Practical Vedanta

Sankaran Panchapagesan panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU
Tue May 18 19:42:05 CDT 1999

> > belief in this kind of reasoning, and secondly, it is no longer clear what
> > one's dharma is.
> In both cases, the reason is mainly ignorance rather than some sea change
> in the human condition.

        Yes, I accept that not knowing one's dharma is ignorance. But the
other case, I think, is the result of lack of faith or disbelief. The
whole dharma system is based on the reasoning I gave before. I think a
lesson which we can learn from history is that social structures like the
caste system should not be taken as absolutes, but only as convenient or
efficient. That was one of the major objections raised by the Buddhists,
and in my opinion should have been well taken.
        People being what they are, I really think sooner or later people
with much power, the brahmins will become corrupt, and those with no power
will suffer under oppression. The amazing thing is that the oppressed
suffered silently in India, and didn't revolt as they did in other

> The Mitakshara and other Dharmashastras list four different ways of life
> for a Brahman which I can't list off the top of my head but I'm pretty
> sure at least some of them involve accumulation of wealth.  Of course this
> wealth should be used to Dharmic ends but not necessarily to the extent
> that one is reduced to penury.

        From the verbal testimony of most jnanis, I would conclude that
spritual seeking and accumulation of wealth are not compatible, or rarely
are (there always are exceptions)

> In the Brhadaranyakopanishad King Janaka offers a 1000 cows to the person
> who will explain Brahmavidya and Maharshi Yagnavalkya gladly takes them.
> We have many examples of Rshis and Pandits who were wealthy householders
> as well as those who were forest hermits.

        I am aware of the story, but one cannot take one's morals directly
from epics and purANas, in my experience. Then one might well start eating
meat, since there is considerable evidence in the Mahabharata that many
gRhastha brahmins ate meat. In fact, one can even cite examples of Rshis
like Agastya who did (story of vAtApi). Such instances are in my opinion
not to be questioned since there might be various reasons, like
availability of grain food, etc. which we have no information about. We
should base our dharma on the enlightened souls of our own times. And this
would clearly indicate either sannyAsa in the extreme, or at least a great
degree of self-restraint.

> > 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.
> As I said before I believe you are only partially right and there is scope
> for seeking pleasure.

As far as practical vedAnta goes, I don't think pleasure and AtmavicAra
are said to be compatible by any of our teachers.

> If you look at what specifically is laid down as nitya karma for Brahmans,
> you find it doesn't take more than an hour-hour and a half per day.  Add
> an extra hour or so for daily svadhyaya and you still have enough of
> what the shastras would consider "spare time" left over to do a job and
> make some money.

My argument is not about whether you can work or not in your time, but
ideally, even if one needs to work to occupy one's time, one can do it as
a sort of karma-yoga, and not use the money only for serving oneself, but
maybe even give away all everything which is not strictly necessary for
your religious pursuits.

> And what can you do with that money?  You can subsidize the sanyasi and
> other who truly renounced.  You can support maths, pathshalas and mandirs.
> I don't know if you saw it but earlier in this thread I gave the example
> of my growing Sanskrit library.  If I had no money I would have remained
> ignorant.  If I'm not, it is because I have the purchasing power to be
> able to get Sanskrit books and the leisure time to read them.

        Strictly speaking, there is no subsidising or otherwise for a
sannyAsi, right? If a sannyAsi comes to one's door, one just gives him
whatever one can, that is dharma. Supporting maThs, mandirs etc. is fine,
but it seems to me that it all revolves around you, your beliefs, etc.
There should be some selfless use of the money also, right?

> Actually it is pre-Buddhistic.  There has always been a certain tension in
> Indian culture between te worldly, and ascetic lifes.  What is new is all
> these uninformed modern types who try and make a hodge-podge of the two.

        You are saying that making a hodge-podge of the two is a
characteristic of the new "uninformed modern types", while at the same
time there was a tension between the two. I don't understand exactly what
you mean.
        I tend to agree with the Buddha, for whom in society, a person was
superior/inferior only by his moral merit, and the extent of his spiritual
effort. If at all brahmins had at any time a claim to superiority, it was
when they followed the moral laws strictly, and I believe this existed at
some time in the past (call it kRta yuga, etc.), long before the buddha,
(as he himself says) and not much since.

> Well He is very clear that Moksha is the exclusive province of the
> sannyasi and the best a grhastha can do is the preliminaries.  But that
> doesn't make the grhasthashram invalid or even inferior, just designed for
> a different type of person.

        Considering that according to vedAnta one can be judged only by
the extent to which one has eliminated one's desires and is on the path to
jnAna, the gRhastha is inferior to the sannyAsi. This is just an objective

> The problem with the argument as formulated above is that it makes a false
> oposition between Dharma and social service as if they were north and
> south poles. A good deal of Dharma is concerned with other people and a
> good deal of "social service" is injurious rather than helpful to society.

        After Anand Hudli's clarification, I understand that social
service is a part of dharma.
        I don't know what you mean by social service being injurious to
society, etc. It's too vague for me to understand. I think "injury" should
be decided by that portion of society which seems to be needing help. One
should probably not "help" anyone who doesn't want it. But if to the
extent of one's information and capability one cannot see injury
resulting, and sees rather good results, I think one should go ahead and
offer help to anyone that asks for it or appears to need it.



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