This is a multi part article detailing the Artha Panchaka – The Five Requirements of a Srivaishnava based on The Handbook of Srivaishnavism by U Ve Sri Rama Ramanuja Achari of Sri Matham
The Nature of Self (Sva-svarupam)
The basic tenet of all schools of Vedanta is that every living entity consists of two components; (a) the insentient (non-thinking) material (physical) component and (b) the sentient (thinking) conscious component. The Self (jiva) is not the body/mind complex but the conscious entity which animates the body and uses it as a vehicle. There are varying views in each school of Vedanta about the ultimate nature of this unique spiritual entity which is referred to by several synonymous names; jiva, atman, jivatman or pratyag-atman.
The Srivaishnava doctrines concerning the nature of the jiva/Self are as follows;
- The Self is not the physical body nor the cognitive mind, but an atomicSpiritual Entity. This entity which is eternal resides within the body using it as a vehicle and controlling it from within. The Self is pre-existent and eternal and can never be destroyed.
- The Self is that which is referred to as “I” by the individual; it is the subject of knowledge which perceives the body and mind as objects – it is not manifest to, and cannot be grasped by the external senses and is devoid of all parts.
- The essential five attributes of the Self in its original state are Consciousness (chit), Bliss (ananda) and Truth (sat) Purity (amalam) and Eternality (anantam). These attributes are shared with the Godhead, the difference being in quantity not in quality.
The individual Self (jiva) is a ‘particle’ or ‘expression’ or ‘mode’ (prakara) of Brahman and stands in dynamic relation to Brahman as a body to the Self. The two are different, but inseparable, and together form an aggregate of being; like the Sun and its rays, or water and its wetness. Without the Self, the body is merely a conglomeration of chemicals, and without the body the Self has no means of self-expression. The individual Self is a scintilla (amsha) of the totality (amshin) which is God. The jiva is totally dependent upon Brahman for its existence but the defects of the jivas do not affect Brahman.
The main and outstanding attribute of the jiva is consciousness. (jñana svarupam) This consciousness or knowledge is the evidence of its existence. One does not need to have one’s own existence demonstrated to oneself. It is self-evident even to the most retarded individual. In its natural state of freedom, this attribute of consciousness expands and contracts freely without limitation. In the state of transmigratory existence or bondage, this consciousness becomes contracted in various degrees according to the evolutionary development of the individual jiva. In animals it is more contracted than in humans and the higher evolved a person is the more expanded the consciousness becomes.
All embodied jivas are constrained by four limitation or fetters (pasha);
- They become confined and limited by space. alpa kshetra
- Their intelligence becomes limited. alpa buddhi
- They are limited in their ability to achieve their goals. alpa siddhi
The duration of physical body itself is limited by time. alpa-ayuh
These four fetters which are the result of karma can only be removed by the compassion and Grace (anugraha Shakti) of God
2:1 The 9 Relationships Between Godhead and the Jiva
The best way to understand the true nature of Self is to reflect upon it according to its relationship to the Supreme Being. According to Pillai Lokacharya there are nine different ways in which the individual jiva is related to the Supreme Being:-
- Pitra-putra sambandha – The relationship between father and the son – this is not an emotional relationship but rather one of cause and effect. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the relationship between an object and its attribute’. (visheshana- visheshya sambandha). This is an eternal and inseparable relationship which can be illustrated by the rose and its perfume. The rose being the substantive and the fragrance being different from but dependant upon it and inseparable from it. In the same manner the jiva is a mode or attribute of the Supreme Lord and is different from but completely dependant upon Him.
- rakshaka-rakshya sambandha – The relationship between the Saviour and the Saved. The essential nature of the Saviour or Protector is omnipotence, complete independence and activity whereas the nature of the one saved is dependence, complete vulnerability and passivity. This relationship gets cancelled if the jiva tries to assume personal responsibility for its liberation from Samsara and acts independently of the Lord.
