I have found it easy to be a Hindu.

You can believe in God without engaging in any form of worship, or you can be indifferent to the existence of a supernatural being as such.

You can worship a personal God in the form of an idol, pray to a picture, or simply perceive the presence of the divine as an abstract entity anywhere and everywhere.

You can go out and seek a place of worship, or find God within your own heart. Continue reading

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#SriVaishnava: We are one human family

 

It confers pedigree

[to the Sri Vaishnava[1] lineage]

It bequeaths a legacy

[which is priceless and permanent[2]]

It dissolves devotees’ despair

And bestows with bliss

That transcends mortal realms[3].

 

It gives strength, gives everything

Taking every care that a mother would.

I have found incomparable goodness

Captured in just one word – Narayana.

 

This verse by Tirumangai Azhwar (Periya Tirumozhi: 1.1.9)[4] is a tribute to the power of nArAyaNa a term which, he proclaims, encapsulates goodness. This goodness or kalyANa guNam is personified in the form of the deity worshipped as Narayana.

nAra + ayana = nArAyanA.

nAra refers to material existence consisting of the sentient (human) and the non-sentient (non-human).

ayana refers to the path to eternal bliss.

nAra and ayana are brought together in nArAyaNa, an inclusive entity in which all reside and which resides in all (nArANAm ayanam yaha saha = nArAyaNa: = that in which reside all; or nArA: ayanam yasya saha = nArAyaNa: = that which resides in all ). And Narayana, the deity who epitomises goodness, is both the upAyam and the upEyam, the path to bliss and the destination, which is bliss.

————————

[1] Sri Vaishnava: Sri, an insignia of distinction or veneration, and an epithet of Narayana’s consort, Lakshmi, means to please and to propitiate. And vishva, from which comes Vaishnava, means all.

All beings, therefore, are automatically scions of this auspicious, universal clan called Sri Vaishnava, irrespective of whether they are aware of this pedigree and regardless of whether or not they profess allegiance to Narayana.

[2] The legacy is priceless because it cannot be acquired. That you exist for the other, who in turn exists for you and that both of you are attributes of one universal entity is the very foundation of the Sri Vaishnava philosophy. This knowledge is to be realised (through the grace of Narayana, the devout would say); it cannot be obtained through physical or mental exertion (See Arulaala Perumal Emperumanar’s Prameyasaram verse 4).

[3]  The legacy of bliss lives beyond one’s lifetime as the spirit of communality brings all of humanity on a shared, common platform, making for universal harmony and togetherness.

[4] குலம் தரும் செல்வம் தந்திடும் அடியார் படுதுயராயினவெல்லாம்

நிலந்தரஞ்செய்யும் நீள்விசும்பருளும் அருளொடு பெருநிலமளிக்கும்

வலம் தரும் மற்றும் தந்திடும் பெற்ற தாயினுமாயின செய்யும்

நலம் தரும் சொல்லை நான் கண்டு கொண்டேன் நாராயணாவென்னும் நாமம்.

 


Om namO nArAyaNAya – A mantra for sustainable living

Om, which is regarded as the seed of all knowledge, is said to mean ‘submitting to’[1].

The natural question that arises is: Submitting to what? Submitting to true knowledge, replies the Hindu siddhAnta (philosophy).

And, what is true knowledge? The knowledge that this perishable body, with which we identify ourselves, is a temporary residence for the imperishable ‘self’.

But even this imperishable ‘self’ is not ours (namO = na maha = not mine). It belongs to Narayana, an inclusive entity in which all reside and which resides in all (nArANAm ayanam yaha saha = nArAyaNa: = that in which reside all humans; or nArA: ayanam yasya saha = nArAyaNa: = that which resides in all humans).

When we consciously repeat Om namO nArAyaNAya, therefore, we are teaching ourselves to recognise that we (humankind) are part of a whole, which whole in turn is present atomically in each of us. Constant conscious repetition of this mantra would, it is expected, result in annihilation of ego (I – ness) and avarice (this is mine) as we knowingly accept our mortal roles as actors in a perpetual universal scheme.

[1]Swami Manavaala Maamuni’s commentary for Arulaala Perumal Emperumanar’s composition Prameyasaram (verse 5)


The rope that tied Krishna and the poetry that was born: kaNNinuN chiruththAmbu

Yashoda tied up Krishna with her love (vAtsalyam); Krishna tied up Satakopa with His simplicity (saulabhyam); Satakopa ties up Madhurakavi (and, according to Madhurakavi, Krishna Himself) with his devotion (bhakti). All these actors and their emotions are brought together in one beautiful verse by Madhurakavi – the opening stanza of his composition, Kanninun Chiruththambu.

The Lord of the Universe was born on earth and chose to grow up as Krishna, the son of Yashoda, a simple pastoral woman. He allowed himself to be tied up by her to a stone mortar – a decrepit, discarded kitchen implement – with a coarse rope made of several smaller worn-out pieces knotted together because Yashoda was his mother and she wanted to tie him up so that he would not steal the butter she was churning.

Satakopa was composing a poem on Krishna and he was describing this incident. In his mind’s eye he saw the Lord of the Universe held back by a rope that had been discarded after it had become soggy and limp as it had been used for too long to churn butter. Satakopa heard Krishna pleading with his mother to be let off, he saw the tears well up in Krishna’s eyes when Yashoda sternly refused to let him go, and he was overwhelmed by the thought that the Lord of the Universe could let himself be tied down like a helpless lad for the sake of a mortal mother[1]

Madhurakavi, mulling over the composition of Satakopa, is overcome with wonder that his preceptor could, on merely contemplating the incident, be so moved by the plight of Krishna that he had fallen into a trance that lasted several months.  ‘Not the dark-hued Krishna who mesmerised Satakopa (Nammazhwar) but the sovereign of Kurughur (an allusion to the place of birth of Nammazhwar) it is, who captivates me,’ says Madhurakavi.  ‘Azhwar’s name fills my heart with infinite sweetness. Uttering his name brings the sweetness of nectar to my tongue.’

[1] … mathhurukaDai veNNai kaLavinil eththiram uralinODu iNaindhirundhu yENGiyaveLivE: stealing freshly churned butter, letting yourself be punished by staying tied to a grinder, pleading with your mother to be let off… Oh! What skill! What simplicity! exclaims the Azhwar in Tiruvaimozhi: 1.3.1, astounded by the mastery with which the Lord of the Universe slips into his role as a cowherd lad, and bowled over by the simplicity with which he lets himself be taken for what he appears to be.

 


Our Azhwar – Nammazhwar

 

Satakopa, the saint of Tirukkurughur, has got the appellation ‘nam’ or ‘our’ because he is for you, and me, and everybody – he is ‘ours’.

Even God is for the devout: ‘Give up all other paths and take refuge in me alone… if you do that you don’t have to worry’, assures Bhagavan in the Gita (sarva dharmAn parithyajya mAm Ekam sharaNam vraja…). But Nam-Azhwar demands no action of penitence or surrender from us. Rather, he takes the worst of us under his wing out of compassion: ‘No one seems to want him; if I too reject him, where will he go?’ This is the attitude of ‘our’ Azhwar.

Says Madhurakavi: The greatest of seers and saints who are so steeped in devotion that they are oceans of kindness like God Himself  – even they consider me beyond the pale and refuse to have anything to do with me.  But with the gentle love of a mother and the protective pride of a father Satakopa envelops me in his embrace claiming me as ‘his’.[1]

Is it any wonder, then, that Madhurakavi entrusts himself completely to the care of Nammazhwar, whom he describes as his Lord?

Indeed, it is not necessary for us to go in search of Nammazhwar. ‘Our’ Azhwar comes to us of his own volition because he cannot tolerate our propensity to hurt ourselves. Madhurakavi confides that he went in search of all sorts of things desperate to advance in life and attracted by promises of bliss and what not.  Satakopa, says Madhurakavi, came to know of his wretchedness and took charge of him of his own accord out of the kindness of his generous heart.

This quality of benevolence, the inability to tolerate the pain of another, is said to be the primary quality that defines one who would be a preceptor. Manavaala Maamuni says he was the recipient of such grace, conferred on him by Srisailesa or Tirumalai Azhwar also known as Tiruvaimozhi Pillai. Kuratazhwan attributes the same quality to his preceptor, Ramanuja, whom he describes as the ocean of kindness – one can draw water from the ocean endlessly without fear of it ever running dry.

[1] நன்மை யால்மிக்க நான்மறை யாளர்கள்

புன்மை யாகக் கருதுவ ராதலின்

அன்னை யாயத்த னாயென்னை யாண்டிடும்

தன்மை யான்சட கோபனென் நம்பியே.

 


Prameyasaram: A translation

In the Sri Vaishnava school of thought a teacher, or guru, is given an exalted place. Says Kuratazhwan of his teacher, Ramanujacharya, ‘He removes the ignorance of persons like myself (asmadh gurOho). Disregarding my mistakes, he showers his goodness on me (Bhagavathaha) and presents himself before me of his own accord (asya). He cannot tolerate another’s suffering and to those who are in distress he is an ocean of compassion (dhayaikasinDHOho).’

Arulaala Perumal Emperumanar another direct disciple of that great ascetic, Ramanujacharya, has also composed several verses eulogising the guru. His compositions, Jnanasaaram and Prameyasaaram, expound on the nature of the seeker (jivatma), the nature of that which is to be sought (Paramatma) , and the nature of the one who leads the seeker towards the goal (guru).

I have translated the ten Tamil verses of Prameyasaram into English as a humble tribute to Ramanujacharya, whose 1000th birth anniversary was just celebrated. The booklet is uploaded here as a PDF file:  Click here: Udaiyavar1000


Essence of the true knowledge of things: Prameya-saram

Arulaala Perumaal Emperumaanaar was a direct disciple of Ramanujacharya, whose thousandth birth anniversary will be celebrated on May 1, 2017. Arulaala has composed two prabandha-s (a literary composition, particularly a poetical one), namely Jnanasaram[1] and Prameyasaram[2].  The former composition is said to be an exposition of the Dvaya Mantram[3] and the latter, of the Tirumantram[4], [5]. Together with the Charama Slokam, they constitute what is called the Rahasyatrayam[6], a foundational concept in the Sri Vaishnava school of thought.

Taken together Jnanasaram, which has thirty verses and Prameyasaram, which has ten verses expound on the nature of the seeker (jivatma[7]), the nature of that which is to be sought (Paramatma[8]) , and the nature of the one who leads the seeker towards the goal (guru).

‘…The inborn desire for a state of peace and happiness inevitably moves towards a serious consideration of the nature of the self… The search for a solution takes us to experts in the field to get at this foundation source of knowledge which furnishes the supreme equipment that we need..’, writes Prof. V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar in a scholarly exposition titled ‘What am I?’

Keeping the above quoted observation of my preceptor in mind, I have tried to translate the verses of Prameyasaram as a humble tribute to that great ascetic, Ramanuja, a milestone in whose honour we are fortunate to celebrate this year.  A free translation of the verses together with their meanings in brief are posted here. A longer version with the original verses in Tamil, transliteration in English, and detailed commentary will be made available in the next few months.

Thaniyan (Invocatory hymn)

At all times, without end, think of and honour, O mortals,

The feet of the unpretentious ascetic Arulaala.

He lives in lush Pudipuliman with its wealth of gardens

And gave us the noble Prameyasaram* which gently reveals.

*(The true knowledge of things = pramEyam; Essence = sAram).

 thAthparyam (Meaning)

This is an invocatory verse (thaniyan) in praise of both the composition, Prameyasaram, and its composer, Arulaala Perumaal Emperumaanaar.

Manavaala Maamuni begins his commentary on Prameyasaram with this verse. The saint calls upon the people of the world to meditate on the great ascetic, Arulaala, who is humility personified and who has presented the world with a composition that encapsulates the essence of that which is worth knowing.

pAsuram (verse) 1

Supplicants are all sentient beings to the Universal Spirit

proclaimed the preceptor –

Those who have heard and heed this precept,

Liberation is theirs, I assert.

