and thirty-four years ago, in the year 1268 CE, on this day, Swami Desikan was born as Venkatanathan to his parents, Anantha
Suri and TotAmba, in a small village called Thuppul on the outskirts of the famous town of Kanchi.
we know him?
One of the
easiest ways to get to know about the life and work of SvAmi Venkatanathan is through the prefatory verse, called 'tanian',
with which you are all familiar. We recite it at the beginning of all his works. And also through the colophon recited at
the end viz.:
nAThArya kavitArkika kEsari
varyOmE sannidhatAm sadAhrudi
simhAya kalyANa guNashAlinE
venkateshEyA vEdAnta guravE namaha
In the first
verse we say, "May Venkatanathan ever reside in our hearts" ("venkata nathArya ... sannidhatAm sadAhrudi"). And through the
second, we say, "Our obeisance to Venkatanathan"
namaha"). Now, why do we express such sentiments of deep reverence to Swami Venkatanathan? Is it because he was:
(1) a "kavi-kEsari"
-- a glorious poet?
(2) a "tArkika-simham"
-- a lion amongst philosophers?
(3) a "kalyANa
guNa shAlin" -- a person of rare and sublime auspicious qualities?
(4) a "vEdAntAchAryA"
or "vEdAnta-guru" -- a preceptor or guru who showed The Way, the "Art of Living", to followers not only of his times but to
posterity as well?
is: The memory of Swami Venkatanathan deserves to be remembered for all 4 reasons above but especially for the last mentioned
i.e. as a Vedantic 'guru' he showed us how we must live out the time given to us on earth and the purpose to be achieved.
Let us begin
however with the first of the 4 reasons:
As a "kavi-kesari",
a poet in many languages, Venkatanathan was peerless in his times and after. Before him, the only poet of perhaps equal stature,
in terms of both quality and output, was the legendary KalidAsa. To this day scholars find it impossible to adequately describe
the range and power of his poetic prowess.
wrote extensively in Sanskrit and Tamil and to a lesser extent in PrAkrut and ManipravAlam. His collection of Tamil poetry
is known today as 'dEsika-prabhandham' and enjoys a status equal to that of the inspired outpourings of the mystic AzhwArs.
he composed well over 2000 stanzas of exquisite Sanskrit poetry on a variety of religious themes but mostly in praise of Deities
of famous temple-towns like SriRangam, Tiruvengadam, Kanchi and a host of others. His poetry flowed in a dazzling variety
as short couplets and long quatrains, 'stOtra', 'gadyam', 'dandakam', all in every known metric rhythm possible -- from the
simple 'mAlini' metre to the long-winded 'sArdUlavikreedita'. In his famous work praising the Lord at Tiruvengadam, titled
composed 108 stanzas in 10 different metres each being most appropriate to the underlying theme of the verse.
poetic inspiration was pure magic and almost superhuman in genius. One evening in SriRangam, where Desikan lived and worked
several years, a rival poet contemptuously challenged him to compose poetry on the most shabby and un-poetic of themes on
earth -- a pair
footwear! Next morning Desikan astounded the rival, and the rest of the world too, with a poetic work of 1000 stanzas entitled
"PadukA-sahasram"! One thousand stanzas in Sanskrit of the highest order, in praise of the sacred Sandals of Lord Ranganatha,
of the temple!
Written in one sitting within the course of one night!
was hailed "kavi-kEsari" also because he was an acknowledged master of phonetics and linguistics. He could create beautiful
sounds out of words. He could also weave, with equal ease and felicity, meaningful words out of pure sound.
As an example
of the first case, we can turn to 2 particular verses in the 'stotra' of "kAmAsikAshtakam"
where Desikan evokes the fearsome, awe-inspiring image of "jvAla-nrsimha", the man-lion 'avatAr' of NarayAnA. In these 2 stanzas,
composed as they are of
and harsh, guttural-sounding consonants, the words are made to sound like the roars of an angry lion. Listen to the following:
nakha svaru xata hiraNya vaxaH sthalii
vinirgalad.h R^idhira sindhu sandhyaayitaaH.
manuja pa~ncha vaktrasya maam.h
mithaH prakaTitaahavaa baahavaH.. 6
bhiiShaNe sarabha saaTTaa haasodbhaTe
kR^idhi parisphuTad.h bhR^ikuTike.api vaktre kR^ite.
kapaTa kesarin.h danuja Dimbha datta stanaa
dR^ishaa vyativiShajya te vyajyate.. 7
If the above
verses show us how words use pure sound to create images, in the 'pAdukA-sahasram' Desikan demonstrates how the reverse effect
can also be achieved with equally telling effect – where meaningful words are woven out of pure sound:
pAdapA pAdapA (939 Paduka-Sahasram)
Now if any
poet of lesser stature than Swami Desikan were to pen lines like the above, and try and pass it off as poetry, it is likely
he will be taken to be a raving lunatic. But Desikan's genius shows us how even seemingly senseless sound can be made to contain
The above stanza when read as follows:
following meaning in very rough English translation:
of Lord of SriRangam
sinless all things and all beings of this world
all beings in this world and the other
all men who do their bounden duty by their parents and punishes those that fail in it
the devotees of God in the eyes of all the worlds
eternal order in both heavenly and earthly spheres".
indeed, it was then as it remains today, that Swami Desikan was hailed by one and all as "kavi-kEsari".
as a philosopher matched Swami Desikan’s brilliance as a poet? He was a "tArkika-simham", a lion that struck terror
in the hearts of ideological adversaries.
"tarka" in Sanskrit refers to the branch of logic called dialectics. It is a highly technical method of reasoning based on
complex and formal rules of ratiocination. In Desikan's times it
never-ending debate ('vAdA') and discourse between exponents of rival schools of philosophy. It was the principal occupation
of philosophers in Desikan's times, challenging each other frequently to debating duels. Around 13th century CE some extreme
elements in the
Advaitins ('mAyAvAdins') began to undermine, through aggresive polemics and propaganda, the vast influence which the school
of VisishtAdvaitic Vedanta wielded amongst its followers in its own bastion viz. the holy temple-town of Srirangam. These
Advaitins began to seriously question the Vedic basis for the authority and validity of Ramanuja's 'siddhAnta'.
of SriRangam badly needed the services of a redoubtable philosopher from within their own ranks who could resist and overcome
the spread of a dangerously specious brand of aggressive Advaita. They found none amongst themselves until they finally discovered
their man in Swami Venkatanathan at Kanchi. He was summoned to SriRangam.
left Kanchi and moved to SriRangam, and during the 50-odd years of his life there, he authored some of the most profound and
formidable works ever to be written in the annals of VisisishtAdvaitic Vedanta.
system of Sri Ramanuja, as constructed in his seminal work called "sri-bAshyam" about two centuries earlier, found its fullest
and most sophisticated expression in Desikan's philosophical works some of which were pure treatise and some counter-polemics.
Swami Desikan's most famous works, the "tattva-muktA-kalApA", 'sarvArtha- siddhi' and the 'sata-dUshani' were all authored
around this time. Together they constituted by far the most solid and
defense of the school of Ramanuja's Vedanta against every known rival Vedantic system that dared to challenge his philosophy.
of Swami Desikan's services to the firm establishment of one of the greatest schools of Vedantic philosophy -- viz. 'sri-rAmAnuja-siddhAntam'
-- he came to be known as "tArkika-simham".
reputation as a "tArkika-simham" grew for yet another reason also.
section of Vedic orthodoxy -- we might call them "die-hard" elements -- in SriRangam during Desikan's times was totally against
the AzhwAr's Tamil "divya-prabhandham" which Sri Ramanuja had introduced into temple rituals and festivities. They resented
the status given to the Tamil 'marai' by Ramanuja equal to that of the timeless Vedas that were in Sanskrit.
though a deep Vedic adherent himself, stoutly defended the mysticism of the AzhwAr's Tamil 'marai'. In 2 magnificent works
titled "dramidOpanishad-tArparya-ratnAvali" and "dramidOpanishad sAram", Venkatanathan demonstrated how NammAzhwAr's "tiruvoimOzhi"
perfect and peerless Tamil equivalent of the Vedantic Upanishads and how together they constituted the bed-rock of a unique
tradition of Vedanta called "ubhaya-vEdanta" -- the twin-fold way to VedAnta.
the AzhwAr's "divya-prabhandham" prevails and flourishes in all SriVaishnavite temples in India, it is due in no small measure
to the efforts of the "tArkika-simham", Swami Desikan.
reason why Swami Venkatanathan's memory is to be greatly cherished by us on his 'tirunakshatram' is hinted in the phrase "kalyANa-guNa-shAlinE...".
Desikan was a man of many rare and sublime qualities ("guNA-shAli"), two of which were really outstanding.
He was (A)
utterly fearless ("nirbhaya") and (B) a man of compassion("kArunnyan"). Desikan achieved in life what ordinary men of the
world never do viz. he conquered Fear of both Life and Death. And because he was utterly fearless he was also utterly compassionate
towards a world around him mired in Fear of every conceivable kind.
of the Fear of Life:
and anxieties that beset ordinary men in life simply held no terror for Desikan. Poverty, disease, old age, social approval...
none of these ever mattered to him. Throughout his life he held steadfast to the age-old value of "simple living and high
thinking". He shunned wealth like the plague; he did not know the meaning of the term "financial welfare"; the future, neither
his own nor that of his family, held any worry for him. All his life he was content living on "unchavruthi" -- on whatever
means of sustenance came his way by way of day-to-day alms given by the community.
he considered austerity in life as value, Venkatanathan does not seem to have for that reason imposed it on others. Nowhere
in his lifetime does Desikan appear to be grand-standing his simplicity or humility. At all times he seems to have borne his
poverty with a quiet and natural dignity.
fearlessness in life is amply demonstrated through a famous 'stOtrA' of his, the 'vairAgya-panchakam'. His good Advaitin friend
VidyAranya of the Vijayanagar Court once sent him an invitation to serve as full-time royal poet-laureate. It meant a plum-post
Desikan a comfortable livelihood for the rest of his life, not to speak of post-retirement benefits! Swami Desikan however
rejected the offer of what today would qualify as a fantastic
The only wealth, he wrote to his friend in Vijayanagar, the only heirloom he coveted was always his for the taking. "It is
ever resident and awaiting me on the Hastigiri Hill in
Desikan was meaning, of course, the Deity in the temple of Lord Varadaraja.
of the Fear of Death:
the Mughal general of Alaudin Khilji's invading army in south India, attacked and ransacked the SriRangam temple during Desikan's
days there. The poor citizens fled but some of them were ruthlessly massacred. While on his flight from SriRangam to distant
Satyakaalam (now in Karnataka) where he took refuge, Venkatanathan was first-hand witness to bloody death and carnage. Desikan
lived alone in exile in Satyakaalam for over a decade. The story of human
to conquer the primal Fear of death became one of the marvellous themes that Desikan dealt with in his famous and slightly
auto-biographical 'stOtrA', the "abhIti-stavam".
was a man of great compassion. Neither lofty scholarship nor high birth seems to have insulated him from the pains and miseries
of the common man. Being a "kavi-kEsari" or a "tArkika-simham" did not make him retire into some secluded 'ivory tower'. Desikan
acutely aware of the social ills and problems of the world around him and deeply empathized with the commonweal.
of Desikan's compassion for the commoner is the "sudarshanAshtakam". This 'stOtra' was composed by Venkatanathan on seeing
the plight of the people of a village near Kanchi struck by a devastating epidemic. In his times there was no such thing as
and when an epidemic struck, hundreds if not thousands perished. Desikan's 'sudarshanAshtakam' became at once both a prayer
of hope and a therapy for relief at a time of great calamity for the people of Kanchi. To this day, this 'stOtrA' is recited
by the faithful everywhere who believe it wards off illness and disease.
was the first 'achArya' in the Vedantic tradition who boldly went as far as to define God's quality of universal compassion
as being not merely theological necessity but philosophical axiom. A God without compassion would be a contradiction in terms,
see that compassion does exist in this world, we have to conclude that God too therefore must exist.
To the Upanishad
definition of Brahman having 3 dimensions viz. "satyam", "gnyAnam," and "anantham", Desikan made out a fitting case for adding
a 4th dimension -- "dayA" or "anukampA". It became the central theme of his famous "dayA satakam", a "stOtrA" which, beyond
a shadow of doubt, only a man of great 'dayA' in his own right – an extraordinary "kalyANa-guNa-shAli", so to speak
-- could have ever composed.
so far examined 3 very good reasons to celebrate the memory of Swami Venkatanathan on his 'tirunakshatram': (1) he was "kavi-kEsari"
(2) he was "tArkika-simham" and (3) he was a "kalyaNa guna-shAlin". But are these reasons really good enough?
of us in this world possess a sense of poetics or the ability to appreciate fine poetry. Many of us know little or no Sanskrit,
Tamil or ManipravAlam. So, perhaps we lack real ability to enjoy the works of the "kavi-kEsari". Similarly, not all of us
in this world possess a philosophic bent of mind. We may really have no patience at all for the beauties of philosophical
reasoning or the inclination to plumb its depths. What is the point then of forcing ourselves to commemorate a "tArkika-simham"
who lived centuries ago? And again, even if Swami Venkatanathan had been a person of extraordinary qualities -- a "kalyANa-guna-shALin"
-- if his great compassion is
or felt by us to touch our present lives directly or, we are otherwise unaffected by his great human qualities, then too we
may be tempted to ask, "What is the present importance of observing the 'tirunakshatram' of such a man who lived so many,
many years ago?".
lies in the 4th and most important reason stated at right at the beginning viz., that Swami Venkatanathan was above all else
a "vedAntAchArya" or a "vEdAnta-guru" ("srimathE vEnkatEshAya vEdAnta-guravE namah"). If as "tArkika-simham" or "kavi-kEsari"
does not inspire great homage to his memory, his status as Vedantic guru most certainly and emphatically does.
as a "vEdAnta-guru" Desikan showed his followers, both in his times and in posterity, the true "Art of Living". Desikan, in
both practice and precept, showed men how one ought to lead life and what purpose is to be achieved by human existence. He
threw new light upon the pathway of Vedanta, illumining a wonderful 'vEdAnta-mArgA' in a way never before accomplished by
other great "mArga-darshi-s". And most important of all, the "Art of Living" that Desikan showed was a pathway that could
be followed by one and all ... not only those who
"kavi" or grasp "tarkam" but even ordinary people with ordinary minds and hearts.
One of the
greatest pathways of Vedanta that Desikan showed us is available in a short work of his called "parama-pada-sOpAnam". It is
a magnificent work wherein he set out in a cogent and easily comprehensible manner his view of the Art of Living.
of Vedanta, the "vEdAnta-mArga" of Swami Desikan, is described in a short work of his called "parama-pada-sOpAnam". It is
one of the many 'rahasya-granthAm-s' he wrote to communicate lofty themes of Vedanta to ordinary people of the world (i.e.
those who are
"kavi-s" nor "tArkikA-s") in a simple and easy-to-understand form. Swami Venkatanathan's works that simplify what is otherwise
extremely complex or esoteric in Vedanta ("rahasya") came to be generally called "chillarai-rahasyam" ("chillarai" here meaning,
"simple"). Since out of kindness for the ignorant commoner Desikan strove to create works that made VedAnta easy to follow,
he came to be known as "vEdAntAchArya" or "vEdAnta-guru".
'parama-padam' means "highest state of existence". The word "sOpAnam" is a little difficult to exactly translate. It is commonly
understood to mean a hymn that describes anything in graphic and slow detail from "start" to "finish", from "head to toe"...
(Many will remember here Desikan's 'stOtrA' called "bhagavath-dhyAna-sOpAnam" which is a hymn describing the beuteous form
of the Lord of SriRangam from the "feet to the crown"). "sOpAnam" can also mean a many-tiered stairway... a sort of structure
which climbs in height by means of many tiers of stepping stones. These stepping-stones are called "pariankam" in Sanskrit.
Swami Desikan's "parama-pada-sOpAnam" thus refers to a step-by-step "stairway" having many "parianka-s" that lead, slowly
but surely, from the bottom-most state of existence to the "highest state of human existence".
this 'parama-padam'? It is said to be the abode of the Supreme Brahman, called by the name of "nArAyaNa". It is otherwise
called "SriVaikuntam" -- the kingdom of God. This "parama-padam" is however not so much a physical place as a spiritual one.
It is a state of existence in which there is unbounded, unceasing and undiminishing Joy. Only those who have reached this
state know this Bliss; and having reached it they do not return to this world ever again to describe it for us. Even the Vedas
and Upanishads that know of this Bliss and speak of it, become incoherent while describing "parama-padam". The Taittiriya
Upanishad, for example, (in the
while speaking of it is unable to say no more than this: "haa...ooh-hA...ooh-hA..hoo...!".
Swami Desikan's "parama-pada-sOpAnam" we learn that all beings on earth seek only one purpose -- and that is Joy, Bliss or
like unicellular organisms like amoeba and bacteria, or, other low-level creatures like insects and vermins, have extremely
short life-spans. They live from a few hours to a few days only. Within that span of time they seek only one purpose in life
i.e. mere Survival. To survive they must eat. And their greatest joy or 'ananda' in life is feeding.
are other creatures like vertebrates, ,mammals and reptiles whose life-span extend from a few years to a decade or more. For
them, as in the case of rabbits, for example, the purpose in life is not merely Survival but also Self-Perpetuation. Within
their life-spans they seek to also multiply their own species in the face of harsh odds of Nature. The activity of perpetuating
themselves i.e. procreation gives them great joy or 'ananda'.
higher forms of living creatures, there are many species that live for much longer life-spans. Elephants and large apes, for
example, are known to live for almost 100 years. These creatures not only want to perpetuate themselves but they also seek
Social Proliferation. They build large communities and societies. They live in and work for such social groups wanting acceptance,
recognition or domination within them. It is this pursuit of Social Proliferation
them the greatest joy or 'ananda' in life.
as a species, is right at the top of the biological heap, is a unique creture. For him, the greatest source of joy, is not
merely in Survival, Perpetuation or Proliferation. He seeks Bliss in
Through work, strife and human accomplishment of many kinds that includes wealth, power and self-gratification, Man constantly
seeks the great joy or 'ananda' of self-fulfillment.
all sources of joy or 'anandA' in this world, whether they are Survival, Perpetuation, Proliferation or Fulfillment.. all
these sources of Bliss are temporal. They are there
and experience only as long as a creature remains in its state of worldly existence. Furthermore, the joys of the world are
not always of the same pleasurable intensity... these joys wax and wane with the tide and vicissitudes of life. (In the heat
of summer, for example, an ice-cream is a source of delicious pleasure whereas, one would not even touch it in the freezing
temperatures of winter... The pleasures of youth are not available in old age etc.).
learn from the "parama-pada-sOpAnam" that this state of worldly existence in which one lives, with its severely limited means
of affording 'ananda' to him, is the actually the lowest state of existence. From this state of limited, uncertain and erratic
Joy, one would gladly seek to attain another state of existence where 'ananda' is unlimited, eternal and undiminishing. Such
a state of existence is called "parama-padam"... and it is that state of existence to which Swami Desikan -- the "vEdAnta-guru"
-- provides a simple road-map for all and sundry in this world to follow.
to "parama-padam" is described by Swami Desikam to be a "stairway" of 9 stepping-stones or 'parianka-s'. The 9 steps are:
In the 'parama-pada-sOpAnam',
Swami Desikan put forward a Vedantic
a very scientific and modern way. It is a thesis that shows
Man a pathway
to personal development from lower to the highest state
and experience. It is a "vEdAnta-mArga" which shows us
how to enrich
our lives in an easy-to-follow 9-step program.
program begins at the first stepping-stone as surely as it
the last. There are no alternate routes on this journey ---
there are none on a stairway. The "parama-pada-sOpAnam" is a
which leads only one way: upwards, straight from the low
worldly experience towards "paramapada", the very summit of
in the kingdom of God.
described 9 "steps" or 'parianka-s' which a man
to reach the pinnacle of Joy in 'parama-padam' must have to
4 steps from 'vivEkam' to 'bheethi' are collectively termed by Swami Desikan as "adhikAra-parva". These deal with the the
various processes by which a man acquires the requisite "adhikAra", or qualifications or eligibility, that will enable him
to proceed along
to the next 5 steps.
described as "prasAdana-hetu", next, is termed by Swami Desikan as "UpAya-parva". It is the program that deals with the various
"practical means" a qualified spiritual aspirant employs in order to get ahead further on the journey to 'parama-padam'.
4 stepping-stones viz. "ut-kramaNam", "archirAdi", "divya-dEsa-prApti" and "prApti" are all collectively put together by Swami
Desikan in one program called "phala-parvA". It deals with the aftermath of the journey man has already undertaken along the
path of the first step through the 5th 'parianka'.
It is interesting
to note that out of the 9 steps above, a man is expected to take the trouble to scale only the first 5. Steps #6 to #9 are
easily traversed by an aspirant with the aid and Grace of God himself. While a little of strenuous effort is required of Man
to climb onto Step #5, none is required thereafter. The Lord Himself assumes the burden and responsibility of "lifting" the
soul of man from Step #6 through Step #9. The first 5 'parianka-s' in the 'parama-pada-sOpAnam' are thus so many steps on
a stairway; but the last 4 may be said to be a bit like a modern escalator. One merely needs to step on it to be conveyed
#1 to #5 are trodden with the physical body of the aspirant, the journey through Steps #6 to #9 is believed to be undertaken
without the physical body i.e. Man's spirit alone
this leg of the journey.
one can attempt to hop-step & jump over ordinary stairways in order to accelerate one's way up, it is not possible to
do so on Swami Desikan's 'parama-pada-sOpAnam'. Here one has to scale the height in proper "krama" (methodically) and there
are no short-cuts or slip-throughs. You cannot arrive at any given stepping-stone without first having landed on the immediately
describes the first stepping-stone on the way up to 'parama-padam' as being the most difficult to ascend. Everyone in the
world has a problem with it. Even 'kavi-s' and 'tArkika-s' find it daunting; ordinary people find it next to impossible.
or spiritual wisdom i.e. the power of discrimination, the first among 9 steps, is said to be the steepest and most difficult
to climb. It is difficult because it represents Man's single most
and biggest failing in life. It is a failing that makes him, for the most part in his lifetime, unable to differentiate between:
is truth ("satyam") and what is false ("anartham")
is good ("sat") and what is evil ("a-sat")
promotes spiritual progress and what retards it
is the real purpose ('summum-bonum') of human existence on earth and what merely appears so.
the person born with innate power of discrimination --'vivEkam'. A Prahlada or Dhruva are rarities of creation. For the general
mass of men true discrimination is never achieved in life.
who attain it to some extent are, however, unable to retain it constantly unto the end of their lives. It is this lack of
"vivEkam" that is the source of endless "vikAram" (tragedies and
in Man's life.
dawns on a man the day he begins to sincerely ask himself questions like "Who am I?", "Where do I come from?" and "Where am
I going?". And, more importantly, he begins to ask "Who or what is it within me that is constantly nagging me with these questions?".
makes a man also realize that if Joy or 'ananda' is the true purpose of human existence, then that purpose is never going
to be served by the evanescence of worldly means. There is a greater 'ananda' to be attained beyond this world. Such a Joy
this world (survival, perpetuation, social proliferation, self-fulfillment or gratification). It transcends Time and Space.
And such transcendent Bliss ('parama-anandam') is real and worthy of pursuing.
men in the world want to carry the conviction of such "vivEkam". Much of humanity is instead perfectly happy chasing the little
pleasures of this world. They have no patience for the "Bliss that is Beyond". (In the famous words of H.G.Wells, "none of
us start life as philosophers. We become philosophers sooner or later or else we die before we become philosophical. The realization
of life's limitation and frustration is the beginning of the wisdom of philosophy... and of this, that "healthy mind" (of
the common man)-- which otherwise takes life as it finds it and troubles no more about it, by its innate gift for incoherence
and piecemeal evasion and
-- never knows."
of the great "vivEki", the child Dhruva, is told in the Srimadh BhAgavatham. Dhruva one day saw his step-brother, little Uttama
seated on the lap of their father King UttAnapAda. The King and his favorite Queen, Surichi, were both fondling the child.
Dhruva, being a little child himself, also wanted to be seated on his father, UttAnapAda's lap and so went up to the King
and asked for the same affection shown to his step-brother, Uttama. But Queen Surichi, Dhruva's stepmother would have nothing
of it. She shoved Dhruva aside saying, "You shall have a place on neither your father's lap now nor on his throne later! Now
thus denied the simple delight every little child in this world longs to experience. He ran away weeping to his mother, Queen
Suniti. Dhruva's mother, Suniti, was a great 'vivEki' herself. She took Dhruva in her arms and consoled him saying, "Do not
worry, my child!
the forest and begin worshipping Sriman NarAyana. He will take you upon His lap... It is the seat that will give you happiness
a thousand times greater than your father's! Go my child, go seek the Love of God!".
Dhruva took his mother's good advice and went away to the forest to perform 'tapas' ... to seek the Joy of the other world
that was infinitely more rewarding than any in this world.
a true "vivEki"...
the dawn of "vIvEkam" comes the first few streaks of bright morning light i.e. the first few rays of spiritual knowledge.
Man then slowly awakens to a dim but real awareness of the following:
am I? I am not this Body. I am Soul. ('atma-svarUpa-gnyAna')
body is impermanent but this soul is eternal.
soul is not mine ("na-mama");
soul is the lost property of another Great One Who is "Beyond the Yonder even" ('athyatIshTa-dashAngulam...'); ("Isvara-tattva-
purpose of existence on earth is to seek and realize such a Great One and restore this soul to Him, the rightful owner ('Atma-nivEdanam'/'Atma-samarpaNam').
and undiminished Bliss lies in the union with the Great One ('parama-purushArtham').
In the 'parama-pada-sOpAnam'
when Swami Desikan explains all the above concepts it seems all so facile and self-evident. However, if we deeply reflect
on the subject we will be unable to deny to ourselves that our day-to-day lives are, indeed, in many ways hopelessly far removed
from Desikan's concept of "vivEkam". On the other hand, our lives would be perfect examples of the very antithesis of the
'vEdAntAchAryA's' definition of 'vivEkam'.
If we all,
however, did become 'vivEki-s' as described in the 'parama-pada-sOpAnam", if we were to all become Dhruva-s in our own right,
then the first "small step" taken by us would qualify to be a "giant leap for mankind".
Once a man
has attained 'vivEkam', he is ready to step onto the next plane on the stairway viz. "nirvEdam". This emotion is the next
stepping-stone, the next 'pariankam' Desikan describes in the "parama-pada-sOpAnam".
the power of wise discrimination, a "vivEki" becomes aware of what is really worth pursuing and what is undeserving of pursuit
in life; what will serve his spiritual end and what will
While this knowledge is, no doubt, cause for great happiness and spiritual advancement, the 'vivEki' however cannot help a
feeling of "utter regret" for the foolish ways of his past. He begins to recollect all the folly and profligacy of youth spent
chasing the trivia of the world, in the mistaken belief that they were the true sources of enduring happiness.
Such a man
further reflects upon the petty ways in which he used to behave, the cheap earthly things he had hankered after and the herculean
efforts ('asAdhya-sramam') he had exerted to attain them all. When he recollects the time and effort lost in chasing such
unworthy things in the past, the "vivEki" cannot help a feeling of utter self-revulsion. It is this state of mind, filled
as it is with intense self-revulsion, which is described by Desikan as 'nirvEdam'.
In the 4000
Tamil verses of the "divya-prabhandham-s' we notice that several Azhwars had been inspired by the strong emotion of "nirvEdam"
to expressions of utter regret for the many days of folly that had filled their past. Out of abject ignorance of Truth and
of the Glory of the God, they wail again and again, they had pursued and embraced nothing but the falsehood of earthly life
poignant of such "nirvEdam" verses have been sung by Tirumangai-AzhwAr in the opening decad of the "peria-tirumOzhi":
vAdi varundinEn manatthAl
koodi iLayavar thammodu
amudE! ena ninainthu urugI
paNai mulai thuNaiyAyp
uNarAthu etthanai pagalum
Ozhinthana nAttkkal?" (ibid. 1.2)
of immense and heart-rending self-revulsion give one a fair idea of the nature of the 'nirvEdam'-emotion as it envelops the
soul of the "vivEki" and the self-inflicted suffering he
as a result in his sincere quest of God.
us are 'AzhwArs' and will never get anywhere near being even a bit like them. But then we too, from time to time, in moments
of personal travail or tragedy, do undergo and experience what may be called "dark nights of the soul", don't we? In those
moments we become acutely aware how rapidly Time has slipped away from us... and we suddenly begin to see then how far behind
we have fallen back in attaining the true and cherished purposes of our lives. In such
like the English poet, Longfellow, we too ae moved to mutter sadly to ourselves in deep and utter "nirvEdam":
long, Time is fleeting, Our hearts, though stout and brave, Still like muffled drums are beating Funeral marches to the grave."
completes the difficult journey up the first two steps of Swami Desikan's 'parama-pada-sOpAnam' viz. 'vivEkam' and 'nirvEdam',
it is said one is ready to climbs onto the stairway's next
'virakthi' or 'vairAgyam'.
is described as revulsion directed against oneself, 'virakthi/vairAgyam' is said to be an emotion of revulsion directed outwards.
portrays exactly what even modern psychology confirms – that any strong or intense emotion directed inwardly towards
oneself will invariably get deflected outwards, at least some of it, against the external world. For example, if one loves
oneself, "loving thy neighbour" becomes very easy and natural. On the other hand, an "angry young man" who raves and rants
against the world is deep down very enraged with himself. (In the parlance of modern Behavioural Psychology -- this phenomenon
is described by experts as "projection syndrome" which, in rudimentary terms, means that a person tends to view the external
world through the prism of his inner emotions).
'parama-pada-sOpAnam' describes how a 'vivEki's' inwardly-directed emotion of 'nirvEdam' manifests in outwardly-directed emotion
called "virakthi/vairAgyam". This emotion
the inner state of the 'vivEki's' mind to his external environment.
makes the 'vivEki' gradually develop 2 mind-states:
of distaste for and
(b) a bit
of distance from all things worldly.
It helps to start a process of slow transformation within him. It turns him from being
an 'active player' in the world into an increasingly 'disengaged spectator' of the world. The world with
had hitherto been so enchanted and enamoured suddenly begins to appear to him in an altogether different and not-so-attractive
light. In fact, disdain for the mundane begin to quickly build up within him. The riches and pleasures of the world may be
his for the mere asking, or the taking, but somehow and, for reasons not fully fathomed, they do not hold the allure they
previously held before the emotion of "virakthi/vairAgyam" gripped him.
recall that before Buddha became "the Buddha", he was actually Prince Siddhartha who suddenly one day came to be afflicted
with a great and overpowering sense of "virakthi-vairAgyam".
we also get a very good picture of the depth of the 'virakthi' emotion when we read the following Tamil 'pAsuram' of Tondaradi-podi
AzhwAr in his "tirumAlai":
pirAyUm nooru manisarthAm puguvarElUm;
urangipOgum; ninradhir padhinaiyANdu;
adhu AgUm; piNi pasi mUpputh thunbam;
piravi vEndEn arangamA nagaruLAnE !"
If I were
granted a lifetime of 100 years, the AzhwAr says, I do not look forward to it since I know half of it will be wasted in sleep,
the other half frittered away in youth. The rest will all be lost in
and disease. If I have no time in this world in which to attain you, O Ranga, I despise it. I have no use for it.
himself, as we all know from his famous poem titled 'vairAgya-panchakam', was the greatest example of this emotion of 'virakthi/vairAgyam'.
When invited by his friend Vidyaranya to serve the royal court of the Vijayanagar Empire as poet-laureate – a plum-post
which would have secured for Swami Desikan a comfortable livelihood for the rest of his career and post-retirement benefits
too -- Desikan rejected it without hesitation. The idea of serving a
many might have regarded as a rare opportunity of honour and privilege, seemed to Desikan utterly distasteful.
"virakthi/vairAgyam" is a state of mind wherein a man's pre-occupation with matters spiritual begin to overtake, and eventually
exclude, matters mundane.
"ubhaya-vEdAnta" exponent, SrimAn Mukkur Lakshmi- narasimhachariar used to recount in many of his public discourses a humorous
anecdote illustrating this emotion of 'virakthi/vairAgyam'. The incident, he reported, was narrated to him by the 44th Jeeyar,
in great style.
In his 'pUrvAshramam'
(pre-'sanyasa' period), the Azhagiyasingar was known as Swami Rajagopalachariar, a short-term resident of Mannargudi. As a
resident there, he used to frequent the great Rajagopalaswamy 'sannidhi' (shrine) there.
It was 'gokulashtami'
one day when Swami was returning from a visit to the temple. Just as he was about to step out of the temple, Swami was accosted
by an aged friend of his. This friend was known to Swami for many years. This friend who had his 'mEl-vastram'(upper-cloth)
tied into a bundle suddenly untied it on seeing our Swami.
Rajagopala," the elderly friend said, untying his little bundle, "Hello, Rajagopala, how are you? Did you have a good 'darshan'
of the Lord ?". "Yes, sir, and what about you? Did 'krishna-jayanthi' celebrations go off well in your house?", enquired our
very well,indeed, Rajagopal. And here, I have some 'jayanthi bakshaNam' (sweets) from home for you! Please accept these."
So saying, the old friend offered Rajagopala Swami some home-made sweets and delicacies like 'mysore-pAk' etc. Our Swami accepted
them all with
old friend offered Swami a very special snack called in Tamil, "cheedai". This is a famous delicacy without which no "krishna-jayanthi"
is consummated in Tamil homes. It is made of "gram-paste", rolled into small balls the size of playing-marbles and deep-fried
in oil to a magnificent golden hue. After it is well-done, "cheedai" serves as everyone's favourite snack because, being cute
and ball-like in appearance, they look truly lovable; and also because they are good and crunchy-hard to bite into. Believe
me, one gets a strange, pleasurable experience when one lobs a "cheedai"-ball into one's mouth and proceeds to gnash it with
one's jaws peculiar grating sounds ("kaRRu-muRRu", in Tamil !) which itself are a sort of rare music to the ears!
All in all,
eating "cheedai"-balls is a delectable gourmet experience which only "cheedai"-eaters can truly appreciate.
to return to our tale of the 44th Azhagiyasingar, the old friend of his in the Mannargudi temple, seems to have offered our
Swami a lot of 'cheedai' and asked him to enjoy it. Swami began munching and enjoyed it too.
In a moment,
seeing his old friend not partaking of his own delight, Rajagopala Swami offered some 'cheedai' back to the older one, saying,
"Sir, why don't you enjoy some "cheedai" yourself with me?". The old one remonstrated, "No, no, Rajagopala, don't force me.
You know I am indeed extremely fond of 'cheedai'; I used to love them.But these days I shun them." "And pray tell me Why,
Sir?", said our Swami, the Azhagiyasingar of 'pUrvAshramam'.
could say, Rajagopala, I am practising a kind of "virakthi" or 'vairAgyam" replied the old friend. "Oh, I see, and what is
the cause for such severe 'virakthi', Sir," queried Swami politely. The old friend replied sadly, "Rajagopla, you know, in
the old days I would have gobbled up all the "cheedai" in the world to my hearts content. But alas today, as you can see,
I have lost every single one of my molar-teeth. So I'm unable these days to enjoy this delicacy on 'krishna-jayanthi' day."
Azhagiyasingar, it seems, that day learnt a very important lesson on true "virakthi/vairAgyam"!
Sri.Mukkur Lakshminarasimhachariar related it as follows:
practice 'virakthi' as Swami Desikan describes it in the 'paramapada-sOpAnam', and deny ourselves enjoyment of things mundane,
we should ask ourselves first whether the self-denial is genuine. Do we shun it because (A) we feel genuine revulsion for
it, or whether
we do not have the necessary means or capacity to indulge in its pleasurable enjoyment (a sort of "sour grapes")?
"If we practice
'virakthi' in the former way
(A), we can be said to be following Swami Desikan's personal example of "virAkthi"
in the 'vairAgya-panchakam'. If we practice 'virakthi' in the latter way
we can be said to be following the example of the 44th-Azhagiyasingar's old friend of Mannnargudi -- who had given up eating
'cheedai' only because, in his advanced years, he had lost the dental means to enjoy it!"
follow Swami Desikan's example of 'virakthi/vairAgyam' you will immediately proceed to the next higher step on the "paramapada-
sOpAnam'. If you follow the 'vairAgyam' of the old gentleman of the Mannargudi temple, it will mean surely that you have failed
"pariankai" (step) of "vivEkam" even!"
up the "stairway" of 'paramapada' described by Desikan, we saw, has taken us so far from "vivekam" at the bottom to 'virakthi'
where we presently are perched. At this stage of the journey a man, a "vivEki", is seen to be considerably detached than before
from the clutches of earthly existence. He does not hanker for the sights and delights of the world. His goals are now, instead,
firmly centred around the true purpose of life: "parama-padam".
But at precisely
this stage in life, when he seems to be firmly set on course, Man suddenly falls victim to a strange fear known as "bheethi",
the next stepping-stone on Desikan's "parama-pada-sOpAnam".
is now suddenly overcome by a "holy terror" (to use a peculiar phrase of the Western philosopher, William James) because while
he discovers earthly existence to be empty, equally void and futile seem the heavens too. He realizes the presence of an Almighty
but is beset by fear and doubt: "Is there a place in "parama-padam", the "Abode of All Goodness", for someone like me -- a
real bag of innumerable sins? There seems to be no way of atoning for my sins.
ever admit me into His presence? Can I ever stand before Him and look Him in the face without cringing? Would I be deserving
of that highest state called "parama-padam"?"
It is this
echo of "bheeti" or "Holy Terror" that Tondaradipodi AzhwAr gives vent to in the "tirumAlai":
kAnUm mArgam onrUm ariyamAttA manisaril durisanAi
vandhu ninrEn: mUrkkanEn mUrkkanEnE!"
a path for an utter sinner like me to tread, O Ranga, and hope to attain You? Being the lowliest of beings on earth, I stand
before You like a wretch! Oh wretched, wretched me!"
pOgavittu, virikuzhalArir pattup
pOdhinthu kOnda pOzhakkanEn vandhu ninrEn;
aranganE! wUn arUL ennUm Asai thannAl
vandhu ninrEn; pOyyanEn, pOyyanEnE!" (ibid.33)
Ranga! I've been a vagabond all these years filled with nothing but vice and vileness! I wallowed in the arms of coiffured
dames! Yet I stand before you now, abjectly, hoping for your Grace! I have lived in falsehood and depravity all these years!
I stand before you now with no shame!"
takes hold of the "vivEki", he begins to see the vast chasm of 'samsAra' of expiation that he must wade through before he
can reach "parama-padam". The very thought makes him shudder and give up all hope of ever crossing it. Even if he did succeed
God ever consider someone as irredeemable as him as a proper candidate for redemption in "parama-padam"? What then is the
value of persisting in this journey if in the end he is unfit to finish it?
same but complex feelings of deep 'bheethi' are very movingly echoed by Desikan in the Sanskrit work titled 'abhIti-stavam'
a sample of which is given below (Verse #16):
samUthithE durita-vAridhow dUstarE
nishkritirbhavathi sApi dOshAvilA I
kimapi rangadhUrya tvaya II
seems no way I can wash my sins off. Nor atone for it! There must be some unusual and mysterious way to get it done. I don't
know it. And none but You in this world knows. I beseech You, reveal it to me please...
afflicts a true "vivEki" for not for a very long while. Wisdom sooner or later prevails over Fear. By patient effort and persistent
faith, a "vivEki" journeying upon the "vEdanta-mArga" shown by Swami Desikan, eventually crosses all the hurdles of the "adhikAra-parvA"
--- viz. "vivEkam", "nirvEdam", "virakthi", "bheeti" --- and gradually but surely, as a flower ripens into fruit, he becomes
ready to embark on the second leg of the great journey of the "parama-pada-sOpAnam" -- called the "upAya-parva".
of "nirvEdam", "virakthi", "vairAgyam" and "bheeti" have all by now profoundly stirred his soul. But they have not shaken
or broken it. On the contrary, by the time he approaches the new stage in life -- the stage of "prasAda-hetu" -- even the
emotion of Fear or "bheeti" has made him much stronger in spirit than he himself is probably even aware of. The illumination
of spiritual Wisdom ("vivEkam") and the long practice of renunciation ("vairAgyam")
have enabled him to finally seal the victory of the spiritual over the profane. He is ready now, once and for all, to leave
behind the mundane. He is eager to embrace the sublime? absolutely.
the man emerge from the dark and terrible cave of "bheeti" into the sunlit and cheery vale of "prasAdana-parva"? How is it
possible to make the magical transition from the painful and unruly feelings of "virakthi" and "bheeti" to the relative calm
of "prasAda-hEtu"? How is one enabled to move from the holy terror of "bheeti" to the hale self-confidence of this new phase
in the journey of the "parama-pada-sOpAnam?
given by Swami Desikan is that it is made possible by the Grace of God viz. His Compassion, his "dayA" for his creation. The
"bheeti"-filled "vivEki" is by now teetering at the very edge of a deep moral precipice. A grave spiritual paralysis has seized
him. He is filled with despair. It is a moment of crisis. The man is helpless and just does not know what next or else to
of mind that the man of "bheeti" has reached is called in Sanskrit "naicchyAnu santAnam". In Tamil they call it "avai-adakkam",
meaning an acute awareness of one's real spiritual helplessness born out of the emotion of "bheeti". In the Mahabharatha,
the welter of
that sped through Draupadi's mind, as her modesty was being outraged in the royal court of Hastinapur, are described as being
precisely those of "bheeti" mixed with "naicchyAnu santAnam". Desikan once wrote of precisely such a complex despair in the
the "abhIti-stavam" (Stanza 3):
mitha-buddhinA bahula-mOha-bhAjA mayA
parigruhANa rangEswara " II
I am a person of small intellect. I am filled with "mOha" -- Ignorance. My life has been nothing but an unending stream of
folly, indiscretions and sin. My mind, senses and speech do not obey me. Each goes its own way? There is neither rhyme nor
reason in the way I lead my life today (in the lofty language of Vedanta, this is called lack of "karaNatraya-sArupyam" or
"sAmarasyam" in life)? O Ranga! My Lord! I am utterly confused and fearful?I do not know what
to do, what
steps or expedient, what "krama' or 'hitAhita" to adopt to get myself out of this great moral morass into which I have sunk?".
teaches us that the mental state of mind called "naicchyAnu santAnam" is the first ever tell-tale sign in a man that he has
become an 'adhikAri', that he has graduated to a certain ripe stage in life where he is "qualified" at last to receive God's
compassion or "dayA". And it is in this state that Man begins his quest for the second element known as "hita" in that famous
Vedantic formulation of the equation of life called "tattva-hita-purushArtham".
In the "parama-pada-sOpAnam"
the "hita" chosen by man are two in number: either he chooses "bhakti", the Path of Devotion, which is a relatively more difficult
journey up the stairway to "parama-padam" than the other one -- the route called "prappati-mArga", the Path of Absolute Surrender.
Both routes i.e. both "hitA-s" end at the same destination en route the "prasAdana-parva". Both have the full sanction of
the Vedantic scriptures. And both "hita" are the perfect
effective antidote against "bheeti", the holy terror of Man.
who choses the path of 'bhakti' is attracted toward one or more of the following "upAya":
kirtanam vishnO: smaranam pAda sevanam I
vandanam dAsyam, sakyam atma-nivEdanam II
In the above
lines, 9 basic aspects of 'bhakti' are spelt out which in turn characterize the typical behaviour of men who have taken to
the path of devotion on the "prasAdana-parva":
: deriving immense joy out of listening to the accounts and anecdotes of the 'avatAric' exploits of God as narrated by 'itihAsA-purANa'
: singing the glories of God e.g."sankirtanam","bhajanam"
: being immersed in constant contemplation of the divine e.g "japam", "mananam", "bhagavath-chintanam"
employed in the service of God and godly institutions e.g. "kovil-kainkaryam", "bhAgavata-sishrusham"
: offering with utmost love little tokens of devotion to God e.g. flower, fruit, water, leaf ("pushpam, phalam, jalam, tOyam")
: ceaselessly prostrating to the divine ("sAshtAnga-dandasamarpaNam", "namaskaraNam")
leading one's lifetime as if one is a mere servant of God ("dAsatvam", divine subservience)
firmly believing that God is the sole and constant companion in life
offering up one's soul completely unto God
of bhakti overcomes "bheeti" easily through one or more of the above "upAya". As he becomes more and more immersed in the
above activities, he gains more and more inner tranquility. And this in turn makes him even more engrossed in "bhakti". In
this state he wishes for nothing else in the world but to be left alone to carry on uninterrupted "dAsyam", "vandanam", "archanam"
etc. He longs for nothing else but to be close to sacred places of worship and pilgrimage; he seeks the company of none but
fellow passengers on the path of bhakti; he has ears for nothing but the songs of God and the stories of his 'avatAra-leelas';
he 'eats, drinks, sleeps and dreams' of none but his chosen God, like Krishna,
Rama or Govinda.
AzhwAr in one of his very famous hymns in praise of the Lord of Tiruvengadam, gives us a very graphic portrayal of the mental
state of such a man of 'bhakti' who has turned his back finally, unconditionally and irrevocably upon the mundane. Such a
man does not look back ever. He has "burnt his bridges" completely with the earth. He is willing now to pay any price, go
to any lengths and use any means ? if it will take him but a little nearer God, sing and dance
selvatthu arampaiyargaL tar sUzha
selvamUm mann-arasUm yAn vEndane;
pUnjOlaith tiruvEnkata sunaiyil
pirakkUm vidhi udaiyane aavEnE. (4.2 "perumal
valvinnaigaL theerkUm tirumAlE !
vEngadavA! Nin kOyilin vAsal
vAnavarUm arampayarUm kiddanthu eyyangUm
kiddanthu Un pavazhavAyy kAnbEnE !" (ibid.
a fleeting glimpse of your lovely coral-hued lips, O God of Venkatam, if you ask me, what would I not gladly give up in this
world, what can I say? I will give up a life of wealth, power and
will give up dancing belles decked in gold and best finery! Why, I'd give up everything, my Lord, to live as mere fish in
your temple-tank? or, even as that mute slab of stone stretching across your gilded doorstep!"
As the emotion
of 'bhakti' completely overtakes the man, all previously predominant emotions of "nirvEdam", "virakthi" and "bheeti" gradually
begin to fade away. In their place, the man of
experiences nothing but tranquility and immense peace within himself. There are no more dark nights for the soul? Constant
'bhagavath-smaraNam' ("para-bhakti") brings in its wake clear knowledge ("para-gnyAnam"), a ceaseless sense of sweet contentment
in life and most important of all, an intense and overpowering sense of communion with God ("parama-bhakti") throughout one's
and contentment brought about by "bhakti" is described in two extremely moving 'pAsuram-s' by Peria-AzhwAr in the decad titled
Eru param-purudA! nee ennaik kaikOnda pin
kadalUm vattrip perUmpadam aaginradAl;
pAvakk kAdu theekkOLi vEginradAl;
amuda aaru talaipattri vAyykOndathE !"
tirumOzhi - 5.4.2)
You took me into your service and contemplation, My God, the ocean of my earthly misery has dried up completely! It serves
me now only as sacred space. The dark forests of 'karma', with the treacherous death traps of sin they had laid for me, are
now all burning like raging forest fires. Now, pure Knowledge, like a sweet stream of 'amuda' (ambrosia), has gripped me in
a tide of bliss to ride me away on wave unto eternity!"
garudanpAlUm aiythu nOyythAga vaitthu
vandhu vaigI vAzhacheyythAy, empirAn!
ennUllE ninru nekkuk-kaNgaL asumbu Ozhuga
siramam teerndhEn nEMi nEdiyavanE !
You have entered into my soul, my loving God, You have given me a new life! My throbbing heart melts at every moment that
it dwells upon You! My eyes are awash with tears of Joy! My Lord, I tell You, I have ended all my miseries by mere thought
the stage in life when man becomes deeply attracted by and commits himself wholly to 2 scriptural "upAyA-s" --- viz. "bhakti-upAya"
or "prappati-upAya". The first is the Way of Devotion;
The Way of Surrender.
of the terror of "bheeti", the man of bhakti happily lives out his life until the very end exactly as the AzhwAr says ? "
Ninnaindhu-irundhE siramam teerndhEn nEMi nEdiyavanE !
ask: How does the man who chooses the easier path of "prappati" overcome his Fear, and begin also to live life as happily
ever after as the man of "bhakti"?
man who chooses "prappati" sees himself too in a truly helpless situation. His "naicchyAnu santAnam" is no less than that
of the man who has chosen "bhakti". But unlike the latter, this man knows he is simply incapable of the discipline of mind
and body that the practice of life-long 'bhakti' requires. The 9 articles of 'bhakti' viz.
kirtanam vishnO: smaranam pAda sevanam I
vandanam dAsyam, sakyam atma-nivEdanam II
9 "upAya" of Bhakti are far too daunting for an ordinary man. They involve unceasing, unrelenting and the most intense "upAsana"
(practice and perseverance) far beyond the capacity of mere mortals. So what then does such a man who leaves the path of bhakti
to take up the route of "prappati" do?
He is said
to perform the act of absolute self-surrender, 'saranAgati'.
this process is hastened, or catalyzed, by the man's encounter with a mentor, a 'sadAchAryA' or 'guru' who appears in his
life and enlightens him about the proper way a 'prappanna' (he who has formally performed 'prappati' or surrender) should
rest of the days destined upon earth. Madhura-kavi AzhwAr in his "kanninun-siru-tAmbu" spoke of the good fortune that befalls
such a man who encounters a 'guru' or 'achAryA' who, like a boat-man ferrying one across the river, takes upon himself the
the man of 'bheeti' from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from fear to fearlessness and from the misery of
'samsAra' to the endless 'ananda' of God.
atthanAyy ennai aandidUm
sadagOpan en nambiyE. (stanza 4)
scholars full of grace Had me found worthless in my ways?
mother both in one, Is Sadagopan, who now rules my days.
en nenjUkkUL niruthinnAn;
sadagOpan en nambikku
kAdhal adimai payananrE." (stanza 9)
sense of Vedic thought He sang in song and taught it to my heart
my Lord and my Love -- He is my purpose, and I his slave.
Such a man
who has found a "guru", and thanks to whose grace he has also found the proper means to perform and observe "prappati" ? such
man lives his life swearing eternally by the 5 cardinal principles of 'saranagati':
sankalpah" : resolve in life to do only those deeds that are pleasing to God
varjana" : resolve to abjure deeds unfavorable to God
visvAsam" : be unwavering in faith in God
: be constantly aware of one's spiritual helplessness
: submit the burden of protecting one's soul into the Hands of God
When a 'prappana'
strictly carries out the above 5 "prescriptions" he lives a life totally devoid of "bheeti". Peace, tranquility, joy and contentment
flow to him in exactly the same fashion as we saw it did above in the case of the man of "bhakti". The 'prapanna', after attaining
this stage of the 'paramapada-sOpAnam', lives a carefree life merrily carrying on with the rest of his days
faithfully and cheerfully. He has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to fear ('a-bheethi') -- much like Swami Desikan was himself in his own
In a short
hymn called 'ashtabhUjAshtakam', Swami Desikan, echoed this fearless state of mind of the 'prapanna' in the words:
kUtasyAt tvayi sAnukampE; raksha kuthasyAt tvayi jAtharOshE"
Where is the need to FEAR anything when I am Your protégé, My God? And if I am not Your protege, is there anything on earth
that will not cause perennial FEAR to me?
In the 'nyAsa-dasakam',
too, in Verse #5 and Verse #6 of that hymn, Swami Desikan, pretty much expresses the same feelings of 'FEARLESS SELF-ASSURANCE"
enjoyed by the man who has chosen the path of "prappati" in life:
sthira-dhiyam tvatprAptyEka prayOjanam I
kAmyarahitam kUrUmAm nityakinkaram II
sva-vasham sva-bharathvEna nirbharam I
svArtham svasmin nyas-yathi mAm svayam II
of His Own accord, will take me unto Him; and he will do so for His Own Sake; I am CERTAIN of this! I am but a willing servant
under His reign; I have no responsibility even unto myself; that Great Burden is all His Own. I have no Fear!"
do both the man of "bhakti' and the man of "prappati" conquer Fear, the holy terror of "bheeti", and live out their time on
earth as happy and fearless souls.
Once a man
has journeyed through the happy "prasAdana-parva" stage of life, he becomes ready to ascend the next higher stepping-stone
-- viz. the "parianka" called "utkramanam", the 6th milestone in Desikan's 9-tiered
stage is reached when a man, either as "bhaktA" or "prapanna", is ready to shed his mortal coils. When the soul of such a
man is ready to leave its earthly and decrepit body, it is said to be on the verge of the "utkramana". From this stage onwards
the journey to 'parama-padam' can be undertaken only by the 'Atma' which quickly sheds its gross and physical body as so much
unwanted "excess baggage".
If we think
about it deeply many of us actually do not fear Death so much as we fear the act of dying. We are filled with morbid anxiety
whenever we even think of all the gruesome motions of dying that we must all, sooner or later, surely undergo. The fear is
made worse when we recollect how, at some time or the other, a family-member of ours, or perhaps some friend or cquaintance, "give up the ghost", as they say. We remember vividly having watched the slow and agonizing
through which body and soul bade each other good-bye in the terminal moments of a person's time on earth. We know thus from
our own first-hand experience that the act of dying is never at all a pleasant sight. It is, in fact, a very ugly and unseemly
sight ("vikAram") and hence we can not really help feelings of great unease, if not real dread about it.
In 6 powerfully
evocative Tamil "pAsuram-s", the great Peria-AzhwAr in his "tirumOzhi" graphically portrayed precisely such dread which fills
the heart of Man as it contemplates upon the indignity of dying:
seRindhERiya puNmEl*seRRalERik kuzhambirundhu* eNGgum-
arippuNdu mayaNGgi*ellai vaay senRu sErvadhan munnam*
n^amO n^aaraNaa venRu*maththahaththidaik kaihaLaik kooppi*
pinnai iththisaikku enRum*piNaik kodukkilum pOhavottaarE. 2.
poruL vaiththadhuNdaahil*sollu sollenRu suRRum irundhu*
vaaythiRavaadhE*andhakaalam adaivadhan munnam*
enbadhOr_kOyil amaiththu*maadhavan ennum dheyvaththai
vaayuk kiLarndhu* mEl midaRRinai uLLezha vaaNGgi*
vidhir vidhirththERik*kaNNuRakkam adhaavadhan munnam*
oRRaiyezhuththai*moonRu maaththirai uLLezha vaaNGgi*
mEvudhiraahil*viNNahaththinil mEvalumaamE. 4.
vandhu n^eer pulan sOra*vaayilattiya kaNYchiyum meeNdE*
vaarak kaNdamadaippa* kaNNuRakkam adhaavadhan munnam*
ummai n^aayhaL kavaraa*soolaththaal ummaip paayvadhum
n^eer kooRaiyum izhaveer*irudeekEsan enREththavalleerE.
aindhum ahaRRi*aavi mookkinil sOdhiththa pinnai*
vittavar_kaiyai maRiththu*paiyavE thalai saayppadhan munnam*
vittulavum kadaRpaLLi maayanai*madhusoodhananai maarbil-
vittu vaiththu* aavadhOr karumam saadhippaarkku* enRum
pakkam vaaNGgi valippa*vaarndha n^eerk kuzhik kaNkaL
pakkam thandhai oru pakkam*thaaramum oru pakkam alaRRa*
pakkam sErvadhan munnam* seNGgaNmaalodum sikkena suRRa-
pakkam n^iRka vallaarkku*arava thaNdaththil uyyalumaamE.
In the above
stanzas Peria-AzhwAr describes the physical act of dying in frighteningly familiar terms indeed! The dying body is covered
with pus-filled sores on which flies begin to forage... the limbs go into paralytic seizures... Breathing turns hoarse, eyes
roll out of their sockets even as the mouth begins to foam. And while the spouse or parent wails and beat the breasts in grief,
other kith and kin standing huddled in silence around the dying body can only mutter to themselves, "Now that this fellow
is nearly gone, wonder how much of his ill-gotten wealth he has left me in his will..."
question that now squarely faces the man of "bhakti" (or "prappati") on the journey up to "parama-padam" on Swamy Desikan's
"vEdAnta-mArga" is this:
Do I too
have to undergo this painful and dreadful "vikAram" of death? After all these years of "bhakti" I have shown towards God (or,
after having absolutely surrendered to Him in "saranAgati") will He consign me in my last moments on earth to suffer the same
indignity of death that I have seen so many others before me in this world undergo?
of "bhakti" (or "prappati") who is on the verge of the "prasAdana-parvA" asks himself:
these years of "bhakti" I have shown towards God (or, after having absolutely surrendered
to Him in "saranAgati") is He going to consign me in my last moments on earth to suffer the same indignities of physical death
that I have seen so many others before
me in this
is "NO!". The man who has climbed up the first 5 steps of the "parama-pada-sOpAnam", and who has faithfully embraced either
"bhakti-upAya" or "prappati", has earned the privilege to enjoy the fruits of his hard endeavour in the "phala-parvA" of Desikan's
"parama-pada-mArgam". He has earned the "right of way", so to say, on the road of "utkramana". Hence there is no question
of he having to suffer the various "vikAra-s" and horrors of death described by Peria-AzhwAr in the "pAsuram-s" we saw earlier.
this "right of way"? What is this "utkramana" which exempts and saves the "bhaktA" from the indignities and ignominy which
attend the act of physical death in one's last moments of life?
to be explained with reference to 2 significant pronouncements of Sri.Krishna in the Bhagavath-Gita:
cha mAm Eva smaran muktvA kalEvaram I
sa madh-bhAvam yAti nAst~yatra samshayah: II (Gita VIII.5)
at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this let there be not even a shadow
the 'avatAra' of God, categorically stated that a man of "bhakti" who is, by definition, a soul immersed in thoughts of the
Almighty, exits both the world and his mortal body painlessly and easily. He merges into the bliss of God.
a little earlier in the Gita, Krishna had also explained why the 'bhakta' deserved such absolute ease of death:
bhajantE mAm janAh: sukritinO'rjunA I
arthArthi gnyAni cha bharatar-shabha II
gnyAni nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir-visishyatE I
gnyAni-nO-artham aham sa cha mama priya: II (Bhagavath-gita VII.18)
there are 4 kinds of souls in this world who profess devotion to Me --- he who is distressed, he who seeks wealth, he who
is inquisitive and he who is in quest of the Absolute -- the supreme 'gnyAni'. Of these, the 'gnyAni' whose 'bhakti' springs
out of his knowledge of Me, is the best. For I am very dear to him; and he is very dear to Me".
We see from
the above "gitA-vAkya" that from out of the rest of humanity, God clearly singled out the man of "bhakti" as being very dear
to him --- "...priyOhi gnyAni-nO-artham, aham sa cha mama priya:"-- and such a "priya-bhakta" shall therefore surely be released
from death, on the path of "utkramana", without pain, without indignity... and delivered unto God.
promised in the Bhagavath-Gita, He made sure He also delivered later on the battle-field of Kurukshetra.
the grand old Sire of Hastinapur, was a great 'bhakta'. He was mortally wounded in the battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas.
Arjuna had shot and riddled Bhishma's body with a rain of arrows until the old warrior was bleeding and broken beyond
Although Bhishma lay dying on the battle-field waiting for the imminent end, He never showed the least trace of pain or suffering.
The great 'bhaktA' that he was, Bhishma passed away from the world with the joy of God brimming in his heart. In the Mahabharata,
we see Bhishma exclaim exultantly in almost the very last moments of his life:
bhUtam bhavishyaccha bhavaccha paramachyuta
panou phala mivAhitam"
yO dharmAh: vEdAnta niyataschayE
samprapasyAmi varadAnAt tavA'chyutA"
My Lord! I am now able to visualize fully the past, the present and the future?
as easily and lucidly as one can see a fruit held in the palm of one's hand! The eternal truths enshrined in the Vedas and
Vedanta now stand visible and absolutely transparent to me?
your infinite Grace, my dear AchyuthA!"
becomes very clear to us why the passage of Man's soul through the "utkramana" phase is described by Swami Desikan to be absolutely
free from pain, "vikAram" and indignity.
For a "prappana",
the moment of physical death is made even far easier to bear than for the "bhaktA". While the latter has to make a conscious
effort to remain concentrated upon God in the dying moments, the "prapanna" is freed from even such conditions. To the man
who has surrendered wholly to God, Krishna of His own volition appears in a wonderful vision in the final moments, making
the act of dying absolutely tranquil and painless. How can the "prappana" be certain of God's appearance in the moment of
lies in the famous assurance given by God to his Consort, "Bhudevi", in His "avatAra" as Bhu-Varahan. In a solemn pronouncement
known to us as 'varAha-charama-shlOka', God guaranteed appearance by His visitation upon any Man that lay like a lifeless
log upon a death-bed, provided such a man had early in life, when both body and spirit
had been in hale condition, chosen to surrender to Him absolutely and since offered worship to Him in all faith:
susvathE sarirE sati yO nara:
stithE smartA visvarUpam cha mAmajam
mriyamANAm tu kAshta-pAshANa-sannibham
madhbhaktam nayAmi paramAm gatim II
last moments on earth --- i.e. "antima-prayAnam" -- of a "bhakta" or "prappana" is never delirious or undignified is emphatically
and beautifully described by Swami Desikan in a verse in
chAru vamsha nAlAh:
shilA vibhanga nILAh:
- Verse 12)
"As I lie
on my death-bed nearing the end of my life's journey, may my eyes feast upon nothing else but the graceful form of my Krishna
--- holding a slender flute to his lips, peacock-feathers framing his lush hair-locks,
curly and cute? bathed in colours iridescent true? bright, vivid and sapphire blue!"
further added at the end:
reads this hymn of the devoted poet Venkatesan, shall surely obtain that unique vision ("pratibha") of young Krishna playing
the divine lute; of He who is the darling of the ever-youthful belles of this world!"
The 2 verses
above powerfully convey the idea: It is the vision of youthful Krishna that the "bhaktA" and "prappana" experience in the
moment of one's physical death and spiritual
It is a moment of intense bliss called "antima-smriti". It has the power to turn even black Death into a "thing of Beauty,
a Joy forever".
