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vEdAnta dEsika - paramapada sOpAnam
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srImAn M.K. Sudarshan

 

Seven hundred 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.

 

How should 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.:

 

srimAn venkata nAThArya kavitArkika kEsari

vEdAntAchArya varyOmE sannidhatAm sadAhrudi

 

kavitArkika simhAya kalyANa guNashAlinE

srimathE 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"

("venkatEshAya... 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?

 

The answer 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.

 

Desikan 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.

 

In Sanskrit, 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 of

forms such 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 'dayA-satakam',

Desikan composed 108 stanzas in 10 different metres each being most appropriate to the underlying theme of the verse.

 

Desikan's 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

of common 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, the Deity

of the temple! Written in one sitting within the course of one night!

 

Desikan 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

hard syllables and harsh, guttural-sounding consonants, the words are made to sound like the roars of an angry lion. Listen to the following:

 

vikasvara nakha svaru xata hiraNya vaxaH sthalii

nirargala vinirgalad.h R^idhira sindhu sandhyaayitaaH.

avantu madanaasikaa manuja pa~ncha vaktrasya maam.h

aham.h prathamikaa mithaH prakaTitaahavaa baahavaH.. 6

 

saTaa paTala bhiiShaNe sarabha saaTTaa haasodbhaTe

sphurat.h kR^idhi parisphuTad.h bhR^ikuTike.api vaktre kR^ite.

kR^ipaa kapaTa kesarin.h danuja Dimbha datta stanaa

saroja sadR^ishaa 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 pAdapA pAdapA

pAdapA pAdapA pAdapA pAdapA

pAdapa pAdapA pAdapA pAdapA

pAdapA pAdapA 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 lofty

poetic meaning. The above stanza when read as follows:

 

pAdapA-apAdapA-aapAda-pApA-dapA, pAdapA, pAda-pApA-dapA-apAdapA

pAda,pApAda, pApAda-pApAda-pApAda, pApAdapApA-adapApAdapA

 

yields the following meaning in very rough English translation:

 

"The pAdukAs of Lord of SriRangam

-- render sinless all things and all beings of this world

-- protect all beings in this world and the other

-- reward all men who do their bounden duty by their parents and punishes those that fail in it

-- elevates the devotees of God in the eyes of all the worlds

-- maintains eternal order in both heavenly and earthly spheres".

 

No wonder indeed, it was then as it remains today, that Swami Desikan was hailed by one and all as "kavi-kEsari".

 

Only that 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.

 

The word "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

involved 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

school of 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'.

 

The pundits 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.

 

Venkatanathan 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.

 

The philosophic 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

irrefutable defense of the school of Ramanuja's Vedanta against every known rival Vedantic system that dared to challenge his philosophy.

 

In recognition 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".

 

Venkatanathan reputation as a "tArkika-simham" grew for yet another reason also.

 

A certain 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.

 

Desikan, 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"

was the 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.

 

Today, if 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.

 

 

The 3rd 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.

 

Conquest of the Fear of Life:

 

The fears 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.

 

Although 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.

 

Desikan's 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 securing

for Swami 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

'career-break'. 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

Kanchi"... Desikan was meaning, of course, the Deity in the temple of Lord Varadaraja.

 

Conquest of the Fear of Death:

Malik Kafur, 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

struggle 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".

 

Compassion:

Desikan 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 seems to

have been acutely aware of the social ills and problems of the world around him and deeply empathized with the commonweal.

 

An example 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 public

health system, 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.

 

Swami Desikan 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, he said.

Since we 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.

 

We have 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?

 

Not all 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

not seen 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?".

 

The answer 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"

Desikan does not inspire great homage to his memory, his status as Vedantic guru most certainly and emphatically does.

 

Why?

 

Because 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

could appreciate "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.

 

The path 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

neither "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".

 

The word '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".

 

What is 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

Brghuvalli) while speaking of it is unable to say no more than this: "haa...ooh-hA...ooh-hA..hoo...!".

 

>From Swami Desikan's "parama-pada-sOpAnam" we learn that all beings on earth seek only one purpose -- and that is Joy, Bliss or 'ananda'.

 

 

Creatures 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.

 

Then there 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'.

 

Amongst 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

which gives them the greatest joy or 'ananda' in life.

 

Man, who 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

Self-Fulfillment. 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.

 

Now, unfortunately, 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

to enjoy 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.).

 

Hence, we 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.

