Śrīvacana Bhūṣaṇa | 1-5


Śrīvacana Bhūṣaṇa

The Ornament of Auspicious Teachings

1. Scriptural Authority.

1. The meaning of the Vedas is revealed by means of the Smṛti, Itihāsas and Purāṇas.

Smṛti are the law books and texts dealing with regulations.
Itihāsas are the two epics Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata.
Purāṇas are the 18 books which deal with mythology, legends, history and the specific worship of the Gods — Viṣṇu and Śiva.

2. The meaning of the “earlier portion” [of the Vedas] is established by Smṛti the meaning of the “later portion” is established by the other two [Itihāsas and Purāṇas].

The subject matter of the Vedas is divided into two parts:

The “prior portion” of the Vedas is the Karma-Kāṇḍa or the section dealing with rituals, their interpretation and their application; also known as Mimāṁsa.

The “latter portion” is the Jñāna-kāṇda or Vedānta (Upaniṣads), the section dealing with wisdom and theology, Lokācārya in this treatise deals with the purport of the latter.

The Smṛti aid the proper application of Karma-Kāṇḍa, whereas the Purāṇas and Itihāsas are more useful for comprehending the Brahma-Kāṇḍa.

3. Of the two [Itihāsas and Purāṇas], Itihāsas are more important.

Important” means that they carry more weight in terms of their authority in matters of dharma when discrepancies arise.

4. On account of this, they are placed first [in the compound].

The verse referred to is: —

itihāsa-purāṇābhyām vedam upabhrumhayet (source unknown)
The epics and the Purāṇas elucidate the teachings of the Vedas.

5. The best of the two epics, the Rāmāyaṇa, glorifies the “captive one”; the Mahābhārata glorifies the “one who acted as the mediator.”

The central protagonist of the Rāmāyaṇa is the Goddess Sītā who was abducted and imprisoned by Rāvaṇa.

It must be noted that Sītā accepted captivity out of her own free will in order to secure the release of numerous celestial beauties that were kept imprisoned by Rāvaṇa.

Sītā is the Great Goddess who could have destroyed Rāvaṇa merely by a divine command but chose not to in order to bestow her Grace in abundance.

The central protagonist of the Mahābhārata is Kṛṣṇa who was sent as ambassador to Duryodhana on behalf of the Pāṇḍavas, to mediate a peaceful solution to their conflict and to avoid war.

Again the Lord could have accomplished everything by His command but chose to play along with the drama unfolding in order to bestow His Grace and demonstrate His simplicity and accessibility.

2. Glory of the Mediatrix and the necessity for mediation.

6. These two [Itihāsas] establish the greatness of the puruṣākāra and the greatness of upāya.

Puruṣākāra — literally means “the maker of the puruṣa”. It signifies the one who mediates between the jīva and the Lord. The doctrine of mediation is central to the theology of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism.

Upāya — literally “the means” indicates the method which leads to mokṣa of liberation from suffering and rebirth.

7. [The traits] essential to the puruṣākāra (Lakṣmī) are: — compassion, total dependence [upon the Lord] and not being subservient to another [other than the Lord].

8. The Goddess’ first separation revealed her compassion. Her total dependence [on the Lord] is revealed in the second separation. The final separation revealed her non- subservience to another.

In the Rāmāyana Sītā is separated from Rāma three times: —

(1) First she was abducted by Rāvaṇa and imprisoned in Śrī Lanka

(2) After her liberation Rāma sent her to the forest to undergo, the fire-ordeal because his subjects doubted her chastity and

(3) Finally she left the earth at the end of the avatāra.

She demonstrated her compassion by liberating the maidens held captive and by demonstrating her compassion unasked and unsolicited over the 700 odd demonesses that tormented her by protecting them from the wrath of Hanumān.

She demonstrated dependence on her Lord by being obedient to Him without question when He suggests that she might have failed in her fidelity during the period of her imprisonment; she tolerated the second separation and underwent the fire ordeal.

