You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : January 1999

Re: proselytization and srivaishnavism

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Mon Jan 25 1999 - 12:36:20 PST

What follows is a brief response based on how our
acharyas have viewed this topic.

Please review Sri Krishna Kalale's post from 1995
on this topic, as it provides good background for
what I write below:

http://www.best.com/~mani/sv/bhakti/archives/oct95/0207.html

Sri Jagan Mohan wrote:
> In the Varna System, We generally don't talk about the Sanyasa or the
> Sanyasins. Sanyasa is generally tied to the Ashrama division of one's
> lifetime. [...] Sanyasins cannot be divided as Brahmanas or Sudras. They
> have risen above all these mental tempraments by renunciation.

According to our tradition, a brAhmaNa, even after becoming
a sannyAsi, retains many of the duties that are incumbent 
on his being a brAhmaNa.  This is why, as Venkat points out,
Sri Vaishnava sannyAsis retain their sacred thread (yajnOpavIta)
and tuft of hair (SikhA).  They must continue to do their
sandhyAvandana and gAyatrI japa at the appointed times.  This
is quite different from the practices of smArta and mAdhva
sannyAsis, who abandon these Vedic practices.

None of the Alvars were sannyAsis.  They are beyond "varNa"
(let us use this term instead of "caste") in the sense that 
irrespective of their physical origin, they are to be treated
with the utmost respect because they are parama-bhAgavatas,
exemplifying the highest level of sainthood.  Furthermore,
according to our tradition, _all_ bhAgavatas are to be given
the utmost respect, irrespective of their caste, varNa, or
physical origin.  One acharya states that even wondering about
the jAti of a bhAgavata is an offense.

> 2. Once we begin Bhakthi, we automatically aquire sattwic nature and our
> thoughts deeds and speech turns sweeter with the love of God and this is
> characteristic of the true brahmana mind and essence. Without regard to
> our family background, proffession, ashrama we are in, we become
> brahmanas of mind. The Gitacharya has decreed that the Brahmana is he
> who has the following qualities born of his nature: peacefulness,
> self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowlege, wisdom
> and religiousness. The Supreme Lord has voiced his opinion. It is this
> words that shall direct us in determining who is a brahmana. In fact a
> brahmana doesn't need or wish for this 'title'. it belongs to him in
> essence. There is no real need to bother with the Brahminship. Bakthi
> produces jnana and jnana makes him a perfect brahmin. (comments welcome)

This is all correct; the only thing I would add is that if someone
is born into a brAhmaNa (by birth) family, he has further
responsiblities.  The primary obligation is the study and
propagation of the Veda, and the performance of Vedic worship
at the appropriate times. The latter applies to anyone born
in a family with a tradition of Vedic worship.

Obviously, very few of us by-birth brAhmaNas are living up to 
our Vedic obligations! We can only try our best. 

> 3. Sanyassins are the cream of the society. They are superior to
> brahmins and they are the real teachers

There is no such division between sannyAsis and brAhmaNas.
They refer to two different things; one is ASrama, the other
is varNa. Today, most of our sannyAsis are brAhmaNas.

> 4. The ceremony of initiation into SriVaishnavism apart from formally giving
> you acceptance into the religion, serves no other purposes for one's
> spiritual progress.

On the contrary, samASrayaNam, which gives the great gift
of acharya-sambandham, is of monumental importance, and is
what *defines* a Sri Vaishnava.  Without at least this 
acharya-sambandham, according to the tradition, there is 
scant chance for spiritual progress.  Of course, the Lord
works in mysterious ways, so anything is possible; but
according to our tradition, samASrayaNam is the recommended way.

> The essence of Alwars treachings inspire us to throw away the
> karma kanda part of Vedas which teach ceremonial and elaborate
> ritualistic worship and turn to the Glorifull and beautiful
> face of Sriman Narayanan, the primal being. It is Bakthi that
> matters. Ceremonies and rituals come next.

This is an exaggeration, and perhaps you didn't mean to intend
such a sweeping statement.  But if we trust in Ramanuja's words,
the rituals of the karma kANDa are extremely important, are
must be practiced by those who have had the samskAras of 
upanayana, etc.  We have absolutely no authority to "throw away 
the karma kANDa" of the Vedas.  Ramanuja argues that the karma 
kANDa or ritualistic portion just needs to be understood in its 
proper context.  It is improper to think of these karmas are
mere rituals; on the contrary, the rituals described therein 
are meant as worship the Lord, by which our mind gets purified.  
This is explained by Ramanuja in great detail in the Sribhashya 
(1.1.1, laghu-siddhAnta).  

Please do not condemn cermonies and rituals; such worship is
recommended by the Lord himself and commanded by the SAstras,
which are nothing but His word.  The only caveat is that all 
worship should be performed as loving service (kainkarya-rati-rUpa).
The Alvars regularly and repeatedly praise the pure-minded
maraiyOr or Vedic scholars who chant the Vedas and perform
Vedic worship of the Lord. 

Of course, simple, whole-hearted worship in the form of
nAma sankIrtanam or mere prayer is by itself wonderful.
But some people have additional responsibilities of worship,
such as sandhyAvandana, etc., and these are also very 
important.

> Being or becoming a Brahmin is secondary to transforming of the mind and
> the subjuction of the senses hereby developing Sattwic nature. 

This is 100% true, except for the part of "becoming a Brahmin".
A brAhmaNa's uniqueness lies *only* in his responsibility for
studying and propagating the Veda.  As such, the term "becoming
a Brahmin" does not have much sense in this context.

> Hence it doesnt matter (much) if you are not born to SriVaishnava
> Parents, or if you are not a Brahmin or if you are anything else. 

> It is this age-old dilemma of Brahmanism as birthright that has deprived
> Hinduism of its rightfull position as the World ('s Only) Religion. 

With respect, I think you are confusing Hinduism with Sri Vaishnavism.  
Hinduism describes a culture which contains many different
belief systems, some of them mutually contradictory, and
therefore cannot speak in a single voice on any topic.

Sri Vaishnavism, on the other hand, is the tradition of the 
Vedas as practiced and propagated by our Alvars and acharyas.  
Sri Vaishnavism includes Vedic worship, these days practiced 
mostly by brAhmaNas, as a very significant aspect.

Mani