You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : May 1999

Re: Digest bhakti.v003.n377

From: M. Tandy (mpt_at_u.washington.edu)
Date: Wed May 19 1999 - 17:06:02 PDT

Mohan R Sagar <msagar@uswest.net> wrote:
"As a kid, I was somewhat rebellious to the whole
idea of wearing thiruman, poonal, etc.  While
adulthood brought me back to my senses somewhat,
it is only after joining this forum and
interacting with other bhAgavathas that I have
fully realized the psychological and spiritual
benefits of traditional symbols and clothing."
	(etc.)

	I know many NRIs who have expressed similar ideas. It seems
to be a problem of tradition vs. modernity. Evidently, other communities
are grappling with tradition/modernity issues too, one example being
the Sikhs. Someone who doesn't see your points will probably be unable
to understand why the question of eating on the floor, instead of at a
table, is such a big deal for them. But my impression is that such (malleable?)
religious traditions are based on essential principles. In the sense that
vaishnava philosophy is intended for practical application, as well as for
the benefit of mankind (cf. BhAgavatam, 10.22.35), I think such topics
have definite philosophical merit. 
	My experience has always been that social influences are stronger
than scriptural ones; perhaps that's why such questions of traditional vs.
modern dress are even an issue at all. I would be interested to know if
there is an official Shri vaishnava view on this, but it seems to me that
the injunctions of smritis and dharmashastras take this social phenomenon
into account, i.e., how to regulate external and necessary actions in such
a way as to elevate or increase consciousness of Lord Vishnu. SmartvyaM
satataM viSNuH, ityAdi. 
	A related question addresses the intrinsic value of the
traditional vaiSNava attire. Do Shri vaishnavas regard such as the dress
of VaikuNTha, and wouldn't this explain how it can increase one's
awareness of God?  For that matter, isn't the entire culture of the
vaishnava tradition (and I'm assuming that it can be generalized to some
extent) postulated as representative of that of vaikuntha?  Even if it is
rather seen as (only) modeled after the accounts in shastras and vaishnava
literature, it would seem to me that vaishnava traditions, which possess
such detailed and explicit descriptions of the spiritual realm, should
have the least problem with these questions, for my impression is that
there is an ideal (or idealized?) culture, adhered to more in the past
than the present, and that this ideal has been practically encouraged and
demonstrated by the examples of great souls in literature as well as
history (cf. GItA, 3.21). Such persons, beginning with LakSmI and
NArAyaNa Themselves, don't wear jeans. At least they aren't portrayed that
way as far as I'm aware. Taking this point of view, then, it is more than
a question of tradition vs. modernity; it appears as of some of us
strictly uphold these ideals in terms of personal practice whereas others
have to compromise them somewhat. And that's quite understandable; I do it
myself. But if it is at all avoidable, I usually try to avoid doing so in
the temple or among vaishnavas. And at any rate, the enthusiatic "ruci"
implicit in one's own good example is far more effective than innumerable
"fatwas" and other artificial and fanatical means of inspiration (Is this
is a similar logic as that of "rasa varjyaM raso 'py asya paraM dRSTvA
nivartate," etc.?). 
	However, I'm admittedly not very familiar with Shri vaishnava
thought, so I would appreciate anyone's kind and learned comments, thanks.  
One final thing I can humbly offer from personal experience is that it
appears much less awkward for an Indian to wear sari or dhoti, etc., than
it is for a Western caucasion. 

	Respects,	

	MT