Śrīvacana Bhūṣaṇa | 21-25

21. The Lord & the defects of the jīva

143. When He [the Lord] decides to reclaim this [jīva], the defects [of the jīva] are not an impediment.

The Lord loves the jīva and will reclaim it despite any superficial imperfections that there may be in the form of moral imperfection, sin and demerit. The Lord is the one that initiates and consummates reconciliation which is in fact His gain (paragata-svikāra) —

this logic flows from the concept that God is the Swāmi — owner of the Jīva.

144. These two [truths] are illustrated by scenarios of the blessed Bharata and the Lord Guha.

The two stances of svagata-svikāra — the individual seizing the Lord and paragata-svikāra — the descent of unconditional grace from Kṛṣṇa, are illustrated by the stories of Bhārata, the brother of Lord Rāma and Guha the hunter chieftain:

Bhārata overcome by guilt and grief sought Rāma out, surrendered at his feet and implored him to return from exile in the forest, but Rāma rejected his request.

On the other hand Guha made no effort to befriend Rāma, nevertheless Rāma actively courted him and befriended him in spite of the apparently insurmountable disparity between them.

This story also reinforces the idea that the Prapanna should never arrogantly assume that he/she is saved. Bhārata assumed that as he was the Lord’s brother his act of surrender would surely be accepted — yet he was rejected. The correct attitude is to surrender completely without any expectations whatsoever.

145. For the blessed Bharata, his very virtue was the hindrance — as for Lord Guha, his very flaw was an attraction.

If a person attempts to reach the Lord by using some means (upāya) that means itself obstructs the attainment of the goal. The ego seeks some pretence for reinforcing itself through the spiritual justification of attaining the Lord. On the other hand, the faults of a person do not hinder the movement of Grace as long as the ego does not obstruct it.

22. The performance of Prapatti as a means.

146. Prapatti (surrender), itself an expiation for all kinds of offences, is also an offence in need of pardon.

Prapatti, performed as a means — svagata-svikāra, although being an act of surrender to the Lord, betrays an element of ego and self-assertion;

whereas true Prapatti is simply a relinquishing of all effort at struggling for perfection and simply opening up a space to be filled by the descending Divine Grace.

Thus Prapatti done as a means to an end requires pardon.

147. The performance of Prapatti [as a means] is like a wife, who [having left her husband] spends a long time living with another man. [One day] she approaches her husband, without shame or fear, and says: — “Take me back”.

In this case, the husband may indeed take the wife back, in spite of her well-known misdemeanours; but it would be far better if the wife was taken back at the husband's own initiative.

Likewise, it is better to be reconciled to the Lord on the Lord's independent initiative. All that is needed is for it to be made known that one is ready to be taken back.

23. Initiative of the Lord

148. Dependence upon another arising from independence is better than dependence upon another based upon mercy.

Although one of the Lord's traits is His absolute independence, yet He longs to serve His devotees and be dominated by them.

Such dependence upon devotees can arise from two causes; the Lord's compassion for those who seek refuge and from His own free-will by spontaneously bestowing Grace on those whom he chooses; whether deserving or not from a worldly point of view.

149. This [truth], indeed, is referred to in the living corpus of the Veda.

The relevant text occurs in two Upaniṣads - Kaṭhopaniṣad and Muṇḍakopaniṣad: —

na ayam ātma-pravacanena labhyo, na medhayā na bahunā śrutena,
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas tasyaiṣa ātma vivṛnute tanūm svom.

“This Self cannot be obtained by much discoursing, by sacrifice and by much learning. Whomsoever this (Self) chooses, by him alone is He obtained.” — Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.23

The passage is taken to emphasise the independent initiative of the Lord.

150. Tiruvaḍi (Hanumān) and Lord Guha were spontaneously courted [by the Lord].

Hanumān is-known as Ciriya Tiruvaḍi, “the little one who serves at the feet of the Lord”. Garuḍa is the Periya Tiruvaḍi: — “the great one who serves at the feet of the Lord”.

151. Those whom He accepts are deployed by Him as mediators when another seeks Him — this can be deduced from [the episode of] giving assurance of safety.

Hanumān was sought out by Rāma using Lakṣmana as an intermediary. Rāma accepted Vibhīṣaṇa’s surrender after he was conducted into His presence by Sugrīva. Before he left Laṅkā, Vibhīṣaṇa had been blessed by Sītā.

