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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 10

INSTRUCTIONS TO KUREŚA

Residing once more in Śrī Rangam, Yatiraja began to instruct the growing number of disciples who had taken shelter of him.

One day his disciple Kureśa approached him and asked him to reveal the full meaning of the supreme verse of Bhagavad-Gītā:-

sarva-dharman parityaja mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah

"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I wilt deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear."

Rāmānuja replied:

"A person who gives up all independent desires and serves his guru absolutely for an entire year can fully understand the meaning of this verse, and no one else."

"But life is so uncertain," said Kureśa, "how can I know whether or not I will live for another year? Please bestow your mercy upon me by making the meaning of the verse manifest in my heart even now"

Yatiraja considered this request for a while and then replied:

"If you live for one month by begging alms from door to door, without knowing where your next meal will come from, then you will begin to realize the meaning of full surrender. At that time I will instruct you on all the meanings of this glorious verse."

For one month Kureśa lived as his guru had instructed. When the month had passed, he learned from Yatiraja all about the nature of surrender to Lord Kṛṣṇa.

DĀSARATHĪ’S REQUEST

A little while later, Dāsarathī, Rāmānuja's second disciple, approached him with the same request as Kureśa.

To him Yatiraja replied:

"You are my relative, and therefore it is my desire that you understand the verse by hearing from Gosthipurna.

Even though there may be some fault in you, I will tend to overlook it because you are my family member. The duty of the guru is to remove all taints from the heart of the disciple. Therefore it is better that you take instruction from Śrī Gosthipurna."

Dāsarathī was famous as a great scholar and still a little proud of his learning. It was for this reason that Rāmānuja directed him to approach Gosthipurna.

As instructed by his guru, Dāsarathī went to reside in Tirukkotiyur and for six months he sat at the feet of Mahatma Gosthipurna. However, even at the end of this time, the ācārya had still not explained to him the meaning of that sublime verse spoken by Lord Kṛṣṇa.

Eventually, taking pity on the young man, Gosthipurna told Dāsarathī:

"You are certainly a most brilliant scholar; I know that well.

However, you must understand that education, wealth, and birth in an aristocratic family can cause pride to arise in the heart of a small-minded man. In those who are virtuous, great learning brings self-control and thus gives rise to good qualities, not blemishes.

Understanding these instructions, now return to your own guru; he will reveal the meaning of the verse as you desire."

DĀSARATHĪ'S HUMILITY

Dāsarathī then returned to Śrī Rangam and reported to Rāmānuja all that had taken place in Tirukkotiyur.

At that same time, Attulai, the daughter of Mahāpūrṇa, came there, obviously in some distress.

When Yatiraja inquired from her as to the cause of her unhappiness, she replied:

"Dear brother, my father has sent me to you. I live at the house of my father-in-law and every day, both morning and evening, I have to bring water from a lake which is over two miles from the house.

The road there is lonely and difficult to traverse and as a result I have become overwhelmed by fear and physical exertion.

When I told my mother-in-law of these difficulties, rather than sympathizing with my plight, she flew into a rage, saying, 'Why did you not bring a cook from your father's house? Can I afford to employ a servant while you sit idly at home?'

Being very unhappy at this treatment, I returned to my father's house and he has instructed me to come to you for help with this problem."

To this request Rāmānuja immediately responded:

"Dear sister, do not worry. Here I have one brāhmaṇa whom I will send with you. He will do the work of fetching water from the lake and the cooking as well."

So saying he glanced at Dāsarathī, the great scholar.

Although working as a servant in the kitchen was an occupation he might have considered unbefitting for a renowned pandit such as himself, Dāsarathī understood the desire of his guru and gladly followed Attulai to her father-in law's house. There he began to do all the work in the kitchen with great care and devotion. In this way six months passed.

One day a Vaiṣṇava came to the village and was explaining a verse before an assembly of people.

Dāsarathī was among the crowd and when he heard the speaker's presentation tinged with impersonalist misconceptions, he could not restrain himself from pointing out these errors.

At this the man was very irritated and shouted out:

"Stop, you fool! Where is a jackal and where is heaven! Whoever heard of a cook explaining the scriptures? Go back to the kitchen and display your talents there."

Without showing the least sign of annoyance at these harsh words, Dāsarathī calmly went on with his explanation of the verse.

His presentation, based on many different scriptures, was made so perfectly that everyone who heard his speech was captivated. Even the original speaker begged pardon from him by touching his feet and asking:

"How is it that such a sincere devotee and learned scholar as yourself is engaged in doing menial work in the kitchen?"

To this Dāsarathī replied that he was simply acting in accordance with the order of his guru, which was his life and soul.