 

This 'road-map' to "parama-padam" is described by Swami Desikam to be a "stairway" of 9 stepping-stones or 'parianka-s'. The 9 steps are:

1) vivekam

2) nirvedam

3) virakti

4) bheeti

5) prasAda-hetu

6) utkramanam

7) archirAdri

8) divya-desa-prApti

9) prApti

 

In the 'parama-pada-sOpAnam', Swami Desikan put forward a Vedantic

thesis in a very scientific and modern way. It is a thesis that shows

Man a pathway to personal development from lower to the highest state

of existence and experience. It is a "vEdAnta-mArga" which shows us

how to enrich our lives in an easy-to-follow 9-step program.

 

The 9-step program begins at the first stepping-stone as surely as it

ends with the last. There are no alternate routes on this journey ---

just as there are none on a stairway. The "parama-pada-sOpAnam" is a

journey which leads only one way: upwards, straight from the low

plains of worldly experience towards "paramapada", the very summit of

human experience in the kingdom of God.

 

Swami Desikan described 9 "steps" or 'parianka-s' which a man

aspiring to reach the pinnacle of Joy in 'parama-padam' must have to

tread:

 

1) vivekam

2) nirvedam

3) virakti

4) bheeti

5) prasAda-hetu

6) utkramanam

7) archirAdri

8) divya-desa-prApti

9) prApti

 

The first 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

the pathway to the next 5 steps.

 

The stepping-stone 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'.

 

The last 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 forward effortlessly.

 

While Steps #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

undertakes this leg of the journey.

 

While sometimes 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 preceding one.

 

Swami Desikan 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.

 

"vivEkam" 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

grievous and biggest failing in life. It is a failing that makes him, for the most part in his lifetime, unable to differentiate between:

 

a) what is truth ("satyam") and what is false ("anartham")

b) what is good ("sat") and what is evil ("a-sat")

c) what promotes spiritual progress and what retards it

d) what is the real purpose ('summum-bonum') of human existence on earth and what merely appears so.

 

Rare is 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.

Even those 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

infirmities) in Man's life.

 

True 'vivEkam' 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?".

 

True "vivEkam" 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 transcends all

those of 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.

 

Very few 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

incredulity -- never knows."

 

********** ************ **********

 

The story 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 get out!"

 

Dhruva was 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!

Go into 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!".

 

The child 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.

 

Dhruva was a true "vivEki"...

 

********* *********** ***********

 

With 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: 

(a) Who am I? I am not this Body. I am Soul. ('atma-svarUpa-gnyAna')

(b) This body is impermanent but this soul is eternal.

(c) This soul is not mine ("na-mama");

(d) This soul is the lost property of another Great One Who is "Beyond the Yonder even" ('athyatIshTa-dashAngulam...'); ("Isvara-tattva- gnyAnam")

(e) The 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').

(f) Eternal 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".

 

After attaining 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

hamper it. 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 ('anartham'), .

 

The most poignant of such "nirvEdam" verses have been sung by Tirumangai-AzhwAr in the opening decad of the "peria-tirumOzhi":

 

"vAdinEn vAdi varundinEn manatthAl

perun thuyar idummpayil pirandhu

koodinEn koodi iLayavar thammodu

avar tharum kalaviyE karuthi?"

(tirumangai-AzhwAr "periya-tirumOzhi" 1.1)

 

"aaviyE! amudE! ena ninainthu urugI

avar-avar paNai mulai thuNaiyAyp

pAvIyEn uNarAthu etthanai pagalum

pazhuthupOy Ozhinthana nAttkkal?" (ibid. 1.2)

 

 

Such 'pAsuram-s' 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

undergoes as a result in his sincere quest of God.

 

None of 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

sombre moments, like the English poet, Longfellow, we too ae moved to mutter sadly to ourselves in deep and utter "nirvEdam":

 

"Art is long, Time is fleeting, Our hearts, though stout and brave, Still like muffled drums are beating Funeral marches to the grave."

 

 

When one 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

stepping-stone: 'virakthi' or 'vairAgyam'.

 

While 'nirvedam' is described as revulsion directed against oneself, 'virakthi/vairAgyam' is said to be an emotion of revulsion directed outwards.

 

Desikan 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).

 

Desikan's 'parama-pada-sOpAnam' describes how a 'vivEki's' inwardly-directed emotion of 'nirvEdam' manifests in outwardly-directed emotion called "virakthi/vairAgyam". This emotion

relates the inner state of the 'vivEki's' mind to his external environment.

 

Now, "virakthi" makes the 'vivEki' gradually develop 2 mind-states:

a sense 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

which he 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.

 

We might 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".

 

Similarly, 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":

 

"vEdanoor pirAyUm nooru manisarthAm puguvarElUm;

pAthiyUm urangipOgum; ninradhir padhinaiyANdu;

pEthai bAlagan adhu AgUm; piNi pasi mUpputh thunbam;

AdhalAl, piravi vEndEn arangamA nagaruLAnE !"

 

(tirumAlai - 3)

 

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

old age 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.

 

Swami Desikan 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

King, which many might have regarded as a rare opportunity of honour and privilege, seemed to Desikan utterly distasteful.

 

In short, "virakthi/vairAgyam" is a state of mind wherein a man's pre-occupation with matters spiritual begin to overtake, and eventually exclude, matters mundane.

 

******** ********** *********

 

The late "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,

Srimad Azhagiyasingar, 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.

 

"Hello, 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 Swami.

 

"Oh, yes, 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

touching kindness.

 

Next the 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 gusto, producing

through 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.

 

Anyway, 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'.

 

"Well, you 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."

 

The 44th Azhagiyasingar, it seems, that day learnt a very important lesson on true  "virakthi/vairAgyam"! Sri.Mukkur Lakshminarasimhachariar related it as follows:

 

"When we 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

(B) because 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

(B), then, 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!"

 

"If you 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 to climb

the first "pariankai" (step) of "vivEkam" even!"

 

The journey 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".

 

The "vivEki" 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.

Would God 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":

"?unnai kAnUm mArgam onrUm ariyamAttA manisaril durisanAi

mUrkkanEn vandhu ninrEn: mUrkkanEn mUrkkanEnE!"

('tirumAlai' -32)

 

"Is there 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!"

 

And again:

 

"meyyallAm pOgavittu, virikuzhalArir pattup

poyy ellAm pOdhinthu kOnda pOzhakkanEn vandhu ninrEn;

aiyanE! aranganE! wUn arUL ennUm Asai thannAl

pOyyannEn vandhu ninrEn; pOyyanEn, pOyyanEnE!" (ibid.33)

 

"Lord! My 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!"

 

When "bheeti" 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 in crossing

it, would 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?

 

These very 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):

 

anUkshaNa samUthithE durita-vAridhow dUstarE

yadi kvachana nishkritirbhavathi sApi dOshAvilA I

thadItha-magathow mayi pratividhAna-mAdhIyathAm

svabUddhi-parikalpitham kimapi rangadhUrya tvaya II

 

Ranga! There 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...

 

"bheeti" 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". 

 

The experiences 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")

together 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.

 

How does 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?

 

The answer 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 do?.

 

This state 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

feelings 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 poignant

"stOtra", the "abhIti-stavam" (Stanza 3):

 

"yadadhya mitha-buddhinA bahula-mOha-bhAjA mayA

gUNa-gratitha-kAya-vAngmanasa-vrutti-vaichithrayatha: I

atarkita-hitAhita-krama-visEsha-mAraBhyatE

tadapyuchita-marchanam parigruhANa rangEswara " II

 

Rangeswara! 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?".

 

Vedanta 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

and most effective antidote against "bheeti", the holy terror of Man.

 

 

The man who choses the path of 'bhakti' is attracted toward one or more of the following "upAya":

 

"sravanam kirtanam vishnO: smaranam pAda sevanam I

archanam vandanam dAsyam, sakyam atma-nivEdanam II

(Srimadh-bhAgavatham)

 

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":

 

(1) sraVaNam : deriving immense joy out of listening to the accounts and anecdotes of the 'avatAric' exploits of God as narrated by 'itihAsA-purANa'

 

(2) kirtanam : singing the glories of God e.g."sankirtanam","bhajanam"

 

(3) smaraNam : being immersed in constant contemplation of the divine e.g "japam", "mananam", "bhagavath-chintanam"

 

(4) pAda-sevanam: employed in the service of God and godly institutions e.g. "kovil-kainkaryam", "bhAgavata-sishrusham"

 

(5) archanam : offering with utmost love little tokens of devotion to God e.g. flower, fruit, water, leaf ("pushpam, phalam, jalam, tOyam")

 

(6) vandanam : ceaselessly prostrating to the divine ("sAshtAnga-dandasamarpaNam", "namaskaraNam")

 

(7) dAsyam: leading one's lifetime as if one is a mere servant of God ("dAsatvam", divine subservience)

 

(8) sakyam: firmly believing that God is the sole and constant companion in life

 

(9) atma-nivEdanam: offering up one's soul completely unto God

 

The man 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.

 

Kulasekhara 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

about Him:

 

"aanAtha selvatthu arampaiyargaL tar sUzha

vAnALUm selvamUm mann-arasUm yAn vEndane;

thEn Ar pUnjOlaith tiruvEnkata sunaiyil

meenAyp pirakkUm vidhi udaiyane aavEnE. (4.2 "perumal

tirumOzhi")

 

sediyAy valvinnaigaL theerkUm tirumAlE !

nediyAnE! vEngadavA! Nin kOyilin vAsal

adiyArUm vAnavarUm arampayarUm kiddanthu eyyangUm

padiyAyy kiddanthu Un pavazhavAyy kAnbEnE !" (ibid.

4.9)

 

 

"For but 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

glory! I 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

"bhakti" 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 living moments.

 

 

Such tranquility and contentment brought about by "bhakti" is described in two extremely moving 'pAsuram-s' by Peria-AzhwAr in the decad titled "senniyOngu":

 

"paravai Eru param-purudA! nee ennaik kaikOnda pin

piravi ennUm kadalUm vattrip perUmpadam aaginradAl;

iravu seyyUm pAvakk kAdu theekkOLi vEginradAl;

arivai ennUm amuda aaru talaipattri vAyykOndathE !"

(peria-azhwAr tirumOzhi - 5.4.2)

 

"Ever since 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!"

 

"ananthanpAlUm garudanpAlUm aiythu nOyythAga vaitthu

en manatthUllEy vandhu vaigI vAzhacheyythAy, empirAn!

Ninnaindhu ennUllE ninru nekkuk-kaNgaL asumbu Ozhuga

Ninnaindhu-irundhE siramam teerndhEn nEMi nEdiyavanE !

(ibid. 5.4.8)

 

"Now that 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 of You!"

 

This is 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 second, The Way of Surrender.

 

Thus cured 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 !

 

Next, we 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"?

 

The 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. 

"sravanam kirtanam vishnO: smaranam pAda sevanam I

archanam vandanam dAsyam, sakyam atma-nivEdanam II

 

The above 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'.

 

Invariably, 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 lead life

during the 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 responsibility

to lead 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.

 

"nannmayyAl mikka nAn-maraiyAlargaL

punmai aaga karuthuvar aadalin

annaiyAyy atthanAyy ennai aandidUm

thannmaiyAn sadagOpan en nambiyE. (stanza 4)

 

"Worthy scholars full of grace Had me found worthless in my ways?

But father, mother both in one, Is Sadagopan, who now rules my days.

"mikka vEdiyar vEdathinn utpOrUL

nirka pAdi en nenjUkkUL niruthinnAn;

takka seer sadagOpan en nambikku

aatpukka kAdhal adimai payananrE." (stanza 9)

 

The deepest sense of Vedic thought He sang in song and taught it to my heart

SadagOpan, 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':

 

(1) "anukulasya sankalpah" : resolve in life to do only those deeds that are pleasing to God

(2) "pratikulasya varjana" : resolve to abjure deeds unfavorable to God

(3) "mahA visvAsam" : be unwavering in faith in God

(4) "karpannyOkthi" : be constantly aware of one's spiritual helplessness

(5) "atma-nikshEpa" : 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

on earth, faithfully and cheerfully. He has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to fear ('a-bheethi') -- much like Swami Desikan was himself in his own time.

 

In a short hymn called 'ashtabhUjAshtakam', Swami Desikan, echoed this fearless state of mind of the 'prapanna' in the words:

 

"bhayam kUtasyAt tvayi sAnukampE; raksha kuthasyAt tvayi jAtharOshE"

!

 

meaning: 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:

 

tvachhE-shathvE sthira-dhiyam tvatprAptyEka prayOjanam I

nishidha kAmyarahitam kUrUmAm nityakinkaram II

 

swAmi svashEsham sva-vasham sva-bharathvEna nirbharam I

sva-datha-svadhiyA svArtham svasmin nyas-yathi mAm svayam II

 

"The Lord, 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!"

 

Thus, indeed, 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 "parama-pada-sOpAnam".

 

This "utkramana" 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

process 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:

 

372:

seeyinaal seRindhERiya puNmEl*seRRalERik kuzhambirundhu* eNGgum-

eeyinaal arippuNdu mayaNGgi*ellai vaay senRu sErvadhan munnam*

vaayinaal n^amO n^aaraNaa venRu*maththahaththidaik kaihaLaik kooppi*

pOyinaal pinnai iththisaikku enRum*piNaik kodukkilum pOhavottaarE. 2.

