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Abiding Grace
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Abiding Grace
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Foreword

 

Sanatana Dharma or the Faith Eternal is the religion preached by the great seers of India. The sole aim of these great sages was to see into the Truth of things and they pursued it with a passion which has no parallel in the history of mankind. It is this overwhelming passion for the Highest Truth that has transformed an esoteric philosophy into a living faith.

 

Many religious traditions and philosophical trends considerably infiuencea the development of Hinduism and activated its growth. The spiritual experiences of the Alwars of Tamilnadu, who proclaimed the supremacy of Lord Vishnu formed the basis of Sri Vaishnavism one of the most widely accepted systems of theistic Vedanta. Inspired by the ecstatic outpourings these Vaishnava mystics, the Philosopher-Saint Sri Ramanuja propounded the doctrine of Visishtadvaita which emphasises Surrender (Propatti) to Sri Hari as the Surest means for redemption. According to this doctrine which heralded the advent of the Bhakti movement in the sixteenth century, Lord Naroyana takes up and bestows His Grace on the vilest of sinners that surrenders himself completely to Him, like a mother cat carrying its young ones.

 

Even though a voluminous mass of literature on Sri Vaishnavism mainly focusing on the doctrinal and liturgical aspects of the system, has appeared." few attempts have been made to trace the history of Sri Vaishnavism and study it in a comprehensive manner against the backdrop of contemporary religious trends elsewhere. The book now we present to our readers is a bold and sincere attempt at resolving' this problem. The author, an ardent follower of this unique sampradaya analyses Sri Vaishnavism from the historical standpoint and takes a fresh look on the philosophy of Visishtadvaita in the context of the development of other parallel theological systems.

 

This book is indeed an invaluable and thought provoking study of a great system which withstood the onslaught of time and any student of Vaishnavism can not afford to miss this feast of reason and flow of soul in fields so dear to him in one way or other.

 

Preface

 

The literature on Indian religions and scriptures and other allied subjects is fairly extensive and new titles are also being added every year. The number of books on Vaishnavism generally and on Sri Vaishnavism in particular is not, however, very large. M any of the sacred texts and scriptures of the Sri Vaishnavites, especially those written in Tamil, or in manipravala using both Sanskrit and Tamil and the special grantha script, are not readily available in translations or very often even in the original. Apart from this, there has been a tradition of oral teaching within the community and the written record has not been regarded as being an adequate substitute for it.

 

As a great deal of source material has thus been lost to western and other scholars, books in the English language, which provide a connected and comprehensive account of the origin and development of the Sri Vaishnavite religion, its theology and rituals, its essential doctrines and its relevance as a living and modern religion, appropriate to the needs and circumstances of today tend to be rare.

 

This book is intended to fill this gap and to meet a felt need in this context. It brings the work of pioneering scholars and historians of Sri Vaishnavism like R.G. Bhandarkar, S. Krishnaswami Ayyangar, Suvira Jayaswal and K.D. Bharadwaj up to date. While it is faithful to tradition as preserved within the Sri Vaishnavite community, it is also based on archaeological, historical and anthropological evidence, which has become available in recent years. It considers the history, teachings and traditions of Sri Vaishnavism against the background of the development of other theistic religions elsewhere in the world, with special reference to the religious experience of the west. It emphasises the continuity of a liberal, syncretic and ecumenical trend in the development of Sri Vaishnavism and its importance as a modern faith, with a world view.

 

As the book is meant to be in the nature of a general introduction to Sri Vaishnavism for the ordinary reader, it has been written as far as possible in a lucid and popular style, which is free from jargon. By a deliberate choice, Sanskrit words, to the extent that they are relevant, have been retained in transliteration, as the flavour of the religion would have been lost otherwise. But both Sanskrit and Tamil words have been invariably translated into English for the benefit of readers, who may not be acquainted with any of these languages.

 

It is hoped that this book will stimulate an interest in further studies of the Sri Vaishnavite religion, promoting at the same time a greater understanding of the theistic religious traditions all over the world.

