Practical Vedanta

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed May 19 17:09:47 CDT 1999

On Tue, 18 May 1999, Sankaran Panchapagesan wrote:

>         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.

Actually, what I meant to say was that disbelief and confusion are often
due to or increased by ignorance.  Faith needs fertile ground to
grow. Although some people do arrive at atheism, materialism etc. from a
philosophical point of view, I think your average modern person doesn't
have the mental framework to deal with the bewildering amount of
information out there and disbelief seems like the easiest option.

> 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.

And the Buddhists disappeared from India.  The Jains (equally
objectionable from the Vedic point of view and for much the same reasons)
do believe in it to the extent that most people think of them as just
another Hindu caste.  The lesson I get from that is in the end high
philosophy only has a glancing effect on society.  People for the most
part do not think of "the caste system" as an ideology on the daily level
but a set of interlocking personal relationships.  These are sometimes
oppressive and sometimes not.  I think sociology is more important for
analyzing this than philosophy.

> 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
> countries.

Look at history.  There have been numerous revolts.  Inevitably if they
succeeded they just ended up providing a new class of oppressors.

>         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)

As far as Advaita Vedanta is concerned, there are two types of spiritual
seeking.  Towards Moksha the domain of sannyasis, in which case you are
right, and towards Dharma which is for grhasthas.  Dharma is not
incompatible with wealth and to some extent depends on it.

>         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.

Many Hindus do eat meat.  In some parts of Northern India even the
Brahmans eat meat.  (It is only beef which is universally abhorred.)
Shishtachara or the traditions of our elders is on an equal footing with
Shruti, and Smrti as a source of Dharma.  Dravida and Gurjara Brahmans are
vegetarians because it is our tradition not because Shruti or Smrti
forbids it.  (Which as you point out, they don't)

> 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.

The enlightened souls of today would agree to the value of sannyasa
_for_sannyasis_.  But the Grhastha is different.  He should be moderate
yes, but he is not a sannyasi.  Different rules apply.

> As far as practical vedAnta goes,

Ugh theres that word again :-)  To prevent further confusion, can we use
the word sadhana instead?  I think it is more accurate anyway.

> I don't think pleasure and AtmavicAra
> are said to be compatible by any of our teachers.

But Dharma is compatible with Kama, and Artha.

> 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.

Yes, that's true but there are big grey areas.  E.g. is Internet access
frivolous or necessary?  You could argue either way.

> > 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.

But if you have more you can give more right?

> 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?

Is all self-service done for selfless reasons?  It seems to me enlightened
self-interest is a valid reason for some social service.  Why not Dharma

> > 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.

Ok I'll explain.  There have always been some followers of the Vedas who
thought karma is superior to jnana.  Others thought jnana is superior.
Yet more people said the two had to be done one after the other. but it is
only lately, amongst the ignorant that the very meanings of karma and
jnana have been conflated in such ludicrous ways.

>         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.

Is there any Buddhist culture of past and present which didn't have social
divisions, elitism, and oppression anyway?  I'm not singling out Buddhism
just pointing out all Human societies have these problems despite what
their philosophers urge because evil is basically an inherent part of
human nature and something that has to be battled constantly.

> 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.

I don't think there ever was a time when there weren't bad Brahmans and
good ones.  I don't think there will ever be such a time either.

>         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
> opinion.

Yes this is true according to Vedanta.  But for followers of the Vedas,
this is only half the picture.  Take for example Maharshi Manu who says in
his dharmashastra that of all the ashrams, the Grhasthas are the best
because they are the support of the other three.

Look at the conduct of the disciples of Shankaracharya today.  When people
go to the mathadhipatis for advice, they don't always recommend sannyasa.
Often they advise doing some yagna or archan etc.  It depends on the
fitness and capacity of the seeker.

>         I don't know what you mean by social service being injurious to
> society, etc. It's too vague for me to understand.

I really, really don't want to get into politics here but if you look at
history, you can easily come up with examples of how people with the most
sincere of intentions ended up causing great problems in their societies
due to misguided "reforms".

> 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.

The only thing I will add to that is one shouldn't get so involved in
helping others, one forgets to help oneself.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

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