Daily Practice | Śrī Vaiṣṇavism
It can be seen that our perception of the world and our place in it and the way in which the teachings will be received and applied in daily life through the chosen framework of our spiritual practice, depends upon 3 essential subjective factors;-
1. Individual disposition (svabhāva)
2. The level of intellectual and spiritual development (bhūmika)
3. The ability or competency to understand, digest and respond. (Adhikāra)
Each person is a conditioned individual and each is at a different level of development with a different capacity to comprehend abstract teachings and respond to them in terms of integrating them into one’s life - and it is this recognition of fundamental difference and individuality which is the parameter of the spiritual teaching of Sanātana Dharma.
The Divine responds to us not collectively but individually, so that each person’s experience of the Divine is different because each and every being is a ray of the Divine and is thus directly and intimately related to the Godhead.
The union with the lover, which is the highest form of worldly pleasure is experienced by each person differently. In the same way each person will have their own way of approaching and relating to God.
The overriding principle in spiritual teaching is for the āchārya to individualise all teachings and instructions to the Sādhakas (practitioners) with reference to these 3 filters.
These three factors differ from individual to individual and there not all teachings and sādhanas are suitable to be adopted by everyone.
Just as medicine is meant for specific conditions one does not self-medicate but approaches a qualified medical practitioner to receive diagnosis and guidance, in the same manner, in order to overcome the “illness of Samsāra” (suffering), the aspirant should approach a competent spiritual preceptor in order to receive a program of “rehabilitation”.
The formal process by which one performs Śaraṇāgati or takes refuge is known as samāśrayanam and is an essential condition for all members of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava community.
It is similar to confirmation of the Christians or Bar-mitzvah of the Jews, and one is not accepted as a fully-fledged member of the community until the ceremony has been performed.
The prospective Prapanna approaches an āchārya and requests to be accepted as a Śrī Vaiṣṇava.
The āchārya after satisfying himself as to the sincerity of the aspirant, sets a time for the ceremony of the Five Sacraments (pañca-saṁskāra).
According to the Scriptures these sacraments should be conferred upon all who sincerely request them, and the supplicant should not be examined too closely for faults since in fact there are strictly no qualifications for taking refuge!
striyah sudras ca anulomah kalyana guna samyutah |
yadi tani shishyatve grhniyat krpaya guruh ||
If a woman, or Śūdra or outcaste applies for initiation and is possessed of good qualities, then he/she should gladly be accepted by the guru.
Viśvāmitra Saṃhitā 3:27.
The Five Sacraments which are administered are as follows:-
1. tapanam - the emblems of Lord Vishnu i.e. the conch and discus, are branded on the left and the right shoulder respectively. This is intended to purify one from negative Karma, and render the body fit for devotional service.
It marks one for life as a servant and the property of the Lord.
2. puṇḍram - the sectarian mark (nāmam) which is a representation of the feet of the Lord is marked with white clay (tiruman) upon the forehead and eleven other parts of the body.
The line in the centre is drawn in red (sricurna) and symbolises Lakshmi.
3. Dāsya-nāma - the disciple is given a new name which indicates one’s eternal status as the servant of God.
It is usually one of the names of Vishnu with the suffix dāsa (m) or dāsi (f) added - servant of.
The new name among Teṅkalai is usually accompanied by Rāmānuja dāsa, because Rāmānuja is accepted as the primary servant (mūla- dāsa) and all others accept the status of the servant of the servant of the Lord (dasanudasan).
According to the Teṅkalai, Rāmānuja has already done Prapatti for all subsequent generations of his followers and therefore one should take refuge in him.
All Vaishnavas are on an equal level in the eyes of the Lord, and there are no differences based on caste or social status.
In the Vedic social arrangement Dāsa is the suffix added to the names of the Śūdras, so among Vaishnavas even the Brahmins are called servants and thus the entire Vaishnava society is on an equal level.
4. mantra-upadesha - the disciple is taught the three sacred mantras (rahasya-trayam) which, from today onwards he/she is required to recite daily.
