Śrīvacana Bhūṣaṇa | 26-30

26. Self-reliance.

178. Indeed, trying to ensure one's personal welfare without Him, [the Lord], is like wrenching a suckling child from its parents and handing it over to a murdering butcher.

179. Thereby [the jīva] destroys itself.

Seeking to achieve personal wellbeing by self-effort without reliance upon the Lord leads to self- destruction.

27. Self-destruction through conceit, arrogance and sensuality.

180. [This] self-destruction occurs through conceit, arrogance and elusive sensuality.

To apply oneself to achieving wellbeing through various spiritual and self-improvement techniques without having overcome the ego leads to spiritual materialism and self-delusion.

The ever subtle ego convinces itself that it has achieved high spiritual states and congratulates itself,

it then evaluates and considers itself more enlightened and evolved than other beings whom it then disparages and discriminates against in delusive arrogance. It then indulges in sensuality masked as spiritual rewards.

181. [Expression] of Ego-consciousness is like touching fire.

Fire hurts, disfigures and destroys whatever comes in contact with it, similarly the Ego — which is the delusive conceptualisation of ‘self” works havoc on the mind, disfiguring and destroying the clear perception of the jīva. The first task of any spiritual aspirant is to identify, observe and overcome the ego or idea of ‘self’.

182. “Mind not confused by selfish-desire ........” “For me there is no purpose in living......” “Neither body...... “, “The great abode of liberation.......... “.

1. Jitanta Stotra 1:13:

“My mind, which always reposes at your feet is not confused by selfish-desire. In all my births, I desire only to be a Vaiṣṇava”.

2. Rāmāyaṇa 5.26.5 Sītā speaks—

“For me there is no purpose in living, there is no purpose in wealth; living as I am, in the midst of these demonesses without Rāma, the great warrior. “

3. Yamunacharya’s Stotra Ratna 57:

“O Lord, neither body, nor life, nor the happiness coveted by all, nor (even) the Self, nor anything else that is foreign to the glory of allegiance to You, can I, even for a moment, tolerate. Let them perish in a hundred ways. This is true, o slayer of Madhu! This is my entreaty.”

4. Tiruvāymoḷi 2, 9. 1:

You relieved the distress of an elephant O Merciful Lord! If only You would soon set Your great lotus feet, so red upon my head, the topic of Vaikuṇṭha great I shall not raise, Sire this is all I pray for, nothing more do I want.

183. Indulgence in proscribed sense-gratification is like taking poison [directly], indulgence in prescribed sense-gratification is like [taking] food mixed with poison.

Succumbing to the glamour of the senses and indulging in forbidden activities leads one to suffering, lower births and to hell. Engaging in permitted pleasures will not lead to negative states of being but is in actual fact more harmful.

All pleasures are mixed with suffering — this is the fundamental human experience, and all indulgences ultimately end in separation from object or state of enjoyment and to subsequent suffering. Permitted indulgences are only more subtle in their effect.

This teaching is also important in terms of the modern socio-religious politics of sexuality in the west where sexuality is characterised by a sliding scale — heterosexuality on one hand and homosexuality on the other with the resulting moral and social tensions and conflict.

From the point of view of spirituality – ALL forms of sexuality/sensuality (viṣaya sparśam) are hindrances.

184. Seeking [abiding] happiness through sense-gratification is like attempting to quench thirst by swallowing burning fire or trying to find shelter [from the sun] under the shadow of [the hood] a dancing cobra.

The basic human problem is suffering (Duḥkha) and all forms of sense gratification directed at resolving this problem are ephemeral, transient and insubstantial.

By investigating the nature of these pleasures one sees their illusory basis and then eschews them for the real and abiding happiness found in the experience of the Lord.

185. One who experiences the lord, dies to the world of sensory objects, Just as the Asunamā bird perishes [at a loud noise].

The Asunamā bird is easily captivated by sweet gentle music but drops dead when it hears a sudden loud noise. So the hunter plays gentle music and then sudden makes a tremendous din and thus achieves his object. One who has experienced the beauty of the Lord dies as it were, upon again receiving input from sense-objects.

186. Thus it is said — “Would You destroy (me).”

Tiruvāymoḷi 6;9;9:

“My Lord won’t you shorten the interval and bind me in Paramapada to you lotus feet so large that measured the world; Or do you intend to confound my mind and destroy me completely by keeping me exposed to petty pleasures of the five senses.”

187. The ignorant one obsessed with sense-objects is like a non-believer [nāstika] the intelligent one, thus obsessed with sensory objects is like an agnostic [āstika-nāstika].

A nāstika or ‘non-believer’ is one who rejects the authority of the Veda. The agnostic in this context is one who is indifferent to the authority of the Vedas at best or one who pays lip service to them by accepting them but failing to implement the teachings at worst.

188. The simple non-believer can be reformed but the agnostic can never be reformed.

The simple non-believer can be brought around through convincing argument and proper instruction, the agnostic on the other hand who is basically a hypocrite, does not need any instruction nor is open to argument.

189. These two [conceit and sensuality] not only destroy through their essential nature but also destroy by producing hostility toward the Bhāgavatas.

The nature of conceit and sensuality is that they both negate the quintessence of the ātman. They further obscure the natural radiance of the ātman by producing active hostility directed towards those who have taken to the spiritual path — other spiritual aspirants.

 28. Offences against the Sangha

190. Those who having name and form go about obstructing the Bhāgavatas, are like burnt cloth.

Having name and form (nāma-rūpa) can be interpreted as those who are spiritual aspirants in name and appearance only but are in fact obstructive of true spiritual development and service, or it can mean simply ostentatious people who are preoccupied with external appearance and status.

191. When a folded sari is burnt, it appears to be whole but it is [easily] scattered by the wind.

192. The Jīyar (Nañjiyar) said: — All the mighty tasks performed by the Incarnations of the Lord demonstrate intolerance for offence to Bhāgavatas.

Nañjiyar‘s saying is part of the oral tradition. He is reported to have declared that although the Lord could destroy all evil by mere will, He actually manifested Himself in this material realm and performed mighty tasks such as engaging in dual combat with Rāvaṇa, Hiraṇyakaśipu et al, simply to demonstrate His inability to tolerate any offence towards those who have taken refuge in Him.

193. “Act of contempt......”

Mahābhārata, Aśva-medha Parva: — Kṛṣṇa speaking to Yudhiṣṭhira —

“Whatever affection you have developed toward Me, let that always be directed towards my devotees. Any act of contempt toward them negates all accumulated merit”

194. Offences against devotees are of many kinds.

195. One of these is inquiry about their birth.

Inquiring about the socio-demographic background of a person who has taken refuge with a view to readjusting one's attitude towards him/her on the basis of being high-born or low-born, wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated etc. is considered by Piḷḷai-lokācārya to be a heinous crime.

All members of the spiritual family (kūṭa) are to be treated on a equal basis.

196. This indeed, is more vile than reflecting about the material composition of the Arcā-avatāra.

The Arcā-avatāra is a sacred icon in which the Lord resides with the temple. Accepting the principle of transubstantiation in which the icon is transformed through the Lord's grace into His living manifestation, one should not then reflect upon the composition of the icon, whether it is gold, silver, stone, wood clay etc. with a view to being judgemental.

197. It is said in the Scriptures that [inquiring about the social status of a Prapanna] is like scrutinising one's mother's reproductive organs.

Both types of investigations are equally reprehensible and one who does so instantly becomes a karma chaṇḍāla — an outcaste through misdeeds. (This quote cannot be traced to any known śāstra).

198. Like Triśaṅku, who became a chaṇḍāla through his deeds and the very sacred thread he wore became a leather strap.

Triśaṅku was a king who commanded his preceptor to perform a sacrifice whereby he could physically ascend into heaven. He was scorned by his preceptor and his preceptor's sons. The king in anger declared that he would seek out some other preceptor who would obey his command. His preceptor enraged at this display of infidelity cursed him and consequently he immediately became a chaṇḍāla or outcaste.

199. A chaṇḍāla by birth is the eligible to become a Bhāgavata at some time — such is not the case for this [type of person].

One who is born an outcaste can at some stage become eligible to take refuge in the Lord, but one who has been outcaste due to malfeasance can never be so eligible.

200. For indeed, he has fallen after rising.

A chaṇḍāla by birth has hopes of attaining liberation in this lifetime but a karma-chaṇḍāla has willingly descended into the depths of depravity and therefore has no hope of salvation in this birth.

201. There is no exemption from that.

No one is excluded or exempt from punishment for such an offence. Whoever gives affront to a ward of the Lord of whatever social order or status he/she may be; advanced or backward, intellectual superior of intellectually challenged; receives the punishment as described above.

29. Caste

202. It was said: — “Though they be of the brāhmin caste, highest among folk............”

Tirumalai 43:

“O Thou who resides in the great city of Śrīraṅgam! Even those of the brāhmin caste, highest among folk, though knowing the four Vedas and the six sub-sections, will it seems, become outcastes instantly the moment they scorn Your wards.”

203. The story of Vainateya (1) and the words Āḻvār spoke to Piḷḷai Piḷḷai-Āḻvār (2) should be recalled in this connection.

1. Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva:

Once a brāhmin student named Galva having finished his course of instruction under the sage Viśvāmitra inquired what the dakṣiṇā (honorarium) should be.

Viśvāmitra replied that he needed nothing and that the teaching had been imparted out of love and in appreciation for the service that Galva had rendered during his studentship.

Galva kept on insisting and at last in exasperation Viśvāmitra demanded 800 white horses, each with one green ear.

In dismay Galva beseeched Lord Viṣṇu to come to his aid. Garuḍa was sent to aid him and taking him on his back he began flying all over the world in search of the specified steeds.

While wandering they came to a remote hilltop where a female Rṣikā Sāndilyā was residing.

After receiving her hospitality Garuḍa reflected how such an exalted person could live in such a godforsaken and remote place. Immediately he lost all his plumage and only after begging her forgiveness for thinking ill of her abode could he regain his plumage and fly.

2. Piḷḷai Piḷḷai-Āḻvār, though a man of great intelligence, erudition and high birth, was constant in his arrogance and offence against other Vaiṣṇavas.

His preceptor, Kūrattāḷvāṉ, approached him on an auspicious day on which gifts are made for expiation of sins and requested a gift.

P.P. Āḻvār protested that he had nothing to give and upon being pressed made the formal promise that he would never again offend any Vaiṣṇava in word, deed or thought.

A short time later he, nonetheless, thought ill of a particular Vaiṣṇava, feeling great shame at his inability to fulfil his promise to his preceptor Kūrattāḷvāṉ he hid himself.

His preceptor being unable to bear the separation sought him out and told him that he should hide no longer since his attitude indicated that he bad indeed experienced sincere regret and had relented.

204. Association is enough to lead one to liberation despite the deficiency or even total absence of spiritual learning and religious observances.

Association with like-minded peers in the pursuit of spiritual development is more important that either learning or observance of religious rituals and practices.

205. There are no conditions as to descent, deed and so forth in this matter.

In the matter of establishing association with a tiru-kūṭam (sacred family) one does not need to consider that only association with those of a higher caste, or those more observant in their ritual obligations or those who are more erudite will be more beneficial in leading one to Liberation —

all association with spiritual aspirants of any social standing or intelligence will provide benefit.

206. This fact is illustrated by the stories of Kaiśiki and Upari-cara-vasu.

In the Kaiśiki Purāṇa we are told of the story of Nampāḍuvān, an outcaste singer, who gave a song, called Kaiśika to a hungry ghost who threatened to eat him.

By learning the outcaste’s song, the ghost, who was in fact a learned brāhmin under a curse, regained his original form.

This illustrates the idea that the Brahmin benefited from association with an outcaste.

Upari-cara-vasu, was a king who by his intensive spiritual practice gained the power to fly through the sky with all his retinue.

He was asked to arbitrate in a dispute between the gods and the Ṛṣis over a matter of ritual. Having decided in favour of the gods, he was cursed by the Ṛṣis and lost his power of astral travel.

This is an example of a highly learned man siding with the gods instead of the spiritual aspirants.

207. The price of Brahmanism is acceptable if as a result of the study of the Vedas and the other Scriptures is the attainment of the Lord: if that is not the result, then it is to be rejected.

Brahmanism is not being denied the eminence due to it.

The point being emphasised here by the learned Ācārya is that Brahmanism should result in devotion to Viṣṇu and the welfare of all beings, particularly those who have surrendered to the Lord. All devotees are equal and caste restrictions no longer apply to them.

If Brahmanism only serves to increase arrogance, casteism and hostility towards Vaiṣṇavas of lower castes then it does not serve any useful purpose.

208. One's descent and ritual observances do not influence spiritual development or decline.

209. The cause [of spiritual development] is relationship to the Bhagavan or lack thereof.

We have many incidents of people from all strata of society having achieved enlightenment and liberation. Therefore, one's birth in a high caste or observance of prescribed rites do not guarantee spiritual development or Liberation.

The only thing that can influence our spiritual development and Liberation is association with or disassociation from Śrīman Nārāyaṇa.

210. If it be asked — “Is there caste equality amongst those who are in relationship with the Lord?”

211. [The answer is] there is not!

212. The superior birth gives rise to anxiety since there is the possibility of fall, as in, “Even in [my] body...............”

The quotation is from Jitanta Stotram, see note on 120.

The exalted status of the high born is dependant upon many socio-religious factors. There is always the possibility of a fall from status occurring due to transgressions of commission or omission.

High born persons may also consider themselves eligible for following some other means (upayāntara) and effecting their own personal liberation from Samsāra through yoga or austerities etc. and this path too is uncertain of success and liable to setbacks and failures.

30. The benefit of birth in a lower caste

213. In order to realise one's true nature there needs to be a humble disposition.

The true and essential nature of a jīva is enveloped and obscured by the 6 hindrances known as ṣaḍari:

kāma – self-referent desires, krodha – anger, moha – delusion or identification with the body-mind complex, mada – arrogance or hubris, lobha – not sharing resources with others and mātsarya – malicious envy.

All of these have their basis in the delusive identification with the mind/body complex.

214. Birth in the lower castes is really better as it does not entail the two defects.

The two defects are: —

1) fear of falling from one's caste status and

2) the constant need to impose a false notion of oneself — projecting that image which does not belong to the jīva by nature.

215. [For the low-born] abjection is consistent with birth.

The Ahaṅkāra (ego-sense) is the greatest obstacle in spiritual progress and the realisation of one's true nature:

Those who are high born are more likely to have an over-developed and reinforced ego whereas those who are born in the low castes have a less developed ego. They are also used to being exploited and discriminated against and thus have a more pervasive sense of helplessness and humiliation. This feeling of abjection is the only pre-requisite for Taking Refuge.

In the modern context in the West, where caste is not an issue, this teaching can be applied to those on the perimeters of society, those following alternative life-styles, gays and other groups that are the target of vilification and social discrimination.

216. Therefore, birth in a lower caste is better.

In order to take refuge and to practice the virtues of unconditional friendliness and compassion, humility and service it is better to be born an outcaste, than in family of great learning, wealth and status/caste-consciousness.

A person who is used to being discriminated against will, after having taken refuge be able to empathise with the plight of those who are less fortunate and will hopefully be more ready to assist and to serve without self-reference;

whereas for one who has been a member of the “in-group” or mainstream and has always found acceptance and support will generally be less sensitive to the sufferings of others — never having personally experienced vilification and discrimination.

217. Even one who cooks dogs, O king!”

Bhāgavata Purāṇa: —

“Even one who cooks dogs (a chaṇḍāla), O king, who has devotion to Lord Viṣṇu, is higher than a twice-born one; a brāhmin without devotion to Viṣṇu is lower than one who cooks dogs,”

However low be the parentage and social status of a Vaiṣṇava he is nevertheless superior to a mere caste brāhmin who is devoid of the love of God.

Śāstra reiterates again and again that everyone is born a śūdra, one earns the right to the status of twice-born (dvījatva) through the saṁskāras or sacraments and through study of the Vedas.

All study of the Vedas should rightly culminate in the love of God (bhakti) and the service of all sentient beings (loka-saṅgraha). If this is not the result then dvījatva is useless.