- Shesha-sheshi sambandha – The relationship between the Principle and the Subsidiary. In other words it is the bond between and owner and the thing owned. The jiva belongs to God and exists for His purpose alone, it can only be evaluated in terms of its relationship to the Lord. It is therefore the duty and function of the Lord to care for the jiva, which by its very nature cannot exist apart from and independent of the Lord.
- bhartru-bharya sambandha – The relationship between husband and wife. This can also be considered in terms of the supporter and the supported. In this dynamic we see that the chaste couple belong to each other and cannot have any reference to a third party – the bond between them is irrevocable and permanent. Again there is a bond of exclusive mutual dependence and purpose.
- jñatru-jñeya sambandha– The relationship between the Knower and the object of Knowledge. The essential nature of the jiva is knowledge or consciousness. The jiva therefore can “know” itself, its Lord and the relationship between them. It can also rationally assess its relationship to the external material world. The knowledge of the jiva attains its fulfilment only when it is directed at knowing its true objective – the Supreme Being with all His attributes and towards its personal constitutional state as totally subservient and dependant upon the Lord.
- sva-svami sambandha – The relationship between the Property and Proprietor. The dynamic of this relationship is the realisation that oneself and all the faculties that one possess in fact all belong to the Supreme Lord. One has therefore to renounce all idea of possession in regard to one’s ego and actions, as well as the idea of agency itself and the expectations of rewards for one’s actions. One erroneously thinks that one is personally the doer of actions and the reaper of rewards, but when seen in true perspective one realises that the Lord is the Supreme Agent, and that the jiva is dependant upon the Lord for any abilities that it has.
- sharira-shariri sambandha – The relationship of the Self to the Body. Just as the body is pervaded by the individual Self, all the universe and all Selves are pervaded by the Divine Nature. This clarifies that the relationship between the Self and its body or between the Godhead and the universe is intimate and co-dependant unlike the relationship between a person and his property which is purely superficial and one-sided.
- adhara-adheya sambandha– The relationship between the Supporter and the Supported. The chief characteristics of a body are “belonging” (sheshatva), “dependence” (adharatva) and “subject to control” (vidheyatva). The corresponding qualities of the Self are “ownership”, “sustainer-ship” and “control”. Of these three the most important dynamic is that of the supporter /supported or the dependant/sustainer (adhara-adheya) because the other two are dependant upon this dynamic. The Scriptures declare that the Lord creates the universe and then enters into it. Just as the Self owns the body supports the life-force of the body and directs it at will, in the same manner the Lord enters into the individual Self, owns, it supports it and governs it. The Sustainer is eternal and therefore it follows that that which is sustained ie.! the universe and the Selves are also eternal.
- bhoktru-bhogya sambandha – The relationship between the Enjoyer and the Enjoyed. This can also be described as the relationship between the experiencer and the experienced. As indicated earlier, ultimate agency of action and power to experience really belong to the Supreme Principle (sheshin) – the Supreme Godhead. Sriman Narayana receives the service rendered by the jiva which exists purely for the pleasure of the Lord. The jiva is an object of enjoyment for the Lord, and the Lord experiences the universe through the jiva.
The purpose of studying and understanding these nine types of relationship is to clarify one’s essential ontological (state of being) position vis-a-vis the Supreme Being and to remove the general conceptual errors that:-
- something or someone other than God can grant us security,
- there is a Supreme Principle other than God,
- the jiva exists for some one other than God,
- there is an object of knowledge apart from God,
- one is independent or separate from God,
- the individual Self is identical to God,
- there is some other supporter of the Universe other than God,
- the individual is the enjoyer or experiencer of the universe.
