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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 5

ARRIVAL IN Śrī RANGAM

Thus, they set out on their journey southwards towards the holy city of Śrī Rangam. Each evening they would stop for the night at the home of some pious brāhmaṇa devotee, and during the day they would travel with all possible haste. In this way they arrived at the banks of the Kāverī River in four days and immediately crossed over to Śrī Rangam.

They had intended to go straight away to the āśrama of Yamunacharya, which was close to the temple of Lord Ranganātha, but they found the road blocked by a large crowd of people.

When Mahāpūrṇa asked the reason for this great assembly, one man replied, "Sir, what can I say? The earth is now bereft of its most beautiful gem, for Mahatma Yamunacharya has returned to the abode of the Lord."

When he heard these words, Rāmānuja immediately fainted and fell to the ground unconscious, while Mahāpūrṇa cried aloud in anguish, beating his forehead with the palms of his hands.

After some time, Mahāpūrṇa composed himself, and, seeing Rāmānuja still lying unconscious on the ground, he fetched some water and sprinkled it over the young man's face.

When Rāmānuja slowly opened his eyes, he heard these words of consolation:

"Do not be overwhelmed by grief, for we can be sure that everything is taking place by the will of Lord Nārāyaṇa. Now let us go and see that pure form before it is interred."

RĀMĀNUJA'S THREE VOWS

Rāmānuja followed Mahāpūrṇa to the banks of the Kāverī. When they saw the body of Yamunacharya, Mahāpūrṇa fell at his feet, bathing them with tears, while Rāmānuja stood still, looking at the great Vaiṣṇava.

Although the life air had passed from the body, Yamunacharya's face was still serene and untouched by the shadow of death. Rāmānuja stood there transfixed, just gazing, as if in a trance, at the face of that great devotee.

Suddenly the crowds fell silent and turned to look at Rāmānuja, for it seemed that somehow he was able to transcend the barrier of death and be fully in the presence of Śrī Yamunacharya.

After a while Rāmānuja said:

"I see that three fingers of Yamunacharya's right hand are folded and clenched tight. Were they like that during his lifetime?"

The disciples who were close by replied, "No, his fingers used to remain straight. We cannot guess why they are like this now."

Rāmānuja then declared aloud:

"Remaining fixed in devotion to Lord Viṣṇu, I shall free the people from illusion by spreading the glories of the Lord throughout the land"

As these words were spoken, one of the fingers relaxed and became straight.

Rāmānuja spoke again, saying:

"To establish that there is no truth beyond Lord Viṣṇu, I shall write the Śrī bhāṣya commentary on the Vedanta-sutra."

At this the second of Yamunacharya's fingers became straight.

Rāmānuja declared again:

"In order to show respect to the sage Parāśara, who has so wonderfully described the glories of the Lord in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, I shall name one learned Vaiṣṇava after him."

With this final statement, the last of Yamunacharya's fingers relaxed and became straight.

When they saw this wonderful occurrence, everyone there was filled with amazement.

They could now understand that Yamunacharya's three tightly held fingers represented his three unfulfilled desires, namely, to preach the glories of the Lord all over India, to compile a complete Vaiṣṇava commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, which would nullify the atheistic doctrines of the impersonalists, and to honor the sage Parāśara by naming a disciple after him.

Now, Rāmānuja's statements confirmed that he would complete the work Yamunacharya had begun.

RETURN TO KĀNCHĪ

Before the body was buried in the samādhi tomb on the banks of the Kāverī, Rāmānuja had left Śrī Rangam to return to Kānchīpuram.

Yamunacharya’s disciples had asked him to take darśan of Lord Ranganātha, but he had refused, saying:

"I do not wish to see this cruel form of the Lord, who would not grant my most cherished desire and who has taken away the lord of my heart."

Then, he had departed without speaking another word to anyone.

From that day on Rāmānuja's personality changed and he became much more grave and serious. He was now even more reluctant to spend time in the company of non-devotees.

For long periods he would remain alone, studying the scriptures, and he found true happiness only in the company of Kānchīpurna.

About six months before the disappearance of Yamunacharya, Rāmānuja's mother, Kantimati, had left this world.

Now, Raksakambal, the wife of Rāmānuja, was the mistress of the house. She was as beautiful as an apsara, devoted to her husband and very strict in her cleanliness and observance of ritual. Unfortunately, she had been unable to imbibe her husband's pure love of God and was more attached to the external features of religious ritual.

She was unhappy to see her husband becoming more and more absorbed in devotional sentiments after his return from Śrī Rangam, though she tried to conceal her inner feelings.

Rāmānuja now passed a lot of his time in the company of Kānchīpurna. Rāmānuja was generally in a serious mood and still unhappy at heart due to feelings of separation from Yamunacharya.

Understanding his mind, Kānchīpurna told him one day:

"You should not be troubled at heart. Just remain fixed in your devotion to Lord Varadarāja and continue to serve him in every possible way. Yamunacharya has now returned to the abode of Lord Nārāyaṇa, and it is your duty to fulfill the promises you made before Him"

When he heard these words of instruction, Rāmānuja bowed before Kānchīpurna and said:

"Please allow me to be your disciple. Please allow me take shelter of your lotus feet"

Immediately, Kānchīpurna raised Rāmānuja, saying:

"You are a brāhmaṇa and I am śūdra. How can I initiate and receive obeisances from one who is my master? Just have faith in the Lord, and sooner or later He will surely send someone who is fit to be your guru."

Having said this, Kānchīpurna left to worship Lord Varadarāja.

Rāmānuja thought to himself:

"He is refusing to accept me because he knows how my heart is devoid of all devotional sentiments. How can birth or caste affect a person who is the intimate associate of Lord Varadarāja?