Finally, she demonstrates herself as not being subservient to anyone other than her Lord when she desires to leave the earth and Rāma when the purpose of her incarnation had been achieved.

9. Mediator-ship is manifested in both her union and separation.

Suffering in terms of human relationships only has relevance to mortals bound by Karma who have to endure the results of their actions.

In the case of the Goddess who is untouched by Karma, her apparent sufferings are meant only to highlight her essential traits of mediatorship.

10. In the state of union [of the Goddess with the Lord], there is rectification of the Lord, in the state of separation, there is rectification of sentient beings.

While in union with Her Lord, the Goddess exerts her influence on the Lord to bestow compassion and to be reconciled with the jīvas: while separate from the Lord She influences the jīva to return to the Lord.

11. The rectification of both [the Lord and the jīva] is effected by means of counsel.

The Goddess influences only through counsel, not by command. This is important for understanding that all of moral and ethical teachings in Indian spiritual systems are counsel based and not command based as per the Abrahamic religions.

12. By counsel, the dependence on [law of] Karma by both the Lord and the jīva is annulled.

Without the mediation of the Goddess, the embodied jīva (jīvātman) believes its welfare depends upon the rewards of its good and bad deeds (karmas) and the Lord is committed to the management and administration of the Karmic consequences of deeds.

The good counsel of the Goddess assists both the jīva and the Lord in laying aside this karma-dependant relationship.

13. If not rectified by counsel, the jīva is rectified by Grace: the Lord is rectified by [the Goddess’] beguiling charms.

If the jīva is not convinced through the teachings of the Scriptures and the Ācāryas then it will be reconciled to the Lord through Divine Grace. The Lord is so in love with Mother Lakṣmī that He does whatever she suggests.

14. The greatness of upāya is demonstrated in the Mahābhārata by Kṛṣṇa’s taking upon Himself the duty of Ācārya, revealing completely the teachings which were unknown and [revealing Himself] both as puruṣākāra and upāya.

As Ācārya, Kṛṣṇa is the teacher, mediator and the means to liberation for Arjuna.

He gave him detailed teachings and instructions, removed all barriers standing between them, and revealed Himself to be the only means to ultimate well-being and liberation.

And finally He suggests to Arjuna: — “consider well, all that I have taught you and then do as you please!” (Gītā 18:63)

15. The greatness of puruṣākāra (Mediation) and upāya (method) lies in [the Lord’s] not merely disregarding [the jīva’s] moral defects and lack of merit, but in actually making these the very basis for the acceptance of the jīva [by the Lord].

Moral defects or doṣas refer both to the transgressions of commission as well as those of omission — these become the very causes of Grace.

16. If it be said that it is necessary [for salvation] to remove both of these [the moral defects and lack of merit], then both become [the Lord’s].

If the Lord should refuse to be reconciled with the jīva because of its defects and lack of merit, then the Lord Himself could be accused of defect and lack of merit!

17. If the jīva thinks that these two [moral defects and lack of merit] are to be removed [before reconciliation] then these [defects and lack of merit] are the jīva’s indeed!

It is spiritual vandalism to consider that acceptance by the Lord necessities the removal of one’s defects and moral blemishes by the performance of various types of purificatory rites, religious practices such as the recitation of mantras: it is an indication of the lack of merit when one fails to contemplate one’s own weaknesses and the greatness of the Lord.

18. The faults of the demonesses are well-known.

Sītā, imprisoned in the Aśoka garden by Rāvaṇa was cruelly tormented by the Rākṣasīs.

Yet, she pleaded with Hanumān not to wreak revenge upon them, thus mediating for them on the very basis of their faults and without their having actually requested this.

19. The foibles of Arjuna, the sustainer of Kṛṣṇa, the “intimate friend of Keśava”, foremost of believers, Master of those who have conquered their senses, were, for example, sympathy for, and attachment to relatives and anxiety over killing them.

Even Arjuna had his personal and moral foibles, and these very foibles became the basis for Kṛṣṇa’s acceptance of him. Arjuna had for example, demonstrated puritanical harshness in rejecting the advances of the love-struck Urvaśī.

