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Re: The Ultimate sharaNagathi and personal beliefs ...

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu)
Date: Wed Jul 23 1997 - 19:49:33 PDT

I'm sorry to enter into a topic that is very close to Srivaishnava hearts,
so please take my comments in the right spirit. 

You must remember that Sri Candrasekharendra Sarasvati speaks from a very
different perspective. For the advaitin, the one formless nirguna brahman
takes on the form that is best suited for the particular devotee, so that
in an ultimate sense, Siva, Visnu, Devi are all only different aspects of
the same Parabrahman. However, an advaita corollary to the above statement
is that ultimately the particular devotee also realizes that (s)he is the
same Parabrahman. Saying one thing only without the other is not very
consistent with advaita, although it might help the common man in a
preliminary stage. Obviously, the corollary is not acceptable to
non-advaitins, while those who disagree philosophically with advaita will 
find fault with the first statement also.
 
A second motivation for his statements is slightly political. It is well
known that he tried to bring together Saiva and Vaisnava traditions by
organizing joint Tiruppavai-Tiruvempavai singing etc. Now, all that is
well and good, but if you read his discourses on Adi Sankara's life
(translated by TMP Mahadevan and published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), you
will see that he also plays up Saiva feelings over the Vaisnava at certain
points. In other words, such statements suit the audience and are meant
for popular consumption. 

With all due respect to Sri Candrasekharendra Sarasvati, I beg to differ
with this approach. His words might teach the common man to give up petty
fighting over who is superior to whom. However, they do not help him to
understand the ananya-bhakti that should be directed towards one's
ista-devata. (I'm speaking from an advaita standpoint here.) I would
rather agree with the other, more consistent, strand of advaita teaching
that tells you that gurus teach a particular path that they have
themselves known and understood and which they estimate to be the best for
their disciples. From this perspective, it does not matter even if
peyAzhvAr really meant a union of Siva and Visnu in his words about the
iraNDuruvam at Tiruvengadam. An advaitin may theoretically know that Siva
and Visnu are different aspects of the same Parabrahman, but might find it
hard to actually practice it. And all the divergent mythologies and claims
to superiority don't help him either. Therefore, you are advised to
worship an ista-devata, and follow what your own guru tells you. 

It is like this. Take a child in need of teaching. If his father tells him
to study, and at the same time, a neighbour tells him to go and play, and
a third friend says let's go watch a movie - the child will not know what
to do, and will only land in trouble. He can do useful work and progress
only if he listens to one person. Maybe he has an exam and really needs to
study. Or maybe, he is on vacation, and his father is being unreasonable.
In any case, the child cannot satisfy all these competing demands at
the same time. He has to choose one thing and stick with it, and later
face the results of his action. 

Ananya-bhakti has to be like that. Popular religion is one thing. Intense,
earnest bhakti is another. Pick a guru and follow his teaching - ignore
the rest. As the upanisad says - "yasya deve parA bhaktir, yathA deve
tathA gurau" - one can learn much by doing so. If after consistently
following one particular teaching, you find that you have not learnt much,
then you can find fault with it later on. There is no point in getting
confused by different things right at the beginning. As for how you pick a
guru in the first place, "above all, to thine own self be true."

With best wishes,
Vidyasankar