[Advaita-l] meaning for certain mantras

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue Oct 14 00:48:01 CDT 2008

On Fri, 10 Oct 2008, S Jayanarayanan wrote:

> I would actually suggest that one approach a person in the tradition who 
> has studied the dharma shaastras carefully before coming to a personal 
> conclusion on dharmic practice. That which is practiced by most people 
> is only "aachaara", not "shishhTaachaara" - which requires that the 
> person practising dharma be a "shishhTa" or learned in the scriptures.

You are absolutely right that all should pay closer attention to what 
those who are steeped in knowledge of shastras  are saying but I would not 
go as far as to say they are the only shishtas.  For one thing, if by 
shastra we are talking about formal written texts in Sanskrit, they are 
the heritage of only a small part of the population only.  (Not just 
Brahmanas but not everyone either.)  Many Hindus were not literate in any 
language until recently but this doesn't mean they were ignorant or did 
whatever they pleased.  Rather it is through the elders of the family that 
they passed down the structure and details of their dharma.

I think one problem that 'modernism' has caused amongst some Dharmic 
people (I don't know if it is true of anyone in the present conversation 
but in general) is to lower their self-confidence in their ability to 
understand their traditions.  Perhaps they feel it is more "official" to 
have things written in books.  But it is really not necessary.

> There are many areas where "aachaara" takes second precedence or is 
> simply wrong in the eyes of a shishhTa who is knowledgeable in the 
> shaastras.

Yes.  This is why even with an elder you can't just take their opinions at
  face value.  I recommend historical research.  Even for those oral 
traditions, there is enough historical material out there to give 
definitive answers.  However for political reasons, history is often 
distorted in todays Indian society.

> Here are a couple of instances where "aachara" cannot be considered an 
> accurate representation of dharma:
> 1) In South India and probably in other parts of India, many people have 
> an "aupaasana" pot at home as part of "aachaara". This pot is carried 
> over from their wedding and is stored in a distant corner of the house, 
> where it remains completely untouched for years.
> Here is the true history of the aupaasana pot: Historically, as recently 
> as a couple of centuries ago, after the wedding ceremony, the couple 
> collects the fire from the ritual into a pot, and continue to keep the 
> fire alive for the rest of their life, worshipping the agni on a regular 
> basis. Since this fire was used for "upaasanaa" or worship, it was 
> called the "aupaasana" pot.
> Nowadays, the vast majority of people have stopped doing upaasana to 
> agni, but many still believe that there is something sacred about 
> keeping an empty "aupaasana" pot at home!
> This is a true incident: A shishhTa who was well-read in the shaastras 
> narrated the above true history of the aupaasana pot to an interested 
> audience and said, "To keep an empty "aupaasana" pot at home is useless 
> - in fact such a pot cannot be called an "aupaasana" pot at all. An 
> aupaasana pot without agni is like offering a guest a dinner plate but 
> not food! It is better to use the pot for some other purpose or give it 
> away to charity!" When the scholar said this, a person in audience who 
> was over 90 years old said that he now felt like a fool for keeping an 
> empty aupaasana pot stashed away in the attic of his home for over half 
> a century!

The point of dharma is to peel us away from the delusions of samsara by 
controlling and reducing ahamkara.  I believe that if a person performs 
some rite such as keeping the aupasana ghat wrongly but with full faith 
and with no self-interest but a desire to do what is right, then Bhagavan 
will despite their ignorance have mercy upon them and grant them their 
just reward.  But a person who chooses to remain ignorant or continues to 
do the wrong thing even when they know it is wrong will suffer the 
consequences of that sin.  So I would not call that 90 year old man a 
fool for his prior practices but only if _after_ that day he continued to 

> Evidently, what the shishhTas or learned scholars know and teach as 
> dharma is quite different from what the lay person practices or believes 
> to be dharma. The elderly gentleman who was storing an empty aupaasana 
> pot in his home cannot and should not be called a shishhTa IMHO, 
> although he was quite sincere in his religious practices and followed 
> the "tradition" that he grew up in for almost a century.

That I would not call a tradition because it lacks a historical basis 
accross generations.  I bet that mans grandfather could have set him 
straight just as well as the vidwan.

> 2) According to dharmic practice as recently as a few centuries ago, the 
> bride would give away her wedding saree to charity - preferably to the 
> priest (i.e. the priest's wife) who conducts the wedding. This is not 
> being followed nowadays for a simple reason - the modern brides want to 
> wear their expensive wedding sarees for life! The wedding saree is kept 
> in a safe place to be worn only on special occasions. If a knowledgeable 
> priest even dares to suggest that the wedding saree is to be given away, 
> he would be called greedy, and would be replaced with another more 
> agreeable priest to conduct the wedding!

This is also not what I would call a tradition because it is clearly based 
on self-interest and greed (on the brides part) not a desire to do what is 
right.  But not all (apparent) deviations from the shastras are like that. 
I'm just saying the criteria cannot simply be what some book says.

> If one speaks to those who truly know dharma, one can see that there is 
> quite a difference between what is being followed among the lay persons 
> and what really constitutes dharma according to the shishhTas.

Luckily it is not too hard to distinguish between an anomaly which is 
sincere and genuine and one which is the result of greed or ignorance.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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