The Divine is the sustainer (adhara) and the jiva is the sustained (adheya). The jiva is an “expression” of the Divine and thus cannot exist without the Divine, but the Divine is a substantive and can exist without expressing Itself through the jiva. The jiva is the subordinate (shesha) and God is the Principle (sheshin)
The Divine is the controller (niyantra) and the jiva is the controlled (niyamya). The Divine controls everything that happens within the entire universe. His control is not whimsical but in accordance with the Universal Law (rta) which He Himself has established. In this sense the jiva is controlled. The jiva is subjected to limitations of its own previous actions (karma) but is free to initiate action as it pleases.
And above all God is the Saviour (Rakshaka) and the jiva is the subject of salvation (rakshya). Greater is the Saviours’s desire to liberate each and every jiva than is the jiva’s desire to be liberated!
2:2 Types of Jivas.
There are three categories of jivas:-
- nitya suri – These are the members of the Divine Ministering Assembly which, although being jivas, have never been subjected to transmigration. They are the eternal servants who make up the entourage of the Lord. (eg. Ananta, Garuda, Vishvaksena and others.)
- mukta – Those jivas that have finally been liberated from the cycle of reincarnation after going through a myriad of births and which are now residing in the Supreme Realm (paramapada) in eternal communion with Sriman Narayana enjoying the fullness of Grace and the divine bliss.
- baddha – Those jivas that are temporarily bound by karma which causes them to transmigrate through different bodies in the various realms of existence of which there are seven. These realms of existence are called Lokas and for the purpose of working through their Karma, the jivas incarnate in 6 types of bodies;
- animal tiryak
- human manushya
- gods deva
- antigods asura
- hungry ghost preta
- Hell-being naraki
There are six principle negative emotions associated with embodiment. Each one of these categories of sentient beings is dominated by one of these negative emotions. Animals are characterised by ignorance (moha), humans are characterised by desire (kama). The gods are characterised by pride (mada). The antigods are characterised by jealousy (matsarya), the hungry ghosts are characterised by greed (lobha) and the hell-beings are characterised by anger or resentment (krodha). Although these are taught to be actual physical incarnated states we can perceive their existence in the realm of human psychology.
Although it is popularly believed and taught that after a human birth one can regress and incarnate in an animal body, this is not necessarily the case. The animals do not have a moral sense of right and wrong and are governed by their instincts. The spiritual progress of animals is a passive not an active one and therefore they cannot actively participate in the achievement of Liberation (Moksha). They simply have a natural evolution from a lower to a higher life form. Whereas in the human form one has the ability to think and to undertake the entire responsibility for one’s own spiritual evolution. Virtuous and pious action (punya) and spiritual study & wisdom (jñanam) lead to progression and evolution but sinful action (papam) and spiritual ignorance (ajñanam) lead to rebirth in lower human species, and certainly one can see that there are certain human beings that are very much on a par with or lower th!an animals in their condition and behaviour!!
Those baddhas who have begun the journey back to Godhead can further be divided into another two groups:
Kevalas – or the super jñanis (wise-ones) who are the yogis who pursue the path of self-realisation/enlightenment alone and seek total isolation of the Self such as the Jains or the transcending of Self, such as the Theravadan Buddhists; as their ultimate goal through the practice of meditation.
Mumukshus – those jivas who have taken to the spiritual path and are seeking communion with the Lord either through Bhakti – devotion or sharanagati – the path of self surrender.
2:3 The Nature of Bondage
Embodied jivas are said to be in a state of bondage to the material world, and this bondage comes about through the conjunction of the jiva with a mind/body complex. The jiva identifies itself with this mind/body complex forgetting its true nature as an expression of the Divine – this is known as nescience or ignorance (avidya). The conjunction with a material body is brought about by beginingless Karma.
