Rāmānuja Biography | Part 15
JOURNEY TO KASHMIR
While Rāmānujācārya was teaching his disciples at Śrī Rangam, he frequently recalled the promise he had made before the body of Yamunacharya to present an authentic Vaiṣṇava commentary on the Vedanta-sutras, which would nullify the misleading mayavadi interpretations.
One day, recalling his vow, he said to the assembly of disciples:
"I have made a promise to Yamunacharya that I would write the Śrī-bhāṣya commentary, but until now I have done nothing to keep my vow.
Before attempting such a task, it is essential that I study the Bodhāyana-vṛtti, written by the sage Bodhāyana, but this is such a rare book that I have been unable to locate a single copy of it anywhere in this part of the country.
However, I have heard that one copy of this work is preserved with great care at Sarada-pīṭha in Kashmir. Therefore I am proposing to go there, taking with me only Kureśa, so that I can make a study of Bodhāyana teachings and then present a true explanation of the Vedanta-sutras.
Thus it was that a few days later Rāmānuja and Kureśa set off for the far north of India.
After travelling for three months, they arrived at Sarada-pīṭha in Kashmir.
There Yatiraja held long philosophical discussions with the local paṇḍitas, who were amazed by his knowledge of the scriptures and the depth of his wisdom. Thus they treated him as an honoured guest.
However, when he inquired from them about the Bodhāyana-vṛtti, they were reluctant to let him see this book.
Being themselves impersonalists, they realized that if Yatiraja were able to absorb Bodhāyana’s philosophical conclusions, he would be in a position to completely destroy their false mayavada doctrines with his forceful Vaiṣṇava presentation.
Thinking in this way, they said to him:
"It is true that the book you mentioned was here until recently, but unfortunately it has been eaten by worms and is now completely destroyed."
KUREŚA'S WONDERFUL ABILITY
Rāmānujācārya was dismayed to hear this, thinking all his labour in travelling so far had been for nothing.
However, that night as he was lying down the goddess Sarada (Durgā) appeared before him with the book, saying:
"My child, take this book and return immediately to your own country."
Straight away, having hidden the book amongst their belongings, Rāmānuja and Kureśa took leave of the paṇḍitas of Sarada-pīṭha and departed from that place.
A few days later the scholars were rearranging the books in their library and checking to see if any were in need of repair.
When they discovered that the Bodhāyana-vṛtti was missing, they at once concluded that the two Vaiṣṇavas from south India must be responsible for its disappearance and sent a party of men in pursuit of them to recover the book.
After travelling day and night for almost a month, they at last caught up with Rāmānuja and Kureśa and learned on inquiring from them that they were indeed in possession of the Bodhāyana-vṛtti.
Without another word they took the book from them and returned with it to their home in Kashmir.
Yatiraja was distressed at the loss, wondering how it would now be possible for him to write the Śrī-bhāṣya. Kureśa, on the other hand, did not seem in the least disturbed and said cheerfully:
"O Master, there is no need for you to feel unhappy about what has happened. Every night of our journey, while you were sleeping, I was studying that vṛtti, and now I know the whole book by heart. If we stay here for a few days, I will be able to write it all down from memory."
Rāmānuja was surprised to learn of his disciple's prodigious powers of memory and also delighted to hear that he would be able to retain a copy of the book he had so eagerly sought.
Embracing Kureśa, he said, "From this day I am eternally indebted to you."
WRITING THE Śrī BHASYA
When Kureśa had finished transcribing the book, they continued on their way and reached Śrī Rangam without further incident.
Back at the āśrama, Rāmānuja called all his disciples together and recounted to them what had befallen himself and Kureśa on their journey.
Finally he said:
"O devotees, by the strength of your devotion and the wonderful power of Kureśa's memory, the Bodhāyana-vṛtti has been procured.
Now I will be able to refute the foolish ideas of persons who consider that a mere intellectual understanding of the Vedic statements, tat tvam asi and aham Brahmāsmi can bring one to a state of full perfection.
