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SMS Chari's visit to Dallas TX
Date: Fri Jul 16 1999 - 19:35:53 PDT

Dear members:

During the last two days I had the bhAgyam of participating in lecture
sessions conducted by Sri. SaragUr mAdabUsi SrInivAsAchAri (SMS), a well
known SriVaishnavite scholar.  Although Dr. SMS Chari needs no introduction,
I would like to quote from a message sent by Smt. Vimala Rajaji of the
Dallas NAMA chapter:

"Dr. S.M. Srinivasa Chari is nearly 80 years old. He has a Ph. D in Philosophy 
from the University of Madras. He is a learned Sanskrit scholar having been 
tutored by eminent traditional scholars. He has traveled extensively all over 
the world and has worked in the United States and United Kingdom for the 
Ministry of Education of India. He is the author of seven books including 
'Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Azhvars', 'Vaishnavism' and 
'Fundamentals of Visistadvaita Vedanta'.  Dr. Chari currently resides in 
Bangalore and visits his children in the United States every year."

The lecture sessions were informal discussions, with Sri. SMS Chari
taking the lead in talking about a desired topic at length for about an
hour, followed by another hour of questions from participants.  The 
sessions were held in Mr. and Mrs. Rajaji's residence on Wednesday and
Thursday evenings after 8 pm.

Personally, I was spellbound by the amazing clarity with with Dr. Chari
expounded the difficult and little known concepts of Srivaishnavism,
VishistAdvaita and Ubhaya Vedanta.  The first evening's chosen topic was
about fundamentals of VishistAdvaita, and the second evening's discussion
concerned the AzhwArs and their philosophy.  All discussions were held in
English, except for the times when Dr. Chari had quotations in Sanskrit or
Tamil which he would immediately translate and explain.

On the first night Dr. Chari first discussed the theology of different
religions, and explained how the ancient Indian religions were closely tied
to philosophy and metaphysics in sharp contrast to the dogma that shapes
other faiths.  He then briefly described some of the oldest Hindu faiths,
such as SAktAism, Saivism, and finally, Vaishnavism.  Dr. Chari cited sruti
in support of Vishnu as the true representation of Brahman, and described how
rudra, not Siva was the god of Rg Veda.  He then talked about the differences
in schools of vedAnta, and in particular, about the SarIra-Atma-bhAva
sambandha, which distinguishes VishistAdvaita from the other two.  He clearly
explained the states of the jIva, about mokSa and the means for it, such as
bhakti-yoga and prapatti.  He described the Srivaishnava godhead in detail,
including the ontological nature of pirAtti.  During the question-answer
session, he clarifed that the vedic religion was NOT polytheistic, and also
explained the apparent anthropromorphism in the Hindu religion.

I really enjoyed the second evening's discussion about ubhaya vedAnta and the
AzhwArs.  Every time Dr. Chari quoted NammAzhwAr's pAsurams I almost wept
with joy.  His English translations of them were no less moving.  My wife
who accompanied me for both the lecture sessions, also agreed that the
discussion on AzhwArs was the best part of those two days.  "Vedam Tamizh
cheydha mAran Sadagopan" and "ThirukkaNdEn, un thirumEni kaNdEn" still
continue to ring in my ears, not to mention the numerous others that I can't
seem to remember right now!  I was captivated by NammAzhwAr's first pAsuram,
where he, inspired by divine vision, resolves an age-old controversy about
the nature of Brahman.  Truly it is the blessing of God that AzhwArs have
taken birth in bhUlOkam, thereby expounding and independently verifying the
vedic truths.  Dr. Chari then compared the references made by AzhwArs to
prapatti/SaraNAgati with their analogues in other purAnas.  He concluded with
a description of the many avatAras of Sriman nArAyaNa and their purpose, i.e.
to show human beings the path of moksha.  The question-answer session on the
second night centered on how to practice Srivaishnava sampradAyam in today's
age, especially in countries far away from India.

Dr. Chari stated that he wasn't a doomsayer, but that religion, learning,
and tradition in his opinion, go through their own cycles just like life which
is subject to death and rebirth.  His point was, that we should do our utmost
to retain our tradition, subject to individual ability.  We should not shirk
our sAmpradAyic duties, and should take every opportunity to live as examples
for others to follow.  Ultimately, we are limited by our imperfections and by
the yugam that we live in.  But we should practice our nitya-karmas, and follow
the footsteps of our AchAryas.  Perhaps that is all we can do, at this time.
Perhaps Sriman nArAyaNa will incarnate again.  Or, perhaps kaliyugam will take
its due course, followed by praLaya, and the cycle of yugams will begin all
over again...    

This morning my wife and I had the opportunity to drive Mr. and Mrs. SMS Chari
to the Dallas temple, and later on spend some time with them in the afternoon
before they left for Houston.  Dr. Chari spoke with nostalgia about his earlier
years spent in the tutelage of vidwAns like Sri. UttamUr VIrarAghavAchAriar,
Sri. MadhurAnthakam SwAmi, and the jeers of the ParakAla and Ahobila Matams.
I felt truly fortunate that I was able to have this anubhavam.  We also learnt
that Dr. SMS Chari is related to my father, and I couldn't find words to
express my happiness.  I hope to be able to drive down to Houston this weekend
and attend another of his lectures.

Excuse me for this long message; I just wanted to describe to you all my
brief interaction with a famous scholar from our community.  Thanks for
your patience.

-Srinath Chakravarty