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Love vs. legalism in Vaishnavism?

From: a c (ac_at_ampsc.com)
Date: Fri Aug 13 1999 - 10:43:36 PDT

Dear friends,

I was reading a book called "The Tamil Veda" last night and saw a poetic
reference to offering a simple leaf to God and found the sincerity very
moving.   It reminded me of a question I have about the relative merit and
efficacy of religious practice.

I have complete confidence in the graciousness and generosity of God and
believe He is actually looking for opportunities to inject His Grace into
the world while maintaining justice to all.  In my belief, this opportunity
is *almost* 100% determined by the actual sincerity of heart the devotee
has towards Him.  If the devotee is sincere then offering a simple leaf is
accepted and effective because it's LOVE that binds us to our Lord - not
really the legal contract.  Is my belief anywhere close to SriVaishnava
about this?

I envy you all for being able to carry out the prescribed rituals because
it must help your faith in God tremendously to feel you are doing what He
prefers but I doubt my own ability to even begin.  While I don't feel drawn
to anything which seems legalistic or artificial (to my poor understanding)
I am eager to do something pleasing to God in some little way I'm actually
able to.   I worry the language/culture barrier will swamp whatever genuine
sincerity I have -- leaving me feeling like an idiot pretending to be
someone else.

I find it much easier to reconcile myself to living a clean, upright life
dedicated to the loving remembrance of the continual presence of God.  I
want to do that because I'm very happy to even see the opportunity -- my
problem is how much ritual practice is also required of the prapanna
because I'm not sure I can honestly promise to carry through with much of
that.  How much is the minimum before one can feel that God is bound to His
side of the deal?  ( is this bartering with God?  :-))    

If I could get my wish it would be that an acarya would perform whatever
prescribed ritual is required on my behalf on the mere assumption of my
sincerity of heart with no promise from me at all.  My wish would be God
would be bound to comply with His end of the deal regardless of my weakness
and failure and I would perform whatever small service to Him I am able
just for the sheer joy of it without any worry whatsoever about my
"breaking the contract" because of non-compliance with its terms.  I can't
see God's Grace being like wages for work -- it's always unmerited.  I
don't think I could ever really *deserve* God's grace so He may as well
reward me just for asking.  I know this probably sounds preposterous if not
sacreligious but I think it's a fair estimate of what God is like (
unimaginably generous and kind) and what I'm like (able to receive
generosity quite well :-))

I wonder if I'm getting closer to becoming a Vaishnava or getting kicked
off the bhakti list?!!!  Either way I put my trust in God completely to
arrange the right thing.        :-))   :-)) 

-A.