Performance and Non-Performance of Prescribed Duties
The views of the Thenkalai and Vadakalai schools of Srivaishnavism differ on the topic of performance of duties prescribed by one’s varNAsrama dharma by a worthy seeker of salvation (mumukshu). We shall clarify the Thenkalai position through this second post on the gist of thiruppavai.
In Periyavachan Pillai’s vyakhyanam to the ‘vaNilA muRuval’ (வாணிலா முறுவல்) padhigam of Periya Thirumozhi (1-6), he points out to two types of sinners that will beget hell in the avatharikai:
a) Those who do not fulfill the ritual prescriptions advocated by the sastras and b) Those who indulge in activities not authorized by the sastras.
Does it mean non-performance of duties, as prescribed by scriptures, a punishment that will beget hell?
The clarifying anecdotes to this question come from the 11th and 12th pasurams of Thiruppavai respectively. Let us look at the spiritual meaning (swApadEsam) of the word ‘குற்றமொன்றில்லாத’ which appears in verse 11:
ஜாதி உசிதமான தர்மத்தை ஸாதன புத்யா அன்றிக்கே கைங்கர்ய புத்யா அநுஷ்டித்தால் குற்றமில்லை
That is, performing one’s duty as prescribed by his/her varNAsrama dharma with the mindset of service (performing kainkaryam) and not seeking other ends (sadhanAnushtAnam) is not svarUpa viruddham and hence, a passable exemption.
When considered in unison with the word ‘நற்செல்வன்’ in the next pasuram, we will see how performance and non-performance of duty is equally glorified.
A person performing duty with a service mindset is glorified with the adjective ‘blemishless’ (குற்றமொன்றில்லாத) in this pasuram.
A person not performing duty as a result of being in union with the Lord (பகவத் ஸம்ஸ்லேஷம்) is glorified to be possessed of good wealth (நற்செல்வன்) in the next pAsuram.
This begs the question – should we do duties as prescribed by our varNAsrama or not?
As long as one is performing service to the Lord (குற்றேவல் / கைங்கர்யம்) in one form or the other, the non-performance of other duties, as prescribed by one’s varNasrama dharma, is an excusable offence.
Let us probe further into the topic by drawing references from sruti texts:
सर्वथापि त एव उभय लिङ्गातः (Brahma Sutra 3-4-34)
Emperumanar’s nirvAham of the above sutra is that a spiritual seeker has to perform rites and rituals prescribed to him according to his varNAsrama dharma – not with a desire on the fruits of his actions but to augment his knowledge about the Supreme Brahman. The vedapurusha also says that the mumukshu has to continue performing his prescribed rituals until he begets moksham.
यज्ञो धान तप: कर्म न त्याज्यं कार्यमेव तत् |
यज्ञो धानं तपश्चैव पावनानि मनीषिणां || (Bhagavad Gita 18-5)
In the above Gita slokam, Lord Krishna emphasizes that a Mumukshu can never forgo the performance of sacrifice (yagnam), charity (dhAnam) and penance (tapam).
सर्व कर्माण्यपि सदा कुर्वाणो मद व्यपाश्रय: |
मद्प्रसादाद वाप्नोति शाश्वतं पदमव्ययं || (Bhagavad Gita 18-56)
Lord Krishna goes on to add that “one who performs his daily duties as prescribed by the scriptures will beget immortality by attaining Me”.
The meanings of both these Gita slokas run contrary to Sankara’s assertion that a Mumukshu has to give up performing his nithya/naimiththika karmas because the performance of these rituals does not befit the nature (swarUpam) of a spiritual seeker (brahma adhikAri). So he contends that a mumukshu will be attracted to the fruits of his actions when he performs the prescribed rituals.
However, the clarification for Sankara’s objection is available in the twelfth mantra of Isavasyopanisad:
कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेतः सतग्म समाः |
एवं त्वयि नान्यथेतोस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ||
That is, the fruits of the rituals do not accrue to one (न लिप्यते) who performs them with the mindset of service and by not desiring the fruits of its actions. In his Isavasyopanisad bhashya, Sri. Vedanta Desika stresses the above point by saying that a பிரம்மவித்ய அதிகாரி (mumukshu) should perform anusandhanam of the prescribed rituals only with the abovementioned motivation (त्वयि एवं इतः अन्यता नास्ति ).
More References from Dravida Veda:
1) நல்ல அந்தணர் வேள்விப் புகை உயர்வின் மறைக்கும் தண் திருவல்லவாழ் (TVM 5-9-5)
2) சந்தி வேள்வி சடங்கு நான்மறை ஓதி ஓதுவித்து ஆதியாய் வரும் அந்தணாளரறா அணியாலி அம்மானே (Periya Thirumozhi 3-5-6)
Both these references show that the Mumukshus living in divya dhEsams have been performing these rituals from time immemorial, thereby corroborating the references we have cited from sruti above.
So, the answer to the question of whether to perform one’s duties or not is an emphatic ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’. One has to perform it as a service as long as he/she is not already occupied with bhagavad kainkaryam of some kind.