20. In the opinion of Kṛṣṇa, the main fault of Arjuna was the fact that he was indifferent to the humiliation of Draupadī.

Arjuna and his four brothers sat silent while Draupadī was being humiliated by Duhśāsana, who attempted to strip her naked in front of all the assembled people. She was saved by Kṛṣṇa who increased her sari length; Duhśāsana was exhausted before the saris were!

21. Even though the Pāṇḍavas deserved to be destroyed, they were permitted to live because of the sacred thread around the neck of Draupadī.

The sacred thread (maṅgala-sūtra or tāli) is the marriage token which signifies Draupadī’s marriage to the Pāṇḍavas. Kṛṣṇa refrained from destroying the Pāṇḍavas for their lack of defensive action because He did not want to see Draupadī become a widow.

22. It was only for her [Draupadī’s] sake of that Kṛṣṇa acted as an ambassador, drove the chariot for Arjuna and gave instruction on Prapatti (taking refuge).

3. Taking refuge

23. There are no conditions of place, time, method, aptitude or any consideration of results in the act of taking refuge (Prapatti).

24. The only consideration is that of the ultimate object.

The Lord Himself is the only object of taking refuge — He is the means as well as the end to be obtained.

Worldly people take refuge in all manner of insubstantial and equally impermanent things like, spouse, children, careers, social status, property, assets, goals, ideology etc.

But the only object which is permanent, stable and substantial is the Lord Himself.

25. For the performance of [Vedic] rituals one has to take into consideration the place which must be auspicious, an [auspicious] time like spring, various adjuncts prescribed in the different Scriptures, and one must also be a member of one of the three initiated castes (Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas and Vaiśyas).

26. [For taking refuge] there is no limitation of time and place, as it was said: — “This is the place!”, “This is the time!”

The quotation is from the Rāmāyana with reference to Vibhīṣaṇa’s taking refuge in Rāma. The purport is that the place and time for taking refuge is appropriate whenever and wherever one is inspired to do so.

27. This purport is clearly affirmed in the first word of the jewel of mantras.

The reference to the Dvaya Mantra, the mantra of taking refuge: —
Śrīman Nārāyaṇa, Chāraṇau Śaranam prapadye Śrīmate Nārāyaṇāya Namaḥ.

The first word, “Śrīman”, refers both to the Lord as the means (upāya) and the Goddess Śrī (the puruṣākāra), in an eternal & immutable relationship.

This eternal and immutable relationship transcending time and all limitations attests to the timeless and unconditional nature of taking refuge.

28. Everywhere [in the Scriptures] it can be verified that there are no stipulations whatsoever regarding the method of taking refuge.

29. It was in an impure state that Draupadī took refuge. Arjuna listened to the teaching on this [doctrine of surrender] while in the midst of vile people.

Draupadī took refuge in Kṛṣṇa when Duhśāsana was attempting to disrobe her in the assembly hall. At that time, she was wearing only one cloth because she was menstruating.

Kṛṣṇa gave Arjuna the teaching on Prapatti, (Bhagavad-Gītā 18.6) on the battle-field, surrounded by malicious people.

30. Therefore, it is not necessary to consider either purity or impurity: — whatever one’s condition be — it is an appropriate state.

31. One is reminded of the remarks of [Nam]Piḷḷai to [Velveṭṭi]Piḷḷai in this matter.

Nampiḷḷai was the teacher of Piḷḷai Lokācārya’s father. He is reported to have said: —

“For a pure person, impurity is irrelevant: for an impure person purity too is irrelevant.”

One day Velveṭṭi Piḷḷai remarked that Rāma had observed some procedural formalities such as facing east etc., when taking refuge in Varuṇa before crossing the ocean —

Nampiḷḷai replied that Rāma had done so, simply as a matter of protocol, given his rather orthodox background and not as something mandatory.

