Sunday, May 14, 2017

Viśiṣṭādvaita through Advaita?

In an earlier post, we had encountered the modern claim that Dvaita is the first step of spiritual progress, Viśiṣṭādvaita is an intermediate step and Advaita is the final step. However, this is not substantiated by the works of original teachers of Advaita. They do not seem to think that the perception of duality and the view of God as the final end of spiritual practice somehow lead to the end of Advaita.

In this article, we explore the opposite possibility: can Advaita be a step in the spiritual progress that ends in Viśiṣṭādvaita.

Fundamental motivation in Advaita
To begin with, let us understand the basic motivation for Advaita. The noble goal of Advaita is to enable one to know oneself.
Advaita clearly recognizes that suffering is due to bondage. This bondage is a consequence of the soul identifying itself with mind and body. Adhyāsa or superimposition of avidyā (ignorance) on the soul is the reason for this false identification. Liberation lies in becoming free from the effects of avidyā which are the three guṇa-s (modes) of Prakṛti (nature). The soul is, in essence, free of all modifications of guṇa-s and in its liberated state, it is nirguṇa.

Though adhyāsa is not taught in Vedānta, it is used by Advaita to explain the situation of bondage and provide the nature of liberation.

Points of contention
Up until the above description of Advaita, Viśiṣṭādvaita would largely be in agreement. However, below are the points of disagreement.
  1. In Advaita, the individual soul is the product of ahaṃkāra (identity-causer), a component of nature, and hence is ultimately unreal. But, in Viśiṣṭādvaita, this point is disagreed upon. The individual soul is not a product of ahaṃkāra. Ahaṃkāra only draws the identity of the individual soul to the mind/body. It does not create it. The individual soul cannot be an illusion but has to be real in order to allow ahaṃkāra to cause identification with mind and body. Likewise, ahaṃkāra and prakṛti also have to be real in order to interact with the real soul. It is not possible for the mind, which is agreed by all to be an evolute of non-sentient nature, to become the sentient entity. It is only possible for the sentient individual soul to misidentify itself with nature in accordance with its karma. Since karma is unique to each soul and experience, even spiritual, is unique to each soul, it logically follows that there are several souls - each experiencing bondage in accordance to its own karma.
  2. In Advaita, consciousness is pure and simple. The superimposition of ignorance leads to the problem of consciousness being modified. However, Advaita responds to this problem by considering that the superimposition is ultimately unreal and does not affect consciousness in reality. After all, we do see that even those, given to anger etc., do not lose their consciousness which they can realize as pure in subsequent states of meditation. Viśiṣṭādvaita considers that the problem is not addressed in the above case but only explained away. Therefore, it resolves the individual soul as substance and attribute: substance consciousness and attributive consciousness. The substance-consciousness is never affected and remains eternal. It is the attribute-consciousness that is modified in accordance with karma. This is the reason why in meditation, the conscious entity is seen as pure. It is also established even in the early stages of meditation or mindfulness that experience can be had at a level where the individual soul is the observer that observes the modifications of its experience - from a distance. The observer is not agitated by the experience. This proves that what is being modified by experience is only consciousness, the attribute and not consciousness, the substance which is always pure and exists as a knower (not the mind-knower) at a deep level. It knows and observed what is available to the attribute-consciousness which identifying with those modifications. 
  3.  Advaita teaches that the individual soul must be ultimately known to be identical to the Brahman.     Viśiṣṭādvaita disagrees on this point as well. Since the existence of several individual souls is not disproved by any evidence, it is clear that bondage and liberation are specific to each soul. What the Vedānta teaches is not identity with the Brahman but inseparability of the individual soul from the Brahman. The individual soul exists as a mode (prakāra) of the Brahman (God). In fact, the entire universe is an unfolding of the Brahman’s form (śarīra) and everything is related to and in the Brahman. Nature and souls are not unreal; their reality depends on God and they are subordinate to His will in existence and action.  This view removes the problem of separation and leads to one’s realization that one is brahmātmaka (having Brahman for one’s soul). Everything is filled with the Brahman, and supported by it. We owe our existence as such and all the dynamics around us to the determining will of God. Even in the highest state of meditation, one cannot control the dynamics of the world or alter the laws of karma. This is known directly in both mundane and spiritual experience. The individual soul is simply emerging out of the modifications of nature. It is not becoming God and never will.

Given such strong points of difference how is it possible for Advaita to be part of the spiritual maturity reached in Viśiṣṭādvaita?

One must be honest in admitting that there is no way that Advaita considered in its fullest can be an intermediate stage to Viśiṣṭādvaita. However, it is possible to appreciate the motivations of Advaita and accept it as part of the spiritual progress in Viśiṣṭādvaita.

Whatever Advaita might claim, it is clear that it achieves only the realization of the individual soul, not God/Brahman. The spiritual discipline of Advaita helps one extricate oneself from the modification of nature and realize one’s true state as the sentient entity that is beyond such modifications. Some Neo-Advaita teachers claim to perform miracles and defy the laws of nature, but none of these claims have survived scrutiny or been recorded in verifiable manner. This proves that only the individual soul that stands beyond all karmic modifications is realized at the end of Advaita.

This realization is encouraged in Viśiṣṭādvaita too. One must realize oneself as nirguṇa, standing above the modifications of nature. Until this realization is complete, one is always identified with mind or body. However, this alone does not confer the final spiritual end.

As the individual soul is understood more and more, one truly recognizes that it is atomic and is subject to a higher will. There is a higher being who regulates and harmonizes the dynamics of individuals and nature - Pradhāna-Puruṣeśvara, the God/Controller of nature and soul. One is not separate but related to everything through God. Neo-Advaita has been skirting this view for sometime by using the slogan, ‘Everything is connected’. However, this view cannot be achieved by the traditional discipline of Advaita which only leads one to discover the individual soul in all its purity. Everything is connected not just superficially as ‘Trees give us the air we breathe’, ‘the atoms of our body come from the universe’, etc. but deeply in that these differences as trees, atoms, bodies, I, You, etc. exist only in God who is the Highest Real. Everything else other than God owes its existence, nature and dynamics to Him. However, since something cannot pop out of nothing or disappear into nothing, all of this is not unreal, but real due to God. The universe is not a product of ignorance but the striking evidence of God. This is the meaning of having Brahma-dṛṣṭi, the view of Brahman in everything. This does not teach that everything is unreal and the Brahman alone is real but that everything has a deeper reality in God. In a way, the entire universe and the words we use to speak about the universe carry only one meaning: God. The purpose of Vedānta is to declare this greatness of God.

This grand realization is impossible as long as one is identified with mind and body since one’s perception of reality becomes severely restricted and clouded. To come out of this restriction, one must first realize that one is not mind or body, but the sentient soul. In producing this result, the discipline of Advaita is relevant. However, a spiritual aspirant must not lose oneself in this condition and go beyond in the discovery of truth to realize God, who is the soul of everything. One must realize not only oneself as pure but as being pure in God. This is the goal of Viśiṣṭādvaita. To live blissfully in God, as an expression/instrument of God, is true Brahma-vihāra. This involves subordinating one's individuality to the larger reality of God. This is the meaning of surrender and lies at the root of Viśiṣṭādvaita's development of the concept of śeṣatva.

God is Perfectly Present

Svāmī Parāśara Bhaṭṭar interprets Viśvam, the first of the 1000 names of Viṣṇu, as explaining the completeness or perfection (pūrṇatva) of God. He say, pūrvaṃ sarvatomukhaṃ bhagavataḥ pūrṇatvam-āha. First, Bhagavān is revealed as perfect in every way.

He further says, svābhāvikānavadhikātiśaya-māṅgalyaikatānaiḥ svarūpa-rūpa-guṇa-vibhavaiḥ paripūrṇaḥ. He is perfect in His essential form, manifest form, attributes and glories which are natural to Him, of unsurpassing excellence and are constituted purely of auspiciousness.

How the word viśvam which generally stands for everything taken to mean perfection?

The commentator replies, kārtsnyavacanatvād-asya, ādau, anavacchedya-mahavibhūtitvasya saṅkīrtana-yogyatvācca. It is fitting that the perfectness of God is celebrated at the outset. Even, Svāmī Nammāzvār started off with uyarvara uyarnalam uḍaiyavan which celebrated the lofty perfection of God. The word connoting everything implies that God’s greatness is not limited by anything whatsoever, and is eternally expanded into completeness.

The view here appears to be that the imperfections in entities other than God are due to limiting effects. This leads to change and decay. Even the attributive consciousness (dharma-bhūta-jñāna) of the individual soul is subject to modification and limitation during the phase of bondage. However, the essential form, manifest form, attributes and glories of God are not modified or limited by anything. This is due to the fact that everything other than God depends on Him for its existence and nature.

Being thus unconstrained, God is always supremely perfect and this is explained by this name.

The next name Viṣṇu conveys the presence of God in everything.

These two names, while easy to understand separately, rise some questions from the perspective of logic. A logical opponent can question the simultaneous possibility of holding both Presence and Perfection.

Svāmī Vedānta Deśika analyses this challenge in his text, Nyāya Siddhañjanam. He addresses four different forms of opposition to the simultaneous tenability of Presence and Perfection that rest on four different definitions of ‘Perfection’.
Idea 1: To be perfect is to be complete. God should be exclusively completely present here.
Idea 2: God should be obtained as being fully available here. This is perfection.
Idea 3: Perfection lies in God’s ability to produce all effects here.
Idea 4: Perfection lies in God possessing all attributes here.
Note the word ‘here’ occurring in all the four ideas of Perfection. It comes from God’s Presence everywhere which implies that God must also be present here. Since He is perfect, He must be Present here Perfectly.

Elaboration of Idea 1
Since the first idea requires that God must be completely present here, it leads to a situation where God cannot be present elsewhere. If it is said that God is present elsewhere also, it would entail is not fully present here, but partially here and partially there.

Response to Idea 1
Idea 1 is not consistent with the understanding that the essential form of God is vibhu or unlimited. Therefore, Perfection as being completely available (contained) in one place is not intended at all in our system.

Also, in general, we might very well forego this type of Perfection for what perfection is it for God to be constrained and limited in one place!

Elaboration of Idea 2
The second idea requires that God must be obtained as being fully available. In its detail, this can take three forms of argument:
2a. God is not obtained to be fully available in His essential form.
2b. God is not obtained to be fully available in all His parts.
2c. God is not obtained to be fully available without resolution into aspects.

Response to Idea 2
The three forms of ideas 2 are addressed as follows.
2a. God is not obtained to be fully available in His essential form only because of absence of cognition-apparatus to know Him so. If such an apparatus were available, He would be obtained to be completely available in His essential form here.
2b. God is known from valid sources of knowledge to be without parts. Hence this argument from Idea 2 is fundamentally inconsistent. Even if we accept for the sake of argument that God has parts, then what kind of logical inconsistency is it for all parts to be not available here? A part of God available in a different place is not logically expected to be present here (simply because it is there). Hence, this argument has the defect of placing illogical demands of Perfection.
2c. This argument goes that if God is present everywhere, then He is associated with several entities by Presence. However, the fullness of God cannot be related to each and every entity. If God were fully related to one entity, there would be nothing left of God to be related to another entity. (Let us tolerate the glaring indiscretions in the application of language in this argument for a moment.) Therefore, if God were associated through Presence to all entities, only an aspect of God must be associated with each entity. This situation requires that God is resolved into aspects - something that is not acceptable to traditional views of God.
This argument, though the seemingly most forceful among its kind, is based on false grounds. It is not required that a substance must possess aspects in order to relate to multiple entities.
  1. For example, substances are found to associate with multiple attributes, and all attributes are equally related in the fullness of the substance - as a jasmine flower associating with color, shape and smell as it is and not only in particular aspects.
  2. ‘Class’ is fully associated with multiple objects of its kind and not through particular aspects - as cowness in all cows.
  3. ‘Absence’ (Abhāva) is associated without aspects with different entities whose lack of presence it conveys.
The same applies to ‘conjunction’ and ‘disjunction’ too which do not have to be broken into aspects to conjoin entities or separate them.
In fact, ‘relation’ or Saṃbandha is also of the same nature. It is without aspects and exists relating different entities. If an aspect-less entity could not associate with different entities, then ‘relation’ itself cannot operate. This would instantly destroy the truth of all entities since none of them would be related by relationships like cause-effect, substance-attribute etc. and we would be left invalidating all of our knowledge leading to complete nihilism where even the doors of logic have to be shut.

