Sri Ramanujacarya’s Life History (By Sri Ubhaya Vedantha Anbil Ramaswamy)
Sri Ramanuja (1017 – 1137 CE), the most important philosopher-saint of Sri Vaishnavam and one of the most dynamic characters of Hinduism. He was a philosophical as well as a social reformer, displaying a catholicity that was nearly unparalleled in Hindu religious history before him. He revitalised Indian philosophy and popular religion so much that nearly every aspect of Hinduism has been influenced by his work. His life and works show a truly unique personality, combining contemplative insight, logical acumen, catholicity, charismatic energy, and selfless dedication to God.
The less known fact even among Srivaishnavas about this well known Acharya by whose name Srivaishnava philosophy is called ‘Ramanuja Darsanam’ and who is hailed as “Sri Vaishnava Siddhanta Nirdhaarana Saarva bouma” is that he was a ‘Vadama’ by birth.(Authority :” Periya Thrumudi Adaivu, Pazhanadai Vilakkam and Visishtaadvaita Catechism” – quoted in GLE)
Ilaya Perumal was born to Kesava Perumal Somayaji Dikhsitar and Kanthimathi Ammal at Sriperumpudur. Just as Sage Vasishta on seeing the brilliance in the face of the child named him as Lakshmana saying “Lakshmano Lakshmi Sampannaha”, Periya Thiru malai Nambi struck by the Tejas of the child, named him after Lakshmana as Ilaya Perumal. (PPM) aka Ilayalwar.
There is a sloka in Yadhavaachala Mahatmyam which says:
Ananthah Prathamam Roopam Lakshmanascha Tathah Parah |
Balabadram Thritheeyasthu Kalou Kaschit Bhavishyathi ||
(meaning) It is the same who was Adhisesha first, Lakshmana after and Balarama in the third who is born as Sri Ramanuja in the Kali yuga. This Kaschit is taken by our Poorva Acharyas as referring to Ramanuja (PPM)
His Birth: (Chitrai- Tiruvadhirai)
His date of birth is placed differently by different authorities.As per PPM, he was born in Kaliyuga year 4119 which corresponds to 1017 AD. PPM fixes even the exact date as 13th April 1017 AD, interms of English Calendar.
PRA, though notes the year as 4118 Kali , maintains the year as 1017 AD only and gives additional information that the Rasi was Karkataka and the time of birth was exactly at noon.
VAC, MKS and MSR also agree on the year 1017. PTA gives a few more details like the Yogam being Ayushman, Karanam being Bhadra, Gotra being Harita, Saakha being Yajus, Sutra being Apasthambha and Sect being Vadama ( Vide p.45 of GLE).
PPM and ATA mention the year as Pingala, month Chitrai and the constellation Tiruvadirai (Ardra nakshatra). PPM adds that it was a Sukla Paksha Panchami, a Friday.
It will be for the Research minded scholars to piece together all these details to arrive at the correct date, time etc.
Vriddha Padma Purana presages his incarnation thus:-
” Long, long afterwards, the Lord himself will come down on earth as a Tridanda Sannyasin, to restore the good law. At that time heretics and men of perverted intellects will confuse the minds of the people. Aasuric Saastraas, based upon fallacious arguments and various schools of thought, very attractive and almost indistinguishable from the Vedanta, will turn away mens’ hearts from Vishnu and cause them to forget His glory. That glorious incarnation will, through the good fortune of the Lord’s devotees, come down upon earth, to explain and amplify the teachings of the great Sage Baadaraayana and the divine singer of the Gita. The holy one would compose a Bhaashya on the Vyaasa Sutras, to save men from the confusion and despair caused by spurious doctrines and lead them to the True faith” ( Vide p.44 of GLE)
While still a boy , he lost his father and was living with his mother at Kanchipuram under the protection of one ‘Tiruk kachi Nambi’ This Nambi was believed to converse and was on ‘speaking terms’ with Lord Varadaraja in the Archa form.
Events In The Life Of Sri Ramanuja
(1) Within 16 years of age, he had mastered all the Vedas and Sastras. At age 17, he married Rakshakaambaal ( Tanjammal, in Tamil) (PPM)
(2) Ilaya Perumal was placed under the Advaitic Sannyasi called YADAVA PRAKASA at Tirupput kuzhi for training in Advaita Purva Paksha Sastra of Vedanta. Once during this period, Alavandar who desired nominating Ilaya Perumal to succeed himself visited Tirupput kuzhi, met with him but had no opportunity to speak to him and had to return to Srirangam.
Very many occasions arose when the Saivite Guru clashed with Ilaya Perumal when the Guru misinterpreted Vedantic statements. Ilaya Perumal fearlessly pointed out the errors in the Guru’s interpretations and corrected him. This enraged the Guru. Fearing that one day, Ilaya Perumal would demolish Advaita philosophy, he plotted to kill Ilaya Perumal by drowning him in Ganga while on a pilgrimage tour of the country with his disciples.
Learning of the design through one Govinda, another disciple who was also related to him, Ilaya Perumal slipped out into the forest at dead of night. Miraculously, an aged hunter couple appeared and guided him. As Ilaya Perumal who was in a trance, opened his eyes, he found himself at the outskirts of Kanchipuram and the couple had disappeared. He realized that it was Lord Varadaraja and Perundevi Thayar who had come in the guise of the hunter couple. He stayed at Kanchi for a while to assist Tiruk Kachi Nambi in his daily chores of service to Lord Varadaraja.
