saattvika tyaagam

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Sun Oct 17 09:52:37 CDT 1999

On Fri, 15 Oct 1999, Sankaran Jayanarayanan wrote:

> Still, you must admit that Man is greater than tradition. All tradition is a
> product of Man, but not all of Man is contained in tradition.

People change and thus their traditions change with them over time.  New
practices are adopted and old ones cast aside.  But this process is much
slower than people often give credit for.  Take for example a historical
view of Hinduism.  You often hear it told that there was a Vedic age
followed by a Puranic age followed by a medieval age folled by a modern
age.  This implies that Vedic religion was something that was practiced
long ago and is now forgotten.  But looking closely at the historical
evidence you see that in the 17th and 18th centuries there were many
shrauta yagnas performed.  Even today there are a number of Agnihotris.
And elements of the Bhakti movements for example can be found in the
earliest writings. So there wasn't a linear succession of one form of
religion after the other but the focus changed from time to time.

Wholesale changes occur mainly due to external events.  The Muslim
invasions made an impact.  Immigration to America undoubtedly will.  But
this is because people become ignorant of tradition not because they have
suddenly found it wanting.

> I meant to say that if the final goal of Man is wisdom, then the sole
> purpose of tradition should be to lead him towards it. In other words, there
> is no use of tradition if it does not benefit/help Man in his quest for
> wisdom. If advaita is a great tradition, it is because it is associated with
> great men and has helped countless men in their search for wisdom.
> If it be an absolute fact that a person would actually come closer to wisdom
> by adopting alien practises than by staying in his own tradition, he ought
> to do so. In such a case, remaining in one's own tradition would get him
> nowhere.

Yes but what is wisdom exactly?  This is where the disagreement between
the various schools of thought lies.  Again we have to rely on tradition
to give us a definition or at least a pointer in a particular direction.
For example I've noticed that a lot of the Western New Age types read
Advaita Vedanta in a completely different way than I do.  A way that seems
totally bizarre to me.  This is because while they may be turning to
religion due to dissastisfaction with Western materialism, they cannot
help but bring along the attitudes and assumptions they have inherited
from that way of thinking.  This probably explains the fights that
sometimes erupt here.  Both sides are looking at the same things but from
different viewpoints and thinking "It's so simple.  Why doesn't this idiot
get it?"

> That being said, I do appreciate the fact that taking up the practices of
> another tradition does not usually benefit oneself -- it may actually be
> detrimental to one's spiritual progress. The GIta warns against such a step
> in (3.35) -- that it is better to err in the discharge of one's duty than to
> perfectly do another's. But then again, the GIta (or anyone for that matter)
> doesn't really point a finger at a person and tell him,"Your duty is to
> study physics" :-) Does that mean studying physics causes one to stray from
> the advaita tradition?

Our shastras (not to mention common sense) do tell us to analyze and
understand the phenomena around us. Science has achieved the success it
has because it is a good way of doing that.

> If a person who is supposed to be part of the advaita tradition has taken up
> studying modern physics, he is actually studying and practising the works of
> another tradition -- in this case, one originating from Archimedes and
> Thales onto Newton and Einstein.

It would be a stretch to call Physics a tradition.  It is a set of
observable or inferable facts.  Thales or Newton can claim credit for
noticing those facts first, but their very nature as facts is due to them
being equally verifiable by you or I or anyone.  If I have seen the Empire
State Building, I'm not the founder of the "tradition of seers of the
Empire State Building".  If you subsequently see it, you have not
inherited that sampradaya from me. :-)

>  If it makes him a better man, so be it. If
> studying Vedanta makes him a better man, then he should quit studying
> physics and turn towards Vedanta. If Christianity is better for him, he
> should get baptised and become a Christian.

Again better in what sense?  From the Advaita point of view, Christianity
is a step backwards because it teaches a seperation between the soul and

> I agree that a person who thinks he can "improve" on a tradition is only
> pampering his own ego.
> But specific cases cannot be dismissed this way. For instance, many on the
> list have strayed away from the advaita tradition by not only learning the
> ways of other traditions (engineering, medicine, etc.) but also by making
> active use of that knowledge in earning their livelihood, even though much
> of this knowledge contradicts some precepts of the advaita tradition.

> Giri was telling me the other day how the scriptures accepted by the advaita
> tradition as authentic describe a Lunar eclipse as due to Rahu/Kethu (in the
> form of serpents) swallowing the moon. Scientific knowledge gathered from
> other traditions, which is bread and butter to several of us, plainly
> contradicts this. How many list-members honestly believe that the  moon is
> swallowed by a snake during a Lunar eclipse?

As Ganesh mentioned, these are not precepts of Advaita Vedanta.  The
precept is that we should bathe, put on new clothes and say Aditya Hrdayam
during an eclipse.  The story is to extoll the virtue of performing
those acts.  What can physics say about that?

We can say that Advaita Vedanta is fundamentalist in the sense that it is
based on certain texts which are considered ipso facto true.  But it is
not at all literalist in the interpretation of those texts.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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