5. yaga - the disciple is given an Icon of the Lord and is instructed in the proper method of worship. For the common initiates it takes the form of an actual act of worship only.
According to the Pāñcharātra Āgama disciples are divided into 4 categories;
1. sāmānya shishyas - ordinary disciples who receive the 5 sacraments (pañca-saṁskāra) and have suitable faith in the Lord and the āchārya and render some sort of service when called upon to do so, but do not study the philosophy or doctrines of the faith – usually due to lack of ability to do so.
These form the bulk of society and for them basic rules and regulations are given and simplified devotional practices.
2. putrakas - spiritual aspirants who after being initiated apply themselves to the study of the philosophy and teachings of the āchāryas and the Ālvārs. They usually remain with the āchārya and are like his sons.
3. Sādhakas - These are disciples that have undergone the Tantric initiation and are actively engaged in meditation and the worship of a particular deity. They are entitled to officiate at all kinds of ceremonies and rituals including temple worship.
4. āchāryas - These are very advanced disciples who are qualified to teach and interpret the sacred literature and the mantras. They are the elders of the Sampradāya and are entitled to initiate others.
Characteristics of a Disciple (SVB 321)
The characteristics of a sincere and worthy disciple are as follows:-
1. Desists from all aims other than spiritual practice and devotional service.
2. Is eager to adopt spiritual practice and discipline.
3. Feels oppressed by Samsara and is eager to be liberated from it.
4. Is humble and respectful.
5. Is free from envy.
The Principles of Discipleship
The general principles of discipline which all disciples should try to practice are as follows:-
1. follow the way of the previous āchāryas.
2. not discuss the merits or demerits of others.
3. take no interest whatsoever in assessing and judging the defects and errors of others.
4. constantly reflect upon their personal imperfections and shortcomings.
5. do everything possible to remain free of confusion, and should apply themselves vigorously to further study.
6. constantly be aware of and acknowledge the quality of the Lord's protection.
7. never show disrespect to the āchārya, to the sacred mantras or to the sacred icons.
The Disciplic Contract (SVB 326 - 346)
According to Pillai Lokacharya the āchārya and shishya must demonstrate a mutual beneficial and affectionate relationship.
1. The shishya should be committed to ensuring the physical and material wellbeing of the āchārya.
2. The āchārya should be committed to teaching, instructing and guiding the shishyas in their spiritual practice and the unfolding of the inherent spiritual qualities which are - knowledge, firm resolve, universal compassion, good conduct and service.
3. The āchārya should never display anger towards the disciples, the disciples should never offend the āchārya.
4. Both āchārya and shishya have the right to mutually reprimand each other at any time. But this criticism must be constructive and done in private - the faults of either should never be revealed in public to others.
5. The disciple should never give personal property to the āchārya neither should the āchārya request such property.
After initiation the sincere Prapanna undertakes a program of spiritual practice and development. This process is known as sādhana which means that whereby one achieves perfection or success (siddhi).
This spiritual practice or sādhana consists in achieving the 2 excellences
- sama = internal control over the mind, intellect and ego and
dama = control over the five sensory organs and the five organs of action - which are the partial expressions of the natural attributive consciousness of the jīva; through the harmonious development of thought, feeling and will.
By the cultivation of these expressions the jīva gradually reveals its true nature.
The basic principle is that every jīva is essentially pure, divine, fully enlightened and already liberated, the problem is that this natural state of perfection has been enshrouded by negative states of mind, identification with personal shortcomings, presence of afflictive emotions and ignorance.
The purpose of sādhana is to remove the negativity and ignorance and to reveal the true nature of the Self - not to obtain a new or different state of consciousness.
There are 2 levels of Spiritual Practice or Sādhana:
The threefold minimum requirement is elaborated upon in the Gītā Chapter 17. The threefold focus of spiritual practice is:
Yajna - sacrifice, Tapa - self-discipline and Dāna - generosity.
Krishna says in the Gītā; 18;5:
The acts of sacrifice, generosity and self-discipline should not be relinquished; but should be performed. For sacrifice, philanthropy and self-discipline are the purifiers of the wise.