By falsely stating that the individual souls are themselves God, these scholars have misled the mass of people away from the true goal of life, devotion to Lord Viṣṇu.
"Therefore I shall now commence writing the Śrī-bhāṣya, which will reveal the true verdict of the Vedas, that only through loving devotion to Lord Nārāyaṇa can one achieve the perfection of life.
Now all of you please pray to the Lord that this may be completed without any impediment.
Kureśa, you must act as my secretary, but if you hear some argument which does not seem proper to you, then you must stop writing and sit quietly. Then I shall reconsider my statements and change them if I find any fault."
The next day Yatiraja began to dictate the Śrī-bhāṣya, with Kureśa writing down everything he said.
Only once did Kureśa stop writing and refuse to inscribe one of his gurus statements. This occurred when Rāmānuja described that the essential nature of the soul was nitya and jñāna, that is, eternal and full of knowledge.
When he saw his disciple's behaviour, Yatiraja was at first annoyed, saying to him:
"Why do you not write the commentary yourself?"
But, when he thought deeply about what he had said, he realized that the statement that the soul is eternal and full of knowledge might indicate that the soul is independent.
He considered that the statement of the Bhagavad-Gītā: mamaivamso jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanatanah clearly reveals that the jīva is always dependent on the Supreme Lord for his existence. Therefore the Lord is eternally the master of all jīvas.
Having reached this conclusion, Yatiraja changed his previous statement to say that the essential nature of the soul is Viṣṇu-sesatva and jnatrtva, that is, always completely dependent on Lord Viṣṇu and existing just to engage in His service.
On hearing this, Kureśa continued writing, and in a few months the Śrī-bhāṣya commentary was complete. This wonderful book so nicely explains the supremacy of Lord Viṣṇu and so expertly refutes the false notions of the mayavadis, that it is still venerated by all Vaiṣṇavas.
Rāmānuja wrote several other excellent books of Vaiṣṇava philosophy and in this way presented the doctrine of Viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda.
TRAVELS THROUGHOUT INDIA
Having finished the Śrī-bhāṣya, Rāmānujācārya was satisfied in having fulfilled one of the three vows he had taken to complete the work of Yamunacharya.
Now he decided he was ready to fulfil the second of his promises by preaching the Vaiṣṇava philosophy he had presented in the Śrī -bhāṣya all over India.
Therefore, with seventy-four of his chief disciples and many other followers, he set off to spread the glories of Lord Nārāyaṇa and refute the false doctrines of the impersonalists.
First of all they went to Kānchīpuram, the capital of the Cholas.
Having offered prayers to Lord Varadarāja, Yatiraja then continued on his journey to the city of Kumbakonam.
When he spoke in the temple there, he was challenged by some of the local scholars, who were followers of Śaṅkarācārya. However, by citing many verses from different scriptures, he completely nullified their arguments. All the paṇḍitas of Kumbakonam then surrendered to Rāmānujācārya and became devotees of Lord Nārāyaṇa.
Next, Yatiraja and his followers travelled to Madurai, which in those days was the capital of the Pandya kingdom as well as a centre for all types of scholars.
Before a great assembly of learned paṇḍitas, Rāmānuja spoke about the philosophy of devotion. His presentation was so convincing that at once everyone accepted his teachings and agreed to become devotees of Lord Viṣṇu.
After remaining for a few days in Madurai, the party of Vaiṣṇavas travelled on to the city of Kuranga and from there to Kurakapuri. In both these places Deities of Lord Viṣṇu were being worshipped, and all the devotees took pleasure in singing devotional songs in the temples.
From there they journeyed across to the west coast of India to the city of Trivandrum in Kerala, where they were able to behold the beautiful features of Lord Padmanabha lying on His bed of Ananta-Śeṣa.
