WHO IS A VAISHNAVA?
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.
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”
DOES THIS SAMBANDAM ITSELF MAKE ONE A VAISHNAVA?
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”
WHAT IS THIS NATURE?
The nature of this knowledge is contained
Kata Sruti explains this “Pranava Lakshanam”
Akaarena uchyate Vishnu: Sarva bhootho Hari:/
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”
HOW CAN ANYONE BE A “RASIKA” OF THIS SERVITUDE?
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/
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.
anartham kandaal ‘AiyO’ yenru iranguvaanaagil avan namakku Vaishnavatvam
undu yenru irukka adukkum;
‘Ithanaiyum Vendum paTTiduvaanukku’ yenru
Irundaanaagil avan namakku Vaishnavatvam illai yenru irukka adukkum”
HOW DO WE ACQUIRE THIS?
By being merciful. Only if we show mercy,
we can deserve mercy.
“naa datham upathishtatE”
WELL. WHAT DOES A DAASA DO?
He does all that is pleasurable to
the Lord (Aanukoolya Sankalpam). He avoids all that is against the wishes of the Lord (Praatikoolya Varjanam)
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:
WHAT PLEASES THE LORD AND WHAT DISPLEASES HIM?
Lord Krishna answers
this in Bhagavad Gita 16/24
Thasmaath Saastram Pramaanam thE kaarya akaarya vyavasthithou/
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”.
THE CRANE, THE HEN, THE SALT AND THE 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,
‘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
Finally, the Vaishnava got his answer. And, we also get educated on
“Vaishnavam” also means “Vaishamya
Jnaanam”- understanding the differences between-
i. The impermanent Body and the Interminable Soul
Unevolved Samsaris and Evolved souls having Vaishnavalakshanam
iii. Paradevata (Lord Mahaavishnu) and Devatantaras
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)
( 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)
TWO KINDS OF VAISHNAVAS
(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.
THREE KINDS OF VAISHNAVAS
(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.
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)
TEN KINDS OF VAISHNAVAS
(i) AdvEshi: Those who do not entertain
(ii) Anukoola: Those who are proactively helpful
(iii) Naamadhaari: Those who can be distinguished by
(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
SriVaishnava: Those who meditate upon Sriya:Pathi incessantly.
(viii) Prapanna: Those who have done “Prapatti”
(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.