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Re: proselytization and srivaishnavism

From: Mohan R Sagar (msagar_at_uswest.net)
Date: Wed Jan 20 1999 - 19:15:43 PST

Srinath Chakravarty wrote:

>    Some members did agree with me on a couple of other things that I'd
> mentioned, such as the issue of vadamozhi, and about proselytization.
> Let me dwell on this proselytizing matter once more, for in my mind it
> has some very fundamental implications.  Mani writes that anyone,
> irrespective of age, gender or faith can convert to Srivaishnavism by
> undergoing samASrayaNam through an AchAryan.  Now that raises some
> questions in my mind.  Firstly, should I consider myself as one born
> into the Srivaishnava community, since both my parents were
> Srivaishnavite?  Also, since I have not undergone samASrayaNam yet,
> should I be considered a non-Srivaishava?  Further, my parents had not
> undergone samASrayaNam at the time of my birth.  In that vein, I could
> not have been born a Srivaishnavan.  In any case, if the possibility of
> being "born" a Srivaishnavan does not exist, then the argument is
> moot.  If so, then I am not a Srivaishnavan because neither could I be
> born into the faith, nor have I been indoctrinated into it as of now.
>    Perhaps Mani intended to say [and this is speculation on my part]
> that samASrayaNam can convert a non-Srivaishavan to Srivaishnavism, by
> embracing them into the thondarkulam.  That may be a recourse for me, if
> the previously mentioned considerations are true.  So then, the faith is
> truly universal, isn't it... since any human being can convert to it
> through samASrayaNam.

>From what I have learned from Sri Tridandi Jeear Swamy, one cannot in the
ideal sense be regarded to be SriVaishnava until he/she takes samAsrAyanam
from an elder or achAryan.  And, this opportunity is available to anyone,
irrespective of race, caste, age or gender.  But, what is required on the
part of the individual is that he/she wholeheartedly accepts the principles
and practices of the tradition, including, most importantly, that Sriman
Narayana is the upAyam and upEyam, and that we in our true nature, are His
sEsham.

The only advantage that I can see in being born into a SriVaishnava family,
particularly a practicing SriVaishnava family, is that the environment and
heritage would be more conducive to the acceptance and practice of such
principles.  If such were the case, I suppose that it could be argued to
some extent that people born into such families are SriVaishnavas from
birth.

> Well, wait a minute.  We know that unlike the
> advaita matams, OUR AchAryas continue to bear the identifiers of
> brAhminhood, such as Shikha and yagnyopavEtham.  In theory, any member
> of the thondarkulam can rise to the level of an AchAryan and occupy the
> peetham of the mutt.  So we could have AchAryars devoid of brahminical
> externals, if they were not brahmin to begin with.  Mani says that
> brahminhood is an entirely different matter.  Certainly, because there
> is no conversion to it [as far as I know, but surely I do have a lot to
> learn...]
>     So here is THE question: Do the mutts require swAmis to perform
> certain brAhminical rituals, and if so, could it be possible to bestow
> brahminhood upon one that wasn't so born, in order to fulfill the
> requirement?  A community is truly egalitarian, if just about any of its
> members could ascend to prominence irrespective of their origins.
> Is Srivaishnavism so?

The very fact  that our Jeears continue to wear the shikkha and
yagnopaveetham is proof of their continued commitment to Brahminical rites
and responsibilites, in stark contrast to the sanyAsis of other
communities.  There are SriVaishnava monks, known, I believe, as ekAngis,
who have many of the same rites and responsibilities as the Brahmin Jeears,
except for the practice of these vEdic rites.  However, I am not sure
whether they have the authority to perform samAsrAyanam or not (I look
forward to learning from Sri Mani and others about this.)

> Regardless of the answer, there is a related
> question... how many non-brahmin Srivaishavites do we know of [other
> than certain AzhwArs]?  And of course, no one has yet ventured an
> estimate of the total number of adherents to Srivaishnavism today...

According to one un-official statistic that I heard a couple of years ago,
there are approximately 60,000 Brahmins (I do not know the source for this
number, or whether it is even accurate) who identify themselves as being
followers of the Sri sampradAyam.

I am not sure about the number of non-Brahmin followers of the faith.
However, I do know that in Andhra Pradesh, the vast majority of the Reddy,
Naidu, and silver/goldsmith communities generally regard themselves as being

SriVaishnava, and that many of these families do follow the tradition under
the guidance of an achAryan.

adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,

Mohan