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Srivaishnava Question and Answers – Learners Series – 17

Chapter 12: The Three Secrets

1. What are the three secrets in our system (Rahasya Traya)?

The first and the most important is called Ashtakshara. This consists of 8 syllables and is in the form of three words.

The first word is a single syllable Om. The second word is Namaha. The third word is Narayanaya.

So, the ashtakshara is OM NAMO NARAYANAYA. This means “Salutation to Narayana”. We will discuss the deeper meaning later.

2. What is the second secret?

The second secret is called Dvaya. This is in two parts. The first part is “Sriman Narayana Charanau Saranam Prapadye”. This means “I seek refuge at the feet of Sriman Narayana.”

The second part is “Srimate Narayanaya Namaha”. This means “My salutation to Sriman Narayana.” We will discuss the deeper meanings later.

3. What is the third secret?

The third secret is Charama Sloka, which occurs in the last chapter of Bhagavad Gita. This sloka says: “Having already given up dharmas, as a means to attain moksha; surrender yourself fully to Me. I will free you, from all the sins; do not grieve.” These are the words of Krishna.

Here. again we will discuss the inner meanings later.

So, these are the three important secrets which we should know.

4. What is the meaning of the three secrets.

We start with the most important secret, Ashtakshara. This is Om Namo Narayanaya. The Om has three letters A,U & M.

5. What is the meaning of A?

A means Narayana or Vishnu.

6. How do you say that?

There are three reasons.

1) According to Sanskrit dictionary and grammer, A means Vishnu.

2) A is the beginning of all letters. Similarly, Vishnu is the origin of all beings. Hence A denotes Vishnu.

3) The letter A is the shortened form of the Verb “Ava”, which means “to protect”. Since Vishnu is the protector of all the worlds, the letter A means Vishnu, who is the protector.

7. What is the meaning of the letter U?

The letter U means two things. 1) It means Lakshmi. 2) Another meaning is “only”..

8. What does the letter M mean?

The letter M means the soul or Jivatma.

9. How do you say that?

Now the letter M (Ma) is the 25th alphabet among consonants in Sanskrit. Similarly, the soul or Jivatma is the 25th tattva.

10. How do we know that the Jivatma is the 25th tattva?

The first tattva is matter. The second is the mahat. The third is ahankara. Then we have the five gross elements starting with ether, etc. Then five subtle elements, starting with sound, etc. Then we have the five senses of knowledge and then the five senses of action. So, the total number of tattvas so far is 3+20=23. The 24th tattva is the mind or manas. So, soul or Jivatma is the 25th tattva.

1) Since the letter M (Ma) is the 25th alphabet among consonants in Sanskrit, it means the Jivatma, who is 25th tattva.

2) Secondly, the letter M is derived from the verb, which means “to know”. Jivatma is a knower, who knows things. So also, M denotes the Jivatma.

3) The Letter M is also derived from the verb, which means “measure or limit”. Since the Jivatma is limited in size as atomic, M denotes Jivatma.

Thus M denotes the Jivatma

11. What is the meaning of the word Om?

1) If we take the letter U to mean Lakshmi, then the word Om means that the Jivatma is the servant (sesha) of Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Here we have to take A (and U) with dative (4th) i.e. as “for A and U”. So, M, Jivatma is for A and U; i.e. the servant of A and U, i.e. Vishnu and Lakshmi.

2) Suppose we take the meaning of U as “only”. In this case, this will mean that the Jivatma is subservient to Vishnu only; and to no one else. This includes himself viz; he is not subservient to himself also. Of course Lakshmi always goes with Vishnu.

12. What is the meaning of Namo or Namaha?

Namaha has two meanings.

1) If you take it as one word, it means salutation or worshipping.

2) The second meaning is got by splitting Namaha as Na and Maha. Then, this will mean “not mine”.

13. Please clarify.What is the meaning of “not mine”?

We have to add M (Jivatma) in the context. There are four meanings:

1) I am not mine. I am subservient to the Lord, I belong to the Lord.

2) Everything is not mine. In other words, nothing is mine. Everything belongs to the Lord.

3) Independence is not mine. I am not independent. I am depending on the Lord.

4) Mastership is not mine. I am not the master of anybody, including myself. Narayana is the master of everybody.

So, these are the four meanings of “not mine”.

14. What is the meaning of the word ‘Narayanaya”?

Now we go step by step.

1) “ra” means to perish. So, ra denotes achetana, which is perishable.

2)”nara” means that which does not perish. Hence, nara means chetana or Jivatma.

3) “Nara” means the group of naras or jivatmas.

There is a second interpretation also. Nara means, which does not perish. So, Nara means the Lord also. Nara is also a name in Vishnu Sahasranama.

So, Nara means those belonging to Nara, viz., the Lord . So Nara means Lord’s qualities; and also Jivatmas and achetanas (which belong to Him).