 

 

373:

sOrvinaal poruL vaiththadhuNdaahil*sollu sollenRu suRRum irundhu*

aarvinavilum vaaythiRavaadhE*andhakaalam adaivadhan munnam*

maarvam enbadhOr_kOyil amaiththu*maadhavan ennum dheyvaththai

n^aatti*

aarvamenbadhOr poovidavallaarkku*aravathaNdaththil uyyalumaamE.

 

374:

mEl ezhundhadhOr vaayuk kiLarndhu* mEl midaRRinai uLLezha vaaNGgi*

kaalum kaiyum vidhir vidhirththERik*kaNNuRakkam adhaavadhan munnam*

moolamaahiya oRRaiyezhuththai*moonRu maaththirai uLLezha vaaNGgi*

vElaivaNNanai mEvudhiraahil*viNNahaththinil mEvalumaamE. 4.

 

375:

madi vazhi vandhu n^eer pulan sOra*vaayilattiya kaNYchiyum meeNdE*

kadai vazhi vaarak kaNdamadaippa* kaNNuRakkam adhaavadhan munnam*

thodai vazhi ummai n^aayhaL kavaraa*soolaththaal ummaip paayvadhum

seyyaar*

idaivazhiyil n^eer kooRaiyum izhaveer*irudeekEsan enREththavalleerE.

5.

 

376:

aNGgam vittavai aindhum ahaRRi*aavi mookkinil sOdhiththa pinnai*

saNGgam vittavar_kaiyai maRiththu*paiyavE thalai saayppadhan munnam*

vaNGgam vittulavum kadaRpaLLi maayanai*madhusoodhananai maarbil-

thaNGga vittu vaiththu* aavadhOr karumam saadhippaarkku* enRum

saadhikkalaamE.

 

379:

vaayoru pakkam vaaNGgi valippa*vaarndha n^eerk kuzhik kaNkaL

mizhaRRa*

thaay oru pakkam thandhai oru pakkam*thaaramum oru pakkam alaRRa*

thee Oru pakkam sErvadhan munnam* seNGgaNmaalodum sikkena suRRa-

maay* oru 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..."

 

******** ********* *********

 

The reasonable 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?

 

The Man of "bhakti" (or "prappati") who is on the verge of the "prasAdana-parvA" asks himself:

 

"After all 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 world undergo?"

 

The answer 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.

 

What is 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?

 

This has to be explained with reference to 2 significant pronouncements of Sri.Krishna in the Bhagavath-Gita:

 

anta-kAlE cha mAm Eva smaran muktvA kalEvaram I

yah: prayAti sa madh-bhAvam yAti nAst~yatra samshayah: II (Gita VIII.5)

 

"Whoever, 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 of doubt."

 

Krishna, 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.

 

Furthermore, a little earlier in the Gita, Krishna had also explained why the 'bhakta' deserved such absolute ease of death: 

 

"chatur-vidhA bhajantE mAm janAh: sukritinO'rjunA I

aartO jignyAsur arthArthi gnyAni cha bharatar-shabha II

 

"tEshAm gnyAni nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir-visishyatE I

priyOhi gnyAni-nO-artham aham sa cha mama priya: II (Bhagavath-gita VII.18)

 

"O Arjuna, 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.

 

What Krishna promised in the Bhagavath-Gita, He made sure He also delivered later on the battle-field of Kurukshetra.

 

Bhishma-pitamahA, 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

recognition. 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:

 

"yaccha bhUtam bhavishyaccha bhavaccha paramachyuta

tat sarvamanupasyAmi panou phala mivAhitam"

"vEdoktaschaiva yO dharmAh: vEdAnta niyataschayE

tAn sarvAn samprapasyAmi varadAnAt tavA'chyutA"

 

"O Krishna! 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?

thanks to your infinite Grace, my dear AchyuthA!"

 

Thus, it 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 death?

 

The answer 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:

 

stithE manasi susvathE sarirE sati yO nara:

dhAtusAmyE stithE smartA visvarUpam cha mAmajam

tatasta mriyamANAm tu kAshta-pAshANa-sannibham

aha smarAmi madhbhaktam nayAmi paramAm gatim II

("vAraha-charama-shlOkam")

 

******** *********** ***********

 

That the 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

the hymn, "gOpAla-vimshati".

 

"adharAhita chAru vamsha nAlAh:

makutAlambi mayUra pinchamAlAh:

harInIla shilA vibhanga nILAh:

pratibhAsantu mama antima-prayANE"

("gOpAla-vimshati" - 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!"

 

Desikan further added at the end:

"ithya-anannya-manasA vinirmitAm

venkatEsa kavinA-stUthim paTann

divya-vENu rasikam samIkshatE

daivatam kimapi yowatha-priyam"

("phala-sruti" Verse 21)

 

"He who 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

release. 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".

