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Sri Vaishnavism & people of today

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Fri Jan 15 1999 - 17:07:13 PST

[ Dear Bhaktas: A few of us have privately been 
  discussing how to promote unity among Sri Vaishnavas,
  including ideas as to to increase awareness
  of the tradition among existing Sri Vaishnavas.
  I was asked by a member to repost my opinion here. 
  Pardon me if it appears a little strong. ]

[...]  

I believe there is inherent beauty in the Alvar poetry and
stotras such as by Vedanta Desika that immediately appeal
to people *once the meaning is explained in a straightforward,
non-intimidating manner.*  This means simple, non-condemnatory
explanations in English, that presents the meaning in a way
in which modern people can relate.  It is one thing to quote
Vedas as pramANas all the time, to prove that the Alvars talk
only about Vishnu's supremacy, or that the Alvars regularly
condemn Advaita, Buddhism, etc.; but most people cannot relate
to this, nor are they interested in this at first, and then 
the "saulabhyam" of the Prabandham and stotras is immediately 
lost. This is what turns people off.

I also believe there is inherent intellectual beauty in
Ramanuja's philosophy, but there is not a single book readily
available (except maybe Sri N.S. Anantarangachar's works) 
that explain the perennial nature of Ramanuja's thought in
a way that will appeal to youngsters and modern people (i.e.,
people who don't already know something about Visishtadvaita).

I have found that if explained in simple, _modern_ English, 
sometimes with word-for-word explanations, using examples in 
modern life, people see the immediate appeal of these verses,
and then want to learn them in the original language (i.e.,
they start getting interested in the sampradaya). You may 
be surprised how many people (Sri Vaishnavas included),
who know Tamil, cannot parse a simple verse from Tiruppavai
or Tiruppallandu. Why is this? Because no one has taken the
time to explain it to them in a straightforward manner. This
is what turns people off, and this is why children who grow
up in this country have a hard time relating to our tradition.
_Nothing_ is explained to them in an easy to understand manner.
Everything is phrased in another language, another mindset,
and they _are_told_ that everything is _deep_. The assumption
they make is that it is then difficult.

We can do tiruvArAdhanam all we want in public; I enjoy 
witnessing it very much, especially when someone performs it
with great anubhavam.  But for someone who does not know
even the basics, such as why we worship idols and images, why 
we give the Omnipresent God such upachArams, etc., they will 
simply just be confused and not get anything out of it.  In
other words, there is a big benefit in explaining the most
basic aspects of our sampradAya in a way that a complete 
foreigner (e.g., a white American off the street, a smArta,
a mudaliyaar, etc.) would understand.  If we explain things
in this way, there is no doubt in my mind that Sri Vaishnava 
children will understand as well.

In short: calls for unity are meaningless if people at large 
(i.e., children and casual Sri Vaishnavas) are ignorant of 
the _basics_ of our sampradAya, and why we do and believe those 
things.  If we don't take direct efforts at explaining these
things in the way I outlined above, all our efforts will be
at nought.

By the way, this is what motivated me to do my Tiruppavai
pada urai (word for word explanation) on the Web, with which
I am about 2/3 complete.  I was rather dismayed that I didn't 
understand every word of the poem; I thought I could help 
others out as I wrote what I learnt.  Many people 
(Sri Vaishnavas and others) now visit these Web pages and have 
benefitted from them.

My plan to help in unity is to present this basic knowledge
on the Web. With the help of a few others, I eventually plan
to have the whole nityAnusandhAnam in pada-urai and basic
translation, so people can know what they are saying.

The same kind of thing needs to be done for issues of AcAram,
that Vijayaraghavan brought up.  Many issues of AcAram (eccil,
bathing/washing hands & feet) and anushTAnam (tirumaN, 
vaidika karmas, ArAdhanam) have very practical and immediate
reasons, to which all people can relate and appreciate. If, 
while explaining or teaching these, we instead focus on only citing
pramANas as the basis for doing this, or condemning people for
not doing these things, or promising some supernatural,
totally intangible benefit (that none of us have personally 
experienced), I guarantee that children and others who live
in the U.S. will NOT practice these habits. I am telling you
this from personal experience as someone who has grown up
here and faced these issues.

[...]

Mani