[Advaita-l] Reform, etc

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Thu May 4 11:13:28 CDT 2006


At the outset let me clarify that my original post in the thread
"'End' not 'Means'" was more to do with reform in general than the
specific issue of who should or should not study the Veda. I responded
to what I perceived was a general condemnation of _any_ kind of reform
by Jaldhar.

Let me also clarify what I mean by reform. By that I mean a set of
actions that enables us to take into confidence every segment of our
society, providing meaningful opportunities for every Hindu to
participate in dharmic activities, creating a sense of belongingness
to our heritage, enabling greater involvement in preserving and
continuing this heritage, and so forth.  The current situation is far
from being satisfactory and is exacerbated by the fact that some
segments of our society have very strong grievances about how they (or
their forefathers) were treated. Please note that I am not looking at
these things from a "women's rights" or "human rights" perspective.

On the specific issue of Vedic study, I broadly agree with what
Vidyasankar said in his post on 7th April and some of his previous
posts on the issue. There are a few questions that still arise but I
will put them up later. FYI, let me just mention here that there are
now quite a few Veda Pathashala-s that teach irrespective of the
student's jaati. I think there is one in Pune that teaches women too.
They also perform the Upanayana Samskaara before commencing studies.
And these are not Arya Samaji institutions.

Jaldhar wrote:
>Ramesh, do you actually know what this Anarya Samaj believes in?

RK: Yes, I do know what the Arya Samaj believes in. I don't agree with
most of their philosophy but that doesn't mean that all their
activities are/were useless.  In fact, they would have been far more
successful had they not adhered to such an extreme philosophy and
concentrated on the social aspects. We have enough philosophy but what
we need is more social cohesion. This is where the traditional
Smaarta-s are severely lacking.

Jaldhar wrote:
>No it means looking at other aspects of the _Smarta_ tradition when
it comes to the >details of Dharma.

RK: Fine. But it is beyond the Advaita parampara nevertheless. Also,
being a Smaarta is not the same as being an Advaitin and, most
importantly, just looking at the Smaarta tradition is _insufficient_
as the only people who call themselves Smaarta are a few braahmana

Jaldhar wrote:
>What about them? "Hinduism" is a term of convenience. Smartas have no
more in >common with Pashupatas then they do with Roman Catholics so I
don't care if one fails >anymore than the other.

RK: Wow! Thats one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.

Let me throw a few words at you:
Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha, Varanasi, Haridwar, Rameshvaram,
Dwaraka, Srirangam, Tirupati, Pasupatinath, Muktinath, Veda, Agama,
Upanishad, Mahabharata, Karma, Punarjanma, Kailasa, Vaikuntha, Yoga,
Darsana, Mantra, Sutra, Ishvara, Brahman, Jnana, Moksha, Dharma,
Bhakti, Vasishtha, Vyasa, Nyaya, Vyakarana, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi,
Panini, Sanskrit, Tyagaraja, Veena, Shaastra, Bhajan, Ayurveda,
Himalaya, Ganga, Kaveri.......

What is it that links all of these? Hinduism. You may use Sanaatana
Dharma or some other term, but the connections are there anyway.

Most of the above words hold significance for several sampradaaya-s.
Smaarta-s dont have a monopoly over these things. Hinduism is a
civilization that captures all these and much more. Like the rain
forest, it has a huge amount of diversity inside, but nevertheless has
an overall identity of its own. And let me also add that most Hindu-s
are just that, Hindu. Most of our people identify with some or the
other jaati, but sampradaayic identification is much much rarer. Even
Braahmana-s do not always adhere to one. People have their
kuladevata-s and their traditions but that doesnt make them Smaarta.
Add up all the sampradaaya-s including Vaishnava, Shaiva et al and you
still wont cover more than 15-20% of the Hindu population.

The word Hindu may be of relatively recent origin, but the idea of the
underlying unity of our traditions is much older. And surely the
Smaarta-s have a lot more in common with other Astika-s and even the
Bauddha-s/Jaina-s than with the Roman Catholics. Amuthan, Ram Garib
and probably Aditya are not Smaarta-s. Surely, it is not your
contention that you have nothing more in common with their family
traditions than you have with the Catholics? Were not the ancient
Naiyayika-s Pasupata? Were not the Pasupata-s worshippers of Shiva,
whose name you bear yourself?

