“Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu remained in householder life for twenty-four years, and on the verge of His twenty-fifth year He accepted the sannyasa order.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.34)
It’s a job of persuasion. You have to convince people. Otherwise there wouldn’t be anything different about spiritual life. It would be the same as gambling. It would be like playing and watching sports. It would be like stuffing yourself at the preferred buffet restaurant.
Genuine spiritual life is different from other endeavors. The very name indicates that the nature is distinct from what is typically encountered. The foundational truth is the difference between spirit and matter. Anything that lives, whether large or small, moving or not moving, is a spirit soul at the core. Matter covers that soul.
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)
Take to spiritual life. Follow a path that matches your true nature. You can try it yourself, but trying to persuade others into doing something new is not easy. One need look no further than the arena of politics. One side wants a specific policy implemented. They have their interest groups, which are ordinary citizens banding together to represent a collective.
There is opposition. Sometimes there is legitimate disagreement. The other side wants a different policy. Since politics tends to reward lying, cheating, deception and even legalized theft, the opposition might be rooted in personal interest and not policy.
Watching the arguments unfold on television, many common fallacies of logic are employed. Despite being invalid at the foundation, the arguments are used since there is no other resort. In a logical discussion this opposing side would be otherwise defeated.
A similar effect is there with the acharya, the spiritual teacher who sets the example for others to follow. There is the greatest opposition to spiritual life, and the fallacies won’t work on the highly advanced servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
1. Ad hominem
The acharya says to control eating and sleeping. This is the way of the yogi. Yoga is linking the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. The individual soul is you and me, the spark of the spiritual energy occupying the temporary body. The Supreme Soul, or Paramatma, is God’s expansion. There are thus two souls within each body.
“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)
The ad hominem attack goes after some personal characteristic of the person making the argument. This is a fallacy because the merits of the argument aren’t addressed. For this example, the opposition tries to point to flaws in the character of the acharya.
For this reason the spiritual master, the guru, tries to uphold the highest standard of behavior. They limit eating and sleeping, both for personal benefit and for showing others the way. Even in the case when there are mistakes made, Shri Krishna promises that accidental slipups don’t leave lasting damage to the yogi’s fortunes.
“Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.30)
In the worst case the acharya can turn the argument around. Are there no bad people in material life? The opposing argument is to eat and sleep as much as desired. So, for people who go down that path, are none of them bad in character? Does that not then invalidate the argument in the same way?
2. Tu quoque
This argument comes up often when a new administration takes office. When there is criticism of newly implemented policy or procedures, the new administration points to the past administration. “Well, such and such president did the same thing and I don’t remember you complaining about it.”
This is a fallacy because whether another person does the same thing has no bearing on the validity of the argument made for or against a specific practice. The person steadfastly opposed to spiritual life brings up how so many people are eating meat, gambling, enjoying alcohol, and having illicit sex. The retort is, “Everyone else is doing it, so why do you want me to be so different?”
This argument doesn’t work with the acharya because the obvious counterargument is that everyone is suffering. Everyone is miserable. Employing the same logic, the acharya can point to so many past spiritual leaders. They reached the height of living by following certain standards and regulations.
The best example is Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He accepted the renounced order of life, sannyasa, at a very young age. This insulated Him as best as possible from ad hominem attacks. Sannyasis are generally respected, especially when they speak publicly and offer advice on life. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu set the example for others to follow, so anyone can point to Him or His exalted associates for proof of the benefit of following the bhakti way of life.
3. Straw man
This is where the original argument gets distorted. The distorted position is easier to put down, but this is a fallacy since there is a misrepresentation. With spiritual life a person could argue the following:
“You want people to abandon everything and surrender to God. That’s fine at the personal level, but what about the rest of society? You want wives and children left behind? Don’t you care about children? You want them to starve and die? I don’t know why you would be in favor of that. How can you be so cruel?”
This doesn’t work with the acharya since never is it recommended that everyone give up their occupation in life and retreat to some remote place. The best example is Arjuna, the bow warrior who heard the Bhagavad-gita directly from Shri Krishna.
They were on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Arjuna contemplated dropping his weapons and leaving for the forest, to live the renounced life. After a detailed and thorough explanation of the basic concepts of spiritual life, and how it stands in contrast with material life, Arjuna decided to continue in his occupation, but keeping the devotional spirit.
The straw man fallacy can be turned around on the materialist, as well. Are they recommending that everyone continue to live like animals? They want people to keep spinning on the wheel of reincarnation, toggling between happiness and sadness? Why would they want people to suffer that much?
4. Slippery slope
Interestingly, Arjuna actually employed this fallacy in his famous discussion with Krishna. He was contemplating giving up the fight, and one aspect of his justification was that killing the other side would lead to the destruction of family traditions.
“Due to the evil deeds of the destroyers of family tradition, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.42)
Arjuna created a condition that may or may not occur and argued against it instead of addressing the issue at hand. Krishna slashed away His doubts. This is not surprising because Krishna is the adi-guru, or original spiritual master.
The argument pertaining to the future condition is valid, but it was irrelevant to the situation. Arjuna had a duty to uphold, as he was the leading kshatriya warrior for his side, which was to defend righteousness, or dharma. In the same way when this argument or that is made about what will happen to people in society, the acharya knows how to squash the fallacy.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
The argument says that if everyone took to devotional life there would be no teachers, doctors, medical researchers, or even military men. But that is certainly not what will occur, nor is it the goal of the acharya. Let at least one class of men exist who are dedicated to religious principles, to allow others to follow their occupational duties. The divisions of work and spiritual institution were created by Krishna Himself.
Reluctant for spiritual life to take,
So countless excuses to make.
Some fallacies even forwarded,
That others sinning, why not I too rewarded?
That seeing people of character bad,
That abandoned families situation sad.
By acharya, leader Shri Chaitanya like,
At heart of flawed arguments to strike.
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