who is a vaishnava?
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Simply stated, a “Vaishnava” is one who has “Sambandam” with Vishnu. “VishnOrayam Vaishnava:”
Is there anyone who does not have this Sambandam?
The word “Vishnu” is derived from the root “Vis”, which means “to enter, to envelop, to support from within and without”. There are 70 million mantras.
Most of these relate to Bhagavan Vishnu. 3 of these are known as “Vyaapka Mantras” viz. NaaraayaNa, VaasudEva and VishNu. The Vishnu Gayatri brings out the all pervasiveness of Bhagavan, especially the last one that does so most directly and explicitly.

Sruti avers-
Yasya kinchit Jagat yasmin Drisyate Srooyate pi vaa/
Anthat bahis cha ath sarvam vyaapya Naaraayana Sthitha:: //

Meaning “ Whatever there is in this universe that is seen or heard is occupied both within and without by Sriman Narayana”
Swami Desika in his “Saarasaaram” reiterates the same adding  “there is no place where He is NOT”­“ nirathisaya sookshmthaiyaale sarvathilum ullum puramum ozhivara niraindhu nirkinra nilai thOtrum. Ivvidathil avan illaatha pradesam illai”

Brahmabindu Upanishad 20 also describes how He resides in all Jivas like ‘ghee in milk”. Like butter is taken out by churning with churndashery, by constantly meditating only, we can see Him”

“Grithamiva payasi nigoodam bhoote bhoote cha vasathi vigjnaanam /
sathatham manthayithavyam manasaa manthaana bhoothena”

Nammazhwar in Tiruvoimozhi 8.5.10 also refers to Him as “karandha Paalull neyye pole”. As such, there is nothing without His “Sambandam”

It is further clarified that one who has the “Sambanda Jnaana” can be called a Vaishnava. We take a dip in Ganga, may be once a while and believe that its waters cleanse our sins. The fish that swim in the same waters all the time do not seem to have such awareness. Similarly, the awareness of one’s relationship with Vishnu becomes the sin-qua-non for one to be recognized as a “Vaishnava”.
But, even an atheist  “Naastika” may have this Jnaana, if not the faith!

The answer to this is that the kind of “Jnaana” here is not “mere awareness’ but the knowledge of the “nature” of this “Sambandam”

The nature of this knowledge is contained in “Pranavam”.
Kata Sruti explains this “Pranava Lakshanam”

Akaarena uchyate Vishnu: Sarva bhootho Hari:/
Udhrutya Vishnunaa lakshmee kaarena Uchyate tathaa/
Makaaras thu thayor daasa ithi Pranavalakshanam//

Pranavam is composed of three syllables, A, U and Ma.. “A” represents the Supreme Lord Vishnu called “Hari”. The syllable “U” represents “only”. It also represents Thayar who is inseparable from Vishnu. ”Ma” represents that the Jiva is their eternal servant (Daasa:). One who realizes the relationship in this manner alone can be called a “Vaishnava”.

Swami Desika defines a Vaishnava” as “Vishnu Seshatva Daasatva Jnaanam ullavan” i.e. “ One who understands oneself as a dependent and a servitor of Vishnu. Elsewhere, he defines a Bhaagavata as “Bhagavad Seshatva Jnaana Rasikarai” i.e. “ One who enjoys being dependent on and “Servitor” to Bhagavaan”

As the saying goes:  “Sarvam Paravasam Duhkam”.
Serving someone is indeed sorrowful. That is why everyone wants to be a “Swa tantra Rasika” and not “Para tantara Rasika”.

Being subservient to those with karma vaasanas is indeed regrettable. As everyone in this world is subject to Karma and Trigunas and consequentlyof evil tendencies, service to them is unpleasant. The Saastras declare that Bhagavaan’s  Divyamangala Vigraham (the form of the Lord) is “Apraakritam” and “Suddha Sattvam”; that He is possessed of bunches of innumerable auspicious qualities (asankhyeya Kalyana guna gana) and that He is totally bereft of all evil tendencies (Akhila Heya Pratyneeka). So, being a Daasa to such a benevolent and beneficent master can only result in supreme bliss without any tinge of unpleasantness.