 

Introductory

 

In an age, in which most persons, even if they are not communists, believe with Karl Marx that religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heart- less world and the soul of soulless conditions, that it is in short the opium of the people, one needs some courage for writing one more book on one of the six theistic sects of Hinduism, as revived and re-established by Sankara and Ramanuja. If one is a devout Hindu, an excuse for such an attempt may not be needed. Everything being ordained by God, a book on Sri Vaishnavism may be deemed, or represented, to be a votive offering to Him, inspired and directed by His will. But at a more mundane level, some justification for an addition to the enormous volume of the literature on conventional religions with be necessary.

 

There are several reasons why a new book on Sri Vaishnavism may be useful at present. In the first place, Marx's views on religion are now out of date nearly as much as his views on economics. He was attacking the rigid and narrow minded theology, which was preached by parsons and bishops belonging to the established churches of his day, who believed in a muscular version of Christianity, according to the phrase which was originally coined by Charles Kingsley, without any great concern for the exploited classes in society. Religion has become much more humane and also much less dogmatic since his time. Death of god, crisis and existentialist theologies, secular Christianity and the debate, both before and after the publication in the early sixties of this century of Bishop Robinson's book entitled 'Honest to God,' are examples of how things have changed.

 

Marx's assumption that man as a perfected human being at the end of the proletarian revolution will not need any religion has also been disproved. The craving for understanding the ultimate reality cannot be abolished. God, as Emerson said enters by a private door into every individual, or almost into everyone.

 

The opening words of Vyasa's Brahma Sutra, namely, 'athatho brahma jijnasa', which can be roughly translated as 'now therefore, the desire to know about the brahman' are matched by a parallel passage in Plato's Phaedo, in which Simmias is said to have addressed Socrates as follows :

 

"I think, Socrates as perhaps you do yourself, that about such matters, It is either Impossible or supremely difficult to acquire clear knowledge in our present life. Yet It is cowardly not to test In every way what we are told about them, or to give up before we are worn out from studying them from every point of view. For we ought to do one of t:'e following thing a either we should learn the truth about them from others or we should find It out for ourselves or If this is impossible, we should take what Is at least the best human account of them, the one hardest la disprove and sailing on It as on a raft, we should voyage through life in the face of risks, unless one might be able on some stouter vessel, some divine account, to make the journey with more assurance and with fewer perils. "

 

Sri Vaishnavism, according to its adherents, provides this assurance. But relatively little is known about it outside India. Arnold Toynbee's Gifford lectures, his voluminous history and his other works, for example, do not refer at any great length to the Vaishnavite cults. The Spalding chair in eastern religions and ethics was established at Oxford in order to facilitate a study of the non-Christian religions in some depth. But in spite of this, Sri Vaishnavism remains unknown in the west, except as a local and sentimental brand of theism, overlaid with superstitions and crude beliefs.

 

Kaj Baago has said that the Christian attitude to Hinduism In the nineteenth century was a peculiar combination of scholarly attraction and religious repulsion. Christians studied and fought Hinduism at the same time. This still seems to be substantially true, with perhaps a rider that the study of Vaishnavism has not been very deep or popular either.

 

Regardless of all sectarian differences within itself, Sri Vaishnavism is and has always been a religion for the oikoumene or the entire inhabited part of the world. It has been syncretic and catholic. It is far from being dogmatic and according to some of its schools at least, it does not even prescribe any particular form of rituals. The Vishnu Dharmottara, one of the eighteen upa or minor puranas, says on the other hand :

 

 


The ecumenical trend in the Christian churches, which is so much in evidence today, has been anticipated in other words by a number of centuries in Vaishnavite belief and doctrine.

 

The present book is intended to facilitate a much wider understanding and appreciation of a religious tradition, which is based on this belief, but which has remained comparatively unknown beyond the specialised circle of those who have been brought up on it. It traces the history of Sri Vaishnavism from its remote origins in the Vedic and even in the pre-Vedic periods till about the second half of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth, by which time the doctrines of the two rival schools of Sri Vaishnavism in South India had become well defined and seemed to be in no need of any further revision. The book goes on to consider the philosophy of Vishistadvaita in the context of the development of other parallel theological systems, and to assess the relevance of Sri Vaishnavism as a modern religion and an ecumenical and universal faith, acceptable not only to those who call them- selves Vaishnavites or Sri Vaishnavites, but also to others to whom these labels have not been applied.

