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From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Sun Oct 13 1996 - 05:35:13 PDT
SrimathE Sri LakshmiNrsumha Para BrahmanE Namah Sri Vedanta Desika GuravE Namaha Srimathi Vasudha Narayan's soft words y/day on the above subject were wonderfully soothing in a debate that has so far seen only the thrust and parry of titanic amateurs like my foremost self.The quiet and unobtrusive way in which she has put forward her views reminds me of my own dear mother who could sit amongst us young men (around informal family debating round-tables of which there were quite a few) and clinically puncture all the bombast and bluster passed around and gently point us to a new perspective. As Srimathi.Vasudha has said, it is no doubt that it is by His Grace that 'bhAgavatottamas" generally congregate and surely, the members of this group too are recipients in great measure of divine benediction. Debate vitiates neither Grace nor the benediction in the atmosphere of congregation. There is no 'dOsham' in debate amongst devotees if it is centred around 'bhagavath-vishayam', the 'anubhavam' of His 'kalyana gunas' or the correct interpretation of 'sampradaya'. It must be remembered that all our great 'achaaryas' were vigorous thinkers, astute dialecticians and most formidable debaters.Seldom, if ever, can many of us hope to match those sterling intellectual qualities. However, that does not mean that young minds of the present should not agitate issues of 'sastra' and 'sampradaya' and study, ruminate and convince each other of what is valid and true. After all we do the same in our secular and 'loukika' pursuits in life. I deeply feel that our 'achaaryas' would indeed be disappointed in us if were "to debate out of fear" or "fear to debate" (to borrow JFK's famous phrase). Our great 'acharyas' who defended the faith against the intellectual onslaught of other schools and against even the physical violence of foreign marauders would certainly not expect their progenic generations to turn out to be pseudo-'sattvic' namby-pambys afraid to exercise the power of their own convictions. I think it is only in healthy debate that the aspirant acquires the astuteness of insight required to appreciate the nuances and subtleties of our great philosophy. It also helps one to constantly re-validate one's own beliefs and opinions held. There is thus nothing to apologise about in carrying on a debate of the sort we have had in the past few weeks as long as we do it within the parameters of 'sastraic' sense,with utmost respect for our 'achaaryaas',with full faith in Lord Narayana and with nothing but respect and goodwill towards to each other. Now onto our subject.I have a few more arguments to submit in support of the position I have held. All of us are aware of what is called in our scriptures as "prAyaschitta-sastra".These 'sastras' set out rectificatory measures to be taken by practitioners of doctrine.We have seen vedic scholars point out there are innumerable 'prAyaschittas' set out in the various 'karma-kAndAs','smritis and samhitas' which we are enjoined to perform faithfully alongwith the corresponding rites,rituals and other applications. Now we all know there are such 'prAyaschitta" for 'mantra-dhyana','mantrOtchAranam" and other such 'karmas' related to 'mantras'.For.e.g. when we do the 'nitya-sandhyavandhana' karmas we usually include the rectificatory rites prescribed in this regard. We also resort to the standard, all-purpose rectificatory invocation of "kAmO-kArsheen-manyur-akArsheen-namO-namaha" during many of our 'upakarana' rites. Now if you pause to ask what is the purpose of such 'prAyaschittas', it becomes evident that they are prescribed to enable us to seek blanket acquittal, (post and ante facto), from procedural and material lapses/breaches we commit, unwittingly and negligently, in the practice of 'sastra'-ic doctrine.If this is not done the sastra clearly lays down that the "karma" becomes defective and futile (what I think is called,"lopam" in Sanskrit). Now look at the situation in the context of the set of given premises: "MantrOtchAranam" is valid karma.In the performance of any given karma, sastra recognizes the ever present danger of lapses and breaches.Sastra however also rushes to our rescue by prescribing the appropriate "prAyachitta" to nullify the consequences of such lapse/breach.This goes to show that sastra itself regards its transgressions,minor or material, with a certain amount of trepidation and hence prescribes 'rectificatory rites' which are an inseparable adjunct to 'original performing rites'. Isn't it therefore logical to conclude that the "AdhAram"(sine qua non) for 'prayaschitta' karma is the probability of lapses/breach arising in the course of any normal "performing karma'? Why would there be need for rectificatory ("back-up', in computer parlance) mechanisms if there is never any possibility of fallacy, incompetence or sub-par performance? The corrollary to this line of reasoning is that where there is fallible,incompetent or sub-par performance of 'karma', there has to be a self-righting or self-correcting 'back-up' mechanism of 'prAyaschittam". To apply the above two conclusions to the issue at hand. The position that there are no restrictions to the use,broadcast and other application of "mantras' like the "tirumantram' and there is no sastra-ic list of objective criteria or canons for establishing 'adhikara' for its use, broadcast or application now clearly becomes untenable by the Latin dictum of "reductio ad absurdum". Because if, by operation of some miracle of 'sastrai'-ic interpretation or by virtue of some 'sastra'-ic special amnesty, there was indeed no possibility of fallacy, incompetence or sub-par performance in "mantrOtcharanam", then there ought to have been no place for "sastra"-ic "prAyaschittas" in the body of our "smritis". But the "prAyaschittas" indeed are there! as we have seen. Therefore we cannot but conclude that when there is such a thing as "prAyaschitta" laid down for even "krama"-ic and "adhikAra"-supported performance of 'karma', it would not behove logic to suggest any the less in the case of "mantrOtcharaNa"- karma performed "a-kramam"-ically i.e. sub-par or incompetently ? This is, I feel, the proper position to take. As Srimathi.Vasudha has pointed out, some of our present and near-past "mahAns" and scholars (she has referred to a few) may have taken mild liberties in the matter of rahasya mantras. But as she herself has pointed out, they did it under sanction of a higher authority i.e. the most revered Sri. Andavan Swami or others. Now even in secular legal practice, there is fundamental difference between "precedence" and 'exception". What may be permitted as an exception to prescribed statute is not to be regarded as establishing legal precedent and quoted in courtrooms. Exceptions are impelled by considerations of the immediate moment and other extraordinary and unique factors whereas precedents are the seeds of what eventually becomes legislative writ or what they call "good law".The two are as different as chalk is from cheese and never to be confused. Similarly, what achaaryaas may have permitted as exceptions are not to be regarded as 'sastra'-ic precedents.The temptation to do so no doubt is great but we should not yield to it. In conclusion, I state that we must eschew "street-smartness" and "savvy" in dealing with matters like SriVaishnava doctrines. The Japanese are known for "working smarter, not harder".The Americans then picked it up and turned that into a "mantra' for the rest of the world to embrace. But such sleight-of-hand approaches will not help in our understanding of 'sampradAya'. We have here no choice but look to our 'achaaryaas', none else, for enlightenment.And the achaaryas do show us a long and sparingly trodden road. The Upanishads say,do they not, that the path to salvation rides a razor's edge ? But what is re-assuring to us is that we can surely make the journey very enjoyable if only we follow our achaaryaas and their injunctions to the letter, but more importantly, to the spirit as well. SrimathE Srivan SatagOpa Sri Narayana Yateendra Maha Desikaya Namaha. Sudarshan.