 

Towards 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 meticulous

detail 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'. 

 

What was extensively elaborated in the "rahasya-traya-sAram" Desikan re-presented in abridged and distilled form in the "archirAdi-parvA" of the "parama-pada-sOpAnam".

 

*********** *********** *************

 

The Soul's ('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.

 

All along 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.

For the '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.

 

Thus, as 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:

1."Archis (Fire )

2. Ahas (Day),

3.Suklapaksha (Bright fortnight of the month before the full moon),

4.Uttarayana (the six monthly period when the Sun is traversing towards the north),

5.Varusha or Samvatsara (Year)and then by

6.Vayu (Wind God),

7.Surya (Sun God),

8.Chandra (Moon God), and finally by

9.Vidyut Purusha a.k.a. Amaanava Purusha or Maanasa Purusha who is accompanied by

10.Varuna(Rain God) ,

11.Indra (Lord of Devas) and

12.Prajapathi (the Creator of lives).

 

The Gods 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)"

 

-- (extract from a Note prepared on "rahasyatrayasAra" by Anbil Ramaswamy, a noted scholar on Vedanta Desika)

 

The experience 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

to some limited degree in sharing with us their own glimpses of it.

As the poet Omar Khayyam once wrote:

 

"Strange is it not? The myriad who

Before us passed the Door of Darkness thro',

Not one returns to tell us of the Road

Which to discover we must travel too".

("The Rubaiyat" - Omar Khayyam").

 

(This poet 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

"archirAdi-mArgam"!)

 

NammAzhwAr, 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:

 

choozvichum paNimukil* thooriyam muzakkina*

aazkadal alaithirai* kaiyetuththu aadina*

Ezpozilum* vaLamaendhiya ennappan*

vaazpukaz naaraNan* thamaraik kaNtukandhE. 10.9.1

 

"The eternal skies blew bugles in welcome,

The seas cheered and danced;

Celestial continents stood in ceremony

To receive Narayana's devotee --

The Soul returning home in triumph!"

 

thozuthanar ulakargaL* thoopa_nal malarmazai-

pozivanar* pooziyanRu aLandhavan thamarmunnE*

ezuminenRu irumarungichaiththanar* munivargaL*

vaziyithu vaikundhaRku enRu* van^thu ethirE.    10.9.3

 

"When they saw the Soul

Entering their kingdom

They rained flowers, lit incense

And sang ---

The celestial bards stood on either side

Of the path and cried to the Soul:

"Hail! This way to Vaikuntam!"

 

maathavan thamarenRu* vaachalil vaanavar*

pOthumin emathidam* pukuthuka venRalum*

keethangaL paadinar* kinnarar kerudargaL*

vEtha_nal vaayavar* vELviyuL maduththE. 10.9.5

 

"The gods in the kingdom came out

On terraces in raucous welcome;

Loud were their offer of gift to the Soul

Of palaces and sinecures, their own!

In honour of the returning Soul

The Vedic seers too lit their holy fires

While 'kinnaras' and 'garudas' took out

Their harps, their pipes

To strum and blow to eternity!"

 

kudiyadiyaar ivar* kOvindhan dhanakkenRu*

mudiyudai vaanavar* muRaimuRai ethir_koLLa*

kodiyaNi netumathiL* kOpuram kuRukinar*

vadivudai maathavan* vaikundham pukavE. 10.9.8

 

"The gods and manes gathered in swarms --

They scaled the high walls,

And climbed the festooned tower,

Jostling and craning their necks to catch

A mere glimpse of the returning Soul

And shout "There he goes, our Govinda's hero!"

 

vaikundham pukuthalum* vaachalil vaanavar*

vaikundhan thamar_emar* emathidam pukuthenRu*

vaikundhaththu amararum* munivarum viyandhanar*

vaikundham pukuvathu* maNNavar vithiyE. 10.9.9

 

"As the Soul made his grand entry

The heavenly bards raised cries of joy--

They bowed in his path and cheered his back:

"The kingdom of Vaikuntam, It's Thy birthright!".

 

vithivakai pukundhanarenru* nalvEthiyar*

pathiyinil paanginil* paathangaL kazuvinar*

nithiyum naRsuNNamum* niRaikuda viLakkamum*

mathimuka madandhaiyar* Endhinar vandhE.        10.9.10.

 

"Vedic seers of the heavens

Washed the feet of the Soul,

And wondered what good they'd done

To earn such great dole!

And then came lovely nymphs

Bearing lamps and scents;

And holding the sacred "kumbha"

They led our hero to the edge

Of God's own land!"

