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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 4

YAMUNACHARYA'S ILLNESS

Ever since the day he had seen Rāmānuja in Kānchīpuram, the aged Yamunacharya had been thinking of him and praying to Lord Viṣṇu for his deliverance.

He longed for the day on which Rāmānuja would give up the association of Yadavaprakasa and take full shelter of the Vaiṣṇavas. It was with this hope in mind that he composed his wonderful prayer known as the Stotra-ratna, which is adored by devotees even to this day.

A few days after the composition of the Stotra-ratna, Yamunacharya fell gravely ill and was unable to rise from his bed. However, even in this precarious position, hovering between life and death, he continued to preach the glories of the Lord.

Fearing the imminent departure of their guru, various disciples put questions before him. Tiruvaranga asked:

"If Lord Nārāyaṇa is beyond mind and speech, how is it possible to serve Him?"

Yamunacharya replied:

"The best way to serve Lord Nārāyaṇa is to serve His pure devotees.

In addition you should serve the Deity form of the Lord, even as the blessed Kānchīpurna serves Lord Varadarāja. All problems are resolved by the statement of the Mahabharata, mahajano yena gatah sa panthah -'Just follow the example set by the great devotees'."

Looking into the eyes of his dear disciple, Yamunacharya continued:

"For myself, my only refuge now is the lotus feet of Tirumangai, that noble mahatma who served Lord Ranganātha so perfectly in ancient times."

On hearing these words from his guru, Tiruvaranga's eyes filled with tears and he spoke again in a voice choked with grief:

"Have you decided without doubt to leave this world now?"

Yamunacharya smiled slightly and replied softly:

"How is it that such a wise man as yourself is to be seen lamenting for that which is inevitable? Do you not yet understand that everything happens only by the will of Lord Nārāyaṇa?

Our position is to simply accept whatever mercy He bestows upon us, giving up the dualities of happiness and distress."

At that moment two other disciples decided they would commit suicide as soon as Yamunacharya left this world. These two were Mahāpūrṇa and Tirukkotiyurpurna.

Another disciple came forward shedding tears and crying out:

"Where will any of us go for shelter after your disappearance? Whose sweet words will inspire us to acts of greater devotion?"

Yamunacharya placed his hand on the disciple's head, saying:

"My child, there is no need for anxiety, for Lord Ranganātha is there. He has given you shelter in the past, He is giving you shelter now and will continue to protect you in the future. Always go and pray before Lord Ranganātha and sometimes go to see Venkatesa at Tirupati and Varadarāja at Kānchī. In this way how will you be without shelter?"

When Tiruvaranga asked whether the body should be buried or cremated, Yamunacharya gave no reply, for his mind was fixed on the lotus feet of Lord Nārāyaṇa.

LORD RANGANĀTHA SAVES HIS DEVOTEES

The next day there was a special procession in Rangaksetra, and the Deity of Lord Ranganātha was carried from the temple on a palanquin.

Huge crowds of people had gathered from all the surrounding villages to see the Lord as He passed along the road. The disciples of Yamunacharya were also in attendance.

Suddenly one of the pujārīs serving the Lord seemed to go into a trance, as if possessed. He spoke out, clearly addressing Mahāpūrṇa and Tirukkotiyurpurna:

"Give up your resolution to commit suicide. It is not approved by Me."

After this wonderful event, all the disciples quickly returned to the bedside of Yamunacharya to tell him what had happened.

He then gave them further instructions:

"To commit suicide is a great sin, and to save you from such an act Lord Ranganātha Himself has spoken to you. Such is His boundless mercy."

Yamunacharya then fell silent, and his eyes closed as he seemed to go deep into meditation. After a while he spoke again:

"This is my final instruction to all of you. Offer flowers at the lotus feet of the Lord and always try to follow your gurus order. Destroy all false ego by serving the Vaiṣṇavas".

Then he gave all his disciples over to the care of Tiruvaranga and fell silent once more.

MAHĀPŪRṆA IS SENT TO KĀNCHĪ

However, Yamunacharya did not depart from the world at this time, and a few days later, to everyone's surprise, he seemed to recover from his illness.

He left his āśrama and took darśana of Lord Ranganātha, just as he had done previously. Everyone was inspired to hear him talk again about the glories of Lord Viṣṇu.

One day two brāhmaṇas from Kānchīpuram arrived to see Yamunacharya, having heard of his imminent departure from the world. They were surprised to find the great acarya sitting up and discussing the scriptures, apparently fully recovered from his sickness.

When Yamunacharya learned the two brāhmaṇas were from Kānchīpuram, he immediately inquired from them about the welfare of Rāmānuja.

They told him he had now given up hearing from Yadavaprakasa and was studying the scriptures alone.

Yamunacharya was very pleased to hear that the young devotee was now freed from the dangers of hearing mayavada philosophy, and there and then he composed eight verses glorifying the mercy of the Lord upon His devotees.

He then instructed Mahāpūrṇa, one of his senior disciples, "Please go to Kānchī and bring Rāmānuja here, for I long to see him in the midst of our company of Vaiṣṇavas."

