S. V. Subrahmanian svs_shankara at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 19 15:58:53 CDT 2000

There was a problem with the earlier attempt to send the mail and hence I am
trying again.  Please pardon if the earlier ones reached you.

>From: Sundararaman Subrahmanian <subbu at>
>To: undisclosed-recipients:;
>Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2000 16:47:30 -0400 (EDT)
>Dear Shri Jaldharji,
>I have seen your responses/questions you have posed in reply to my queries.
>In this and the following sections (I will delieanate different thoughts),
>will endeavour to explain my stand and also try to seek more clarifications
>from you and from anyone else who can help.
> >> I know in one of the earlier threads we discussed about idol worship.
> >> But I know that in South India the performance of these rituals
> >> extract a lot of effort.
> > "It's too hard" is not a valid reason to abandon ones obligations
>I perfectly understand that laziness can never be an excuse to abandon
>duties.  But let me explain why I raised the point of the elaborate effort
>that is required.  Here I represent a growing number of people who have
>the feelings that I have,  the only difference being that they have given
>it up for good and I am on the border line trying to find which way to go -
>either to give it up or take it up.
>I have seen the performance of srArdam in orthodox Brahmin families in
>the past.  (I grew up in one such).  We were then a joint family, so the
>number of relatives who could come over and help were huge and none
>of them were in a seriously competitive profession that consumes too much
>their time.  So it was easy for them to perform all that was (supposedly)
>enjoined by the Shastras.
>There is a growing band of people who find such performances of rites
>difficult for genuine reasons (professional commitment, family limitations
>and have almost given up the task.  When I said effort, it is not
>just time and energy, it is mainly the amount "shastraic precision" that
>these rites demand that is daunting.  For eg., one living in say a
>foreign country cannot assure the amount of "external purity" that is
>demanded or for that matter one who gets married to spouse from
>heterodox faiths will find it difficult to perform.  In such cases it seems
>to be an easy decision to come up with some rationalization for not
>doing something.  Like it or not "srArdam" is a decaying tradition.
>Even if people come up with "short-form" of doing this rite (which many
>successfully come up with), I find it hard to imagine their children ever
>being able to pick up the enthusiasm to do it.  The primary reason being
>lack of knowledge about this whole tradition and hence consigning to
>the category of superstition.  If this tradition is an integral part of
>Vedic culture then it has to be revived desparately.  People coming from
>(good) traditional families are also giving up this ancient tradition.
>That's when the following questions crop up which I will address as
>to your other replies:
>1.  Does this have to be performed by everybody (I mean those who don't
>parents) and at all times and places (I mean only appointed dates) ?
>2.  What is its relevance or contribution to one's spiritual growth ?  Is
>a must ?  Is it really worth it ?
>3.  Does it have a sound philosophy behind it (I assure you, I will expand
>on this, which is one your questions) ?
>4.  Is there an alternative in this Kali age ?
>Question 1 (and relevant portions from other's earlier responses):
>1.  Does this have to be performed by everybody (I mean those who don't
>parents) and at all times and places (I mean only appointed dates) ?
>Shri Jaldharji wrote:
>(A reference about 'true' sanyasis here...)
>  For everyone else the
>injunctions and prohibitions of the shastras have full force.  End of
>Shri Ramakrishnan says:
>They have to be performed because the dharma shAstras say so. It would
>fall under the category of occasional rituals.
>Shri Ganesh Prasad says:
>Shraadham, is basically for the upliftment of the offsprings, according to
>the shruthis
>Shri VidyaShankar says:
>It should be obvious that the
>funeral rituals are prescribed in religion, only to take care of the
>feelings of the living people who are left behind. The anniversary rituals
>are part of the same process.
>There are many thought currents going on in my mind.  I will try to
>them to the best of my ability and write.
>a)  If the intention of performing Shraardam is for the good of future
>generations, then this should have been prescribed for everybody.  Was it
>prescribed for all the varnas in ancient India ?  How come people in
>other countries who hitherto have not known this have long lives, live
>peacefully (had same problems as Bharatiyas), have healthy and good
>children (please don't quote incidents like Columbine school shooting -
>they are clearly one off)
>b)  Once during a conversation with a priest in US, I broached the subject
>of what should be the geographical location that needs to be specified
>in the sankalpa mantra.  His reply was that there was no merit in
>rituals outside Bharat, they go waste and hence imagine that you are in
>Bharat and say the sankalpa as if you were in your house and do it.  Does
>that mean that Shastras have a geographical scope which means it is limited
>in its application ?  So does that give a licence to somebody abroad to
>abandon his duties because there is no merit outside of Bharat ?
>c)  Let me explain a little before I ask the next question.  We offer
>"Shraardham" say to our mothers out of gratitude for she is the one who
>fostered, guided and guarded us with love - agreed.  Are there not so many
>other relationships where we experience the same, albeit at a much, much
>smaller scale.  A weary traveller under scorching sun rests under a tree,
>refreshes himself with some fruits of the tree and later moves on.  The
>tree for a short period of time performs the role of the mother, shelters,
>nourishes and guards (all selflessly).  Are we indebted to the tree, when
>we walk away.  When we look at the jiva which transmigrates from birth to
>birth, is not its temporary sojourn in one birth very tiny compared to
>the innumerable births before and after the current one.  In which case,
>when really look at the jiva's "real age" is not the current association a
>small fraction (like a traveller under the tree).  Should we hold ourselves
>indebted for ever ?