And since the Smaarta-s are all Braahmana-s, there isn't much point in
talking about reform only in the context of the Smaarta tradition. So
whatever I am talking about is in the broader context of the Hindu

Jaldhar wrote:
>The reason that India is to put it bluntly such an intellectually backward
>country is because too many of its citizens think they only have these two
>options.  Luckily its not all of them.  On my last trip to Bangalore I met
>both people who combined fidelity to Dharma with knowledge of advanced
>modern thought and people who considered themselves modern and secularist
>but were nevertheless well-informed about what Dharma is all about.  The
>reformists give you the worst of both worlds.  A parody of science and
>modernism and a fantasy vision of Dharma.

RK: There was a selection bias in the people you met in Bangalore.
What I am talking about are real grievances that people have and the
need to take steps to solve them. How this or that reformer behaved is
immaterial because real Hindus have real grievances. What have
traditional groups, not just Smaarta-s but others as well, done to
solve these problems? Nothing much.

And let us kindly not get into who offers a "right wing view of
history" and who is a "secularist". These are loaded words in the
Indian context. You were born in England and live in the US. You are
probably a US citizen and it is quite possible that your descendants
will never return to the land of their ancestors. In a couple of
generations, they will probably marry other Americans and forget all
their traditions. Indian politics may mean nothing to you but it means
a lot to us in India and to the future of the Hindu tradition. Please
don't jump to conclusions on the basis of a few meetings with
jingoistic ultra-patriots you might have had. There are many
legitimate issues that we face which cannot be solved by shunning
politics. If you want examples, please ask and I'll write to you

Jaldhar wrote:
>Certainly we should learn from outside sources in India and outside.  The
>challenge is to integrate it into _our_ culture and beliefs.  And we
>should see the good in other religions for if nothing else, they too are
>striving to know truth.  But again _we_ define what is good.
RK: Precisely. And what is the Smaartas' record on this count? What
have they done to come out of their shells? The ancient mutts still
have only a miniscule following outside the traditional Smaarta
Braahmana communities. And the demographic pressure on these
communities is immense. They are thinly spread out over India and
abroad. The way things are going, I doubt if Sringeri et al will have
any following at all in 50 years time. "Modern" education, emigration,
intermarriage, low birth rates, etc will take their toll. 2
generations of one-child families; and the connections to the
community are dead. And the other communities are not too far behind.
As an aside, note that Kerala and TN have reached replacement
fertility rates at a per capita income of PPP $2500 or so, something
unprecedented in world history!

Yes, I know that social cohesion/reform is not the Sannyaasi's
responsibility. And I am not expecting the traditional acharya-s to go
around doing this. But that the peetha-s are in a do or die situation
is pretty obvious. When the Kanchi acharya was arrested, all that this
Smaarta followers could do was to let out a whimper of a protest.
Whatever little support he got was from the "right-wing" organisations
you mindlessly criticize. In contrast, when a Communist leader made
some allegations against Swami Ramdev of Haridwar, the latter's
followers were out on the streets.

And when the Ramakrishna Mutt or the Chinmaya Mission (CM) (who follow
the Advaita parampara) do any social work, you will criticize them
too. Even when it comes to Vedanta, how many people who want to learn
the basics of the same have access to the traditional peetha-s? Where
would Advaita Vedanta be today without the efforts of the RK Mutt or
CM? Why is it that traditional Buddhism is more accessible than
traditional Advaita Vedanta?

Dharmic TV channels have become popular of late. Aastha and Sanskaar
are two of the widely known ones.  The only "somewhat traditional"
acharya-s I see on them are Vaishnava-s.  The only Dasanaami-s I see
on them are from the CM and related groups like Prasanna Trust, but
their expositions are generally restricted to the Bhagavad Geeta.
Swami Avadheshananda Giri of the Juna Akhara comes on occasionally but
he only gives Bhaagavat Katha-s. Swami Ramdev teaches Yogaasana-s but
am not sure if he is a Dasanaami, though he does occasionally talk
about "going from dvaita to advaita". I have never seen anybody
talking about dharma from a Smaarta perspective or the intricacies of
Advaita Vedanta.