And Rāmānuja comments:
- Why? Because these three practices performed consistently and perpetually until death are an aid to the erasure of previous Karmas which stand in the way of the fulfilment of one’s spiritual development.
The Threefold Practice
This is a basic framework of spiritual practice as taught by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gītā.
He also declares that whatever one’s personal circumstances may be these three should be unfailingly practiced by everyone until death and should never be abandoned.
All those who call themselves practicing “Hindus” should adhere to this spiritual regime. This program is universal in its application without reference to one’s social standing.
1. Yajña - Sacrifice.
Yajna in its narrow primary sense refers to the ancient Vedic Sacrifices that are now redundant.
In its secondary and applied sense it refers to the Five Great Sacrifices which are:-
1. pitru- yajña - the sacrifice to the parents and ancestors.
2. deva- yajña - the sacrifice to the gods.
3. brahma- yajña - the sacrifice to the sages.
4. bhuta- yajña - the sacrifice to the animals.
5. manushya-yajña - the sacrifice to human beings.
Every person is born with a debt to these five categories of beings and throughout one’s life these debts must be discharged.
The two dynamic factors of Yajña are:-
1. A sincere feeling of gratitude and 2. the demonstration of that heartfelt gratitude.
- The gratitude to our parents is expressed through honouring them, caring for them while they live and making offerings for their well-being (śraddhā) once they die.
- The gratitude to the gods is expressed through the periodic making of offerings.
- The gratitude to the sages and preceptors who, renouncing personal interest, dedicated their lives for guiding humankind is expressed through the study of the sacred teachings and passing them on to others or at the very least being cultural informed.
- The gratitude to the animals and eco-systems is expressed through feeding birds and other animals and also through active support of environmental issues and ensuring the preservation of the natural habitat.
- The gratitude to society without which we could not exist is expressed through ensuring that other members of the society are cared for. In our own lives we can express this through offering hospitality to guests and to strangers. There are three minimal requirements which must be offered to a guest: a seat, water to drink, and kind words.
2. Tapas - self-discipline
Gītā 17;15 - 17 expounds the threefold discipline of body speech and mind as follows:-
a) Kayika Tapas - physical self-discipline
1. The adoration of the gods, the initiated ones, spiritual teachers and enlightened beings;
2. Personal hygiene and cleanliness of environment.
3. Integrity - harmony of thought and action;
4. Sexual-restraint - avoidance of sexual misconduct and exploitation of others through considering them to be objects of self-gratification.
5. Non-injury - avoidance of causing pain to any being.
b) Vachika Tapas - Discipline (Tapas) of speech consists in -
1. using words that do not disturb others,
2. which are true,
3. agreeable and are
4. directed at the benefit of the other,
5. the practice of the recitation and study of Scriptural texts.
Manasika Tapas - Discipline of mind consists of -
1. Peace of mind - the absence of anger, desire, delusion, pride, greed:
2. benevolence - being devoted to the good of others;
3. silence - control of expression;
4. self-restraint - focusing one’s thought flow on the object of contemplation;
5. perfect mindfulness - being constantly aware of the Spiritual dimension of life, the underlying Cosmic Force.
Rāmānuja says that this threefold self-discipline (Tapas) should be practised with the utmost faith through deed, speech and thought, having no consideration of any reward and with the conviction that it is to be done simply as adoration of the Supreme Person.
3. Dāna - generosity
Generosity is compassion in action; the practice of philanthropy arises from the perception of the same Divine Principle in all beings.
When one realises “sameness” with others, one develops not only empathy with their needs and suffering but also a desire to alleviate that suffering to the extent possible.
Dāna is service - the giving of one’s resources and self to help others whenever and wherever possible.
The person who renders service to the world even at the risk of his life, and is devoid of rivalry and jealousy, is said to be an excellent man both here and hereafter.
/Nārada Purāṇa 1:4:74/
The Seventh-fold Practice
1. viveka (discrimination) –
apart from the general connotation of this word which is discriminating between the material and the spiritual, the beneficial and the harmful etc.,
for Śrī Vaiṣṇavas this term refers to more particularly to discrimination in relation to one’s eating habits:
The mind and body are the instruments of spiritual knowledge and devotional service respectively. They are comprised of the food we eat, and must therefore be kept healthy and pure by regulating the type of food that is consumed.
