The Peerless Preceptor – 9

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

We saw how it is the bounden duty of each disciple to publicly acknowledge and propagate the glory of his Acharya, as is laid down in the sloka

“Gurum prakAsayEt dheemAn, mantram yatnEna gOpayEt
aprakAsa prakAsAbhyAm ksheeyatE sampat Ayushi”

Just as there are things to be publicized, there are matters to be preserved painstakingly as a secret too- for instance, the mantra which the Acharya entrusts to the sishyA is to be kept to himself, and not to be handed out to all and sundry.

This sloka contains a caution to the Guru too, not to entrust the mantra indiscriminately to anybody and everybody, without verifying their credentials and capacity to absorb, retain and benefit from the mantra and its purport. The Acharya is supposed to preserve the mantra much like a nuclear secret, to be handed over only to the deserving and discreet.

Swami Desikan exhorts the Acharya to protect and preserve the mantra, and not to entrust it to the fickle-minded, who do not qualify to be disciples.

Some sishyAs are wealthy, and would submit at their Guru’s feet handsome tributes. There are other disciples who are extremely influential politically, socially or otherwise: if these persons become an Acharya’s disciples, then the Acharya automatically gains reflected glory.

Swami Desikan says that the Acharya, while selecting a disciple for upadEsa, should not be guided by considerations of wealth or fame accruing to him, through the disciple. The only consideration for the preaching should be the disciple’s spiritual attainment and his eagerness to receive the mantra. “KripayA nisspruhO vadEt”- the prime consideration for mantrOpadEsa should be the Acharya’s overwhelming concern for the disciple’s emancipation, which in turn is caused by the disciple’s devotion and endearing qualities.

And why should the Guru preserve the mantra as a closely guarded secret and not propagate it to as many as possible? Surely, the more the mantra is known to, the more that are benefited! Is it not a narrow attitude not to share one’s treasure with the multitude?

All this might be true of worldly wealth, but when it comes to Spiritual knowledge, sharing it with the uninitiated and ill qualified would result in the knowledge losing its greatness. If pearls are cast before swine, they would hardly appreciate their value: on the other hand, if a connoisseur of jewels comes across these pearls, he would be extremely impressed by their value and magnificence, and ensure that they are immediately set into a necklace and adorn the neck of a commensurately beautiful lady.

Similarly, dissemination of mantra and its purport to the spiritually unlettered would result in the mantra losing its greatness, as it would be perceived to be easily available, and therefore, cheap. The true magnificence of the mantra would be appreciated only by a disciple who has toiled hard, through service to the guru, attaining preliminary qualifications like Atma guNAs, devotion to the Acharya, an unquenchable thirst for the right type of knowledge, etc. Equally, considering the difficulty with which he attained the mantra, he would painstakingly preserve it as a secret, and would pass it on only to the eminently qualified.

Here, Swami Desikan cites the example of Brahma, who came to grief by imparting knowledge of PAncharAtra to Indra, without checking the latter’s qualifications to receive the same. Brahma was carried away by the fact that Indra , the undisputed leader of all the dEvAs, had come to him on bent knees, seeking knowledge. Guided by considerations of the glory that he (BrahmA) would derive as the Acharya of the all-powerful Indra, BrahmA taught Indra the nuances of Sri Pancharatra. As a result of this ill-advised propagation, BrahmA’s own knowledge of the Shastra was erased totally from his mind, and he had to seek out Sri Narada for refreshing his memory.

Cautioning Acharyas about unquestioningly accepting all and sundry as disciples, Swami Desikan quotes from the Manudharma shastra:-

“RagyO rAshtra kritam pApam, RAja pApam purOdhasa:
Bhartu: sva stree kritam pApam, sishya pApam gurOrapi”.

Elaborating on the concept of moral responsibility, Manu declares that the King is responsible for the wrongdoings of his subjects, as it is his duty to guide them in the right path. The King’s sins are laid at the doorstep of his PurOhita, whose duty it is to tender correct and timely advice, and ensure its adherence. The husband, under whose protective umbrella the wife lives, is responsible for the latter’s acts of commission and omission. Similarly, the Acharya has to bear the cross for the sins of his disciple, for it is the former’s sacred duty to provide guidance and instruction to ensure that the disciple treads the path of virtue and righteousness. Thus, by accepting unquestioningly all and sundry as disciples, the Acharya lays himself open to the dangers of reaping the fruits of the sinful seeds sown by his errant sishyas.

It is the Acharya’s responsibility to impart the mantra only to the eminently qualified disciple, just as a valuable heirloom should be bequeathed only to the most responsible of the sons, who would protect and preserve it. Hence the Acharya is entitled to severely test the sishya’s patience, to ensure that he is indeed worthy of the treasure he aspires to acquire. Swami Desikan cites the example of Raigva Maharshi, to demonstrate the point that even to the qualified disciple, Acharyas should not part with the mantra that easily:-

JAnashruti was a model king, good to his subjects, philanthropically inclined, and known for his charity and benevolence. One night, two swans, flying over JAnashruti’s palace, conversed among themselves to extol the praises of Raigva, declaring him to be the repository of all that is to be known. The good king, ever thirsty for knowledge, went in search of Raigva, whom he found living beneath the shelter of a dilapidated cart, scratching his itching sores. JAnashruti knelt at the feet of the unprepossessing Raigva, offered him a tribute of 600 cows, a chariot, and innumerable jewels, and requested him humbly to impart scriptural secrets. However, Raigva, unimpressed by the substantial wealth lying at his feet, rejected it outright, saying that he didn’t need all that, and also refused to teach the king even a word. The king, unfazed by the rejection, persevered, and through prolonged, devoted service to Raigva, managed to win the latter’s heart and confidence. Raigva, impressed by the king’s absolute lack of ego and his thirst for knowledge, initiated him into the esoteric path of Brahmavidya.

And more recently, to demonstrate this point, we have the example of Sri Ramanuja, whose efforts to acquire mantra and mantrArtthA, are legendary. Sri Peria nambi instructed Sri Ramanuja to learn from Sri TirukkOshtiyur nambi, the SampradAyic secrets which were bequeathed by Sri Alavandar. When approached, Sri Tirukkoshtiyur nambi, intent on measuring the depth of Sri Ramanuja’s eagerness and eligibility for the mantra, kept putting off the latter, with one excuse after the other. Sri Ramanuja, undaunted by the Acharya’s repeated refusal, walked between Srirangam, where he himself resided, to Tirukkoshtiyur (a distance of around 200 km) 17 times, tirelessly beseeching the Acharya to part with knowledge. At last, moved by Sri Bhashyakara’s tenacity and thirst for sampradayic knowledge, Sri Tirukkoshtiyur nambi relented, took the former as a disciple, and imparted in full whatever he had learned from Sri Alavandar.

to be continued…

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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