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Daily routines of a Sri Vaishnava

After Pancha Samskara one becomes officially a Sri Vaishnava. In the various purifactory cermonies, the Acharya introduces an individual to a) Sudharsana and Panchajanya through embossing Chakra and Sanka, b) Twelve Upavyuha forms of the Lord through twelve Sri Vaishnava marks, C)Para form of the Lord through Ashtakshara, d) Vyuha form of the Lord through Dvayam, e)Vibhava form of the Lord through Charma sloka, f) Archa form of the Lord through Bahya Aradhana(external worship), g) Antaryami Avatara form through Manasika Aradhana (internal). The Pancha samskara takes place only once in the life time of an individual and hence the daily routine of a Sri Vaishnava should include steps for strengthening the initiative given by the Acharya. In our everyday life we see that acquaintances bloom into friendship and attachment through constant meetings and interactions. In the same way, the constant thinking of the Lord by the individual also helps to enhance the association. This constant thinking of the Lord by the individual is called 'Japam' or meditation. Hence, every Sri Vaishnava should reserve sometime everyday for meditation. Let us see the routines required under each of the ceremonies:

Dasa : Acharya gives the individual the name 'Dasa'. The individual should always feel that he is a subordinate of God, AchArya and bhAgavatAs. He should develop humility and kindness. He should develop a quality of head and heart that promotes 'Dasathwa' in all his activities including reciting of mantras. A prayer to Sri Ramanuja will help him in this regard.

Impression of Conch and Chakra: Conch and Chakra represent Panchajanya and Sudarsana. They alone can show the path to God. Hence, one should pray to them for dispelling ignorance and show the path to God.

There are twelve Upavyuha forms if the Lord starting from Sri kesava etc. The Upavyuha forms of the Lord is supposed to represent the twelve suns in the universe corresponding to the twelve Zodiacs of the universe. These forms of the Lord is for meditation of the devotees. Our body is formed of Prakriti and our relation to the Lord is that of body-embodied. Thus, our body is also linked to the body of the Lord. The upavyuha forms of the Lord reside in various parts of our body. The Sri Vaishnava marks we wear is only an external display of the Upavyuha forms of the Lord. We salute Him by reciting His name with Anjali mudra near the corresponding part of our body.

Rahasya Thraya Mantras: God should be meditated upon by reciting the three Mantras - namely Astakshara, Dvaya and Charma sloka. Before recitng the dyana sloka, one should do a)Ashtashara Pranayamam b) Sankalpa (expression of intention) c) Submission of the fruits to the Lord himself.

Ashtakshara Pranayamam - Close the left nostril with the little finger and ring finger and exhale from the right nostril(Rechaka), close the right nostril with thumb and take in air from the left nostril after releasing little finger and ring finger (Puraka). Close the left nostril also as before. In this way the air is held inside the body. While holding the air inside the body, recite mentally Astakshara 10 times or 18 times or 28 times according to one’s capacity to hold breath. After reciting, release air from right nostril. This is Ashtakshara Pranayamam and it helps to tune our system for meditation.

While meditating on the Lord through Rahashya thraya mantras, the mantras should be recited mentally (that is, the tounge, lips and teeth should not partake in chanting).

The Vedic approach has been that our planet (Earth) is a part of the universe and the systems of the universe have influence on the life in our planet. The actions and activities of human beings have been so oriented as to derive maximum benefits for the individual and also for the society through these influences. The human thought is a form of energy. It is considered to be of high frequency type. It also has properties of transmission, resonance, etc like high frequency waves. When we pluck a string in a violin or a tumbura, the sound is the result of the resonance in the air column in these instruments. The meditation pranayamam are very akin to this phenomena and hence considered very important in Vedic tenents.

Aradhana - (Bahya or External puja) - This is worshipping an Archa form of the Lord. The procedure followed is according to 'Nithya Grantha' of Sri Ramanuja. It commences with 'Suprabhaatham'(the waking up of the Lord). Then 'Mantrasana'(washing the hands and feet of the Lord), 'Snanasana'(bath and change of Dress), 'Alankarasana' (decorating the Lord with Sandal Paste, Doopam etc., and worshipping the feet of the Lord with flowers); 'Bhojyasana'( Serving of food, fruits and betal); again 'Mantrasana'(washing hands and feet and placing one’s request or shatumorai) and concludes with ‘Paryankasanam' (requesting the Lord to retire and rest). The above is briefly the procedure of 'Bahya' Aradhanam'.

The essence of worship is mainly to pour out one’s heart to the Lord.

