[Advaita-l] Pratyavaaya paapam

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Thu Oct 30 01:02:10 CDT 2008

On Tue, 28 Oct 2008, Ramanathan P wrote:

> Thank you for this detailed reply. I would like to ask one more thing in 
> this regard, for clarity.   Brahmanas I understand are instructed by 
> certain shastras as not to leave their birth-place (or Bharatha?), are 
> not to accumulate wealth, not to work in 'other jobs' unless absolutely 
> necessary, are to represent the culture by wearing panchakachha for 
> grihasthas (right saree for stris), etc. It seems there are many such 
> things that are also part of the varna dharma, that reflect the 
> lifestyle and the Brahmana's role as preserver of Vedic culture in 
> society. Are these elements also included in this discussion of 
> pratyavaaya paapam and related, that orthodox Brahmanas who live or work 
> in foreign countries and go around wearing pant/shirt without vibuthi, 
> etc. consider seriously as things to correct?   Ramanathan

My observation is that those who consider themselves faithful to tradition 
try  to do as much as they can to replicate the environment of 
India however even those who hold a higher level of stringency for 
themselves do recognize that there are options and do not criticize laxity 
in minor details.

An aside on saris.  My parents immigrated to the UK where I was born and 
then to the US where they and I now reside.  For many years my mother was 
a schoolteacher and wore a sari to work whenever possible.  This impressed 
me more than a thousand lectures on "our glorious heritage" that our 
culture was nothing to be embarrased about and could be followed even in a 
foreign land.  If I am an astika today, it is because of such seemingly 
small gestures.

But note I said "whenever possible"  I too have been known to wear pitambara 
etc. to work too but clothes made for balmy Indian climes are simply 
impractical for more northerly countries.  Actually even in parts of 
Northern India you cannot dress the same way as in, say, TN.  So this 
seems to be an area where shastras prescribe an ideal but Dharma in 
practice seems to grant more leeway to personal judgement and forgives 
deviation from the ideal as an unfortunate but unavoidable circumstance.

Or take another example, crossing the waters.  History shows that 
Brahmanas did migrate to other lands.  However the trend became 
increasingly towards disallowing it.  By 1857 the resentment of the sepoys 
towards the prospect of being sent overseas was a big factor in their 
rebellion.  Later the historical trend turned again.  An example is when 
Gandhiji decided to study in England.  As related in his autobiography, he 
was outcasted by his Modh Vaishya community for this and the arguments pro 
and con are interesting to note.  The people who prompted the action felt 
that by going to a foreign country, one would not be able to maintain 
vegetarianism and standards of purity.  (And they were quite right to be 
skeptical judging by the typical conduct of the "modern" youth who 
returned from there.)  Gandhiji replies with the solemn promise he had 
made to his mother to refrain from meat and liquor and that the learned 
Brahmana advisor of the family had approved of the venture and eventually 
his view won out.  Nowadays as you know there are many quite orthodox 
people who live outside of Bharat though it must be acknowledged that the 
Shankaracharyas amongst others still preach against it.

So what does this mean for the progress of Dharma in general and this 
question in particular?  There is a lot in Dharma which is settled.  (No 
shastra suggests Brahmanas should not wear yajnopavita for instance.) 
However there are issues on the edge which are in flux and where men of 
piety and sincerity can agree to disagree.  The goal of the karmayogi 
should be to do his duty with diligence.  Bhagavan promises us that if we 
but offer a flower or some water with the correct bhava, He will will 
accept it.  This not an invitation to stop trying to get things right but 
assurance that irregularities, if committed without malice, will be sorted 
out in the end.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list