Purity of diet is considered as essential for the purity of mind and subsequent spiritual practice.
There are 3 defects (doṣa) associated with food which should be avoided:
a) jāti-doṣa - food which is of unsuitable origin e.g. meat, fish, onions, garlic, alcohol, fermented food and drink, drugs, tobacco etc.
b) āśraya-doṣa - defective source - meaning food which is prepared and offered by an unknown person, an intoxicated person, a sick person, degenerate person, a menstruating woman or a person in a state of ritual impurity, or an immoral person.
c) nimitta-doṣa - a contingent defect arising from the presence of an impure thing like a hair in the food, or the food having come in contact with an impure thing, such as the hem of a garment, being touched by someone’s foot or food that was left uncovered overnight.
Food that was tasted during the cooking process or smelt, and the leavings off the plate of another, or food or drink that has touched the lips of another person are all considered as impure and unsuitable for consumption by a Vaishnava.
2. vimoka (non-attachment) –
All resources are regarded as belonging to the Supreme Person and intended for the use of all beings on the planet. Whatever we accumulate for personal use should be regarded as a borrowed article of which we are merely the custodians.
In this manner one should remain unattached to family, possessions, desires etc. Every effort should be made to care well for them but attachment should be discouraged.
Everything we own and do should be offered up to the Lord.
3. abhyāsa (practice) –
Constant Dharma practice which includes the chanting of the names of the Lord, recitation of the sacred mantras, remembrance and retelling of His pastimes and glories, meditating upon Him, mindfulness of the Divine Presence pervading all beings and all things and practicing the teachings of the āchāryas.
4. kriyā (ritual) –
the daily rituals are worship of the Lord - bhāgavad ārādhanam – according to one’s ability, the recitation of the three jewels (ratna trayam) and the Five Great Sacrifices (pañcha-mahā-yajña).
5. kalyāṇa (virtues) –
These are divided into two categories of moral and intellectual virtues:
The moral virtues are:
satyam - Truthfulness.
ārjavam - Straightforwardness, integrity and honesty.
dayā - Compassion to all living beings.
dāna - philanthropy - the active form of compassion where an attempt is made to alleviate the sufferings of others with whatever resources we may have.
ahiṁsā - Non-violence in word, deed or thought to any living being.
indriya nigraha - Control of the senses.
Kṣamā - Forgiveness.
tapas - Self-discipline.
The intellectual virtues which should be cultivated are:
grahaṇa - A quick grasp of Vedāntic truths.
dhāraṇa - Retentiveness and recollection of lessons learnt.
smarana - A constant mindfulness and contemplation of the spiritual truths.
pratipadana - Exposition of the doctrines to others in a lucid manner.
uha - Cultivating the practice of inferring the unknown from the known.
apoha - Developing a competency for analogising i.e. developing analogies and metaphors and drawing comparisons in order to illustrate difficult concepts.
vivaraṇa - Cultivating a keenness for perceiving distinctions i.e. between the true and the false.
tattva-jñānam - Developing a sincere interest in obtaining knowledge of all the facts relating to any subject.
6. an-avasadhana (cheerfulness) –
Freedom from dejection and despondency owing to unfavourable circumstances, frustration of desires, or unfavourable conditions of time and place.
One should also avoid the recollection or brooding over past sufferings and sorrows as this type of mental activity is unhelpful to spiritual progress.
7. an-uddharshana (non-exultation). –
One should avoid over-excitement and rejoicing at any success one may achieve, but should rather cultivate inner-tranquillity and equanimity.
The classical daily life of the orthodox Śrī Vaiṣṇava according to the Pāñcharātra Āgama is arranged into 5 activities called pañcha-kalā- kriyā.
These activities constitute the devotional service (kainkaryam) which is rendered to the Lord:
§ 1. Abhigamanam - The daily visit to the temple to pay one’s respects to the Lord.
