Śrīvacana Bhūṣaṇa | 56-65

56. Anxiety & confidence

405. Anxiety and confidence will continue to alternate until attainment [of liberation].

When one reflects upon the enormity of Karma and its reactions one becomes despondent of ever being liberated from Samsāra, but contemplation upon the compassion and saving Grace of the lord makes one confident. This oscillating between anxiety and confidence is natural and will continue as long as one is embodied.

406. Knowledge of that which is to be overcome (Karma) results in anxiety; knowledge of the solution (Grace) gives rise to confidence.

407. This situation prevails only when one is attached to liberating oneself.

57. Importance of taking refuge in a Preceptor.

408. Indeed, there are ten persons whose exclamations have one meaning after they have enjoyed and another if they have not. The purport of their hymns cannot be ascertained [without reference to] their state of being.

Now Piḷḷai-Lokācārya begins teaching about the importance of the spiritual preceptor as the only suitable one in whom to take refuge.

One cannot always rely completely on the utterances of anyone of the ten Āḻvārs as they sometimes speak from a point of view of their mystical union with the Lord and sometimes from anguish at separation; their statements therefore have to be understood with reference to their emotional state at the time of composing the poem.

409. One Āḻvār [Madhura-kavi] often laughed at the other ten; we should study the import of his verses.

Madhurakavi often sneered at the other Āḻvārs because they had no Ācārya and were reliant entirely upon the Lord, whereas he himself was dedicated totally to his Ācārya NammĀḻvār.

410. The means [adopted] should be in harmony with the quintessence [of the jīva] and to the goal [the Lord] — the Ācārya [as a medium] is in harmony.

411. Vaḍuka-Nambi says that Aḷvān (Kurattāḷvān) and Aṇḍān (Mudaliyāṇḍān), are duplicitous men.

Kuḷatāḷvān and Mudaliyāṇḍān where the two chief disciples of Rāmānuja, and were known respectively as the master's staff and pennant.

Vaḍuka Nambi was like Madhurakavi in his total devotion to the Ācārya and he would sometimes chide the other two for being two-faced in surrendering both to the Lord and to the Ācārya.

412. The first stage towards the attainment of the goal is service of the Ācārya, the middle stage is service to the Lord the last stage is service to the Lord’s own.

Some Ācāryas interpret the concept of service to the “Lord’s own” to mean that one’s service should be limited to other Śrī Vaiṣṇavas and all other beings should be ignored at best and neglected at worst.

But Nañjiyar was of the opinion that the true Vaishnava is one who personally empathises with the suffering of all sentient beings regardless of their sectarian affiliation.

In the narrow sense Bhāgavata refers to other Vaiṣṇavas but in its broader connotation everything in the world belongs to the Bhagavan and is therefore Bhāgavata — the Lord’s own!

Thus the culmination of the path is dedication to the welfare of all beings.

413. Scripture teaches the attainment of self-realisation as the ultimate goal of human life, since service is the result of this realisation, the last stage comes as an extension of the ultimate goal.

Service to the Lord's own is a corollary of understanding that the Lord dwells within all creatures, as taught in the Gītā (chapter 6:30).

All jīvas are related to each other in terms of their quintessence and all are sparks of the Divine, therefore the practice of altruism is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life.

Most teachings are best taught and implemented with reference from the specific to the general. Therefore service to other members of the spiritual community is recommended. Just as charity begins at home to one’s own immediate family and then extends to others outside one’s own circle. As one unfolds in spiritual development one gradually includes all sentient beings in one's practice.

414. This (the last stage), indeed, is difficult to achieve.

Because of our conditioning and natural propensities and striving for self-preservation and preserving those individuals that contribute to our sense of self, it is difficult to see the Lord in everything and everything in the Lord, even more difficult is serving other sentient beings unconditionally.

415. Leaving the first stage and reaching the last stage is more difficult than relinquishing attachment to sensory objects and surrendering to the Lord.

Going from service to the Ācārya to service of one's spiritual family and then others is more difficult than abandoning material preoccupations in order to surrender completely to the Lord.

416. In the latter case, the perception of inadequacies can give rise to dispassion; but in the former case, there are no defects to make it so.

