Motivations in transcending shAstra-vidhi

A running example

Suppose that an Agama (composed a millennium ago) says that only a member of a certain family or class can serve as an archaka in certain temples. Should such a qualification be enforced today with ruthless strictness (ie no exceptions)?

One’s answer may be “yes” or “no” due to myriad reasons. Let’s examine the reasons.

Motivations for promoting change

Reasons with roots in ashraddhA

  • Stupid ego: This was presented as a possible cause by shrI ghorAngIrasa – TW16, based on “यः शास्त्रविधिमुत्सृज्य वर्तते कामकारतः। न स सिद्धिमवाप्नोति न सुखं न परां गतिम्।। BG16.23।।”. People may say: “screw the shAstra, my intuition knows best. aham brahmAsmi.”
  • Allegence to various non-hindu and anti-hindu memes. (communism, buddhism, democracy, equality etc..)

Reasons with roots in shraddhA

TW16, following shankarAchArya’s commentary to BG 17.1 (“देवादिपूजाविधिपरं किञ्चित् शास्त्रं पश्यन्त एव तत् उत्सृज्य अश्रद्दधानतया तद्विहितायां देवादिपूजायां श्रद्धया अन्विताः प्रवर्तन्ते इति न शक्यं कल्पयितुम्” = “For, it cannot be imagined that even when they are aware of some scriptural injunction about worship of gods and others, they discard this out of their faithlessness, and yet they engage in the worship of gods and others enjoined by those scriptures by becoming imbued with faith!”), does not imagine any valid form of shraddhA in the shAstra for transcending particular shAstra-vidhi-s.

But this is a flawed caricature and presents a lack of sympathetic imagination (sorry, shankara), as:

  • One may place more value on the *intent* and spirit behind the vidhi, rather than the mere letter of the vidhi.
  • one can have shraddhA in all the vidhi-s, but to various degrees. Some may be more important than others. So, one may want to approximate it while trying to balance other dhArmic objectives of contemporary relevance.
  • Circumstances may not allow following the letter of the vidhi, forcing one to approximate.

Hence, we must these consider alternative reasons rooted in shraddhA.

The redoubtable PV kANe says, for example: “We need not give up the basic principles of Hinduism, but should reorientate them to meet new and more complex conditions and work out a changed social order” [HDs5.2]. It was such spirit which animated moves such as तत्त्वनिष्ठ-परिवर्तनवादी-परिषत् / धर्मनिर्णयमण्डलम् (1930-60) which formed under the guidance of the learned kevalAnanda-sarasvatI (of Wai, Satara, MH), including eminent scholars like PV kANe, shrIdharashAstrI pAThaka/ shankarAnanda-bhAratI, sadAshivashAstrI bhiDe, DaftarI, JS karanDikar, prajnEneshvarayatI etc.. (HDh5). Such intentions are quite noble, explicitly recognized by the dharmashAstra-s themselves to an extant (KV15) and are far from being stupid or inconsistent!

Motivations for resisting change

  • Valuing tradition itself over the values celebrated by the tradition!
    • Being practicing shiShTa-s (of the kind very rare these days), some people were accepting of some necessary change. On the other hand, I have heard folks remark that non-shiShTa-s in fact compete if not exceed shiShTa-s in refusing any change whatsoever.
    • This is akin to valuing the sheath the sword comes in more than the sword itself!
  • Just stupidity – inability to distinguish the essence from the periphery.
  • Undervaluing the need to respond to contemporary challenges.
    • This often comes with an undervaluing the need to understand the intent of the vidhi-s by understanding (among other things) the historical context in which they were composed.
  • Preserving privilege bestowed on one’s ilk by the shAstra-s in the context they were composed in.

 

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