Śrīvacana Bhūṣaṇa | 51-55
51. Karma & Grace
374. Karma results in suffering, Grace brings about liberation.
Although the Lord gives permission for the jīva to remain in Samsāra He also expects the jīva to obey the dictates of the Scriptures and to follow Dharma and thus accumulate merit which leads one back to Godhead,
but the cetanas become totally immersed in Samsāra (abhiniveśa) and give themselves up to craving (rāga) and aversion (dveṣa) which are the causes of more Karma and thus perpetual rebirth.
In spite of this the Lord still bestows His Grace upon the undeserving cetanas and eventually extricates them out of the ocean of Samsāra.
375. Speaking otherwise is detrimental.
To put it the other way round — to accuse the Lord of being despotic by keeping the jīvas bound in Samsāra, and declaring that any spiritual advancement is due to their efforts is to alienate oneself from the Lord.
Piḷḷai Lokācārya uses another simile to describe this paradoxical dynamic:
Two persons jointly own a property. The one is an expert in real estate investment, the other is a novice:
The novice decides to sell the property in order to speculate — the senior partner knows that it is a bad idea but decides to give his consent in order to enable the junior partner to learn from his mistakes.
The venture fails miserably. Who is to blame? It was the junior partner that conceived of the project, planned it and executed it. The senior partner merely gave his assent but in fact had no direct involvement.
The cetana initiates the karma but the Lord as the over-self simply gives His consent. The karma and its fruit are the cetana’s alone.
376. Who wants to rescue a person who stood near him at a well and fell in and who then complains that he was pushed in?
As the Lord out of compassion reaches out His hand to save the jīva, the jīva should not then accuse Him of causing bondage in the first place but accept the causes which led to his bondage as his own.
377. This idea is conveyed by the Āḻvār after saying — “That would anger..........”
Periya Tirumoḷi 11. 8. 2 Tirumaṅgai-Āḻvār shows awareness that the Lord is angry with his complaining —
“O God, skilful wielder of the discus, even if I have committed offences that would anger you, let me tell you one thing — I stand trembling, like the mind of the navigators caught in a storm, with the fear that you may make me take birth in human forms.”
378. If it he said — “if he [Tiru-maṅgai-Āḻvār] was aware of anger [on the part of the Lord], then how is it that he expressed the previous anxiety over again?
[The answer is that] the Grace [of the Lord] and the restlessness and helplessness [of the jīva] give occasion to such expression.
379. Even though He may be angry, all these things are said [by the Āḻvār] since [he knows that] there is a way out by embracing [His] feet.
The Āḻvār knew that the Lord's anger could easily be overcome by His boundless compassion elicited by grasping His feet, thus he could not restrain himself from crying out in anguish at separation from the beloved and thus risking His anger.
380. “Pardoned by grace.....1.” “By extreme anger...............2.”
1. Rāmāyana 5.38.34,
“The descendant of Kākutstha, the protector, out of grace, pardoned the crow that fell on the ground seeking refuge, though it deserved to be killed.”
The reference is to the crow — a form assumed by Jayanta who, desiring to make love to Sītā, pecked at her breast and made her bleed. Rāma shot an arrow at it and wounded it, but then, responding to its plea for mercy, pardoned it.
2. Kulaśekhara’s Perumāḷ Tiru-moḷi 5. 1 “
Even if you don’t prevent the grief which I must endure, there is no refuge except your feet. O mother, living at Vittuvakotu surrounded by a garden of flowers with fragrance everywhere; if in a fit of extreme anger, the mother casts aside the child that she brought forth; yet will the child cry, thinking of her grace only — I was like that.”
52. Unintentional good deeds (yādṛcchika sukṛta) as the basis of the Lord’s Grace.
381. In the splendour of the three-fourths [Vaikuṇṭha], with the potential of perfect beatitude, [the Lord] does not indulge [Himself] since the divine mind is focussed upon those in bondage, like a sleepless father, remembering a son who is in another country.
