[Advaita-l] Seeking God

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Apr 3 14:40:12 CDT 2006

Sorry for the dreadfully delayed response Santosh but here are the answers
to the questions you asked.

On Wed, 8 Mar 2006, Santhosh Nair wrote:

> How should one live according to Advaita?

Righteous living is called dharma.  One's own dharma (swadharma) depends
on several factors.

1. Birth.  Being born as a man or a woman in a particular caste (jati)
gives you certain obligations to perform.  The last time we discussed
swadharma on the list the question came up but didn't really get answered
as to what happens if one doesn't practice ones traditional occupation or
doesn't even want to?  It should be noted that this isn't a new question.
For instance Gandhiji was a Gujarati Vaishya whose surname means a
greengrocer yet his ancestors were divans to various rajas.  My own
surname Vyas means a Brahmana who is a reciter of puranic kathas yet for
atleast 11 generations, my ancestors seem to have been only schoolteachers
or minor bureaucrats.  Does this mean that profession is irrelevant?  No
that is going to far in the other direction.  Those 11 generations of
teachers for instance never forgot they were Brahmanas and did keep up
study of Vedas, puranas etc. even if they didn't do it "professionally."
The new aspect of the situation is that more people have a choice to try
something different nowadays.

specific gender differences I will cover in my responses to the thread on
"women and the Vedas" which is going on at present.

2. stage of life

There is also dharma associated with the several stages of life or
ashramas.  In youth a Brahmana boy should be taken up in study of shastras
as a Brahmachari.  Other castes don't necessarily have a formal stage like
that but nevertheless spend time in learning their livelyhood.  Of course
nowadays primary education at least is virtually universal.

After completing ones studies, one should get married and raise a family.
Rajarshi Manu calls this grhastha ashrama the most important because it is
the pillar on which all the others depend on for support.  It is the
grhastha who has to perform rituals and take part in public society.

When one has seen ones children grown up and settled down and fullfilled
all of societies obligations, one should retire and while continuing with
rituals concentrate more on their meditative and symbolic meaning.
This is called the vanaprastha (forest-dweller because you are leaving
the "village" of society and entering the "forest" of individuality.) Some
dharmashastras opine that vanaprastha ashrama is no longer operative in
the Kaliyuga and in anycase this seems to be honored more in the breach.
Instead people go straiht to the fourth ashram...

...sannyasa or monkhood.  In the advaita tradition, one who has renounced
the world should give up all karmas and all contact with and obligation to
society.  Why, is a whole seperate topic and one we can discuss if you
like but as this post is already quite long, let me move on for now.

3. regional culture

As a Keralite you have customs which I as a Gujarati do not share and vice
versa. There may be specific Gods or forms of some pan-Indian God
which are popular in your locality but not in other peoples.

4. ones individual circumstances.

If one is very rich or poor it affects what one can do as well as
educated, uneducated, lame, blind, or suffering from some other mental or
physical disability etc.

5. ones own conscience and interests.

The above description seems to suggest a lot of rules and regulations.
While dharma is not quite the "do as you please" some liberals imagine, we
must also not go to the opposite extreme and assume there is only one way
to be dharmic.  In fact there is scope for a person to make their own
choices about how and what to practice. Again this would require a long,
additional explanation though.

So you are a Nair.  I understand they were traditionally warriors.  As an
aside I have been told they are considered as belonging to Shudra varna.
This just goes to show you that jati is the relevant concept in Indian
society not varna.  While you probably shouldn't give up your computer job
to become a soldier, there are Nair-specific things you should learn about
and do.

How do we learn about dharma?  Its' sources are threefold:

Shruti:  Another word for the Vedas, these were the divine inspirations
that the Rshis "saw" (not wrote.)  The Vedas have two parts: karma
kanda that concerns karma and dharma and jnana kanda which concerns jnana
and mukti.  While this is where we get the
notion of dharma it is not enough for practical purposes so we also have:

Smrti: that which is "remembered" this is the record of all the
discussions, speculations, and explanation the Rshis had concerning dharma
and mukti.  Also because the Vedas are only by some (nowadays basically
Brahmanas) Maharshi Vedavyasa wrote the 18 puranas and Mahabharata which
contain the essence of the Vedas but can be learned by all. So these are
also classified under smrti and in fact the majority of contemporary Hindu
practices come from them.

Shistachara: The Rshis carried on their teaching to their disciples and
they in turn passed it on to theirs until the present day.  These experts
who know dharma completely are competent to interpret it.  But it is not
only Sanskrit-knowing pandits who should be considered shishtas.  Your own
elders by virtue of having witnessed dharma in practice can tell you how
to behave.

Unfortunately it seems nowadays people are overly fixated on books and
neglect the importance of shistachara.  Remember until recently the vast
majority of Indians were illiterate.  Even amongst literate populations,
while texts were important, they were communicated father to son, teacher
to pupil, not necessarily as "books."  But if you want insight into how to
live, first ask your parents and relatives what it means to be a Nair.
Look at history to see how Nairs have lived through the ages.  History is
another subject where the typical Indian are woefully ignorant. To make
things worse, what little they do know is more often left or right wing
political propoganda rather than fact. However I think a good grounding in
history and tradition is absolutely vital to understand our faith.

> Whom should one pray to?

Again I think you should ask your elders as to what are the traditions in
your family.  Or if there is a particular devata you feel more close to
pray to Him/Her.  The important thing from the Advaita point of view is
that you to pray for love of God, not out of fear or for personal gain.
And that you remember that there is no sharp line between self and God but
you are one.

> Is
> someone allowed to have nonveg and alcohol?

Again restrictions on food depend on family traditions.  Ask your elders.

> Are there any specific rules
> regarding praying, like how many times to pray or when to pray?

You can pray at any time you feel a connection to God.  However if you
have a sadhana, a discipline of worship there will be rules you have to

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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