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Principles of Srivaishnavism

From: Krishna Kalale (
Date: Sun Apr 05 1998 - 19:43:25 PDT

Dear devotees

This article was written to NAMA newsletter. I have posted this on this net
for those who may not get the NAMA newsletter.  This is very much in the
spirit of Sri Madhavakannan's recent postings of Srivaishnavism.  Most of
the information in this article was taken from Dr. S.M.S Chari's book :
Vaishnavism.  I would like to suggest you read that book. I personally feel
that this book is probably one of the most comprehensive ones (in english)
for a Srivaishnava to possess and enjoy by repeated reading. Most of his
books are ever fresh and informative. If one reads the same chapter a
second time new ideas pop out enriching our experience of the great system
of thought - Visistadvaita.


Srivaishnavism is a philosophy and a religion based on the  Upanisads and
the divine hymns of Alwars.  This system of philosophy explains the nature
of  souls, matter and God and the relation between them in a rational
manner based on testimony and prescribes two basic paths namely Bhakti and
Prapatti to get liberation from the vicious cycle of birth and death and
attaining the highest state bliss which is nothing but divine service to
Sriman Narayana( in paramapada). Srivaishnavism lays equal emphasis on
ethical religious way of life and performance of religious duties. It is
this practical aspect that gives distinction to Vaishnava philosophy that
is far more important than the philosophy!

This song composed by Narasimha Mehta (a Gujarati poet of 15th century)
summarises practical Vaishnava values in an unique way : 

 He is a true Vaishnava who knows and 
feels anotherís calamities as his own.
Ever ready to serve, he never boasts.
Keeping his thought, word and deed pure.
Blessed is the mother of such a person.
He treats women as he would treat his own mother
He keeps his mind calm  and 
does not stain his lips with falsehood;
Nor does he touch anotherís wealth.
No bonds of attachment can hold him.
Ever in tune with Rama-nama (name of God), 
within his body is present all places of piligrimage.
Free from greed and deceit, passion and anger,
This is a true Vaishnava
We can find the echo of such statements emphasizing the religious and
ethical values in almost all the world religions.  However, the distinctive
feature of Vaishnava dharma lies in the fact that a Vaishnava believes in
Vishnu, the Supreme Being who pervades the entire universe as enunciated in
the Isavasya Upanisad - isa vasyam idam sarvam yatkincha jagatyam jagat.
Hence, a Vaishnava should therefore love all beings and treat them as equal
and hate none.  He should live with the peace of mind and lead a humble
pious life dedicating himself to the service of God and his devotees.  Such
a way of life will bring him not only happiness in this world but an
everlasting bliss in the other world.

One of the essential requirements for a Vaishnava in order to lead a
religious life is to have a well qualified Acharya or Guru.  Even the most
meritorious person  and a  sinner of the worst kind needs the guidance of
an Acharya or preceptor. The inner meaning of the philosophical truths
cannot be attained by just self study of Vedanta..  A special feature of
Vaishnaivism is the emphasis on daily worship of the entire lineage of
Acharyas starting from Narayana, the first Acharya (preceptor) to the
present Acharya.

For one to be fully qualified as a Vaishnava, one has to undergo the
five-fold sacrament, namely pancha-samskara.  

The distinctions of caste, creed, learning and social status have no
bearing on being a Vaishnava.  Garuda purana explicitly states that a
person who has the eight-fold bhakti in Vishnu should be honored, even if
he is a mleccha or person who does not conform to Hindu ideals.

A devout Vaishnava performs certain prescribed daily duties meticulously
with true devotion. These duties are : 1) abhigamana or morning prayers, 2)
upadana or collection of materials for worship, 3) ijya or formal worship
of God, 4) svadhyaya - recitation and study of scriptures, 5) yoga or
contemplation on God.  

There are certain easier religious practices such as the nine-fold bhakti
mentioned in srimad-bhagavatam : 1) listening to the glory of Vishnu
(sravana), 2) singing the glory of God (kirtana) 3) constantly remembering
His greatness, (smarana) 4) service to God (padasevana), 5) offering
worship to Godís image (archana), 6) prostrating before God(vandana), 7)
developing feeling of subbordination to God (dasya), 8) developing friendly
disposition to God (sakhya) and 9) surrendering oneself to God.  These
practices do not require preparatory and purificatory activities except
deep love for God.

A vaishnava has to fully realize that he (sesa) is absolutely dependent on
God (sesin) and that his intrinsic duty is to serve God at all times
(sarvakala) and all ways (sarvavastha).  He should realize that he is a
mere tool in the hands of God and do all actions not for his selfish
purpose but with a spirit of providing pleasure to God.  This is nishkama
karma or self-less action and this is the height of renouncement of ego
(ahankara) and the notion of mine (mamakara).  A service done in this
spirit removes oneís sins by earning the grace of God.  Though any act can
be taken as kainkarya or service to God, there are certain services mostly
related to temple activities ranging from the simplest act of bringing
flowers to the great task of construction of a temple to Sri-Hari.  Some
examples of kainkarya are : lighting lamps, waving fan to the diety,
preparing and offering food to God, bringing water for worship, recitation
of hymns and slokas, cleaning the floors of the temple etc.  A true
kainkarya is done not for monetary or social gain but as a source of divine
pleasure to Sri-Hari.

Along with service to God, a true Vaishnava should serve Godly people or
Bhagavatas.  In fact service to His devotees is MORE IMPORTANT