Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 20 03:04:26 CDT 2000

S. V. Subrahmanian <svs_shankara at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>>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.

That is a good enough reason from one perspective. Sometimes, the observance
of certain disciplines itself generates a knowledge of their benefits to
one, thereby resulting in faith. My amusement/irritation is with those who
ask the question you have raised, but simply as an excuse to shirk duties,
and without any knowledge of the tradition. Your perspective seems to be

>>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
>>to be an easy decision to come up with some rationalization for not
>>doing something.  Like it or not "srArdam" is a decaying tradition.

There is enormous flexibility within the tradition that can be availed of.
That SrAddham is a decaying tradition is a cause for concern. It is a sign
of our modern society's losing touch with its own traditional heritage.
There are relaxations to rules that used to multiply and be observed
strictly. For example, it is not absolutely necessary that those who cook
the food on that day need to wear wet clothes. You could simply avoid
wearing clothes that have been washed days ago and stored in a cupboard
drawer. And there is no reason why rice cooked in a pressure cooker cannot
be used for the havis. If all else fails, there is the option of doing what
is called a hiraNya-SrAddha, which involves only a dAna, without a fire

>>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.

Yes, that is precisely why we need the parents to inculcate the requisite
values to the children. If the father does not do sandhyAvandana regularly,
and suddenly asks his son to do it after the yajnopavIta ceremony, the son
is naturally going to ask why he should do it when even his own father

>>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) ?

Those who don't know their birth parents, but who have adopted parents, can
do it for their adopted parents. Usually, the date is determined by the
anniversary of the death, calculated according to traditional calendars.
Again, there is flexibility here, as people from different parts of India
have different calendar calculations. You can always consult a local pundit
who can help out in this matter.

>>2.  What is its relevance or contribution to one's spiritual growth ?  Is
>>a must ?  Is it really worth it ?

That is really up to the questioner to decide. For one thing, it helps us
observe the rules to revere our parents, and in a traditional way. That in
itself should be a good contribution to spiritual growth.

>>3.  Does it have a sound philosophy behind it (I assure you, I will expand
>>on this, which is one your questions) ?

It does - that of mImA.msA.

>>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)

There is something called sAmAnya dharma and there is something called
viSesha dharma. Each religion has its own ways of honoring their ancestors.
Some people make it a duty to visit the graves of their relatives on the
death anniversary. We don't bury the dead, so we can't do that.

>>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

I don't agree with this priest. Doing the ritual is a mental discipline.
Wherever you are, if you are in a position to do it, you should. It is not
that the pitRs are going to reject the offering because of the wrong
"mailing address" in the "From" box.

The harder position would be that if you live outside India, you have
already lost your religious status. So pushing this priest's argument to its
logical conclusion, you should not do any religious rituals at all. That is
hardly the right attitude to take, I think.

>>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
>>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.

The offering is meant for as long as you live in this body, or for as long
as you continue to associate your self-identity with this body. After one
becomes a Sannyasin, no further SrAddha is done for ancestors. The SrAddha
is offered only to those bodies that gave birth to this current body of
yours. You don't offer it to the parents of your past lives, for you don't
know who they were. You cover all of that with the one statement about
jnAta-ajnAta pitR-s.

>>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).

Yes, but we owe special debts to those who gave birth and took care of us
till we could take care of ourselves. We go through our lives being indebted
to so many people and so many things. But there is a gradation in the nature
and intensity of our indebtedness to each.

>>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 ?

A brother's son can do it. A daughter's son can do it. Or even the
son-in-law can do it, on his son's behalf. But note also that generally
speaking, the woman is not unimportant at all - one needs to be a married
man to do most of the rituals.

Let me give a personal example. My grandfather's elder cousin, Mridangam
vidwan, Tanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, died without any children. His brother's
son, who performed the funeral, did the SrAddham every year. I recently met
Kanjira V. Nagarajan, a student of Vaidyanatha Iyer, and he told me that in
his monthly tarpaNa on new moon days, he includes his teacher's name. It
seems other disciples of my grandfather's brother also do this. This is one
way of their honoring the AcArya devo bhava dictum.

>>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.

That is correct. But giving up the karmas is concomittant with becoming a
Sannyasin. If one can convince a guru to accept one as a Sannyasin disciple
on the path to jnAna, then all these rituals can be given up. Or else, if
one can walk away from home, family and money, without a second thought to
it all, like Ramana Maharishi, then all these rituals can be given up. But
if neither is possible for one, then the nitya and naimittika karmas should
be observed, to the best of one's physical ability.

>>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

I would not like to make a generic statement about it. Since the individual
Sadhaka's situation will differ from person to person, if the Guru, who is a
SrotrIya, brahmanishTha, etc. tells you that it is okay in your particular
case, then you can give it up. The same thing may not hold true for another
person who approaches the same Guru. For that person, the Guru might insist
on observing the ritual, because of varying capability and circumstances.
And if you are still searching for a Guru who is a brahmanishTha, then don't
give it up till you are ready to walk away from it all.

>>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 ?

How does anyone know? It would possibly vary from case to case, depending on
the ripening of previous karmas.

>>What happens when if the pitr's son does not do it or does not have
>>children ?

Well, after a period of hardship, he will eventually be born again, and then
the children in that birth will take care of it from then on. Hopefully.

>>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.

Only for the well-being of their own descendants.

>>Each god seems to be responsible for or related to some thing physical
>>in this perceptible universe, but what are pitrs responsible for.

Because of the above, your pitR-s are not offered anything by me, and my
pitR-s are not offered anything by you. That is why there is a rule that
none but family members should eat the food prepared for the purpose of the
SrAddham. You cannot offer it to friends and neighbours.

>>Why can't the offering be given to Brahman Itself and expect that the
>>would also be satisfied as they are part of Brahman.  Why can't we feed

We do invoke brahman, as I pointed out in my earlier posting. The only
analogy I can give is that when you need medication, sometimes local
application is necessary, at other times, general application is sufficient.

>>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.

You could feed the poor, if you have the wherewithal for it, but with
separately prepared food. It is certainly a good intention, but this should
be in addition to the ritual, because only the traditional ritual is
sanctified with mantras.

But seriously, in India, have you ever tried feeding SrAddham leftovers to
cows? The illiterate owners of the cows, who do not have any knowledge of
the scriptures, will frown upon you if you try to do so. They will ask you
to leave it out in the open, so crows can eat them. Similarly, if you try
feeding the poor, after explaining to them that this is in lieu of your
SrAddha ritual, they'll hesitate to take it. They don't want to be
associated with somebody else's death and related rituals. If you feed the
poor on happy occasions, they will have no objections. At least that was how
it was till recently, even in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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