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From: KESHAVA PRASAD (103020.541_at_compuserve.com)
Date: Sun Oct 12 1997 - 14:35:45 PDT
OM NAMO BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA SRIMATE RAMANUJAYA NAMAH Dear Bhagavathothamas: I think that Sri T.S. Sundara Rajan was very eloquent when he said as follows in a recent posting bidding farewell to the Bhakti list. I quote: "Im taking leave of you merely since I have no inter-net access back home. I have enjoyed being with you all in this conversation over the theme dear to our heart, namely the SrIvaishNava religion. Most men seem to like their own persuasion, not because they have been persuaded in any sense of the term, but merely because they were born into it; they could not be faulted for it though. All the same, the SrIvaishNava community owes to itself to develop some specific skills in order to preserve whatever is valuable in its inheritance, not to lodge the values in good museum space but imbibe them, so to say, in the bloodstream. Religion flourishes when intellectual curiosity [the why of things ~ jijnAsA] and emotional insights constantly inform each other. The SrIvaishNava has therefore a primary duty to docket basic facts, duly corroborated, and also cultivate a good dilettante reading as preparation for approaching the philosophical core. We stay with the English language not on account of any natural proficiency in it but simply that the internet system is not sensitive to any other language script. All the more is the need to use this Anglo-Saxon medium with care and sensitiveness when discussing things vEdic. The divya-dESam temples of yore, hymned by AzhvAr, are the best definitions there be of human civilization. Every SrIvaishNava should constantly think out how best to protect them from creeping encroachments that have been obtaining for the last four decades. I send my best wishes for purposeful and information-based interaction in the ensuing SrIvaishNava conference in Denver billed for Dec 25". It behoves us all, those who are organizing and those who plan to attend the upcoming Srivaishnava conference in Colorado, and the others to be organized in the future to pause for a moment and contemplate on the message conveyed above. Especially, the part about the survival of the Srivaishnavism as a concept, a religion, philosophy and way of life against the onslaught of many so called conservative as well as liberal doctrines being expounded around us, in our neighborhoods and all over the world. And the part about it being our responsibility to reaffirm our own beliefs and convictions and most importantly to inculcate those time proven principles and lifes values in younger members of our generation and those of the future generations. I cannot help a temptation to quote from an individual who as some of us know and heard from people who still live among us to this day, stood true to his principles against many obstacles thrown at him almost every day of his life, Mahatma Gandhi who once said: "I do not want my house To be walled in on all sides And my windows to be stuffed I want the cultures of all the lands To be blown about my house As freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown Off my feet by any". This quote may help, among others, to set the tone for our conferences. That is, we go into these conferences not to disbelieve which we already believe and practice but to reaffirm our faith relative to all the other things being thrown at us in the world. We cannot do it by ignoring what is being thrown at us, but by knowing them and then proving our preferences for what we already have we can make our children see the point we are trying to make. Anything we do or dont do however, can be viewed differently depending on the "POINT OF VIEW" of the viewer. The recent discussion about Yogurt and Ekadashi is a classic example of how two people can look at the same thing or entity and arrive at different conclusions. This I think is what we call different view points or pespectives if you will. In the yogurt for Ekadashi incident, Sreekrishna did not say if yogurt could be consumed on an Ekadashi day but defined the characteristics of the type of yogurt that one should consider using, recognizing the positive and negative aspects of yogurt as understood by us humans today. This was perhaps not quite the answer expected by the originators of the question. Parthasarathi Dileepan on the other hand, came close to answering the question by saying that no where in the structured lifestyle defined within the framework of our sampradayam, he could find any reference to yogurt as a food component for the Ekadashi day. Hence, he invariably concluded that yogurt was perhaps forbidden to humans on that day. It is important to note that the two did not dismiss yogurt summarily as a topic for discussion but advertently or inadvertently saw different aspects of the issue. Both these people took the same question and answered it differently. Both did not arrive at any conclusion but implied