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material comfort and spiritual pursuit

From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Wed Jul 21 1999 - 02:53:54 PDT

Dear members,

So many of you have sent me e-mail messages expressing appreciation for the 
"brilliant" and "scintillating" quotation of the anonymous "AchAryA". Thank 
you one and all!

While I cannot take any credit for the "brilliance" of the quote itself, I 
guess I can certainly take delight in the fact that I could come up with 
something appropriate for the occasion and which immediately struck a 
sympathetic chord in all of you.

Vedic idealism has not died; it is still burning bright in spirit and its 
fire still flickers, even if faintly, in the hearts of so many young people 
in India and across the globe. One day perhaps there will be a great 
all-round Vedic resurgence… and the fire that now flickers might then roar 
and glow with glory again….

It is important that all of us should be very keen to stay abreast of what 
great "AchAryA-s" of our tradition, both past and present, have said and 
opined (or are now saying and opining) on various matters of "dharmA" and 
"sAstrA". It is important we take effort to study their utterances and also 
the trouble to ruminate on them. Without the benefit of their directions and 
wisdom not many of us will be able to find our way through the maze of life. 
On the contrary, we can easily be either misled or get completely lost on 
the way.

For many years, I had never really understood why Swami Desikan had stuck so 
stubbornly to the values of "vairAgyam" for which he has  become an especial 
legend for us today. I have often wondered why Swami also was so firm in 
rejecting the offer of a royal sinecure that his Advaitin friend, 
VidyAranyar, offered to procure for him at the court of the Rayar king then 
reigning. On reading the "vairAgya-panchakam" I have often wondered what did 
Desikan personally achieve by his almost cussed insistence on leading a 
life-style … in Thoopul, Aindai and SriRangam… a life-style that by today's 
standards seems hopelessly "third-worldly". What did Desikan stand to gain 
by all that show of "vairAgyam" except perhaps the posthumous glory that  
posterity today covers him with? Was Desikan's "vairAgyam" a blessing or a 
burden on his family? Did his disciples … his "gurukula-vAsi-s" …too suffer 
discomfort in his austere and spartan household? Had Desikan no thought at 
all for his son, NainAchArya's future?

All such questions of mine stood answered when I first read the speech of 
the "AchAryA" I just quoted yesterday in my post to you.

The following passage from it, particularly, clearly explains (to me at 
least) why Swami Desikan behaved the way he behaved when he asked his wife 
to trash the gold-filings they found in the rice she was husking one day at 
home in Kanchi:

"….brahmins alone are permitted by the sAstrA-s to beg
for a living ("Unchavrtti"). But the sAstra also has it that the brahmin 
must not accept more charity than what is needed for his bare sustenance. If 
he received anything in excess, he would be tempted to seek sensual 
pleasures and thereby an impediment would be placed to his inner 
advancement. There is also the danger that he would become submissive to the 
donor and of his twisting the sastrA to the latter's liking."

   **********        ************      ***********

Some members, I notice, have quoted Vedic and "itihAsi-c" sources to show 
that wealth acquisition is not outright prohibited for a "gruhastA". 
Brahmins are permitted to earn, they seem to say, as much as they want in 
any which way as long as it is not dishonest or unrighteous. Also, such 
wealth, once acquired, must not be hoarded but judiciously given away in 
charity and for noble social purposes.

Now, I have no disagreement with what the members have said above. What they 
have quoted, I concur, is indeed the intention of the Veda-sAstrA (to the 
meagre extent to which I am acquainted with it).

But it must not be forgotten that the Vedic precepts these members have 
referred to have an underlying assumption: that the system of "varnAshrama" 
is being wholly practised by society. The Vedic exhortation to acquire 
wealth and spend it wisely is meant for castes other than "brahmins"… it is 
intended generally for the "vaisyA" and "kshatriya" castes. For the brahmin, 
however, the "veda-sAstrA" unambiguously prescribes nothing but bare 
sustenance and a life of constant spiritual endeavour… and "bare sustenance" 
has been well defined by my good, old friend SrimAn Vijayaraghavan of 
Praxair in his little post yesterday.

If brahmins had been allowed by veda-sAstrA to accumulate wealth and then if 
they were to be preoccupied the rest of their lives with how to put it to 
use wisely, they would all be fit to work only as "economists" and 
"investment-bankers" … not vedic practitioners.

   **********     *************    ************

My good friend Sri.Vijayaraghavan (to whom I am grateful for gifting me two 
years ago with cassettes of Poundarikapuram swami's upanyAsam on 
"yatirAja-saptati")also wrote:

"The net result (of all these discussions) is: We will continue to do
what we are used to do (may be with a little more guilt).  In my opinion, we 
carefully listen to all those wonderful sayings and thoughts and even before 
they start to bear any influence we carefully bury them and proceed to do 
what we are habituated to."

How right he is!! But then that is the choice we all have to make in life, 
isn't it? To deal with 'guilt' or to deal with 'life'? "To be or not be, is 
the question!", said the tragic hero in Shakespeare's "Hamlet".

   **************          ************          *********

Finally, many of you, dear members, were curious to know the identity of the 
"AchAryA" I had quoted.

Even at the risk of being seen to be "praising him personally" on the 
"bhakti-list" and earn thereby all your displeasure, I wish to reveal that 
the "AcharyA" I quoted was none other than the great AdvaitAchArya of 
Kanchipuram (Swami Desikan's native place!): Sri ChandrasekharEndra 
Saraswati (popularly known to his disciples as "Kanchi-periavA").

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,

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