Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The uniqueness of our Sampradaya lies in the fact that we have none other than the Lord at the head of our Guruparampara. Emperuman is our first and foremost Acharya, as is evident from the following tanian all of us recite daily: – “LakshmInAta samArambhAm nAta Yamuna madhyamAm asmat AchArya paryantAm vandE GuruparamparAm» The distinguished lineage of Gurus begins with Emperuman and His Consort, has Sri Natamuni and Sri Yamunamuni (Sri AlavandAr) as its centrepiece and our own Acharya at its end. The aforesaid slOkA by Sri KoorattAzhwAn indicates that it is not mere Emperuman, but Sria:Pati who is our first Acharya. We have seen earlier that we should venerate each of the Acharyas in our Guruparampara, beginning with SrimanNaryana and ending with our own Acharya (“AchArya vamsO gnEya; asou asou iti Abhagavtta:”).
However, how does the present day devotee relate to the Lord as his Preceptor? All we know is our own Acharya who guides us to the right path. We can definitely accept Emperuman as the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient power and revere Him as such, but how do we accept Him as our Guru? He has not guided us personally through upadEsA, nor shown us the right path to liberation. How then does the Lord perform His role as our Primary Acharya?
Swami Desikan enumerates no less than eleven ways in which Emperuman justifies His title as ParamAchAryA or Universal Teacher, if not directly, then as the initiator of an instructional tradition.
1. First of all, the Teacher-Taught relationship between the Lord and us is established by the fact that at the beginning of all creation, the Lord teaches the Vedas to BrahmA, who personifies all the sentient souls. Vedas are the embodiment of all knowledge and the creative process “YO BrahmAnam vidhadhAti poorvam, YO vai VedAmscha prahiNOti tasmai” says the shruti, acknowledging the role of the Primordial Teacher.
2. The Lord ensures the dissemination of the holy scripture through BrahmA, and his progeny, viz., Sanaka, Sanandana, SanatkumAra, etc.
3. When the process of propagation of knowledge is hindered by the theft of Vedas by the asurAs, Emperuman takes the Matsya avatArA, hunts out and destroys the thieves, and restores the Vedas to Brahma.
4. He ensures that the Divine Light spreads unhindered, through great saints and seers like Sri Narada (the author of Bhakti Sutras, and the Preceptor to countless jeevatmas like Kshatrabandhu and Pundareeka), Sri ParAsara (author of Sri Vishnu Purana, which sets out clearly the true nature of the Lord, the sentient and non-sentient souls, etc.), Shuka Maharshi, the creator of Sri BhAgavata Purana, Sri Shounaka, and countless others.
5. One of the Lord’s greatest boons to mankind is Sage Vyasa, who is the author of such incomparable bodies of instruction such as Sri Mahabharatha and the Brahma Sutras. While the former work shows us the right code of conduct for life in this world and others, the Brahma Sutras lay down clearly the nature of the Ultimate and the ways to reach the same. Sage Vyasa’s contribution is so great that he is considered to be the Lord Himself personified- (“VyAsAya Vishnu roopAya”, “Krishna dvaipAyanam VyAsam viddhi Narayanam prabhum”).
6. The Lord Himself takes on the Acharya’s role in several avataras such as MatsyA, Hamsa, Sri Hayagreeva, Nara, Narayana, and as the GeetAchArya. At the end of a Kalpa, an asurA by name HayagreevA stole the VedAs from a sleepy Brahma, who became directionless without the guiding lamp of the Shruti. The Lord took avatara as a small fish and got into the hands of Satyavrata, a Rajarishi who was performing Sandhyavandanam in Vaigai River. He put the fish into his kamandalu, but it grew too big for the same. He then let the fish into a tub, where too it maintained its phenomenal growth, whereupon the King put it into a tank. When the fish outgrew the pond too, the king could not think of a larger body of water for accommodating the fish other than the ocean, and accordingly let the fish into the ocean. By now the King had realised that this was no ordinary aquatic creature, and prayed to it for enlightenment. The Lord then revealed Himself and taught Satyavrata all about Atma Tattvam. He also destroyed HayagrivAsura and restored the Vedas to Brahma.
Another avatara where the Lord resorted to direct teaching is the HamsAvatAra. When Brahma’s sons Sanaka, Sanandana, SanAtana, etc. queried him about the nuances of Yoga, the clueless Brahma meditated upon the Lord for guidance. Emperuman appeared before them as a Divine Swan and elucidated the secrets of Yoga.
It would appear that Brahma has a penchant for losing Vedas, which serve him as a guiding lamp to carry on Creation, for he lost them again to a fresh set of asurAs named Madhu and Kaitabha, who secreted the Vedas at the bottom of the ocean. The Lord had to rush to Brahma’s rescue again in the form of Sri Hayagriva, with the face and features of a Divine Horse, destroyed the asuras and restored the Vedas to Brahma.
The Lord took a twin avatara yet again, as Nara and Narayana, born of Dharma PrajApati, and took abode at BadarikAshrama, where He taught Karma Yoga and Divine Realisation to Nara, Sri Narada, etc.
The last-mentioned avatara, the GeetAchArya, is especially significant, for the Bhagavat Gita excels as a manual of instruction for lost souls. Extolling Sri Krishna’s role as a teacher, Sri Nammazhwar says, “Neri ellAm edutthu uraittha nirai gnAnatthu oru moortthi – நெறி எல்லாம் எடுத்துரைத்த நிறை ஞானத்தொரு மூர்த்தி”. In His infinite mercy, the Universal Teacher has given us a wonderful body of knowledge, which will stand us in good stead all through our sojourn in this world, and which, when we shed our mortal coils, helps us escape from the vicious and unending cycle of births and deaths. This is why we hail Sri Krishna as “Jagat Guru” or the Universal Preceptor (“Krishnam vandE Jagatgurum”).
7. For those whose faith in Him is slender, the Lord also arranges for His words to be attested by the life and conduct of great people like Sri Bhishma, who command considerable respect and following, through their phenomenal knowledge and impeccable behavior.
8. The Lord also teaches the PAncharAtra shAstra to the devout at the beginning of every yugA. The Pancharatra consists of hundreds of books or Samhitas, as they are called, of which the SAtvata, Poushkara, JayAkhya and Padma SamhitAs are the principal ones. Dealing with the nature of the Brahman and ways of attaining the same, these Samhitas lay down in great detail the manner of establishing temples for the Lord and conducting worship therein. Thus the unapproachable Emperuman not only makes Himself easily accessible in various temples in the form of arcchA moortthy, but also guides ignorant mortals as to the right ways of worship.
9. All of Emperuman’s instructional efforts pale into insignificance compared to what He has achieved by resorting to another set of DasAvatAras in the form of various Azhwars. Though Azhwars are twelve, the count taken here excludes Sri Madurakavi, whose devotion was exclusively to Sri Nammazhwar, and Sri Kodai NAchiar, who is included in the group of Divine Consorts).
to be continued…
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore