miscellaneous (fwd)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Apr 16 22:40:50 CDT 1998

On Fri, 10 Apr 1998, Ravi Mayavaram wrote:

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Thu, 9 Apr 1998 15:26:39 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan <vidya at cco.caltech.edu>
> To: Ravi Mayavaram <msr at reddy20.tamu.edu>
> Subject: miscellaneous


> 3. I disagree with Sri Jaldhar Vyas's comments about the neo-Vedanta
> groups. Although their social concerns may be different from what
> traditional Advaitins have espoused,

And this is mainly the problem.  As you know traditional Hinduism as it is
practiced _is_ primararily about social obligations.  The idea that
"spirituality" can be separated from its cultural context is something
that the modern groups have taken from Christianity not any kind of Indian
tradition IMO.  Shankaracharya only releases the sannyasi from social and
ritual obligations and it is telling how little emphasis the modern groups
place on Sannyasa.

> all the modern neo-Vedanta gurus have
> authentic dIkshA-paramparAs connecting them to Sankara's disciple lineage.
> Swami Sivananda, and through him Swami Chinmayananda and others all belong
> to the Sarasvati order. The Ramakrishna Math monks belong to the Puri
> order, through the person of Tota Puri, a guru of Ramakrishna. And in
> India itself, Mahamandalesvaras of the Dasanami institutions come from
> diverse religious and social backgrounds, e.g. Nityananda, disciple of
> Muktananda of Ganeshpuri (Maharashtra) was recently appointed as a
> Mahamandalesvara (this is mainly a kuNDalini yoga tradition, with links
> to Kashmir Saivism).

The Madhvacharis and Harekrishnas can also claim a Dashanami lineage.  So
I don't think that in itself can count as proof.  Let's look at what the
RK mission itself actually does rather than what it claims to do.  As I
write this, I have in my hand the March 1998, Gujarati edition of
Ramakrishna Jyot, published by the RK mission in Rajkot (which is hardly a
hotbed of intellectualism I'm sorry to say :-( )

In this 50 page issue, I was able to find only _one_ quote from
Shankaracharya or any other acharya.  This was a shloka from
Charpatapanjarika extolling the Gita.  There were precious few quotes from
the Upanishads or Gita either although there was an interview some Swami
had with Jung and an article on how the mission is "curing Americas
spiritual poverty"(!)

There was also an article by Swami Ranganathanand (who I believe is
or was the President) called "The History and Activities of the
Ramakrishna Math and Mission." Again no mention of Shankaracharya or
anyone previous to Ramakrishna.

> The Ramakrishna Mission in New York may look like a church, but so what?
> Their buildings in India look like other Hindu temples in the region they
> are situated in.

Flowers rarely bloom in barren soil.  If someone regularly attends a
pretend church how long do you think it will be before they start
attending a real one?  I know quite a few Bengalis who are Shaktas or
Vaishnavas who tell there children to go there because they think it will
teach them part of Bengali culture.  What they are doing is hastening
their assimilation.  It is sociologically naive to think otherwise.

In my case I went there once or twice but the whole idea of sitting in
pews (and listening to organ music for crying out loud!) gave me the
creeps.  Luckily I had the cultural background to find something else but
if I had kept going and thought that was all there was I would have
probably dropped out of Hinduism altogether by now.

The modern groups fulfilled a sociological need.  For the demoralized
Indians of colonial India they gave a sense that their culture was worth
something.  For others who didn't have a problem with tradition culture
they provided a means to mediate their encounter with modernity
particularly modern science.  But things have changed and IMO they are
fighting yesterdays battles.  Modernity is in a crisis of its own.  Being
tradition-minded still causes logistical problems but even those are
getting fewer.  The world lost the famous mathematician Ramanujan
prematurely because he couldn't maintain his diet in the land of roast
beef and boiled cabbage, England.  I've traveled throughout the world and
been able to maintain rigorous standards.  I'm quite at home in the 20th
century.  I don't feel the psychic disconnect people of my parents
generation do.  And I don't think it's just me.  I was watching peoples
behavior at my wedding (which was of course conducted completely in
Gujarati style.)  There were many people my age or younger brought up in
America who were taking part enthusiastically.  Our biggest problem is
ignorance. We are willing to accept our tradition for what it is but many
times we just don't know the details.  The modern groups far from helping
in this environment are a hindrance IMO.

> And one may disagree with something that Ramakrishna or
> Vivekananda said, without having to dismiss the entire order as
> non-Advaitic. Even within the Ramakrishna order, many of the early monks,
> including Saradananda and Brahmananda, disagreed with Vivekananda on
> numerous issues. And for that matter, not all of us will be able to
> reconcile all the statements of the previous Sankaracarya of Puri with
> Advaita thought. Ramana Maharishi taught Advaita, although he did not
> formally become a monk in the Sankaran tradition. A discussion of his
> teachings would be perfectly in place within this list. So, there has to
> be some flexibility. Nothing is as monolithic as we would like to believe.

But that's precisely my point.  We should look at the ideas and seperate
out the good bits and reject the rest rather than rope off entire areas.
The exact same argument you make applies to Buddhism.  It also has
benefits for people who are trying to understand the context of
early Vedanta.  And you cannot really understand later developments in
Vedanta without looking at the critiques of Dvaitins such as Vyasa Tirth.
So lets include them all and sort out what's relevant.

I am fully convinced that Advaita Vedanta in its classical form has just
as much relevance and just as much capacity to engage as it ever did.  I
don't see any need to avoid answers and I don't see any need to water them

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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