SrI: SrImathE SatakOpAya nama: SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama: SrImadh varavaramunayE nama:
The Principal Identifier
The nature of the individual soul (jīva) is a matter of philosophical inquiry. It bears significance to people of all faiths and traditions. In many cases, the nature of the individual soul forms the point of divergence and disagreement between different systems. In this article, we will look at the principal identifier of the soul advocated by Swami Ramanuja.
In our rich commentatorial literature including the works of stalwarts such as Swami Nampillai and Swami Periyavachan Pillai, and in the esoteric literature of preceptors like Swami Pillai Lokacharya, lies an oft repeated incident in the life of Swami Ramanuja.
In the spiritual hall of Swami Ramanuja rose a question. The soul is established to be a repository of bliss and knowledge. The soul is also established to be subservient to the Lord. Which of these two qualifiers is integral to the identification of the soul?
Knowing the answer well, the master decided that this question be decided by his preceptor of unparalleled genius, Swami Thirukoshtiyur Nambi, whose words would carry in value the enormity of significance posed by the question. He bid his illustrious disciple Swami Koorathazhvan to visit Nambi and pose the question at an appropriate moment.
Azhwan awaited six months for the moment to present itself and on posing the question, Nambi only replied in brief “adiyenuḷḷān uḍaluḷḷān”. This is a part of the second hymn of the eighth decad of the eighth centum of Thiruvoymozhi. Azhwan dutifully returned with the answer.
Azhwan awaited six months for the moment to present itself and on posing the question, Nambi only replied in brief “adiyenuḷḷān uḍaluḷḷān”. This is a part of the second hymn of the eighth decad of the eighth centum of Thiruvoymozhi. Azhvan dutifully returned with the answer.
The answer is understood to imply that the qualification of subservience to the divine is the greater of the identifiers. This is understood from the presence of the word “adiyen” in the quote of Nambi.
The word adiyen occurs in numerous places in the hymnal renditions of the Azhwars. Why did Nambi pick this single part in preference to all other occurrences? Was it a random pick? Azhwar starts at the very outset in Thiruviruththam saying “adiyen ceyyum viṅṅappamē”. Even in the very decad from which the part was picked, the first hymn contains the word “adiyen”. What is the significance of Nambi’s pick?
The use of the word adiyen in other contexts does not point to the individual soul particularly. For example, in the case of “adiyen ceyyum viṅṅappamē”, a viṅṅappam or petition is possible only for an embodied soul and not for the pure soul (beyond body). Therefore, in places such as this, it is necessary to interpret the word “adiyen” as pertaining to the embodied soul. Such occurences do not fully lend themselves to an analysis of the identifiers of the soul which must be valid in the true state of the soul, beyond its embodied form. A similar line of reasoning may be undertaken for other places where the word “adiyen” occurs. It is in 8.8.2 of Thiruvoymozhi that Azhwar employs the word adiyen in a strikingly significant context.
Let us first understand the meaning of the words. In this hymn, Azhwar refers to the Lord as the pervader of the soul “adiyenuḷḷān” and the pervader of the body “uḍaluḷḷān”. Since this talks about the Lord’s pervasion, His pervasion of the souls and material world is brought out. This signifies that the soul connoted here is beyond the embodied. It is the soul in principle. The use of the words “uḍaluḷḷān” further differentiates the meaning of the word “adiyen” to refer exclusive to the pure soul principle. The word “uḍal” handles the body on its own without relying on “adiyen” to convey the idea through implication.
And it is in this scenario that the utterance assumes value. Azhvar’s choice of “adiyen” over “nān” serves Nambi’s purpose. Since the soul is also the meaning of “I”/self, the use of “nān” would be admissible. Yet, the significance of subservience in relation to any other qualifier prompts Azhvar to use “adiyen”. This resolves the confusion on the principal identifier of the soul.
While the incident quoted and its explanation are satisfactory, is there any evidence to suggest that this is real? Did Swami Ramanuja express this view in any of his works? Otherwise, the incident might be passed off as a useful fabrication. It might not be assigned great value.
Swami Ramanuja takes this position not in one place, but in every place he encounters the words “jñānin” or “jñānavān” in Gita Bhashya. While Sri Sankara usually explains the enlightened person in ways such as “viṣṅoḥ tattvavit” (One who knows the truth of Vishnu), Svami Ramanuja’s words are “bhagavat śeṣataikarasa ātmasvarūpavit – jñānī”. An enlightened person is one who has realized that the true nature of the soul is to be subservient to the Lord.
That Swami Ramanuja subordinates the meaning of enlightenment or knowledge to the awareness/realization of subservience follows Azhwar’s choice of “adiyen” over “nān”.
adiyen ranganatha ramanuja dasan
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