Jaldhar H. Vyas
jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Jun 22 10:49:57 CDT 2000
Sorry for the delay in responding. You've asked some very pertinent
questions and I wanted to give you a thorough answer. Please say so if I
On Mon, 19 Jun 2000, S. V. Subrahmanian wrote:
> I have seen your responses/questions you have posed in reply to my queries.
> In this and the following sections (I will delieanate different thoughts),
> I will endeavour to explain my stand and also try to seek more
> clarifications from you and from anyone else who can help.
> > "It's too hard" is not a valid reason to abandon ones obligations
>I perfectly understand that laziness can never be an excuse to abandon
>duties. But let me explain why I raised the point of the elaborate effort
>that is required. Here I represent a growing number of people who have
>the feelings that I have, the only difference being that they have given
>it up for good and I am on the border line trying to find which way to go -
>either to give it up or take it up.
>I have seen the performance of srArdam in orthodox Brahmin families in
>the past. (I grew up in one such). We were then a joint family, so the
>number of relatives who could come over and help were huge and none
>of them were in a seriously competitive profession that consumes too much
>their time. So it was easy for them to perform all that was (supposedly)
>enjoined by the Shastras.
I'm a busy professional with commitments etc. According to my time sheet
last week I spent 52 hours on the job. Add an extra 1 !/2 hours a day for
commuting and we're up to 59 1/2 hours. That leaves us with what
107-108? Now my nitya karma takes about an hour a day altogether. Add an
extra hour a day for svadhyaya. Altogether I am being asked to give up 14
hours out of 108. And actually this is a high amount because the
svadhyaya can be done on the train during a break etc. Is this really too
much even for busy professionals? If one counts up the time spent in
watching TV or other frivolous activities it will probably come up to
more time. But each of us has to make the choice. Is Bhagawan more
important or "Frazier"? Whatever choice one makes the responsibility lies
with oneself, you cannot say "modern life made me do it." In fact modern
life can help rather than hinder. (You can use the VCR to tape "Frazier"
>There is a growing band of people who find such performances of rites
>difficult for genuine reasons (professional commitment, family limitations
I find the purchase of a house difficult for genuine reasons. (Not enough
money for a mortgage yet :-) I don't think anyone would expect me to not
bother buying a house or to live in a shipping crate and call it a house.
Instead the expected course of behavior would be to work hard and save
until I did have the money. Why is it not possible to make a similar
investments of time and effort in ones spiritual life?
>and have almost given up the task. When I said effort, it is not
>just time and energy, it is mainly the amount "shastraic precision" that
>these rites demand that is daunting.
Again, is this any different from any other field of human endeavor? A
person who doesn't know biology will find becoming a doctor daunting. If
they don't know law, becoming a lawyer will be daunting.
Modern life makes it _easier_ to do ones duty with shastraic precision. A
few hundred years ago if one wanted to learn some work he would either
have to memorize the whole thing or laboriously copy it out by hand. I've
seen some of these old manuscripts, they are often fragile, incomplete,
and rife with spelling mistakes. Nowadays we have high-quality printed
books. If we don't own them ourselves, most major cities have public
libraries where we can read and if we don't have that, many works can be
found on the Internet which has now spread to the furthest corner of the
globe. Learned people are more accessible too via phone, fax, radio, tv,
and now email.
Despite all this those people who really want an excuse not to do things
will find them no matter what we say or do. The only thing that sort will
get from me is contempt. But I'll help anyone who is genuinely interested
in overcoming obstacles to a fuller Dharmic life.
> For eg., one living in say a
>foreign country cannot assure the amount of "external purity"
By comparison the Kathiawad region of Gujarat where my family comes from
chronically suffers from drought. Even the daily snana becomes a hardship
for some people but they still try to do it. There is little in life you
can assure. What Bhagawan asks is that you try your best.
> that is
>demanded or for that matter one who gets married to spouse from
>heterodox faiths will find it difficult to perform.
