A book of personal essays on subjects related to a particular Hindu sect.
Debut author Sudarshan explains in the introduction that Sri Vaishnavism’s followers pay allegiance to Lord Vishnu and follow the philosopher Ramanuja. In this lengthy work, the author explores a range of topics connected to the faith, including a comparison between Socrates and Krishna, a short story based on the Ramayana, and the many ways in which cows show their good nature to man. Each essay comes back to the subject of the author’s own spiritual identity. He explains that he was born in India and received a largely Western education growing up, but in later years, he decided to investigate his Sri Vaishnavism roots. His investigation led him to many of the considerations in this book. Readers who are completely unfamiliar with the Bhagavad Gita or other Hindu texts may need to do further investigation to get a firm grasp of these essays, but many touch on thinkers from the Western canon, as well. William Blake, William Shakespeare, and William Wordsworth all receive mentions, and it’s in this blending of influences that the book achieves its unique, inviting perspective. Along the way, Sudarshan invites readers to consider such things as the origin of the word gopuram (“temple tower”) and the power of zero. He writes in an enthusiastic, descriptive manner, and it’s clear that he cares deeply for his chosen topics. Exclamations are used sparingly but powerfully: “Many people think that detachment means withdrawal from the world!” Nevertheless, certain essays may be opaque to some readers. One, depicting a “mock trial” with Rama and Sita from the Srimad Valmiki RamayanamI, will be a baffling exercise if the reader has no prior context and is exhausting even if they’re familiar with the main players. That said, the reader has many essays to choose from; even if some test the novice’s patience, there’s still much to discover.
A sometimes-dense but often enlightening dive into Sri Vaishnavism.