The Peerless Preceptor – 1

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Geethacharyan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka Srivan Satakopa Sri Narayana
Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama:

Most of us remember our primary school teacher vividly. We remember him with gratitude as the person who taught us patiently to read and write, and for a pittance, managed unmanageable hordes of boisterous toddlers while instilling in them the rudiments of learning and norms of social behaviour. We remember him for his role in our academic and moral upliftment, and realise that we owe what we are today to him, in no small measure. The Grand Old lady of Tamil literature, OuvvaiyAr, puts it succinctly thus-“ezhutthu arivitthavan iraivan Agum”(the teacher is to be venerated as the God Himself).

If the imparter of basic secular knowledge occupies such a high place, one can imagine what an august pedestal a Guru or Acharya, who shows us the path to Liberation, ought to be accorded. Though all systems of philosophy do treat the religious Preceptor with honour, yet the uniqueness of our Sri VisishtAdvaita Sampradaya lies in the supreme distinction it confers upon the Acharya, based on the TaittiriyOpanishad dictum “Acharya dEvO bhava” (Honour the teacher as you would the Lord Himself).

Swami Desikan’s magnum opus Srimad Rahasyatrasaram begins with an elaborate accolade to the Acharya- the whole first chapter, titled “GuruparmparA Saram”, sets out elaborately all we need to know about the role of the Preceptor and his primacy. And throughout his numerous works, Swami Desikan glorifies the role of the Acharya time and again, and this theme runs through his works constantly, as does the concept of Prapatti.

The basic question that comes to our mind is- why should the Guru be venerated? After all, he too is a mortal like the rest of us, equally susceptible to disease, old age and other human frailties. Perhaps he knows more than we do in certain areas, but does it call for placing him on such a high pedestal? The answers to this and other related questions are to be found in the following “NyAsa Vimsati” sloka, where Sri Venkatanatha lists the numerous ways in which the Acharya aids the disciple, and therefore becomes the object of the latter’s adoration.

“agyAna dhvAnta rOdhAt agha pariharaNAt Atma sAmyaAvahatvAt
janma pradhvamsi janma prada garimatayA divya drishti prabhavAt
nishpratyUha AnrisamsyAt niyata rasatayA nitya sEshitva yOgAt
AchArya: sadbhi: apratyupakaraNa dhiyA dEvavat syAt upAsya:”

The Acharya is held in high esteem primarily because he dispels the gloom of ignorance that envelops us from birth and kindles in us the light of knowledge. Though we might consider ourselves to be well read and world-wise, our knowledge is often lop-sided and leads to a skewed perception of right and wrong. “SA vidyA yA vimuktayE”- the scripture lays down categorically that the only knowledge is that which leads to liberation. Considered in this light, all that we have learnt for years together is but a burden (“SumayAna kalvi”) which might help us earn a living, but won.t provide an outlet from this vicious and unending cycle of births and deaths. And this material education, in acquiring which we have spent a precious part of our life-span, often pulls us deeper into the mundane morass, full of its ephemeral and ensnaring pleasures. When the quagmire of Samsara sucks us in inexorably, it is the Acharya who lends us the helping hand of knowledge and pulls us out of what is certain doom, on to the terra firma of Real Knowledge, by knowing which everything else is known.

“Janma pradhvamsi janma pradatvAt”- The Acharya blesses us with a birth which destroys the unending cycle of births. What could be this janma ? Upanayanam is the ritual that is supposed to confer on us a second birth, for it makes one eligible for the study of Vedas. But the janma bestowed on us by the Acharya is much superior- he makes us “Born Again” Vaishnavas, or prapannAs belonging to the “Tondar Kulam”, and offers our soul to the Lord, which makes Him release us from the vicious cycle of Samsara.

“divya drishti pradAnAt”- The Acharya opens our eyes for us, gives us a new vision. We have been accustomed to seeing the world and people around us with eyes jaundiced with “ahankaram” and “mamakAram”, the pride and possessiveness born of ages of sin and ignorance. Once we surrender to the Acharya, He instils in us the realisation that we are the Lord.s servants and not independent agents, and gives us the vision of “Seshatvam”, enabling us to look at all things sentient and non-sentient, as the Lord’s vibhooti.

“Devavat syAt upAsya:”- The NyAsa Vimsati slOkA quoted above sets out in detail the various reasons why the Acharya should be venerated as the Lord Himself. Swami Desikan says this veneration should be with the full realisation that whatever we do would never repay the Acharya in full measure for his boundless mercy and immeasurable contribution towards our salvation.-“apratyupakaraNa dhiyA”-. So great is the Guru.s benefaction that it would be difficult even for the all-knowing Lord to find adequate recompense. Reiterating this, Sri Tooppul Pillai says “Etri manatthu ezhil gnAna viLakkai iruL anaitthum MAtriyavarkku oru kaimmAru Mayanum kANagillAn” This is perhaps based on the Sandilya Smriti vakya, “Brahma vidyA pradAnasya dEvairapi na sakyatE Prati pradAnam atavA dadyAt shaki AdarAt ». (Even the DevAs know not how to compensate the Guru who imparts knowledge of Brahman).

Though we liken the Acharya to God, there are some pramAnAs which lay down that the Guru is indeed the Lord and not just LIKE Him. Peetaga Adai PirAnAr pirama guruvAgi vandu – பீதக ஆடைப் பிரானார் பிரம குருவாகி வந்து says Sri Periazhwar, confirming that the Lord Himself assumes the role of the Acharya. This is further confirmed by the following JayAkya Samhita sloka quoted by Swami Desikan- “SAkshAt NarayanO dEva: kritvA martyamayeem tanoom MagnAn uddharatE lOkAn kAruNyAt SAstra pANinA” It is verily the Lord, who, in His infinite mercy, descends to this world in the form of an Acharya, and uplifts the helpless souls immersed in the quagmire of Samsara, with the helping hand holding out the Prapatti Sastra.

to be continued…

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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