Topic of Debate: Is Sankara Vedanta Scientific ?
Debaters: Shrimad. Chidanandapuri Swami, Shri. Ravichandran C.
Venue: Womens Association Hall, Ernakulam, (13/04/2016).
Organisers: Yuktivada Padana Kendram (Centre for Rationalism Studies).
I call upon the former chairman of Yuktivada Pathana Kendram and program coordinator Shri. Babu G S to formally initiate the welcome proceedings of the program.
Friends, I invite all of you to this debate. All of you gathered here would have listened to and seen lots discourses and debates of Swami Chidanandapuri and Prof. Ravichandran. It was a long standing request for this debate from many of these people. We are very happy that you have chosen Yuktivada Pathana Kendram for the honour of hosting this debate. I welcome Vedanta Pandit and founder of Kolathur Advaitashram, Swami Chidanandapuri to the debate. I also welcome famous rationalist thinker, writer and professor at Thiruvananthapuram University College, Prof. Ravichandran also to the debate.
I also welcome Dr. Arun Kumar, professor at Palakkad Victoria College and presenter on MediaOne channel as moderator of this debate. I welcome all those who have gathered here for this debate. I request both the debaters and the audience to help conduct this debate in the most cordial manner possible.
There will be no breaks in this almost 5 hour long debate. We wish to extend our gratitude to Shri. Manjari Ravindranathan, Jithin Mohandas, and Dr. Anand who have come forward to organise this event and cooperated with us. I invite Dr. Arun Kumar to come on stage to tell us about the debate, its rules and to moderate and take this debate forward from here.
Most respected debaters Swami Chidanandapuri, Assistant Professor in English from Thiruvananthapuram University College Shri. Ravichandran and my dearest audience, those who have come to see this debate, either to solidify their views or to correct their previous views or to reconstruct their views, my most dearest friends and brothers and sisters.
This debate is happening about a construct that was postulated more than 13 centuries ago. When we say 13 centuries, that is not a very small time period. Most of the people in this gathering have not even lived for half a century. There are some who have lived for three fourth of a century. I dont think there will be anyone who has crossed a century in this gathering. If you measure the distance with a rope, a lengthy one at that, a construct that was posited a long time ago will be debated for a long period of around 5 hours. It is a very big challenge. The heat is not at all friendly to us as we can see If there is heat due to the weather is on one hand on the other is the heat emanating from the recording equipment. Along with this heat is the central heat of the subject we are going to debate – “Is Sankara Vedanta Scientific?” is the topic of today’s debate. Cant help, but state that the heat associated with the subject is certainly more than the heat due to weather
However, we believe that at the end of this debate many of you would have a cooler head with clarity to your thoughts and ideas. I will not take long. I will just state 4 points regarding this discussion and let it start. First, I will introduce the subject in about 1.5 mins. I will use these 1.5 mins to elaborate upon the rules of this debate. Then I will need another minute to make some requests to all of you and I will conclude in 15 secs.
As a moderator I will therefore take only about 4 mins at the beginning of this debate. As I said earlier, when you present a topic like Sankara Vedanta, when one is talking about Sankara Vedanta, but before that I believe that most of you are not expert scholars with full knowledge of either the Vedas or Upanishads or Aranyakas or Brahmanas. Some may be adept at these, some may be half knowledgeable and some may have only just stepped into the world of these texts.
Sankara Vedanta or what is today popularly known as Advaita Vedanta. If one goes through the written works, according to Mukhya Upanishads, among 108 upanishads, Sankara Vedanta’s foundation is considered to be the summary of 10 of the 108 upanishads called dashopanishad. This summary is called the Sankara Bhashya. Veda Narayanan contributed the bhashya for the Brahmasutra. After that Sankara also contributed to the bhashya and this is the important source of Sankara’s philosophy known as Prakaranangal, are considered as a source. Commentaries written by Sankara himself and called Bhashyas are considered to be a source of Sankara Advaita or Sankara Vedanta. Stotras also can be considered as a source to a limited extent
As we are all college professors… all three of us are in a way connected to and operating within the college education system. As I understand, Swami is a visiting professor of the Sanatana Chair at Calicut University. Also, Shri Ravichandan is in the English Department at his university and I am in the Political Science Department. As we say in our open defense when we go to get our PhD, source is very important. Hence, in this debate which is concerned with Sankara Advaita or Sankara Vedanta, discussions on the Vedas and Upanishads are likely to go on for a long time. There is possibility of the concepts of Brahman, Jagath, Mithya, Maya, Dravya and so on becoming part of this discussion. It is here that I am going to go into the second part of the rules. As there are many abstract ideas in such a debate there is a great possibility of resorting to rhetorical ploys. Since this does not fully satisfy the conditions of a proper open defense. There is a great possibility of the above methods being used. I am assuming in this discussion that there is absolutely no “holy cow”. I consider this is a free wheeling debate, a laboratory test where all possibilities exist. We are keeping all “holy cows” outside the door of this venue. Even scientific temper calls for such an approach. We have entered into this hall after making sure that all “extraneous elements” and variables are left outside.