15. What is the meaning of the word Ayana?

The word Ayana has three meanings:-

1) a resting place, or support or abode.

2) upaya or means.

3) fruit or objective.

16. What is the meaning of the word Narayana?

We will take the first meaning of the word, ayana, as the resting place. According to Sanskrit grammar, Narayana (Nara-ayana) means two things:

1) One, who is the resting place of Naras i.e. all chetanas and achetanas.

2) One whose resting place is Naras, i.e. all chetanas and achetanas.

If you take the first meaning, this means that all things – chetanas and achetanas – exist or abide in Narayana.

If you take the second meaning, this means that Narayana abides or exists in all things. This is possible because He is the soul of all chetanas and achetanas.

Thus, the two meanings show that 1) all chetanas and achetanas rest in Narayana; 2) Narayana rests in all chetanas and achetanas.

17. Please clarify these two meanings.

1) The first meaning shows that He is the resting place of all chetanas and achetanas. All these abide in Him. This shows that He contains all chetanas and achetanas. All chetanas and achetanas are contained in Him. So, He is bigger than all these.

This quality of the Lord is called as Bahirvyapti.

2) The second meaning shows that He rests in all chetanas and achetanas. This shows the exact opposite of 1) above, i.e. He is smaller than all these.

This quality of the Lord is called Antarvyapti.

18. How exactly do you define Antarvyapti?

Antarvyapti means this quality:

The Lord is present, intimately connected with all chetanas and achetanas; in such a way that He is present, wherever they are.

19. How do you define Bahirvyapti?

Bahirvyapti means this quality:

The Lord is present also in places , where the chetanas and achetanas are not present.

20. So,what follows?

A combination of these two qualities means:

1) The Lord is present, wherever all other beings are present.

2) The Lord is present, even in places, where other beings are not present.

21. The above meanings arise,when you take ‘ayana’ to mean resting place.What happens when you take the meaning of “ayana” as upaya or means?

If you take the meaning of ayana as upaya or means for attaining salvation; then the word Narayana (Nara-ayana) will mean that He, the Lord Vishnu, is the upaya or means of attaining salvation, for all jivatmas

22. What happens, when you take the third meaning of ayana, i.e. fruit?

If you take the meaning of ayana as the fruit (ie. one that is to be attained): then the word Narayana (Nara-ayana) will mean that He is the fruit or end, to be attained by all Jivatmas.

23. So you have been telling different meanings for the different words, contained in Ashtakshara. By the various combinations of the meanings of the several words, several meanings are possible. Please explain.

Yes. By the various combinations, there are 10 meanings possible, of the Ashtakshara. I give the meanings below:

1) Salutation and pranamas to Narayana.

2) I surrender myself to the Lord. As my existence is only for the pleasure of the Lord, I surrender the protection of myself to the Lord. I surrender the fruit or purushartha to the Lord.

3) I am the servant only to the Lord and Lakshmi. I am not subservient to anybody else. I am not subservient to myself also. I do not have any independence. I am completely dependent on the Lord.

4) I surrender myself to the Lord. Even this surrender is by the grace of Lord. The Lord alone is the protector. There is nobody else who can protect me. I cannot protect myself.

5) I will do service only to the Lord and Lakshmi. I will not do anything for my pleasure. Whatever I do, is for the pleasure of the Lord.

6) I will do service to the Lord and Lakshmi, at all times. I will also do service to Bhagavatas.

7) I do not belong to myself. I do not have anything as mine. Nothing is mine. I belong to the Lord. Everything, that I have, also belongs to the Lord.

8 ) I am not able to do any upaya (other than prapatti). The Lord is the only upaya. He should bless me with salvation and permit me to do service to the Lord.

9) My protection is the responsibility of the Lord. The Lord will free me from all sins. The Lord will bless me with eternal service to Him.

10) I belong only to the Lord. I do prapatti to Him. I will do eternal service to Him. These are the ten meanings of ashtakshara.

24. Please explain the second secret.

The second secret is called Dvaya Mantra. We will start with the word Sri. Sri has six meanings:

1) She is attained by chetanas.

2) She attains Narayana and pleads on behalf of chetanas.

3) She hears the prayers of chetanas.

4) She makes Narayana hear the prayers of chetanas.

5) She destroys the karmas of the chetanas, which stand in the way of attaining salvation.

6) She makes ripe the qualities of chetanas, so that they desire only moksha and nothing else. So, all these six meanings denote only Lakshmi; and so, Sri means Lakshmi.

25. Please explain the first half of the mantra, “Sriman Narayana charanau saranam prapadye”.

Here, two ways of interpretation are possible.

1) One is, addressing Him as, “Sriman Narayana!”; and then saying, “I seek refuge in your feet”. This is one interpretation.

