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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 13

INSTRUCTIONS TO DISCIPLES

Now that Rāmānujācārya had accepted a number of disciples, he began to give them formal instructions on the Vaiṣṇava scriptures.

First he studied with them the Sahasra-giti, the thousand hymns praising Lord Viṣṇu which had been composed by Nammalvar, a famous devotee from south India.

All the disciples were entranced to hear the wonderful way that Yatiraja explained these verses, revealing to them the glories of Lord Viṣṇu.

One day they came to a verse which described the holy dhama of Śrī Saila, which is also known as Tirupati:

"This Śrī Saila is like Vaikuṇṭha on earth. One who spends his life in that holy place does in truth live in Vaikuṇṭha and at the end of his life will attain the lotus feet of Lord Nārāyaṇa."

When they had read that verse, Rāmānuja asked his disciples:

"Who among you is willing to go to Śrī Saila, make a flower garden and serve Lord Srinivasa there until the end of his life?"

It was Anantacarya, a very quiet disciple, who replied, "O master, if you will permit me, I shall go to that sacred hill and there achieve the mercy of the Lord."

"You are indeed blessed," said Yatiraja, "and by your devotion you have delivered fourteen generations of your ancestors. I consider myself most fortunate to have a disciple such as yourself."

Then, after worshiping the feet of his guru, Anantacarya departed for Tirupati.

TRAVELLING AND PREACHING

Three times over Rāmānuja studied the Sahasra-giti with his disciples.

At the conclusion of the third reading a desire arose within his heart to see for himself the holy shrine of Śrī Saila. Thus a few days later he set off on the journey from Śrī Rangam accompanied by his disciples, all chanting the holy name of Lord Hari together.

At the end of the first day of the journey, they stopped for the night in the town of Dehali.

On the next day they walked as far as the village of Astasa-hasra. Here there lived two of Rāmānuja's disciples, Yajnesa and Varadacarya. Intending to pass the night at the house of Yajnesa, who was a wealthy merchant, Yatiraja sent two of his followers ahead to convey the news of his imminent arrival.

When he learned of this from them, Yajnesa was delighted and immediately began to see to all the arrangements necessary for receiving the party of pilgrims.

However, so absorbed was he in all these activities that Yajnesa completely neglected the comfort of the two tired messengers, who were left alone without being offered so much as a glass of water. Becoming unhappy at this mistreatment, they returned to Rāmānujācārya and reported to him everything that had taken place.

Being most displeased to hear how his disciple had failed to show proper respect to Vaiṣṇava guests, Yatiraja decided he would go instead to the house of Varadacarya.

This second disciple was an extremely poor man but was noted for his pure heart and great devotion to Lord Viṣṇu.

Every morning he would set out to beg alms, returning at noon to present whatever he had received as an offering to the Lord. Thus he passed his life in great contentment along with Lakṣmī, his chaste and extremely beautiful wife.

LAKSHMI'S DILEMMA

When Rāmānuja and his party arrived at the house, Varadacarya was still out begging and they were all received with great respect by Lakṣmī.

Paying obeisances at the feet of her guru, she said:

"My husband is still out begging alms. All of you please sit here and be merciful to me by accepting this water to wash your feet. Just nearby there is a lake where you may bathe, and in the meantime I will prepare the offering for Lord Nārāyaṇa."

Having said this she entered the kitchen. However, there was not a single grain of rice in the store. So poor were this couple that they had nothing at all in the house. In great anxiety Lakṣmī began to consider how she could properly serve her guru.

In that same village there lived a rich businessman who had become attracted by Lakṣmī's beauty. He had tried many times to tempt her through female messengers, offering her money and jewels, but she would never even speak to the rascal.

Now, however, she began to consider that this might be the only way that she and her husband would be able to render proper service to their spiritual master.

Eventually she concluded that, as service to one's guru transcends all other principles, she would surrender herself to that man in return for whatever was required to serve her guests.

Accordingly, she slipped out the back door of her house and ran quickly to the house of the businessman, which was not far from there.

When she came into his presence, she said:

"This evening I shall fulfil your desires. My guru and many of his disciples have come to my house as guests. Send to our house without delay all things necessary to receive them properly."

The merchant was surprised to hear this, for he had by now resigned himself to the fact that this chaste lady would never be allured by the things he offered. Greatly pleased by this unexpected turn of events, he quickly arranged for the most opulent foods to be sent to his neighbour’s house.

