Sri Ramanuja’s greatness as the Protector of the Vaidika Sampradaya is immeasurable. For, were it not for him, then not only would the Vedas and Brahma sutras have suffered due to misinterpretation, but our perception of the Lord, with all His auspicious attributes, would have been skewed and improper. Plain, transparent glass affords a clear view of objects, while a prism distorts images. Thus it is not only we mortals but Veda Purusha himself and Emperuman too, who should be eternally grateful to the Bhashyakara for putting things in the proper perspective, and further, for throwing open to all and sundry the Prapatti Marga, assuring them of Liberation, which had been the preserve of the chosen few before. Keeping all this in mind, Swami Desikan calls him ‘Pin aruLAl PerumbUdUr vandaVaLLal’.
To digress a little, though the Acharya is to be regarded and venerated as the Lord Himself, yet, when he commits a factual error, he is to be corrected by the disciple, but in privacy, says the Scripture. There are several recorded examples of such conduct in the Sampradaya.
Apart from being an Acharya par excellence, Sri Ramanuja was also a model disciple. His devotion to his Gurus was legendary.
Notwithstanding all this, Sri Ramanuja exhibited another facet of a disciple’s conduct- that of unhesitatingly correcting the Acharya when he was wrong. On the rare occasion, when the Acharya himself errs, due to oversight or other reasons, and the Sishya can definitely recognize the error, it is the duty of the disciple to apprise the Acharya of the mistake in the politest possible terms, in privacy. (“Gurum rahasi bOdhayEt”). The Sishya should not take this as an opportunity to belittle the Guru in public, but realize that even the mighty are prone to mistake (“na kaschit na aparAdhyati”, as Sri Mythily told Siriya Tiruvadi) and act accordingly.
In the case of Sri Ramanuja, when his Achary aYadavaprakAsa interpreted the Shruti Vakya “tasya yata kapyAsam pundarIkam Eva akshiNI” to mean that the Lord’s eyes resembled the backside of a monkey, the disciple, though moved to tears of anguish over this grossly unbecoming and inappropriate comparison, reacted with circumspection, and his disagreement could be discerned by his Guru only from the hot tear drops that fell on his (Yadavaprakasa’s) thigh (Sri Ramanuja was applying oil to his guru’s head at the time this interpretation was voiced).
And upon the Guru’s inquiry Sri Ramanuja submitted his humble opinion that the correct meaning of the quote would be that Emperuman’s beautiful eyes resembled a lotus. While this later led to an estrangement between the Acharya and the disciple, Emperumanar did not hesitate to put on record his dissent on vital matters.
And later too, when Sri Ramanuja was learning the purport of TiruvAimozhi from Sri Tirumalai Nambi, he did not flinch from putting forth versions which he believed to be more appropriate and dear to the heart of his PrAchArya Sri Alavandar.
Guruparampara records that even Sri KoorattAzhwan, (that model disciple of Sri Ramanuja, who considered his Acharya’s words holier than the Scripture), registered his disagreement with certain sentences in Sri Bhashya which was being dictated to him by Emperumanar. And Sri Ramanuja, who was well aware of his disciple’s erudition, respected the latter’s sentiments and made suitable amends.
The very fact that the commentaries on Tiruvaimozhi contain several references to “Alavandar nirvAham”, “Emperumanar nirvAham” “Pillan nirvAham” “Bhattar nirvAham” etc., indicate that sishyas did occasionally differ from their Acharyas, but this did not detract in any way from the undying devotion and immeasurable respect they had for their Acharyas.
Indeed, our Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya has democracy at its roots, with the spirit of inquiry and dissent being tolerated and even encouraged, all, of course, in the context of differing aspects of Bhagavat anubhavam. The Lord is multi-faceted and every one is free to enjoy Him as their emotions and intellect prompt them to, within the framework of the Scriptures.
We must remember, however, that the conduct of the giants referred to above may apply to us only in a very limited fashion, and as (speaking for myself) spiritually impoverished mortals endowed with limited faculties, we would do well to tow the Acharya’s line in toto, unquestioningly. This is required of Sishyas especially today, when on one pretext or the other, their Acharyas are subjected to criticism from all and sundry ill informed sources. We must remember that it is not for us to sit in judgment over the conduct of these saints for their imaginary infringements.
It would it be the grossest form of BhAgavata apachAram to even listen passively to such criticism, leave alone to actively participate in such blasphemous conversation.
When one’s Acharya is being criticised, rightly or wrongly, it would be one’s bounden duty to defend one’s Preceptor with all of one’s might, and if this is not possible for some reason, at least to depart the place with alacrity, as would a person pursued by a snake. Sri Tondaradippodi Azhwar’s pasuram should be our guide in this regard- ‘ninpAl porupparianagaL pEsil pOvadE nOyAdAgi kurippu enakkadayum Agil koodumEl talayai AngE aruppadE karumam kandAi – நின்பால் பொறுப்பரி யனகள் பேசில் போவதே நோய தாகி குறிப்பெனக் கடையு மாகில் கூடுமேல் தலையை ஆங்கே அறுப்பதே கருமங் கண்டாய்’. Though the second alternative proposed by the Azhwar may not be practical these days, it is certainly indicative of how vile and unbearable criticism of the Acharya is, to devoted disciples.
to be continued…
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore