You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : October 1996

prappati & adhikari

From: M K Sudarshan (
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

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'

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

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.