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skaushik_at_mit.edu
Date: Thu Jan 16 1997 - 15:28:26 PST

Vidyasankar writes

*** 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?

This is exactly the problems the Brahmins faced.  The question really
is whether or not one should err on the side of caution when one is
unsure if an individual is a Bhagavata. The orthodox position is that
one should err on the side of caution, because if a mistake is
committed and rahasyas are imparted to the unqualified, then a greater
harm is done than concealing the rahasyas (after all, who knows how
the "contaminated" information would spread vid. Sukracharya).  

*** If we want to ignore Varnasrama dharma when convenient, it seems just
*** a tad bit hypocritical to interpret it strictly at other times.  

The issue is not whether our actions today are consistent, but rather,
the actions of our ancestors in the remote past. It is not that they
are being charged with hypocrisy, but with bigotry.  In fact, had they
not done as per the dictates of the sastras, we would be calling them
hypocrites!

Frankly, I don't see any purpose gained by making these judgements and
pronouncements.  First, who are we to condemn a society that is
bygone? Is our own house in order that we can simply and categorically
condemn a group of people whom (1) we have never seen and (2) we are
not even sure existed (after all, hagiographies are never considered
Sruti.  At most, we can say that in similar circumstances, we would
have acted differently (perhaps in 20/20 hindsight), and perhaps
further,  we can instruct our children to not observe those sastras
which we feel are inconsistent with our present day values. 

Such attacks are unfortunate for  they are often unwanted distractions
to the fundamental idea at hand. Indeed, GVP mentioned that the
Brahmins acted childishly. That  is far different from categorizing
the ancient Brahmins as a nasty petty people. The tone of the text
(which is as important as the words themselves) was to show the
greatness of the Alwar, and not the pettiness of the Brahmins. By
missing this, one is drawn into a arcane morass of history and
politics that detracts from the discussion of religion. 

It is clear that Thirumazhisai Alwar did not consider it an insult,
but we, more than a thousand years later feel sorry for him? We feel
sorry for Thirumazhisai Alwar, said to be an amsham of Chakratalvar?
That seems laughable. If not T. Alwar whom we should pity, who else
should we be pitying? The  multitudes of lost-souls who could have
been "saved" but who, by the ignorance and bigotry of the Brahmins,
were forced into countless cycles of birth and death?  From the
advatic standpoint, this is a meaningless worry. From a visistadvatic
viewpoint, it is equally ridiculous, for this would imply that if
these so-called bigoted Brahmins never existed, more souls would have
been emancipated.  

Frankly, if the goal is social upliftment, the avenue is not Vedic
religion, whose focus is personal upliftment.  The avenue is intead
the path that some of my friends have taken over the years that have
included going to villages, living with the downtrodden, teaching the
poor English etc.. Sitting in our armchairs, with a keyboard in hand,
it is so easy to make pronouncements.

Sumanth