2:4 Karma & Sin
Karma is the doctrine of the economy of action. The word karma means “action” and refers both to the action and its consequences. Every action produces a moral consequence which manifests as either joy or sorrow. All positive actions produce happiness and all negative actions result in suffering. There are three types of actions; mental, verbal and physical and every word, deed or thought has an effect. Although certain actions can be classified as “neutral” because they do not have an effect upon others and since they are entirely concerned with oneself, yet they affect the mind through the creation of subtle impressions (vasanas). Our thoughts affect us directly through the creation of behavioural patterns, while our speech and physical actions affect others and our environment. Although the concept of sin is linked to Karma one must understand that the Hindu concept of sin is quite different to !the Judeo-Christian concept. Sin can be defined as those acts which obstruct our spiritual progress and hinder our return to the Divine Source. The Sanskrit synonyms for “sin” are quite revealing:
- Papa = an act which causes suffering to others.
- Pataka = an act which causes loss of social status.
- Kilbisha = an unjust deed.
- Enasam = a mischievous act which leads to personal suffering
- thinking harmful thoughts directed towards others
- clinging to irrational and erroneous doctrines.
- gossiping, and
- abusing others and
- giving false teachings
The unskilful use of action is
- causing physical injury to other living beings
- sexual misconduct and
- not rendering assistance in time of need.
All well-directed virtuous actions leads to spiritual development and happiness, all unskilful actions slow spiritual growth and produce unhappiness
There are three types of Karma including both negative and positive;
- Sanchita Karma; the mass of accumulated results of acts which have been committed in a myriad past lives and are stored in the sub-conscious mind waiting to come to fruition in the future.
- Prarabdha Karma; “operative” karma being acts done in the past which have resulted in the circumstances of the present incarnation and are causing all the joys and sorrows which we are now experiencing
- Kriyamana Karma; All the actions which are now being performed; the results of which will be experienced at a later date and will condition the circumstances of the next incarnation.
- abhyupagata – accepted – that is, the results of past karmas that have been accepted by the individual to be experienced. A spiritual aspirant (prapanna) resigns himself or herself to continue life and to accept the balance of merit and demerit of previous actions until the end of this present life span. A sincere aspirant does not entertain any desires to avoid the consequences of one’s previous actions, be they happiness or sorrow. One accepts them with fortitude because they are in fact the requiting of spiritual bills!
- anabhyupagata – unaccepted – karmic consequences that have not yet come to fruition and will probably lead to future births unless one takes refuge in the Spiritual Preceptor and in God. The act of surrendering to Sriman Narayana destroys these accumulated reactions.
Prarabdha karma is beyond the control of the individual and the results which have produced our present conditions have to be born with patience. It is like the seed which has been planted in the past and is now flowering. Sancita karma is like seed which has been stored and can be remitted through the Grace of the Guru or God. The kriyamana karma or the present actions are entirely under the control of the individual and must be performed with the utmost awareness that each individual is the author of his/her own destiny and each and every action, no matter how trivial, will have an effect, unless all actions and their consequences are surrendered unto God, (karma phala tyaga). Once surrendered, all actions are purified and everything is done as service to God alone and thus even mundane actions become the vehicle of Liberation in that surrendered actions performed without motivation for rewards does not produce any further kar!ma.
Sancita karma can be compared to a mango shoot, anabhyupagata karma is like a green fruit and abhyupagata karma is like a fruit ready for eating.
The doctrine of karma explains the dynamic of suffering. There are three factors in suffering;- the person who is suffering, an agent of suffering such as a person, thing, condition etc., and the degree of suffering. Once we have understood the nature of the Self as it really is and understood the dynamic of actions and their consequences, then the agent of suffering becomes incidental and secondary. We no longer bear any anger or resentment towards the person or thing that is seen to be causing our suffering because they are merely agents of our own karma. It is on this basis and this basis alone that we can truly love our “enemy” and return love for hurt, compassion for thoughtlessness. When the experience of suffering is thus understood it becomes an opportunity for self-development and spiritual transformation and its emotional and psychological intensity is greatly diminished.