In the present day life some may feel handicap to do the worship as per the full standards. It is the sincerity and quality of service which Lord wants to see, rather than the quantity. One should try to spend as much maximum time possible in the service of the Lord. In rush circumstances a prapanna should consult a knowledgeable Sri Vaishnava or a pundit, who will help him abridge the process without the loss of Sprit, sothat he can do his service to the Lord even within the framework of his limitations. For worship of Lord there are three distinct models-one model being the way Yashoda worshiped the Lord (Motherly attachment), the second one being the way Vidura worshiped the Lord when the latter went to his house.(affection combined with respect and subordination), the third model being the path shown by Andal (devoted wife or Pathivratha) . The external worship is to be done generally in the morning. On special occasions like Janmastami, Sri Ramanavami, Narasimha jayanthi, the Bahya Aradhanam is to be performed at midnight, noon and at sunset respectively. Though the Bahya Aradhana is performed by the males of the three Varnas, ladies also have a role to play. By assisting the male members of the family in this activity, they also get the benefits of the Bahya aradhana. Likewise the fourth Varna can also get benefits of Bahya Aradhana by assisting those performing the Aradhana.

 

Manasika Aradhana or Meditation of the Lord - Suka, while narrating Bhagavatham to king Parikshit, mentions how great devotees used to worship the lord within their hearts.

These devotees meditate on the Lord with his four hands holding Conch, Chakra, Gadha and Lotus. They fix his figure firmly in their mind.

Having fixed His figure firmly, they worship Him with all the courtesis (as in Aradhana or Puja)including serving of food, mentally.

They conclude the worship with mangalasasanam(mangalarathi).

This procedure narrated by suka can be practiced by anyone irrespective of caste, place or sex. Also there are no time restrictions and hence this can be done at anytime when one finds some leisure. Meditation as above for a few moments will bring great happiness and mental tranquility. Thus, the daily routines of a SriVaishnava should include some time for meditating on the Supreme Lord, covering the various ceremonies of Pancha Samskara as detailed above.

Nithya Karma(Sandyavandanam, etc.) and Naimithikka Karmas (bread earning for the family duties, Upanayanam and marriage of children, service to parents & elders and other family duties) are prescribed in the Vedas and they should not be neglected. God will not accept service from those who neglect the nitya and naimithikka karmas. Thus, Sri Vaishnavism promotes God-realisation within the frame work of worldly activities of individuals. (There is an impression amongst a few that Panchan samskara may interfere with their professional and other activities. This is not true. Even after Pancha Samskara, the individual will continue his activities as before, expect for including a few moments everyday on meditation discussed earlier. This may gradually bring a change for improvement in the quality of his life and the way he carries out his professional activities).

Within his ability, a Sri Vaishnava should help the birthday celebration of his Acharya and Acharya parampara, maintaining his Acharya’s ashram, maintenance of a temple of his choice, assistance to Sri Vaishnava Bhagavatas, etc.

Rahasya Thraya

The three Sri Vaishnava Mantras-Ashtakshara, Dvaya and Charama sloka are known as Rahasya thraya. A Mantra is a hymn or a prayer (with words and alphabets specially chosen) addressed to God or Deity. It is supposed to posses mystic and super natural powers.

Ashtakshara - (Mantra of eight letters) -This is known as MOOLA MANTRA. This consists of three words, namely Pranava’, ‘Namah’ and Narayanaya’. This Mantra explains the pleasure of a chetana being subordinate to Lord. Since this includes ‘Pranava’ it is Vedic in character and hence restrictions are there-that is, it can be practiced by Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya males only. If ‘Pranava’ is replaced by ‘Am’, it becomes a ‘tantrika’ mantra(with the same effect and benefit) and there is no restriction for reciting. Even ladies and sudras can recite it. The Pranava Comprises of three letters - ‘Aa’ ‘Uu’ and ‘Mm’. ‘Aa’ -denotes Vishnu. ‘Uu’ denotes Goddess Lakshmi and ‘Mm’ denotes the soul of Jivatma. Thus this conveys the meaning that ‘Jivatma’ is a subordinate(Sesha) of the divine couple - Lakshmi Narayana. This meaning remains the same even when ‘Pranava’ is replaced by ‘Am’ as Lakshmi and Narayana constitute a single entity. Similarly ’Namah’ denotes’ notmine’. This Mantra is full of intricate meanings and hence considered of a high order.

This mantra is chanted as a single sentence or two sentence or three sentence, connoting different meanings with different results;

When chanted as a single sentence it conveys
a.Means to achieve
b. Service of subordination

When chanted as two sentences, it conveys
a. Self-realization
b. Saranagathi
c. Moksha

When chanted as three sentences, it conveys
a. Self-realization and Moksha.
b. Realisation of desires and warding off troubles.