 

If this book leads others to undertake further research, with a view to publishing fuller and more detailed studies, if it encourages the study of comparative religion by Indians as a new discipline and above all, if it promotes greater inter- religious understanding, the labour in writing it will be folly rewarded.

 

Contents

 

1.

Introductory

 

2.

Our lost heritage

 

3.

The discovery of Hinduism in the West

 

4.

Foreign influences on the development of Indian religions

 

5.

Vishnu in the Vedas

 

6.

The theism of the epics and the Puranas

 

7.

Genesis or the Vaishnavite accounts of creation

 

8.

The Matsya purana or the flood legends of the world

 

9.

Samkhya or the pluralistic origins of Vaishnavism

 

10.

Bauddham or Vishnu as the Bodhisattva

 

11.

Sol Invictus or Suryanarayana

 

12.

Sri or Lakshmi in Vaishnavism

 

13.

Vishnu and his vyuhas

 

14.

Avatars and incarnations

 

15.

Icha rupa dhara

 

16.

The pancharatra tradition

 

17.

The Vaikhanasa agama

 

18.

The synthesis of the vedas and agamas

 

19.

Vishishtadvaita

 

20.

Vaishnavite theology in perspective

 

21.

The proliferation of the sects.

 

22.

The two rival schools in South India

 

23.

Temples in Vaishnavite religion and culture

 

24.

The hidden Christ in Hinduism

 

25.

An ecumenical faith

 

26.

The Vaishnavite ideal

 

27.

Vaishnavism in a western environment

 

28.

The Vaishnavite influence in the modern world

 

29.

Conclusion

 

 

Abiding Grace

Item Code:
NAK812
Cover:
Paperback
Edition:
2014
Language:
English
Size:
10.5 inch x 8.5 inch
Pages:
190
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 400 gms
Price:
$29.00   Shipping Free
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Foreword

 

Sanatana Dharma or the Faith Eternal is the religion preached by the great seers of India. The sole aim of these great sages was to see into the Truth of things and they pursued it with a passion which has no parallel in the history of mankind. It is this overwhelming passion for the Highest Truth that has transformed an esoteric philosophy into a living faith.

 

Many religious traditions and philosophical trends considerably infiuencea the development of Hinduism and activated its growth. The spiritual experiences of the Alwars of Tamilnadu, who proclaimed the supremacy of Lord Vishnu formed the basis of Sri Vaishnavism one of the most widely accepted systems of theistic Vedanta. Inspired by the ecstatic outpourings these Vaishnava mystics, the Philosopher-Saint Sri Ramanuja propounded the doctrine of Visishtadvaita which emphasises Surrender (Propatti) to Sri Hari as the Surest means for redemption. According to this doctrine which heralded the advent of the Bhakti movement in the sixteenth century, Lord Naroyana takes up and bestows His Grace on the vilest of sinners that surrenders himself completely to Him, like a mother cat carrying its young ones.

 

Even though a voluminous mass of literature on Sri Vaishnavism mainly focusing on the doctrinal and liturgical aspects of the system, has appeared." few attempts have been made to trace the history of Sri Vaishnavism and study it in a comprehensive manner against the backdrop of contemporary religious trends elsewhere. The book now we present to our readers is a bold and sincere attempt at resolving' this problem. The author, an ardent follower of this unique sampradaya analyses Sri Vaishnavism from the historical standpoint and takes a fresh look on the philosophy of Visishtadvaita in the context of the development of other parallel theological systems.

 

This book is indeed an invaluable and thought provoking study of a great system which withstood the onslaught of time and any student of Vaishnavism can not afford to miss this feast of reason and flow of soul in fields so dear to him in one way or other.

 

Preface

 

The literature on Indian religions and scriptures and other allied subjects is fairly extensive and new titles are also being added every year. The number of books on Vaishnavism generally and on Sri Vaishnavism in particular is not, however, very large. M any of the sacred texts and scriptures of the Sri Vaishnavites, especially those written in Tamil, or in manipravala using both Sanskrit and Tamil and the special grantha script, are not readily available in translations or very often even in the original. Apart from this, there has been a tradition of oral teaching within the community and the written record has not been regarded as being an adequate substitute for it.

 

As a great deal of source material has thus been lost to western and other scholars, books in the English language, which provide a connected and comprehensive account of the origin and development of the Sri Vaishnavite religion, its theology and rituals, its essential doctrines and its relevance as a living and modern religion, appropriate to the needs and circumstances of today tend to be rare.

 

This book is intended to fill this gap and to meet a felt need in this context. It brings the work of pioneering scholars and historians of Sri Vaishnavism like R.G. Bhandarkar, S. Krishnaswami Ayyangar, Suvira Jayaswal and K.D. Bharadwaj up to date. While it is faithful to tradition as preserved within the Sri Vaishnavite community, it is also based on archaeological, historical and anthropological evidence, which has become available in recent years. It considers the history, teachings and traditions of Sri Vaishnavism against the background of the development of other theistic religions elsewhere in the world, with special reference to the religious experience of the west. It emphasises the continuity of a liberal, syncretic and ecumenical trend in the development of Sri Vaishnavism and its importance as a modern faith, with a world view.

 

As the book is meant to be in the nature of a general introduction to Sri Vaishnavism for the ordinary reader, it has been written as far as possible in a lucid and popular style, which is free from jargon. By a deliberate choice, Sanskrit words, to the extent that they are relevant, have been retained in transliteration, as the flavour of the religion would have been lost otherwise. But both Sanskrit and Tamil words have been invariably translated into English for the benefit of readers, who may not be acquainted with any of these languages.

 

It is hoped that this book will stimulate an interest in further studies of the Sri Vaishnavite religion, promoting at the same time a greater understanding of the theistic religious traditions all over the world.

 

Introductory

 

In an age, in which most persons, even if they are not communists, believe with Karl Marx that religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heart- less world and the soul of soulless conditions, that it is in short the opium of the people, one needs some courage for writing one more book on one of the six theistic sects of Hinduism, as revived and re-established by Sankara and Ramanuja. If one is a devout Hindu, an excuse for such an attempt may not be needed. Everything being ordained by God, a book on Sri Vaishnavism may be deemed, or represented, to be a votive offering to Him, inspired and directed by His will. But at a more mundane level, some justification for an addition to the enormous volume of the literature on conventional religions with be necessary.

 

There are several reasons why a new book on Sri Vaishnavism may be useful at present. In the first place, Marx's views on religion are now out of date nearly as much as his views on economics. He was attacking the rigid and narrow minded theology, which was preached by parsons and bishops belonging to the established churches of his day, who believed in a muscular version of Christianity, according to the phrase which was originally coined by Charles Kingsley, without any great concern for the exploited classes in society. Religion has become much more humane and also much less dogmatic since his time. Death of god, crisis and existentialist theologies, secular Christianity and the debate, both before and after the publication in the early sixties of this century of Bishop Robinson's book entitled 'Honest to God,' are examples of how things have changed.

 

Marx's assumption that man as a perfected human being at the end of the proletarian revolution will not need any religion has also been disproved. The craving for understanding the ultimate reality cannot be abolished. God, as Emerson said enters by a private door into every individual, or almost into everyone.

 

The opening words of Vyasa's Brahma Sutra, namely, 'athatho brahma jijnasa', which can be roughly translated as 'now therefore, the desire to know about the brahman' are matched by a parallel passage in Plato's Phaedo, in which Simmias is said to have addressed Socrates as follows :

 

"I think, Socrates as perhaps you do yourself, that about such matters, It is either Impossible or supremely difficult to acquire clear knowledge in our present life. Yet It is cowardly not to test In every way what we are told about them, or to give up before we are worn out from studying them from every point of view. For we ought to do one of t:'e following thing a either we should learn the truth about them from others or we should find It out for ourselves or If this is impossible, we should take what Is at least the best human account of them, the one hardest la disprove and sailing on It as on a raft, we should voyage through life in the face of risks, unless one might be able on some stouter vessel, some divine account, to make the journey with more assurance and with fewer perils. "

 

Sri Vaishnavism, according to its adherents, provides this assurance. But relatively little is known about it outside India. Arnold Toynbee's Gifford lectures, his voluminous history and his other works, for example, do not refer at any great length to the Vaishnavite cults. The Spalding chair in eastern religions and ethics was established at Oxford in order to facilitate a study of the non-Christian religions in some depth. But in spite of this, Sri Vaishnavism remains unknown in the west, except as a local and sentimental brand of theism, overlaid with superstitions and crude beliefs.

 

Kaj Baago has said that the Christian attitude to Hinduism In the nineteenth century was a peculiar combination of scholarly attraction and religious repulsion. Christians studied and fought Hinduism at the same time. This still seems to be substantially true, with perhaps a rider that the study of Vaishnavism has not been very deep or popular either.

 

Regardless of all sectarian differences within itself, Sri Vaishnavism is and has always been a religion for the oikoumene or the entire inhabited part of the world. It has been syncretic and catholic. It is far from being dogmatic and according to some of its schools at least, it does not even prescribe any particular form of rituals. The Vishnu Dharmottara, one of the eighteen upa or minor puranas, says on the other hand :

 

 


The ecumenical trend in the Christian churches, which is so much in evidence today, has been anticipated in other words by a number of centuries in Vaishnavite belief and doctrine.

 

The present book is intended to facilitate a much wider understanding and appreciation of a religious tradition, which is based on this belief, but which has remained comparatively unknown beyond the specialised circle of those who have been brought up on it. It traces the history of Sri Vaishnavism from its remote origins in the Vedic and even in the pre-Vedic periods till about the second half of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth, by which time the doctrines of the two rival schools of Sri Vaishnavism in South India had become well defined and seemed to be in no need of any further revision. The book goes on to consider the philosophy of Vishistadvaita in the context of the development of other parallel theological systems, and to assess the relevance of Sri Vaishnavism as a modern religion and an ecumenical and universal faith, acceptable not only to those who call them- selves Vaishnavites or Sri Vaishnavites, but also to others to whom these labels have not been applied.

 

If this book leads others to undertake further research, with a view to publishing fuller and more detailed studies, if it encourages the study of comparative religion by Indians as a new discipline and above all, if it promotes greater inter- religious understanding, the labour in writing it will be folly rewarded.

 

Contents

 

1.

Introductory

 

2.

Our lost heritage

 

3.

The discovery of Hinduism in the West

 

4.

Foreign influences on the development of Indian religions

 

5.

Vishnu in the Vedas

 

6.

The theism of the epics and the Puranas

 

7.

Genesis or the Vaishnavite accounts of creation

 

8.

The Matsya purana or the flood legends of the world

 

9.

Samkhya or the pluralistic origins of Vaishnavism

 

10.

Bauddham or Vishnu as the Bodhisattva

 

11.

Sol Invictus or Suryanarayana

 

12.

Sri or Lakshmi in Vaishnavism

 

13.

Vishnu and his vyuhas

 

14.

Avatars and incarnations

 

15.

Icha rupa dhara

 

16.

The pancharatra tradition

 

17.

The Vaikhanasa agama

 

18.

The synthesis of the vedas and agamas

 

19.

Vishishtadvaita

 

20.

Vaishnavite theology in perspective

 

21.

The proliferation of the sects.

 

22.

The two rival schools in South India

 

23.

Temples in Vaishnavite religion and culture

 

24.

The hidden Christ in Hinduism

 

25.

An ecumenical faith

 

26.

The Vaishnavite ideal

 

27.

Vaishnavism in a western environment

 

28.

The Vaishnavite influence in the modern world

 

29.

Conclusion

 

 

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