Srivaishnavam Parambaryam, Traditions & The Culture that stands Class apart from othersEssence of Srivaishnavam Practices – A Question for Every Srivaishnavan
The following article and question I got from Mr. Shyam Mehta It is for the readers and surfers to respond in a way that would set the trend for a change, a change that was pending for years and ages – to make our future generation fit enough, at least getting to the inner meaning and values of Srivaishnavam and Visishtadvaita. You may respond to him directly with your valuable suggestions, comments and criticism.
Questions for the Sri Vaishnava Community
From my standpoint the Sri Vaishnava faith and Visishtadvaita philosophy have a vital role to play in the future of this world.
To be frank, I was not brought up a Sri Vaishnava. Mostly, I was brought up in England, I went to an English school and had ‘religious instruction’ in Christianity and went to Sunday School where again we studied the bible. My mother was Jewish and my wife is Catholic.
Yet, as a young boy, I hankered always for India and Indian culture, and my Yoga Guru, BKS Iyengar, came from an orthodox Sri Vaishnava background. Hence, I became interested in Hinduism and Indian philosophy. From my perspective, with no disrespect to Christianity at all, the sheer volume of instruction from God in the ancient Indian texts overwhelms the relative lack of a detailed philosophy in Christianity. This is no issue at all when one is brought up a Christian but to my mind will not satisfy everyone when one is not. So, of course, when I found books and material on Sri Ramanuja and Visishtadvaita, I was truly captivated. Every aspect of material, spiritual and religious knowledge pertinent to man’s development was clearly articulated consistent with all aspects of the sacred texts. The philosophy was complete, as is required of a traditional Indian philosophy as distinct from a modern science which goes in depth into one aspect but omits others. And, luckily for me, I started studying the Yoga Sutras of Lord Patanjali, with the help of BKS Iyengar and his son Prashant. I soon found that in all but possibly one or two minor aspects the two philosophies were identical. And also they are complementary, with information in one supplementing information in the other.
Mostly, since you are reading this article you are one of the more fortunate people in this world. There is so much every day tragedy and disaster in so many countries and affecting so many people. Being the bearer of bad news is never popular, but in truth my view is that the likelihood is that there is much worse to come. One could argue very logically that ‘the end of the world is nigh’. It has been stated so often by religious fanatics and others in the past that this is not what anyone wants to hear. But if one examines any aspect of what man has been doing (to society, to the environment, creating weapons of mass destruction,..) the chance of even just one calamity is high: what odds do you give me of the ozone layer not being destroyed in the next few decades?
So, across the world in a couple of decades the chances are that love will have declined, there may be mass SAR outbreaks, the weather will have become unbearably hot, melting of the polar caps imply that people are squeezed into ever more densely populated areas.Unfortunately, with the onslaught of modern materialism faith in one’s own religion (Christianity, Hinduism, etc) will have declined. But in times of tragedy, people inevitably start to pray and turn to God, however much they have previously been brought up as atheists. The likelihood of turning to God for a miracle is not the highest when one is facing the barrel of a gun, but when there is a sustained period of misfortune. As I see it, though, the ‘scientific’ outlook on life will still not have left mankind and hence a complete philosophy of devotion to God as offered by Yoga and Visishtadvaita will become increasingly popular compared with the more faith-based religions such as Christianity. Even today there is growing interest in Yoga and Eastern thought, at least outside India.
One of the most incredible lessons that I believe Sri Ramanuja taught us is to go beyond accepting other faiths. He had the full offering of philosophy and religion from the Tamil Veda and yet chose to ignore this and instead work with the Sanskrit sacred texts of a different culture so that with a conservative culture in India the chances of the message of Bhakti and love being promulgated across time was maximized. He recognized that the Word of God does not belong solely to one community but to all, and that this Word is the same whoever it has been communicated to.
What does this all mean for the Sri Vaishnava community? In my case I was arguably not brought up properly either as a Christian or a Hindu. One of the main difficulties that arises as one grows older is that it becomes increasingly difficult to learn and assimilate new things. Hence, if you decide to have children (and, given my evolving views about modern society, I decided that I would not) you need to give your children full faith in God. All the trappings of Sri Vaishnavism for me personally have no meaning, and are a distraction from what I see as my purpose in life. But the ancient seers designed the Sri Vaishnava faith exactly as it should be. Hence my view is that you should teach your children to follow faithfully the various rituals and customs of the faith with all sincerity, and explain to them if it is possible for you the rationale behind each aspect. It is up to them later in life to follow this or not. Customs and rituals are crucially important in keeping a community together and gaining focus when times are hard. And, in the case of Hinduism, each custom and ritual has a specific benefit and purpose.
My speculation, though, would be that whilst there will be ever increasing interest in Sri Vaishnavism across the world, this will focus on what I call the ‘essentials’ rather than the ‘trappings’. Hence, a true servant of God will I suggest promote to the world the essentials of Visishtadvaita rather than the full religion. Consequently, I believe that a sort of non-sectarian, if this can be imagined, branch of Sri Vaishanvism should be developed by the Sri Vaishnava community in India. Maybe this sounds absurd to you, (it does a bit to me!), but I wonder whether in this way the Sri Vaishanvas would be most effective in serving humanity. Of course I would not want this to be at the expense of having the Sri Vaishnavas at an individual level abandoning their culture. At the same time one needs to recognize that as India ‘modernizes’ the chances are that the practice of the trappings of religion as well as religion itself will decline. This to my mind makes the question of promoting the essence of Sri Vaishanvism to the world and particularly to India even more important. I would be honoured to help in any way that I can.
Well, obviously, I have been lecturing to you and perhaps questioning some of your beliefs and I hope that you do not mind. I owe a debt of gratitude so large to the Tamil Alwars and to the founding fathers of Visishtadvaita that I hope they do not mind my asking these questions for you all to consider or discard. “
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