New member introduction: shrI Hari K. Tadepalli

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Sat Dec 5 17:53:11 CST 1998


> To give an idea of my interests & leanings, here are a sample questions I
> often ask myself:

Hmm It seems from the type of questions you are asking you saw my message
(some would say tantrum :-) on the Advaitin list?

>                 What is the importance of the  practice of Karma, both in
> the ritualistic sense & secular sense ?

There is no distinction between secular and spiritual in our religion. Not
only Dharma and Moksha but Artha and Kama are purusharthas and all are
regulated by shastras with attendant rituals, niyamas etc.  However as
Moksha is distinct from the other purusharthas as it is beginingless and
endless.  The others are finite.  The Ishopanishad says "one should do
Karma if one wishes to live for a hundred years." But it goes on to say
"these worlds are called darkness."  From this our Acharyas have concluded
that for the person who wants success in this world, the Vedic pravrrti
marga of performance of rituals, worldly duties etc. is the best way.  If
done correctly, this will lead to prosperity, attainment of heaven, etc.
But for the person who realizes that in the end even svarga is finite
"darkness" the nivrrti marga explained in the jnana kanda of the Vedas is
the best way.  And that path involves sannyasa--the complete cessation of
involvement in karma.  Now an argument against this is that even the
sannyasi, has to eat, sleep etc. So it is enough to be merely
disinterested in the consequences of karma.  However this line of argument
has flaws.  For one, the need to sleep etc are basic drives of the human
body at a level below rational thought.  (Though we hear of Yogis who can
substantially cut down these urges through sheer willpower.  But even they
can't stop them altogether and live.)  Also if this idea of disinterest is
actually carried out it will end up in the cessation of karma anyway.
Nobody "randomly" decides to take a job or mow the lawn etc.  A truly
disinterested person has no reason to start doing something or continue
what they were doing.  So there is no such thing as seperate "mental" and
"physical" sannyasa as some people allege.

>                 What is the relation between the teachings of Advaita &
> those of the "popular" saints like Ramakrishna, Sai Baba, Sivananda &
> Yogananda ?

For the most part very little which I've always found puzzling.
Ramamohan Roy and Vivekananda had their roots in popular Bengali
Vaishnavism.  Ramakrishna in popular Bengali Shaktism.  Sai Baba in the
Sant tradition.  Swami Shivananda and Swami Yogananda had closer links to
canonical Advaita Vedanta yet they were somewhat apart from it.

To understand this phenomenon we have to look at the historical and
sociological factors which led to the rise of modern Hinduism.  It's
origins arose in colonial times.[1] Although they were greatly attracted
to Western culture the first moderns were acutely aware that they were
considered inferior by their colonial masters.  The rites of popular
Hinduism were considered backward and uncivilized by the people they
admired.  Writing somewhat later[2] Gandhiji wrote in his autobiography
that he didn't go much to the Haveli[3] because "I heard immorality was
practised there."  Now, even though Hindus of other sampradayas may think
the Pushti Marga emphasis on having a good time a bit too much, only a
starchy Victorian prude would consider them immoral.  This wa the
predicament people faced.  They wanted to be proud of their culture but
felt they could not.  Luckily around this time, the Western world was
discovering Vedanta and indeed speaking highly of it.  Here was something
the up-to-date Indian could be proud of.  All that had to be done is to
retrofit existing practices into a Vedantic paradigm.

A similiar process occurred within Hindu society.  Take Sai Baba for
example. For hundreds of years there have been sants and Babajis accross
India usually doing magic tricks and preaching a simple message of bhakti
in the local language to an audience of ordinary people.  My mother goes
to Sai Baba bhajans every Thursday.  It has been my observation that she
(in terms of worldview, a typical Gujarati Brahman woman) is not attracted
by the theological aspects of Sai Babas teachings but the emotional
aspect. Vedic religion for the most part ignores women.  If that were the
only mode of religious behavior available, they might feel oppressed.
Similiarly lower castes do not have access the Sanskrit-based tradition.
The worship of Sants and other aspects of "folk" Hinduism enable these
groups to satisfy their own personal religious needs while not conflicting
with their caste/family duties.  So far so good but like the colonial
class described above, the traditional constituency of the Babajis are now
"upwardly mobile" and feeling a little embarrased by their simple origins.[4]
Once again, the cure is simple, throw in a sprinkling of Vedantic
terminology and tarnished concepts are bright again.