(3) News came that Alavandar was very sick and he desired to meet with Ilaya Perumal. Just as Tirukkachi Nambi and Alavandar arrived, they saw the funeral procession of Alavandar. During the last rites, they noticed that three fingers of Alavandar remained folded signifying three of his last unfulfilled wishes. As Ilaya Perumal swore
( i ) that he would write a commentary on Veda Vyasa’s Brahma Sutra ( ii ) that he would perpetuate the memory of Vyasa and Parasara and ( iii ) that he would strive to propagate Visishtadvaita on the lines of the 4000 holy collects of Alwars, the fingers unfolded one by one automatically and stretched out to normal position signifying that these were his last wishes. Since he could not meet with Alavandar, he returned to Kanchi without even going into the temple at Srirangam (PPM)
(4) Tirukkachi Nambi obtained from Lord Varadaraja the famous ‘ Six Words ‘ and passed them on to Ilayalwar. The six words provided the guidelines for Ilayalwar to follow. They were:-
( i ) that Lord Narayana is the Paramatma. (ii ) that the individual souls were different from Paramatma. (iii) that Prapatti is the means to attain salvation. (iv) that the last remembrance of the Lord on the part of the departing soul was not necessary. (v) that Moksha can be obtained only on laying off the mortal coils (Videha Mukti) & (vi) that Ilaya Perumal should take refuge at the feet of Periya Nambi.
Accordingly, he met with Periya Nambi at Madurantakam , where under the shade of Vakula tree Periya Nambi performed Pancha Samskara to him. As he was initiated into the esoteric of Dvaya Mantra at Madurantakam, the place came to be known as “Dvayam Vilaindha Tiruppathi” (PPM) Both returned to Srirangam and did Kalakshepams on Brahma Sutra etc. for sometime. It was at this time that Lord Ranganatha called him “Nammudaiyavar” (He is ours).(PPM)
(5) Ilaya Perumals was not a happy married life. His wife never understood either his greatness nor appreciated his catholicity and always acted on her own wavelength and there was no compatibility as between them. Several instances are cited wherein the lady ensconced in her own in her own pet ideas of being holy or otherwise showed scant respect to Bhagavatas and this greatly annoyed Ilayalwar. When he was about 30 years of age, Ilayalwar took Sannyas with the name of ‘Ramanuja Muni’. He was the king among Sannyasis. Hence, he is called ‘ Yati Rajar’- a honorific invested by Lord Devaathi Rajan.
(6) The seat of Acharya at Srirangam was lying vacant without a successor to take over. He was prevailed upon to assume charge. But, before doing so, he wanted to equip himself with the secrets of the three great Mantras. For this purpose, he approached one ” Tiruk Koshtiyur Nambi” who made him come several times before actually instructing him. He cautioned Ramanuja that he should not give out the secrets to all and sundry and if he did so, he would go to hell.
Immediately on receiving the instructions, Ramanuja climbed up to the top of the steeple of the temple and proclaimed to the large gathering of his disciples assembled there the purport of the instruction.
The popular belief that he gave out the Mantras is not correct; What he actually gave out was that he had found out the way to attain Moksha through the three great Mantras and invited those who sincerely wished to follow him and get initiated. Also, he did not advise all and sundry as assumed by some. By the time of this episode, he had already gathered a huge following of disciples who congregated at the main entrance to the temple and he was thus addressing his own disciples (as explained in a separate posting in this series). This is another less known fact about the well known Acharya Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi was so enraged and demanded an explanation. Ramanuja replied that he did not give out the secrets and even if he had transgressed the specific warning of the Guru, only he himself would go to hell but the multitude of humanity that listened to his clarion ‘ wake – up’ call would be saved spiritually. The Guru was overwhelmed by this reply . Embracing Ramanuja appreciating his broad mindedness, he called him ‘Emperumanar’- ” O! My lord” and declared that Srivaishnavism would thenceforward be known as ” Ramanuja Darsanam”- ‘ the light of Ramanuja’
(7) Yadava prakasa, his old Guru had by then returned to Kanchi, became Ramanuja’s disciple assuming the name of ‘Govinda Yogi’
(8) Ramanuja used to go round the streets for his Biksha. An evil minded fellow had mixed poison in the biksha. His wife while serving the biksha fell at Ramanujas feet with tears in her eyes. Ramanuja understood that there was something wrong. When the Sishyas sorted out the biksha for cooking, they found out that poison was mixed with it. Ramanuja went on a fast with a view to cleanse the mind of the evil-doer. On hearing this, Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi rushed all the way to Srirangam. When Ramanuja heard of the coming of his Guru, he rushed to the banks of River Kaveri to receive him. It was the height of summer. Ramanuja ran towards him in the hot Sun to receive him and fell at his feet on the burning sands on the banks of river Kaveri. Nambi did not ask him to get up. Such was his Acharya Bhakti. At that time , Kidambi Aachaan, who was nearby told Nambi ” Your action (in not asking Ramanuja to get up) is worse than the poison mixed in the bikshai”. Such was the Acharya bhakti of Ramanujas Sishya !(Like master, like pupil !). Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi exclaimed, ” After all, now I can cast off my physical body since I have found one who would take the greatest care of Ramanuja”
(9) Ramanuja traveled throughout the country spreading the message of Visishtadvaita. Once a votary of the ‘ illusion theory’ Yagna Murthi by name confronted him for 16 days in endless arguments and counter arguments. Finally, he accepted defeat and became a disciple of Ramanuja assuming the name of ‘Arulala Perumal Emperumanar’ and wrote ‘Gnana Saram and Prameya Saram’.
(10) One of the most important disciples who was totally devoted to Ramanuja was Kuresan also known as ‘ Kurattalwan’. Once, Kuresan participated in the shradda ceremony performed for his mother by the famous Tiruvarangathu Amudanar. This Amudanar was in charge of the Srirangam temple. When Amudanar inquired what Kuresan desired as reward for his participation, Kuresan replied that the administration of the temple should be handed over to Ramanuja. Amudanar, who had already known the greatness of Ramanuja was only too glad to hand over the key to Ramanuja. It is this Tiruvarangattu Amudanar who subsequently wrote the Ramanuja Noorrantadhi of 108 verses which was included in the holy collects to make up the total of 4,000.