 

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 The sentient being (jivatma) is both knowledgeable and ignorant, self-confident and angst-ridden. The Supreme Real (Paramatma), in contrast, is omnipotent and the embodiment of eternal bliss. He is a repository of incomparable auspicious qualities, completely lacking in vices. The wise seers who have understood the true identities of these two entities reveal that the way to happiness for the jivatma is to recognise that he is subservient to and dependent on the Paramatma.

pAsuram (verse) 2

Society is one, life forms, many;

The same elements of Nature constitute all life forms

but individual vocations differ.

Forsaking the advice of selfless seers produces such inequities.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 We are unable to come to terms with the inequities we perceive in this world because we neglect the advice of selfless seers (refer to verse 1 to recall this advice) whose only motive is to uplift humanity that is disenchanted.

Even though individual actors are countless in number, all of us belong to one human family. Life forms and vocations differ, but the same elements of Nature constitute all beings. Equally for all God is the Original Cause (kAraNam) and God is the Ultimate Salvation (rakshaNam), and equally are we all supplicants of that Supreme Real. This is the underlying message.

pAsuram (verse) 3

Desiring possessions, interred in a cesspool of sin –

If this be your lot, to what avail being in the family of the faithful?

By spanning the world with His two feet aeons ago

Has He not taken custody of each and every one?

thAthparyam (Meaning)

By straddling the universe God[9] has shown the inclusive nature of His prowess. Nothing and no one falls outside the ambit of His protection and His authority. ‘I am yours. You will take care of me.’ This is the attitude that a jivatma should try to cultivate. Knowing this, what can one say if those who belong to the community of the faithful still perceive themselves as independent agents and exert themselves for personal profit?[10]

pAsuram (verse) 4

Self-effort, physical or mental, will it help to see

That holy pair of feet which are the sole refuge?

These are the feet of He who churned the waters once long ago,

Bridged it, caused it to be and then lay down on it.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

The Lord’s pair of feet at once represent His inconceivable prowess and His incredible simplicity. This contradiction cannot be questioned; it has to be understood. And, this knowledge cannot be acquired through self-effort – physical or mental. It is a realization that can come only through His grace.

However, He has repeatedly demonstrated this twin quality of mEnmai (immeasurable worth) and nIrmai (incomparable softness) that coexist in Him in order to make it easy for us to comprehend.[11]

pAsuram (verse) 5

There is but one path. Once this is seen,

all other paths are given up. One feels no qualms

about remaining passive as it is in submission to the Lord.

Such an attitude is but a blessing conferred by him.

 

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 Once you have grasped the essence of true knowledge which is conveyed by the selfless spiritual master (See Verse 1 of this composition and also footnote on Pillai Lokacharya’s statements, Verse 3), the path to emancipation becomes clear. You perform every action and accept every experience in a spirit of submission to His will. Everything else becomes inconsequential.

Liberation from the encumbrance of exertion and expectation is the end result of His grace. 

pAsuram (verse) 6

If perceived as it is, is there any one thing

we can lay claim to as ours?  

To Him who is not deficient in any way,

What can we say, we who have nothing to call our own?

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 When the identity of your self and the Supreme Real are understood in the right manner (see verse 1 and earlier verses of this composition), is there anything you can break away and claim as your own, over which the Paramatma can have no claim whatsoever?

When everything is His, including you and yours, and He is flawless by nature, what is there left to pray for?   Won’t He take care of His own?

pAsuram (verse) 7

There’s nothing you lack, and there’s nothing I have:

So we both are on equal footing. Does it occur

To anyone to claim this equivalence with God?

Know this to be the path shown by the Veda.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 No one has succeeded in establishing equivalence with God: Has this occurred to anyone? That there is nothing He can ask for since everything that exists is already His, and there is nothing we can give Him since there is nothing that is ours, including our selves: He doesn’t lack anything and so don’t we because everything is His, and so are we. This is the path shown by the Veda, which is now being made explicit for the benefit of all.

pAsuram (verse) 8

Wealth and want, delight, distress, disease, downsides

They come and go – fret not over them.