2:5 The Three Causes of Negative Karma
There are three things which cause us to perform negative actions which lead to demerit and suffering; they are Selfish-Desire (kama), Anger (krodha) and greed (lobha). These three are known as the three poisons of mind which retard spiritual growth and are the three gateways to further suffering. All three have their source in delusion (moha) which is the notion that the body/mind complex is the Self and that one is a unique and separate entity from all others. This conviction is the very nexus of the cycle of reincarnation. Until we attain insight and realise our true spiritual identity as sparks of divinity, dependant upon and subservient to the Supreme Being then we will continue indefinitely in bondage to the material nature.
- Selfish-Desire (Kama) primarily and generally refers to the libido which is the strongest drive we have. In specific terms it is the desire which is self-centred and directed purely at self-gratification. It is wrongly directed desire which is unhelpful to spiritual progress, and thus prolongs one’s existence in Samsara.
- Anger (Krodha) is the psychological and emotional reaction towards the unfulfilled desires and failed expectations one has of others, or the reaction to being thwarted in one’s attempts to achieve or gain something. This leads to causing injury and hurt to others who are seen as the obstructing factors, which in turn results in negative karma and further suffering. Our sages teach us that a moment’s outburst of anger destroys heaps of merit, painstakingly accumulated over long periods of time.
- Greed (Lobha) is defined as the inability to part with our resources. The pursuit of wealth is not a problem – the problem is the refusal (or neglect) to use that wealth for the common good. All resources are aspects of the Divine Mother and are intended for the use of the entire world. Philanthropy therefore is an extremely important component of the spiritual life.
2:6 Karma and Grace
The question which will invariably be asked is what part does God have in this system of Karma. The Lord is known as Karma-Phala-Data the “Dispenser-of-the-fruit-of-action” – He dispenses the fruit of action with perfect justice and impartiality. The Lord is not responsible for the suffering or the happiness of anyone, it is oneself alone that creates and carries out one’s destiny. The effects of karma are considered to be beginingless and it is almost impossible to free oneself from the tangle of actions and reactions – it is only through the Grace of Sriman Narayana that Liberation from the fetters of karma can be achieved. God is ready to forgive and remit all our transgressions – we need only request.
In Srivaishnavism an important distinction is drawn between the aspirant that follows the Path of Devotion (bhakta) and the one who renounces the fruit of all action and takes refuge in the Lord (prapanna). Devotion (bhakti) destroys the residue of sanchita karma but the one who follows the path of Devotion as taught in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads will have to take one or two more births in order to rid oneself completely of the effects of Prarabdha karma. In the case of the prapanna who has renounced the fruit of all actions and taken refuge in the Lord alone, no future births will occur because the anabhyupagata portion of the prarabdha karma is destroyed by the Grace of the Lord along with the sancita karma.
2:7 The Goal of the Jiva – Liberation
Although God is perfectly just, His infinite perfections are dominated by the redemptive motive of compassion (daya). His mercy, which is limitless, endures forever and rains alike on all beings. The Lord blesses those who follow the way of right action (dharma) and who follow His universal prescriptions (dharma upadesha) which are revealed through the Vedas. He also saves the deluded ones that transgress the universal laws and do wrong by causing suffering to others through commission or omission. Although the Lord administers the Law of Karma with perfect justice ensuring that each and every jiva obtains the full fruit of every act , but as the Deliverer impelled by His infinite loving kindness, He actively seeks out the erring jivas to forgive and redeem them from the negative results of their actions which is suffering. Deliverance works in many ways and because of His overwhelming mercy and redemptive Grace and the strong desire to be united with the jiva – His insep!arable vesture and mode, several attributes are manifested in the Godhead. These are the communicable attributes which emphasise the Personal nature of God (svabhava dharmas) and His relationship to the jivas which are His rays. It is in these communicable attributes that Sriman Narayana stands out as a conscious, intelligent, loving moral Being, Personal in the highest sense of the word. The predominant communicable attributes are as follows
- sarva-bhuta-suhrt – the Friend of all beings
- parama-udara – the All-Bountiful One
- sulabha – easily accessible to all beings.
