I was very struck by a recent teaching during Svatantra Saṅgha in which Kavithaji shared that in our tradition, there are three types of discussion or debate. It immediately brought to mind certain recent interactions I’d had with a coworker. Reflecting upon these through the lens of these teachings has helped me to see this engagement in a new light.
The first type of discussion is called jalpa. In jalpa, no one is actually listening to each other. We dislike the person speaking so much that we can’t even absorb what they’re saying, much less consider it with an open mind. In fact, we make it personal and attack the person themselves.
Coming back to my co-worker, I could see myself engaging in jalpa – I made certain assumptions about him, the person. Looking back, there were plenty of underlying narratives. “He is old and clueless!” “He doesn’t listen to me, so I don’t need to listen to him”. “He doesn’t listen to me, but I’m a good listener.” This one, of course, made me feel better than him. In this sense, it struck me that when I engage in jalpa, it is to maintain my unique and separate sense of superiority. I enjoy the juiciness of coming out on top! It did not escape my attention that I am accusing him of being a clueless bad listener while doing exactly that.
The second type of debate or discussion is vitaṇḍā. In vitaṇḍā, you are not making it personal or about the person, but neither are you holding space for what they are saying or reasoning with it in a holistic way. You throw stones at the argument without even understanding it.
If I can separate what my co-worker is saying from the person, I feel a mental space open. The personal hierarchy is dropped, the judgment of “good listener” vs “bad listener” fades and it becomes more about the exchange of ideas, different perspectives, and groupings of thoughts. However, I still assume that my particular perspective is “right.”
If I’m thinking of jalpa as wanting to be on top, and vitaṇḍā as wanting to be right, even if I drop the personal judgments, I’m still judging that my being busy and wanting to work at a certain pace and communicate in a certain way is better than his wanting to slowly talk things over in person. To me, an email is enough. To him, it’s helpful to also review emailed information in person. If I am convinced that my perspective is superior, I am still not listening or opening, but rather staying separate and defensive toward him and his perspective.
Kavithaji shared that in neither jalpa nor vitaṇḍā can you actually learn or grow. However, there is a third type of debate called vāda, which translates as ‘argument’, which allows you to do just that. Here, our stance is “Tell me why your thought is better than mine. I can learn from you. Can we find space for both of these perspectives?” In vāda, in order to hold space, you first have to be proficient in the opposite view and the other person has to be proficient in yours. In this type of holistic debate, you truly try to understand and value all sides.
“By listening and reasoning with what they are saying but keeping the person out of it, you will always stay in the space of love.”
If vāda is to fully take in, and if I allow myself to be versed in both viewpoints, then this is like love; now I can truly allow and appreciate how we both are “right.” There are no lurking prior judgments of the person nor of what they are saying…. It made me think of co-creating. I can still disagree with what my co-worker says and present a different logic, but the vibe of rejection and hierarchy is absent. There is space for both of us to be, learn, practice, and make something meaningful and new through our interaction.
“Ultimately, there is only one thing that wins and that is love. Nothing else wins in this world. In everything else, you win sometimes and you lose sometimes but in love, you always win. By love, I mean the ability to hold space, to allow other people to be.”
I look forward to seeing how my interactions shift when applying this more open approach.