Free from care, pray with devotion

Such piety will put you on par with denizens of Paradise.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 Wealth and loss of wealth, pleasure and pain, disease and death are different stages in life that will come and go. Drop wishes and worries concerning these from your prayers. Instead, sing His praises without any self-interest. Such selfless devotees will find an everlasting place alongside the denizens in the abode of the Lord.

pAsuram (verse) 9

To fail to treat as God incarnate the one who has shown the path

And to madly vilify such a guru instead

Will ensnare one in endless life cycles. 

Firm faith will secure eternal paradise

thAthparyam (Meaning)

The guru who has steered you towards the feet[12] of Iswara is to be worshipped as God incarnate. To insult him instead by treating him as a mere mortal like any other will keep you entrapped in an endless cycle of birth, death and re-birth. In contrast, those who venerate their preceptor unequivocally will find eternal bliss.

pAsuram (verse) 10

The deity and the devotee, and the bond between them

And the words of the Veda that affirm this link –

It was all obscure till the (spiritual) master came.

When he did, everything became clear.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

The svarupa (characteristics) of Paramatma and jivatma and the nature of the relationship between these two entities are explained in the Veda, which are eternal, and hence always extant. But with none to explain their content, the people at large remained lost due to their ignorance[13]. But when such a preceptor emerged, the true knowledge of things (pramEya) also came to light[14].

[1] Pronunciation: jnyAnasAram

[2] Pronunciation: pramEyasAram

[3] See earlier post on Dvaya Mantra.

[4] The eight-syllabled and eight-lettered mantra, Om namO nArAyaNAYa is known as the Tirumantram or the Tiruvashtaaksharam. In brief it means, ‘I submit my all to Narayana’.

[5] This observation is made by Manavaala Maamuni(maNavALa mAmuni) , who is deferentially referred to as the great seer (mAmuni), in his commentary for the two compositions.

[6] Our pUrvachAryA-s were seers blessed with knowledge that did not suffer from the blemishes of ignorance, delusion, illusion, and forgetfulness. They proclaimed that the essence of the Veda-s (scriptures, believed to be the source of ancient Indian philosophy, and various schools of Hindu thought) are contained in these Rahasya Mantras (deep secrets held in an aphoristic form).

The extract below is a brief note on the Veda from V.T.Tirunarayana Iyengar’s initiation lesson in English titled The Acarya:

‘Indian dhArshaNikA-s are not original thinkers in the sense Western philosophers are. Their thought structure is based on experience. The book reflecting the thought structure is known as the Veda. It covers experience extending to eternity. The Veda is therefore treated as beyond the province of any producing agent. They are valid for all. On this assumption, Indian thinking is developed and schools of dharshana have emerged. The great thinkers are regarded as participants in a cosmic symposium on experience on the platform of time.’

[7] Pronunciation:  jIvAthmA

[8] Pronunciation: paramAthmA

[9] The allusion here is to the Vamana avatara episode, in which Vishnu assumes the guise of a diminutive mendicant and later transforms himself into the gigantic Trivikrama, stretching from earth to sky and beyond, in order to deflate the ego of the mighty king Bali, who, proud of his invincibility, had become a menace to the divinities.

Vamana is not only diminutive, he is also a mendicant. Should the Lord of the universe have to beg for alms? But he did. This shows the extent to which he would humble himself for the sake of his devotees.

Vamana’s purpose was not only to protect the divinities but also to redeem Bali himself.  Arrogance, ostentation and conceit are demoniac qualities which consign a jivatma to bondage, says Sri Krishna in the Gita. And the Lord wanted to save Bali who had succumbed to these qualities, as he was blameless otherwise.

