[Advaita-l] meaning for certain mantras

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 16 22:26:17 CDT 2008

--- On Tue, 10/14/08, Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com> wrote:

> 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. 

Let me provide an example of a "historical practice" that is undoubtedly against dharma: the practice among South-Indians - including Brahmins - of intermarriage between cousins (not sagotras). Kumarila Bhatta quotes this practice in his commentary, so the practice is certainly over a millennium old. It was equally certainly practised even as recently as a few decades ago. However, the shishhTas will tell you that this practice is simply WRONG. In fact, Kumarila devotes pages to show that this practice is against dharma. Therefore, to defend all "historical" practices as dharma surely lands one in anamolies.

Since we're now discussing the "best" way to know and learn about dharma, here's an analogy with a person who is a budding student of science, and yearns to become a scientist. His options are:

# 3: Read a scientific text -> read shaastra.
# 2: Do experiments like "scientists" are doing -> practice aachaara.

However, the IDEAL and highly recommended way to learn science, according to the greatest scientists as well as the society in general is:

# 1: Study science under a scientist, or a professor of science -> Learn from a Guru well-versed in the shaastras and practising dharma.

There is no doubt that #3 and #2 will help, but it can in no way replace or be a substitute for #1, which forms the FOUNDATION of all dharma.

Up to and including the PhD stage, a professor is INDISPENSABLE. Most universities require PhD students to study under one or more professors, and recommend at least 5 professors on the PhD committee to approve the dissertation.

Perhaps there are great scientists who did not require a teacher, but they are exceptions, and exceptions prove the rule.

> 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.

How do you determine "historicity" of a tradition?

If you recommend reading history books, you're also asking people to read a text.

If you're suggesting questioning one's family or local folks regarding the history of practices, then the farthest one can reach out to is one's own grandparents - great-grand-parents are most likely not living. The example I gave of the 90-year old grandparent shows that even grandparents of these days are probably not aware of their own traditions, and are an unreliable source of learning about dharma.

Again, I must reiterate that I'm trying to argue for the IDEAL scenario of learning about dharma, which is to study under a Guru who is learned in the shaastras, and himself practising dharma. The local traditions are supplements, but simply should not be considered the "ideal" route or a substitute for the real thing.

Moreover, the two examples I gave - of having an empty aupaasana pot at home and not giving away the wedding saree to charity - are both traceable to many generations.


> -- 
> Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>


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