This is a post that comes on the day (May 01, 2017) the world celebrates the Millenium of Sri Ramanuja, the Hindu Saint, who lived in India. Please ignore if this does not interest you – I do not intend to propagate Hindu religion or the srivaishnava philosophy. These are my reflections as I attend the festivities at various temples connected with Sri Ramanuja; and this post comes from the outskirts of the Melcote (Thirunarayanapuram) village about 150 Kms from Bangalore.
There are a lot of articles and stories on the Internet on why people consider him a social reformer and his inclusiveness in worship. This post is about how (in my limted understanding) one can see the relevance of his philosophy and teaching in the material world we live today, literally a thousand years apart from the teachings.
Mangala slokam (invocatory verse) – learning
Before beginning any work, it is cutomary to pray for the successful completion of the same. The following is the invocation of the Sribashyam (Sri Ramanuja’s commentary on the vedanta sutras of BAdarAyaNa).
akhila bhuvana janma sthEma bhangAdi leele
vinata vividha bhUta vrAta rakshaika deekshe |
s`ruti s`irasi vidIpte brahmaNi srInivAse
bhavatu mama parasmin s`EmushI bhaktirUpA ||
May my mind be filled with devotional knowledge towards the Supreme Brahman, Lord SrInivAsa, who is exquisitely revealed in the upanishads, who sports in creating, protecting and destroying the entire universe, who has taken the one vow of redeeming the hosts of beings, that devote themselves onto Him (sourced from this post at ramanuja.org).
This is the core of VishishtAdvaita philosophy. Whereas Dvaita arugues for the duality of the material self and the Brahmn (the Supreme being); Advaita argues for the singularity of the two. VishistAdvaita, propounded by Sri Ramanuja argues that while the Brahmn is the ultimate being, and has certain qualities (unlike the advaita philosophy that argues for the entire world to be an illusion) that are distinct from the material self. The Brahmn is the paramAtmA, the ultimate being; and the material self is the jIvAtmA, the minute soul. One of the best metaphors to explain this difference is that of an ocean and a droplet of water. Whilst they are both water, they both have different qualities. The purpose of every droplet of water (in the water cycle) is to reach the ocean; and when the jIvAtmA reaches the paramAtmA, it will continue to serve the Brahmn at His abode.
For this important transition to happen (the jIvAtmA to attain moksha or reaches the paramAtmA), it is imperative that we perform unconditional surrender (prapatti). Is unconditional surrender possible in this material world? Sri Ramanuja exorts us to focus on reflective enquiry (s’EmushI) as well as prayer (bhakti). The Brahmn is available in a variety of forms around us – in the form of SrinivAsa (the abode of shree or motherly kindness), that is visible to you and me in every day life (nitya vibhuti) as well as those acts of kindness that are not visible to us (leela vibhuti). Not just blind following of the philosophy, but a concerted effort at understanding the supreme qualities of the Brahmn through reflective enquiry. Isn’t that learning all about – believe in something after you have thoroughly reflected on it and understood the same?
Qualities of the Brahmn – leadership
This is a verse from the Saranagathi Gadyam.
svAbhavikAnavadhikAtiśaya jñAnabalaiśvarya vIryaśakti tejassauśIlya
vAtsalya mArdava Arjava sauhArda sAmya kAruṇya mAdhurya gAmbhIrya audArya
cAturya sthairya dhairya śaurya parAkrama satyakAma satyasaṅkalpa kṛtitva
kṛtajñatAdyasaṅkhyEya kalyAṇaguṇagaṇaughamahArṇava |
This verse enumerates the list of kalyANa guNas (celebrated qualities) of the Brahmn as follows: jnAnam (knowledge); balam (strength); aishwaryam (wealth); vIryam (virility); shakti (power to act intraneously); tEjas (radiance or glow); sowshIlya (pure character); vAtsalyam (motherly love); mArdava (tender affection); Arjavam (honesty); souhardham (positive thought); sAmya (equanimity); kAruNyam (merciful, forgiving); mAdhurya (sweet); gambhIrya (majestic and noble); audharyam (unconditional gifting – liberal giving without discrimination); chaturyam (skill to convince everyone); sthairya (ability to persist on course); dhairya (courage); sowrya (ability to contest alone); parakrama (ability to win without much effort); satya kAma (executing all deeds); satya sankalpa (fulfilling all wishes); krutitvam (dutiful); krutajnata (gratitude); and other innumerable qualities.
What a comprehensive list of leadership qualities! Shouldn’t this list be the benchmark for all our leadership competence assessments?
This is a humble attempt at interpreting verses for the common man. I am fully and truly aware of the limitations of such interpretations – there have been long and deep interpretations of these verses and other Sri Ramanuja’s contributions by learned scholars; and I humbly present my (possibly immature) views as I see them today.
Featured Image source: The statue of Sri Ramanuja opened on 25th April 2017 at the banks of Thonnur kere (the lake at Thonnur), Thondanur, Pandavapura Taluk (near Melcote); picture clicked by the author.
(c) 2017. R Srinivasan