Vamana asked for three measures of land from the king, Bali, and when it was granted, the diminutive Vamana grew into the gigantic Trivikrama who straddled the worlds in just two steps. ‘Where shall I place the third step?’ he asks Bali, who bends down, contrite, and shows his head. The Lord places his foot on Bali’s head and in so doing, liberates him or grants him moksha.

[10] The following statements (71 and 72) from Pillai Lokacharya’s Sri VachanaBhushanam may be recalled here:

  1. ஸ்வய்த்ந நிவ்ருத்தி பாரதந்த்ரய பலம்; ஸ்வப்ரயோஜந நிவ்ருத்தி ஶேஷத்வ பலம்.

Demands on the self cease when one recognizes one’s dependence (on the Paramatma). Desire for personal profits cease when one submits oneself completely (to the Paramatma). 

  1. பரப்ரயோஜந ப்ரவ்ருத்தி ப்ரயத்ந பலம்; த்த்விஷய ப்ரீதி சைதந்ய பலம்.

To advance God’s work is the purpose of all effort. To enjoy doing this is the purpose of life.

[11] The Lord manifested Himself in different forms at various points in time such as in the dashAvatArA-s. The Lord  also presents Himself for perpetual veneration and worship in accessible, iconic forms that the devout give Him as in various shrines.

[12] The bodily organ that helps you walk on a path are your legs. It is the feet, therefore, that are worshipped as they metaphorically help you progress on the right path towards God (From an initiation lesson in Tamil by V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar. Translation mine.)

[13] ‘The royal road to emancipation, mukti, trodden by the ancient seers and sages was strewn with thorns and thistles gathered by the views and words of philosophers whose views were narrow and dogmatic. As a result of this people lost sight of the right view and way of life and were groping in the dark in despair.’ (From V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar’s Sruta Prakasika – The Sacred System of the Vedanta According to Sri Ramanuja – Revealed as Received by Sudarsana (Part I))

[14] ‘With a view to helping them [see previous footnote] to see clearly the truth, being convinced that the ancient seers, who had the undisputed gift of insight and discrimination pursued the path which was safe and smooth, Ramanuja refuted all the untenable theories and re-established the irrefutable view which was recognized and followed by one long tradition.’ (ibid).


The Dvaya Mantra: Divinity is a team of two

Following is an attempt to provide a barebones meaning of the Dvaya Mantra which, along with the Tirumantra and the Charama Sloka  have been the subject of erudite theses that have stood the test of time[1].

 Dvaya Mantra:

srIman nArAyaNa charaNau sharaNam prapadyE .

srImathE nArAyaNAya namaha.

 Meaning:

sriman: He who is one with Sri (sriyata iti srI: = She who is worshipped by all; and also srayata iti srI: = She who worships the Lord)

nArAyaNa: He who is the home for all beings (nArANAm ayanam yaha saha) and also He who has His home in every being (nArAha ayanam yasya saha)

charanau: (His) pair of feet

sharaNam: as refuge

prapadyE: I seek, knowing, trusting.

srImatE: United with Sri is He

nArAyaNAya: Narayana, to whom I submit totally

namaha: seeking (to do so) without any trace of I and mine (ego and attachment).

Commentary:

The divine couple Sri and Narayana are regarded as one.  Sri is associated with the lotus, the metaphor of the flower serving to emphasise her softness or gentleness. She is said to be the personification of compassion, even more so than the benevolent Lord whose ire may be provoked on occasion.

The Lord’s feet are a byword for asylum – none who seeks His refuge is ever disappointed, be they sentient or non-sentient beings. By straddling the universe as Trivikrama the Lord demonstrated his sovereignty over all of creation, and also the inclusive nature of His protection.

That these feet are specified as being two in number is not a redundant oversight or a simple statement of fact. It indicates the twin attributes of immeasurable value (mEnmai) and infinite softness (menmai or nIrmai), the one due to his inherent pre-eminence and the other due to His inviolable association with Sri. Knowledge of the Lord’s dependability is, therefore, there for the asking and acknowledging this to be so gives us the confidence to entrust ourselves to His care with complete belief.

[1] See Pillai Lokacharya’s Mumukshuppadi.