(11) After Mastering the Bodhaayana Vritti of Sage Vyaasa, he wrote several works like Vedanta Sangraham explaining the various viewpoints of Sankara, Yadhava, Bhaskara and others, Vedanta Deepam, Geetha Bashyam etc.
(12) During Panguni Uttram, he did Prapatti before the Divya Dhampathi in Serthi and submitted his famous Gadhyatrayam (comprising Saranagathi Gadhyam, Sriranga Gadhyam and Sri Vaikunta Gadhyam ),
(13) Later, he wrote a Grantha called Nityam detailing the Tiruvaradhana Kramam
(14) While he was on his Sancharam, it is believed that the Lord himself appeared before him at Tiruk Kurum Kudi as a Srivaishnava got Samasrayanam from Udaiyavar (PPM)
(15) When he visited Saraswati Peetam, Goddess Saraswati was so impressed with his commentary on Brahma Sutram that she named it “Sri Bhashyam” and conferred on him the title of “Bhashyakaarar”. It must be noted that while the other commentaries are known by the names of their authors like ‘Sankara Bashyam’ written by Aadhi Sankara, the commentary of Ramanuja is always referred to with the venerable honorific ‘Sri’ denoting its unsurpassed quality and clarity and known as ‘ Sri Bashyam’ (PPM)
(16) When he visited Tirumala, a miracle happened. Some argued that the Lord of Tirumalai was Saiva param. It is surprising that such a claim should have arisen about the Lord who had been worshipped as Lord Vishnu by all the Alwars and Acharyas besides Elango Adigal and other Tamil Pulavars for several centuries. This was because the Lord had earlier entrusted His insignia to a King called Tondamaan. (SAA p.57-58). The Lord desired to take back from Tondamaan, these insignia viz., Sankhu, Tiruvaazhi, Soolam, Damarukam etc. They were placed in the Sannidhi the previous night. And, when the doors were opened the next morning, the Lord gave Darshan adorning all his insignia (PPM). Ramanuja was hailed as ” Appanukku Sangaazhi Alittha Perumaal” Poet Arunagiri himself sang clearing all doubts in this regard saying “Ulageenra Pachai umaiyanan, Vada Venkadathil Uraibhavan, Uyar Sanga Chakra kara Thalan”
(17) Ramanuja “was the greatest synoptic thinker which the world ever produced to systematize Visishtadvaitic philosophy, faithfully interpreting the ancient knowledge in tune with the letter and spirit of the text in the light of revelation and experience tested by stern logic”- [- Hon’ble Justice K.S.Krishnaswami Iyengar of the High Court of Judicture, Madras in his foreword to Desika Prabahandam( P.31) published by Lifco Associates, Madras- 3rd Edition, 1982. ]
(18) His magnum opus is his wonderful commentary on Vedavyasa’s Brahma Sutram and a simpler commentary thereon called Vedanta Saram. Kuresan was very helpful in publishing his works. Thus, he fulfilled his FIRST PROMISE to Alavandar. It is this Kuresan (aka) Sri Vatsanka Misra who wrote the famous Pancha Sthava consisting of Athi Maanusha Sthava, Sri Sthava, Varadaraja Sthava, Vaikunta Sthava and Sundarabaahu Sthava.
(19) He asked Kuresan to name his two sons after Veda Vyasa and Parasara and thus fulfilled his SECOND PROMISE to Alavandar. It was this Parasara Bhattar who subsequently wrote the famous commentary on Vishnu Sahasra Nama as ordained by Ramanuja.
(20) Another disciple of Ramanuja was Pillaan. Once, when Ramanuja was alone mentally reciting a particular hymn of Tiruvoimozhi, Pillaan entered his room and inquired if he was meditating on a particular hymn. And, it was indeed the one Ramanuja was actually meditating on!. Ramanuja decided that Pillaan was the person best suited to write a commentary on Tiruvoimozhi. As ordered, he wrote the famous ‘AARAAYIRAPPADI’ (the commentary known as the 6000 Padi also known as Bhagavad Vishayam) and called Pillaan as ‘Tirukkurugai Piraan” after the name of Nammalwar. He was also known as Kurugesar and Braathru Thozhappar. Thus, he fulfilled his THIRD PROMISE to Alavandar. He was one of the Sri Bhashya ubhaya Simhasana Adhipathis.(PPM)
(21) Kulothunga Chola was a staunch devotee of Siva. He commanded Ramanuja to come to his court with a view to enlisting his support to establish the superiority of Siva over all other deities. (including Vishnu ). If the support was not forthcoming, the king was planning to kill Ramanuja. Sensing the danger, Kuresa went to the court disguised as Ramanuja along with another disciple called Periya Nambi. The king ordered him to sign a document to the effect that ‘Siva is the greatest’. Kuresa added that ‘ Sivam was no doubt great but Dronam was greater than Sivam’- both expressions referring to units of measurement. The enraged king ordered both of them to be blinded when he came to know that he was Kuresa who was impersonating Ramanuja. Periya Nambi was tortured to death while Kuresa survived. Kuresa, though he himself was blinded, was happy that he had saved Ramanuja. It is this Kulothunga who is reported to have thrown away the idol of Govindaraja in the sea. Ramanuja recovered it and had it installed at Tirupati.
(22) While on an itinerary, Ramanuja noticed an officer of state, by name Danur daasa, a hunter by birth was over -concerned and over- protective about the beauty of his wife who was walking along on the hot sands on the banks of the river Kaveri. Ramanuja offered to show him something more beautiful than his wife and took him to the proximity of the image of Lord Ranganatha. Danur daasa was enraptured by the charm of the Lord and became a disciple of Ramanuja assuming the name of ‘ Uranga Villi Daasar’. Ramanuja never entertained any caste distinctions and was conferring his benedictions even on the lowliest of the lowly whom he called ‘Tiruk Kulattar’.