Elaboration of Idea 3
Perfection implies that God must be possessed with the ability to produce all effects when He is present here. But, we do not see that it is the case. For example, God present in water causes only wetting and not burning which is the effect of fire, and vice versa.

Response to Idea 3
The idea goes in two ways:
  1. God should produce all the effects here.
  2. God should possess the ability to produce all the effects here.
The first case is not desirable and is not reasonable too. A Perfection of such consequence is not necessary.
The second case is correct. God does possess the ability to produce all the effects here, but only exhibits the necessary effects.
To this, it may be objected that if God possesses the ability to produce all the effects, the potential must translate into effect. Thus, it eventually leads to case 1 and leads to problems like God producing the effect of burning in water, etc.
The above objection is not sound. Mere existence of potential/ability does not require that the effect be produced unless God wills to do so. The entire universe is sustained on the will of God that dictates its dynamics and function, which are studied scientifically. For example, I do possess the ability to hammer nails into the wall. However, the existence of potential does not translate to my hammering nails into walls all the time.
We do see that different events pan out in the course of time. If God did not possess all potentiality, He would have to possess different potentialities in different instances of time. The potentialities associated with God would disappear into nothing and reappear out of nowhere, moment to moment. Such a scheme might be acceptable in principle to the Buddhists who take refuge in the idea of momentary existences. However, in our system, we find this theory to be a source of needless complexity, and contrary to experience and science.
If God had to manifest all the effects of all potentialities, then all effects from all space coordinates and time instances must occur together in one place. Not only is this false in experience and unnecessary, it is not acceptable to us satkāryavādi-s, who have established on valid evidences that entities cannot disappear into nothingness or appear out of nothingness, to accept particular effects found in all places and at all times materializing here and now, as an unexplained duplicate whose essence materializes out of nothing.
As a humble seed holds latent the potential of becoming a plant and grows into a sapling at the right time, so too the omnipotent and omniscient God who governs all the dynamics of all the beings is capable of possessing complete potential without expressing the effects all at once in one place.

Elaboration of Idea 4
Perfection requires that God fully possess all His auspicious attributes here. However, if God is elsewhere also, this would not be possible as the attributes would also become divided across places.

Response to Idea 4
Qualities like form, color, smell, etc. pervade different objects in different places but are present fully. So, there can be no principle that what pervades many becomes divided and hence, not fully available in one place. Since the existence of such a principle is denied, there is no contradiction to God fully possessing all auspicious attributes here and everywhere.

The above are logical challenges and responses to the issue of Perfection in the light of Presence.

However, it is the view of the author of Vedānta Sūtra-s that such logical tensions are not necessary since Brahman cannot be understood in terms of the logical structure which applies to other entities, but has to be understood only on the authority of Vedānta. An objection is invoked in the Sūtra-s [2-1-26] that a Brahman without parts cannot decide, ‘I shall become many’ and manifest as many. This is because if the Brahman has no parts, it has to become fully available in the manifestation of one effect and incapable of producing many effects. This objection is rejected in the next aphorism [2-1-27] that states that Brahman (God) has to be understood only on the weight of the Vedānta that records the realized spiritual truth. God cannot be determined entirely by comparison with other entities or the logical calculus in which they exist and operate. (It is for this reason that Presence and Perfection have been capitalized in this essay to distinguish them from any commonplace understanding of these terms.)

