Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Story of the Sinner and the Sage
It becomes clear from the aforesaid, that the seeker after the Ultimate has to surrender himself to an Acharya- “AchAryavAn Purusha:vEda tattvam”-says the CchAandOgya Upanishad. “Tat vignAnArttham sa Gurum Eva abhigacchEt”(MundakOpanishad) is another vEda vAkyA, which exhorts us to find an Acharya and surrender ourselves to him, to know the Ultimate. Here, one may have a legitimate doubt- is it at all necessary to seek out an Acharya? Wouldn.t sustained meritorious conduct through Karma Yoga lead us on to Knowledge, Bhakti and Moksha in that order?
Even if one has led an exemplary life, and is a paragon of virtue, goodness by itself cannot make one eligible for emancipation. And even if one has been guilty of the most despicable conduct all through one.s life, once he is taken under the wings of an Acharya, he becomes an ideal candidate for liberation. Swami Desikan emphasizes this by quoting the following examples-
“Papishtta: Kshatrabandhu: cha PuNdareeka: cha puNyakrit
AchAryavatthayA muktou tasmAt AcharyavAn bhavEt”
To leaven the rather dry subject, Sri Toopul Pillai recounts several stories in Srimad Rahasytraya Saram (this is the style adopted by the Vedas too-they are full of anecdotes). All these stories serve to beautifully illustrate and illuminate the point on hand. The sloka quoted above recounts the tale of one Kshatrabandu and one Pundareeka.
Kshatrabandu, a king banished to the forests due to his unbecoming conduct, used to hurt and harm Rishis, rob them of articles kept ready for yagyAs, etc. Encountering Sri Narada one day, Kshatrabandu raised his stick to hit the former. Stopping him, Sage Narada said, “You are accumulating a huge baggage of sins, for saving your family. As you know, you will have to reap the fruit of these sins shortly. It would be interesting to know whether your family members, who live off you, are prepared to share your sins, so that you are not solely afflicted with the entire burden.” Kshatrabandhu found this very logical- his family, who were sharing the spoils of his plundering, must definitely share in its consequences, too. But on inquiry with his wife and sons, he found them surprisingly unobliging in this regard. The scales of samsArA fell from his eyes immediately. He came back to the waiting Sage, who put him on the right path, and in course of time, by adopting Prapatti at the behest of Sri Narada, ,Kshatrabandhu attained Mokhsa, thus proving that even the worst sinner could be emancipated through Acharya Kataksham.
Diametrically opposite to Kshatrabandhu in disposition and conduct was Pundareeka, a Brahmin well versed in the scriptures, wealthy, philanthropic, and a symbol of dharma. The sins of his previous births too were greatly washed off through residence at holy places and Teerttha yAtra. Pundareeka, after duly qualifying himself thus, performed Bhakti Yoga, but despite assiduous practice, the fruits were nowhere in sight. The disheartened Pundareeka happened to meet Sage Narada, who explained to him the greatness of the Ashtakshara Mantra. After concentrating on the Mantra and its purport, which led him to perform Prapatti, Pundareeka could ultimately reach Sri Vaikuntam.
Thus, the innumerable and heinous crimes of Kshatrabandhu were not a stumbling block in the way of liberation, because he had the blessings of an Acharya. By the same token, even the exemplarily meritorious conduct of Pundareeka could not bestow on him Moksha, till he was emancipated by an Acharya (Sage Narada). Thus, it is not the presence or absence of PApA or PuNyA that determine Moksha, but the availability or otherwise of an Acharya’s blessings. The story concludes with a moral-“tasmAt AchAryavAn bhavEt”- therefore, seek out and attain an Acharya, if you desire liberation. The following sloka emphasizes the role of the Acharya in liberation- “Siddhi: bhavati vA na iti samsaya: Achutha sEvinAm na samsaya : atra tad bhakta paricharyA ratAtmanAm» Whether the Lord.s devotees attain Moksha or not may be a matter of speculation: but there is no doubt at all that devotees of BhAgavatAs are assured of liberation.
It is thus clear that the Acharya is to be venerated and revered without any reserve. Is it enough if one knows and meditates on one.s Acharya alone ? The shruti (RahasyAmnAya BrAhmaNam) lays down that the entire lineage of Acharyas (Our own Acharya, his guru, the guru before him, and so on, upto Emperuman , who is the first Acharya) has to be adored for their infinite mercy. Here is the relative shruti vakya- “sa cha Acharya vamsa: gyEya:asou asou iti Abhagavatta:” The big list of tanians we recite daily is in accordance with this dictum of shruti.
Each Acharya in the lineage, up to Emperuman, has to be known and paid obeisance to individually. This is important, because our Acharya owes his knowledge to his own Acharya, and so on. The treasure of the Rahasya Trayam (the three sacred/secret mantras) is now in our hands thanks due to a distinguished parampara of Acharyas, who have passed it on from one generation to another, with immeasurable kripA and expecting absolutely nothing in return for this great upakAram. Thus it becomes our bounden duty to know and revere each Acharya in our Guru paramparA. Apart from this, if we get acquainted with the greatness of each of the inspiring Acharyas, it would help us in appreciating their contribution to the Sampradaya and to emulate, as far as is possible for fickle-minded mortals like adiyen, their exemplary devotion to the Lord and His bhaktas. Many of us are interested in reconstructing a Family Tree, to trace our genealogical roots- however, it is more important for us to know our Guruparampara or lineage of Acharyas. After all, our parents and forebears are responsible for our samsArA and attendant problems, while our Acharya and his gurus ensure our liberation from this mundane world and everlasting bliss. (This is not to belittle the importance of our parents and pitru vargam, but only to emphasize the importance of Acharyas).
to be continued…
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore