[Advaita-l] RE: Advaita-l Digest, Vol 22, Issue 8

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Tue Feb 8 14:28:34 CST 2005

I have been meaning to respond to a few issues being discussed on this board 
for a while. Here is a consolidated post, giving my take on all of them.

a. vajrasUcikopanishat - Ramakrishnan has already addressed this and I agree 
with his post.

b. sannyAsins crossing the sea - the reality is that dharmaSAstras forbid 
travel by sea to householders too, but that hasn't stopped millions of us 
from living in foreign lands. The primary reason for the prohibition was 
that long voyages by sea would not have allowed the strict observance of 
conventions and rituals, leading to loss of caste. Air travel was unknown 
when this rule was laid down. We no longer have to sit in a ship for two 
months or more, to go from India to America. In very orthodox institutions 
like the Advaita mathas, the expectation is that their heads should not 
travel by sea. As far as sannyAsins are concerned, we should remember that 
no restrictions and rules apply to the vidvat sannyAsin, one who is already 
a brahmajnAnI. All the rules apply only to the vividishA sannyAsin, the one 
who has renounced the world out of a desire to know brahman. On the other 
hand, the vidvat sannyAsin might choose to abide by all the rules, to set an 
example and to teach. When a vividishA sannyAsin graduates, so to speak, 
into a vidvat sannyAsin, that is primarily that particular sannyAsin's 
personal certitude and perhaps something to be endorsed by his guru. The 
rest of us have no business judging it. The examples that Stig Lundgren has 
mentioned are apt here. I, for one, am perfectly content that if the 
Sringeri Sankaracharya deputes some sannyAsin to travel outside India, he is 
making an informed decision and is not transgressing any rules.

c. brAhmaNa status by birth/conduct and women vis a vis the veda - If we 
mean brAhmaNa is one who knows brahman, or strives towards it, that is not 
limited by birth or gender. Note that striving towards knowing brahman also 
involves the giving up of ritual karmas. If we mean that a brAhmaNa is one 
who can perform or conduct ritual karmas, then the social reality for more 
than two thousand years has been that it is determined by birth and gender. 
The entire discussion is moot, in my opinion. To begin with, learning to 
chant the veda and to perform rituals is not restricted to brAhmaNa males. 
It is traditionally allowed for kshatriya and vaiSya males too. The deciding 
factor is the upanayana initiation. Of course, only the brAhmaNa males 
traditionally went into more detail in their learning, because the others 
had other subjects to learn too. View it just as a means of codifying 
division of labor in traditional society. Also bear in mind that there have 
always been differences of opinion about whether a particular community was 
to be considered kshatriya/vaiSya or not. Especially in south India, there 
has been a false tendency to consider all non-brAhmaNa castes as SUdras. 
Today, when people perfunctorily perform an upanayana the day before getting 
married, it hardly gives them the right to question the hows and the whys of 
the tradition. Finally, for many centuries now, other forms of initiation 
have been available to all, irrespective of race, caste and gender, e.g. 
SrIvidyA worship. Studying the smRti is also open to all. Those who 
prohibited women and non-brAhmaNa communities from learning something like 
the vishNu sahasranAma were simply wrong. Should we be worried that women 
aren't taught how to perform an aSvamedha sacrifice? For that matter, how 
many brAhmaNa men know how to perform it or to conduct it for another? 
Initiation into a renunciatory life has also been approved by traditional 
gurus for everyone, again for many centuries. For example, the Vaishya Guru 
math in Haldipur in Karnataka and the Koviloor Mathalayam in Tamil Nadu have 
traditionally been associated with non-brAhmaNa (by birth) communities. 
Today, there are many non-Indian sannyAsins, both men and women, some of 
whom will surely leave a paramparA behind them, while others will not have 
any lasting impact. If we go back to referring to a brAhmaNa as one who 
knows brahman, then yes, all these instances are of people becoming 
brAhmaNas. However, we cannot mix that up with the social reality. In this 
issue too, as with all else in advaita vedAnta, we have to learn to keep 
karma separate from jnAna.


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