Nowadays due to urban living it is not always possible to fulfil this duty, so the tradition is maintained by taking a few symbolic steps in the direction of the nearest temple or at least mentally recalling the sacred shrines.
§ 2. Upadhanam - Collecting the items required for the daily worship offered to the Lord e.g. flowers, Tulasī leaves, fruit, sacred grass etc.
§ 3. Ijya - The ritual worship of the Lord at the family altar.
It consists of offering services to the Lord in the framework of what is known as the “5 thrones” (pañcha-āsana):
1. mantra-āsana - invocation and welcoming offerings.
2. snana-āsana - ceremonial bath (abhiṣeka).
3. alankara-āsanam - dressing and decorating the Icon.
4. bhojya-āsana - offering of foodstuffs.
5. punar-mantra-āsana - chanting of hymns in Sanskrit and Tamil.
The food that is offered to the Lord becomes prasādam (Grace) and the eating of it is called anuyaga.
§ 4. Svādhyāya - Daily study of the Scriptures and the Tamil hymns of the Ālvār saints which are contained in the collection of 4000 hymns known as the Nalayira divya-prabandham.
One should study a portion of them every day and spend some time teaching them to others and having discussions on these topics.
§ 5.Yoga - before retiring at night one should spend some time in contemplating the Form and qualities of the Lord.
Now that most of us live in a busy western, modern world, with the ever increasing demands, responsibilities and commitments to family and profession, it is well-nigh impossible to practice any of the above duties.
Nammālvār has given us an hint of the minimum offering required:-
O ye seekers of liberation, rise to your full stature,
singing the praises of our griefless God;
Serve Him with water pure, seeking no personal gain,
burn incense before Him and offer flowers.
One who wishes to conduct some form of daily puja program can adopt a simplified format in which some flowers a vessel of water and some incense is offered daily - either in the morning or evening or at both times.
It is a good idea to spend at least half an hour a day in reading from the scriptures as well as meditating and repeating the Jewel Mantras.
The practising Śrī Vaiṣṇava must at all times and places remain dignified and humble and should refrain from improper conduct. The general guidelines for one’s social conduct are the following:
One should always try to act in accordance with time, place, circumstance bearing in mind one’s essential status as a ‘server’ (kinkara) and the status of those with whom one is associating.
One should be aware at all times of maintaining one’s own dignity and that of one’s associates - even when having a disagreement one should always maintain the dignity of the person with whom one is disputing.
Music has a very powerful effect on the sub-conscious as well as the conscious mind. One should therefore avoid music which does not contribute to peace and the generation of a tranquil and loving state of mind.
Peer association and pressure is another important factor is one’s development. One should assiduously avoid the company of those who are antagonistic to spiritual topics, hypocrites and rank materialists.
One should avoid all forms of public display of piety. All spiritual and religious exercises must be done in private.
The simple chanting (japa) of the Sacred Names is the highest form of spiritual practice and should be done in private.
While chanting the Holy Names one should not use a Japa-mala (rosary) in public places, while walking about, sitting or riding in a vehicle.
The chanting should be done slowly and clearly in a whisper, and with full concentration. If interrupted during the chanting with a Japa-mala one should start again at the beginning.
One should not prostrate more than twice in a temple.
One should avoid excessive and prolonged meditation; one good short meditation session of even 10 minutes with sincerity and concentration is better than ten years of half-hearted practice.
One should avoid requesting service or resources from others, but should always be ready to offer assistance and service whenever and wherever the need arises.
All superstitions, false beliefs and taking of vows are to be discouraged:
A sincere Prapanna must not resort to Astrological remedial measures such as the use of gems, talismans and amulets for achieving well-being and prosperity - all of which are devices for avoiding one’s Karma.
One must avoid and discourage all forms of extreme asceticism such as wearing matted locks, putting ashes on the body, fasting, piercing the body with needles, fire-walking and the rest.
Over anxiety about the future life and death should be avoided.
One should never pray for any material gain for oneself. One should pray only for knowledge (jñānam), devotion (bhakti) and dispassion (vairāgya) and for the welfare of all beings.
