Modi refers to an interesting episode between Adi Sankara and Mandana Mishra to bring out the very essence of an enlightening debate. Centuries ago, debates, aka Nyaya-sastra or Tarka-sastra were the main methods of learning and understanding. Debates were in a context and
Logic or reasoning were, of course, indispensable to them.Tarka is the process of questioning and cross-questioning that leads to a particular conclusion. It is a form of supposition that can be used as an aid to the attainment of valid knowledge.
Another incident related to debates and Adi Sankara was, when Sankara was about to depart from this world, his disciples requested him for a brief upadesa (discourse). It was then that he imparted his succinct teaching in the form of five stanzas which go by the name of Upadesa-Pancaka.
“Dustarkat suviramyatam – Srutimatastarko’nusandhiyatam”, is a line from it. It means that one must give up the habit captious arguments, and, that in dealing with a question, one must employ proper reasoning and logic, as highlighted in vedas.
In fact, in those days, the debates had such rigid protocols and practices that before beginning to make one’s own point or an argument, it was mandatory for the speaker to repeat what was said by the speaker before him, reconfirm what he said was right and only then begin to make his own point. That was the laid-decorum of a debate. One could not afford to mis-quote or mis-represent the opponent.
In most of such debates, truth was thy aim, and not victory.
Another aim of a debate was to take home a point and not drive home a point! That, perhaps, is the dividing line between a heated debate and an enlightening debate.
As regards this debate between Mandana Mishra and his contemporary Adi Sankara, it is believed that Mandana ultimately became a disciple of Adi Sankara.
Knowledge was power and the one who possessed it was all-powerful.