In the "utkramana"
phase of the "parama-pada-sOpAnam" Swami Desikan describes how the soul of Man sheds its gross physical body ("sthUla-sarira"),
assumes a subtle form ("sukshma-sarira") and prepares to begin its ascent to "parama-padam". The soul's exit takes place through
what is called the "brahma-nAdi" or "brahma-randhra" ---an invisible aperture said to be located at the end of a nerve-terminal
right on the crown of the skull. The 'atmA' pierces through this "brahma-nAdi" and readies itself to undertake the next phase
of the journey of ascent into "parama-padam".
the end of his lifetime Swami Venkatanathan wrote a work called "Rahasya-traya-sAram", regarded by many to be his 'magnum
opus' cum swan-song. In this long monumental treatise, based on encylopaedic and formidable research, Desikan recounted in
the journey of the ascent of the human soul. He based it all on the "pramaNa" (authority) of the ageless Vedic 'sruti' and
related texts such as the Sri Bashya and passages from the Upanishads like 'Chandogya','Kata' and Kausitaka. He also drew
material from the mystical revelations and utterances in NammAzhwAr's 'tiruvoimOzhi'.
extensively elaborated in the "rahasya-traya-sAram" Desikan re-presented in abridged and distilled form in the "archirAdi-parvA"
of the "parama-pada-sOpAnam".
('jIvAtma') journey of ascent is undertaken via a celestial route that is said to be super-natural and super-sensuous. This
supra-mundane route is called "archirAdi-mArga". It is a pathway of celestial luminousness.
this route, the soul is received and welcomed by a host of lesser gods called "adhi-vahikA-s". Encounters with these celestial
elements or beings are meant to give the 'jIva' a sort of orientation into or a foretaste of the supra-normal realms he is
about to enter.
'jIvAtma' concepts of Time, Space, Light, Sound, Weight etc. become meaningless in these realms. They make no sense to it
-- certainly not in the same sense that the 'Atm A' previously knew them as they prevailed in the terrestrial world and even
defined it. Here
in the realms
of "archirAdi', the Soul learns to go beyond and transcend all known paradigms of human conception and consciousness.
the 'jIva' steps across the doorstep of eternity, it is said to encounter the following 'adhi-vahikAs" who help guide it along
the 'archirAdi-mArga'; they help the Soul to get its cosmic bearings right in a wholly new world:
(Bright fortnight of the month before the full moon),
(the six monthly period when the Sun is traversing towards the north),
or Samvatsara (Year)and then by
(Moon God), and finally by
Purusha a.k.a. Amaanava Purusha or Maanasa Purusha who is accompanied by
(Lord of Devas) and
(the Creator of lives).
mentioned at 9 to 12 take him to the very boundaries of the manifest world (Prakriti mandala). These deities are Called 'ADHI
VAHIKAS' (Prime Guides)"
from a Note prepared on "rahasyatrayasAra" by Anbil Ramaswamy, a noted scholar on Vedanta Desika)
of the soul's journey through the "archirAdi" is quite simply beyond verbal description or sensory perception. None who has
journeyed through the 'archirAdi' has returned to tell us of it. Only mystics, 'mahAtmA-s', yogis, 'rshi-s' and poets have
so far succeeded
limited degree in sharing with us their own glimpses of it.
As the poet
Omar Khayyam once wrote:
is it not? The myriad who
passed the Door of Darkness thro',
returns to tell us of the Road
discover we must travel too".
- Omar Khayyam").
was a Persian with leanings towards Sufi mysticism. It is remarkable that by the term "Road" in the verse above, he too was
actually meaning something close to what we describe as
the foremost among the mystic Tamil saints of India, sang ecstatically of the "jivAtmA-s" sojourn through the celestial pathway
of "archirAdi". In the final and climactic decads of his "tiruvOimOzhi" NammAzhwAr gives us a fair idea of it even if perhaps
only metaphorically or allegorically:
paNimukil* thooriyam muzakkina*
alaithirai* kaiyetuththu aadina*
naaraNan* thamaraik kaNtukandhE. 10.9.1
skies blew bugles in welcome,
cheered and danced;
continents stood in ceremony
Narayana's devotee --
returning home in triumph!"
ulakargaL* thoopa_nal malarmazai-
pooziyanRu aLandhavan thamarmunnE*
vaikundhaRku enRu* van^thu ethirE. 10.9.3
saw the Soul
flowers, lit incense
bards stood on either side
Of the path
and cried to the Soul:
way to Vaikuntam!"
thamarenRu* vaachalil vaanavar*
emathidam* pukuthuka venRalum*
paadinar* kinnarar kerudargaL*
vaayavar* vELviyuL maduththE. 10.9.5
in the kingdom came out
in raucous welcome;
their offer of gift to the Soul
and sinecures, their own!
of the returning Soul
seers too lit their holy fires
and 'garudas' took out
and blow to eternity!"
ivar* kOvindhan dhanakkenRu*
vaanavar* muRaimuRai ethir_koLLa*
netumathiL* kOpuram kuRukinar*
maathavan* vaikundham pukavE. 10.9.8
and manes gathered in swarms --
the high walls,
the festooned tower,
and craning their necks to catch
A mere glimpse
of the returning Soul
"There he goes, our Govinda's hero!"
pukuthalum* vaachalil vaanavar*
thamar_emar* emathidam pukuthenRu*
amararum* munivarum viyandhanar*
pukuvathu* maNNavar vithiyE. 10.9.9
Soul made his grand entry
bards raised cries of joy--
in his path and cheered his back:
of Vaikuntam, It's Thy birthright!".
paanginil* paathangaL kazuvinar*
naRsuNNamum* niRaikuda viLakkamum*
madandhaiyar* Endhinar vandhE. 10.9.10.
of the heavens
feet of the Soul,
what good they'd done
such great dole!
came lovely nymphs
lamps and scents;
the sacred "kumbha"
our hero to the edge
through the 6th 'parianka' or stepping-stone of Swamy Desikan's "parama-pada-sOpAnam" is thus, as we see above, a supremely
felicitous experience for the 'jIvAtma'.
Now, a question
may arise in our minds. If the path of 'archirAdi' is a super-natural, super-sensuous and supra-mundane experience, and none
returns from it to give a truly verifiable account of it, why should we believe the metaphorical or allegorical versions of
mystics, saints, poets and metaphysicians? How much credence should we be willing to give to the revelations of 'mahAtmA-s'
and yogi-s like our NammAzhwAr in his 'tiruvoimOzhi'?
consider the lives and works of great souls like NammAzhwAr, the great 'rshi-s' of Vedic times and of great poets like Swami
Desikan, we are left with no doubt at all about one thing : Without exception all of them were engaged, all their lives, in
search of Truth ('satyam'), only the Truth and nothing but the Truth! What they
spoke was spoken because it was Truth, not because they wanted to make a great career of it nor make worldly profit out of
it. All their life they were in search of Truth... not greatness. Persons like NammAzhwAr had no other ulterior motives in
life... simply no other earthly 'axe to grind'...
such high and noble persons say something we must know that we CAN and SHOULD believe them unhesitatingly... Even if what
they say might appear rather metaphorical, poetic, why even fanciful, perhaps, to all but our very own selves...
'jIvAtma' has crossed the 'archirAdi', it proceeds to ascend the penultimate tier of the 9-stepped 'parama-pada-sOpAnam'.
This stage of the journey in the heavenly realms is called
soul is made to cross the celestial River Viraja a.k.a Vijara meaning (ageless).
The "jIvAtma" wades across the expanse of this stream and when it emerges on the other bank, it is said to be thoroughly sanctified.
The jeeva now sheds even the subtle body ("sUkshma-sarIra") it had used on the journey through the 'archirAdi' and assumes
a new form that is absolutely pristine ("aprAkrita-divya-mangala-svarUpa").
writes in the "rahasya-traya-sAra" that "the jeeva acquires a super-sensuous divine form made of "suddha satva" (aprakritam)
-- Pure Spirit. It is then taken to a divine tank called "airammadeeyam" and then to a huge "aswattha" tree called "somasavana".
(divine nymphs) in batches of 100 each adorn the 'jeeva' with celestial garlands, collyrium, perfumes, garments and ornaments.
Then they receive it with royal honors. Divine fragrance (Brahma Gandha), divine flavor (Brahma Rasa) and divine splendor
into the 'jeeva'".(extract from ibid. A.Ramaswamy)
the Viraja is of great significance for the soul. It symbolizes eternal severance from all of God's Creation that is temporal
and terrestrial. The 'jIvAtma's' cosmic peregrinations come
to an absolute
end at this point.
To get some
idea of the heights of delight the 'jIvAtma' experiences during this phase of the journey to 'parama-padam', we can turn once
again to the mystical revelations of NammAzhwAr's "tiruvoimOzhi" for aid.
In the concluding
decads of that 1000-stanza work NammAzhwAr sings of the ineffable glory experienced by the soul after bathing in and wading
across the Viraja River. These are truly some of the most stirring verses one can ever come across in Tamil poetry or, perhaps,
in the history of mysticism even:
adiyaar tham *adiyanERku* aaziyaan-
amaikinRaan* athu_namathu vithivakaiyE*
NYaalaththuL* inippiRavi yaanvEndEn*
neemada_nenchE!* vaattaaRRaan adivaNangE. 10.6.1
and anxiety have ceased --
recall to the dark world for us --
awaits you...O Soul of mine!"
adivaNangi* maaNYaalap piRappaRuppaan*
mada_nenchE!* kEchavan em perumaanai*
palapaadip* pazavinaikaL paRRaRuththu*
iyalvozindhu* naaraNanai naNNinamE. 10.6.2
O Soul of Mine --
the praise of Kesavan now
asunder ties with the world --
naarayaNanai* naamangaL palacholli*
vaLammikka* vaattaaRRaan vandhu_inRu*
tharuvaanaay* viraikinRaan vithivakaiyE*
ikkarumangaL ennenchE! 10.6.3
arrived here, you and me
In the land
of God, O Soul of mine,
the many names of Narayana upon our lips --
is ours now, our eternal fortune!"
vazithandha* vaattaaRRaan paNivakaiyE*
peRukinREn* narakaththai naku_nenchE*
malarththuLavam* thikazpaathan* sezumpaRavai-
thirivaan_than* thaaLiNai en_thalaimElE. 10.6.5
Lord of Viraja (tiruvatt-Aru)
me to this path --
His Feet upon my crown
nose at Hell, I will!
kuRuginam* nam kOvindhan kudikondaan*
kadalpudaichooz* thennaattuth thilathamanna*
maNimaada* vaattaaRRaan malaradimEl*
naRundhuLavam* meyn^_ninRu kamazumE. 10.6.7
reached at last,
me, O Soul of mine,
of God --
smell the sweet whiff of 'tulasi'
all around us?!"
kamazthuLava* viraiyERu thirumudiyan*
sakkaraththan* karuthumidam poruthupunal*
varaipOlum* thiruvuruva vaattaaRRaaRku*
seythEnaa* ennenchil thikazavathuvE? 10.6.8
of Creation shall soon
us, O Soul of mine --
believe this is happening to us!