All religious rites involving injury to living beings must be abjured and actively discouraged.
One should try as hard as possible to preserve the integrity of the family unit which is the basis of an ordered society. Couples should treat each other with respect, affection, love and compassion and work together in equal, mutual cooperation and harmony for the benefit of the entire society. Spouse and offspring should not be exploited or used as servants.
Any kind of adulterous dalliance with a married person is to be avoided. One should not touch their hair, body, clothes or ornaments. One should avoid joking with them in private, and one should not sit next to or on the same seat as a married person. Receiving or giving gifts to a married person is also to be discouraged.
A Śrī Vaiṣṇava should try to earn a living according to the principles of Karma Yoga as taught in the Bhagavad Gītā. One’s chosen profession or trade must be discharged with the idea that it is service to God (kainkaryam).
All work is sacred and dignified. Whatever work is done should be done with perfect attention to detail and without being motivated solely by profit.
In whatever way a Śrī Vaiṣṇava chooses to earn an living the following means are strictly forbidden;-
1. Begging or living on social security.
2. Living on the interest of money loaned.
3. Taking bribes.
4. Living by a profession or industry which directly or indirectly causes suffering to other beings such as the meat and leather industries, munitions industries, or brewing and selling of alcohol or drugs.
5. Superintending mines and factories is also forbidden because it can lead to corruption, harshness and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. It also leads to depredation of the environment through deforestation and pollution which are considered as sinful activities by the Shastras.
According to the Lakshmi Tantra chapter 28;25. there are only 7 legitimate ways for a Śrī Vaiṣṇava to make money:-
1. dayā - inheritance
2. lābha - proft from honest commerce and trade.
3. kraya - purchase of land and assets for the purpose of speculation.
4. jaya - winning of prizes or money in a competition
5. prayoga - through the application of sacred learning and performing of rituals i.e., teaching and sacrificing for others in the case of brāhmins and teaching in general and counselling for those who are not brāhmins.
6. karma yoga - through a profession or a vocational job serving others.
7. satpratigraha - the lawful acceptance of gifts - that is, unsolicited donations.
There is a verse in the Padma Purāṇa -
aradhanam sarvesham vishnor-aradhanam param |
tasmat parataram devi tadiyanam samarcanam ||
(Lord Śiva said) Of all forms of ritual worship
the foremost is that which is offered to Vishnu.
But higher even than that O Parvati, is service rendered to His own.
This teaching is most often taken in a very narrow sectarian sense as meaning feeding and offering Dakṣiṇā (gratuity) to Śrī Vaiṣṇavas or more generally as some form of service to Vaishnavas.
But the higher teachings of the āchāryas stress that life should be lived for the universal altruistic motive. The more encompassing the altruism the more precious, beneficial and in harmony with the Divine Will the life lived.
In the Bhagavad Gītā Krishna states that one who sees all beings in Him and Him in all beings truly sees. He also states that a devotee should be constantly engaged in the welfare of all beings (sarva-bhūta-hite-ratah).
Rather than reinforce a closed sectarian bias we need to rid ourselves of all sense of divisiveness and separateness from others and base ourselves in spacious awareness of the Divine Principle pervading all beings.
The āchāryas teach us that we should live for the welfare of the world (loka-saṁgraha).
Nanjiyar used to say that a Vaishnava is one who identifies with the suffering of other sentient beings. The entire Universe and all jīvas form the “body” of the Supreme Lord.
Therefore, from this cosmic perspective every entity is a scintilla of God, everything moving and immobile is tadiya - His own. Therefore every sentient and insentient being should be regarded as a part and parcel of God and treated as such.
The welfare of the totality depends upon the harmonious working of each and every tiny part.
Our service or Kainkaryam should be directed to the entire universe (Vasudhaiva kutumbham) and we should serve all sentient beings as if they were Nārāyaṇa Himself.
There is a delightful story from the biography of Rāmānuja which illustrates this point:
A Muslim princess, Lachimar Bibi and her soldier companion by the name of Kubera were converted to Śrī Vaiṣṇavism by Rāmānuja while he was residing in Melkote.