Merely by his merciful glance, Kānchīpurna can elevate a dog-eater to the level of a brāhmaṇa. Therefore, if I am able to taste the remnants of his food only once, then I will gain immeasurable benefit."

RAKSAKAMBAL'S FOLLY

Later that day, Rāmānuja went to persuade Kānchīpurna to take lunch at his house the next day. Eventually Kānchīpurna agreed, saying, "Tomorrow I shall break free from the modes of nature by receiving food at the house of a pure devotee."

The next morning, Rāmānuja instructed his wife, Raksakambal, that she should cook the very best preparations to honor their exalted guest, Śrī Kānchīpurna.

At once she began to cook and before noon had prepared many different types of food. Seeing this Rāmānuja was very pleased, and he set out for Kānchīpurna's āśrama to bring him to take prasādam.

Kānchīpurna could understand all Rāmānuja's intentions, and so he came by another way to his friend's house. When he arrived, he said to Raksakambal:

"Mother, today I have to go to the temple very quickly. Please serve me with whatever is immediately available, for I cannot stay here for more than a few minutes."

"My husband has gone to your house to bring you here," Raksakambal replied. "If you wait for a short time he will soon return."

"I am afraid I cannot wait here for a moment," said Kānchīpurna. "How can I neglect my service of Lord Varadarāja just for the sake of my stomach?"

So Raksakambal arranged a sitting place for Kānchīpurna and then with great attention served him all the different preparations she had cooked.

As soon as he had finished eating, Kānchīpurna stood up and cleaned the place where he had been eating with water mixed with cow dung.

He offered his obeisances to Raksakambal and then quickly left the house, taking his leaf plate with him to discard at a distant place.

Raksakambal gave away all the remaining prasādam to a śūdra woman and then, after taking a bath, began to cook again for her husband.

In the meantime Rāmānuja returned home and was very surprised to find his wife still cooking. "Did Kānchīpurna not come here?" he asked. "Why are you cooking again? Where is all the prasādam that you prepared this morning?"

"Mahatma Kānchīpurna came here" replied Raksakambal, "but he said that he could not wait for you, as he had service to perform in the temple.

Therefore, I served him his lunch and then gave whatever was left to a śūdra woman. How could I serve you with the remnants of a śūdra’s meal?"

Rāmānuja was very disturbed to hear his wife speak in such a way:

"You foolish woman! " he exclaimed. "How can you think of Kānchīpurna as no more than a śūdra. Because of you I am now unable to take the prasāda of that pure-hearted devotee, and this is my great misfortune"

Having said this, he sat down unhappily with his head in his hands.

KĀNCHĪPURNA'S VISIT TO TIRUPATI

Meanwhile, Kānchīpurna was praying to Lord Varadarāja while fanning Him:

"My Lord, what are You trying to do to me? My only desire is to pass my life peacefully in Your service and the service of Your devotees, but now You are trying to make me into a famous Ācārya.

Even Your pure devotee, Rāmānuja, now bows down before me. I do not want to become an object of worship, so please give me permission to leave Kānchī and go to Tirupati, where I can worship You in the form of Balaji."

Lord Varadarāja gave His permission, and so Kānchīpurna went to Tirupati. He stayed there for six months, fully absorbed in the service of Śrī Balaji, the form of Lord Viṣṇu who resides in the temple there.

Then one night Lord Varadarāja appeared to him in a dream, saying:

"I am suffering from the severe heat here in Kānchīpuram. Why don't you come back and fan me again?"

LORD VARADARĀJA'S INSTRUCTIONS TO RĀMĀNUJA

The next day Kānchīpurna arose and set off at once to return to Kānchī.

When Rāmānuja heard of his return, he went to visit his friend. The two devotees felt great pleasure in regaining one another's association after such a long period of time.

After they had been talking for several hours, Rāmānuja fully revealed his mind to Kānchīpurna:

"Since I left the school of Yadavaprakasa" he told him, "I have continued to study the scriptures alone.

But there are certain points I cannot understand, and this is causing a great disturbance to my mind. Please beg the Lord to enlighten me, for I know Śrī Varadarāja will never deny any request that comes from your lips."

Kānchīpurna agreed to Rāmānuja's request.

The next day when the young brāhmaṇa came to visit him, he spoke very confidentially:

"Last night Lord Varadarāja spoke to me and told me I should reveal the following six truths to you. These are the four verses the Lord spoke to me:

aham eva param brahma jagat-karana-karanam
ksetrajnesvaror bhedah siddha eva mahamate
moksopayo nyasa eva jananam muktim icchatam
mad-bhaktanam jananam ca nantim asmritir isyate
dehavasane bhaktanam dadami paRāmam padam
purnacaryam mahatmanam samasraya gunasrayam
iti Rāmānujarya mayoktam vada satvaram

"'Firstly, I am the Supreme Brahman, the cause of material nature, from which this universe has come into being.

Second, the separate existence of the jīva souls and the Supreme Lord is an eternal truth.

Third, surrendering to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord is the only true path for those who desire liberation.

Fourth, devotees will certainly be liberated even if by chance they fail to remember Me at the time of death.

Fifth, as soon as My devotees give up their present bodies, I bring them to My supreme abode.

Sixth, you should immediately take shelter of Mahatma Mahāpūrṇa, the reservoir of all good qualities. These are My instructions for Rāmānuja."'

When Rāmānuja heard these words, he began to dance in ecstasy. He had not revealed his six doubts even to Kānchīpurna, but now the Lord had supplied the answers to all of them.

Having offered obeisances to Śrī Varadarāja and to Kānchīpurna, he returned home and prepared to depart for Śrī Rangam. There he hoped to find Mahāpūrṇa, one of Yamunacharya’s disciples, and take initiation from him.