that yogurt may or may not be used on an Ekadashi day which brings us back to square one. I should admit however, that Parthasarathy Dileepan was a little more definitive in his answer because he was willing to believe what was passed down from generation to generation as a tradition not to use yogurt on Ekadashi day. He was not willing to question the authority which so ordained. Whereas, Sreekrishna was willing to side track the tradition which he may or may not have been aware of, and was willing to use his own judgment as he percieves physical bodies around him. He was a little more curious than the former and thought, if eating little or none on an Ekadashi day was the issue, then, a harmless substance such as fat-free yogurt (if there is such a thing !) wouldnt really defeat the purpose. He reasoned in his mind that Yogurt, a product of milk traditionally used by the observers of Ekadashi, was acceptable as a food component. One had the perception that the practice of Ekadashi had physical/health benefits and the other believed it had a spiritual significance and is practised for spiritual reasons. Whether one view prevails over the other, is immaterial because one can at least see that both can go hand in hand. No one can really dispute the fact that chances are that both Sri Sreekrishna and Sri Parthasarathy Dileepan are equally right by the merits of how they are viewing an issue. Both presentations are acceptable since one can perhaps find an equal number of people agreeing with each of them. It depends on how one looks at it and/or what one wants to look at. A good parallel for this is the practice of Sandhyavandanam. Whether one practices it because one is so ordained to do so or because one can actually experience just the physical, just the spiritual or both benefits, everybody can agree that it is a good practice to adopt and pass on to the next generation. In this context, the saying, "Seeing is believing" may still be regarded as true because I guess one believes what one thinks one sees. We now know for sure that different people can look at one thing and get different ideas about what they are actually seeing. This is perhaps why we often get different accounts of an incident witnessed by many. This sort of thing happens very frequently and a clear example of it in recent history is the crash of TWA Flight 800. Different eye witnesses had different accounts of what exactly they saw happened in the sky as they viewed it from below. And to this day, no one knows exactly what happened. That is, no one knows the truth or true cause of the incident. Of course we can also dismiss the entire issue saying what happened was inevitable because it was destined to happen! Do we stop there ? No! Each of us will try to find an explanation in accordance with our backgrounds, beliefs and misbeliefs that we grew up with and still retain in our system. Can we take this analogy and apply to many an issue being contemplated among us in general and this group in particular ? Here is a list of issues that have been debated in recent weeks: 1. Whether it is proper for Srivaishnavas to worship any deity other than Sriman Narayana ? 2. Who is the Lord of the universe, whether it is Narayana, Shiva or someone else ? 3. What is the role of Bhakti and Prapatti in life on earth ? 4. What should be the role of our religious heads ? 5. What should be the approach to learning the basics of our sampradayam? 6. What exactly is the significance of daily rites, rituals, and worship for Srivaishnavas ? 7. What are the codes of conduct for Srivaishnavas with Atman Paramatman and other Jevaatmas of coexistence ? 8. Body-Soul relationship and so on and so forth. In my opinion, every one of the above has a commom denominator which is: "POINT OF VIEW". That is, depending on the point or points of view of the people examining these issues, different conclusions can be and frequently are arrived at. Let us examine a few cases in point notwithstanding the fact of course that this is again another "point of view". What I am driving at is that we learn to respect others points of view no matter what the age difference is and no matter what the generation is. I think therefore, that conferences should be the forum to address and seek answers to questions such as above which get debated but end up being inconclusive. In this context, I would like to quote Sri Vijay Srinivasan's brilliant observations in his latest posting on this list and offer my comments. Vijay said, ".........................I also thank Rama Balasubramaniam for her clarifications on mine and Shri Krishna Kalales postings. My involvement with the local temple activities has highly stressed the need for cooperation between the Smarthas and the Vaishnavas and even beyond (between the North and South Indians). Therefore I think it is very important for us to know each others viewpoint on matters of worship and particularly temple worship. I have always found that a temple program that involves everyone in a spirit of cooperation irrespective of