- gambhira – His attribute of mercy cannot be quantitatively assessed.
- saumya – God is approachable by all beings irrespective of their socio-psycho-physical differences or stages of evolution
- saulabhya – He allows an intimacy to develop between Himself – the infinitely great and the jiva which is infinitesimally small
- ashrita para tantra – He actually depends as it were, on His devotees, in a playful mood He allows Himself to be bound by them. For example; by manifesting Himself in an icon and becoming dependant upon the devotees for His maintenance.
- vatsalya – His tenderness and affection are so great that it overpowers His omniscience and makes Him ‘forget’ or ‘turn a blind eye’ as it were, to the transgressions of the errant jivas.
- mardava – the tenderness of the Divine Love cannot bear the separation from the beloved jiva.
- sthairya – the will to save the deluded ones in spite of their incorrigibility
- karunya – the infinite compassion which impels the Redeemer to seek out and to save the afflicted jiva
- madhurya – the boundless sweetness of the Saviour who conquers evil by His seductive beauty and love and imparts bliss to the jiva
- audarya – generosity which is so great that He is never satisfied with the Grace which He bestows upon the postulant jiva.
- arjava – is the free and full dispensing of Grace to all beings without reservation
- sauharda – the burning desire on His part to help all beings and to redeem them from the results of their actions
2:8 Lakshmi – The Mediatrix
In Srivaishnava theology, the One Divine Nature expresses Its will to redeem by assuming a dual Spiritual Form – Narayana & Sri – these two aspects are philosophically inseparable but functionally distinct. Sri (or Lakshmi) is related to Narayana as the fragrance is to a flower, or the rays of the sun to the Sun. Narayana with perfect justice rules the universe as Father, but Sri His Eternal Consort resides within His heart as the embodiment of Saving Grace – the Universal Mother. She ensures that the reign of righteousness is tempered by redemptive mercy. The Lord dispenses justice in accordance with the merit and demerit of the jiva and Lakshmi is entirely dependent upon the Lord, but through her Beauty and Grace she captivates the Lord and transforms his desire for justice (nigraha-shakti) into redemptive Grace (anugraha-shakti), she acts as the Mediatrix between the Lord and the jivas.
The Lord Narayana too is innately gracious, but His Grace is an “initial” Grace called kripa which is common to all higher beings. By virtue of this Grace, one is impelled to seek refuge in the Lord and become a prapanna (one who seeks refuge). But the Grace of the Divine Mother is a specific Grace called prasada. It is the saving Grace; the response of ‘condescension’ of the Divine into the realm of being which permits the jiva to be liberated from Samsara. The great theologian Vedanta Desikan (13th century) finds all this potential for salvation implicit in the very name of the Divine Mother itself. He derives six different meanings from the name Sri:-
- sriyate – she who is resorted to by the jivas
- srayate – she who resorts to the Lord
- srnoti – she who listens to prayers
- sravayati – she who causes the Lord to listen
- srnati – she who removes the past karma, faults and hindrances in the way of the spiritual aspirant.
- srinati – she who prepares the jivas for liberation.
Manifestations of Lakshmi
Lakshmi manifests herself in countless forms but her three primary forms are as Sri-devi, Bhu-devi and Nila-devi. In the temples there are usually two Icons on each side of the Lord. The one on the Lord’s right hand side is Sri-devi and the on the left is Bhu-devi, Nila-devi is usually imagined as occupying the space behind the Lord and is not usually represented by an Icon as such.
Sri-devi is the Dynamic Potency of the Lord – kriya-shakti, Bhu-devi is the Manifesting Potency (identified with the physical universe) bhuti-shakti and Nila-devi is the Volitional Potency or iccha shakti which manifests as a desire to liberate the jivas from the bonds of transmigration and functions obscure its faults so that the Lord can be joyfully reunited with it.
to be continued…