With some insight and introspection one can clearly see the defects in things and individuals we use to bolster our sense of identity and to give us pleasure.

When the realisation dawns that nothing in this material realm is capable of giving unalloyed joy one can then go for refuge to the Lord.

But the Ācārya being the paragon of altruism has no defects to speak of, whereas others have many character defects which may put us off our intended service. For this reason it is so much harder to substitute service to the Ācārya for service to all beings.

417. Even if inadequacies are imputed [in the Lord], they are acceptable as virtue.

Even though the lord can be blamed for withholding His presence and not immediately granting release to the Prapanna, still these apparent defects can be considered as positive actions in that they serve to increase the ardour of the Prapanna.

418. In the world it is the opposite.

The defects that a person of discriminating wisdom finds in the world, act as repellents — but with the Lord this is not the case.

419. The same reason why one imputes virtues applies also to the imputation of defects.

The jīva's relationship to the Lord is a natural and irrevocable one, rather than one based on the Lord's attributes, therefore one accepts whatever the Lord does, whether it appears as skilful or as unskilful.

420. There is the exclamation that He is cruel and before the mouth is closed [the exclamation] that He is merciful.

Tiruvāymoḷi 5:3:5 —

Where the Āḻvār complains about the heartlessness of the lord and the moment the mother agrees in empathy, he declares the Lord to be indeed merciful.

421. They have expressed love and gratitude that out of Grace this teaching [concerning Liberation] has been given.

422. Even when they impute callousness [to the Lord], they admit that they are [also] at fault.

At fault for not overcoming all the afflictive emotions such as selfishness, greed, anger etc. which cloud the mind and hinder one's receptivity to the Lord's Grace.

423. [Imputation of] virtue and defect [to the Lord], these two discourage not only petty aims, but even the highest aim [altruistic service].

Sometimes divine love so overwhelms the Āḻvārs that they lose sight of service to the spiritual community or sat-saṅga.

424. [The attraction of the Lord] is a perpetual enemy.

For one who strives for altruistic service the attraction to serve the Lord Himself because of His compelling charm is a perpetual hindrance.

Śatrughna (Rāma's younger brother) embodies this sentiment in that he is known as the Nitya Śatrughna, the killer of the perpetual enemy. He was only able to serve Bhārata unflinchingly because he never looked at Rāma and was thus never captivated by his irresistible charm.

425. If the goal is to be accomplished in this way (see 412), the means should be appropriate.

If the ultimate goal of altruistic service is to be achieved then the means adopted should be commensurate with that goal.

426. Otherwise, there is no connection between the goal and means.

In other words the Ācārya should be taken as the most appropriate means and not the Lord. Taking the Lord as the means results in Liberation not altruistic service.

427. Courting the Lord is like [importuning by] grasping the hand; courting the Ācārya is like [importuning by] grasping the foot.

If you importune by grasping someone's hand he may break free and run ahead, but if you importune by grasping the feet the person is immobilised.

428. The Ācārya is a benefactor to both [the jīva and the Lord].

429. To the Lord he reveals the possession, (śeṣa) to the sentient he reveals the possessor (śeṣi).

430. The Lord Himself covets the [function of] preceptorship.

This is the reason that he once incarnated as the two sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa – Nara being the disciple and Nārāyaṇa the preceptor. It was at this time that he first revealed the Aṣṭākṣarī mantra.

In the epics these two are the emanations of Vishnu born as the sons of Dharma by Mūrti or Ahimsa. Arjuna is later identified with Nara and Kṛṣṇa with Nārāyaṇa.

431. Hence His [personal] association with the line of preceptors, the teaching of the Gītā and of the imparting of [the teaching of] assurance.

In Vaikuṇṭha the Lord first took on the role of preceptor when He imparted the Dvaya Mantra to Lakṣmī, and thus became the first in the lineage of preceptors.

He then took on human birth as Kṛṣṇa so that he could impart the teachings to Arjuna on the field of battle and thus earned the title Gītācārya. In the earlier incarnation of Rāma He imparted the instruction of assurance and freedom from fear to Vibhīṣaṇa on the seashore.

432. If there is to be suitable remuneration for the service of the Ācārya, there must be four realms and two Lords.

In order to recompense the Ācārya for his beneficence there would have to be four realms instead of the two (material world and spiritual world) and two Gods. And since this is an impossibility, it illustrates how priceless the service of the Ācārya actually is,

433. A relationship to the Lord is common to both bondage [to Samsāra] and liberation [mukti]. The relationship to the Ācārya is related only to mukti.

434. The Lord is attained through [the mediation of] the Ācārya.

435. The Ācārya is encountered through the [Grace of the] Lord.

436. The Lord is more exalted than the Ācārya because of the magnitude of the gift.

Because the Lord fosters the meeting with the Ācārya He is therefore considered as greater than the Ācārya from this respect.

437. From fostering association with the Ācārya, knowledge, devotion and renunciation may arise: after relinquishing the connection with Ācārya, there is no purpose for these, even if they do arise.

From preserving a connection and association with the Ācārya one is certain to obtain wisdom, devotion and dispassion to some extant, but if this link is severed then even if they do spontaneously develop there is no point in having them as they will lead nowhere.

438. With the Tāli being present, [a woman] may obtain and wear [other] jewellery; once the Tāli is removed, [the wearing of] jewels gives rise only to disgrace.

The Tāli or token of marriage is the sacred thread with a gold ornament that is worn by a married woman, a symbol of her commitment to marriage. While she wears the Tāli she may also wear all sorts of other jewels and adornments.

When the husband dies the Tāli is removed and according to the social customs a widow should avoid wearing any form of adornment. The wearing of jewels by a widow would have cause a scandal in traditional society.

439. The very sun which causes the lotus to blossom, dries it up when it is taken out of the water, likewise the Lord who causes the blossoming of self-realisation causes it to fade when the relationship with the Ācārya has been severed.

440. Without this [relationship to the Ācārya], it is difficult to attain a relationship to the Lord.

441. The two [the Ācārya and the lord] are appropriate, but why the intervening Noble Family?

The link between the Lord and the preceptor is quite obvious but what is the necessity for a connection with a spiritual community?

58. Importance of Saṅgha.

442. When [a farmer] raises creepers he uses frail sticks to guide them to their props; likewise for establishing a link with the Ācārya this [Noble Family] is necessary.

The purpose of the tiru-kūṭam (Noble Family) is to provide a secure framework in which to practice spiritual development. Every member of the Kula is responsible for the spiritual and material well-being of every other member. Thus one's fundamental need for clothing, shelter and food are taken care of by the Kula, also the Kula provides one with the association of like-minded people and circumstances for learning and practicing Dharma.

59. Devotion to the Ācārya (Ācārya-abhimāna)

443. (Vaṭak-kuttir-vīti) Piḷḷai was often heard to say: — “There is no way [to liberation] apart from devotion to the Ācārya (Ācārya-abhimāna) for one whose concept of self blocks the affection of the Lord.”

Vaṭak-kuttir-vīti Piḷḷai (Lokācārya’s father) heard the above exposition from his guru Nam-Piḷḷai.

444. Bhakti is obscured from anxiety arising from [the concept of] independence.

One who strives to follow the path of Bhakti as defined by Rāmānuja; developing concentration and meditating and relying on personal effort is likely to reinforce the ego and the idea of self- achievement.

The rise in the development of the ego or fear thereof leads to the decline in devotion and subsequent fall from the spiritual path.

445. Prapatti is obscured by the fear that arises from the Lord's independence.

Since Kṛṣṇa is perfectly independent and under no contractual obligation to the jīva, one may become anxious as to what He will do — whether He will indeed fulfil His promise given to Arjuna to liberate the jīva or not. One may therefore hesitate to surrender, or only surrender provisionally — keeping other options open.

446. Since [even] attachment to the Ācārya itself could occasion [the development of] ego, it is like wearing a ring consecrated to Yama the god of death.

To regard the Ācārya simply as another means and to allow any self-assertion or feelings of pride and independence to arise would negate true surrender and would be like wearing a ring consecrated to the god of death thus wilfully inviting destruction. Therefore it would be better for the Ācārya, who is free of pride, to initiate the relationship.