 

********* ************ *********

 

The passage 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'?

 

The answer is this:

 

When we 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'...

 

Now when 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...

 

 

After the '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

"divya-dEsa-prApti".

 

Here the 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").

 

Desikan 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". There 500

"apsaras" (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 (Brahma

Tejas) enter into the 'jeeva'".(extract from ibid. A.Ramaswamy)

 

********* ********** ***********

 

Crossing 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:

 

aruLpeRuvaar adiyaar tham *adiyanERku* aaziyaan-

aruLtharuvaan amaikinRaan* athu_namathu vithivakaiyE*

iruLtharumaa NYaalaththuL* inippiRavi yaanvEndEn*

maruLozi neemada_nenchE!* vaattaaRRaan adivaNangE. 10.6.1

 

"All doubts and anxiety have ceased --

No more recall to the dark world for us --

The Lord awaits you...O Soul of mine!"

 

vaattaaRRaan adivaNangi* maaNYaalap piRappaRuppaan*

kEttaayE mada_nenchE!* kEchavan em perumaanai*

paattaaya palapaadip* pazavinaikaL paRRaRuththu*

naattaarOdu iyalvozindhu* naaraNanai naNNinamE. 10.6.2

 

"Hear me, O Soul of Mine --

Singing the praise of Kesavan now

We've cut asunder ties with the world --

Karma has ceased."

 

naNNinam naarayaNanai* naamangaL palacholli*

maNNulakil vaLammikka* vaattaaRRaan vandhu_inRu*

viNNulakam tharuvaanaay* viraikinRaan vithivakaiyE*

eNNina vaaRaakaa* ikkarumangaL ennenchE!        10.6.3

 

"We have arrived here, you and me

In the land of God, O Soul of mine,

Thanks to the many names of Narayana upon our lips --

Vaikuntam is ours now, our eternal fortune!"

 

vaanERa vazithandha* vaattaaRRaan paNivakaiyE*

naan_ERap peRukinREn* narakaththai naku_nenchE*

thEnERu malarththuLavam* thikazpaathan* sezumpaRavai-

thaanERith thirivaan_than* thaaLiNai en_thalaimElE.     10.6.5

 

"It's the Lord of Viraja (tiruvatt-Aru)

who led me to this path --

Holding His Feet upon my crown

Thumb my nose at Hell, I will!

No fear!"

 

kuraikazalkaL kuRuginam* nam kOvindhan kudikondaan*

thiraikuzuvu kadalpudaichooz* thennaattuth thilathamanna*

varaikuzuvu maNimaada* vaattaaRRaan malaradimEl*

viraikuzuvu naRundhuLavam* meyn^_ninRu kamazumE.        10.6.7

 

"We have reached at last,

You and me, O Soul of mine,

The mansion of God --

Can you smell the sweet whiff of 'tulasi'

That swirls all around us?!"

 

meyn^_ninRu kamazthuLava* viraiyERu thirumudiyan*

kain^_ninRa sakkaraththan* karuthumidam poruthupunal*

main^_ninRa varaipOlum* thiruvuruva vaattaaRRaaRku*

en^_nanRi seythEnaa* ennenchil thikazavathuvE?  10.6.8

 

"The Lord of Creation shall soon

Be with us, O Soul of mine --

I cannot believe this is happening to us!

Do we really deserve this Bliss?!"

 

piriyaathu_aat seyyenRu* piRappaRuththu aaLaRakkondaan*

ariyaaki iraNiyanai* aagangeeNtaan anRu*

periyaarku aatpattakkaal* peRaathapayan peRumaaRu*

varivaaL vaayaravaNaimEl* vaattaaRRaan kaattinanE.      10.6.10.

 

"Once upon a time the Lord

appeared as Man-lion

And tore out Hiranyan's breast --

Now He's torn to shreds

And cast aside my karmic chains too forever--

Now I, His eternal serf, shall surely reap

The numberless favours of Infinity!

 

************* **************

 

Once the '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:

-- began in "vivEkam",

-- endured through "nirvEdam", "virakthi" and "bheeti",

-- sojourned through "prasAdana-parva" and

-- sailed across "utkramana", "archirAdi" and "divya-dEsa prApti"...

 

that arduous trek across the cosmic expanse finally approaches its end in the end called "prApti".

 

The consummation of the Soul's journey which began in "vivEkam" ends finally in "prApti".

 

"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 the

Vedantic path traced for us by Swami Vedanta Desikan in the "parama-pada-sOpAnam".

 

According 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

walls adorned 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

befitting 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'.

