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Mrs. Sriram's questions

From: Mohan Sagar (msagar_at_worldnet.att.net)
Date: Mon May 26 1997 - 14:01:49 PDT

There have been a few postings this past week in response to Manjula
Sriram's questions on the social aspects of our sampradayam.  Here's my
attempt to answer these interesting questions on the basis of what I have
read on the subjects.

>1)  What is the purpose of life?  I ask this because, when I was growing   
>up and even
> now I read that hinduism is not for converting people.  This is the
> only religion that does not go around converting people.  Is this   
>correct?

Many of the world's older religions, including Judaism, Confucianism,
Taoism, and of course, the plethora of traditions that make up Hinduism do
not believe in the direct propagation of their beliefs for the purposes of
gaining converts.  This is probably because most of these traditions were
originally territorial theologies, identifying one specific land and its
people as its followers, the people of India as Hindus, the children of
Israel as Jews, the follower of the Emperor as being knowers of the
Confucian True Way, etc. As a result, the values of each religion were as
ingrained in these cultures as the Bill of Rights and Consumerism are a part
of American Society. 

This does not mean, however, that these religions did not grow or propogate.
As a result of ancient trading patterns, the influence of Hinduism can be
seen as far east as Indonesia, and as far west as Iraq.  In fact, one of the
largest temples to Lord Ranganatha in ancient times was not in India, it was
in Cambodia.  So, while direct conversion is not part of a Hindu's
responsibilities, I think that we should certainly be willing to share the
riches of our traditions with anyone who may be interested.

>2)  What is Nari Dharm?  Tulsidas Ramayana states that a woman's duty is   
>towards
> the family.  But then if women read the bhagvad gita, are we to follow
> krishna and his teachings?

(I am indebted to Dr. Vasudha Narayanan for providing me with these
insights)  Vedic Religion can oftentimes be very paradoxical. For in as much
as it emphasizes moksha as the ultimate end, and encourages renunciation and
detachment, it also seeks to foster family and community harmony.  So, while
portions of the Geetha stress detached action and meditation as a means, I
do not know of any verse that specifically states that one should renounce
family to practice these (I could be wrong on this, it has been several
years since I have read the Geetha in its entirety).  Arjuna was a married
man, and from what I have read, he continued to remain married even after
being imparted with the knowledge of the Geetha.  We should also recognize
the value of Dharma Sastras and the Puranic stories of our rishis, that
stress the social and spiritual value of married life and its associated
responsibilities.

So, reading the Bhagavad Geetha, and following its teachings should not in
any way interfere with a woman's - or a man's - duty towards the family and
community.

>3)  How would non Sri Vaishnava's convert to Vaishnavism?  We don't have   
>baptism..
> When we don't convert people, then how can we say that this religion   
>willl
> be extremely popular?  Only the people born as Sri Vaishnava's will
> know about it, unlike other Western religions.

Present day views of SriVaishnavism can be very misleading, one is born as
an Iyengar therefore he/she must be a SriVaishnava.  But, we must recognize
that SriVaishnavism, like VeeraSaivism, Saktism, and Sikhism, is a religion,
not a caste.  So, obviously there is room for people to convert into this
faith, or not follow this faith, if they choose to do so.  

Inclination towards Sriman Narayana and the recognition of His Krpa, in my
opinion, does not require any formal ritual.  However, according to Sri
Tridandi Jeear, to really call oneself a SriVaishnava one must receive
formal initiation through Samasrayanam, in which an acharya or elder
formally initiates a devotee into the practices and precepts of the
tradition.  Conversion to SriVaishnavism by this method is not at all
restricted by caste, gender, or race.  In fact, from what I understand,
there have been even a few westerners who have gone through this ritual in
their acceptance of our faith.

The performance of this ritual is a very important and poignant part of our
sampradayam. However, many modern day Srivaishnavas have chosen not to
receive this, because of the dietary and ritualistic obligations involved.

Daasanu Daasan,

Mohan