Sunday, March 20, 2011

Between Shankara and Ramanuja- 200 years

It is a happy and rare coincidence that the two great Acharyas of Hinduism, Shankara and Ramanuja, were born on the same date [ Vaishakha Shukla Panchami ], with a gap of about 200 years.This year their Janma Jayanthi falls on Sunday 22nd April 2007 [Tomorrow]. Hence, there are two articles, for the first time, to commemorate their Jayanthis

Best Wishes
B.M.N.Murthy, 21st April 2007
ACHARYA SHNKARA AND HIS ‘ Shivanandalahari’

Andres Malraux, France’s Minister of Culture under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, met Jawaharlal Nehru in a Chinese restaurant in Paris in 1936. Andres has been considered as one of the best brains of the twentieth century whose opinion carries weight all over the world. He was an ardent lover of the Hindu culture and learnt Sanskrit with the specific intention of reading and understanding better the pristine glory of the Bhagavad-Gita. During a chat with Nehru, he said “Europe is a cemetery of ideas. We cannot go beyond good and evil. We can never go, as India can, beyond duality. India had Shankara. When India is free, keep India free from duality. Let the great Shankara guide India” Andres meant what he said about Shankara and passionately enthroned Shankara on a higher pedestal than Aristotle. The Shankara for whom Andres had such high admiration is none other than Jagadguru Shankaracharya who is the author of the hymn ‘Shivanandalahari’

The greatness of Shankara lies in the fact that he made Advaita Vedanta understandable by all sections of the society by composing several and different works to suit the varying level of intelligence and understanding capacity of the people. For the highly intellectual with a deep knowledge of Sanskrit, he wrote the commentary on the Brahma sutras; for the middle level, he wrote the Prakaranagranthas like the Viveka Chudamani and for the layman such popular devotional hymns like the Shivanandalahari which means ‘ A flood of Divine Bliss’, in the form of one hundred shlokas

It is well known that Shankara toured all over the country on foot with a view to spreading the tenets of Advaita Vedanta. During the cross country padayatra, he came to Srishailam in Andhra Pradesh where the famous Shiva Lingam of Sri Mallikarjuna is worshipped, it being one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of the country, Shankara performed tapas here and for the worship of Lord Mallikarjuna he composed extempore the hymn
‘Shivanandalahari’ and recited it in front of the Lord. In this beautiful hymn Shankara has passed on his experience at the altar of the Lord during the great moments of oneness with the Lord, in the form of one hundred beautiful verses.

Shivanandalahari is essentially a devotional hymn and every shloka in it makes it clear how a total identification with the Lord and complete surrender to Him brings Absolute Bliss to the devotee. In the hymn, Shankara analyses the various stages of happiness a man experiences. The lowest state of happiness a man experiences is called’Sukha’ and this is experienced only in the presence of an object. This experience is momentary and lasts as long as the object remains attractiveness and casts its spell on the beholder. The moment the object loses its attracting power or is out of sight, the experience of happiness stops.

In the second stage of happiness, the sense objects are replaced by an object of worship, say an idol, an image, a photo etc of the Ishta Devata [Domestic Deity]. For enjoining this type of happiness, the devotee has to fully concentrate his mind on the deity. Here, the Bhakta, the Bhagavan and Bhakti are separate from each other. This happiness is definitely superior to ‘Sukha’ and could be experienced only when the Bhakta, Bhakti and the Bhagavan are interconnected. The moment one forgets Bhagavan and the mind is diverted elsewhere, the thread of connection snaps and the happiness disappears.

In the third stage, the devotee comes to know that Bhagavan is the real source of happiness or Ananda. With this realization, he tries to go to the Bhagavan forgetting his form, shape etc. In the final stage, he jumps into that Ananda Sagara [Ocean of Happiness], and disappears completely like a salt doll that went to measure the depth of the ocean. He merges with the Supreme, discarding his individuality and ego. It is at this moment that one gets the experience of the ‘Waves of Bliss’. This is exactly the state of happiness that one enjoys while going through the Shivanandalahari.

Shankara has illustrated the different stages of Bhakti by beautiful illustrative examples. Initially the devotee forcibly turns his mind towards God and holds on to His feet. The example the Acharya gives is that of the seed of the Ankola tree which sticks to the parent tree even after falling down. When the devotee has turned his mind towards the Lord, the latter becomes favorable towards the devotee and graces him. The Lord pulls the devotee towards Him and prevents any detachment from Him. The example given is that of the needle which is being attracted towards the magnet. This marks the second stage. The third stage occurs when the devotee’s heart is completely concentrated on God
And the Lord, in turn, becomes extremely affectionate and attached towards the devotee. The situation is compared to that of a chaste wife serving her husband with love and affection and the husband reciprocating the feelings of his wife with equal magnitude. In this process, a stage comes when the devotee becomes an ornament of the Lord and adds on to the glory of the Lord. The analogy given is that of a creeper entwining a tree and beautifying it. On transcending this fourth stage, the devotee attains total union with the Lord. The analogy given is that of the merger of a river with the ocean. Once the river has joined the ocean, it becomes part and parcel of the ocean, having lost its identity completely. The devotee too becomes inseparable from the Lord.

Due to his extreme kindness towards humanity, Shankara has given this magnificent devotional hymn---The Shivanandalahari. Now it is for us to drink this nectar and enjoy the experience of the constant flow of the Eternal Bliss of Shivananda. This great work will serve as a boat for the devotees to cross the river of Samsara and reach the shore namely the lotus feet of the Lord Parameswara.


--The Disciple who became Guru to His own Guru.