Jaldhar wrote:

>Back to the point, are you gentlemen seriously arguing that if one doesn't
>practice dharma 100% it is ok to practice 0%?  I must be misunderstanding
>your point here because that would be dumb beyond belief.  I will freely
>admit I haven't yet reached my own ideals of behavior but I'm working
>towards it.
RK: Of course you are misunderstanding my position. "Either 100% or
0%" is not my contention. All I am saying is that the lower the
percentage the lower the credibility and moral standing you have to
talk about dharmic matters, especially when it comes to prohibitions.
Braahmana-s earning fat salaries in the US look immoral when they talk
the way you talk.

Jaldhar wrote:
>I've mentioned my daughters babysitter before.  A woman who didn't get
>much education and has had to work hard to live a comfortable life.  Yet
>she managed to raise wonderful children in a foreign land.  She knows
>all the Sundarakanda of Tulsikrt Ramayana by heart.  She spends allher
>spare time and money (of which there is not a lot) on Dharmic
>activities.  My daughter knows about God largely because of her and I
>consider her a role model of saintly behaviour myself.  Yet she is always
>telling me "oh I'm not educated.  I don't know as much as you."  Now who
>do you think is responsible for her lack of self-esteem?  Me?  The
>Muslims?  Perhaps Marxists?  Or is it YOU and all the other people who
>embrace the utterly sexist notion that God did not give women their own
>traditions and practices and that they should follow an alien path

RK: I know quite well that there are women's traditions. And did I
ever say that women should give up their traditions?

The people responsible for this lack of self-esteem are the following,
in that order:

1. People who were overawed by western culture during the British Raj
and looked down upon everything traditional. Their descendants are the
marxists and a non-trivial section of today's secularists who hate
their own culture.

2. A section of the self-proclaimed "traditionalists" who did nothing
to stop the mistreatment of certain segments of our society.

3. A few "extreme reformers" who ended up tarnishing the very
tradition they were trying to reform

If you notice the difference in approach between the RK mutt, CM or
even the Sangh organisations on the one hand and the Arya/Brahmo
Samaja-s on the other, you will appreciate what I am trying to say.

Jaldhar wrote:

>May I suggest beginning by not referring
>to the Dharma of your ancestors as "trivial superstitions?"

RK: I certainly don't think of the Dharma of my ancestors as "trivial
superstitions". Please read the passage again. I was referring to what
I perceive to be the immorality of American Braahmana-s like yourself
who claim to be traditionalist.

Jaldhar wrote:
>Smartaism or traditional Hinduism or whatever one wishes to term it has
>maintained its vitality and longevity by by being able to absorb new
>ideas.  This means saying no to unthinking rejection but also no to
>unthinking acceptance.  Instead of looking to reformers to do our thinking
>for us, we can do it ourselves and we can probably do a better job.

RK: Perfect. This is precisely what I am saying too. So please think
deeply on some of the social practices we have had in India. Think
which of them were/are in keeping with the spirit of the tradition and
which ones aren't. Please think why some segments of our society are
angry and what can be done to help them.

And what is the record of the Smaarta-s on this? Why is it that the
traditional mutts have such a limited following?

Jaldhar wrote:

>You will notice that advaita-l has female members.  We have never rejected
>a new member for not being a male Brahmana.  I myself am quite ready to
>help in any way I can any girl or woman to increase her spiritual growth
>and any questions she has on that topic.

RK: Glad to note that you consider yourself capable of helping people
in their spiritual growth.

Siva Senani Nori wrote and Jaldhar responded:
>> We have a mosque in every major temple today.

>If by every you mean 2 or 3.  Otherwise this is severe hyperbole.

RK: I hope you read Siva Senani Nori's response on this one. And
anyway, have you visited Kashi, considered by many to be the holiest
of our Teertha-s?  And Mathura, Ajmer, Delhi, Goa, Chennai, Srinagar,
etc? Or Kaladi?

Jaldhar wrote:
>1. This is not some dusty museum "tradition" which I view from afar but
>the way I actually live my life as do many others.

RK: The way things are going, the Smaarta-s are very much headed
towards becoming a dusty museum tradition.


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list