திங்கள், 27 ஜூன், 2016

The acharya non-pareil


The Ubhaya Vedanta movement initiated by Sri Nathamuni reached its noon-time glory when Sri Ramanuja became the head of the community and the administrator of the Srirangam temple.
An ideal Acharya who took us by hand from the known to the unknown, he wrote exegetical works on the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana and the Bhagavad Gita. Although his time was spent as a teacher and administrator, he did commit to writing some of his approaches to Vedanta. Even when dealing with polemical subjects, he never lost sight of the rainbow-hues of earthly life which is why his commentaries are interesting to read even for the common reader. There are then the three prose hymns he has gifted us when his self was overwhelmed by the Divine when he saw Sri Ranganatha and Goddess Ranganayaki seated together in the Panguni Uthara Mandapam.

Among Sri Ramanuja’s works, the Sri Bhashya takes precedence.

P. Sri. Acharya rightly says this work is like an impregnable fort guarding the wondrous garden where bloom the hymns of the Alwars. The aphorisms of Badarayana are considered to be the fountain-head of our Vedantic thought and have been divided into four chapters. They seek to study the Upanishads as formulating a coherent line of thought. The earliest available commentary is by Adi Sankara who posited the Advaitic view that Brahman is the sole reality and the rest is illusion. This was not acceptable to many like Bhaskaracharya. Sri Ramanuja fulfilled Sri Yamunacharya’s desire that a commentary in the light of a qualified monism be set down. Today, Sri Bhashya is held to be the basic text for expounding the Ubhaya Vedanta philosophy.

Sri Ramanuja’s commentary leads us to vision the Brahman as a personal god having innumerable auspicious attributes (divya mangala vigraha). Rejecting the Doctrine of Illusion, Sri Ramanuja’s philosophy holds the world to be quite real and that it has been produced by the Brahman. The world and the jivas are the body of the Lord. After its earthly life, when the jiva attains Srivaikunta, thanks to its bhakti and virtuous life, it remains in a state of bliss performing kainkarya and enjoying the form and the qualities of the Lord. This togetherness of the Jiva and the Para is for ever.

The second major commentary by Sri Ramanuja is the Gita Bhashya. The gita has been commented upon by innumerable scholars down the centuries. The tone of Sri Ramanuja’s commentary is loving adoration and not polemics. Except for a couple of places where he joins issue with Adi Sankara or Bhaskara, Sri Ramanuja prefers the joy of explaining Krishna’s teachings in terms of devotion to God and loving help tendered to fellow human beings. No wonder, this is one of those commentaries which can be read with deepening interest as the Acharya seems to be sitting near us and explaining high philosophy with a smile on his lips using a very simple style. Sri Ramanuja is verily the image of compassion and devotion, and his mystic approach to the image of Krishna as the Divine Charioteer is unforgettable.

If the Sri Bhashya clarifies the nature of the Brahman as a Personal Lord and the Gita Bhashya calls for surrender to this Lord, Sri Ramanuja’s Vedantha Sangraha deals with some important statements from the Vedas and the Upanishads to prove the existential reality of creation. If the entire creation is pervaded by the Lord (Isavasyam idam sarvam), the devotee is included in this pervasive Divine. If so, then one will not treat anyone or anything, including oneself, with contempt.

With the Lord within us, is there anything we cannot accomplish? Like the Vedanta Sangraha , Sri Ramanuja’s Vedanta Sara and Vedanta Deepa are helpful summaries of the ideas contained in the Brahma Sutras. Sri Ramanuja assures us that we need not give up Vedic ritualism or the way of devotion and one may take any of these ways to arrive at a closeness to the Supreme Lord. Surely, the hymns of the Alwars were a great influence in Sri Ramanuja’s philosophy. From the commentators who came after him, we find how Ramanuja revealed the throb of life in the Tamil hymns that help us aspire for closeness to the Lord.

Sri Ramanuja’s Nitya is a work that reveals the acharya’s advice to perform nityanushtanam (daily ritualistic) worship of the Lord. Such an activity undertaken with unswerving bhakti will gain for us a constant awareness of the Lord’s presence in creation. Sri Ramanuja begins with the waking up at dawn, the morning activities such as bathing and then the aradhana of the salagrama. After the worship one should make a sattvika tyaga which includes giving up one’s egoistic personality, the feeling that he is the “doer”, and the fruits of action. The way Sri Ramanuja himself did such an integral surrender has been brought to us in the three prose hymns, collectively known as the Gadya Traya .

If his philosophical works and Nithya Grantha give us a clear idea of tattva (philosophy), hita (the way), and purushartha (the goal), the three Gadyas are a cry from the soul of a great teacher in a moment of coming face to face with the Divine. Here we gain a practical insight into the instrument of surrender to the Divine. Sri Saranagati Gadya opens with a total surrender at the feet of Goddess Ranganayaki and Lord Ranganatha:

“May my sincere and faithful saranagati at the lotus-like feet of Bhagavan be continuous and unending – saranagati performed with the longing to obtain (the privilege of) eternal service to Him which is of the nature of finding (my) sole joy in rendering all forms of service appropriate to all states and situations and which is stimulated by unlimited and unsurpassed love arising from the boundless and unsurpassed delight in the full, continuous, eternal, and extremely pure enjoyment of Bhagawan, than which it seeks no other gain and is the result of Parabhakti, Parajnana, and Paramabhakti exclusively and eternally displayed towards the two lotus-like feet of Bhagawan which are the supreme goal to be desired.” (Translated by M.R. Rajagopala Iyengar)

The Mother gives a golden promise: “Astu te. Tayaiva sarvam Sampatsyathe. Let it be so for you. Everything will be fulfilled by it alone.”

Such a surrender will yet save the aspirant from all evil and grant him his desires on the earth and in the beyond. He need worry no more says the Lord: “Reside in Srirangam comfortably ... Do not have doubts about the fulfilment of the promises made by me. My words never fail”. This is almost like the promise of Krishna in the Gita, “Ma suchah”.

The two short hymns that follow the Saranagati Gadya also focus on surrender. The concluding churnika of the Sriranga Gadya is a gem of purest ray serene, for it reveals the all-encompassing compassion of the Lord who is not swayed by any man-made considerations:

“O Thou that art the boundless ocean of mercy, that art the Saviour of the whole world without any exception and regardless of all special considerations, who dispellest the distress oif those that bow to Thee, who art the ocean solely of love to those that seek Thy protection, who knowest, at all times, the true state of all created beings, O Thou who possessest all things that are desirable, whose will is ever accomplished, and who art the friend in need (of all beings), O Descendent of Kakustha! O Narayana! Consort of Sree, Purushottama! Sree Ranganatha! My Master and Saviour! I offer my obeisance to Thee.” (Translated by M.R. Rajagopala Iyengar).

While the Sriranga Gadya conveyed the exultation of the Acharya at having been blessed with the proximity of Sriranganatha in this Bhuloka Vaikuntha , Srivaikunta Gadya is a magnificent evocation of the transcendent plane based on Sri Ramanuja’s personal realisation. Always we must surrender to the Divine Couple together, surrounded by the attendants, salute repeatedly, take the permission of the gate-keepers of the Lord and utter the Ashtakshara with the prayer: “Accept me to be your servant alone and grant me eternal serviteude”. As we celebrate yet another Vaikunta Ekadasi, we should meditate upon the compassionate acharya who walked the streets of Srirangam a millennium ago. Such is the glory of Mother India where the very dust in Srirangam is holy that makes life here a life divine.


Smt, Dr Prema Nandakumar, is a notable Tamil Scholar and Writer.

Courtesy: The Hindu (11.01.2014) 


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