SrI: SrImathE SatakOpAya nama: SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama: SrImadh varavaramunayE nama:
Azhvar shines through Sribhashya
The maṅgaḷaśloka of Sribhashya is not only a psalm unto Lord Srinivasa in the spirit of the hymns of Azhwars but also unto Swami Nammazhvar himself.
The same hymn read differently devotes itself to Swami Nammazhvar instead of the Lord. We will see how in this episode.
akhila-bhuvana-janma-sthema-bhangādiḥ is the Lord. He is the cause of the creation, sustenance and destruction of all universe. tena saha līlā yasya – he, who engages in sport which this Lord, is Azhwar. Therefore, akhila-bhuvana-janma-sthema-bhangādi-līlaḥ is an epithet of Azhwar. Azhwar engages in sport with the primary cause of all universe.
A sport with the Supreme is highlighted by Azhwar himself in the hymns
“ennuḍaiya pandhuṅkazhalum thanthu pogunambī”
The choice of words also lends another interpretation:
bhuvana-janma-sthema-bhangādi-līlaḥ akhilam yasya.
is the Supreme cause of the universe – the Lord. To whom such a Lord is all, is Azhwar. He says it himself
“uṇnuñchoru parugunīr thinnum veṭṛilaiyum ellām kaṇṇan”.
For us, there are things for survival, things for growth and things for pleasure. To Azhwar, all of this is only Krishna.
Surely, the savior of all is the Lord. However, from the perspective of the devotee, it is not the Lord in His entirety that is desired. As to an infant, the mother is loved, but it is her breasts that are most desirable as they provide the milk for his/her sustenance, to a devotee, it is the lotus feet of the Lord that are most desirable – being the locus of surrender and service.
It is the station of lotus feet of the Lord that is called Satari or Satakopa in temples – named after Azhwar himself. Therefore, Azhwar is non-different from the lotus feet of the Lord. Since devotees surrender to the lotus feet seeking protection, the epithet qualifies Azhwar.
śṛti-śiras is Vedanta. śṛti-śirasi-vidīptaḥ is one who is well enlightened in the purport of the Vedanta. Azhwar is always conscious of the Lord who is the purport of the Vedanta. Hence, this epithet qualifies him well.
The Veda itself speaks of Azhwar as “tadviprāso vipanyavo jāgṛvāṃsas-samindhate”. The word vipra suits Azhwar in the sense of “na śūdrā bhagavadbhaktā viprā bhāgavatāsmṛtāḥ” A devotee of the Lord is not a deluded and sorrowful being (sudra); he is wise (vipra) since he realizes himself as a mode of Bhagavan. Going by “paṇa stutau”, vipanyavaḥ refers to the quality of Azhwar singing praises to the Lord. In the league of those capable of singing the auspicious attributes of the Lord, Azhwar stands alone without a second – “thēviṛchiṛandha thirumāṛkuth-thakka theiyvak-kavigṅan”. jāgṛvāṃsaḥ refers to the quality of being ever awake. Azhwar is ever conscious of the Lord, seeing nothing but the Lord, experiencing nothing but the Lord. He never sleeps into the slumber of ignorance in whose darkness other souls forever seek goodness without success. To Azhwar, the various charms of the damsel of delusion turn incapable of producing delusion since the Supreme Lord shines forth through every aspect of the universe as the lone substance, being, support and truth. Being intoxicated in the pleasures of the world is slumber; the enduring wake born out of enchantment with the divine is awareness.
“kaṇṇārakkaṇḍu kazhivadhōr kādhaluṭṛarkkum uṇḍō kaṇkaḷ thuñjudhalē!”
The connection between the Vedic verse and the hymn of Sribhashya lies in the word “samindhate”. This “shining well” is captured in vidīptaḥ. The prefix (upasarga) ‘vi’ in the Sribhashya verse performs the job of the prefix ‘sam’ in the Vedic verse.
The word “brahman” comes from the root “bṛh” meaning greatness in all respects. The greatness of Azhwar lies in the fact that even the Supreme Brahman lies in his grasp. Therefore, he exceeds the Lord Himself and becomes the worthy recipient of the title Brahman. In his Periya Thiruvandhadhi, Azhwar remarks “yān periyan, nī periyai enpadanai yār aṛivār”. Here, Brahman is synonymous to periyan.
One might say, ‘So far this is good, but now you certainly cannot say that Azhwar is Srinivasa. Śriyaḥpatitvam is an exclusive qualifier of the Lord applicable to no other. Your exercise must now cease.”
Śriyaḥpatitvam is indeed His exclusive qualifier but there is no need for worry. Not only is Azhwar Srinivasa, but there have been several such Srinivasa-s recognized in our tradition.
Who are they?
lakṣmaṇo lakṣmī-saṃpannaḥ – Lakshmana is endowed with Lakshmi.
sa tu nāgavaraḥ śrīmān – Gajendra, the best of elephants, is endowed with Sri antarikṣagataḥ śrīmān – Vibhishana, endowed with Sri, took the aerial route
In each case, the word “Lakshmi” or “Sri” has a different meaning. In the case of Lakshmana, it denotes his wealth that takes the form of serving the Lord. In the case of Gajendra, it shows his wealth of purity that impelled him to call the Lord only to offer a lotus, even while in pain. In the case of Vibhishana, it shows his wealth of knowledge that led him to surrender to the Lord with the greatest faith. These are the real and enduring forms of wealth (nīṅgādha selvam) recognized in Srivaishnavism
In the case of Azhwar, commentators find similarity of Azhwar not only with almost every known śrīmān, but with the Divine Goddess Sri Herself!
