[Advaita-l] The Evolution of Advaita from Shankara till Date

Ramanathan P p_ramanathan at yahoo.com
Fri May 16 23:58:11 CDT 2008

I have a couple of questions regarding the Shastra based tradition, in particular the stress on karma kanda.

Whenever we speak of karma kanda in the Vedas, it seems to primarily discuss rituals, hence of primary importance to Brahmanas alone (?). The majority of karma-kanda is irrelevant to the majority of people, at least explicitly they are not allowed to partake of that 'vyavaharik-sadhana'.

To add to this, traditional systems do not seem to emphasize that all varnas have scope to attain to moksha while at the same time demanding that varnas are birth-determined. Hence the whole scope of karma-kanda tradition bound vedanta seems only for a minority. How does the tradition give direction to non-Brahmanas, who cannot do the rituals or learn the Vedas? By doing their svadharma and learning subsidiary scriptures (and essence of Vedas through them), can all seek moksha in this life? Is the option open to all, irrespective of the social varna-dharma they are to fulfill?

The question then is also confronted with the fact that only sannyasis can attain mukthi. Here again the tradition does not allow sudras (determined by birth) to go through the ashrama-system and possibly become sannyasis. Another trouble.

The neo-schools cannot partake of these traditional positions, hence have to go around them to reach everyone. These points today may just be formal and external; yet when tradition was bound to such, neo-Vedanta (Vivekananda till Date) in its development had to formally avoid them. The sampradaya marketed well for the Brahmanas by having entire Vedas meticulously describing their duties, for the sake of upasana, etc. It would have been nice if it showed the same interest for the sudras, etc. (For women, I agree with Jaldhar that their dharma always was great although no longer is held as such). Neo-schools like the RKMath, I believe, have substituted the traditional karma-system with others; for instance, they try to make service into the primary upasana. Whatever be the influences, it would be hard to say that it is NOT possible for such karma to be upasana whereas rituals alone can. Rituals have heaven for side-result, and service may have some social
 ideology for its underlying motivation. In spite of such, they may still purify the mind, etc.

Vivekananda wanted to make Advaita open for one and all. I agree that he muscled his own intellect into his lectures; but then his lectures are not a rule book on Advaita but more general and motivational, on behalf of religion. As others said, we should imbibe the spirit behind the attempts to explain to a Western audience in the 19th century, then turn to the source of Shankara for the exact picture. Sri Ramakrishna was a saint unto himself, and he spoke from his realizations. I don't think we should try to build a sampradaya by quoting him (which the RKMath sometimes does); we can't err if we follow his directions but if we want a philosophical-system we should turn to Shankara for precision. From my personal discussions, the swamis of the RKMath also essentially accept Shankara for this purpose  -- but there is the prophet-making tendency running strong in the Matha, with all the influence of Christian imitation at the roots but posing as a natural
 followup of puranic incarnation-theory. This forces the Matha to play both sides, of both Advaita and not-the-same-as-you, which dilutes and makes it appear as some hodge-podge sometimes.



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