Practical Vedanta

Sankaran Panchapagesan panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU
Tue May 18 01:07:03 CDT 1999

        I'd like to present my own thoughts and doubts on what I think was
the original issue, since I don't think Ramakrishnan and Jaldhar objected
to the original topic of discussion. Hope people will forgive me if I say
anything "off-limits" for the list and point it out to me in that case.  I
request people to correct me if I am wrong anywhere.

        From what I can see, Anand Hudli's main point was that the first
and foremost thing is to do our own dharma. Even if by neglecting our
dharma, a lot of (what is commonly perceived as) good might result (as in
Lord Rama's case)  or a lot of (what is perceived as) bad might be avoided
(in Arjuna's case)  we should not neglect our own dharma.

        But since most of us are not in such cases as Arjuna and Rama
were, where we have to make a critical decision, it seems to me that the
problem here is, more basically, what is our dharma? Is social service
included in it or not?
        I think after the advent of Christianity/Christian missions in
India, there was a feeling among our national leaders like Gandhi & co.
and is many educated people that our dharma system was deficient in that
it did not emphasize social service. There is a feeling that this is
something that is worthwhile adopting from Christianity. The only sort-of
relevant duty of brahmins which might be termed "social-service" seems to
me the performing of yajnas etc. for the general well-being of the people
(not for personal gains). It all I think depends on whether you believe
this is going to help or not.
        Our whole dharma system depends to a large extent on faith, which
I think people no longer have too much in. One is born into a certain
varNa, one does one's duty without any questioning, and basically believe
that if one does one's duty and lives virtually, one will obtain a better
birth conducive to getting moksha. Firstly, people no longer have definite
belief in this kind of reasoning, and secondly, it is no longer clear what
one's dharma is.

        Also, the varNASrama system really has not much relevance to most
of us right now. For e.g.:  According to the smRtis (Manu?) is it not part
of brahmin law that they are supposed to live only off begging, should not
accumulate wealth, etc.?  I believe so. In that case, I don't think any
brahmin is valid in arguing like Jaldhar did (please don't get pained, I
am mentioning your name since you explicitly stated it, not that peple
like me are any different), asking why we should not seek comfort, etc. If
I am right, smRti explicitly asks a brahmin to set an example by following
the various vows strictly, and trying to minimize his wants by learning to
live with as little as possible, and then devoting his life strictly to
the study of the vedas, scriptures or a few other permissible occupations.
When very few brahmins are doing that today, most brahmins of modern India
(or the world) don't qualify at all to be called as brahmins.
        Actually, this is not a recent issue, and is one of the objections
the Buddha raised against the caste system of the time, when a number of
brahmins were wealthy and corrupt. I know Buddhism is not to be discussed
on this list, but the Dhammapada the basic buddhist book of morals and
guidelines has a section on who a true brahmin is (in the Buddha's eyes),
which I believe is not far from what our own smRtis say, and is worth

        Regarding Ramana Maharishi's views on AtmavicAra, can the
interpretation be that one should indeed give an important place to
AtmavicAra, but should in fact, devote one's entire life to it, without
any regard for comfort, wealth, and even food (living on begging or on
chance, etc.). I think Sankaracharya is strict on this issue, right?
        Certainly, one should not live comfortably in America, try to
increase one's wealth and comfort, and when asked whether one should not
contribute positively to the society, answer and say one is doing
AtmavicAra? Is it not that these (social works) are essential social
obligations of the present age, which must be forsaken for AtmavicAra only
if at the same time the "good" things of social life, like comfort,
pleasure, etc. are aso forsaken? Is trying to use Ramana Maharishi's
philosophy as a justification for not doing social service while enjoying
the benefits of the society, not a form of escapism as Madhavan Srinivasan
        Please see my statements as half doubts and not as accusations or
fault-finding, I have written the above in the spirit of the taittirIya
upanishad, "atha yadi te karmavicikitsAvA vRttavicikitsAvAsyAt, ye tattra
brahmaNAs- sammarshiNaH..." ((approx.)when in doubt about conduct, dharma,
etc. ask those superior brahmaNas in society, those men possessing wisdom
for guidance) :-). I request the more learned members of the list to
clarify things.



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