(23) Ramanuja went to Tiru narayana puram in search of white clay paste used for applying caste marks by Vaishnavites. The idol of the temple there had been taken away by the muslim invaders and was being used at play as a doll by the muslim princess in Delhi. Ramanuja went to Delhi and when he endearingly called ‘ Come on! My dear child ‘Selva Pillaiye Vaarum’, the idol miraculously came onto his lap. Ramanuja reinstalled it in the temple.
(24) Once some kids were playing on the road pretending to construct a temple, installing an idol of the Lord, offering fruits and flowers etc all the time using the dust on the road for the purpose. They offered some mud as prasadam to Ramanuja who was passing along , he received it with due respect. He remembered in this connection the words of Poigai Alwar who said that the Lord took whatever name and form his sincere devotees wished and in the instant case though the kids were only playing, they sincerely believed in what they were doing.
(25) Another disciple of Ramanuja was Vaduga Nambi who put the sandals of his Guru along with those of the Lord. When questioned, he replied that the Acharya’s sandals were for him as holy as those of the Lord. When Lord Ranganatha was coming on his rounds on the streets of Srirangam, Vaduga Nambi remarked that the eyes that had seen the charm in the eyes of Ramanuja would not be able to appreciate the beauty of the eyes of even the Lord.-‘En Amudinai Kanda Kangal Marronrinai Kaanaave.’ Such was his devotion to his Acharya.
(26) Ramanuja arranged to make a lifelike idol of himself and embracing it invested it with his powers and had it installed in Tirumalai at Tirupati. The only temple consecrated in Tirumalai , other than that of Lord Venkateswara, is that of Ramanuja.(SAA p.58) The Archa moorthi of Ramanuja known as “Thaan Ugantha Tirumeni” was installed in Tirunarayanapuram.
(27) Once, when he visited Tondanoor in Hoysala State, he happened to meet a Jain king called Devarayan. His daughter was possessed by a demon and none could get rid of her predicament. When Ramanuja’s SriPaada Theertham ( water consecrated by association with his feet) was sprinkled on her,she was cured of the devil. The King pleaded to be accepted as Ramanujas Sishya. Ramanuja accepted and named him “Vishnu Vardhana”.
(28) Ramanuja nominated 74 Acharyas to succeed him. It is he who instituted the 13 day “iyal Goshti in Srirangam. (PPM)
His Ascent To Paramapadam
With his head on the lap of Embar and his feet on the lap of Vaduga Nambi, Ramanuja breathed his last in 1137 AD listening to the recitation of the Divya Prabandam.
Born in PINGALA year, he left for his heavenly abode also in PINGALA year that followed 120 years from the year of his Avatara. Thus, he lived TWO full cycles of Tamil years after his birth
PLV places the date in Saaka era 1009, Pingala, in the month of Magha, the 10 th day of Sukla Paksha under the constellation of Tiruvadirai and at noon ( as in the time of his birth).
(The following section is from the book “The Life and Legacy of Sripad Ananda Tirtha – Madhwacarya” from the third chapter regarding the evolution and movement of intent to prepare the way for the arrival of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, by Jaya Tirtha Charan dasa).
Sripad Ramanujacarya. In the year 1017 A.D. Sripad Ramanujacarya, a partial incarnation of Lord Ananta Shesha and Laxman appeared on the ‘sasthi’, sixth lunar mansion of the light fortnight in the month of Chaitra, (April-May). He made his appearance in South India, Tundiradesha, at Sriperumbudur, about half way between Kancipuram and Madras. His fathers’ name was Asuri Keshava Somayaji, also known as Sarvakratu Diksitar, who it is believed was either an advaitin, or a smarta. His mother was Kantimati, the grand daughter of the great Vaisnavacarya Yamunacarya. Sri Ramanuja was given the name Ilaya Perumal, by his parents and was trained in the various studies of the Alwar saints of South Indian. His education was mostly given by his father a pandit of the time. When he was fifteen he was taken to Kancipuram, where he and his cousin Govinda were sent to study under the Advaitin Acarya Yadava Prakash. As the years went by and Ramanujas’ maturity advanced. Many times there were philosophical clashes between he and his ‘advaitin’ teacher to the point when Yadava prakash made arrangements for Ramanuja to be killed. Still unperturbed he preached what became his “new” philosophy the Vaisnava philosophy of ‘Visisthadvaita’, or qualified oneness. Sripad Ramanujacarya directed his new philosophy to defeating the monistic views of Sankara. Instead of leaving understandings as some kind of impersonalistic blank, this is ‘maya’ or this is ‘avidya’, Ramanuja gave relationships to everything, that is, everything has a relationship to the Lord. He qualified everything. Sripad Ramanujacarya gives some nice points on referring to the acceptance of, or usage of ‘avidya’. Though Sripad Ramanujacarya uses the word “ajnan” rather than ‘avidya’, the meaning is the same, ignorance. Being a personalistic worshipper of Sri Laksmi Narayana, Ramanujacarya tackles everything as a personalist would. He points out the existence of ‘ajnan’ (ignorance) as a positive entity and as being directly perceived in such perceptions as “I am ignorant”, “I do not know myself or others”. This really refers to having lack of understanding of something due to not having any, or insufficient knowledge of what it is. So in Ramanujacarya’s philosophy he simply throws the blame back on the perceiver, not on the subject that the infinitesimal perceiver is trying with his limited senses to perceive, like the ‘mayavadis’ do. He suggests that maybe we are not seeing things fully or in the right perspective. The ‘mayavadis’ simply try to blame the knife for stabbing the man to death, neglecting the chance that someone may have been holding the knife, and maybe even with some intent to do something, either consciously or not. Once I observed one of my children, my then two year old, fall from the swing and clambering to stand up rebuked the swing, you’re naughty swing. But the swing actually wasn’t at fault, dare I say it was my child for not being co-ordinated.