Then they shouldn't do that then. It is hardly inevitable that people will
marry outside their faith and if they intentionally do things like that
why should we chase after them?
> In such cases it seems to be an easy decision to come up with some
> rationalization for not
> doing something. Like it or not "srArdam" is a decaying tradition.
Tradition is always decaying. Time is not depicted as the all-destroying
Mahakala for nothing. Each generation has to renew the vitality of the
tradition. If we look at our history, there have been other periods where
the vitality of tradition has ebbed. Our duty is to this moment. Can we
make traditional vital now. My answer is yes we can.
>Even if people come up with "short-form" of doing this rite (which manyhave
>successfully come up with), I find it hard to imagine their children ever
>being able to pick up the enthusiasm to do it.
Certainly if Dharma is looked upon as a burden for which "shortcuts" need
to be taken people are only shooting themselves in the foot. The key is
enthusiasm for Dharma. I know lots of second-generation Gujaratis who are
proud of their religion and active in it. Often they come from quite
humble backgrounds but their parents have managed to communicate to them
love and enthusiasm for their culture. I should point out that many of
them are Vaishnavas. However much we may criticize them for other things,
in this case they are far ahead of us.
Advaitins are often mesmerized by gimmicks and mystical babble instead of
hard facts. Recently we had a person on this list claiming Sanskrit is
the ideal language for Artificial Intelligence. Sanskrit has many
noteworthy feature but that statement was blatantly untrue. When I said
that, he decided to quit the list. I guess he was more in love with the
idea of Indian culture being great than actually knowing how it is great.
Are such fools capable of passing along values and traditions to future
> The primary reason being
>lack of knowledge about this whole tradition and hence consigning to
>the category of superstition. If this tradition is an integral part of
>Vedic culture then it has to be revived desparately. People coming from
>(good) traditional families are also giving up this ancient tradition.
There are many ways to remedy the lack of knowledge. The question should
be why or why aren't people employing those remedies? This isn't a matter
of philosophy so much as sociology.
I know a person from one of Gujarats' most learned Brahman families. In
fact his father and grandfather were Agnihotris, the highest level of
Vedic ritualists. But growing up in the 50s-60s this person just couldn't
see a future in that. He ended up becoming an atheist and repudiating
everything to do with his culture. Why? Because modernism presented
itself as being the rational, objective culmination of all the previous
modes of thought that came before it but it turned out it was just another
culture with biases etc. of its' own. Grand modernist projects like
communisism turned out to be dismal failures. Democracy triumphed but
Democracy is studiously neutral on cultural matters. Sometimes I struggle
to even understand the thought processes of the immigration generation.
They were prepared to make all kinds of accomodations to modern life.
I live a modern life to but it doesn't clash with my spiritual life. If
it did, i'd be more likely to file a lawsuit than to acommodate!
>There are many thought currents going on in my mind. I will try to
>them to the best of my ability and write.
>a) If the intention of performing Shraardam is for the good of future
>generations, then this should have been prescribed for everybody. Was it
>prescribed for all the varnas in ancient India ?
In Gujarat at least I know that non-dwija castes such as Lohanas and
Patels also do shraddha albeit not in precisely the same form as Brahmans
> How come people in
>other countries who hitherto have not known this have long lives, live
>peacefully (had same problems as Bharatiyas), have healthy and good
>children (please don't quote incidents like Columbine school shooting -
>they are clearly one off)
This is a topic that is much discussed in tarkashastra where it is called
mangalavada. The shastras declare that any work should begin with
managalacharana or dedicatory verses for the purpose of ensuring the
success of the work. If so, our sages asked, how is it that the atheists
write texts successfully without any invocation but to give one stock
example the Kadambari of Bana Bhatta (a famous Sanskrit novel) is
incomplete because the author died while writing it despite having
composed an elaborate mangalacharana?
I'll post later some of the discussion on this but a brief summary is that
even those that do not formally put a mangalacharana implicitly have
one. (The word atha that begins a text can serve as it.) They may
haphazardly be able to get results but we who have clear instructions from
our sages know the theory as well as the practice so we have specific
things we do to get results. I believe we can extrapolate this line of
thinking to shraddha etc.
>b) Once during a conversation with a priest in US, I broached the subject
>of what should be the geographical location that needs to be specified
>in the sankalpa mantra. His reply was that there was no merit in
>rituals outside Bharat, they go waste and hence imagine that you are in
>Bharat and say the sankalpa as if you were in your house and do it. Does
>that mean that Shastras have a geographical scope which means it is limited
>in its application ? So does that give a licence to somebody abroad to
>abandon his duties because there is no merit outside of Bharat ?
Our shastras say that Bharat is the punyabhumi and karmabhumi. However
what is Bharat? Not just the Modern state of India, history shows the
boundaries of Bharata have expanded and contracted quite a bit. I am
reminded of a Gujarati saying "Jya jya vase ek Gujarati tya vase
Gujarat." Where one Gujarati lives is Gujarat. The meaning is that
wherever Gujaratis' go (and they have roamed around a lot compared to
other Indian ethnic groups.) they recreate the culture and institutions of
their home. (and all the bickering and politics too but that's another
story :-) That should be the attitude to take. With effort, America can
also become a karmabhumi and punyabhumi. Your Pandit suffers from
the same problem as the young professionals you mentioned earlier. He
treats the world as if it was some fixed thing. If you however accept the
notion that the world is maya, it is infinitely malleable.
>c) Let me explain a little before I ask the next question. We offer
>"Shraardham" say to our mothers out of gratitude for she is the one who
>fostered, guided and guarded us with love - agreed. Are there not so many
>other relationships where we experience the same, albeit at a much, much
>smaller scale. A weary traveller under scorching sun rests under a tree,
>refreshes himself with some fruits of the tree and later moves on. The
>tree for a short period of time performs the role of the mother, shelters,
>nourishes and guards (all selflessly). Are we indebted to the tree, when
>we walk away. When we look at the jiva which transmigrates from birth to
>birth, is not its temporary sojourn in one birth very tiny compared to
>the innumerable births before and after the current one. In which case,
>when really look at the jiva's "real age" is not the current association a
>small fraction (like a traveller under the tree). Should we hold ourselves
>indebted for ever ?
No only for the space of one birth. You are not expected to do shraddha
for all your previous incarnations.
>d) Again accepting we have to, as long as our body-consciousness is still
>alive, then has not this jiva adorned many other bodies. Do we have to
>continue to give offerings to all the pitrs of all earlier bodies that
>we missed out.
>e) Continuing on the fact that we derive help from so many people in the
>society, what is the basis to decide as to whom one is supposed to offer
>oblations or are we supposed to do it for everybody. (I once went to Kashi
>and found the priest there reciting mantras for offering oblations to
>even pets that we normally miss out when doing it at homes). Then what
>exactly are "Shraardham-able" relationships. To me everyone seems so.
>Interdependency in society is a in-built law (I read somewhere, I forget
>the author who said that you cannot wink your eye without disturbing the
This is the purpose of Smrti. Shruti gives the basic commands such as
to do shraddha, then our sages determined how it was to be done.
>f) And what about people who don't have sons. There seems to be no
>for women to perform the rites. If it is for the welfare of the children,
>why were women not allowed to do it ? (Here I am only questioning the
>of the fact that it is for the welfare of the living as opposed to the
>not fighting for women's rights - I would hope the discussion does not get
>diverted in that direction).
But a woman does do it in the senses that she (and other family members)
should be present or at least give her assent when the head of the
household does it. It is like when the President makes some policy
decision, it is done in my name and all the other US citizens even if
we're not actually personally involved.
>Question 2: (again relevant portions lifted from different mails)
>2. What is its relevance or contribution to one's spiritual growth ? Is
>a must ? Is it really worth it ?
>For someone who has taken up the Sadhana towards Advaita (here I am using
>Advaita as a goal to be achieved, which I presume it is), why should he
>still stick on to Karma. Karma I would presume would be for one who is
>still interested in the fruits of actions (ie., wanting to have good
>health, good children etc). So if one were to be family man, wanting the
>pleasures of material life, he should probable indulge in "Shraardham"
>to get the blessings of the pitrs for good life here.
>But one who has accepted with faith that this phenomenal world is just a
>dream by his true Self, needs to perform only one act ie., waking up from
>the dream. He does not have to do any other activity to perpetuate the
>dream just because he is not yet "woken up". My point is that one need
>not necessarily have to be jnani before one has to give up karma. Is it
>enough if he performs the one final act of waking up ?
Yes it is quite enough but as other posts have pointed out just talking
about Advaita does not constitute "waking up".
>If as Shri Vidya Shankar says that it is for Chitta-Shuddhi, then there
>are umpteen ways of attaining attaining it, why Shraardham at all ?
Because the underlying point of chitta-shuddhi is to get rid of
self interest. If we know something is to be done, we should just do it
without thinking about what would be more or less convenient.
>I am doubting the contribution of Shraardham to one's spiritual progress
>at all. Again if it is to be offered to Bhagawan as a sacrifice, there are
>many other ways. Here is a man, he has an intuition that there is a
>greater Truth that he does not understand and would like to. Now is it not
>enough if he tries to find that Truth, not worry about Shraardham etc.
>Can he take refuge in Shankaras shloka in Atma Bodha:
>"Action cannot destroy ignorance, for action is not the opposite of
>ignorance. Knowledge alone can destroy ignorance just as light alone
>can remove darkness".
>In short is my postulate correct :
>Shraardham is for people who would like to lead worldly life. But a
>Sadhaka can give it up as it makes no active contribution to one's
>spiritual progress [Not all karmas can be categorized thus, as many of
>them have a direct contribution to progress eg., Sandhyavandanam]. Or
>at its best, Shraardham should be just an option as opposed to being
>mandatory as it is recommended now.
The postulate can only be accepted if sadhake == sannyasin. Only the
sannyasin can give up karma. Because Karma doesn't mean just religious
action but _all_ actions.
>3. Does it have a sound philosophy behind it (I assure you, I will expand
>on this, which is one your questions) ?
>Shri Jaldharji questioned me as to what I meant by sound philosophy.
>I am writing what I think would be a sound philosophy. I am sure it could
>more than what I say, but I feel it should be atleast as much as what I
>A good test of sound philosophy is two fold: one test of time and two the
>test of sound reasoning. This is only an opinion and not something
>beyond reproach. The 2 may seem interdependent but are slightly different,
>but I want deal with it as much as it pertains to topic, not go tangential
>as to what are the conditions that make a sound philosophy. I am only
>explaining my touchstone for testing a philosophy.
>"satyam thrikala abaadhitam". A sound philosophy should stand the test of
>time ie., it should have been true and applicable in the past, present
>and future. From this point we have nothing much to argue with
>respect to the tradition of Shraardham, as the conditions, reasons and
>results of the performance is the same as it was in the past.
>We can leave it at that.
>But does the performance of Shraardham stand the test of sound reasoning
>as why it needs to be peformed ? What is the reason behind the pitrs
>having to spend some time before the next birth ? What is the time
The pitrs reach their position through whatever merit they have earned and
when that punya is exhausted they fall once again.
>What happens when if the pitr's son does not do it or does not have
Due to the non-performance of shraddha the pitrs fall to Hell. One
derivation of the word putra is the one who saves his ancestors from the
Hell called pu-narka.
>All other rituals seem to have some optionality embedded in them. But
>Shraardham is prescribed as mandatory. I read responses in the mails
>from different people about pitrs being some sort of an equivalent to gods.
>So be it. These gods have been assigned responsibilities from one point of
>view. Some may argue they are not really gods but knowers of Truth at
>different levels, so be it. What is pitrs role among the myriad beings.