>d)  Again accepting we have to, as long as our body-consciousness is still
>alive, then has not this jiva adorned many other bodies.  Do we have to
>continue to give offerings to all the pitrs of all earlier bodies that
>we missed out.
>e)  Continuing on the fact that we derive help from so many people in the
>society, what is the basis to decide as to whom one is supposed to offer
>oblations or are we supposed to do it for everybody.  (I once went to Kashi
>and found the priest there reciting mantras for offering oblations to
>even pets that we normally miss out when doing it at homes).  Then what
>exactly are "Shraardham-able" relationships.  To me everyone seems so.
>Interdependency in society is a in-built law (I read somewhere, I forget
>the author who said that you cannot wink your eye without disturbing the
>distant stars).
>f)  And what about people who don't have sons.  There seems to be no
>for women to perform the rites.  If it is for the welfare of the children,
>why were women not allowed to do it ?  (Here I am only questioning the
>of the fact that it is for the welfare of the living as opposed to the
>not fighting for women's rights - I would hope the discussion does not get
>diverted in that direction).
>Question 2: (again relevant portions lifted from different mails)
>2.  What is its relevance or contribution to one's spiritual growth ?  Is
>a must ?  Is it really worth it ?
>Shri VidyaShankar says:
>At this
>point, one can talk of nishkAmya karma, and view these ritual actions as a
>means towards citta-shuddhi.
>Shri Jaldharji writes:
>From the Vedantic point of view karma should be given up completely, no
>ifs or buts.  If for some reason it cannot, it cannot be practised
>half-heartedly.  It must be performed diligently with no interest in loss
>or reward and be offered as a sacrifice to Bhagawan.
>For someone who has taken up the Sadhana towards Advaita (here I am using
>Advaita as a goal to be achieved, which I presume it is), why should he
>still stick on to Karma.  Karma I would presume would be for one who is
>still interested in the fruits of actions (ie., wanting to have good
>health, good children etc). So if one were to be family man, wanting the
>pleasures of material life, he should probable indulge in "Shraardham"
>to get the blessings of the pitrs for good life here.
>But one who has accepted with faith that this phenomenal world is just a
>dream by his true Self, needs to perform only one act ie., waking up from
>the dream.  He does not have to do any other activity to perpetuate the
>dream just because he is not yet "woken up".  My point is that one need
>not necessarily have to be jnani before one has to give up karma.  Is it
>enough if he performs the one final act of waking up ?
>[I am tempted here to quote Buddha's example where he abandoned action to
>pursue Truth, but I don't want the discussion to get digressed to Buddhism
>and its validity.]
>If as Shri Vidya Shankar says that it is for Chitta-Shuddhi, then there
>are umpteen ways of attaining attaining it, why Shraardham at all ?
>I am doubting the contribution of Shraardham to one's spiritual progress
>at all.  Again if it is to be offered to Bhagawan as a sacrifice, there are
>many other ways.  Here is a man, he has an intuition that there is a
>greater Truth that he does not understand and would like to.  Now is it not
>enough if he tries to find that Truth, not worry about Shraardham etc.
>Can he take refuge in Shankaras shloka in Atma Bodha:
>"Action cannot destroy ignorance, for action is not the opposite of
>ignorance.  Knowledge alone can destroy ignorance just as light alone
>can remove darkness".
>In short is my postulate correct :
>Shraardham is for people who would like to lead worldly life.  But a
>Sadhaka can give it up as it makes no active contribution to one's
>spiritual progress [Not all karmas can be categorized thus, as many of
>them have a direct contribution to progress eg., Sandhyavandanam].  Or
>at its best, Shraardham should be just an option as opposed to being
>mandatory as it is recommended now.
>Question 3:
>3.  Does it have a sound philosophy behind it (I assure you, I will expand
>on this, which is one your questions) ?
>Shri Jaldharji questioned me as to what I meant by sound philosophy.
>I am writing what I think would be a sound philosophy.  I am sure it could
>more than what I say, but I feel it should be atleast as much as what I
>A good test of sound philosophy is two fold:  one test of time and two the
>test of sound reasoning.  This is only an opinion and not something
>beyond reproach.  The 2 may seem interdependent but are slightly different,
>but I want deal with it as much as it pertains to topic, not go tangential
>as to what are the conditions that make a sound philosophy.  I am only
>explaining my touchstone for testing a philosophy.
>"satyam thrikala abaadhitam".  A sound philosophy should stand the test of
>time ie., it should have been true and applicable in the past, present
>and future.  From this point we have nothing much to argue with
>respect to the tradition of Shraardham, as the conditions, reasons and
>results of the performance is the same as it was in the past.
>We can leave it at that.
>But does the performance of Shraardham stand the test of sound reasoning
>as why it needs to be peformed ?  What is the reason behind the pitrs
>having to spend some time before the next birth ?  What is the time
>duration ?
>What happens when if the pitr's son does not do it or does not have
>children ?
>All other rituals seem to have some optionality embedded in them.  But
>Shraardham is prescribed as mandatory.  I read responses in the mails
>from different people about pitrs being some sort of an equivalent to gods.
>So be it.  These gods have been assigned responsibilities from one point of
>view.  Some may argue they are not really gods but knowers of Truth at
>different levels, so be it.  What is pitrs role among the myriad beings.
>Each god seems to be responsible for or related to some thing physical
>in this perceptible universe, but what are pitrs responsible for.
>Why can't the offering be given to Brahman Itself and expect that the pitrs
>would also be satisfied as they are part of Brahman.  Why can't we feed the
>poor (who are manifestations of the Supreme Being) and assume that the
>pitrs would have been satisfied, because for all we know they might have
>taken a rebirth before we die.
>Anyway, the questions can be endless.  I have been only questioning the
>philosophy behind Shraardham, but some may go ahead and question the
>activities that make it up.  For me it is sufficient to get convinced
>conceptually and I can accept the concommitant motions involved.
>Question 4:
>Shri Jaldharji wrote in response to my query below:
> > Is there any other alternative way of showing our gratitude to our
> > ancestors sanctioned by the Vedas ?
> >
>No.  If there is one, why would you ned another?
>Sound logic.  I was zapped for a moment.  Now that I have gathered my wits,
>I will explain what I meant.  In the case of Sadhana (used in the sense
>of any means trying to attain God), we have Puranas which recommend
>different kinds to people of different yugas based on the "gunas" and
>the capacities of the people of that age.  Tapasya was recommended for
>of Satya yuga and Hari Kirtan(or Nama) is recommended for Kali age.  Now
>on a comparative basis kirtan might be much easier than tapasya for people
>of our age, so the Rishis knowing this lacunae in our will power have
>given a easier but equally effective prescription.  I don't think they
>say tapasya is not for Kail age, but just that kirtan is as good and for
>those not capable, kirtan will give the same benefit, a better choice.
>So when I asked for an alternative I was asking if there has been anything
>recommended for this modern e-age (call it material age, stock-market age,
>rocket-era or whatever) where man is more engrossed in Kali, so that
>the spirit of Shraardham is still upheld but the forms of expression have
>been relaxed to benefit mankind, out of sheer compassion for poor hapless
>being tossed amidst the waves of desires.
>Shri Jaldharji wrote in one of his mails in a totally unrelated topic:
>"knowledge of theory affects practice":
>Dear members,
>The questions that I have posed are not that of an atheist or sceptic.  I
>have firm faith in the words of the Rishis.  They mean good and are
>But as Shri Jaldharji says above, we have to understand as much as we
>can about our practices (if we practice), that will give us greater
>conviction and resolve to perform it with gusto.
>I somehow feel sad when I look around that the Vedic heritage seems to be
>slipping away from our hands.  The spirit will never die for it is the
>fundamental Truth, but if we destroy the form that envelopes the spirit,
>spirit will be lost.  If we have a diamond, we need an iron safe to protect
>it.  Without the iron safe the diamond may get lost (it may not perish,
>but that is no consolation).  At the same time the iron safe is useless
>without the diamond in it.  Our traditions are the iron safe and the
>Truth is the diamond in it.  We need both to derive benefit.
>I look all around that people give up our heritage for there is no one to
>explain them.  If we do not stem the rot, very soon our own children will
>question the validity of what we profess.  If we do not have answer to
>the questions that I have asked, what prevents our children to ask the same
>question to us at some point and thus blow away this tradition from our
>families.  Ofcourse the situation is not as bad as I am depicting, but
>prudence is not to let it become what I fear would be the case.
>May be none in this mailing list perceives any threat as each is following
>his ideal properly, but this mailing list is not the world.  We will die
>one day, somebody else has to bear the torch and for those bearers we have
>to create conducive atmosphere.
>Shri VidyaShankar writes:
> >I am sometimes amused and sometimes irritated by questions about the
> >.efficacy of Sraaddham.
> >1. The word is derived from SraddhA, i.e. faith, so if one doesn't have
> >faith in it, it would perhaps be better not to do it. Otherwise, it is
> >hypocrisy, to be doing something just because your family elders or your
> >neighbours expect it out of you.
>I am happy to know that I am an object of amusement to somebody, but
>I am sad to know that I have irritated you.  I just said what I know.  I
>apologize.  But I disagree with you about not doing with faith.  If not
>out of faith, one can do it out of love.  Even if I do not get any
>response for my mails, even if I do not understand the philosophy behind
>Shraardham, I will do it out of sheer love for my parents for I know
>they expected it since the day I was born.  It does not matter, I will
>do it.
>But the rub is, without understanding and an intellectual conviction, I
>cannot hope to pass it on to future generations nor expect it from them.
>For they may rent it asunder with the sword of reason, if we are
>prepared to shield it with proper understanding.
>If Shankara thought and spoke about Buddhism (or any of the 72 cults that
>put an end to), like what you say above, we might all have been Buddists
>by now.

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