2) The second interpretation is taking “Sriman Narayana charanau” as one whole. Then, this will mean “I seek refuge in the feet of Sriman Narayana”.

Both meanings are equally valid.

26. Why does the mantra say as “feet” only?

Although it says only the feet, what it means is the divine, auspicious form of the Lord.

27. Then, why should it mention only the feet; and not the full form of the Lord?

As you know, the feet are the most important of the Lord’s form. We only fall at the feet of the Lord, for obtaining salvation. Hence the feet are mentioned particularly in this context.

28.So, what does the first part mean?

The first part means, seeking refuge at the divine feet of Sriman Narayana. So, the first part indicates the upaya or means of attaining salvation

29. What does the second part denote?

The second part denotes the fruit to be achieved, namely, service to the Lord.

30. Please explain this?

The second part of the Dvaya Mantra reads as follows:

“Srimate Narayanaya Namaha”. This has two different meanings.

1) The superficial meaning is: “Salutation to Sriman Narayana”.

2) The deeper meaning is to be taken as follows:

May I be for the service of Sriman Narayana. I am not for myself. Nothing is mine. Everything be-longs to the Lord. I am the servant of the Lord; and I am for service to the Lord. I do not do anything for myself. The Lord only gets things done through me. Whatever I do is for the pleasure of the Lord only.

The above are the two meanings of the second part.

31. So, what does the Dvaya mantra indicate?

As explained above, the first part indicates the upaya or means for salvation. The second part indicates the upeya-fruit to be attained, viz., service to the Lord.

32. Now let us go to the third secret, which is Charama sloka. I have a basic doubt here. This third secret occurs in Bhagavad Gita, in the last chapter, which is open to all. Then why is this called as a secret?. We do not call any other sloka in Bhagavad Gita as a secret.

You are right.The sloka by itself, is not a secret. It becomes a secret, because of the hidden meanings of the sloka.The meanings of the various words in the sloka are highly important.They have to be understood properly, under a proper acharya. Hence, referring to the meaning of the sloka, it is called a secret.

33. What is the meaning of the first part of this sloka?

Different people, belonging to different philosophies, have given various interpretations. We give three meanings, depending upon the different contexts. In the commentary on Gita, Ramanuja himself gives two alternative meanings.

34. What are the two meanings given by Ramanuja?

1) The first meaning given by Ramanuja is this:

A person who takes up the karma yoga or jnana yoga or bhakti yoga, should perform it, with Immense affection to God. At the same time, he should give up the thought that he is actually doing the karma or bhakti yoga. He should give up the thought that he has got the power to do various yogas. He should give up the thought that the fruit also belongs to him (Sattvika tyaga).

In other words, he should completely give up the idea that he is the doer and that he is also reaping the benefit or fruit. He must consider and understand that everything is done by God only; and it is for the pleasure of the Lord. This is the first meaning.

2) The second meaning is this. Suppose, while doing the bhakti yoga, a person has committed several sins or papa. These act as hindrances in the proper performance of the bhakti yoga. So these things have to be properly atoned for, before continuing the bhakti yoga.

For the atonement for sins, the sastras have laid down several prayaschittas like kricchra, chandra-yana, kushmanda homa, etc. These expiation ceremonies themselves take a very long time and are difficult to perform.

Krishna says: “Give up the various prayaschitta ceremonies, which have been prescribed in the sastras. Seek refuge in me. I will stand in the place of the various expiation ceremonies; so that the hindrances to the bhakti yoga are got rid of.”

These are the two meanings which have been explained by Ramanuja, in his commentary on Gita.

35. What is the third meaning?

The third meaning is by treating this sloka as a secret. So, in the third meaning, the greatness of prapatti is explained.

‘Dharman’ here means various kinds of vidyas, mentioned in the Upanishads, like Sad vidya, Dahara vidya etc. Because of incompetence, because of inability to do the same, a person, in the present world, has already given up doing these vidyas, which come under bhakti yoga. In other words, giving up the bhakti yoga has become a fait accompli – i.e., the bhakti yoga has already been given up.

So, having already given up the bhakti yoga, due to sheer inability; you seek refuge in God, i.e., do prapatti. This is the secret meaning of the first part.Here again different meanings are given by Desika.

36. What are the different meanings given by Desika?

1) The basic meaning is this: “You have already given up the bhakti yoga, knowing that you are unable to do it. So, do prapatti, to attain salvation.” Different meanings have been given by Desika, elaborating this basic meaning, as follows:

2) It is clear that prapatti does not require any other accessories, other than the five, which I have explained earlier. So, give up the idea that the other dharmas, namely, rites or duties, are required to be performed, as accessories to prapatti.

3) It is well realised that in the present day, the bhakti yoga cannot be performed, as laid down in the sastras. So, our efforts should not be wasted in doing something, which is not possible.