Sri Ramanuja clarifies one rather interesting point as well. He said that if ignorance is a perceivable thing (entity or specific item), then that cannot be ignorance for it is known. Ignorance can only refer to that which is unknown, or that which one is ignorant of. Also if ignorance is unknown, how can one have ignorance standing on it’s own to be perceived, one would not know? If it is argued that ‘ajnan’ or ignorance is ‘a-visada-swarupa’ (Indistinct knowledge), then again Sripad Ramanujacarya gives a good point that this is only to the fact that there is lack of distinct knowledge as to what it is. Even if their, (the ‘mayavadis’) philosophy of positive ignorance is admitted, it must be somehow related to something and that something must be known, which in its self is knowledge. In that way, if ‘jnan’ (knowledge) of any given subject such as the material world, or the Lord were there, the ‘mayavadi’ philosopher would have something to relate to. But they don’t, therefore they are known as ‘mayavadis’ or ‘ajnanavadis’ due to their ignorance. This is understood by the Vaisnavacaryas who are in full knowledge. The opposite to black being white, the opposite to ignorance being knowledge.
Sripad Ramanujacarya clears up the theory of illusion as set by the Sankarites in the following way by saying that if one knows what is truth, one may, for a short period, be subject to illusion by which normal things appear different to what they should be. But it cannot be said that illusion has no cause other than illusion itself, or is unknown or just appears for no reason. Ramanuja goes on to say that if illusion were an inexpressible of an unidentifiable thing, again when or where would one even known it was illusion for one would be in illusion and would have nothing to compare with as real.
According to the ‘avidya’, ‘advaitistic’ philosophy of Sankara, the dream state, the wakeful state, and the state of self are all unreal and illusory. But according to Ramanujacarya there is a real character in all these three states. Even dreams are not illusion entirely. During the waking state the self is awake, and it contacts the objects of the senses externally through the mind and senses. In the dream state, the self becomes detached from the external world of the senses and their objects. The mind, however, experiences a succession of images presented from the memory without really any necessity of logic or reason. Originally the objects were seen or touched, smelt or heard through the senses, and the mind stores the information. The mind acts in this way, that’s its function, so definitely it cannot be called illusion or unreal for it is just a reflection of reality that the mind has come in contact with. Sankara says that in the case of sleep one is the witness of ‘avidya’ (ignorance). After waking, one says, “I slept well, I was pure spiritual consciousness, free from all material conditioning, and a witness to ‘avidya’.” Sripad Ramanujacarya however sheds a deeper light on this subject. He says that person who was sleeping is not only pure spiritual consciousness, but is a spirit soul, eternal servant of the Lord, and that pure spiritual consciousness is an attribute of the soul by which the soul can be perceived (‘swarupopadhi’). So by this we can see that if the soul (self) did not remain conscious in sleep, then how could he then remember upon waking that he had been sleeping, or had slept well? Thus there would be a gap in his life, not knowing he had done anything what to speak of sleep, so what is this witness to ‘avidya’. This is not a fact, for the soul has a sense of permanent consciousness carried by memory which tells him that he has done something or give the sense of fulfilment knowing he has taken rest for a set period.
The ‘mayavadis’ say that the perceptions one may have in a dream are all unreal in the same way scriptures are not real, as the written word cannot do justice to a spiritual reality. Sri Ramanuja refutes this saying, that, it is not true that dreams are unreal, but the circumstances are different, in as much as the activities may be there in a dream, and the same activities are there in a waking state. One could in fact say the activities are the same, in both states, but ‘that is the only qualification to their one-ness’ (‘visistadwaita’). It is not that the dreams of subtle nature and the activities of the wakeful state are exactly one, however, there is a qualification to their one-ness. The activity may be of the same kind of act, and it is the same person who sees in relation with both. One could further say that the vision exists, but in the dreaming state not on a gross platform. The objects seen may not necessarily grossly exist, though certainly the objects do exist somewhere. An example may be given that one may see in a dream a golden mountain, and it is a fact that gold exists and a mountain exists, but to see a golden mountain?? Well maybe! Another example is that sometimes, due to our defective material vision, we may mistake a rope on the floor for a snake. Certainly ropes exist and snakes exists, but to fear a rope or pick up a snake, this kind of all one-ness can cause problems. The reason that one fears a snake that one sees in a dream even if it is a rope, is because of one’s previous experience of the potency of snakes.
Another argument sometimes used is that of seeing silver in a pearl or that of a shell. If one has defective vision one could say that there is definitely silver in a shell or pearl. Silver is real and pearls and shells are also real, but when one’s defect in vision is restored one can actually see what is actual silver and what is pearls colouration (mother of pearl in shells). Again, the perception was true but it was due to a particular circumstance. A conclusion can be drawn at this point that the qualification of oneness in different objects can be seen according to the perception of the seer. As with the pearl or shell, one can grasp what is there partially or totally depending on one’s vision. So the practicality of discriminating in every day life proves that everything is not one, though due to everything having it’s roots in the Lord, and the changeable nature of things in this material world one could say that, due to everything emanation from the Lord, it is one, but due to the practically unlimited varieties of temporary manifestations in the universe there has to be a qualification to the oneness, ‘Visista adwaita’, qualified oneness.