A third group are foreigners.  In this I include not only those people
from other countries who are getting interested in Vedanta but Indians who
are alienated or otherwise ignorant of Indian culture and are approaching
it from the "outside". Their approach to Vedanta is like knocking down a
mandir and building a church out of the bricks.  The materials maybe the
same but the outcome is completely different!

Having said all that, I should acknowledge that the words above are
generaliations and as with all generalizations, counter-examples can be
found. And no doubt in the "traditional" camp you could find people who
exhibit "modern" behavior.  But based on my reading of Sanskrit,
historical, and sociological literature, as well as my personal
observations, I say what I wrote above is basically true.

>                 Who are the modern interpreters & practitioners of Vedanta ?

For all the disruption that cultural changes have caused over the years,
the continuity of the Advaita tradition has not been lost.  The Jagadgurus
of the Maths set up by Shankaracharya are still around and guiding their
disciples.  Pandits still learn the texts in the traditional way, and
their are many, many Sannyasis who practice the Vedantic life.  So the
modern interpreters & practioners are the same as the ancient practioners.

>                 What is the history of Advaita
Vedanta ? Does the word
> 'Vedanta" imply Advaita as taught by Sri Sankara or is it notion contained
> in the Vedas, only to be rejuvenated by Sri Sankara ?

One thing I wrote in the post to the other list on this subject prompted
several enquires from people wondering what exactly I was getting at.
Let me explain.  Shankaracharya, believed that he was only the latest in a
link of teachers of the Advaita Sampradaya stretching back to Shri
Narayana Himself.  In fact, being part of the eternal Vedas, it is correct
to say it has no founder, it has always existed and their is a potentially
infinite number of former teachers. Shankaracharya mentions several
predecessors who explained Advaita Vedanta before him and even comments on
the work of one--his paramguru Gaudapadacharya.

Fast forward to 1998.  Nowadays all we know of these pre-Shankaran authors
is a brief snippet at best.  Most of them are names only.  What we know of
Advaita Vedanta today is filtered through the works of Shankaracharya.
When Swami Madhusudan Saraswati was writing the Advaitasiddhi, he wasn't
defending some abstract concept of "Advaita", he was defending the
teachings of Shankaracharya and his followers.  For that matter when a
Dvaita scholar wrote Duramukhachapetika ("A slap in the face of the
wicked") who do you think was the wicked person he was slapping? :-)

One of the most irksome thing about people such as the one I was arguing
with is their idea that their modern misinterpretations represent some
kind of "real", "original" Advaita Vedanta which existed before
Shankaracharya and does not relate to him.  This is a blatant,
indefensible lie.

> I find that contributions to this list tend to make more frequent references
> to the source works of Hinduism than those in the  other list on Advaita
> managed by Sri Ram Chandran (this is not to compare the merits of the lists
> in any way) & find it personally useful.

All politics, egos, and arguments aside, I believe the contributors to
that list are making a huge tactical mistake proceeding the way they are.
There is no pointing in cursing the darkness if you are the one who put
the lights out.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

[1] It's significant that Bengal the cradle of "new" Vedanta was the part
of India most exposed to British influence.

[2] The wave of modernism didn't affect Gujarat till much later

[3] A Haveli is a mandir of the Pushti Marg Vaishnava Sampradaya

[4] Why?  While I don't think e.g. Sai Baba has anything useful to say on
the subject of Vedanta, I don't disrespect him for who he is.  Neither do
most people.  So why the inferiority complex I wonder?

"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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