447. Devotion to the Ācārya alone is the means for deliverance.

448. One should not cast aside a treasure that is in the hand desiring treasure that is in the earth.

The Ācārya is easily accessible and therefore should not be disregarded in preference for the pursuit of God who is inaccessible and unknowable.

449. When one is thirsty, one should not disregard the water lying in the hand, in preference for the water of clouds, the ocean, the river, tanks or wells.

450. The place where songs are heard, the place where calls [for help] are heard, the place of the step, the enclosed place, the place of feeding: one ought consider all these as abiding [in the presence of the Ācārya].

These “places” are the five realms of the Lord's theological manifestations:

The place where songs are heard is Vaikuṇṭha where the liberated ones sing the Sāma songs. The place where calls [for help] are heard is the Ocean of Milk where the Lord reclines upon Ananta śeṣa.

Hearing the calls for help from the gods the Lord condescends to incarnate as Rāma and Kṛṣṇa in order to alleviate the distress of the gods and the devotees being overcome by the antigods.

“The place of the step”, refers to the creation of the physical realm through the agency of the four Vyūhas. The enclosed place refers to the iconic manifestation that is surrounded by the walls of the temple. The place of feeding is the inner sanctum of the heart where the Lord nourishes the jīva who meditates upon Him.

60. Enemies, friends & neutrals.

451. Those who [consider themselves] independent and those who worship other gods are unsympathetic; those who are dependent on the Ācārya are friends and those who are dedicated to the Lord are neutrals.

One who regards the Ācārya as the abode of all the five theological aspects of the Godhead regards those who are self-serving materialists as unsympathetic (pratikulan);

others who are dedicated to the preceptor are considered as spiritual friends (anukūlan) and those who are dedicated to God alone are neutrals (upekṣan) in that they are not going about their spiritual development in the right way.

61. Right Knowledge and Right Practice

452. The two, Right Knowledge (jñānam) and Right Practice (anuṣṭānam), are necessary adjuncts to the means for those [who do not have an Ācārya]; to these [who have an Ācārya], they are accessories to goal.

What is a necessary adjunct to the means for others, is part of the result of having attained the Lord for one who has dedicated himself to an Ācārya.

It is important to note that both are still required – before the meeting of an Ācārya and thereafter — the pursuit of knowledge and right practice of the teachings and their direct realisation in one’s life are never abandoned — it is only their categorisation that changes.

62. Offences

453. [The Prapanna] should relinquish forbidden practices, lest he destroy himself and others.

The term anuṣṭāna primarily refers to religious practices performed for some goal — either Dharma, Artha – power and prosperity, Kāma – enjoyment or Mokṣa – liberation.

454. From committing the three faults [offending the Ācārya, the Lord and the Noble Family], one is destroyed; indifference to [the offender] or following the same offensive practices would cause others to be lost.

63. Sexuality

455. Unlike forbidden pleasures; sanctioned enjoyment is not condemned by the society nor leads to hell; even so both of these are to be renounced as opposed to the quintessence of the jīva, opposed to Vedānta and a hindrance to liberation.

Sense gratification done within the bounds of Dharma is not wrong or sinful but still Piḷḷai- Lokācārya gives three reasons why they should be relinquished: —

1. Sense indulgence negates the quintessence of the jīva which exists for the pleasure of the Lord and thus self-gratification is opposed to God-gratification.

2. When sense pleasures are analysed by using the rational methodology of Vedānta they are observed to be transitory, insubstantial and insatiable and therefore indulgence in them does not bring relief or satisfaction but only increases craving.

3. Increased craving leads to attachment and this hinders our spiritual progress and unfolding, delaying the attainment of Liberation.

456. Even by relinquishing sex as a means of enjoyment and doing it only as a conjugal duty the quintessence is obscured.

The Dharma śāstras lay down the duty of having sex with one's wife every month after her period. The wife can approach the husband in due course and demand her conjugal rights with the formula — ṛtum dehi!

One could argue that sex could be done in the discharge of one's conjugal obligations should be retained.

