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Remembering Ramanuja: The Abode of Compassion

Ramanuja

Today is indeed a doubly blessed day, according to the Bharatiya calendar. It is the punya tithi of two great acharyas, Bhagavad Ramanuja and Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada. What can one say about the mahima of either acharya? Words will always fall short. But the tradition exhorts us to sing the praises of our Acharyas and do constant Acharya Smarana, both for our own inner unfoldment and to help others sip from the endless ocean of amrita that flows from the guru charana.

In Grateful Remembrance

This post will be about Ramanujacharya because there are countless good people writing on Bhagavatpada today. It will be more in the nature of grateful smarana than a brief biographical sketch or an analysis of his phenomenal philosophical contribution. The word smrithi can mean remembrance, memory, reflection and more. The Indian tradition of smarana, of simultaneous remembrance and reflection, helps us, like the Hamsa to draw the timeless essence from the lives and actions of great beings who have illumined our land. Let’s begin.

As the 84th verse of the Ramanuja Nootrandhadhi, a pean of 100 verses on the glories and gunas of Sri Ramanuja says:
Now I have seen my Ramanuja; what a sight it is indeed, it makes me seek to serve the golden feet of his devotees; Now I take just a sip from this ocean of auspicious qualities and all my past karmas are destroyed, No, there is no end if I start to say more.

An Ocean of Limitless Compassion

Born in a Srivaishnava family, Bhagavad Ramanuja’s divya charitam has been remembered reverentially ad-nauseum. The endless ocean of para Bhakti, Jnana and ananta kalyana gunas(infinite auspicious qualities), the acharya incomparable. And yet for all his titanic heights, he was an acharya who would melt with limitless compassion for every prani that had lived and was yet to be born.

His were the feet that opened the doors of Vaikunta, the Paramam Padam, to every single jiva embodied in any of the varnas and even non-human beings like cows. It was his immense compassion that opened the floodgates of moksha by teaching to everyone the path of Sharanagati, as the Karma, Jnana and Bhakti Yoga’s had become too difficult for us in Kali Yuga.

Jnana that leads to Bhakti and finally, Surrender

The path to moksha that Ramanuja opened up was simple and available to all. It was what Bhagavan Krishna himself gave as his final teaching (charama shloka) in the Bhagavad Gita.

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज ।
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः
Abandoning all dharmas take refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins and guarantee you moksha, do not fear.

This is the promise that Bhagavan makes in every avatara including the Varahavatara and Ramavatara. He says, as he did in the Gita, give up the illusion of ability and competence to attain Moksha on the basis of your effort alone. Realise that you are but an anga of Sriman Narayana and that the relationship is that of a master and dasa, Owner and Owned, Swatantra and Paratantrya between Brahman and Jiva respectively. Knowing this, knowing him to be the Supreme Brahman of limitless auspicious qualities (ananta kalyana gunas), who has manifest Himself as both jiva and Jagat, from whom everything emerged, in whom everything moves and has his being and unto whom everything dissolves before the cycle repeats, surrender utterly. This is also Bhishma’s advice to Yudhisthira in the Vishnu Sahasranama when he asks whom should I propriate and how to attain the Supreme Good. Know Sriman Narayana as Parabhahman and Paramatma and also the Antaryami, that which sustains and uplifts the jagat and our atma and is the highest and yet ever intimately close to you. Off him we are, in him we live, move and have our being and by him and for him we live.

Knowing thus about Him and knowing his ananta kalyana gunas, knowing that he is both the means and the goal, surrender utterly unto Him, live in Bhagavad Smarana and he will guide you on the path and guarantee Moksha, because only He can. Therefore in this path, it is Jnana that blossoms into high Bhakti and leads spontaneously to Sharanagati (complete surrender).

Opening the Floodgates of Moksha

And who helps us see this and makes our Sharanagati bear fruit? Our Acharya. Without his grace and his recommendation, the feet of Narayana cannot be reached by a Jiva. The Acharya is the one who gives the wealth that is immeasurable, that of Bhagavad Sambandam. Therefore Acharya Bhakti is even more important and fundamental than Bhagavad Bhakti.

Ramanujacharya, the avatara of Adi Sesha, who previously incarnated as Lakshmana, ensured that moksha was guaranteed to any Jiva who takes the path of Sharanagati through a Sadacharya. He, out of his immense compassion, has made the Narayana Mantra and the path of Sharanagati, which was previously only open to Adhikaris, open to everyone who has the requisite humility and Acharya Bhakti, irrespective of Adhikara. That was his great compassion. His avatara has opened the floodgates of Paramam Padam to everyone.

To that Acharya and to his entire Acharya parampara that has kept this Light alive and helped every atma find their true relationship with Bhagavan, I offer my shashtanga namaskarams.

लक्ष्मीनाथ- समारम्भम् नाथयामुनि मध्यमाम्
अस्मदाचार्- य पर्यन्ताम्- वन्दे गुरू परम्पराम्
That parampara which originated from Lakshmi Natha Sriman Narayana, with Natha Muni and Yamnuna Muni has the madhya acharyas and that parampara which has continued until my Acharya, to that guru parampara I bow.

“यो नित्य मच्युत पदाम्बुज युग्म रुक्म
व्यामोहतः तद इतराणि तृणाय मेने
अस्मतगुरो- भगवतोस्य दयैकसिन्धो- ः
रामानुजस्- चरणौ शरणम प्रपद्ये”
The one constantly in union with the gold-like, lotus feet of the Lord
Considering all else as mere blades of grass
Our Guru, the most revered one who is an ocean of daya
At Ramanuja’s feet we bow and seek refuge

If, on this auspicious occasion, you feel inspired to read more about Bhagavad Ramanuja, the reader can read the excellent biography by Swami Ramakrishnananda titled the Life of Swami Ramanuja.


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