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Ahimsa, Logic, and Changing with the times

From: Parthasarati Dileepan (
Date: Wed Jul 29 1998 - 11:35:23 PDT

On Ahimsa, Sri Mani Varadarajan quoted from a translation 
of the original discourse by Tuladhara on non-violence

>These, O Jajali, are some of the wicked and dreadful practices
>that are current in the world.  You practice them because they
>have been practiced by men from ancient times, and not because
>they agree with the dictates of your purified understanding.
>One should practice what one considers to be one's duty, guided
>by reason, instead of blindly following the practices of the
>world.  Listen now, O Jajali, as to what my behavior is towards
>him that injures and him that praises me.
I have neither read the original nor the above translation
in any formal way.  Therefore I am not qualified to offer
detailed comments on it.  However, please note that the
quoted passage condemns gratuitous violence "not
sanctioned by the scriptures."  As such there is no
automatic injunction against such violence as those that
lead to the production of sanctioned materials for use in
the course of Bhagavath Aradhanai.  Sri Ramanuja says
that animals killed in the course of such violence go to
heaven.  Therefore, Sri Ramanuja says, such violence is
actually good for the animals killed for this purpose.

The quoted passage also talks about "blindly following 
the practices of the world."  It is easy to _misinterpret_
this passage.  We need to note that this is not a call for
abandoning tradition and reinterpreting scriptures as and
how it pleases each of one of us.  This argument is not
new to this forum.  Time and again we have had people
pleading for developing a critical understanding of our
Sampradayam.  They beseech us not to blindly quote
poorvacharyas.  They appeal to us to look at the true
meaning.  Usually, these sentiments are expressed
whenever there is an article quoting our poorvacharyas
about sasthras, tradition, and the need to place at most
faith in our Acharyas.  The underlying message is that
somehow, _trying_ to follow sasthras or placing supreme
faith in the words of Acharyas is equal to "blind" and
"uncritical" faith.  We are admonished that God has
given us the faculty to think, and that we must use it.

In this context I urge the members to consider one of the
most important advice that our dear Sri Ramanuja gave to
all of us, "there is no mOksham without the grace of
Acharya".  Please consider this.  He did not say, "there is
no mOksham without  critical questioning", or "there is
no mOksham if you don't change with the times." 

By this I am not advocating abandoning logic and

reasoning.  Neither am I proposing that we must resist
changes at all cost.  What we need to realize is that
changes must happen only with the blessings of our
present day Acharyas, not otherwise.

When an Acharya is quoted in the course of a debate
some have taken that to be a call for unquestioning
obedience.  That is simply not so.  We should never be
afraid to ask questions.   But at the same time we must
have ultimate faith that our Acharyas words will never
mislead us.  If we take the time and effort to approach our
Acharays in the proper manner they will only be too
happy to answer our doubts.  I also submit to you, that
after all the questioning and answering if we find a
conflict between our logic and the position described by
our Acharyas, it is our Acharya's words that must stand. 
This is the faith that Sri Ramanuja commands us to
develop, not one that compels unquestioning obedience. 
Such faith will help us overcome our logic that fails us at
some critical times.  One of the prerequisites for 
considering ourselves Ramanuja Dhasans is to 
cultivate such a faith.

Regarding Changing with the times
We want may changes to take place in our Sampradayam. 
But, we must also realize that not all of us are qualified to
propose these changes to a group of Sri Vaishnavas. 
None of us will ever dare propose changes to widely
accepted theories and demand that the scientific
community accept them.  We leave them up to the
experts to propose.  But when it comes to spiritual
matters we all are experts.  We want the spiritual tradition
to change with the times.  Why should Srimad Azhagiya

Singar use only well water?  Why can't they travel to
USA?  Why are only men permitted to do this or that? 
We must abandon the cruel Varnasrama dharma.  So on
and so forth.  Many of these are not without merit.  But,
we must realize that only the spiritual leaders of our
Sampradyaam, namely, the Jeeyars and Andavans can
propose such changes, and they have.  They have
instituted many changes. Not long ago Satari
(perumaaL's thiruvadi) was offered to only those with a
Shikai.  These days women are routinely included in 
Kalakshepam of rahasya granthas.   During the 70th 
birthday celebration of Srimad Azhagiya Singar, the 
Jeeyar led a women only group for a special extended 
dharsan of Thiruvengadavan.  I am sure there are 
many more examples.

Yes, for some of us these are too little too late.  It is due
to the infinite mercy of our Acharyas these changes are
taking place and more will surely take place in the future. 
What we need to realize is that these changes must come
only from the spiritual elite, not from those of us for
whom spiritual scholarship is a hobby outside of 9 to 5
job.  Pardon me for saying this, but when we freely
advocate changes to traditional practices we are actually
trying to usurp the role of our Acharya.  When this
happens it is a travesty as we have chosen, directly or
indirectly, a material life even though opportunities for
spiritual study and life that would inevitably be lot less
materially rewarding were and are available in plenty.   If
we feel passionately enough about some changes, then
we need to first pay the dues by adopting a spiritual life
and gain scholarly access to our spiritual leaders.  Then,
and only then, will we not be usurping spiritual authority
when we boldly call for changes to be adopted by a group
of Sri Vaishnavas.  (Please note that I am not referring to
changes that we individually adopt in our own lives.  The
question is to what extent are we qualified to propose
changes to a group of Sri Vaishnavs, for example, a group
such as this bhakthi list).

In summary, I would like to submit to this forum blessed
with many critical students of our Sampradayam, that
Acharya bhakthi and implicit faith in our tradition are not
necessarily in conflict with logic and critical thinking. 
Neither does it mean that showing deference to our
Acharyas will keep us immersed in meaningless rituals of
the hoary past.  Who can say reason be damned?  Who
would dare argue that only blind faith is best?  Yet, we
must accept the wisdom of our poorvacharyas and desist
advocating uniltaral changes to our tradition, and be 
prepared to suspend logic when it comes in conflict 
with our present day Acharya's teachings. 

 -- adiyEn ramaanuja dhaasan