It is said that this Mantra is equivalent to reciting all Vedas. Chanting this with devotion and deep trust, the benefits are immence. The dyana sloka for this mantra is addressed to Sriman Narayana (Para form of God), who is also the presiding deity for this mantra.

Dvayam: "Sriman Narayana Charanau Sharanam Prapadye, Srimate Narayanaaya Namah" is the Dvaya mantram. As there are two sentences it is called Dvayam. This is a tantrika mantra. Hence all can recite it, without any restriction. This mantra helps to do sarangathi in Lakshmi Narayana. Sri Ramanuja’s Saranagathi Gadya ‘is an elaborate explanation of Dvayam. Though there are eight words , while reciting , it will be six words only. In consideration of its deep meaning and non restriction, this mantra is considered unique and is termed "Mantra ratna"-jewel amongst mantras . For reciting it, there are no restrictions of any kind viz. place ,time ,person, sex, etc.

Charama Sloka: ‘Sarva dharmaan parithyajya maam ekam saranam vraja , aham tva sarva papeybhyo mokshayishyami maa shuchah" is the Charama sloka. This is what Sri Krsna told Arjuna and hence called ‘Charama sloka’(meaning as a last resort). Sri Krsna himself has suggested that saranagathi is the easiest and best approach to Moksha. Charama sloka explains the glory and efficacy of saranagathi. Here Dharma refers to difficult process of Bhakti-yoga, not very activity itself. Saranagathi does not give exemption to dharmas prescribed for any varna ,including duties to the society, same is the case with duties towards parents.

Path to Moksha

The soul after the present cycle of birth(Maya or illusion) comes out of the ‘Brahma Nadi’(as the remaining 100 Nadis are outlets for re-birth) with the help of Antaryami(form of Lord). This soul is then carried by 12 Ativahakas(Agni, presiding deities of day, Suklapaksha, Uttarayana , Samvatsana, Vayu, Sun, Moon, Vidyuta, Varuna, Indra and Prajapathi) in the Devayana or Archiradi path upto the entry of Viraja River. One of the Ativahaka named Vidyuta will accompany the soul till he reaches the Lord at SriVaikuntham. As the soul crosses the boundaries of nature(or Prakrti), will lose its subtle body also. As he crosses the Viraja River, assumes a celestial body resembling the Lord himself with four hands and pure sattva qualities. He is then received by Muktas and Nitysuries, praising his various services and introducing themselves. He will then be taken to the two Dvarapalakas, Indra and Prajapathi. There he will be honoured by Nityasuries and then taken inside the hall where the Lord Himself will receive him. At that time, this Mukta will be able to see the Para from of the Lord not seen by him before. Here he prostrates at the feet of the Lord and is granted happiness similar to His own.

State of liberation

The liberated soul has a direct vision of the Lord(Brahman) in Sri Vaikuntha and is absorbed in the eternal bliss of coming in contact with the Supreme Lord. It has no other purpose but to satisfy the Lord. To such a soul the pluralistic world remains, but the pluralistic view is abolished. The distinction between him and Brahman still remains, and there is no loss of personality. He will continue for ever to enjoy this state of bliss by serving Brahman.

Srivaishnava Lakshana - Responsibilities of a Srivaishnavan

To study a philosophy & to digest it requires understanding, and thus wisdom. Having understood a vedantha like Visitadvaitha, it requires practicing the same. A human soul to practice or embrace this understanding has to undergo a ceremony called SamaShrayanam and get the Panchasamskara done, by which the individual approaches an Acharya and makes a request for the same. The Acharya after pujas and homam will perform the Panchasamskara. The Acharya also explains the practice for Sharanagathi.

This process is a means of purification and can be done to anyone irresepective caste, creed or sex. There are five purificatory ceremonies which one should undergo in this process to become a Srivaishnavan :

a). Getting embossed the impressions of conch(Sanka) and Wheel(Chakra) on the arms by an Acharya.
b). Wearing twelve SriVaishnava marks on the body reciting appropriate names of the Lord as taught by an Acharya
c). Adding 'Dasa' to his name in token of his subordination to Sri Ramanuja
d). Learning from the Acharya, the three mantras - Astakshara, Dvaya and Charma Sloka with their invocatory slokas and meaning.
e). Learning the Aradhana or the guidelines to worship of Lord.

f). Practicising devotional life as ordained by sat-AchArya.

Conclusion

Visistadvaitha is thus not a dry metaphysics, but practical. In it, reason, faith and practice have been nicely synthesized. It guarantees salvation to all finite beings as confirmed by Sri Ramanuja. This is a wonderful method given to us by this great guruparampara spearheaded by the alwar saints and one should utilise this as path to liberation.

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