn’t an intelligent person seek to find answers to the mysteries of birth and death?
The devotees understand such mysteries through hearing Vedic wisdom. This process is known as shravanam and it appeals to the intellect. From hearing faultless knowledge, one can use their pure emotion to serve God, thereby showing real intelligence. Call them fanatical or call them brilliant, but regardless the wisest souls in this age always chant the holy names in full ecstasy: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
When in argument about to lose,
To resort to personal attack can choose.
When not one good retort exists in your hand,
Discredit your opponent all across the land.
Just one strange practice of the devotees take,
And as oddball their public persona make.
On the devotees’ practice this has no bearing,
Only in real wisdom interested in sharing.
One who imitates animals at any cost,
Shows that their intelligence is really lost.
Hearing from shastra the intellect to appeal,
In bhakti pure ecstasy towards God to feel.