In summary, we conclude on the below points from the above discussion:
  1. God is fully available in His essential form in every place. God is Present Perfectly everywhere. The absence of cognition of this fullness is a shortcoming of cognitive apparatus only.
  2. God is Present with fullness of potential everywhere.
  3. God is Present with fullness of auspicious attributes everywhere.

In one sentence: God is Present everywhere as Perfect in His true form, fullness of potential and fullness of auspicious attributes. Therefore, He is Viśvam and Viṣṇu.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Vaiṣṇavism and its spiritual basis

Vaiṣṇavism is commonly regarded as the worship of Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa as the Supreme Being. We would do well to invert this understanding and consider that the Supreme Being is identified correctly and worshipped as Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa. 

Most Vaiṣṇava systems strongly advocate the exclusive worship of Nārāyaṇa and do not encourage the worship of other deities. This insistence is most profound in the Śrīvaiṣṇava system. Such insistence is perceived by some to be narrow-minded and as lacking in modern liberal outlook. In this article, we will dispel this misunderstanding and eliminate needless confusion. 

1. Get your priorities straight
The worship of God is a spiritual practice. God is not looking for favors from humans and asking them to worship Him in all the different forms equally. Even within 'Hinduism', we find that Hindus only worship a set of Hindu gods and not Greek gods. We do not find Hindus discovering the Brahman in the form of an ancient Egyptian God. What is relevant is the spiritual discipline of the individual and not how broad-minded one is towards different deities. There is absolutely no Vedic injunction to worship all deities. A careful study of the philosophical works of Śrī Śaṅkara, Bhagavad Rāmānuja, Ānanda Tīrtha and other saints of Vedānta would clearly reveal that they favor only the worship of Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa for sound reasons. They would be appalled by the intellectually lazy broad-mindedness of today's spiritual businessmen. 

2. The form of the deity matters
The form of the deity matters in spiritual discipline. For those yearning for liberation, this is a point of utmost seriousness. How God is meditated upon and understood has direct implications for one's spiritual practice. Any form is NOT ok. The fruit of meditation will be directly in accordance with the content of meditation - this fact is taught by the Vedas. Viṣṇu is meditated upon as blissful, beautiful, resplendent, auspicious, divine, transcendent, powerful and as the abode of all desirable qualities. Only meditation upon Viṣṇu can bring peace and delight to the heart, and imbibe positive spiritual qualities. Other meditations can take the practitioner only to some distance.  Liberation and the highest joy are possible only through meditation on Viṣṇu. Such is the unanimous verdict of all Sātvika-s. Viṣṇu is acknowledged by all saints as the form of pure and highest sattva (truth) that is free of all Rājasika and Tāmasika constructs. The avatāra-s and deeds of Viṣṇu directly speak to the practitioner and cultivate interest and delight. The deeds of Viṣṇu are not performed simply to showcase His power but are relevant to devotees spiritually. Pleasing Viṣṇu is the easiest and does not require any physical suffering. Devotion is more important than any physical gymnastics because Viṣṇu is the true form of the Brahman. 

