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From: KESHAVA PRASAD (103020.541_at_CompuServe.COM)
Date: Fri Aug 15 1997 - 22:59:19 PDT


Dear Bhagavatas:

Since Sandhyavandanam seems to be a topic of interest lately, I would like to
submit some of my views in a two part posting. The first one is as follows.

Part I
Importance of understanding the significance or a desire to be able to predict
the outcome of an action especially religious in nature, is being increasingly
felt among the Srivaishnava  youth who are being ordained by their elders and
preceptors into Brahmacharya. Sandhyavandanam is one such action. It is a
time-of-day religious rite performed daily only by a brahmachari who has
received "Brahmopadesham" from an acharya. (Compare this to the present day
concept of permitting  someone to appear in a test for a driver's license after
one attains the age of sixteen.  It is believed that a person will have grown
mature and responsible enough to handle an automobile. The only difference is
that the boy who is believed to be ready for Brahmopadesham is almost half that
age; that is progress).
Sandhyavandana is a method of offering salutations to Bhagavan three times a
day, practiced by all virtuous men. There is no surprise here because the number
three seems to be well entrenched in our social order, for example, there are
three meals a day, three doses of medicine, etc. It is ordained in our
scriptures that all those born into Brahmin families shall perform this holy
duty. Since there is more awareness of what actually our scriptures teach us,
now more than ever, the above can easily be extended to encompass those who are
brahmins not necessarily by birth but by practice as well. 
We shouldn't however, forget that regular performance of Sandhyavandanam is a
pre-requisite to earn the right to perform other vedic rites. Without it, one
does not realize the spiritual and the inevitable physical and social benefits
of performing Godly duties. Regular observance of Sandhyavandanam is one of the
first steps in a spiritual endeavor and scriptural training.  These are strong
words and are likely to raise the eyebrows of skeptics. But why are eyebrows not
raised and we take it in our stride the facts that twelve years of schooling is
necessary to earn a high school diploma or seven years at college level and
three or four more years of residency afterwards to earn eligibility to practice
medicine. Is it because this training will prepare someone to earn one's lively
hood ? What if we find out that by training to be spiritual in our outlooks, we
can reinforce perhaps double or triple our abilities to manage worldly affairs ?