There are three ways of understanding the truth, out of the three ways Sripad Ramanujacarya says, one must accept ‘Sruti pramana’, Vedic literature without doubt. ‘Anuman pramana’, inference or reasoning can also be accepted if it falls in line with ‘Sruti’, and ‘pratyaksa pramana’, sensual perception can also be accepted as an authority in this matter if it falls in line with ‘Sruti pramana’. Though ‘anuman’ and ‘pratyaksa’ can be debated, Sruti must be accepted as absolute truth having come down from the Supreme Lord. This in essence is the summary of Sripad Ramanujacarya’s philosophy of ‘Visisthadwaita’, everything being based on what the Lord has said or done.
Sripad Ramanujacarya makes the statement in his Sri Bhasya commentary on Vedanta Sutra, “For those who accept God as the highest and ultimate reality, who has the power to create all of these unlimited universes whilst in a dreaming state lying in the Karana Ocean. Who is glorified through the Vedic literatures, who is omniscient and free from all defects, and is full in all good qualities personified, having a body made of eternity, knowledge and bliss, to these fortunate Vaisnavas, what can be achieved or proven simply by dull witted argument, or blunt senses? The Supreme Personality of Godhead created all the universes for His own pleasure, and the tiny living entities (the Jivas) can enjoy in this world by serving the Lord or engage in their own selfish pursuits and become criminally entangled and further conditioned in the world of birth and death. The Lord gives results of one’s actions through the contact of the senses and the objects of the senses, the result being happiness or distress. Due to the action the concomitant result follows for a limited period of time.”
“Thus the distinction between experiences that are contradicted (like dreams) and those that are contradicting (like wakeful experiences) is a distinction between objects of the senses that are experienced by everyone and those that are not (as in dreams).” This is an example of qualified oneness.(Sri Bhasya 1:1:1. ‘opening verse’.).
Sripad Ramanujacarya could not stand the way things were at the time, the so-called religion that was being practised, the cheating of priests (‘Purohits’) and the ignorant blind following of the people. Although he accepted the ‘daivi varnashrama’ system, it was not solely based on birth rite, but on quality and qualification, ‘guna’ and ‘karma’. Some guide lines he laid down were as follows:- That a devotee, or for that matter everyone, should be like salt. That is, the same within and without, free from duplicity and cheating. He also gave an example how one should be even like a fowl, in as much as a fowl is able to pick out the wholesome things even from a stock-pile of rubbish. These are also examples used by other great teachers, 1) to take gold from a dirty place, 2) to separate milk from water, 3) to take a good wife from even a low class family and 4) even take good advice from a fool. Another famous saying of his was that one should be like a bird called the crane, who is very watchful for his prey. Expect the unexpected and don’t be surprised when calamity comes.
Sripad Ramanujacarya was a great propounder of and follower of the ‘Pancaratriki’ system of ‘Puja’, Deity worship. This system is so designed to invite the personal form, or image of God to reside in the temple, and then to render all kinds of opulent services to the Lord, that otherwise one would not be able to perform, for His pleasure. By doing so one can develop further one’s own personal relationship with the Supreme Person by this simple process as laid down in the scriptures by such great devotees as Narada Muni. By such worship in the temple or in the home under the guidance of ‘guru’, ‘shastra’ and the devotees one’ life can become perfect. There are various ‘Pancaratric’ texts which he followed (and to this day are followed by his followers), but basically the principal behind ‘Pancaratra’ is, giving the necessary rules and regulations, for purity, punctuality and use of exclusive privacy for ‘puja’ and preparations for the worshiping of the personal form of the Lord. In all of his institutions great care was taken daily to see to the worship of the deity in the temple, very high standards of personal service to the Lord were always followed, cleanliness and punctuality being of the utmost.
To establish his teaching he compiled the Sri Bhasya which was his commentary on the Vedanta Sutra. Also he made a commentary of Bhagavad Gita.
We can recap how Sripad Ramanujacarya strongly attacks the philosophy of Sankara. Saying that the concept of ‘Brahman’ as being without qualities is meaningless or fiction as it cannot be seen, touched, spoken about or known. Sripad Ramanujacarya goes on to state that it is not a fact that this world is false, but it is a fact that it is temporary, and originally comes from God and in that way, yes, everything is one because everything is coming from the Lord, and therefore that is the only qualification to its oneness.
aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”(Bhagavad Gita 10:8.).
Srimad Bhagavad Gita (14:27.) says:
brahmano hi pratisthaham
amrta syavya yasya ca
sasvatasya ca dharmasya
“I am the origin of the impersonal Brahman which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.”
During Sankara’s reign he founded the philosophical deviation, ‘panchopasaka’, that one can worship five kinds of Deities together equally as one, they are listed as Visnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Surya and Devi (either Durga, Laxmi or Saraswati). However, in the Padma Purana it is stated that the second offence against the Holy Name of Lord Krsna (Visnu) is “To consider the demigods such as Lord Shiva or Lord Brahma or others to be equal to or independent of the Holy Name or form of Lord Visnu.” When Sripad Ramanujacarya came he very strongly challenged this bogus idea of Sankara using the teachings of Sri Narada Muni from the Narad Pancaratra to firmly establish that Lord Visnu (Narayana), is the one true and Supreme Lord without a second.