As if abandoning [His] home, the divine will, lingering at the side of those [trapped] in Samsāra, being unable to bear the separation [from them and in order to facilitate their return], grants them bodies along with their sense-organs and empowers them to live according to the śāstras.
Apprehending outright rejection if He appeared directly to them — He stealthily enters [into their hearts] and dwells within as their “inner Self” — like a mother fondly hugging her sleeping child unbeknown to it.
Sharing their sorrows, protecting their being, not preventing their continued transgressions, giving permission, standing as if indifferent, He searches for an excuse to rescue them.
If He fails to find even one [minor] defect that can be exaggerated into a virtue, He sheds tears just like a physician scratching the forehead [of a patient] to see if there is any bleeding and losing all hope when no blood is seen.
He is such a robust optimist that He will make any excuse [to liberate the malefactors], imagining that: —
“You mentioned the name of My sacred place”, “You spoke My name”, “you protected My devotee!”, “You assuaged their thirst”, “You gave them shelter”,
then He instils these qualities in them like a goldsmith testing gold on a touchstone and with the aid of wax, collecting a gram of gold from what is rubbed off.
He imagines distinctions of merit, however incidental and unintentional, over a series of births, and multiplies them ten-fold.
The central teaching of this passage is that unintentional good deeds (yādṛcchika sukṛta) form the basis of the Lord’s Grace. He never loses heart at the transgressions of the jīva but will always be vigilant for the slightest even unintentional good deed, that he could take as an excuse to liberate the jīva from Samsāra.
Some of the examples given are:
A person wishing to journey to a certain place mentions the name of the city in which there happens to be one of the 108 sacred Viṣṇu temples. The Lord would then reward that person as though he were actually speaking of the temple as an act of praise.
In the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam there is the story of Ajamila who though a dissolute man, had named his son Nārāyaṇa – on his death bed he called for his son with the result that the Lord came to claim him as if he had purposefully pronounced the sacred name.
A party of pilgrims is about to be attacked by robbers, a couple of policemen pass by unaware of what is about to transpire, and scare the robbers off. The Lord would then reward them as if they had done it intentionally.
A group of exhausted devotees pass by an irrigation canal and quench their thirst from its waters. The Lord would then reward the landowner as if he had intentionally dug the canal for the use of pilgrims instead of simply to irrigate his fields.
The same group of pilgrims then take shelter for the night on the veranda of a gambling den. The owner of the den would receive merit for having provided shelter to the pilgrims.
The entire manifest universe is said to comprise only one quarter of the totality of possible Being, the other ¾’s comprise the realm of Vaikuṇṭha.
382. This message is reinforced in the story of Lalitā and in other places.
Queen Lalitā of Vidarbha, was the most favoured among all the 300 wives of the king of Varāṇasī, but far from being conceited spent most of her time tending the lamps in the various shrines attached to the Palace.
She explained her favoured position to her co-wives by reference to the events of a former birth which she could remember well:
She had been born as a rat that lived in a temple dedicated to Viṣṇu by Maitreya a royal priest.
One night during the month of Kārttik she was attempting to steal and eat the wick of a ghee lamp when she heard the mewing of a cat. She had a heart attack from terror and while she lay dying her head happened to raise the wick of the lamp and re-kindled it.
For this act of unintentional merit she was reborn in her exalted position. (From the Viṣṇu Dharmottara Purāṇa)
383. The ignorant take it for granted that [the Lord] simply blesses [them].
384. The wise [like Nammāḷvār], mindful [of the Lord’s magnanimity], exclaim [in gratitude]: — “This god placed Himself inside my mind, after considering me worthy enough — why did He neglect me for so long before? I pray that the Lord of Tiruppēr surrounded by hill-like buildings, should be kind enough to tell me the reason..................... “
1. Tiruvāymoḷi 10.6.8
“On the basis of what good deed does the Lord of Tiru-vāṭṭār illumine my mind — that Lord whose form is comparable to deep water, collyrium and an emerald mountain, who possesses the discus that returns to His hand after combat whenever need be, and whose head is perfumed by the sacred basil forever present on His body that gives forth fragrance”.
2. Tiruvāymoḷi 1.7.5
“How can I relinquish that Lord Kṛṣṇa who looks so sweet after doing some mischief, looking into the eyes of the young milk-maids, the mischief maker, who happens to be my Lord, who happens to be my life and who is like a lamp (illumining all), He suddenly, one day, raised me up!”
3. Tiruvāymoḷi 2.3.2
“O Lord who possesses exalted and enigmatic qualities and has neither equal nor superior, O Lord, born like all things of this earth, O Lord, You assisted me by being a teacher, a father, a mother who gave me birth, and by being the life of all — lowly that I am, I cannot recount all your favours”.
4. Tiruvāymoḷi 5.7.3
“O Lord, Vaikuṇṭha is Your kingdom, the discus is Your weapon and the eagle is the emblem on Your banner, O Lord, the colour of black clouds, dwelling in the city of Siri-vara- maṅgalam where, by Your grace many learned in the four Vedas reside! You accepted me as one worthy, even though I was worthless before; You accepted my servitude — I do not know how I should repay You!”
5. “You corrected my perverse mind,.” (Tiruvāymoḷi 2.7.8, quoted at number 349)
6. “You conferred on me a mind that will always serve.,” (Tiruvāymoḷi 2,7.7 quoted at number 349)
385. Let us recall the discussion which took place on this subject one day in the time of the Commentator (Rāmānujācārya), when all the learned teachers had met in the assembly on the eastern side of the great hall [as Śrīraṅgam], awaiting the start of the procession.
As they waited patiently one of them remarked in an outburst of self-congratulation: —
“having cooled our heels waiting on all and sundry, all these days, it is indeed our good fortune (sukrita) that today we are awaiting at the door of our Lord where we all rightly belong!”
This evoked a query by another: — “What is it that impels a person immersed in Samsāra towards God?”
Some attributed it to unintentional merit (yādṛcchika sukṛta). Śrī Kidambi Perumāḷ mused whether they had to propitiate another god known as sukṛta deva.
It was finally clarified by Piḷḷai Tirunarayur araiyar that the term sukṛta itself refers to the Lord only, and by this means He accelerates the progress of His subjects and that was all.
386. Therefore, it is seen that good works done unintentionally are taken as a qualification.
Now following this it may be suggested that ajñāta sukṛta — adventitious merit assumes the form of co-operative Grace instead of spontaneous Grace. The Ācārya replies: —
387. Even these [unintentional deeds] are initiated by the Lord through the bestowal of a body and sense-organs upon the jīva.
If the Lord had originally not permitted the jīva to enter into a physical body it would not have been capable of performing any unintentional good deeds.
Therefore the mere fact of allowing embodiment and facilitating the conditioned circumstances which led to the act are a sign of Grace.
53. The futility of Self-effort
388. From pondering this, one concludes that it is not necessary to do anything.
Considering all these factors one should give up the reliance upon any form of self-effort to achieve freedom from Karma as well as anxiety about liberation from Samsāra.
389. In the ancient farm [of Samsāra], the Lord as the cultivator has been raising crops of Bhakti from time immemorial, regularly ploughing, sowing and reaping.
Some grains having fallen during the harvesting process, grow spontaneously to maturity, yielding fruits without any assistance from the farmer, so it is with these [unintentional good deeds].
390. You may ask: — “What are these [fruits that are yielded]”?
391. Having experienced repeatedly the results of good and bad deeds done in former births and becoming weary [of Karma and its results] understanding that life just continues on the basis of habitual pattern formations [created by subliminal activators - saṁskāras]
there comes a stage when some serious introspection begins: — “Who am I?”, “What was my original position?”, “Where am I going?”— these are the [fruits] referred to earlier.
Such philosophical introspection and inquiry are the result of seeds sown by the Lord and are the first indications of the jīva turning back to Godhead.
392. The manner of this is explained in the Sacred Scripture beginning with: — “As thieves in the case of a traveller...........”
Ahirbudhnya Saṁhitā 14:34:
“As thieves in the case of a traveller who has gone away, leaving his belongings, will cease at all efforts at stealing when he comes back”.
A traveller [the Lord] leaves his baggage [the jīva] unattended — thieves [puṇya — merit and pāpa — demerit] are about to steal it, when the traveller is seen returning, the thieves run away at the very sight of the traveller.
393. Is not this clearly stated in the words: — “Gives Grace without any expectation..........”
Tiruvāymoḷi 8. 7. 8:
“I do not know any other favour! The Lord who controls me thoroughly gives grace without any expectation to those whom He gives (it). He, retaining the three worlds in His stomach, in a manner not affecting their routine, has taken a place in my mind, even though I am infinitesimally small”.
394. If it be asked: — “Are good deeds not [indicated to be] the cause of Grace by the words, 'to those who do'?”
[The answer is] that [superficially] there is a contradiction with the words: 'Without expectation'.
The hypothetical querist takes ceyvārkaṭku to mean, “to those who do (good deeds)”, rather than, “to those whom He gives (it).”
395. If it be said that attraction to the Lord arises from Grace and not from good deeds, but the lack of animosity [towards the Lord] arises from good deeds, then, it is answered, that this specific result cannot arise from those [general good deeds].
Before one begins to be attracted to the Lord one should be free of any animosity towards Him.
- Some say that the lack of animosity springs from the aforementioned ajñāta-sukrita and that attraction to God (abhimukhyam) comes from Grace.
The rejoinder to this is that the absence of animosity is the prime factor in the development of self-realisation and it can hardly be attributed to such a paltry thing as ajñāta sukrita.
Merit (sukrita) refers to those deeds which the Scriptures enjoin in their injunctive sections and which one strives to perform.
396. If it be said: — “How can we call those actions meritorious which are not enjoined by the Scriptures and are unknown to us?” The answer is: — “we don’t, but the Lord does.”
The Lord has been striving from time immemorial to liberate us from the bondage of Samsāra and He is ever searching for any excuse to Liberate us.
Thus adventitious good deeds are accepted by Him as meritorious so that He can then facilitate our spiritual advancement.
397. As to this, there seem to be some contradictory statements in the hymns of the Āḻvārs, but we abstain from discussing these from fear of becoming too prolix.
Sometimes the Āḻvārs appear to declare works to be the cause of Grace, and at other times they speak of Grace without cause. Acknowledging this to be matter for further discussion and clarification the Ācārya refrains from dilating on the subject any more.
398. Therefore, if one merely thinks of the Lord who strove for one’s upliftment even when one was in a state of indifference, one can be free from anxiety.
399. “In none but Madhusūdana do I take refuge. On and on I sing, as an end in itself, hymns of His glory. This is because of Trivikrama’s extraordinary grace, who took births along side me, to set me aright throughout the ages.” (Tiruvāymoḷi 2. 7 6)
54. The Lord’s enthusiastic attempts to reclaim the jīvas
400. In order to catch one person, a search party spreads out throughout the whole village, likewise the Lord pervades the universe just to catch one jīva.
The wise ones are so grateful that they even consider that the Lord’s omnipresence is effected simply to catch one single straying jīva.
401. The wise consider this to be the intention behind [the Lord’s] projection of the universe and the taking of incarnations (Avatars).
55. Grace, Karma & compassion.
402. Like the results of Karma, the results of Grace are also terminated only through direct experience.
Grace which causes reunion like the karma which causes separation, cannot be resisted but must be allowed to take its natural course to its ultimate climax which is liberation from Samsāra and unification with the Lord.
403. When the [river of] the Lord’s Grace begins to inundate, overflowing both banks, none can stop it.
404. Karma is the cause of anxiety: compassion is the cause of confidence.