When all the people learned he was Dāsarathī, the famous devotee-scholar, they went in a group to Śrī Rangam. Before Rāmānuja all of them presented their petition, saying:

"O Mahatma, it is not proper that your worthy disciple should be engaged as a cook any longer. He has not a trace of pride in his heart and is certainly an exalted paRāmahamsa. Please give orders so that in great honour we may bring him to your feet once more."

Yatiraja was so pleased to hear the people describing his disciple in such a way that he himself returned with them. When they met, Rāmānuja embraced Dāsarathī and blessed him.

After returning to Śrī Rangam he explained to him the full significance of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s final instruction to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gītā, which reveals the essence of a devotee's surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Because Dāsarathī had fulfilled his desire by rendering service to the devotees, from that day he was known as Vaiṣṇava dasa.

LEARNING FROM MALADHARA

After this, at Mahāpūrṇa's request, Rāmānuja again studied the writings of the south Indian devotees, this time under the direction of Vararanga.

When this study was complete, Gosthipurna approached him with another devotee, saying:

 "This great soul, Śrī Maladhara, comes from the city of Srimadhura in the land of the Pandyas where I was born. He is a learned scholar and one of the foremost disciples of Yamunacharya.

He has fully understood the Sathari-sukta, the thousand songs composed by the great devotee Sathari. Learn all of this from him, and you will surely be blessed by Lord Nārāyaṇa."

Following the order of his guru, Rāmānuja began to study at the feet of Maladhara.

One day, however, the teacher gave an explanation of one of the verses which seemed improper to Rāmānuja, who put forward a different understanding.

Being offended at what he saw as his student's great audacity, Maladhara immediately left Śrī Rangam and returned to his home.

When Gosthipurna heard what had happened, he went to visit his godbrother and asked, "Could Rāmānuja absorb the full meaning of the Thousand Songs?"

To this inquiry Maladhara replied by explaining everything that had taken place in Śrī Rangam.

"My dear brother," said Gosthipurna, "do not judge him as you would an ordinary man.

None of us can understand Yamunacharya's intimate thoughts and desires to the extent that he can. Therefore, when he gives some explanation of the verses, you should hear him as if our beloved guru, Yamunacharya himself, were speaking."

Acting on this advice from Gosthipurna, Maladhara returned to Śrī Rangam and resumed his teaching to Rāmānuja.

A few days later Rāmānuja again spoke out to give some different explanation of a particular verse, but this time, instead of being annoyed, Maladhara listened to him with great attention.

When he heard Rāmānuja's explanation of the verse, Maladhara was amazed to see the young sannyāsi's profound and inspired understanding of Vaiṣṇava philosophy. In a mood of great reverence, he circumambulated Rāmānuja and then brought forward his son to be his disciple.

LEARNING THE SCIENCE OF DHARMA

After completing his study of the Sathari-sukta, Rāmānuja next wanted to learn about dharma from Śrī Vararanga, the son of Yamunacharya.

Every day Vararanga would go before Lord Ranganātha and sing bhajans in a most beautiful voice.

Sometimes he would dance in ecstasy, and, when he became fatigued, Rāmānuja would bring him relief by massaging his legs and rubbing turmeric powder on his body. Every evening he would prepare condensed milk for Vararanga and bring it to him like a menial servant.

For six months this continued, and then Vararanga said to Rāmānuja:

"I know of your desire to learn from me about dharma and because I am very pleased by the service that you have rendered to me, I will fully instruct you as far as my intelligence allows.

Everything about dharma is fully understood by one who has realized the meaning of this verse:-

gurur eva param brahma
gurur eva param-dhanam
gurur eva parah kamo
gurur eva parayanam

"That person who sees his spiritual master as the personification of the Lord Himself and who serves his guru perfectly with no other desire, just as you have served me, he is the greatest knower of dharma. This is the limit of my understanding."

Rāmānuja was very pleased to receive this instruction from his teacher and offered prostrated obeisances at his feet.

Śrī Vararanga had no children, but he had a younger brother named Chotanambi who was very dear to him. Now he brought this young man forward to become the disciple of Rāmānuja.

In this way Rāmānuja was instructed by Yamunacharya's five most intimate disciples: Kānchīpurna, Mahāpūrṇa, Gosthipuma, Maladhara, and Vararanga - each of whom embodied a different aspect of the great ācārya. Now it appeared that Yamunacharya was present again on earth in the form of the pure devotee, Śrī Rāmānujācārya.

When Yatiraja spoke, explaining the Vaiṣṇava philosophy, everyone became struck with wonder to hear such beautiful descriptions. When he spoke about the glories of the Lord, the unhappiness and material desires of all those who heard him immediately went to a distant place.