Once when I was in Madras, I met a big scholar of the Madras school, a professor named Nagaraja Sharma. He wrote a book, and there he criticised Dr. Radhakrishnan and another prominent Indian scholar who wrote many things about Indian philosophy. His argument was that these two Indian scholars are really disciples of the Western philosophers, not the Eastern. The Eastern method to approach the truth is different from the Western. The Western method is through intellect: to try to think out the ontological in an intellectual way. The Eastern method is to live a life of truth practically, not only intellectually. Pranipat, pariprasna, and seva: surrender, enquiry, and service. According to Eastern method, without seva [service] and merely by intellect, we cannot attain the real thing. On this point, Nagaraja Sharma criticised Radhakrishnan and Sulan Das Gupta.
I met this Nagaraja Sharma at a meeting on the birthday of Madhva Acharya. He welcomed me and made me the president of the meeting. The president is required to give an introductory lecture, and during that I spoke about Sriman Mahaprabhu’s teaching:
trnad api sunichena taror iva suhisnuna
amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih
[“One who is humbler than a blade of grass, tolerant like a tree, prideless, and respectful to all is able to always chant the Lord’s Holy Name.”]
After this in his lecture, Nagaraja Sharma made a remark about my introduction. He said that if we think ourselves to be very low, then how can we attain a big thing? By thinking oneself to be of the lowest order as is taught in this verse trnad api sunichena, we cannot have any hope of attaining something great. This was his argument.
After his lecture, it was the president’s duty to say something at the end. So, I said that one who is in the relativity of a big thing can only think of oneself as humble and low. As much as one has the conception of a big thing, so much so in the relativity of that, one thinks oneself to be very small. One who sees oneself to be big, however, must have one’s attention on something small. When one has a conception of the Infinite, one sees oneself as infinitesimal. If one thinks there is a great Infinite, one must think oneself to be very small in relation to that. So, humility does not stand in the way of realisation of the biggest thing. It is, rather, the qualification for such realisation.
Spoken in 1978.
In the 1930s, a debate between Dr. Radhakrishnan and Dr. Nagaraja Sharma was published in a newspaper in Chennai (then known as Madras) as a series of articles. Each scholar put forth arguments for their respective views, the first being an advaitavadi, proponent of impersonalism and non-dualism, and the second being a dvaitavadi, proponent of theistic dualism. Local adherents of both schools began to dialogue and eventually a debate was organised with an agreement that it be presided over by a member of Sri Gaudiya Math.
Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj was appointed the president of the meeting, and as he accepted this honour he commented to the effect, “Although I am unworthy of this honour, I have accepted it to fulfil the request of the Vaisnavas and honourable members of our society.”
When Dr. Nagaraja Sharma began his address, he referred to Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s humble acceptance of the presidency as he pointed out a contrast between advaitavadis and dvaitavadis: the first group introduce themselves by saying, “Aham brahmasmi: I am the Absolute” while the dvaitavadis introduce themselves by saying, “Daso ’smi: I am your servant.”
When he remarked, however, that the humility shown by Vaisnavas in their conduct is not actually necessary, Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj made it a point to address this in his concluding remarks to ensure the divine humility taught by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu be clearly understood by all.