But the Ācārya retorts that all sexual indulgence of whatever sort should be eschewed, even as a conjugal duty:

Sexuality obscures the quintessence of the jīva which is ananya-bhogyatva — being the sole object of the Lord's enjoyment and ananya- upāyatva — resorting to the Lord as the sole means of one’s own enjoyment.

457. In order not to obscure the quintessence it is necessary to live in the state [indicated in] “Fields, friends............ “

Hasta-giri Mahātmyam “Whether fields, friends, wealth, children, spouse, animals or real estate, O Lord, for those who are drawn to (Your) lotus-feet, all these become impediments [to the attainment of the goal]”

64. Adjuncts to the four upāyas.

458. An irresistible urge to reach [the Lord], an ardent desire to abandon this state of separation and being unable to remain in the body without the experience [of God]; these are necessary [adjuncts] to the four upāyas.

The four upāyas are Bhakti, Prapatti, Ācārya-niṣṭhā in either of its two forms as svagata-svikāra — eliciting the grace of the Ācārya or para-gata-svikāra — being a passive recipient of the Ācārya's grace.

One may attain Liberation either by the self-effort of cultivating Devotion (Bhakti) or through going for refuge (Prapatti) relying on the preceptor or simply on the grace of the Lord, but for all of these to be effective the three conditions must be present:

(1) an ardent desire to be united with God, (2) complete disenchantment with material life, and (3) an inability to bear further rebirth without God-experience.

65. Dedication to a preceptor.

459. The words; “I have realised an infallible means: .................,” are to be considered as endorsement for the former upāya [actively eliciting the preceptor's grace].

Fourth Tiru-vantāḍi, 89:

“I have realised an infallible means: worshipping those who resort to the Lord, meditating on the feet of the Lord of the milk ocean, without any distraction — whoever endures this life with humility will destroy accumulated sins, will open the doors of Vaikuṇṭha and remain there with glory.”

460. “O my good maid!.....1.”, “Will themselves vanquish those.....2.” — these stanzas and the ślokas at the end of the Stotra (Ratna) 3, and the śloka: — “Animals or humans......4.” — should be considered authority for this Ācārya-abhimāna.

These verses endorse the passive receiving of the preceptor's grace.

1. Nacchiyār Tirumoḷi 10:10

“O my good maid! The supreme Lord, our supreme One, elevated on the serpent-couch is wealthy, great Lord we are insignificant humans what can we do?

Vishnu-citta (Periyāḻvār) of Śrīvilli-puthur, if he is able to obtain a suitable prize from their god, let me see that!”

(Aṇḍāḷ is languishing — the Lord is such a great personage, perhaps He doesn’t care — her father, Periyāḻvār, will help her out.)

2. Fourth Tiruvantāḍi, 18:

“The merits of these who praise those that praise in a special way the man-lion that ripped open the chest of the inimical demon, with sharp nails, will themselves vanquish those of the latter (the merits of those who praise the Lord directly).”

(The point seems to be that the merits of praising the members of the Noble Family are greater than those who praise the Lord without the good offices of an Ācārya,)

3. Stotra Ratna 65—

“Grant me your grace regardless of my own conduct, having in view my grand-father, Nāthamuni, the self-realised one who is the paragon of devotion to your lotus-feet.”

4. Source unknown:

“Those creatures who even associate with Vaiṣṇavas be they animals or humans or birds, will enjoy that highest place of Viṣṇu.”

461. Surrendering to a preceptor, like going for refuge to the Lord, can be an accessory to other means as well as an end in itself.

The other means taught in the Gītā are Bhakti-yoga, Jñana-yoga and Karma-yoga. Śaraṇāgati or taking refuge in either the Lord or an Ācārya can either serve as an auxiliary means to the other 3 paths or be an end in itself.

462. Going for refuge is for those who are unable to practice Devotion (Bhakti) this [surrendering to a preceptor] is for those incapable of going for refuge.

But the taking of refuge in the Lord is for those who cannot practice Bhakti, and for those who are even incapable of surrendering to Kṛṣṇa, then submission to an Ācārya is the recommended path.

463. At first this [Ācārya-abhimāna — submission to a teacher] makes the [latent] quintessence sprout, then flower and finally, produce the full fruit.