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Questions about punah janmams

skaushik_at_mit.edu
Date: Fri Jan 10 1997 - 09:17:27 PST

One can make a strong case that even our acharyas, including Ramanuja,
Vedanta Desikar, Yamnucharyar etc., based on their writings viewed
jati as important, and an INTEGRAL part of the philosophy.  One can
also make a case for the opposite, based on other writings and
hagiographies. There is no way to settle this matter. Frankly, it is
left up one's personal opinion, faith and sensibilities as to what the
"true" views of our acharyas were on the subject of jati. 

However, there are few issues that I believe may have objective
answers. I want to list a few specific questions for which I hope some
light can be shed. 

1. Is one's birth is determined by chance, by law, or by one's free
will? Provided that a jivam has not taken any of the five-fold
paths to moksha, does the jivam, at the time of death have the
"choice," of the next womb that it will enter?  If it has no
choice, is the next womb determined by random chance? or is it
determined by a set of "rules" for which a jivAtma has no control?

2. Is one required to be a Sri Vaishnava  to attain moksha? I know
one can quote Bhagavad Gita and say that all paths lead to Sriman
Narayana. But these passages only establish this in the  "asymptotic"
limit; namely, one will *eventually* find Sriman Narayana regardless
of the path. However, they say *nothing* about what happens at the
conclusion of any given birth. 

An argument that I have heard is that other path's to Sriman Narayana
are possible, but more "difficult" and that when there is an easy path
that is "guaranteed" to work (i.e. prapatti), why not embrace this
path. This looks like a reasonable argument, BUT, what is meant by
"difficult"?  

Consider for example the Catholic Pope. Certainly, one
would not argue that he is a religious man, and one who devoutly
believes in his God. But he knows nothing (or atleast next to nothing)
about Vedanta, let alone Ubhaya-Vedanta. Will there be moksha for him
immediately upon death, or will he be subjected to further cycles of
birth and death in which he will eventually be born, or become
associated with a Sri Vaishnava upon which he will "see the light" and
become a prapanna.  

I am sure these questions bother many of you and are certainly not
"profound," BUT I think the answers to them are extremely
important. Further, I am sure these questions have vexed our
philosophers since the dawn of human history.

I have some ill-formed opinions on these matters. But rather than
express opinions, I am very interested in hearing what our shastras
and our acharyas have to say on these subjects.  For example, I have
heard that  Sri Vedanta Desikar has written in Paramapada Sopanam on
what a prapanna sees upon death, but I do not have a copy of the
text. If someone has a translation, it would be nice to get a brief
summary of the chief points.  Sri Bhasya contains a lengthy discussion
on this topic, but I could not arrive at conclusive answers to the
above questions from reading the Bhasya. I have been unable to find
answers to these questions from any of Ramanujacharya's principal
works.

I am particularly interested in knowing what our Sruti and acharyas
(through their commentaries and discourses) have to say about these
questions. Inferences from hagiographies is possible, but as we
have seen in earlier discussions (e.g. Vidyaranya and Desikar), they
can be "contaminated" by human embellishments and veracity cannot be
rigorously established.  

I look forward to an interesting discussion on this subject.

Sumanth