You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : August 1999

Re: "sandhyAvandanam" and "visEsha-bhagavath-kainkaryam"

From: Sridhar Srinivasan (
Date: Tue Aug 03 1999 - 02:28:14 PDT

Dear Sri Sudarshan:

The flair with which you put forth your viewpoints is indeed 
commendable, nay, invigorating.  Though, sometimes, and on this 
instance, I have some difficulty with a few of your interpretations.  

> Mani wrote that "sandhyAvandanam" performed without the mental attitude of 
> offering it as "kainkaryam" to the Lord becomes nothing but "useless 
> ritual".
> I can appreciate the true spirit behind Mani's statement but I must caution 
> other members on the list against taking it literally, loosely or laterally.

Our upanishadic lore and Acharya vyAkhyAnams are replete with the 
paramount importance attributed to the state of mind ("mental 
attitude").   In fact, all of bhagavad geetha (BG) is a testament to 
the need for the state of mind, that mental attitude devoid of 
extraneous considerations when performing one's duty.

The charama slokam, the crown jewel in BG akin to the mEmboruL 
pasuram in tirumAlai, provides the basis for the ultimate upAyam, the 
lord himself, on the basis of simply a state of mind (sharaNAgathi).  
In fact, the charama slOkam allows you the luxury of relinquishing 
all dharmas and attendant karmas and pursue Him as the ultimate 

> Even if one does not perform "sandhyAvandanam" perfectly, even if we do not 
> have the right mental state of obeisance to the Lord while undertaking the 
> ritual, it is still obligatory for us to perform the "nitya-karma". The 
> "sandhyAvandanam" ritual does not become "useless ritual" simply because its 
> performer goes through it mechanically. Whether done mechanically or in full 
> earnestness, as long as it done with a modicum of reverence, the ritual is 
> well done and 'ipso facto' becomes 'bhagavath-kainkaryam".

The difficulty in descriptions that you provide above is with some of 
the qualitative nature of the 'qualifications' above.  Will some 
thing done 'mechanically' produce the same results as dhyAna 
performed in "full earnestness"?  Is not dhyAna, the very essence of 
sandhya vandanam, a contradiction in terms when utilized in 
association with mechanical orientation spiced with tangential 
thought?  Is it all one needs, a modicum of reverence, to obtain 
equivalence with the ultimate reward? 

Or is this a remnant of justification for mediocrity in practice that 
stems from a refusal to indulge in requisite anushTanic purity in 
thought, given our inability to wallow out of samsaric miasma that we 
create for ourselves?  Is this another interpretation that is all too 
common, given our unwillingness to let go of the mechanistic bondage? 
 Is this another step in the path of the modernistic interpretation 
of "acharyas" (along the lines of may be Sri ART who was referenced 
on bhakti recently) to usher sharaNAgathi and sacred vEdic, 
essentially mental processes, practices into the new millenium?

I raise these points not to simply question your interpretation per 
se, but to reflect on a growing trend, esp. for those of us living in 
the US, where the need for purity of thought has been displaced by 
justification of mechanical expediency.  Not another month passes by 
without an upanayanam for a child raised in the opulence of the west 
is held with great fanfare.  These occasions, marked by great 
fanfare and significant paucity of thought towards devotion, also 
provide a stark testimony to the current day accent on the 
performance of the very sacred practices  for the sake of 
external aggrandizement it may bring.  And when something is done 
mechanically, divorced of bhakthi/dhyana/sense of kainkaryam, it 
simply becomes a mockery upon itself.  No wonder very few of these 
children raised here will ever perform sandhya vandanam (in thought 
or deed), given the purfunctory bases that form the foundation of 
these initiations.

And it is the purfonctory notion of practices that our  
Azhwaars/ Achaaryas have come out stridently against.  When 
thonDaraDippoDiyAzhwaar says

mEmboruL pOgaviTTU :  give up on external, impermanent, physical 
attribute-laden substance (achit)
meymaiyai miga uNarndu: comprehend the supreme nature of the inner 
self, your jeevatma, the soul that is bonded permanently not to 
materialism but to paramatma, the ultimate care-giver
aam parisu arindhukonDu:  comprehend the supreme nature of your 
reward, His kainkaryam, contemplation at His lotus feet

they are not directed towards other 'liberated' souls.  They are 
meant for all of us incorporate in our corporeal duties, so that we 
too can benefit from the joy of the vision that Azhwaar has been 

> The Vedic "achAryA-s" have again and again repeated ita and it will bear 
> repetition a million timesa: without performing "sandhyAvandanam" there is 
> no use performing even "vAjapEya-maha-yagnyam" or going off on a grand tour 
> of the 108 "divya-dEsam-s". Doing so would be like earning the reputation of 
> being a grand philanthropist in the eyes of the world and keeping one's 
> mother at home starving and ill-dressed!   So in these discussions of "sandhyAvandanam" and "bhagavath-kainkaryam" 
> please do not be carried away by the devotional lines of a "pAsuram" 
> divorced from the real context in which it was sung. Yes, the lines of the 
> AzhwArs are, of course, beautiful and very evocative. But they are the 
> outpourings of liberated mystic souls. We are not AzhwArsa.  We must learn 
> to first temper devotion with duty before we venture to transcend duty in 
> favour of devotion.

To separate dhyAna, bhakthi and ultimately a sense of bhagavath 
kainkaryam from the physical activities of nitya karmAs is like 
separating the soul from the physical body.   Without the soul, the 
physical body is just a largesse of flesh that is deserving of the 
attention of vultures looking for rotten carcasses.  It is the 
soul that gives the human being the exalted platform of relevance in 
leela vibhuthi.  Likewise, nitya karmas devoid of the 
mental state or attitude of dhyAna have no significance in the real 
scheme of things.

Duty and devotion are not mutually exclusive.  Rather, recognition of 
 their symbiotic, integrated nature in our practices will allow us to 
elevate ourselves to mental states closer to that of attaning the 
ultimate anubhavam.  To even think that devotion requires 
relinquishment of duty ("venture to transcend duty in  favour of 
devotion" in your words) may take us down a path where we will 
neither be performing our duties nor have the benefit of being 
devoted to the lord.  And yes, Azhwaar/Acharya outpourings are not 
meant for their own ilk, they are directed towards us, for our 
specific benefit, as a consequence of divine insight that those 
exalted souls were given, a vision  that we may never hope to get 
near if we are NOT willing to even consider that they are meant for 

Azhwaar EmberumAnAr Jeeyar thiruvaDigaLE sharaNam