>Each god seems to be responsible for or related to some thing physical
>in this perceptible universe, but what are pitrs responsible for.
You!! Unless there are any clones reading this list, we all came into
existence through the efforts of our parents.
>Shri Jaldharji wrote in response to my query below:
> > Is there any other alternative way of showing our gratitude to our
> > ancestors sanctioned by the Vedas ?
>No. If there is one, why would you ned another?
>Sound logic. I was zapped for a moment. Now that I have gathered my wits,
>I will explain what I meant. In the case of Sadhana (used in the sense
>of any means trying to attain God), we have Puranas which recommend
>different kinds to people of different yugas based on the "gunas" and
>the capacities of the people of that age. Tapasya was recommended for
>of Satya yuga and Hari Kirtan(or Nama) is recommended for Kali age. Now
>on a comparative basis kirtan might be much easier than tapasya for people
>of our age, so the Rishis knowing this lacunae in our will power have
>given a easier but equally effective prescription. I don't think they
>say tapasya is not for Kail age, but just that kirtan is as good and for
>those not capable, kirtan will give the same benefit, a better choice.
>So when I asked for an alternative I was asking if there has been anything
>recommended for this modern e-age (call it material age, stock-market age,
>rocket-era or whatever) where man is more engrossed in Kali, so that
>the spirit of Shraardham is still upheld but the forms of expression have
>been relaxed to benefit mankind, out of sheer compassion for poor hapless
>being tossed amidst the waves of desires.
For the spirit of anything to be upheld, effort must be put into it. This
applies to rockets and stock markets as much as to Dharma. The shastras
do give options for people in difficult circumstances. The question we
have to ask ourselves is one of attitude. Are we approaching the shastras
as an accountant would approach the tax code just looking for loopholes
and legalities? Then even if we are punctillious in observance we will
not maintain its spirit. The danger on the other side is if we get so
pedantic we don't see flexibility as an option even if it is
legitimate. That's why we need to be as well educated as possible
ourselves and listen intently to those who are more learned than us.
>Shri Jaldharji wrote in one of his mails in a totally unrelated topic:
>"knowledge of theory affects practice":
>The questions that I have posed are not that of an atheist or sceptic. I
>have firm faith in the words of the Rishis. They mean good and are
>But as Shri Jaldharji says above, we have to understand as much as we
>can about our practices (if we practice), that will give us greater
>conviction and resolve to perform it with gusto.
>I somehow feel sad when I look around that the Vedic heritage seems to be
>slipping away from our hands. The spirit will never die for it is the
>fundamental Truth, but if we destroy the form that envelopes the spirit,
>spirit will be lost. If we have a diamond, we need an iron safe to protect
>it. Without the iron safe the diamond may get lost (it may not perish,
>but that is no consolation). At the same time the iron safe is useless
>without the diamond in it. Our traditions are the iron safe and the
>Truth is the diamond in it. We need both to derive benefit.
>I look all around that people give up our heritage for there is no one to
>explain them. If we do not stem the rot, very soon our own children will
>question the validity of what we profess. If we do not have answer to
>the questions that I have asked, what prevents our children to ask the same
>question to us at some point and thus blow away this tradition from our
>families. Ofcourse the situation is not as bad as I am depicting, but
>prudence is not to let it become what I fear would be the case.
>May be none in this mailing list perceives any threat as each is following
>his ideal properly, but this mailing list is not the world. We will die
>one day, somebody else has to bear the torch and for those bearers we have
>to create conducive atmosphere.
Sometimes those who have heard these questions 1000 times can feel a
little jaded but actually questioners like yourself should be
thanked. This is what has kept our ideals fresh and vital all these
years. As long as we keep on learning and analyzing we have no reason to
fear for the survival of the Vedic tradition. So please keep on learning
and doing and I'm sure I speak for all the members of the list when I say
we are ready to help you in any way we can.
Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam
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