Sri Ramanujacarya said that Lord Narayana (Visnu) is supreme and that all others are subordinate. One may offer respects to any demigod as one would to any devotee, but to mis-identify the Supreme Lord with a small lord is an offence. He quotes the verses from the Srimad Bhagavatam spoken by Lord Brahma (Canto 2., Adhyayah 5., texts 15-16-17.). Wherein it is said, “The Vedas owe their existance to Narayana. The ‘devas’ are all tiny aspects of Narayana. all the worlds are manifestations of Narayana. All worship is inspired by Narayana alone. The term yoga is meant for gaining union with Narayana. All austerity is meant to be performed for Narayana. Knowledge is only of Narayana. The final destination or goal is the association of Narayana. I am also a creation of that Supreme One who is the Ultimate Seer, the Eternal Lord, and the Supreme Soul who accompanies all souls in this world. By His grace alone, and by His command, I have become the creator and am doing the work of creation.”(Srimad Bhagavatam 2:5:15-17.) There are many instances in Sripad Ramanujacarya’s eventful life which draw us to some kind of appreciation of how hard he battled to establish Visnu as supreme, even plans were made to kill him, to stop his mission, but the Lord came to his aid. There are many wonderful pastimes which could be told, but they are too numerous to do justice to here. I personally suggest instead, that one read the very nice book by Naimasaranya dasa of ISKCON entitled “The life of Ramanujacarya,” many hours of enjoyable reading.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his Vani Vaibhava makes a nice statement to show how Sripad Ramanujacaya fits in to the overall plan of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
sripada ramanujaya visistha-dwaita siddhanta
mahaprabhu gaudiya prema mandire bidhi swarupa
An interesting story follows, showing how Ramanuja came to assist in the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, this originally is found in the book of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur entitled Navadwipa Dhama Mahatmya and sheds the view of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas upon the mission, pastimes, and who came to help him, similar to how we are expressing here, but without the reasons, the concept of evolution of philosophy.
“Once whilst Sripad Ramanuja Acarya was staying in Jagannatha Puri he offered prayers to Lord Jagannatha Who became very pleased. “Lord Jagannatha appeared before Sri Ramanuja and said, “Ramanuja, go and visit Sri Navadvipa, for very soon I shall appear there in the house of Sri Jagannatha Misra. Sri Navadvipa is My most beloved abode and is a part of the spiritual sky manifest in this world. As My eternal servant and a leader amongst My devotees, you should go there. Let your students stay here, for they are absorbed in ‘dasya rasa’ (servitorship in awe and reverence) and will not understand the advanced devotional mood (of spontaneous love of Godhead, ‘raga-marg’). Travel there alone. Any living entity who does not go to see Sri Navadvipa has been born uselessly. Just one portion of Sri Navadvipa contains Ranga Kshetra, Venkateshvara and Yadava Acala. Therefore go to Sri Navadvipa and see My form of Gauranga. After gaining (My) blessings (there), go to Kurma Sthana and rejoin your disciples.”
“Folding his hands, Sri Ramanuja humbly requested Lord Jagannatha, “My dear Lord, You have mercifully told me something about Gauranga, but exactly who He is, I don’t know.”
“The Lord answered, “It is known to you that Lord Sri Krishna, the Lord of Goloka, is the Supreme Absolute Truth. That much is well known to My devotees. That same Supreme Personality of Godhead who resides in Sri Vrindavana is fully manifest as Gauranga, and His beloved abode, Sri Vrindavana, is manifest as holy Navadvipa. Navadvipa is the Supreme spiritual abode and it is transcendental to the influence of the material nature. In that divine land, Lord Gauranga eternally resides. By My mercy that holy abode has come to exist within this universe, but it remains completely unaffected by ‘maya’. This is the verdict of the scriptures. If anyone thinks that Sri Navadvipa is only a material location, then whatever devotion he has developed will wither and perish. By My will, My inconceivable energy preserves this transcendental abode within this material world. Simply by studying the scriptures, one will not be able to understand the Absolute Truth. Only by My mercy can My devotees understand.” “Hearing these words of Lord Jagannatha, Sripad Ramanujacarya was filled with love. “My dear Lord,” he said, “Your pastimes are truly astounding. The scriptures cannot fully describe Your opulence’s. Why is ‘Gauranga-lila’ not described in the scripture? Upon reflection, I find some hint of ‘Gauranga tattwa’ in the ‘Srutis’ and ‘puranas’. Now, however, all my doubts are gone and I am ready to execute Your will. If it is Your desire, I will go to Sri Navadvipa and from there, I will set out to preach about Lord Gauranga throughout the three worlds, giving evidence from the scriptures to all converting them to the devotional service of Gauranga. Please instruct me. You have just to give me Your order.”
“Lord Jagannatha replied, ‘Sripad Ramanuja, do not broadcast in this way. Keep these secrets of Lord Gauranga’s pastimes as they are for the present. Only after He has concluded His pastimes will the people in general come to understand them. Preach about Me on the level of ‘dasya rasa’ as you have always done, but within your heart worship Gauranga constantly.’” “Following Lord Jagannatha’s order, Sripad Ramanujacarya secretly cultivated his attraction for Sri Navadvipa. Being very merciful, Lord Narayana led him to Vaikunthapura and showed him His transcendental form, worshipped by manifestations of His different energies. Sripad Ramanujacarya felt himself most fortunate to see this, but as he watched, the Lord manifested His form as Gauranga, the son of Jagannatha Misra. Sripad Ramanujacarya’s mind became stunned by the brilliance of His shining golden form. Lord Gauranga then placed His two lotus feet upon Sripad Ramanujacarya’s head, and Ramanujacarya filled with inspiration, began to offer prayers. “Sripad Ramanujacarya said, “I must see Your pastimes when You appear here in Navadvipa My Lord. I shall never leave this place.” “Lord Gauranga replied, “Your wish will be fulfilled, O son of Keshava. When My Navadvipa ‘lila’ is revealed, you will again take your birth here.” “Lord Gauranga then disappeared. Greatly satisfied by the Lord’s promise, Sripad Ramanujacarya returned to Kurma Sthana, where he joined his disciples. During his life he preached devotional service to the Lord in the mood of dasya rasa or servitorship through out the South of India, whilst internally he was absorbed in meditating on the pastimes of Lord Gauranga. By Lord Gauranga’s mercy, he was born again in Sri Navadvipa as a devotee named Ananta to assist in the Lord’s pastimes.” “When Lord Caitanya made His appearance in Sri Navadvipa, Ananta Vipra was already quite old. He lived in a cottage which was situated beneath a huge old banyan tree. There, within this humble abode, he would worship his Deities of Lakshmi-Narayana. None could describe the pure way in which he worshipped Them.