3. Beware of mischief in spirituality
The so-called broad-minded spiritual doctors would not display their broad-mindedness in philosophical matters. They know it is absurd. For example, the so-called non-sectarian Ramakrishna Mission would go to great lengths in discrediting the greatness of Viṣṇu by calling Sātvika texts as sectarian works even while writing about those texts. But, in the same breath, they would declare that Dvaita is the initial spiritual stage which leads to Viśiṣṭādvaita and finally culminates in Advaita - an utterly confounding stance even to Saṅkarācārya. This is because they realize it would be absurd to be broad-minded and declare that all philosophies are equally valid. But, when it comes to meditation/worship, they suddenly feel the urge to become broad-minded and lose track of the philosophical background & purpose of meditation. Even in their exposition of their neo-Vedānta, they would be befuddled by the ancient texts which are acknowledged by all teachers since they are not suitable to their views. They would invent new sources like Yoga Vāśiṣṭa which are untouched by any Advaita teacher from Saṅkarācārya to Madhusūdana Sarasvatī. In general, most of the broad-mindedness can be easily be seen to be a consequence of Viṣṇu-Vaiṣṇava-dveṣa than due to any serious philosophical position. Such attempts have been made since the times of Appayya Dīkṣita to discredit the worship of Viṣṇu by hook or by crook, and confuse people. There seems to be an urge deep within to somehow deny the greatness of Viṣṇu even if the text or teacher explicitly teaches it. This urge sometimes takes the form of outspoken hatred where the great activities of Viṣṇu, which must be understood from the perspective of Vedānta, are distorted to spew abuse. By doing such things, no harm is caused to Viṣṇu who is the true representation of the Brahman. Instead, such abusers fall from their own spiritual practice. When Ramaṇa Maharṣi, a teacher of neo-Advaita, was approached with the question on which deity to worship, he responded that one must pick only one deity and worship exclusively. Though he did not speak of the greatness of Viṣṇu, he was clear that devotion can only be exclusive. This is a point sadly lost to the broad-minded spiritual heroes who count Ramaṇa Maharṣi as one of their masters. Likewise, a story (authorized) about Śrī Candraśekarendra Sarasvatī of  Kāñcī finds him chiding a Vaiṣṇava woman for violating her dharma and worshipping Śiva. He advises her to find redemption for her problems within her own dharma. However, these inconvenient messages are carefully glossed over by broad-minded teachers. 