32. That fact that there is no consideration of eligibility [in taking refuge] is demonstrated by these examples: — Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers [the five Pāṇḍavas], Draupadī, the demon-crow [Kākasura], Kāliya (the dragon king), Gajendra [the elephant king], Vibhīṣaṇa, the Lord [Rāma], the younger Lord [Lakṣmana] and others: as all these had taken refuge, there is no prerequisite conditions for it.

All of the above-mentioned took refuge at some stage, as follows: —

• Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers took refuge in Śrī Kṛṣṇa before the commencement of the war.

• Draupadī took refuge in Kṛṣṇa during the episode of her attempted humiliation.

• The demon-crow attacked Sītā and when Rāma was about to kill it, Sītā interceded and its life was spared.

• The wives of the dragon Kāliya took refuge in Kṛṣṇa on his behalf and his life was spared.

• Gajendra surrendered to Viṣṇu as he was about to be drowned by the crocodile.

• Vibhīṣaṇa took refuge in Rāma before the assault on Laṅkā.

• The Lord Rāma took refuge in Varuṇa the king of the sea before attempting to cross on the way to war.

• Lakṣmana took refuge in his elder brother Rāma on the eve of their departure to the forest.

33. The absence of conditioning pertaining to results is illustrated by the following examples: — a Kingdom was obtained by Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, [limitless] clothing was obtained by Draupadī: continued existence was obtained by the demon- crow and Kāliya: service was obtained by Gajendra; Vibhīṣaṇa obtained Rāma Himself; The Lord [Rāma] obtained permission to cross the ocean and the younger Lord [Lakṣmana] obtained constant attendance on Rāma.

Each of the above sought different fruits as the result of their prapatti:

The Pāṇḍavas sought the aid of Kṛṣṇa in retrieving their kingdom.

The Asura who, desiring to make love to Sītā took the form a crow, although, he pecked at Sītā’s breast and caused bleeding was spared by Rāma when he took refuge with Him.

Vibhīṣaṇa surrendered to Rāma in order to obtain admission to His camp.

Rāma Himself performed prapatti to Varuṇa, king of the ocean seeking his assistance in crossing the ocean to Śrī Lanka.

34. The only consideration [for taking refuge] is the Person [in whom refuge is sought]; the Person should be one who is perfect in respect of qualities, and such perfection is found in the arcāvatāra (the iconic manifestation of the Lord).

According to the theology of the Pañcarātra, the Lord, by dint of His power of omnipresence and compassion enters into an icon which has been made according to the Scriptural injunctions, and abides there to receive the worship of the devotees and to bestow Grace. In this form the Lord is accessible to all.

35. The Āḻvārs, in many places, took refuge in the iconic manifestation.

36. “Fullness” [declared in the Upaniṣads], means possession of all positive qualities in plenitude.

The Upaniṣads declare: —

pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idam pūrṇāt pūrṇam uducyate,
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam eva avasiśyate.

That is Perfect this is Perfect, from the Perfect, Perfection arises.
Having subtracted Perfection from the Perfect, the Perfect alone remains.

4. The theological manifestations.

37. Requirements for taking refuge, [such as the qualities of] accessibility (saulabhya) and others (graciousness — sauśīlya and tender solicitude — vatsalya) are displayed here [in the holy icon] like a light [shining in the dark].

The “requirements” are the practical aspects of taking refuge. The Pañcarātra Āgama declares: —

nirākāre tu deveśe nārcanam sambhave nṛṇām |
na ca dhyānam na ca stotram tasmāt sākāram arcayet ||

A Deity devoid of form cannot be worshipped by humans,
It cannot be meditated upon nor praised.
Therefore one should worship only God with Form. (Vishnu Saṁhitā 3:5-8)

38. Disregarding both [His] plenitude and [His] independence, He [the Lord] appears here [in the icon], out of great compassion even for those who are indifferent to Him.

