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SRI VAISHNAVA CONFERENCES-A POINT OF VIEW

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.