4. Over-simplification leads to disaster
Most critics of Vaiṣṇavism try to over-simplify it. The worship of Viṣṇu must be understood in light of the entire spiritual system and not by the narrow-minded ignorance informed by unexamined spiritual positions. The position of Śrīvaiṣṇavism will be explained below very briefly. 
It is blatantly clear in both normal experience and in meditation that conscious experiences differ from person to person. This proves the Vedic message that there are several individual souls, not just one. Experience can only belong to a conscious entity. The non-sentient universe is, by definition, devoid of consciousness. How can it superimpose on a single conscious entity and lead to multiple disconnected, unique experiences? There is no evidence for unity of consciousness nor is such a unity necessary. 
It is also seen in the experiences of meditation that in the purest state of the soul, one is an observer to the modifications of one's consciousness by karma. This simple spiritual experience refutes the claim that the knower and the known become one in meditation. Rather, only judgment, which distances the observer from the observed, is removed and proximity is attained, not identity which would be absurd to explain. The fall of mind-body ego does not strip one of individuality and uniqueness of personal experience. This establishes that the soul is the knower and that there are several souls. No religious text can invalidate such clear perception. The presence of the knowing soul that is cognizant of the kārmic modifications establishes the presence of a core consciousness which is beyond all change, and an attributive consciousness that is subject to modifications due to karma. 
Śrīvaiṣṇavism would gladly accept these conclusions of Advaita that the soul, in its purest state, is beyond all such modifications and is nirguṇa in the sense that it transcends the three guṇa-s of prakṛti. However, it would disagree that there is only one soul or that this soul is the final end of spiritual practice for the below reasons.
Once one has transcended the effects of matter and identification with mind-senses-body, one still finds that one's karma-s continue their dynamics and cause modifications of conscious experience. Though one may learn not to react emotionally to these things, they are still there to be observed. One has not truly become free but only learned to remain in equanimity. One has become free of the psychological trauma but not of the conditions that can produce it. This is because of a very simple truth: even if you reach the greatest height of spirituality, you cannot become God. God is the ultimate cause due to whom the universe of sentient souls and non-sentient entities operate. Karma operates under the watch of, and with the energy of God. The laws of the universe are God's laws and owe their existence & operation to Him. 
God, who is understood as Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa, is the basis of all reality. He is the only independent Real. Everything is else is only conditional real, dependent on God. This provides the basis for religion. Śrīvaiṣṇavas determine that Śiva as a Yogī and as being worshipped in the form of void is a true representative of a jīva (soul), who through the practice of Aṣtāṅga Yoga dispels oneself from the modifications of matter. Śakti is  representative of the forces of nature - matter, energy and time - and is the emblem of Prakṛti. Other deities are representative of more limited functions: Agni, only of fire, Sūrya only of suns, etc. Viṣṇu is seen to be explicitly transcendent of all this, and representative of the true form of God or Brahman and is the abode of all perfections. This is how the gods introduced in the Vedas can be resolved and understood meaningfully. 
All sentient and non-sentient entities are the body of God. This is the meaning of understanding the Viśvarūpa of Kṛṣṇa  - that the whole universe is the form of Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu, by the meaning of His name, is omnipresent and pervades everything from within to control & support them as Antaryāmī. 
For Śrīvaiṣṇavas, this deep realization of Viṣṇu within oneself leads to surrender to God and a life dedicated to Viṣṇu which constitutes the Bhāgavata dharma. One realizes that one lives in Viṣṇu, for Viṣṇu, as a form or instrument of Viṣṇu. At this stage, one does not even have to seek liberation because Viṣṇu, the savior, is always within. We all belong to Viṣṇu and are inseparably related to Him. Since we belong to Him, it is His imperative to save us. Living life with this understanding is realized to be the highest maturity of spirituality. 
Unlike other Vaiṣṇava paths, Śrīvaiṣṇavas find God not only without but also within. They are trained to constantly remember the true intimate relationship of the finite infinitesimal soul to the infinite God. Due to this, they do not strive particularly after specific spiritual disciplines that are taught by sages or by demigods, and hence do not worship those those sages/demigods for teaching them that discipline. They find faith only in the saving grace of God. They do not deny the Vedic path or the teachings of sages/demigods, but they reconcile them in the larger teaching of the inseparability of God and soul, and the knowledge that we all belong to God. They worship God with love and practice all disciplines as service to God. This is the life of Brahman-hood, of abiding in the Brahman and of complete dedication to God. They do not go around worshipping a hundred gods simply because there is no reason to do so. They find fullness of satisfaction in worshipping Viṣṇu who is the complete truth (sattva), and attain spiritual maturity through the same. They have no obligation to run around from god to god to showcase some unexplained broad-mindedness. Even those gods who are worshipped by these broad-minded folk would be smiling with pity at their lack of spiritual seriousness. 

Śrīvaiṣṇavas fully understand that each person is entitled to one's own spiritual practice and different practices have their own value. The Āzvar-s clearly state that different methods are created for different spiritual practitioners. By practising valid methods, one can mature spiritually. Since God is the highest, no human law can bind God, and He is free to accept and redeem souls through any method. However, it is only emphasized that Śrīvaiṣṇavism is an excellent way to spiritual redemption. It is a safe and sure approach if followed correctly by submitting to the grace of God. However, it is possible that those without clear understanding can falter even in this system and will have to wait out their spiritual redemption. The purpose of this article is to show that having clear spiritual vision is not narrow-mindedness but only firm spiritual focus. The defects attributed to Śrīvaiṣṇavism as being too narrow are born out of ignorance or an incomplete understanding of its architecture. In fact, they are born from the narrow-mindedness that forces one to discredit another system simply because one is not practising it. If Śrīvaiṣṇavism is sectarian, the view of broad-minded teachers is also equally sectarian because it wouldn't admit of any other view than their own. They just manage to package it with a misleading label. 

Tolerance & mutual respect are the need of the hour, not the empty pride in affirming a non-existent equality. The purpose of religion is spiritual success, not the display of magic or ego-boosting broad-mindedness.