In the words of Sri Srinivasa Desikacharya, a well known preceptor from
Bangalore, humans have a bondage in their earthly duties performed to earn their
lively hood. That is, going to work place whatever it is and wherever it is,
regularly at a specific time and spending specified amount of time before
returning home. This is almost as regular and as permanent as the sun rises in
the horizon every day. 
Humans don't stop short of doing anything for their bosses at work who
compensates them for their effort monetarily.
When it comes to extending the same kind of loyalty, dedication and punctuality
in serving the Lord of the universe, humans shirk. It is not too much to ask a
few minutes of one's time every day to offer one's obeisance to the "One" who is
believed to be the care taker of all the planets and the elements in the
universe that we are so much dependent on; the One who bestows upon the humans
the perspicacity of Good and Evil; the One who shows His compassion in all walks
of life to all life forms; the One who manifests in many ways in every life form
sometimes as brave, benevolent, compassionate or sometimes condescending actions
of humans towards one another. Is it hard to believe ? It shouldn't be because
we often associate our bosses at work with these attributes. Wouldn't it be in
our material interests to do that whether we like or dislike our bosses. We may
have to stretch our imaginations to believe in someone whose physical
manifestation we may not see; but hey! Is their dearth for people among us who
are capable of limitless imagination? We are not going to lose anything; the
odds are we are going to gain immensely.
It is neither proper nor is it necessary to observe the daily rites out of fear
of elders or of being ridiculed by those who do observe them. The motivation
should come from within with the clear understanding of the level of commitment
expected of the individual. Motivation will come automatically if it is treated
as one's fundamental duty of someone who owes the Lord of the universe a debt,
or if one is not a believer, let us see if we can motivate him by counting
material benefits consequent on a regular practice of Sandhyavandanam.
Among frequently asked questions is: "Why is it that this and many other rites
have to be  conducted using only the words and procedures developed for them,
why not pray for the sake of praying and adopt words if necessary?" The answer
to this question is somewhat similar to a question such as why the fire drill,
we will deal with it when there is a fire. Why should the cadets be trained to
function in National Guard; why should soldiers undergo strict regiment training
and perform certain duties day in and day out? All these and many such trades
have one thing in common-Rules of Discipline- It has been proven over the ages
that discipline is needed to train body as well as mind to do certain things at
certain times in certain ways to achieve certain results. Soldiers, cops and
firemen get their disciplinary training because they have no choice. Wouldn't it
be nice for us, common men and women to guide us in bringing some discipline to
our own lives? That is, if we are interested in achieving calculated results due
to human endeavor. Sandhyavandanam is one such disciplinary ways to train the
human body and mind to attain a physical as well as mental state enabling us to
exercise control over the human senses and emotions, thereby being able to
appreciate and experience the niceties of life while at the same time praising
the Lord of the Universe Who makes it all possible, in the process.
If some nuances of Sandhyavandanam and other religious rites can be simplified
so that it becomes easier to initiate the youth who may not have enough
preparation due to lack of exposure to the right background, such
simplifications should be permitted, in the opinion of this writer. Over
simplification will however, not produce the desired results. In the same token,
if the system of religious rites can be embellished wherever possible, so that
they become more appealing to the youth who can benefit from it, such
embellishments should be permitted also.
Only such simplifications and embellishments as might be necessary on account of
geographical, cultural or social surroundings that a youth finds oneself in,
should be permitted as long as they can clarify the significance of traditional
practices to the youth, leading to better understanding of one's religious base
and importance of physical and mental discipline. 
It is to be recognized that most of the Vedic procedures including
Sandhyavandanam are coded in the Divine language Sanskrit. Unfortunately, like
Greek and Latin, Sanskrit has remained a language of either the most learned or
the language enthusiasts. It appears that the language is pure in character
without any adulteration and hence, somewhat intimidating to us humans who seem
to be spending most of our time striving to provide for the material well being
of our families and ourselves and seem to have less and less time as time passes
by. It is therefore, best if one can learn the language when very young and
before one chooses a language of one's choice. Given the right set of
circumstances one might be motivated to learn the language at later time but it
is rather practical to find things to study in a language that one is already
most familiar with. Translations can help but again, it is not always possible
to find the right words or phrases in another language to describe the events
and situations envisioned in the original documentation and some things of value
can be missed. However, some may still find the courage and fortitude to do it
the right way and others will have to do the best we can under the
circumstances. At a time when materialistic tendencies are ever on the increase,
it is likely that someone practicing religious rites including Sandhyavandanam,
is ridiculed by those who may not be so inclined. Especially so if these are
performed without some idea of why they are performed and if the individual
performing them cannot explain the significance to the satisfaction of the
challenger. It becomes important therefore, to learn the procedure such as
Sandhyavandanam with as much an understanding as possible and hence, the need
for explaining them in a language that is well understood. 
Since religions have existed from time immemorial, all humans have a religious
base whether they like it or not. To avoid confusion as well as conflicts, It is
important to recognize one's religious base because religious rites, methods of
worship and prayer vary from religion to religion though most of them are known
to point in a common direction. We are living in a period of earth's age when we
do not seem to have enough time to do everything we would like to do, it is very
unproductive to get caught up in a game of choosing religions. 
The morning, midday and evening Brahmanical prayers recognized in
Sandhyavandanam practiced by Srivaishnavas are based on one such religious base
called "Krishna Yajurveda" which has itself evolved from vedantic thoughts that
our fore fathers were capable of. If studied and well understood, the Vedic
scriptures and procedures therein, will lead to a level of knowledge rich with
values that will drive away the darkness of the kind of ignorance that most of
us entertain.
The above comments have been made with the conviction that the learned members
of this forum will critique them for content and concepts expressed therein.
None of the above has  any derogatory connotation as some of you inferred
following my posting a few weeks ago.
By the way, I will fail in my duty if I do not express my sincere thanks to Sri
Sampat Rengarajan and Sri Anbil Ramaswamy for recognizing the motivation behind
my earlier posting and not rushing to judgment  and absolving me of any malice
as hinted by some of the others. I will be certainly interested in an open forum
discussion being proposed and will look forward to receiving further
information. I would also like to request of Sri Anbil Ramaswamy to let me know
how I can buy copies of his books which seem to have interesting titles and are
very appealing.