After the death of Lachimar Bibi, Kubera renounced everything went to Srirangam and took shelter under Rāmānuja.
It is said that once a dog stole his bread as he was baking it, he ran after it calling out: “Nārāyaṇa! Wait let me smear a little ghee on it, so that you will enjoy it more!”
Such was his capacity to see the Lord everywhere and in all things. This is the highest ideal of the concept of tadiya- aradhanam, which should be striven for by serious Prapannas.
The Śrī Vaiṣṇava community is divided into 2 sects known as kalais:
The Vaḍakalai (‘northerners’ - centred at Kāñchī) who follow the teachings of the great āchārya Vedanta Deśikan, and the Teṅkalai (‘southerners’ - centred at Srirangam) who follow Manavalamamuni.
Kāñchī was the great academic centre of ancient India and base for all the various Hindu philosophical schools, as well as for Jains and Buddhists.
The Kāñchī Śrī Vaiṣṇava scholars were under pressure to defend their doctrines from the polemics of the other philosophical schools, they therefore became more conservative in theology, academia and ritual practice in order to be acceptable to the other orthodox schools.
The Srirangam scholars were in an home environment and therefore all their preaching was to the converted with no need to rigorously defend their doctrinal positions. In this congenial atmosphere they developed along more liberal and informal lines.
The principal difference between these two schools is that the Vaḍakalai place more stress on the Sanskrit Scriptural tradition and the Varṇa-āśrama Dharma system with its preservation of the social status quo.
They are also more inclined to believe in justification by works rather than by faith - in accordance with Scriptural injunctions.
The Teṅkalai on the other hand, lay greater stress on the vernacular Tamil tradition and are less concerned with preserving the caste status quo. The emphasis is more on Divine Grace than on works.
The Vaḍakalai approach is that of the baby monkey that clings desperately to its mother (markata-nyaya). The Teṅkalai approach is that of the kitten that simply sits and cries for its mother, who then comes and carries it away by the scruff of the neck. (marjara-nyaya).
The principle āchāryas of these two schools - Vedanta Deśikan for the Vaḍakalai and Manavalamamuni for the Teṅkalai represent the two extreme interpretations of the teachings of Rāmānuja, but there are many āchāryas of both schools who are more moderate and balanced in their views and more sympathetic to one or more doctrines of the opposing school.
All the commentaries, hymns and discourses of all the āchāryas are used by the Śrī Vaiṣṇava community as a whole.
Outwardly members of the two sects differ only in the application of the sectarian mark (nāmam) on the forehead:
The Vaḍakalai are distinguished by a white U with a yellow central line, whereas the Teṅkalai are distinguished by a white Y with a red central line.
The vast majority of Śrī Vaiṣṇavas do not concern themselves with the details and subtleties of the theological controversies and are merely aware of some basic social differences. But even these are no obstacle to integration and harmony; inter-marriage between the two groups is quite common.
In addition to the 18 major points of doctrinal dispute, there are several minor differences.
According to the Teṅkalai a sannyāsi (monk) can pay and receive obeisance from all Vaishnavas, even householders, he need not beg for his food and is allowed the use of metallic vessels.
In the Vaḍakalai community the sannyāsīs are regarded as holier than ordinary Vaishnavas and therefore can receive obeisance but cannot do it in return to others. They can only accept meals offered by orthodox Śrī Vaiṣṇava Brahmins and are forbidden the use of all metallic objects.
In domestic worship the Vaḍakalai use a bell whereas the Teṅkalai do not.
Both communities use Sanskrit and Tamil with the former predominant amongst the Vaḍakalai and Tamil amongst the later.
If the annual Śraddhā ceremony (death anniversary) falls on the Ekādaśī day (the 11th day after the full moon and the new moon) the Teṅkalai postpone it to the next day. The Vaḍakalai perform it on that day regardless.
During the Śraddhā the Teṅkalai offer food to God first, then to the Nityas and the āchāryas thereafter to the invited Brahmins. The Vaḍakalai offer the food to God only and not to the Nityas and āchāryas.