their lindividual leanings adds to everyones joy. As asthikas we are all scattered in different parts of this country and since it is difficult for any single group to sustain their own traditional institution, it has rather become a necessity here that we come together To begin with, most Vaishnavas assume that Smarthas are either Saivites or Shakthas (Sri Vidya Upasakas). After one attends one of their poojas one begins to understand that Vishnu also gets a place in their worship (sometimes a primary place in their Panchayatana Pooja and sometimes much to the discomfort of a Vaishnava - For eg. as in Rudra Mahanyasam it is said that "Vishnu: Padhau Thishtathy"). The fact that they conclude all their poojas with "Kayena Vacha... Narayanethy Samparpayami" brings the Vaishnavas closer to them. When it comes to performing a Homam the concluding part of a "Smartha performed Homam" is more Vaishnavistic than what Vaishnavas perform. While offering the Poornahuti the mantra "Vishnave Swahaha - Vishnavae PARAMAATMANE idam na mama" is common to both, some of the slokas used in the smartha sampradayam for the Agni-Pradakshinam identifies Madhava with Yagnya Purusha and it is indeed pleasing to hear. For some reason we dont say them. The mantras used in all vaidika samskaras are common to both sampradayams and for anyone who has a little knowledge in these things it becomes clear that Lakshmi-Narayana take a primary place. Added to this we have Adi Sankaras Bhaja Govindam as his most important and final message where he pours out his love for Govinda. People like Krishna Premi who grew up in the Smartha tradition and turning into a Narayana worshipper to the exclusion of other things is indeed striking. Also all Sanyasis in the smartha sampradayam signing as "Narayana Smruti". Smarthas Bhajana Sampradayam is another striking example of Vishnu worship. All these things sometimes make me wonder - what is it that is making the smarthas hesitate to go forward and openly accept Vishnus Sarvottama. " Vijay: In my opinion, It is not so important why others didn't do what we do or did, as it is to recognize the common roots of the heritage of all of us who adore and worship one of the Trinity of Gods or other devas, as you yourself has pointed out. Recently, I came across the following in one of the contemporary books on religion (author unknown) which seems to reiterate our points of view. "................................... In their deep deliberations endowed with rich imagination on the phenomenon called LIFE, our wise ancestors, the Rishis, discovered an unbroken current of unity and harmony underlying the expressions of life at all levels, from the Macrocosmic to Microcosmic planes. They discovered a great truth which they passed down to posterity, that we live in a cosmos and not in chaos; that we live in a system which has its precise laws and goal. They visualized the grand panorama of evolution at work, and every expression of life through various forms and names as definite stepsin this evolutionary unfoldment. And each expression of life, irrespective of whether at the macrocosmic or microcosmic level, has three broad stages, viz., the birth, growth and death; every expression of life had a beginning, existence for a given period of time, and the disappearance. This process of birth, growth and death is a continuous chain, taking place over and over again. At each appearance or expression, a little progress, alittle advancement is made in the scale of evolution. This march of evolution is controlled and guided at all stages by the One Supreme Power behind it all. When our attention is focused on the grand phenomenon of creation, the innumerable forms and bodies that are created through which Life expresses, the innumerable planes and worlds for it to exist and expand, we wonder the tremendous resourcefulness of this wise creative force. When we observe the progress of life in and through all challenges and limitations, growing richer in experience and wisdom at every step, we wonder at the Power of this Long Strident One (Vishnu) , the all pervading power, in whose gigantic sweep, the whole phenomenon of life is gracefully moving ahead in the pilgrimage to perfection. And again, when we observe how this great world is ever kept young and fresh, with an inbuilt capacity to recycle its wastes and values and freshen up continuously at the physical, mental and intellectual levels, we bow in silent adoration to that Supreme wisdom behind it all, whose power allows no stagnation and whose auspicious grace bestows all beauty and nourishment. This is often attributed to the concept of the Universe of the Trinity, the universe governed by the One Great Lord who is revealed to the seekers as having the triple aspects of Creation, Sustenance and Annihilation , each one presided over by His own powers, the Primordeal Deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. And under each of the great Trinity, big families were symbolically bestowed by the rich imagination of the Rishis, to strike a note