Let us move forward here through arguments itself.
For every argument let there be a counter argument, for every idea, let there be a counter idea. Now rhetorical ploys whether they be to create fear or to create “holy cows” or to induce love for a certain thing or create temptation in life for something even if they are in the form of jargons are undesirable is the first point.
Second point is about defective justifications. There are different types of defective justifications. All of you are aware of this… just as one argument is being established, if we move to another argument after building up an argument, smashing it and building up a defective strawman argument, indulging in ad hominems such as ‘You believe in so and so… and therefore you will only say this and this…etc”. Ad hominems are also undesirable in this debate. In front of such an esteemed gathering, I only have this to say that we should at all times stick to the subject.
Now I address my dearest audience. As a member of a democracy and a student of it too, I will have to ban a democratic right of yours at this time. This is your right to use your mobile phone. Please either put your phones in silent or vibration mode, or switch them off so that your telephone conversations do not disturb the debaters. There might be many people wanting to communicate with you. But please refrain from using the phone for these 5 hours and give it to us. That is my first request to you.
As a second request, I am going to retract another right from you. When you hear arguments here that you are in agreement with, naturally, you may wish to encourage that particular speaker by clapping. Clapping and defeating is not the aim of knowledgeable and scientific debates. So, I request you very humbly to refrain from clapping for ideas during this debate. For that is a common man’s psyche. But we have a more elite audience here. And therefore it is better to think and reflect internally on the ideas presented here to find ways of countering.
Now I will come to the rules of the actual debate very quickly.
This is debate that will go on for about 5 hours.
To start with each debater will be given 10 mins to summarise their positions on the subject. Only 10 mins are given and as per rules we were to decide who will go first according to the rules. However, when we spoke, Shri Ravichandran said he would go first and Swami has agreed to it. Therefore, Shri Ravichandran will start off by summarising his position for 10 mins, followed by Swami doing the same.
After that, the first speaker, in this case Shri. Ravichandran will take 40 mins to present his arguments. This will be followed by Swami using his 40 mins to present his arguments. This will be followed by 10 mins given to first speaker C Ravichandran to frame his responses. Thereafter it will be Swami’s turn to respond.
There will also be questions along with the responses. In the second round, it will be the same format. 10 mins will be given to Ravichandran and 10 mins to Swami.
Finally, before we end, it is the slot where you can ask your questions. We have formatted the Q and A so that each speaker gets 60 mins to take Q and A. However, since one person speaking for a whole hour is considered boring… as they say in television language. These slots will be divided into four 30 mins slots. So it will be one debater taking Q and A from the audience for 30 mins then followed by the second doing the same. In this way, there are two hours earmarked for debate/discussion with the audience.
Finally, each speaker will be given 5 mins to wrap up and finish the program. We will keep to the time very strictly. I assure you that my personal convictions as a television presenter or a professor will not come into the picture during this debate at all. Hereafter, my role in this debate is merely a worldly one. I am only the timekeeper, while it is not really possible to control time as time is only a human construct. However, timekeeping is my role. Instead of keeping the normal bell to disturb speakers as is done, I will light up the different lamps on the panel in front of you. When you start speaking, the green light will glow. When there are but 2 mins more to your time slot, the yellow light will glow. And the red light will signal the end of your time.
However, even after the red light glows if you continue burning your ideas away, I will perforce have to ring the bell and put a stop to it. And this is because it is necessary to maintain the time constraints previously agreed to. We all would like to listen to both of you for long, however, please cooperate by respecting the time constraints.
We can call this the waterloo of ideas or whatever. But sitting 13 centuries after the phenomenon, in a big city like this talking of vedantic ideas that got crystallised on the banks of the Narmada, we cannot perhaps miss the irony of the fact that we are trying to debate or posit new bhashyas of such a work of antiquity. We can use this to know better. With this, the debate will start and with your permission, I will call upon C Ravichandran to start the proceedings.
(To be continued…)