Azhwar is Srinivasa either because he possesses every one of the enduring spiritual treasures that were possessed by the aforementioned devotees, or because he possesses the qualities of Sri Herself.
Vedhavalli Thayar and Parankusa Nayaki
This discussion firmly establishes that by clever use of language, Swami Ramanuja experiences Azhwar in the garb of experiencing the Lord. That is why Amudhanar, seeing learing through the hymn, sets “māran-aḍi-paṇindhu uyndhavan” as the foremost of Swami Ramanuja’s epithets.The influence of Azhwar continues through Sribhashya to its very end. Literally, to its very end.
To the end of the Brahma Sutras is the aphorism: “anāvṛttiś-śabdāt | anāvṛttiś-śabdāt |”
The import of anāvṛttiḥ is that the soul does not return to the ephemeral universe after liberation.
The reason for non-return is śabdāt – since the scripture has said so. The scripture says “na ca punarāvartate| na ca punarāvartate|” The liberated does not return, does not return.
This is might be convincing to a person of dry dogmatism but not to Swami Ramanuja who is not only an enlightened Vedanti, not only an emotionally refined theologian but also a rational philosopher. Unlike other commentators, he sees an important question – why is the scripture binding upon the Supreme? Whatever be the notions of Brahman and Jiva, in various philosophies of Vedanta, the big question is to answer why liberation is enduring. To an Advaitin, the problem takes the shape of explaining how the Brahman, which is already tainted by avidya, remains immune to it after liberation. If the Brahman were already immune to non-knowledge, it would have never become “the many”. There is no way to gain fresh immunity, there being nothing else than the Brahman in the absolute domain. If the “non-return” is the make of language of the relational domain, then it diminishes both the Brahma Sutra and the Vedanta. The Brahma Sutra thought it fit that this be the concluding aphorism indicating that the doubt of the soul’s return to the ephemeral world is valid, but the doubt is removed by the proclamation of the scripture. The author of the aphorism hardly seems to be in the domain of the Advaitin’s unqualified absolute which disallows the doubt itself. To the Dvaitin too, who conceives a completely independent Brahman, the question is pertinent since a completely independent Brahman cannot be bound by a line in the Veda, and He might be fully capable of returning the soul and free to do so.
To a Visistadvaitin, the question is neither disallowed nor difficult to answer because the soul is always a mode of a Brahman whether the soul realizes it or not. There is so much identity in the soul to entertain the question of “returning”, as entertained by the author of Brahma Sutras, but not so separate an identity as to struggle with the “non-return” in the wake of a super-independent Brahman. Since the soul is always a mode of the Brahman, to return is to regard again the universe in the darkness of ignorance, to be deceived by the three qualities of Prakrti. Non-return is to remain away from this deception forever.
Still, in Visistadvaita, the Brahman is the only independent entity and His independence is still capable of binding the soul. Lord Krishna calls it “My Maya” to show that the play of Prakrti is under His will. What prevents the Lord from binding the enlightened soul again with His Maya?
In answering this question, Swami Ramanuja does not conclude by merely appealing to scripture but goes beyond. He performs a meta-analysis of why the scripture should say so, and in his own characteristic style, synthesizes metaphysics, theology and practical sense. The Vedanta, the Legends and the mystic experience speak to the student in one voice.
The bind between the Brahman and the soul is not only one of mode and substance perceived in the light of metaphysics but also that of the beloved and lover in light of real experience. The innateness of the Lord in the soul is not perceived only theoretically in the passive web of connections but in the active engagement of two conscious entities. It is a divine embrace of the super conscious being and the individual conscient soul. It is an embrace of love. The Lord is not a passive support of existence indifferent to the soul. He is an incurable lover, who seeks the soul by appearing in numerous forms, never giving up. As He proclaims in the Gita, the enlightened soul is dearest to Him. He speaks of how difficult it is for Him to find an enlightened soul. These are not words of a passive and indifferent person. They are the words of love. He says “sa ca mama priyaḥ” – “He is My love”, not without intent.
Above all, Swami Ramanuja finds inspiration in the hymns of Azhvar. Nowhere is this game of love played better than in the experience of Azhwar.
Taking in the weight of Azhwar’s experience, Swami Ramanuja writes,
“na ca paramapuruṣaḥ satyasaṅkalpaḥ atyarthapriyaṃ jñāninaṃ labdhvā kadācid-āvartayiṣyati”.
The Supreme Lord, whose will is unfailing, will never return an enlightened soul, having obtained him/her after great delay, as he/she is very lovable to Him. It is like asking Krishna to return butter!
Azhwar speaks of the Lord’s love to gain and experience the soul “ennil munnam pāriththuth thānennai muṭṛap paruginān” – Taking the first step in the engagement of love, He experienced me to the fullest. The meaning of the hymn cannot be explained but only experienced in the parlance of love. Such an incorrigible lover would never return His beloved.
Swami Ramanuja also finishes Sri Bhashya in a flourish. He cites the hymn of Gita “vāsudevassarvam-iti sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ” invoking the lament of love spoken by Lord Krishna who seeks the elusive enlightened soul. No sooner had the Lord left through the northern door than Swami Nammazhvar entered through the southern entrance to say “uṇnuñchoru parugunīr thinnum veṭṛilaiyum ellām kaṇṇan” – Krishna is my all. The words of love that were shed from the lotus lips of Krishna took form of Azhwar. Keeping this in mind, Swami Ramanuja closes his commentary with these words of Krishna.
How indispensable is the awareness of Azhvar and his hymns to the appreciation of Sribhashya!
adiyen ranganatha ramanuja dasan
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