of familiarity with the human system of life. Thus the deities were wedded to their Divine Consorts as we know them today...................................." In another context on the same subject, I have seen another author say as folows: "............................Adi Shankara, one of the greatest saint-philosopher-reformer whom India has seen after the Puranic era, was instrumental in unifying the various factions of Hinduism under the broad accommodative umbrella of Advaita philosophy. To him goes the credit of consolidating the various forms of worship of the Gods into a comprehensive six fold system which came to be known in later years as "Shanmata", the "Six Systems". They are the Vaishna, Saiva, Shakta, Saura, Ganapatya and Kumara systems of worship, each having Vishnu, Siva, Shakti, Sun, Ganapati and Kartikeya as their presiding deities respectively. These were not mutually exclusive systems. But all of them were based on the Vedic tenets, the Sanatana Dharma. These systems were advocated with a view to foster Vedically approved systems of worship of the respective deities, under whom the faiths of the people prevailing at that time were categorized so that each group could progress in the right direction in their own faiths and chosen fields of worship, and ultimately come to recognize the Oneness of the Supreme Truth into which all these systems ultimately merge...................................." It is human nature to nurture and develop what one believes in as long as the belief sustains itself. This I believe our Poorvacharyas did. For example, Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Desikan and other acharyas not only absorbed the tenets of Vaishnava philosophy that precede them but used their intellectual genius to take the siddhantam to new heights. Hence, no one should really be surprised to hear praise of Sriman Naarayana; prose, poetry, discourses etc. in praise of Sriman Narayana on this list. This list is after all dedicated to exploring, pontificating and learning about Srivaishnavism. We wouldnt call ourselves Srivaishnavas unless we show our total allegiance to Sriman Narayana. It is therefore unnecessary for anyone to express their annoyance or displeasure when a Srivaishnava makes assertive statements emphasizing the Srivaishnava philosophy and his or her faith in it. Such assertions should not be the basis for anyone wanting to be excused from the list. But we all owe it to our acharyas and unto ourselves to work towards new goals within the siddhantam and also a common goal of preserving and perpetuating our Sanatana Dharma which is a framework of our siddhantam. Our system of religion or any system of religion within the framework of Sanatana Dharma for that matter, is not perfect nor is it universal. Anything and everything, as long as it is man-made though Divine-inspired, has to undergo changes, improvements and reformations in order to be valid among changing circumstances, to encompass more and more points of view growing out of intellectual thinking over generations and sometimes just to survive. But one cannot change a system from outside; it has to be done from within. People who quit, will be powerless and also the losers. It is therefore important that the conferences on Sri Vaishnavism should strive not only to explore and reexplore the established siddhantam but devote an equal amount of time to explore new avenues to expand acceptance of the Siddhantam world wide and importantly by our youth so that the siddhantam will be perpetuated in generations to come. I had the privilege of participating in two conferences recently. The first one was organized by Dr. M.G. Prasad at The Bridgewater temple and secondly, the SDDS conference in Pomona NY was organized by Sri Anbil Ramaswamy. At these conferences my family and I enjoyed in our own humble way, four things: a )Bhagavat Kainkaryam, b) Bhagavat Sankeertanam, c) Bhaagavat Sravanam and Bhaagavat Sevam. The most gratifying thing was to meet so many Bhaagavatas in person. Many of them belong to this list. It is one thing to exchange views and ideas over a network of computers, it is entirely another matter to meet them face to face. We can resolve differences if any, by speaking in person rather than posting pages on the internet. Both the leaders recognized the need for getting representations from ordinary people like me who sought answers to some of the mundane but practical problems of life from those who knew our sampradayam best. The answers that we got were satisfying in some ways and not so satisfying in others. Nevertheless, we have made a start and let us continue the effort in the name of our Lord Narayana and the great seekers of truth , our acharyas. Let us show it to the younger generation what it means to practice our religion through examples, frank discussions with them and by generating curiosity followed by respect among them not only for our traditions but also for our open mindedness to respect the views of others including their own. Adiyen. Keshava Prasad.