Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
To continue with the Acharya’s greatness, we have seen two ways of regarding the Acharya- that he is as great as the Lord, and secondly, he is verily the Lord Himself, come to emancipate us. A third view and the one dearest to Swami Desikan’s heart is that the Acharya is superior to Emperuman. Simply put, we wouldn’t know the Lord or of His greatness but for the Acharya, who rescues us from the bottomless pit of Samsara and puts us on the path to liberation.
Tooppul Pillai categorically declares, “AchAryAt iha dEvatAm samadhikAm anyAm na manyAmahE”-(we do not acknowledge a deity equal to or greater than the Acharya). This may appear to be an exaggeration or “atisayOkti” – after all, we see the Acharya too bowing before the Lord, and if so, how could he be greater than the Lord? The answer is that from our (disciples) viewpoint, the Acharya is indeed superior to the Lord. This is no idle statement, and as all his words are, this assertion of Swami Desikan is also based on good authority- Sri Madurakavi Azhwar’s sreesookti, “dEvu matru ariyEn – தேவு மற்றறியேன்”. This Azhwar is so taken up with the kalyANa guNAs of his Acharya, Sri Nammazhwar, that he is unimpressed with the Emperuman Himself. Sri Nammazhwar’s haloed name generates greater sweetness on Sri Madurakavi’s palate than that of even the Lord Himself (“PerumAyan, en appanil- naNNi ten Kurugur nambi ennakkAl- aNNikkum amudu oorum en nAvukkE – பெருமாயன் என் அப்பனில் நண்ணித் தென்குருகூர் நம்பி என்றக்கால் அண்ணிக்கும் அமுதூறும் என் நாவுக்கே”). While ordinary poets sing the praise of the Lord, and are mere “kavi”s, here is a great soul who earned the sobriquet “Madhurakavi” by singing the sweet praises of his Acharya, Sri Satakopa Muni.
Swami Desikan’s Acharya bhakti is so intense and his agreement with Sri Madurakavi’s tenet so complete, that he reserves his choicest words of praise for this Azhwar, by characterising him as follows in Sri Guruparampara saram “tunbatra Madurakavi tOndra kAttum tol vazhiyE nal vazhigaL tuNivArgatkE « The words « tunbatra » ( tunbam atra) could be interpreted to mean that Sri Madurakavi rid himself of the « tunbam » of Bhagavat bhakti , by recourse to Acharya bhakti. One might wonder whether devotion to the Lord could be called “tunbam”. Devotion to the Lord is a distraction, to those intent on kainkaryam to His devotees.We might recall that Sri Vamiki calls Sri Shatrughna “anagha:”. The “agham” or blemish referred to here is Rama bhakti. Since Sri Shatrughna was devoted to Sri Bharata, Sri Valmiki says that his BhAgavata bhakti was untainted by Bhagavat bhakti. Coming back to the pasuram cited above, Swami Desikan calls this (recourse to Acharya bhakti even at the cost of Bhagavat bhakti) “tol vazhi”, meaning thereby that this is no new, untested path, but a well-trodden track traversed by our forefathers, and one that has the sanction of the scriptures. And this is the “nal vazhi” too: Kalidasa says that all things old are not good ipso facto, and all things new are not bad by the same token. Here is a path, which has its roots in hoary tradition, and is good too for the soul.
“TuNivArkatkE” – However, this prescription is not for the weak-hearted, but only for those who are daring and are prepared to forsake all ephemeral pleasures for the ultimate and lasting bliss.
Another testimony to the Acharya.s greatness is to be found in the IrAmAnusa NootrandAdi of Sri Tiruvarangattu AmudanAr, who says that Sri Ramanuja was able to achieve what Emperuman Himself could not.
“MaN misai yOnigaL tOrum pirandu- engaL MAdhavanE
KaNNura nirkilum kANagillA ulagOrgaL ellAm
aNNal IrAmAnusam vandu tOndriya appouzhudE
naNNarum gnAnam talai kondu NAraNarku AyinarE
மண்மிசை யோனிகள் தோறும் பிறந்து எங்கள் மாதவனே
கண்ணுற நிற்கிலும் காணகில்லா, உலகோர் களெல்லாம்
அண்ணல் இராமா னுசன்வந்து தோன்றிய அப்பொழுதே
நண்ணரு ஞானம் தலைக்கொண்டு, நாரணற் காயினரே.»
What the Lord was unable to achieve with His numerous avatArAs, could be easily accomplished the moment Sri Ramanuja was born on this earth, says Sri AmudanAr. People, who remained unmoved and unreformed even when Emperuman preached in person, realized the folly of their ways and became devotees of the Lord, due to Acharya Ramanuja’s tireless efforts.
The preference to Acharya Bhakti vis-à-vis Bhagavat Bhakti has also the seal of approval of Poorvacharyas. Sri Vatuka Nambi (Andhra PoorNA) was one of Sri Bhashyakara.s devoted disciples. His attachment to his Acharya was unparalled. He was in the kitchen of Sri Ramanuja.s matam in Srirangam one day, boiling milk for his master, when Sri Ranganatha was passing by on tiruveedi purappAdu. Even while all the other disciples and Sri Ramanuja himself rushed out to see the Lord, Sri Vatuka Nambi remained in the kitchen. When Sri Ramanuja scolded him for not having joined them in worshipping Perumal, Sri Vatuka Nambi calmly replied that had he done that, the milk, so carefully being boiled to the right temperature for his Acharya, would have spoilt. Here was a disciple who considered service to the Acharya much above having a dharshan of the Lord.
On another occasion, Sri Ramanuja and his disciples were performing mangalasasanam of Sri Rangaraja. While everyone was gazing at the unparalleled beatuty of the Lord, Sri Vatuka Nambi’s attention was riveted on Sri Ramanuja’s countenance. When the Bhashyakara sought an explanation from Sri Vatuka Nambi for his puzzling conduct in the Sannidhi, the latter replied that just as Sri Ramanuja was all eyes for his master, Sri Ranganatha, Sri Vatuka Nambi too was concentrating on the beauty of his own master, Sri Ramanuja. Here was a disciple who found his Acharya more worthy of concentration, than the Lord Himself. “ErAr muyal vittu kAkkai pin pOvadE – ஏரார் முயல் விட்டு காக்கை பின் போவதே” says Sri Tirumangai Mannan, belittling the pleasures of Sri Vaikuntam, vis-à-vis the bliss generated by the ArcchAvAtAra Emperuman in various temples on earth. Just as readily available rabbit flesh is delicious compared to that of the crow to be hunted down, worship of the ArcchA is more pleasing than that of the unseen and hard-to attain ParamapatanAta. The same simile could be applied to worship of the Acharya, which is more easily accomplished and is more delectable than worship of the Lord. The Acharya, who is a “Pratyaksha DevatA”, is endowed with greater Soulabhyam than Emperuman.
to be continued…
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore