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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

AAcharam - Conduct and custom

Aacharam plays a big part in the life of a householder following the vedic dharma., or Hindu religion. By simple definition, it means conduct and behavior. In other words it stands for external actions. But according to Kanchi Periyaval, aacharam includes inner character, outward actions and symbols one wears on the body. An extended meaning includes not just any practice, but established customs and traditional practices.

By further extension, the word aacharam includes both ethics and morals. Whereas ethics and morals deal essentially with relationship to this world, aacharam includes activities to purify one’s mind in preparation for spiritual practices. Aaacharam practiced with faith is said to remove the sins (papa) and produce merits (punya).  But it can do so only when practiced with faith.

It is also said that good and bad results as a result of aacharam may not be seen at once. They may show up only in the next birth. That is why followers of vedic religion are instructed to practice good aachara (sadaachara) and accumulate punya. Breaking aacharam will result in papa.

Kanchi Pariyaval talks eloquently and passionately about the need for not abandoning aacharas established in our dharma shastras. As much as I respect Periyaval immensely and his logic sounds excellent, I have problems with many of the statements because his premise is questionable.

For example, when you say “in your next birth”, the concept of next birth is assumed to be true and established. When you say that unless you practice with faith it will not succeed, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to circular reasoning. It is not logic at all.

Periyaval wants you to trust the elders. I do. I will. But, how can a human being with mental faculties suspend reasoning altogether? As Hutchins pointed out “What can be accepted for no reason, can be rejected also for no reason”.

I agree however with Periyaval when he says “just do not take convenient ones and let go of inconvenient ones by calling them superstitions”. He is perfectly correct.

Nor do I like the idea of “inventing” explanations to satisfy the persistent skeptics who keep asking questions. In essence most of the explanations for various aacharas given by modern scholars belong to this last group. These individuals have absolute faith in aacharas. They also know there is no valid reason applicable to the present state of the society. They are also afraid of breaking them because of bad consequences. Therefore they invent reasons.

The example I have chosen is not aacharam. But, it is to make a point. The modern so-called scientific explanation for performing homas (ceremonies using fire and pouring oblations that create smoke) is that the smoke can “purify” the air and get rid of mosquitoes etc. The word “purify” begs the question. Purifying from what pollution? Smoke from burning cow dung is considered to be insecticidal. I have big doubts about that statement.

But, our ancestors were not at all concerned about these issues. They were interested in appeasing the Gods and attaining moksha by performing homas. They thought they were sending their requests to the devas through food offerings. The devas were supposed to get pleased and send their blessings in the form of food and prosperity to the humans. The hygiene explanation is our invention without any proof. 

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