 

After the 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

"mAmani-mantapa" that NammAzhwAr also refers to in the "tiruvOimOzhi":

 

vandhavar ethir_koLLa* maamaNi mandapaththu*

andhamil pErinbaththu* adiyarOdu irundhamai*

kondhalar pozil* kurukoorchchadakOpan* chol-

chandhangaLaayiraththu* ivaivallaar munivarE. (10.9.11)

 

Once it 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'.

 

Then, the "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'.

 

God then 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.:

 

"being free from

Sin,

Old age,

Death,

Sorrow,

Hunger

Thirst

Being endowed with all desired objects and

an unhindered will. The Lord bestows "sAyujya" which means being united

in equal 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 yuva"

Himself." (ibid. A.Ramaswamy)

 

*************************************

 

It is this precisely this supreme state of "sAyujya" in "parama-padam" which in the Upanishads is glorified as "brahmAnandam" --- the Bliss of God.

 

The bliss 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":

 

The joy 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"!

 

The Upanishad 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

free to experience not only "brahma-gnyAna" but also "brahmAnanda" ---

 

"... sa EkO brahmaNa ananda: ...

.. sayaschAyam purushE.. yaschAvAdityE ... sa Eka: .."

"sa ya Evam vith... asmAllOkAt prEtya...

 

etam anna-mayam-AtmAnam-mupasankrAmati

etam prANa-mayam-AtmAnam-mupasankrAmati

etam manO-mayam-AtmAnam-mupasankrAmati

etam vignyAna-mayam-AtmAnam-mupasankrAmati

etam Ananda-mayam-AtmAnam-mupasankrAmati..." ("anandavalli")

 

********* ************ *********

 

Such is 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

'parama-pada-sOpAnam'...

 

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 in history

when the school of "sri-rAmAnuja-darsanam" flourished, the SriVaishnava following grew and their institutions and traditions strengthened.

 

In 1369 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

too Swamy Desikan -- the man, his life and work:

srimAn venkata nAThArya kavitArkika kEsari

vEdAntAchArya varyOmE sannidhatAm sadAhrudi

 

kavitArkika simhAya kalyANa guNashAlinE

srimathE venkateshEyA vEdAnta guravE namaha

 

When we 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:

"pUrnamada: pUrnamidam

pUrnAt pUrnamudachyate;

pUrnasya pUrnamAdAya

pUrnam evAvashishyate"

 

"Om sAnti, sAnti, sAntih: --"

 

The prefatory verse, if one notices it, uses the Sanskrit word "pUrna" again and again. This word "pUrna" roughly translates into English as "fullness", "completeness", "wholesomeness",

"consummation", "plenary" etc. Now, what the Upanishad is trying to tell us through the verse is

roughly this:

"God is Fullness --

This Universe, his Creation too is fullness;

>From the Fullness of God came this Universe;

Although fullness came out of Fullness,

Fullness did not become any less Full,

since Fullness remains ever full!

 

This Universe shall remain filled

Ever with God's Fullness!"

 

"So let Peace, Peace... let Peace prevail for ever!".

 

******* ********** **********

 

The language of the Upanishads is very often poetic and cryptic. But the essential message of the Upanishad in the above verse is this: 

 

All beings 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 the Universe.

 

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

"fulfilled" 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...

 

"Completeness" 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

very easily achieved in the kingdom of God.. who as the Isa says above, is Himself "pUrnamada: pUrnamidam...": Absolutely Fulfilled!

 

******* *********** ***********

 

After describing 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:

 

"kurvanneva: karmAni jijIvishEt satam samAH;

Evam tvayi nAnyathEto'sti na karma lipyate narE --

 

"One should desire to live a full 100 years in this world

engaged in ceaseless action...

Thus, and in no other way,

can a man free himself from

the taint or shackles of Action".

 

In Indian 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 years old!".

Similarly, 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.

 

The reason for such a blessing ("satAyur vai purusha:") can be traced back to the  IsavasyOpanishad which, as we saw in the above verse, too says,

"jijIvishEt satam samAH"

"One should desire to live a full 100 years in this world..."

When one 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

no "quality of life". So then, what is meant by "quality of life"? The IsavasyOpanishad says in the above verse it is :

"kurvanneva: karmAni..."

 

The "quality" 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

years. A life of real "quality" must be full of good action, useful deeds and noble effort if it must become truly "pUrnAm"...

 

Living a 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

years!

 

Now, we 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?

 

The 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". 

 

 

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athAto "brahma" zignAsA - Then thereafter be inquisitive to enquire about "the Absolute"