Mahāpūrṇa offered obeisances at the feet of his guru, and that same day he departed to carry out his order.

DEMISE OF YAMUNACHARYA

A few days after the departure of Mahāpūrṇa, Yamunacharya's body was afflicted with sickness once more.

Despite the intense pain he had to undergo, he still took his bath and went to the temple to see Lord Ranganātha, the Lord of his heart. He took a little maha-prasada and then returned to the āśrama, where he called for all of his householder disciples to come to him.

First of all, in a mood of great humility, he begged them to forgive any offense that he might have made towards them. He then asked them to take care of the brahmacāri and sannyāsi disciples who were living at the āśrama.

Finally, Yamunacharya gave his last instruction to his householder disciples:

"Every day you should rise early and go to the temple to worship Lord Ranganātha, smelling the flowers that have been offered to His lotus feet. In this way your mind and intelligence will become purified, and you will become fixed in your devotion to Lord Nārāyaṇa. In addition you should always be devoted to your spiritual master and be attentive in serving guests."

When the householder disciples had left, Yamunacharya sat in a lotus position and concentrated his mind on the feet of Lord Hari. The remaining disciples began to chant the holy name of Lord Nārāyaṇa in congregation, accompanied by the sweet sounds of the flute and other instruments.

As Yamunacharya became even more deeply immersed in thoughts of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tears of ecstasy ran down his cheeks and his body began to tremble.

In this ecstatic state of devotional love the great Ācārya gave up his body and returned to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, his eternal, beloved master.

Immediately the kīrtana stopped, and many of the disciples began to cry aloud in lamentation, while others fainted and fell unconscious to the ground.

After some time the sannyāsis and Yamunacharya’s son, Purna, collected themselves and began to make preparations for the funeral ceremony.

The body was washed and dressed in new clothes before being placed on a decorated palanquin. Then, in slow procession, they carried the palanquin down to the banks of the Kāverī River, followed by almost all the inhabitants of Śrī Rangam.

There, amidst great lamentation, the body of the pure devotee was buried, as is the custom for those who have achieved the perfectional stage of devotional service.

MEETING WITH MAHĀPŪRṆA

Meanwhile, on the order of his guru, Mahāpūrṇa journeyed to Kānchīpuram and arrived there after travelling steadily for four days.

He immediately went to the temple to see Lord Varadarāja, and as he was leaving he happened to meet Kānchīpurna, who invited him to spend the night at his āśrama. The two devotees passed the evening in discussing topics about the Lord.

Next morning early they set out together for the holy well and, as they approached, saw Rāmānuja coming with a water jug on his shoulder to perform his daily service for Lord Varadarāja.

Kānchīpurna said, "I must leave you now to worship the Lord in the temple. Here is Rāmānuja; go and tell him of your intentions."

Mahāpūrṇa was very happy to see the effulgent young devotee coming towards him, appearing so pure and free from the vices of this world. Instinctively he began to chant prayers from Yamunacharya’s Stotra-ratna.

Hearing these beautiful hymns in praise of Lord Nārāyaṇa being sung in such a sweet voice, Rāmānuja stood silently, listening intently to the verses.

Then he approached Mahāpūrṇa and inquired:

"Sir, who has composed these wonderful verses, that so sweetly praise the qualities of the Supreme Lord? Just by your singing this morning my heart has been uplifted."

"These hymns were composed by my spiritual master, the venerable Yamunacharya," Mahāpūrṇa replied.

Rāmānuja was very pleased to hear the name of the famous devotee, but he inquired in a concerned voice:

"I had heard that the great Yamunacharya was afflicted by illness. Is he now recovered? How long is it since you were in his presence?"

"It is but five days since I left the side of my guru-maharaja," replied Mahāpūrṇa, "and at that time he had just recovered from his sickness."

Rāmānuja was relieved to hear this news, and, being anxious to associate further with the saintly Mahāpūrṇa, he invited him to stay at his house.

Then Mahāpūrṇa explained the purpose of his coming to Kānchīpuram:

"I have come to this holy city at the request of the great soul Yamunacharya, simply to meet with you and invite you, on his behalf, to come to Rangaksetra, so that we may have your association."

Rāmānuja could hardly believe such an exalted devotee was even aware of his existence, let alone being desirous of his association. However, Mahāpūrṇa reassured him by saying:

"My master wishes to see you, and it is for this purpose alone that I have come here. His health has been much impaired by repeated illness, and, although he now seems a little better, I think that we should start immediately if you wish to fulfill his desire."

Rāmānuja was so pleased by this unexpected news that he could only ascribe his good fortune to the mercy of Lord Varadarāja.

Excitedly he said to Mahāpūrṇa, "Please wait here for a short while until I have delivered this water to the temple and taken the Lord's permission to leave."

Saying this he hurried off towards the temple. Just a short time later he returned, all ready to start on the journey.

Mahāpūrṇa asked, "What about your family? Should you not first inform them of your intentions?"

"Obedience to the order of the guru is more important than any considerations of household life," replied Rāmānuja. "Let us depart at once, for I am eager to see Śrī Yamunacharya."