It is of interest to note that both Acharya Shankara and Sri Ramanujacharya, the two major pillars of Hinduism, were born on the same day [Vaishakha Shukla Panchami], though they lived two centuries apart.. Shankara’s philosophy with emphasis on Gjnana or knowledge was needed at his time in the 8th century A.D. when there was a lot of emphasis on the Karma Kanda of the Vedas. People thought that the mere performance of any action in the form of rituals etc would yield any desired result and Shankara showed the world the hollowness of Karma alone. By the time Ramanuja was born two centuries later, the concept of Bhakti was practically relegated to the background and it was left to Ramanuja to revive it.

Born of pious and orthodox parents in 1017 a place called Sri Perumbudur, some 30 miles from Chennai, Ramanuja lived a life wholly devoted to spiritual pursuits. In course of time when he switched over to the life of a sanyasin, he settled down in Srirangam, South of Tamil Nadu. With a view to acquiring perfection in all Vaishnava scriptures both in Sanskrit and in Tamil, he became a disciple to the well-known Vaishnava teacher Mahapurna. Mahapurna was extremely happy to have a disciple of Ramanuja’s caliber with admirable noble qualities. In order to further awaken Ramanuja’s innate spiritual eminence, he advised Ramanuja that if he wanted to be initiated in the sacred Vaishnava Mantra, he should go to another Guru named Goshtipurna who lived in a place about sixty miles from Srirangam.

With an unquenching thirst for knowledge, Ramanuja immediately set on a foot- journey to meet Goshtipurna. After greeting the guru, Ramanuja expressed his wish to be initiated into the mystic Vaishnava Mantra. The guru, however, declined the request and asked Ramanuja to come some other day. Disappointed, Ramanuja returned to Srirangam, a distance of sixty miles, on foot. Hopeful of success a second time, Ramanuja met the Guru sometime later, again to be disappointed. The Guru felt that Ramanuja was spiritually immature to receive the initiation with the sacred Mantra. It is said that Ramanuja made eighteen trips to meet Goshtipurna for initiation. On the last occasion when he was again refused by the Guru, Ramanuja began shedding tears in utter despair. When Goshtipurna heard about this sad plight of Ramanuja from some people who had seen Ramanuja in such a state of despair and dejection, he was deeply moved. He sent for Ramanuja, imparted the sacred eight-syllabled Mantra and instructed him not to reveal the Mantra to anyone else, since there was none who was qualified and worthy of receiving the Mantra. He was further cautioned that in case he defied his Guru and revealed the Mantra to anyone else, he would go to hell.

Ramanuja was not an ordinary student who was selfish and narrow-minded. As he was passing through the high gates of the Vishnu temple a strange feeling arose in his mind and he at once made up his mind that this priceless gem of a mantra should be shared with his fellowmen irrespective of the consequences. On his way, he made a loud announcement “All of you, please come near the temple. I will give you a priceless jewel”. Everyone started following him to the temple. Word spread in the town that a great sage had come to the temple and he was gifting a priceless treasure to every one. Soon the temple enclosure was filled with thousands of people. Ramanuja climbed up the temple tower, stood at the balcony like projection, looked at the large gathering below and said “Brothers and sisters, you that are dearer to me than my life, if you want to get liberation from the torments and afflictions from this mundane world for ever, then pronounce three times the gem of the Mantra which I have procured for you. Do this and be blessed”. The entire gathering spoke in a chorus wanting the Mantra. Then Ramanuja pronounced the following Mantra in a stentorian voice from the depth of his joyful heart;
People repeated the Mantra three times in a resounding voice and all of them experienced. a sort of an inward joy. A divine silence prevailed all around and the faces of men, women and children glowed with joy. With a sense of contentment filled in their hearts, the crowd dispersed, bowing down to Ramanuja.

Ramanuja descended the temple tower and straight went to Goshtipurna’s house to take leave of his Guru before returning to Srirangam. By this time the Guru had heard of what had happened in the temple and was furious. On seeing Ramanuja, he shouted at him and expressed his disappointment and displeasure for having initiated the sacred Mantra to a useless disciple. Unprovoked by his Guru’s reaction, Ramanuja responded with all humility and obedience:
“Mahatman, it was only because I was ready to suffer in hell that I transgressed your behest. According to your words, whoever might hear the said Mantra is sure to attain the highest end of life. Depending on that assurance, I have placed all the men and women of the city on the high road to liberation. All of them will be blessed by attaining the supreme goal of life. If an insignificant creature like me goes to hell and thousands of men and women are thereby enabled to go to Vaikuntha [the Divine Abode of Lord Vishnu], this is a consummation I earnestly pray for. I have transgressed your behest, no doubt. May hell be mine for it. But, as assured by you, may these thousands of suffering people attain the highest thereby!”

Ramanuja’s glowing words overflowing with compassion and intense self-sacrifice at once removed all narrowness that had clouded Goshtipurna’s mind. Deeply touched by Ramanuja’s humility and love towards humanity, he said “O Magnanimous one! From today you are my guru and I am your shishya. Undoubtedly, you, whose heart is so vast, are a part of Vishnu. I am just a common creature. How can I grasp your greatness? Pardon my offence”. Clasping the feet of his guru and with his head bent down in modesty, Ramanuja replied “Though I have committed the sin of transgressing the behest of the guru, I am grateful to you for imparting the Mantra charged with the power of your illumination. Please, treating me as your son and servant, grant refuge in your feet”. The guru was immensely pleased with Ramanuja who thereafter returned to Srirangam

B.M.N. Murthy.

Artcle No. 366---Acharya Shankara and his 'Shivanandalahari' Article No.367--Sri Ramanujacharya
Created: Friday, April 20, 2007


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