Sugrīva was acting as proxy of the Goddess Sītā — this is established by the fact that Sugrīva had found jewels that had been thrown down by Sītā on her way to Laṅkā — he was thus the specific recipient of her Grace and appointment as a proxy.

24. The importance of mediation and the greatness of Lakṣmī

152. Both [the jīva and the Lord] resort to mediation to resolve their estrangement.

One may ask why there is a need for a mediator in any case.

The reply is that the jīva needs a mediator because it has been straying from Kṛṣṇa for so long and has been defiant and recalcitrant in assuming its independence.

It is therefore understandably stressed at the thought of meeting an irascible master who may punish it. The need therefore exists for someone to act as a mediator to temper His justice with mercy.

The Lord on the other feels guilty that He has neglected the natural bond between Himself and the jīva and has not done enough to facilitate the reconciliation process, ruthlessly having kept the jīva away by contemplating only its transgressions.

He therefore feels that the jīva may be terrified at His approach and take flight once again, hence His need for a mediator to reassure the jīva of His love.

153. From that [mediation] the quintessences [of both the jīva and the Lord] are reinforced.

The instrumentality of the Mediatrix Lakṣmī also helps to reinforce and to make manifest the quintessences of both the jīva and the Lord.

154. The mutual inter-dependence of the two [the jīva and the Lord] is both conditioned and eternal.

The dependence of the jīva on the Lord is conditioned by the Karma factor:

The jīva, over millions of life-times accumulates a huge store of Karma which binds it to Samsāra and thus to the originator and maintainer of that Samsāra.

The dependence of the Lord on the jīva is also conditioned by Karma in as much as the Lord cannot act except in accordance with the jīva’s Karma. He is bound by a juridical responsibility to administer the Law of Karma in accordance with the Cosmic Laws or Rita. On the other hand, the quintessential relationship of śeṣa-śeṣi is natural, eternal and unconditioned.

155. By that [mediation] the mutual dependence factor which is non-eternal [conditioned] is mitigated.

Mediation by Mother Lakṣmī obviates the dependence upon the Karma factor which is non- eternal, by both the Lord and the jīva.

156. As the lord and jīva have a witness they cannot annul their mutual relationship of Protector-ward, and the generator of karma and the dispenser of its reward.

Mother Lakṣmī in the role of the puruṣākāra or Mediatrix is also the grand witness and therefore neither the Lord nor the jīva can either unilaterally or bilaterally annul the relationship obtaining between them.

157. “Even if (He) should forsake me...”; You who love the lady of the beautiful lotus.................”

Tiruvāymoḷi 1.7.8 —

With His muscular shoulders nestled in lap of Nappinnai, the Joyous Lord Kṛṣṇa who is all in all to the gods, cannot for a moment separate from Himself my chastened mind, so well entwined, albeit that He loosens His grip on me and allows me to stray apart.

*The Southern Vaishnava tradition does not know of Rādhā. Even in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam the “special” Gopī is not mentioned by name. In the Tamil country Nappinnai, identified also as Nīla Devī, is considered to be the wife of Kṛṣṇa while he was still in Gokula.

Tiruvāymoḷi 10.10.7: —

“O my beloved, You who are dear to Your consort the one born of the beautiful lotus; as the unique Blissful Boar you did wrench the earth out on your tusks, O Lord, like a sapphire mountain rising up between two moons, the ocean blue did you churn, once having gained You shall I let you go?

Here, Nammāḷvār, giving prominence to the Goddess, affirms that once the jīva and the Lord have discovered each other and have broken through the karma-relationship, neither can forsake the other.

158. The magnitude of [Her] position is to be understood from the quintessence and qualities indicated by the passive derivation.

The word Śrī can be interpreted in four different ways in accordance with the four grammatical constructions:

According to the passive construction (vytupati karmani) Śrī can be interpreted as Śrīyate iti Śrīḥ — She who is sought after.

She is sought after by the jīvas due to their quintessence as eternal servitors of the Lord. She is also sought after by the Lord as His affectionate consort. In this way, she influences both jīva and Lord in her role as Mediatrix, 

159. Mediation is indispensable for all the three categories [of people] who are qualified [for Prapatti] (vide aphorisms 41-43)

25. The love relationship between the Lord and the jīva.

160. Merit sought by this [jīva] is, indeed, to be eschewed just like demerit.

The venerable Ācārya now begins a discussion of the love-relationship between the jīva and the Lord:

Merit in this context refers to the sense of dependency (Śeṣatva) of the jīva upon the Lord.
Demerit, refers to the sense of independence (Svātantrya) of the jīva from the Lord.

When love develops between the jīva and Kṛṣṇa, the former merit becomes a hindrance, as much as the latter.

When in an ecstatic state of union Kṛṣṇa deigns to reverse roles and delight Himself by serving the jīva, the latter should not shrink back from feelings of dependence and humility and thus hamper Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure.

161. As clothes worn for adornment are obstacles to intimacy.

The jīva’s dependence (Śeṣatva) is like decorative clothing worn by the beloved. It is indeed pleasing to the lover but hinders an intimate embrace, and thus must be discarded prior to conjugal union taking place.

162. “Even a necklace..............”

A quotation from the Rāmāyaṇa in reference to Sītā: —

“By her who was afraid of an impediment to contact, not even a necklace was worn around her neck.”

Typical of the conjugal bliss enjoyed by Rāma and Sītā, it is said that Sītā would divest herself of every article that would hamper total and complete union with her Lord, even a bangle, chain or necklace.

163. Dependence upon the other, like merit, hinder, enjoyment of the other.

The feeling of total dependence upon the Lord (paratantrya) is a virtue like Śeṣatva, it negates ego, conceit and arrogance, but if it results in the jīva being unresponsive and totally passive it becomes an hindrance to pure transcendental enjoyment and the mystical experience of the Lord.

164. Like the virtues [of Śeṣatva and paratantrya], [cognition of] defects are [also to be] relinquished.

The jīva should also abandon all cognition of physical, mental, emotional and behavioural defects pertaining to the body and its interaction with the environment, as also the desire to be liberated from the body. One should cease to disparage the body and its socio-economic states like the Gnostics who see material life as inherently flawed and evil.

165. Adornment is disliked but dirt is liked.

Ornaments, apparel and cosmetics actually hinder the ecstatic making of love, but passionate lovers never seem to mind sweat, the natural smells of the body or even dirt on the body! Nor the fact that the body contains, pus, blood, mucous, faeces or urine!

The Jñānis think that the jīva in its pure and pristine state, devoid of all material contamination will enhance the pleasure of the Lord.

Yet we see that even after attaining full enlightenment it is the Lord's will that the jīva remain on in the physical body (the Śrī-Vaiṣṇavas do not accept the concept of jīvan-mukti — liberation while embodied).

The reason that the Lord is so attached to this physical body is that after countless births in myriads of bodies the jīva has finally been reconciled with Him and the fragrance of divine love emanating from this “body of attainment” is so sweet that the Lord wishes to savour it as long as possible.

166. Remember the words—, “Taking a bath caused anger”

The reference is to an episode in the Rāmāyana:

At the end of the great war, after the defeat of Rāvaṇa and the overthrow of his regime, Rāma sends Vibhīṣaṇa to bring Sītā to him. Sītā, however anxious to meet her beloved Rāma decides to take a refreshing bath and wearing clean clothes appears before him. Rāma is angered by the delay and frowns in rebuke.

167. “The deceitful thief...........1.”, “Destroying.............2.”

1. Tiruvāymoḷi 10.7.1 —

“Beware ye poets, composing songs, sweet and chaste, better be attentive as you sing, else you can’t survive; The Lord of Tirumāliruñcōlai is Mysterious, He practices deceit and stealth, He held on to me, ostensibly to hear these songs but into my heart and soul; secretly did He dissolve and consume them all, thus displacing me did He attain His stature full.”

2. Tiruvāymoḷi 10, 7, 10 —

“My Lord of Tirumāliruñcōlai! You are my saviour great; Yourself becoming me disentangle and deliver me from these surging sensations, the five sensory-organs, the five organs of action, the Prakṛti associated with this jīva in this world, the Mahat (cosmic Intelligence), the Ahaṁkāra (Cosmic Ego-sense) and this Manas (mind)”.

These verses illustrate the point that although Nammāḷvār successfully argues the case for abandoning the material nature, the lord declines to comply with his request, demonstrating that He relishes the enlightened being along with the physical body.

This teaching is important to establish the position that Śrī Vaiṣṇavism is a life-affirming faith and not escapist. It shifts the focus from pie-in-the-sky to the here and now. Samsāra is Nirvāna.

168. As those who wear roots [for decoration], do not shake off the dirt attached to them, so in regard to the enlightened one (jñāni), the Lord accepts him with all the impurities of his mundane body.

Certain fragrant roots, worn by women in their hair, retain their scent as long as they are not washed. Similarly, the Lord prefers the enlightened jīva covered by its body.

169. It is again the will of Bhagavan that such a person hankering for Him continues to remain in this material world.

No matter how passionately devotees may love the Lord nor how desperate they may be to be united with the Lord, He continues to enjoy them through the medium of their physical bodies, and does not liberate them until their Prārabdha Karma has come to an end.

170. [The Lord’s] love for a single wise person is like [His special] love for “the mountain Tirumāliruñcōlai”, while yet loving all his sacred shrines.

Tiruvāymoḷi 10.7.8 —

“The Lord Supreme, the first cause of all things, shall not bear being apart even for a moment from my head, equal to mount Tirumāliruñcōlai, and the Causal Ocean, my physical frame. Coveted by Him like the High Heaven and Mount Tiruvēṅkaṭam. My self, badly mixed up with matter, my thought, word and deed.”

The Lord loves all jīvas but has special affection for the enlightened ones. This special affection does not constitute the establishment of an “elite” or “chosen few”.

171. Dwelling there [in Temples] is a means; dwelling here [in the heart chakra of the enlightened] is an end.

Kṛṣṇa condescends to take up abode in temples in the form of the Arcā-avatāra or Icon in order to shower His Grace upon mortals and to be available to them.

It is thus not a end in itself but merely a means to be reunited with jīvas. His ultimate destination is the lotus of the heart of the enlightened and regenerated one.

172. When He has found a place in them [the heart chakras] he esteems them more than the other abodes; as it is said — “The sacred hills, the milk ocean..........”.

Periya Tiruvantāḍi —

“The sacred hills, the milk ocean and the divine Vaikuṇṭha, they’ve completely disappeared what a calamity! That lofty person of black colour, entering inside my mind, will never leave me.”

Again we are presented with the teaching that once the Lord has been realised, all the abstract Divine Abodes become irrelevant and only the present remains.

173. It is such that one need request — “Do not leave the temporary residences!”

Second Tiruvantāḍi 54:

“The mountain (Tirumāliruñcōlai), which is also a park, the mountain Veṅkaṭa, these two are regarded as Your resting places. In the same graceful way, I visualise You sleeping in the temple of my mind as Your resting place and implore: — “Do not leave the temporary residences!”

Here, the Āḻvār, having captured the Lord in his mind, is afraid that He will forsake His temporary abode in the milk ocean and the mountain temples.

174. His abodes like the Vaikuṇṭha, Milk Ocean and temples are cherished by Him only because of the love of the reclaimed jīvas that were drawn to Him through these shrines.

The Lord dwells within all these centres only as a temporary expedient for reclaiming His beloved subjects. He will thus never cease residing in these locations for these are the places through which He first makes contact with the jīvas and finally comes to rest in their hearts.

175. Therefore, just like relinquishing defects, the inherent attributes may also be an hindrance.

The Lord's pleasure is paramount, and thus any attempt on the part of the individual to enhance his virtue, might prove to be mischievous if he thereby hampers the pleasure of the Lord.

Merit and demerit are only relative to the Lord's pleasure, and even that which is thought to be meritorious can be considered to be demerit if it interferes with the Lord's enjoyment of the jīva.

176. Indeed, the surmounting of defects is itself a defect.

All efforts directed at self-purification, and preparation for union with the Lord can obstruct the dawning of enlightenment and spontaneous flow of the Lord's Grace.

177. There is Piḷḷān’s teaching — “Good which comes from oneself is like milk purchased; good that comes from Him is like breast-milk.”

Wellbeing achieved through self-effort is unstable and therefore less nourishing like milk bought from a vendor with all kinds of additives. Wellbeing bestowed by the Lord is the best — like breast milk from the mother.