“Ananta was a very dear friend and neighbour of Sri Vallabha Misra. Sri Vallabha was very affectionate to him and treated him as his disciple. “On the most glorious day when Lord Gaurasundara accepted the hand of Srimati Lakshmipriya at the Misra’s house, a huge festival was held and Ananta was invited. As the Vipra stood watching Lord Caitanya and Srimati Lakshmipriya sitting together during their marriage ceremony, dressed in gorgeous silks and jewels, he realised that they were none other than his beloved Sri Lakshmi Narayana. Unable to control his spontaneous emotions he began to dance like a madman. His hair stood on end and his whole body trembled. Understanding, however, that his activities might seem a little inappropriate, he finally controlled himself and returned to his house. Entering his cottage, he sat down before his Sri Lakshmi-Narayana Deities and again became overcome with ecstatic love. He began to consider how his beloved Lordships had now manifested as Lord Gauranga and Srimati Lakshmipriya. He thought, “I am so fortunate to have personally seen Him, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I, who am so fallen and insignificant.” As he sat there, Lord Gauranga, being very satisfied by his devotion appeared before him. The Lord was a beautiful golden colour and His bodily effulgence was brighter than millions of moons. He was dressed in first class silks and decorated with valuable jewels. He sat on a fabulous golden throne which was studded with gems and Srimati Lakshmi Devi at His side. “Lord Gauranga could understand what Ananta was thinking and manifested His four armed Narayana form. Seeing his worshipable Lord Narayana standing before him, the ‘brahmana’ fell down at the Lord’s feet to offer prayers. The Lord, being controlled by His devotee’s love, smiled charmingly at him. “O My beloved devotee,” the Lord said, “By My will you have seen this form. Anyone who sees My form has all his desires fulfilled.” Then after placing His lotus feet on Ananta’s head, the Lord departed. Ananta became totally absorbed in remembrance of the Lord’s Sri Navadvipa pastimes.”
One can see from incidences like these, that these personalities were no ordinary conditioned souls, or for that matter sinful living entities, but directly the Lord’s intimate, and trusted devotees.
More….. Once Ramanuja was walking along with his 5 top sannyasi disciples. Stopping by a pond, he took some prasadam and threw half of it in the water for the fish. Then he got up to walk on. Just then the fish who had taken the prasadam assumed four-handed forms and rose up in the air, returning home, back to Godhead. The 5 sannyasis stopped and begand to disrobe. Ramanuja turned and asked them why they were not following. They said, “We are thunder- struck. Please explain what we have just seen. Otherwise, how can we follow behind you in this condition?” Ramanuja answered, “You’ve seen the power of taking maha-prasadam.” They answered, “But we are taking your maha-prasadam daily, and this is not happening to us.” Ramanuja said, “These creatures have no free will, and therefore make no offense. So they get full benefit at once. But you with your free will and human intelligence make offenses, and thus you hinder your own progress.”
Another time Ramanuja was talking with his sannyasi disciples, and they asked him how they would ever be able to understand the deep philosophy he had written. He said, “What I have written ultimately means simply one thing – prapatti (surrender).” But they continued to argue that they would not be able to fully comprehend his writings. Then he told a sannyasi disciple to bring one deaf and dumb tailor who was just walking by. When the man came, Ramanuja asked them all to leave him alone with this man. So they got up and left, but one disciple looked into the room from a window outside. Ramanuja stood up and motioned to the man to touch his feet. The tailor made full dandavats and began to tremble and cry in ecstacy as he touched Ramanujas lotus feet. When the disciples returned, they were amazed to see this man’s ecstacy, symptomatic of the highest transcendental realization. They asked, “How could such a thing like this happen to him.” Ramanuja answered, “He touched my feet in full surrender. Although he cannot understand one word of philosophy, being deaf and dumb, he has attained all perfection.”
On another occassion someone asked Ramaujacarya who was more attached, the householder in Krishna consciousness or the sannyasis in the mutt. So he set out to reveal the truth. That night he entered with a few of his close associates into one of his renounced householder disciples homes. He then began to clean them out of everything that they owned. To the point that seeing the wife laying asleep with her gold earings and mangal sutram he began to remove them from her.
The husband saw that Ramanuja was doing this and remained laying there. The wife also stured and then in shock that someone was there with her let out a scream, and the “transcendental theif” was gone.
The husband then said to the wife, why did you disturb them, it was our gurudev, and he certainly must have had a higher plan – you should have rolled over to allow him to take the other ear-ring.
Hearing the response filtering back over the next few days Ramanuja set his next plan.
“Go to the mutt where the sannyasis live and in their ashram take their cloth and hide it”. And so one disciple took to the ashram and while the sannyasis were all at their Sri Bhasya class the disciple began to take parts of their kaupins, and tear strips from their Vesthis (dhotis) as if kaupins had been made, and generally swap things around.
When they returned there was like all hell had let loose, “Where is my kaupin?” “Who has torn the end off my vesthis to make kaupin?” “Where is my anga-vaastra, has someone stolen it to make underwear?” and so on.
On of his sayings was that the Vaishnava should be like salt; in the middle salt, in the interim salt, and on the exterior salt – in this way he encouraged honesty among his disciples.
Ramanujacharya, just before leaving his body, gave 74 final instructions, all about serving Vaishnavas. For instance, one should feed them nice preparations and make them so happy they smile; one should massage their legs until they fall asleep; one should walk with them to the end of the village, and then nine steps beyond, and then faint due to intense separation at leaving the Vaishnavas……… His main instructions were two in number: surrender to guru, and serve the Vaishnavas.