Practical Vedanta

Anand V. Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue May 18 12:57:12 CDT 1999

On Mon, 17 May 1999 23:07:03 -0700, Sankaran Panchapagesan
 <panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU> wrote:

>        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?

  The answer is yes. Please see my post titled "Request for discussion
  on Common Dharma", that I wrote about a week ago (May 9th). Specifically,
  sAmAnya dharma includes such things as dAna, dayA, satya, asteya, and
  ahiMsA , which if followed provide ample opportunity for social service.

  Instead of trying to answer the seemingly intractable question, "How
  can we do social service and improve conditions in India?", it is
  better to try to answer the questions: "Are we, as Indians, practising
  at least sAmAnya dharma, ie. dharma that should be practised by all
  human beings, regardless of their varNa and Ashrama? If not, how can
  we, as Indians, make sure that we all practise at least sAmAnya dharma
  and then raise ourselves to higher forms of dharma?"

>        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.

 No, we dont have to adopt anything from any other faith. Our dharma-
 shAstras are sufficient if only we follow them.

>        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.

  How about starting with the bare minimum dharma that all human beings
  must follow? This has been mentioned as sAmAnya dharma or sAdhAraNa
  dharma in the smR^itis. And I don't think there would be any disagreement
  about the validity of sAmAnya dharma. Most of it is mere common sense and,
  as the Americans would call it, "thinking straight" as opposed  to
  "crooked thinking." And there would be ample opportunity for social
  service even by following sAmAnya dharma!

>        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,

   This is an erroneous conclusion. Although Brahmins are not supposed
  to hanker after excessive wealth, there is no basis for saying they
  must take to begging. What you are probably referring to is during the
  brahmacharya and sAnyAsa ashrama's? Even to this day, there are those
  who follow this, although I agree the practice is uncommon.

>        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

 A counter argument could be: "At least, in America I can earn my liveli-
 hood honestly and live an honest life, without being dragged into
 corruption. That way there is more scope to follow my dharma in America
 than in present day India. And being honest gives me  peace of mind, and
 I can turn my mind to Atma-vichAra." How would you answer this?

> 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

  I can understand your concern for social service but I cannot
  understand your line of reasoning. As I see it, you seem to be suggesting
  that since we cannot follow our dharma, we must take to social service.
  While there may be some merit in saying that it is better to be involved
  in social service than not following any dharma, this is missing the
  point. The main point is that we must follow our dharma which in itself
  will present us with opportunity for social service. The main focus
  should be on following dharma; serving others is included in dharma.
  Dharma is the one which will lead us to moksha.


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