Do we really
deserve this Bliss?!"
seyyenRu* piRappaRuththu aaLaRakkondaan*
iraNiyanai* aagangeeNtaan anRu*
aatpattakkaal* peRaathapayan peRumaaRu*
vaayaravaNaimEl* vaattaaRRaan kaattinanE. 10.6.10.
a time the Lord
out Hiranyan's breast --
torn to shreds
aside my karmic chains too forever--
Now I, His
eternal serf, shall surely reap
favours of Infinity!
'jIvAtmA' has crossed the Viraja, it is finally ready to proceed to its ultimate destination on the "parama-pada-sOpanam".
The end of the journey that:
through "nirvEdam", "virakthi" and "bheeti",
through "prasAdana-parva" and
across "utkramana", "archirAdi" and "divya-dEsa prApti"...
trek across the cosmic expanse finally approaches its end in the end called "prApti".
of the Soul's journey which began in "vivEkam" ends finally in "prApti".
is glorious "parama-padam", the terminal epicentre of the whole Cosmos, the 'Abode of God' known as SriVaikuntam. It is also
the highest state of being, celebrated variously in the scriptures as "mOksha", "mukti", "paramA-gati", "parama-purushArtam",
"nitya-kainkarya-prApti", "tiru-nAdu"... It is the crowning culmination of the long journey the 'jIvAtma' undertook along
path traced for us by Swami Vedanta Desikan in the "parama-pada-sOpAnam".
to Desikan's 'rahasyatrayasAra', here in the terminal phase of the soul's progress, the 'jeeva' is received by "nityasuris"
(archangels) who take it to the "portals of God's City with high
with festive banners. This city is called 'aparajita'. Indra and Prajapati who are the guardians of the City welcome the 'jeeva'
as if it were their Master and begin to offer it honors
a crown prince. They receive it with "purnakumbha", lamps and other "upacharas" (services). All these are akin to 'state honour
protocol' duly accorded to a liberated soul. This state is called 'sAlokya'.
protocol, the 'jeeva' is led to a great assembly hall crowned by a "gopura" (tower) of precious gems called variously as 'prabuvimitam'
or 'vibupramitam'. Perhaps it is this "hall" or
that NammAzhwAr also refers to in the "tiruvOimOzhi":
ethir_koLLa* maamaNi mandapaththu*
pErinbaththu* adiyarOdu irundhamai*
pozil* kurukoorchchadakOpan* chol-
ivaivallaar munivarE. (10.9.11)
is inside this great hall, the 'jeeva' is said to acquire another luminous and divine form known as "divya yasas". This elevated
state of the soul's being is called 'saroopya'.
"jeeva" is ceremoniously ushered to the seat of God called 'vichakshana peetam'. In this state in the presence of God the
soul is said to be in 'sameepyam'.
allows the "jeeva" to approach Him on His divine couch called 'amitoujas' and reveals His blissful form to the 'muktAtmA'.
This state is called 'sAyujya'. It is in this state of absolute intimacy with God that the "jIvAtmA" is restored to its essential
and original nature ("Atma-svarUpa") with 8 clear and sterling qualities or "guNa-visEsha" viz.:
with all desired objects and
will. The Lord bestows "sAyujya" which means being united
enjoyment with God who places the Mukta in the galaxy of Nityas and other Muktas enjoying infinitude ('satyam'), infinite
knowledge('gnyAnam') and infinite bliss ('ananta-Anandam'). The Lord mingles with such a fraternity of 'mUktAs' as a "nitya
It is this
precisely this supreme state of "sAyujya" in "parama-padam" which in the Upanishads is glorified as "brahmAnandam" --- the
Bliss of God.
of 'sAyujya', the eternal embrace of God, can neither be expressed nor measured in words. And yet the Taittiriya Upanishad
gives us some idea of it in a very famous passage of very rare poetic beauty, insight and revelation.
In the section
of the Taittiriya called "anandavalli", the Upanishad sets out a so-called imaginary "Calculus of Joy" with the aid of which
we can measure the bliss enjoyed by a "muktAtmA" in the state of "sAyujya" in "parama-pada":
experienced by a human being on earth (who is perfectly healthy, wealthy and wise) is first taken as "1 unit of bliss"...
Let us designate it as "1-B". The Upanishad then proceeds to describe the bliss experienced by divine beings or celestials
in terms of progressive multiples of "1-B". The celestials are enumerated as
"gandharva", "pitru", "ajanadeva", "karmadeva", "devata", "indra", "brhaspati" and "prajapati" respectively.
We are to
thus begin multiplying "1-B" first by 100, then 10,000, next a million, 100-million, ten thousand million, a billion, 100-billion,
ten-thousand billion... until we finally arrive at a million-billion "1-Bs" -- which may be said to be, very approximately,
the equivalent of 1 unit of the 'Anandam' the "jIvAtma" enjoys in the state of 'sAyujya' with the "para-brahman"!
calls such a soul as "prEtya" i.e. that "jIva" which has departed from the world and finally attained "brahma-gnyAna" by piercing
through what may be called the dark sheaths ("kOsa") of consciousness within which it had remained mired and enshrouded for
many ages. These sheaths or "kOsA-s" are "food" (annam), "vital air" (prAnam), "Mind" (manas) and "Intellect" (vignyAnam).
In the state of "sAyujya" there is nothing to enshroud the "jIvAma" anymore from the presence of God and intimacy with Him.
Hence it becomes eternally
experience not only "brahma-gnyAna" but also "brahmAnanda" ---
EkO brahmaNa ananda: ...
purushE.. yaschAvAdityE ... sa Eka: .."
"sa ya Evam
vith... asmAllOkAt prEtya...
the Glory of "parama-padam"! Such is the Glory of the Upanishads! Such is the glorious Destiny of the human soul! And there
ends the great 'vEdAnta-mArga' of Swami Venkatanathan's
In the last
stages of his life, Swami Venkatanathan lived happily for many years in SriRangam amidst peers and 'sIshyA-s'. He became a
highly renowned and venerated 'vEdAntAchAryA'. His fame spread far and wide in the country. This doyen presided over a period
school of "sri-rAmAnuja-darsanam" flourished, the SriVaishnava following grew and their institutions and traditions strengthened.
CE, at the age of 100, after his life's work was done, Swamy Desikan passed away in SriRangam. His son, VaradArya a.k.a NainAchArya
composed the immortal 'tanian' and colophon by which we know the father today, as all posterity in the future shall remember
Desikan -- the man, his life and work:
nAThArya kavitArkika kEsari
varyOmE sannidhatAm sadAhrudi
simhAya kalyANa guNashAlinE
venkateshEyA vEdAnta guravE namaha
relect deeply upon the son's moving tribute made above to the father, we realize why Desikan was truly the giant he was. To
the extent I could and to the best of my humble ability, I explained the greatness of Desikan
as a "kavi-kEsari"
-- a glorious poet
as a "tArkika-simham"
-- a lion amongst philosophers
-- as a
"kalyANa guNa shAlin" -- a person of rare and sublime human qualities and
as a "vEdAntAchAryA" or "vEdAnta-guru" -- a preceptor or guru who showed The Way, the
"Art of Living", to followers not only of his times but to posterity as well
By way of
an invocation prior to chanting the IsavasyOpanishad, a beautiful verse called 'sAnti-pAta' is generally sung:
sAnti, sAntih: --"
verse, if one notices it, uses the Sanskrit word "pUrna" again and again. This word "pUrna" roughly translates into English
as "fullness", "completeness", "wholesomeness",
"plenary" etc. Now, what the Upanishad is trying to tell us through the verse is
his Creation too is fullness;
the Fullness of God came this Universe;
fullness came out of Fullness,
did not become any less Full,
remains ever full!
shall remain filled
Peace, Peace... let Peace prevail for ever!".
language of the Upanishads is very often poetic and cryptic. But the essential message of the Upanishad in the above verse
that exist in this world, whether human or otherwise, seek ultimately only one thing in life: "pUrnatva" or fulfillment in
life, in one way or the other. When we are fulfilled, we are happy, isn't it? When there is "pUrnatvam" or completeness in
our life, we attain contentment. In "pUrnatva" there is "sAnti" also -- we are at peace with ourselves and with the rest of
But in this
world there is nothing like absolute fulfillment. When we have achieved "completeness" in one thing we find that there is
"completeness" to be attained elsewhere that beckons us. For e.g. a student feels fulfilled when he "completes" a University
education only to find that he still has to find "fulfillment" in some chosen career out in the real world. Similarly, a girl
may feel very
after tying the marital knot, but after few months or years therafter, she begins seeking to be a "complete woman" in motherhood...
And so on, so forth in life...
or "fulfillment" in life remains for most people either a moving target or an elusive mirage. Absolute "pUrnatva" is indeed
very hard to attain in this world. But it is on the other hand
achieved in the kingdom of God.. who as the Isa says above, is Himself "pUrnamada: pUrnamidam...": Absolutely Fulfilled!
the goal of "pUrnatva" to be the Principle and Substance of all life, the IsavasyOpanishad proceeds to tell us how to achieve
such "completeness" or "fulfillment" in life. In the second of 18 wonderful stanzas the Upanishads tells us:
karmAni jijIvishEt satam samAH;
nAnyathEto'sti na karma lipyate narE --
desire to live a full 100 years in this world
in ceaseless action...
in no other way,
can a man
free himself from
or shackles of Action".
families, when a boy ('brahmacharin') is initiated into "upanayana" (the rite of passage in which he dons the "yagnyOpavIta",
the sacred thread), all his elders will bless him saying "satamAnam bhavati satAyur" --- meaning "May You live to be a 100
we can see elders and friends blessing a newly married couple wishing them 100 years of life together. This is common custom
in all Indian families.
for such a blessing ("satAyur vai purusha:") can be traced back to the IsavasyOpanishad
which, as we saw in the above verse, too says,
desire to live a full 100 years in this world..."
blesses another with a "satAyur" or a "100 years of life", one is not referring merely to length of life but to the quality
of life. There is no point in living for a 100 years with poor or simply
of life". So then, what is meant by "quality of life"? The IsavasyOpanishad says in the above verse it is :
of our life can be judged by the quality of our "karma". In other words, a life that is lived both zestfully and purposefully
is the only one that is really worth living for a 100
life of real "quality" must be full of good action, useful deeds and noble effort if it must become truly "pUrnAm"...
zestful and purposeful life, as the Isa describes it for us, is really an Art... It is an "Art of Living" that has to be mastered
slowly and painstakinly over many years... sometimes even a 100
may ask ourselves: Where can one learn such an "Art of Living" by which we can live zestfully and purposefully for a 100 years;
and finally attain that grand "pUrnatva" described by the Upanishads?
anwer is: Look at the example of the 100-year life which Swami Venkatanathan lived... And learn from the "Art of Living" which
the great "vEdAntAchArya" fully described in the "parama-pada-sOpAnam".