4) Knowing full well that bhakti yoga cannot be performed in the present day, we should give up even the desire to attempt to do bhakti yoga.

5) Prapatti is complete by itself and it does not require bhakti yoga. In fact, if a person simultaneously attempts to do bhakti yoga also, this means attempting two things together. So, the potency of prapatti is lost.

37. Can we say that “Sarva dharman parityajya” means giving up all the rites and karmas, prescribed in the sastras?

The Vedas and sastras cannot prescribe things that should be done; and then ask us to give them up. The sastras prescribe the duties and karma that various classes of people have to do; the various types of yagas a person has to perform, and so on.

It is not correct to say that, after prescribing these at length, the Vedas and sastras ask us to give up everything. If the idea is to give up all the karmas and duties, then there was no need to prescribe them in detail earlier.

38. What does the Gita say about this?

The Gita says that this is Tamasa tyaga. If a person gives up doing compulsory karmas like sandhyavandana, due to some wrong ideas or false notions, it is Tamasa tyaga. So, these compulsory karmas should not be given up on any account.

39. What is the purpose of compulsory rites like sandhyavandana and tarpana? Does this mean that a man, who has done prapatti, can give up daily duties like sandhyavandana, if these are not accessories to prapatti?

No. It is true that these duties are not required for prapatti. They are not accessories to prapatti. But these duties have been prescribed by the Vedas and sastras. So, these will have to be done till the end of life, by everybody, including one, who has done prapatti. What is meant is, that for the particular type of act, namely, prapatti, the other duties like sandhyavandana are not accessories. But they are duties prescribed in the Vedas and sastras. So, they should be done throughout one’s life.

40. Please clarify.

What is meant is, that for the particular type of act,namely, prapatti, the other duties like sandhyavandana are not accessories.But they are duties prescribed in the Vedas and sastras.So,they should be done throughout one’s life.

41. What happens, if a person, out of ignorance gives up doing these daily duties and rituals?

1) Not doing something, which is prescribed in the sastras; and 2) doing something, which is prohibited by the sastras; certainly earn the displeasure of the Lord. So, punishments will be given by God. Even if a person, who has done prapatti, fails in this regard, he also gets punished.

42. You were saying that the duties,prescribed in the sastras, should be done .You also say that all these duties should be done for the pleasure of the Lord. Which is correct?

Both are correct. Certain duties or karmas are prescribed in the sastras. The Lord himself says in the Gita that the Vedas and smritis are His own command.

So, anybody who violates His command, by not doing the prescribed duties, will be punished by Him.

43. In the second part of the charama sloka, it is said “mam” and “ekam”. Why is there a repetition? Is it not enough to simply say “mam”?

It is not a repetition, because, saying again has several significant meanings.

1) Saying “mam” and “ekam” denotes: “I am the means (upaya); and I am also the object of attainment (upeya or purushartha). So the two words “mam” and “ekam”, show the fact of

1) His being the means and 2) His being the object of attainment.

2) Another interpretation is that Iswara is the only means (upaya). The Jivatma does bhakti yoga or prapatti; this is not an important means. It is only an insignificant means, as compared to the Lord Himself, who is the main means (upaya).

So, this denotes that the Lord Himself is the only means, who is pleased by prapatti and grants salvation..

44. I am not very clear about what you say that Iswara is the only upaya.You have also said that prapatti,is the better upaya. Please clarify.

It is true that bhakti and prapatti are upaya for attaining salvation. But they cannot directly give you salvation. By your doing bhakti or prapatti, you please the Lord.

Then He decides to give salvation. The Lord only is the upaya, because He only gives salvation. Bhakti and prapatti are only instruments to please the Lord.

So, bhakti and prapatti are called Sadhyopaya (Sadhya Upaya = Upaya which can be done). Iswara is called siddhopaya (Siddha Upaya = Upaya, which is already there).

45. What is the consolidated meaning of the first half of the Charama Sloka?

The meaning is this. Having already given up bhakti yoga, due to inability, you seek refuge in Me alone.

46. Now let us go to the second half of the sloka. What does this mean?

“I will liberate you, from all your sins, which stand in the way of your attaining moksha. So, you do not grieve.” This is the consolidated meaning.

47. What is the special significance of the words “Do not grieve?”

This indicates the following, as being said by Krishna:

1) “Because of my independence and Lordship, you, who have done prapatti, need not be afraid that I will not grant you moksha. I will certainly grant you moksha.”

2) “You are afraid of the innumerable sins, which you have committed. You need not be afraid, as to whether these sins will stand in the way of your attaining moksha, even after doing prapatti.”

“You can be sure that having done prapatti; at the end of this life, you will certainly attain moksha.”

To be continued…

Source: A Dialog on Hinduism By Sri V.N. Gopala Desikan

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