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Re: Disagreement vs. Apachara

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu)
Date: Thu Jan 16 1997 - 12:13:20 PST

On Thu, 16 Jan 1997, Parthasarati Dileepan wrote:

[..]

> 
> To my knowledge Sri Mani's objections to Sri Murali Rangaswami prompted a
> few mild and quite respectful disagreements.  Sri Mani's response included:
> 
>    "Practice your sandhyavandanam, be a vegetarian,
>     do thiruvaaraadhanai; but don't let these be the
>     excuse for committing bhagavata-apacharam."
> 
> >From this it can be argued that Sri M. Srinivasan's complaint applies more
> to Sri Mani than to Sri Anbil Ramaswami, the unnamed accused.  Further, I

I thought Mani's comment applied more to the Brahmanas of the time of the
Azhwar, and not to Sri Anbil Ramaswamy per se.

I can agree with you that the fact that Mani is operating this list does
not exempt him from criticism. I'm sure Mani will also agree. 

However, I don't think that his valid questions have been answered 
satisfactorily. I have similar questions and haven't found any
simple answers so far. Varnasrama Dharma dictates certain rules. Strict
adherence to these rules necessarily means that Sudras are not respected
by Brahmanas. However, showing disrespect to a Bhagavata who is not a 
Brahmana gets labelled Bhagavata-apachara and certain consequences result
from such behavior. How is a Sudra who is a Bhagavata to be identified?
Can an identically disrespectful behavior pattern with respect to a Sudra
who is not considered a Bhagavata be acceptable? How is one to recognize
that a certain Sudra is of the stature of a Nammazhwar or a Tirumazhisai
Azhwar? In other words, how is such internal tension between two
contradictory principles (Varnasrama on the one hand, and equal respect to
all Bhagavatas irrespective of caste on the other) to be resolved? 

Similar questions arise from both the Srivaishnava perspective and the
advaita perspective. The sentiment expressed in the Manisha pancakam
(i.e. whether a person is a Brahmana or a candala, if he knows the
Atman, he is to be respected as a guru) is seldom observed in practice.
The Brahmana's habitual disregard for the candala precludes any
possibility that the Brahmana gets a true picture of the candala's level
of knowledge. Most often, the Brahmana assumes that the candala is a
worthless being, and less than human. Consequently, even if there is a
candala out there who knows the Atman, the chances that a Brahmana comes
to know of it are remote indeed.

If nothing else, the stories of the Azhwars and the Saiva saint Nandanar
show us the necessity for humility in those among us who consider
ourselves the highest Brahmanas. (And believe me, being a Smarta, I know 
that most Smartas will consider themselves to be the highest possible
Brahmanas, than whom there is none better.) We do not observe the
Varnasrama dharma strictly today. We want to live anywhere in the world
for the sake of our livelihoods, without going through tedious Prayascitta
and Suddhi ceremonies that are dictated by strict Varnasrama dharma. This
is very different from what the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam had to
do, less than a hundred years ago, for having lived in England. If we
want to ignore Varnasrama dharma when convenient, it seems just a tad bit
hypocritical to interpret it strictly at other times.  

With regards,
S. Vidyasankar