Pillai Lokacharya (c. 13th-14th centuries A.D.) is a great acharya of Sri Vaishnavism and senior contemporary of Sri Vedanta
Desika. He was reknowned for his catholicity of spirit and lucidity of exposition. Many of his works were written with the expressed purpose of explaining the higher
doctrines of Sri Vaishnavism to the less literate members of the community.
Lokacharya was born in a family known for its erudition and devotion. His father
was Vadakku Thiruveedhi Pillai, the author of the Eedu Vyaakhyaanam, the famed commentary on Nammaazhvaar's Thiruvaaymozhi
written at the dictation of his teacher, Nampillai (Lokacharya). Since Vadakku
Thiruveedhi Pillai's wife gave birth to a son through the blessings of Nampillai, the baby was named Lokacharya Pillai, later
transposed to Pillai Lokacharya. A second son, Azhagiya MaNavaaLa PerumaaL Naayanaar,
was born to the couple at the blessing of Azhagiya MaNavaaLan, Sri
PerumaaL Himself. This acharya died at an early age, but not before producing
a very deep treatise on the teachings of Nammaazhvaar, the Achaarya Hridayam.
Pillai Lokacharya and his brother remained lifelong brahmacharis, and indeed, the works of both the acharyas seem to favor
such a life. Both spent most of their time in Srirangam, with Sri Lokacharya
attracting a large number of disciples, both male and female, from all sections of society.
Late in life Sri Lokacharya was forced to flee Srirangam due to the invasion of Malik Kafur. He carried the utsava moorthi of Ranganatha away with him to prevent its destruction by the invaders. Exhausted
by the frantic journey, he died a short time later at the village of Jyotishkudi.
Lokacharya produced 18 treatises, later known collectively as the AshtaadaSa Rahasya or ``Eighteen Esoteric Teachings.'' Of
these, the most important are the
(1) Tattva Trayam, a Sanskrit work summarizing the Visishtadvaita conception
(2) the Mumukshuppadi, a MaNipravaaLa (Sanskritized Tamil) work on the
three supreme mysteries of the Sri Vaishnava religion (ashtaaksharam -- "om namo naraayaNaaya", dvaya mantram, and the charama
slokam -- Gita verse 18.66);
(3) and Sri Vachana BhushaNam, a collection of ``ornaments of sayings''
of the Azhvaars and Acharyas, explaining the nature of God, the self, bhakti, and prapatti.
with the Achaarya Hridayam and the works of Vedanta Desika, these are the most important doctrinal texts of Sri Vaishnavism.
Lokacharya was an exemplary representative of ``Ubhaya Vedanta'', the tradition
based upon both the Sanskrit Upanishads and the Azhvars' Divya Prabandham. Utilizing the Vedanta as expounded by Sri Ramanuja,
the background of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the doctrines of the Paancaraatra, and the sayings of the Azhvaars, he wrote
several independent works propounding the philosophy of self-surrender and explaining the conduct of a true prapanna. The style and content of his writings show a man especially concerned with communicating
Vaishnavism to the uninitiated masses of South India. He
was the first to write independent rahasya granthas that presented the deeper meaning of Vedanta in the vernacular. Given this and his liberal views on caste, he was a true successor to the social tradition of Nammaazhvaar
is recorded that some prominent Sri Vaishnavas once objected to Sri Lokacharya's teachings concerning the status of Bhagavatas. Sri Lokacharya writes in the Sri Vachana
that the Bhagavata status transcends caste – even though one may be born from the lowest caste, such a one is to be
given the highest honor and service. The story goes
the complaint was taken up by Azhagiya MaNavaaLa PerumaaL Naayanaar in the presence of Sri Ranganaatha Himself, and that the
Lord through the priest vindicated Sri
before the Sri Vaishnava community.
of Pillai Lokacharya and his brother have come to us due to the great efforts of Sri MaNavaaLa MaamunigaL, who wrote lucid
commentaries explaining the difficult portions of the texts in simple Tamil.
kRshNapaadasya sUnave |
jIvajIvaatave namaH ||
story based on the introduction to "Sri Vachana Bhushana of Pillai Lokacharya",
by Robert C. Lester.]