The widows of the Teṅkalai persuasion do not shave their heads or wear white garments or remove the tokens of marriage (Tali), while those of the Vaḍakalai like the Smārta women shave their heads and wear only white clothes after the death of their husbands.
Some of the Teṅkalai women wear the sari over their right shoulders, the Vaḍakalai women wear it over the left shoulder only.
In the matter of obeisance to the Lord enshrined in the temple, the Teṅkalai do it only once, and mutual prostrations are allowed between Vaishnavas irrespective of age, caste or sex. Both the guru and the disciple can prostrate to each other.
Among the Vaḍakalai prostration is permitted only by the younger to the older and never to a woman except the mother, elder sisters and the wife of the āchārya. Only the disciple prostrates and the guru does not return his obeisance.
On the subject of prostration it is important to note that when one accompanies one’s āchārya to a temple one does not prostrate to God.
If one meets one’s āchārya in a temple compound one does not prostrate because no prostration is done to anyone other than God in the temple compound.
In modern urban life the members of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava community can be classified as being either extrovert (bāhyam) or introvert (aṅtaram):
The extroverts are the openly practising Vaishnavas and can be seen wearing the sectarian mark (nāmam) on their foreheads at all times, with Tulasī beads around their necks, using their initiated name (dāsya-nāma) and speaking in the familiar humble phraseology referring to themselves as “adiyen” which means “I am a servant”.
The introverts who form the majority do not have any external signs of their faith and at the most may wear a single red line down the centre of the forehead.
Śrī Vaiṣṇavism is a proselytising faith and the community therefore consists of Brahmins and non-Brahmins who are usually known as nambis.
Even non-Brahmins who are learned and highly spiritually advanced can become āchāryas in the Teṅkalai tradition but in the Vaḍakalai tradition only those who are Brahmins by birth are entitled to become āchāryas.
The Śrī Vaiṣṇavas recognise 6 stages in the development of devotional service and social communion:-
§ 1. Adveshi - this is a passive state in which there is simply no ill-will towards the Vaishnavas or Lord Vishnu, but also no great attraction either.
§ 2. Anukulan -A stage in which one is sympathetic to the Vaishnavas and their doctrines, visits Vishnu temples, experiences joy and personal upliftment during the festivals, and makes contributions to Vishnu temples.
§ 3. Namadhari - One who applies for and receives the Five-Sacraments and thus joins the community but does not necessarily study the doctrines or practice regularly and sincerely.
§ 4. Mantra-pathi - In this stage one begins sincere spiritual practice, studies the teachings of the āchāryas and Ālvārs and chants the mantras regularly and tries to work on oneself to spiritually improve.
§ 5. Ekanti - One who devotes most of his time to spiritual practice, devotional service and the study and propagation of the teachings of the āchāryas and Ālvārs.
§ 6. Parama-ekanti - the final stage in which one renounces everything and devotes his life entirely to spiritual practice and devotional service.
An article on a Hindu tradition would not be complete without some reference to the status of women.
Westerners in general have a very negative impression about the treatment of women in India. And even expatriate Indians themselves (as well as those born within the Sampradāya) are very poorly informed about what the Scriptures have to say about women.
Anyone who has spent time in South India will always remark how much more liberal and free the women of the South are compared to their sisters in the North.
The simple reason is that in the North the Muslims ruled for 600 years and so their reprehensible attitude to women made quite an impact upon Hindu society as well. In the South the Hindus remained unaffected by their pernicious attitudes.
In Śrī Vaiṣṇava Society the women enjoy a large degree of freedom. They are responsible for the running of the household (and by extension- of society!) They are not obligated to perform any rituals other than helping the husband with his daily religious duties.
Women undergo the Pañcha-saṁskāra Initiation - usually with the husband or soon after marriage, but there are provisions for having it done alone.
They are encouraged to read, study and chant the Divya Prabandhas and to do japa of the three holy mantras.
The following are a selection of verses from the Lakshmi Tantra (Chapter 43. 61- 72) on the subject of women and their status in the Pāñcharātra Tradition, how far it conforms to the prevailing attitude in society is a matter of serious concern: