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skaushik_at_MIT.EDU
Date: Mon Dec 11 1995 - 12:27:41 PST

Mani writes:

*    By romanticizing the Azhvaars' Vedic heritage, we make
* it easy to ignore the social reality of their time as well
* as ours.  Consider the fact that only five centuries after
* Nathamuni's revolutionary acceptance of the Thiruvaaymozhi
* as another Veda, a section of Sri Vaishnavas forcefully
* argued that non-brahmins cannot be acharyas to brahmins!
* Is this the example set by the Azhvaars? Why then were 
* these great souls born amongst the entire social spectrum,
* if not to show that social status meant absolutely nothing?
* And that the Vedas themselves were offended by being confined
* to a cloister?

This "section of Sri Vaishanavas" could also be viewed as including
Sri Vedanta Desikar himself. In Rahasya Traya Sara, he clearly
argues why even the most devout non-Brahmin bhaktas can nver
"become" Brahmins. He argues that the para-Bhaktas ought to
be respected, but they cannot and should not be considered as Brahmins.
He argues both from teh viewpoint of scriptures as well as 
"practicality" (importance of maintaining social order).

>From a "naive" reading of our scriptures, it seems to me that
though the scriptures speak of EQUAL accessibility of God to all members
of society, it NOT imply that the MODES of which God can be attained are
the same for all members. Though our 21rst century ideals may wish 
otherwise, many of the most eminent Sri Vaishnava scholars in history
have not believed in an egalitarian society of the sort that people
wish today.

To say that these ancient scholars were merely conforming to the social
conditiions of the time is being disingeneous to their philosphy and
attitudes. Ramanuja, Vedanta Desika andother other scholars were 
indeed exceptional men who would have gone against the society IF they
felt they believed in it AND if they believed it had Vedic authority. 

Ramanujachaya intended Kancipurna to be his guru and to eat his
prasadam. This well known traditionally. It is also told that
Kanchipurna did not want this to happen because he felt it was not
proper for a Brahmin to eat the remains of a non-Brahmin (if this
story is not correct, please let me know but this is what I have
heard). Why would Kanchipurna feel this? Was he was merely trying
to keep with social norms and sublating his "true" views?

Though it  is well known that Ramanuja allowed outcastes to enter Melkote,
it is interesting to note that it was a few days in a year (I think it
was three). Though forward in his times, by todays standards, that can
hardly be considered much of an advancement. It seems to me that 
Ramanja was unwilling to change the social norms -- not because of
practicality, but because he did not believe that it had scriptural
authority (for if perceived it to have scriptual authority, I would
think that he would not have had any hesitation in introducing social
reforms).

Though I do not know the Tamil Prabhandams well enough to say with
authority, I think it is safe to say that the focus of the Prabhandams is
not the correction of social evils. They have a simple message: worship
God.  If the Alvars truly felt that the path to moksa was the betterment
of society, then this would be explicit in every paasuram. But it is not.
Why?

We all would like to wish our 21th century ethics and morality to be
part of our ancient scriptures. ALthough I am very sceptical that
our modern notion of equality are really propounded by our Vedic
scriptures,  it is possible, by dialetics and clever imagination  to
claim that our Vedas contain all that is "good."

However, insofar as our acharyas are concerned, it seems to me that
the problem is trickier. I think a large number of them, including the
Alwars, do not hold our world view. Some demonstrate this  explicitly
(e.g. Vedanta Desikar in his commentaris) and others implicitly (by
their action, and sometimes, inaction) 

If one wishes to stick to our present day notions of right and wrong,
it  seems very hard to accept these individuals as our acharyas, let
alone incarnates of God.

sk