In Srimad Ramayana, Ilayaperumal says “Gunair Daasyam upaagatha:” “I have become a slave to your auspicious qualities”.

Prahlada declares this when he says-

“Yatra kutra kulE vaaso Yashu Keshu cha bhavosthu mE/
Thava Daasyaika BhogE syaath sadhaa sarvatra mE mathi:”

“In whatever Kula I may be born, in whatever place I may reside, in whichever Janmam I may take = please grant me the wisdom to remember forever that service to you is the highest bliss”

Another dimension that defines a “Vaishnava” is the Jnaanam that we are all “Vishnu-putras” i.e. “Children of Vishnu”. More than His Jnaana (Knowledge) which helps in exposing our faults and Sakti (Capacity) that seeks to enforce  justice through punishment, His “Daya” (Mercy) which condones our sins is powerful. As His “Putras”, we imbibe the quality of mercy. Hence, a “Vaishnava” is one who not only sympathizes but also actually empathizes with others” miseries. If one gloats over  another’s misfortune, one cannot be called a “Vaishnava” says Nanjeeyar.

“Oruvanukku Vaishnavatvam undu, illai yennumidam theriyum kaaNN. Pirar
anartham kandaal ‘AiyO’ yenru iranguvaanaagil avan namakku Vaishnavatvam
undu yenru irukka adukkum; ‘Ithanaiyum Vendum paTTiduvaanukku’ yenru
Irundaanaagil avan namakku Vaishnavatvam illai yenru irukka adukkum”

By being merciful. Only if we show mercy, we can deserve mercy.
“naa datham upathishtatE”

He does all that is pleasurable to the Lord (Aanukoolya Sankalpam). He avoids all that is against the wishes of the Lord (Praatikoolya Varjanam)
These two form the important parts (angas) of SaraNaagathi, along with Mahaaviswaasam, Kaarpanyam and Goptrutva varanam, which will be explained in greater detail while discussing the Cardinal principle of Vaishnavam viz., “SaraNaagathi”. But, before that, the question arises:

Lord Krishna answers this in Bhagavad Gita 16/24

Thasmaath Saastram Pramaanam thE kaarya akaarya vyavasthithou/
Jnaatvaa Saastra Vidhaanoktham karma karthum arhasi”//

“Therefore, in determining what is to be done and what should be avoided, it is only Saastras that provide the authority. Following these guidelines, you regulate your activities”

In Vishnu Dharmam 6.31, the Lord very emphatically declares ( as given in Saastreeya Niyamana Adhikara of Srimad Rahasya Traya Saaram ­)

“Sruthi Smruthi Mamaiva Agjnaa ya: tham ullanghya varthathE /
Aagjnaa chEdhi mama drohi mad bhaktopi na vaishnava:”

Sruti (Vedas and Vedantas) and Smruthi (Itihaasa, Puranas etc) are verily my commandments. Those who transgress them are traitors (Drohi) to me. Even if they claim to be my Bhaktas, they cannot be Vaishnavas

It follows that “Vishnu Bhakta” is different from “Vaishnava” and that only he /she who follows scrupulously the dictates of Saastras (which are nothing but the commandments of the Lord) is really a “Vaishnava”.


A Vaishnava of Srirangam once asked Paraasara Bhattar about the characteristics of a true Vaishnava. Bhattar asked him to go to Tirumalai Anantaazhwaan to seek an answer. He did not get a direct answer to his query, but got a novel experience!. On the first day, during Tadheeya Araadhanai, he was asked to occupy the innermost of the 7 rows reserved for the chosen few known for their Anushtaanam. On subsequent days, he was relegated successively to the outer rows. On the day he was occupying the outermost row, Anantazhwaan beckoned him and told that a true Vaishnava would be “like a crane, a crow, a pinch of salt and finally like the Vaishnava himself”.

‘Kokkaippol iruppaan, Kozhiyaippol iruppan, Uppaippol iruppaan, Ummaippol iruppaan”.

‘Kokkaippol iruppaan:  Like the crane which patiently waits till it gets the kind of fish it needs to feed on, a true Vaishnava will patiently search for a proper Acharya and stay tuned to him. 
Kozhiyaippol iruppaanu: Like the hen which concentrates on securing the grain it needs to feed and discards all else as trash, a true Viashnava would turn a blind eye to others’ faults but would seek to imbibe the essence of Saastras. 
Uppaippol iruppaan: Like salt that imparts taste to the food while dissolving itself, a true Vaishnava would be self effacing while imparting flavor to the lives of others.
Ummaippol iruppaan: Like the Srirangam Vaishnava in question, he would not feel elated on being honored and would not feel depressed or offended even when disregarded.

Finally, the Vaishnava got his answer. And, we also get educated on this.

“Vaishnavam” also means “Vaishamya Jnaanam”- understanding the differences between-
i. The impermanent Body and the Interminable Soul
ii. Unevolved Samsaris and Evolved souls having Vaishnavalakshanam
iii. Paradevata (Lord Mahaavishnu) and Devatantaras (other deities)
iv. Satguru (Acharya who instructs on the way to reach Godhead) and other Preceptors who merely teach mundane subjects.
v. Mantra Raja (Ashtaksharam) and other Mantras
vi. Siddhopaaya (The Lord who is already there to protect the souls) and Saadhyopaaya, The means adopted to seek His protection)
vii. Paratvam ( The transcendental State of the Lord in His Nitya Vibhoothi of Parama padam) and Archaa His appearance in our temples, hearths and homes out of utmost compassion towards us)
viii. Parama Purushaartham (Moksham) and other Purushaarthas.  (Dharma, Aartha and Kaama)

(i) Abhyaantaram ­ Those who have Jnaana (deep Knowledge of the Saastras), Bhakti (intense devotion to the Lord), Vairaaghyam (a total sense of detachment to worldly and material interests)etc.
(ii) Baahyam ­ Those who appear with external insignia of Names (Naama), forms (Roopa) and conversing with technical parlance (Pari Baasha) with or without the qualities mentioned above.

(i) Satkaara Yoghyar ­ Fit to be respected only on account of Naama, Roopa, Baasha etc mentioned above
(ii) Sahavaasa Yoghyar ­ Those who, in addition to those at (i) above, are  known for their impeccable “anushTAnam” (Practices as laid down in the Saastras) . It is desirable to seek to be in their company, for securing one’s own spiritual elevation.
(iii) Sadhaanubhava Yoghyar - Those who are endowed with (i) and (ii) above, in such an abundant measure that their Jnaana, Bhakti, Viraaghya and AnushTAna etc. which can be discerned even at first sight. Anyone coming into contact with them, will yearn for their company “SamslEsham” and will feel depressed when being away from them. (VislEsham)

(i) AdvEshi: Those who do not entertain any hatred.
(ii) Anukoola: Those who are proactively helpful
(iii) Naamadhaari: Those who can be distinguished by their names
(iv) Chakraankhi: Those who have had their “Pancha Samskaram” or “SamaasrayaNam” with cauterization of the sign of Lord’s disc.
(v) Mantrapathi: Those who have been duly initiated in the Ashtaakshara Mantra by their Acharyas.
(vi) Vaishnava: Those who practice Bhakti and give up worship of Devataantaras for Moksha
(vii) SriVaishnava: Those who meditate upon Sriya:Pathi incessantly.
(viii) Prapanna: Those who have done “Prapatti” i.e. “SaraNAgathi”
(ix) Ekaanthi: Those who believe that Lord Vishnu ALONE is the means (Upaaya) and the end (UpEya) and NOT EVEN Prapatti.
(x) Paramaikaanthi: Those who do not ask for EVEN MOKSHA.

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