Thursday, December 02, 2010

Great Books on Shuddhadwait Philosophy available online

It is very important for any philosophically inclined person or a follower of a school of thought to revise the fundamental knowledge from time to time. There are a number of books written on the Shuddhadwait philosophy in the past 5 centuries. However many of them remain in the confines of private libraries of some individuals, temples or trusts of the descendants of the original founder of Pushtimarg, Vallabhacharya. It would be really nice if these books are made easily accessible to the scholarly community for study and research - as the knowledge increases by sharing.

There is a hope though. Thanks to the internet, digital technology and goodwill of people behind site, a large number of such valuable books as Anubhashya, Vidvanmandan, Subodhini, Tattvarth Dip Nibandh, Shodashgranth etc are now available on their website's Books section. The books are freely downloadable (a very kind gesture), so you can read them at your convenience.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Tomorrow is Vallabhacharya's appearance day as it happens on the 11th called Varuthini Ekadashi. So if you are doing  a fast, by all means do it, but most importantly do an Upvaas by either visiting one of his 84 Baithaks or studying his books and feeling close to him. It should be interesting to understand how this Upvaas (उपवास) phenomenon came into existence and then decide what is its relevance today.

In ancient times, the daily activities people used to do were very limited and time consuming - a bit of farming or hunting, cooking the meal, a bit of socializing and repeat the cycle before it gets dark. Since there was no refrigeration, they depended heavily on grains as "stored" food and since there wasn't electric motor controlled flour mills, they needed to manually stone-grind the grains to make flour or burn lot of firewood to boil them in open air. This cooking was real time consuming process of the largely illiterate folks depriving them any opportunity to listen to the discourses from Brahmin (ब्राह्मण = a learned person) and acquire higher knowledge about life.

So Brahmins came up with a formula called Upvaas. Once in a fortnight, you should not spend time on cooking the grains and instead eat fresh fruits and vegetables which needed no or very little cooking. And also eat only once on that day. This process will save you some time that you can use to "Up+vass" (nearby sit) to a learned man and listen attentively to his teachings about higher aspects of life that will help you live a better, more fulfilling life. The side benefits would be learning of self-control and detachment, a good stamina building exercise for hard times and cleansing the stomach of any irregularity thus improving your health. The folks were sold on this and thus started the Upvaas tradition on 11th of every fortnight. The Brahmins would also receive gifts (food grains etc) in return from the people, so it was a win-win situation.

Fast forward to today. 1) People are not illiterate (at least the ones reading this blog) 2) The cooking activity is not that much time consuming - grain or no grain and 3) People no longer need to "sit nearby" physically to a learned person to receive his/her teachings thanks to the scientific advancements. That is to say, you can continue to do physical Doorvaas (दूर:वास) and still acquire knowledge by mental Upvaas or instrument-facilitated Upvaas (उपकरण-साधीत उपवास). (e.g. you can do Upvaas of Mumbai-based Shyamubava by listening to his online pravachan or by making a phone call or a video chat). In fact we can choose whom to listen and whom not, as well as verify their teachings with respect to the original and modern scriptures that are available in text form (digital or physical) compared to the verbal only form of ancient times.

Where does that leave us with regard to Upvaas? The answer will come from its definition explained above. Upvaas is not a discrete phenomenon as set at the beginning, it is a continuous phenomenon. Right from the time we are born to our last breath, we stay somewhere or the other i.e. we do Vaas. It's up to us to make that an Upvaas (staying at a good place) or Apvaas (staying at a bad place). Upvaas can be performed any time for any period e.g. you can say "today evening I'm gonna do Upvaas of Shree Vallabhacharya by studying Anu-Bhashya" or "Wow, we did Upvaas of Shrinathji for 3 days at Nathdwara." Better than Upvaas is Antahvaas (अन्तःवास or अन्तेवास) meaning staying inside a divine environment. If you perform Gruhseva (house worship of a deity), you are covered for Upvaas all the time, it could even become Antahvaas if your consciousness is such that it is the Lord's house in which you are living as a servant.

Upvaas has very little to do with food - just eat Sattvik food and you are good to go. The word Falahar (फलाहार) was used to suggest eating only fruits, but today it means all kinds of fancy food preparations that "conform" to the food-standards of doing an "upvaas" e.g. flour of some grains, salt of certain kind and many other on-the-edge items. Lest you eat outside the standard, your Upvaas is gone! Give me a break, people. It is also an old joke now that many a people would do Upvaas to have a delicious sumptuous meal.

So, in conclusion, Upvaas is not a synonym for fast. A fast can have many benefits, but the main one was supposedly to be able to do Upvaas. On the other hand, Upvaas doesn't need a fixed date, it could be done any time, however brief or long. Main goal of Upvaas is to uplift your consciousness with higher knowledge and understanding, primarily about the Supreme. Upvaas is nothing but an education process.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Compatibility of Religion and Science

Religion and Science have been at odds since long in Europe. We know from the medieval history about the famous Galileo controversy where the Catholic Church prosecuted him and forced him to disown the heliocentric theory. To counter the brutal persecution of scientists by religious groups, some illuminati(enlightened) retaliated violently as depicted in the movie Angels and Demons starring Evan McGregor and Tom Hanks.

Well, today is the birth anniversary of Galileo Galilei (Feb 15, 1564 - Jan 8 1642), one of the earliest modern scientists. As if timed for the occasion, 3 days ago Church of England's Synod passed a motion calling the Church leaders to emphasize the compatibility of belief in God and science, reports BBC :
Dr Capon's motion has come in response to what many in the Church perceive as a growing pressure on the public to choose between the merits of either religion or science.

A former lecturer in computer science, Dr Capon said atheists were misleading the public when they claimed science and religion are incompatible.

He believed that some popular science and nature programmes also repeated this line too easily, ignoring the fact that many scientists hold spiritual beliefs.
While this attempt is appreciated, one important difference remains is that the Western culture still maintains the duality between Science and Religion while the Indian spiritual traditions maintained the pure non-dual perspective on these and other issues as evident in Vallabhacharya's famous definition of devotion (Tattvartha Dip Nibandh Shastrartha Prakaran Karika 45):

माहात्म्यज्ञानपूर्वस्तु सुदृढः सर्वतोऽधिकः ।
स्नेहोभक्तिरिति प्रोक्तः तयार्मुक्ति: नचान्यथा।।

As per this verse, Science is the pre-requisite for devotion (love for God) which is the highest form of Religion. While some shallow devotees might argue that he is referring to only the scriptural or religious knowledge, the fact is if they truly believe in Vallabhacharya's philosophy of Shuddhadwait Brahmvaad, everything that is there is nothing but a manifestation of that Pure Supreme and thus even the modern science can and should be understood and appreciated and in fact in most cases it leads to better devotional steadfastness. By the same argument, even the religions other than one's own are His manifestations and thus can and should be understood and appreciated within one's capacity. Those who fight in the name of religions, can't be called religious fundamentalists as they know nothing about the 'fundamentals', they are religious shallowists!

Back to science and religion debate, here is a nice TED talk delivered by the evangelist Rev Billy Graham on Technology and Faith. It falls a little short on the compatibility of the religion and science though, as he goes overboard on evangelizing Christianity and resurrection than unifying the duality.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Meet Shree Vallabh, the Microblogger, er the Twitterer of the medieval period

The advent of the 21st century saw the rise of social media, the so-called web 2.0 which facilitated anyone with a computer and internet to publish their thoughts instantly for the entire world to read and comment. However, not everyone is interested or gifted to write a detailed articles or blog posts, that's where the microblogging phenomenon comes into picture. Twitter is an example of it as it allows one to publish a short (140 character i.e. 10-15 words) "microblog" to describe anything one wants. You can follow this blog on twitter @ShuddhAdwait

Now, fast backward to the medieval period (15th century AD) when scholars used to write lengthy commentaries on scriptures to establish their philosophy. However, there was one who was different! Meet Shree Vallabh, the microblogger, er the twitterer of the spirituality. Vallabhacharya's writing was so succinct that few sentences would suffice him to comment on a Brahm Sutra of Ved Vyas (who himself was a great twitterer to express the entire Vedas as Brahm Sutras or shall we say, Brahm Tweets!) Here is an example of a Sutra and the commentary:

अत एव न देवता भूतं च || १|२|८|२७ ||
वैश्वानरो न ऊत्येत्यादिमन्त्रैर्देवताया महाभूताग्नेर्वा वाक्यार्थतेति कस्यचिद बुद्धिः स्यात | तदप्यतिदेशेनैव परिहरति | मुख्योपपत्तिर्भगवत्परत्वे संभवति नान्यकल्पना युक्तेति ||

This sutra is a part of the Vaishvanar-adhikaran which is a part of the second section of the first chapter of Anubhashya. Here Vallabhacharya establishes that Brahm is the Vaishvanar who is universal and not just limited to the devata (the belly-fire or digestion acid of a living entity), because the main purpose of Brahm Sutra is related to the Supreme Brahm and not any other imagination.

Coming back to microblogging, it requires a great deal of intellectual skill to express a complex topic into a few words - anyone who had to do a comprehension or summarization as part of the school exam knows how difficult it can get. Late Prof G H Bhatt has glorified this brevity of Vallabhacharya in his book Shree Vallabhacharya and his Doctrines. Especially read the chapters 8 and 9 where it is also established how the mentality of Vitthalnathji was different from that of his father Vallabhacharya, resulting in stark contrast of writing and expressions.

Vallabhacharya has also written "macroblogs". In fact, the above book clarifies why Anubhashya is called Anu-Bhashya and hints that there was a Brihad-Bhashya written by Vallabhachrya but was lost. By the way, Bhashya in sanskrit means "the speech/commentary" which in bird language would mean "tweets", there you have it! The take away from this blog post is that depending on the circumstances, you should be able to convey a message as succinctly and precisely as possible. It reflects your intellectual scientific advancement. Otherwise you will litter the blogosphere with spam!