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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Clean Way of Life

The expressions, Vaazhkai murai and Vazhkaittharam (வாழ்க்கை முறை வாழ்க்கை திறம்) are recent additions to the Tamil vocabulary, being the translation of the English terms “way of life” and “standard of living”. What we should do, think and say, from the time we get up from bed in the morning till we go to sleep in the night, are determined in our Saastraas and goes by the name of Aachaara-anushtaanam. But, as this has a religious bias, secular-minded people have come to prefer the expression, vaazhkai murai.

It has been laid down that when we get up in the morning, we must do Narayana smaranam (thinking of Sri Narayana and uttering his holy name). Thereafter follow the duties of the day (like saucham, snaanam शौचetc. for cleansing the system of all impurities internal and external). There are rules, methods and time for each duty. But these aachaaras (daily practices) vary according to the region of the country. If we take an overall picture of the whole of India, we find that each part of the country lays emphasis on a particular aachaara.

 For example, in Kerala, almost everyone bathes only in tanks or rivers and people go to temples wearing wet clothes after bathing. In Bengal, widows of all communities shave their heads. They observe complete fast on Ekadasi day, without taking even a drop of water. They also cook their own food and will not touch fish, a common article of food in the Bengal diet. In some parts of the country, people wear a separate cloth known as madi, when taking food. In Uttar Pradesh one person will not drink from another person’s vessel. Each person will carry his drinking bowl wherever he goes. These and other observances constitute the aachaaras and anushtaanas of the country; but, as in the story of the blind men and the elephant, people in each part of the country firmly believe that only what they observe is aachaara, and that a differing practice is anaachaara.

The Sastras give directions not only for living a clean and healthy life, but also for earning our livelihood, without violating dharma. But the tragedy of the present situation is that we have practically forgotten, and consequently given up, our anushtaanas and aachaaras. Even most of our purohits know only the mechanical aspect of the anushtaanas. We have begun to imitate the West in many matters, without realizing that their ways of life are absolutely unnecessary for us. The reformists condemn aachaaras without caring to understand their significance, purpose and effect. It is like condemning a language even before learning it. The effect of the present situation is that we have given up our hygienic, simple and frugal ways of life and adopted extravagant habits. This has taken us away from our ancient moorings on the one hand, and landed us in perpetual indebtedness on the other hand. We have forgotten the high medicinal effect of mud bath (mrittikaa snaanam मृत्तिकास्नानम्), particularly with the mud gathered from the roots of the tulasi plants. We have ceased to think of the connection which the food a man eats has with his character. Effective home remedies for ailments are rejected as quackery, with the result that each family is facing mounting medical bills. We are caught up in the slogan of raising the standard of living, and are going in for articles which can be easily avoided. In fact, we have become slaves to certain foreign goods. This increase in our wants will only add to our indebtedness. On the other hand, if we sincerely try to minimize our wants, in all directions, we will be not only free from debts, but will also be able to save something, which savings can be utilized for helping the needy. By living the saastraic way of life, we will get rid of both poverty and disease. We will also achieve aatma suddhi or internal purity.

The Saastraic observances are known as aajnaakainkaryam (आज्ञाकैङ्कर्यम्). They are compulsory observances. First of all, we should try to find out what exactly these observances are. Having understood them, we should put them into practice, if not all of them at once, at least step by step. To say bhakti is enough and that karmaanushtaanam is unnecessary, is to disobey the saastraic commandments. True bhakti consists in doing our duty, and dedicating all our actions to God. That is why Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, after compiling all his philosophical works, wrote the Sopaana Panchakam (सोपान पञ्चकम्) emphasizing the study of the Vedas and observing the karmas mentioned therein, in a spirit of dedication. Says he:

वेदो नित्यमधीयताम् तदुदितम् कर्म स्वनुष्ठीयताम्
तेनेशस्य विधीयतामपचिति:

Vedo nityamadheeyatam taduditam karma svanushteeyataam
Tena eesasya vidheeyataam apachitih.

- Sri Maha Periva in His discourse dated May 24, 1958

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