39. The Lord dwelling within the heart (Antaryāmin) is like the waters deep in the earth [not easily accessible]; the transcendent aspect of the Lord (paratva) is inaccessible like the oceans surrounding the earth;

the fourfold hypostatic manifestation (Vyūhas— Vāsudeva, Sankarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha) is [as inaccessible] as the milk- ocean;

the Divine Descent (avatāra — Vibhava) is like rivers only periodically in flood [but generally dry], but the icon (Arcā-avatāra) is like the deep pools in such rivers, easily available for use at all times.

The doctrine of these five theological manifestations of the Supreme Godhead is central to the metaphysics of the Pañcarātra āgama.

5. Persons eligible to take refuge in the Icon.

40. To one who is not rectified by the [teachings of the] Scriptures, distracted by the various sense-objects, and abiding in a state of antipathy, this [icon] indeed, produces a taste which converts one’s antipathy. In producing a taste [for spiritual experience], it acts as a means (upāya), but after having [initially] been used as a means, it becomes an enjoyment in itself.

The iconic manifestation through its beauty and mystery succeeds where the vociferous Scriptures fail. Many people have been attracted to spiritual life by these icons and the temples and their festivities. Initially they serve to attract people and then they become an enjoyment in themselves. The taking of refuge is well served by the lord’s presence in an easily accessible tangible object and Arcāvatāra provides such an object.

41. Three [kinds of] persons are eligible to take refuge in the Icon.

42. The uninformed, the well informed and those given to spontaneous devotion.

43. The uninformed are like the generality of us: the former Preceptors took refuge on account of their being well informed: the Āḻvārs are Prapannas by their being absorbed in the ecstasy of devotion.

The uninformed are the majority of people who do not understand the nature of the human condition and the means to happiness and in addition are ill-equipped to follow the other paths to liberation, they therefore, are eligible to take refuge in the Lord via the Icon.

The previous great Preceptors such as Nāthamuni, Yāmunācāryā and Rāmānuja were well-informed about the human condition and all the means to liberation but discarded them all as being opposed to the quintessential nature of the jīva, preferring instead to take refuge.

The Āḻvārs were so overcome by spontaneous devotion and absorbed in ecstasy that they could not steady themselves to perform the formal rigmarole required for the other paths to Liberation.

44. It is said thus by reference to the primary characteristic [of each].

All the three characteristics of ignorance, wisdom or spontaneous devotion may be present in Prapannas in varying degrees, but one is usually characterised by the predominant characteristic.

45. These three (kinds of Prapannas) are related to the three tattvas (realities).

The three tattvas are — acit (insentient matter), cit (sentient beings) and Īśvara (the Lord), the characteristic of acit is ignorance, knowledge is the characteristic of cit, and devotion is principle characteristic related to Īśvara from the individual’s perspective.

46. All these [three] are included in, “What can I do?”

The reference is to Nammāḷvār’s Tiruvāymoḷi 5.8.3. —

“What can I do? Who is going to protect me? What are you doing to me? I don’t have any desire for anyone except you, O Lord reclining in Kumbhakonam surrounded by a compound-wall beautifully embellished! Whatever days there are in my life-time, let them be spent at (your) feet. Please see that these days are spent clinging to your feet!”

Here Nammāḷvār at first expresses confusion and insecurity, he then recognises that the Lord has taught that He alone is the means and the end; and finally he allows himself to be overwhelmed by spontaneous and passionate devotion towards the Lord.

47. There [in that passage] it concerns one [characteristic] in particular [i.e. devotion].

48. That is the most important one.

49. These three are mentioned in the verse beginning, “By ignorance .........

From a casual composition of Bhaṭṭar: —

“The blessed sage Śauṇaka explained the inner meaning of the secret mantra called Jitantā as ‘Either by ignorance of the god, by complete knowledge of the god, or by the abundance of one’s own devotion in the case of those who do not know any other means, for them Hari is both the means and the end”.

50. “This is the refuge of the ignorant”.

There is also this verse in the Lakṣmī Tantra (17.100): —

“This is the refuge for the ignorant, for the wise, for those who desire to cross (the ocean of Samsāra) and for those who desire immortality.”