Then they travelled all the way up the west coast to Dvārakā, from there across to Mathura and Vṛndāvana, to SalagRāma, Saketa, Naimisaranya, Puskara, and Badarikāśrama.
In these holy tīrthas Rāmānuja preached the philosophy of loving devotion to the Supreme Lord, and all those who heard him were convinced to become devotees.
Many times logicians, Buddhists, and the impersonalist followers of Śankara came before him to present their own arguments, but in every instance he was able to point out the deficiencies in these different doctrines and establish the supremacy of the Vaiṣṇava philosophy.
Eventually they came again to Sarada-pīṭha in the province of Kashmir, where Yatiraja and Kureśa had previously endeavoured to obtain a copy of the Bodhāyana-vṛtti.
The scholars of that place came to try to defeat Rāmānujācārya, but none of them could match his solid arguments. Being overcome in debate, they then resorted to the art of black magic in which they were also adept.
They chanted various mantras with the intention of bringing about the death of their opponent. However, because of Yatiraja's spiritual potency, the spells were unable to affect him and returned to afflict those who had cast them.
Thus all the paṇḍitas of Sarada-pīṭha fell sick and were on the point of death.
At this time the King of Kashmir heard of what was happening. He hurried to Sarada-pīṭha and fell at Rāmānuja's feet, begging him to forgive those sinful brāhmaṇas.
Yatiraja accepted this appeal and cured all of them, after which they became his disciples along with the king.
Having left Sarada-pīṭha, Rāmānujācārya travelled southwards to Benares, where he remained for several months preaching and inspiring many of those who heard him to become devotees.
From Benares he travelled to Jagannātha Puri, where he founded a monastery named the Embar Math.
By this time his reputation as a scholar and devotee was widely known throughout the whole of India, and as a result none of the pandits of Jagannātha Puri dared to come and challenge him.
Desiring that the priests of the Jagannātha temple adopt the Pancharatrika system of worship, as explained by Nārada Muni, Rāmānuja appealed to the King of Orissa to arrange a debate between them.
Being fearful of the outcome of such a confrontation, all the priests prayed to Lord Jagannātha to save them from inevitable defeat.
That very night as Yatiraja was sleeping, he was flung three hundred miles by Lord Jagannātha to the holy dhāma of Kurma-kṣetra.
When he awoke, Rāmānuja was bewildered to find himself in a completely different place and without any of the disciples who had been accompanying him.
At first he thought that the temple nearby was dedicated to Lord Śiva, and so he decided to fast for the day as a penance for his inability to worship Lord Nārāyaṇa.
However, when he inquired from some of the local people, he was informed that the Deity was in fact that of Lord Kurmadeva, one of the incarnations of Lord Viṣṇu.
He then went to the temple and happily engaged in the worship of the Lord.
RETURN TO Śrī RANGAM
After residing at Kurma-kṣetra for several days, Rāmānuja was reunited with his disciples, who were continuing their journey southwards.
He went with them to Simhacala and then on to Ahovata, where he established another matha. At Isalinganga they were able to see the Deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva and offer prayers at His lotus feet.
In this way, travelling southwards down the eastern side of India, they came at last to Tirupati, Śrī Saila, where Yatiraja had previously stayed for one year with his uncle, Sailapurna.
At that time a great controversy was raging there, for the followers of Lord Śiva were challenging the devotees by claiming that Lord Venkatesvara was actually a Deity of Śiva.
Rāmānuja then explained the history of Venkata Hill, with reference to various scriptures, and established that Śrī Venkatesvara was a Deity of Lord Viṣṇu.
Having remained at Tirupati for two weeks, Rāmānuja and his followers continued their journey on to Kānchīpuram, where they were able to worship Lord Varadarāja.
From Kānchī they passed on through Madurantaka to Vira-Nārāyaṇa-pura, the birthplace of Nathamuni, Yamunacharya's grandfather and receptor.
From there they went on to Śrī Rangam and once again took shelter of Lord Ranganātha.