Quickly then Lakṣmīdevi busied herself in preparing offerings for Lord Viṣṇu from the different things that were brought to her.

When everything was completed and the offering made, she invited Rāmānujācārya and his disciples to sit down and take prasādam. They were all most surprised to find such opulent foodstuffs available in a poor man's house and ate with great relish, praising the good lady for her excellent hospitality.

THE POTENCY OF MAHA-PRASADA

When he returned home, Varadacarya was filled with happiness to see his guru actually in his own house.

However, when he heard about the wonderful prasādam they had all been offered, he was astonished, knowing only too well the poverty-stricken condition in which they were living.

When he inquired from his wife as to how she had been able to serve their guests in a manner so befitting, Lakṣmī Devī bowed her head in shame and narrated to him all the arrangements she had made with the merchant.

Far from being angry, however, Varadacarya began to dance with joy when he heard what had happened and he cried out:

"O, I am blessed! I am blessed!" Addressing his wife, he said, "Today you have shown the highest degree of chastity.

Nārāyaṇa, who is represented by Śrī Guru, is the only puruṣa and thus he is the enjoyer of prakṛti. Only a great soul can fully realize this knowledge of devotional service. How fortunate I am to be married to such a lady who is the embodiment of religious principles."

Taking his wife with him, Varadacarya then went into the presence of Yatiraja and explained to his guru everything that had taken place.

By Rāmānuja's order they sat down and took prasādam in his presence. When they had finished eating, he told them to go to the businessman's house together and take all the remaining prasādam to offer to him.

When they arrived at the large mansion, Varadacarya waited outside while Lakṣmīdevi was admitted to the merchant's rooms. She immediately offered him the prasādam they had brought, and he accepted it with pleasure.

Prasādam is not ordinary food, and particularly the remnants left by pure devotees possess great spiritual potency.

This prasādam began to affect the merchant at once and by the time he had finished eating he was a changed man. All the sensual desires having been purged from his heart, he looked upon Lakṣmī as he would his mother and spoke to her with tears in his eyes:

"How sinful I am! My fate would have been the same as that of the hunter who was burned to ashes when he attempted to touch the chaste Damayantī. Only by your great compassion have I been saved. O mother, please forgive all of my offenses and have mercy upon me by showing me the feet of your guru. “

In great happiness Lakṣmīdevi and Varadacarya returned to their house along with the merchant. In the presence of Rāmānujācārya all three of them bowed down to the ground to offer their prostrated obeisances.

When Yatiraja touched the merchant with his hand, all of the man's miseries were removed and he begged for initiation from that great soul.

Desiring to make life easier for the devoted brāhmaṇa couple, Rāmānuja requested them to accept the large sum of money the merchant had offered.

At this Varadacarya spoke to his spiritual master with folded palms:

"O master, by your mercy everything that we require is provided for us. Money is the root of all evil, for it distracts the senses and thus drags the mind away from service to the Supreme Lord. Please do not order me to become a wealthy man."

Rāmānuja was satisfied by these words, and he embraced the pure-hearted devotee, saying:

"Today I have become purified by the association of such a great mahatma as yourself, devoid of all material desires."

YAJNESA'S REPENTANCE

At that moment Yajnesa, Yatiraja's wealthy disciple, entered the house and fell down at the feet of his guru.

Having waited expectantly for Rāmānuja's arrival, he had eventually learned that the party of pilgrims had gone instead to the house of the poor brāhmaṇa, Varadacarya. Thinking that he must have committed some grave offense and displeased his guru, he had gone there feeling depressed at heart.

Gently and with affection, Yatiraja raised Yajnesa to his feet and said:

"Is this unhappiness due to my not coming to your house?

The reason for this was the offense that you made to two exalted Vaiṣṇavas by neglecting them. There is no higher dharma than rendering service to the Vaiṣṇavas, and in this you have failed."

Being humbled by this chastisement from his spiritual master, Yajnesa replied in a voice choked with tears:

"This thoughtless behavior of mine was not due to the vanity of wealth. Rather it was my exultation and eagerness to serve you that made me so neglectful."

Rāmānuja then consoled this repentant and simple-hearted devotee by promising to be his guest when he returned from Śrī Saila.