Navaratnamalai is one of the eighteen works of Pillai Lokacharya’s secret doctrines. This work comes under the category of works written by the author to expound the essence of Srivaishnava Sampradhaya (the others being Srivachanabhushanam, Navavidha Sambandham, Prapanna Paritranam and Samsara Samrajyam). This work describes how spiritual seekers have to calibrate their understanding of nine truths of spiritual life to achieve liberation. These instructions are offered to us in the form of a garland of nine gems and hence the work bears the name ‘Nava Ratna Malai’. These nine truths include perceptions about: (i) The Self, (ii) The Physical Body, (iii) Friends and relatives, (iv) the Samsaris, (v) the Demi-Gods, (vi) Srivaishnavites, (vii) One’s immediate preceptor, (viii) The Divine Mother, Sri and (ix) The Supreme Lord.
In this work, Lokacharya instructs the spiritual seekers to change their attitudes towards nine aspects of spiritual truths. Each of these aspects is captured under their respective headings below:
The self is to be perceived as different from the body. The self is atomic and is the seat of knowledge and happiness. In addition, the self also manifests itself as knowledge and happiness. The self does not engage in any activity on its own volition and for its own purpose. The thoughts, actions and dispositions of the self are always directed towards the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord’s will. In addition, the self subordinates its independence to the will of the Supreme Lord and hence does not possess any agency by itself.
The Physical Body:
The identification of the self with the physical body is an obstruction to developing wisdom and realizing one’s true nature. The physical body is insentient and composed of 24 realities (tattvas). It has an impermanent existence and is prone to change and modification. It cannot be the substratum (resting place) of true knowledge and is the prime driver of all miseries experienced by the soul. It subordinates the soul to the sense organs, distracts the soul from its pursuit of divine contemplation, and destroys its spiritual progress.
One’s Kith and Kin:
The friends and relatives, who are enjoined to us through our bodily relationships, are to be perceived as distractions who a) inhibit us from gaining knowledge about self and Supreme and b) impair our spiritual progress by destroying our interest in spiritual education. They are also to be construed as people who augment the tendencies of egotism (ahamkara), lust (kama), anger (krodha) and self-interest (mamakara) in us, thereby leading us down the stairways of annihilation.
The Pleasure Seekers:
The pleasure-seekers (samsaris) are to be construed as impediments to experiencing Divine Bliss and performing service unto the feet of the Supreme Lord (kainkarya).
The demigods (devatantaras) are those who, irrespective of occupying exalted offices, are not omniscient and suffer from egotism. They delude us into believing in their prowess of addressing all our material and spiritual needs. They are totally dependent on the Supreme Lord for their existence. It is for us to understand that they indulge in acts of wrongdoing every now and then and hence, are not worthy of propitiation or adulation.
The Srivaishnavites are those who are blessed with clear knowledge about the Supreme Lord, have complete dispassion to all objects other than Him and are steeped in His devotion. They are to be construed as faithful companions for our spiritual well-being (atma ksema). Their companionship and service unto their feet is to be considered an end in itself (prapyatukku ellai nilam).
One has to consider his immediate preceptor (Acharya) with gratitude as it is his benevolent grace that eliminated our shortcomings and placed us in the right path to spiritual development. The preceptor shapes our conduct to become worthy recipients of the Almighty’s Grace, and, out of his concern for our upliftment, disseminates true spiritual knowledge to us. The preceptor’s services are therefore to be acknowledged with immense gratitude.
The Divine Mother:
The Divine Mother (Sri) condones our multiple transgressions and prevents the Supreme Lord from behaving independently in punishing us for our shortcomings. By triggering the auspicious qualities of compassion (karunya) and motherly love (vatsalya) in the Lord, she plays the role of a mediatrix (purusakara bhuta) between us and the Supreme Lord. She is both our mother as well as our proprietress, someone unto whose feet we should perform service (kaimkarya).
The Supreme Lord:
The Supreme Lord (Emperuman) is the one who gave us the body and the senses at the time of creation. He always thinks of our welfare and occupies the innermost place of our hearts. He initiates noble qualities in us and begets us the companionship of a spiritual master (acarya sambandha). He is tolerant of all our transgressions, helps us sever our connection with bondage and leads our march towards His ultimate abode through the archiradi nerve. Thereby, He provides us an opportunity to experience His auspicious attributes first-hand in addition to granting us the opportunity to perform eternal service to Him and His consort (nitya kaimkarya).
Contributions of the work to Visistadvaita:
Lokacharya’s genius is reflected in how he implicitly conveys the essence of Visistadvaita philosophy in a work that is replete with spiritual instructions of this kind. While differentiating the Self from the physical body, the author refers to the Self as being the seat of knowledge and how it manifests as knowledge. Thus, Lokacharya points to the soul possessing two types of knowledge – one by virtue of its very nature (svarupa prayukta dharma jnana) and the other, attributive consciousness (dharma bhuta jnana).
While discussing the nature of the soul, Lokacharya referred to it as immutable. On the contrary, the author explained that the physical body is subject to change and modification. This brings out the permanence (nityatva) of the individual soul. By differentiating the soul from the physical body, Lokacharya implicitly refers to the existence of three realities – the Sentient (chit), the nonsentient (achit) and the Supreme Lord (Isvara). Collectively called the Tattva Traya, this concept forms the very basis of Visistadvaitic ontology.
Also, by hinting at the subordination of the soul’s independence to the will of the Lord, Lokacharya communicates the essence of parayatadhikarana (2-3-41) of the Brahmasutras where a discussion on whether a soul possesses independence (and if yes, to what extent) is being done. At the beginning of every action that the soul performs, it is (first) given the independence to decide its course. When it chooses to conduct itself in the path advocated by the scriptures (dharma sastras), it becomes favourable (anukula) to the Supreme Lord. On the other hand, when the individual soul conducts itself in a manner not recommended by the scriptures, it becomes unfavourable (pratikula) to the Supreme Lord. This initial decision made by the soul, at the beginning of every action, determines its journey to achieving salvation. If the individual soul conducts itself in line with the prescriptions of the scriptures, the Supreme Lord, subsequently, as its internal controller (antaryami), directs it to perform deeds that will result in good karma (and thereby eventually leads it to salvation). If the individual soul conducts itself in a manner not authorized by the scriptures when given this independence, the Supreme Lord, as its internal controller, directs the soul to engage in deeds that will augment its negative karma. The sum total of these karmas, unless completely neutralized, will result in the soul being reborn in this world. However, the ocean of mercy and compassion that the Supreme Lord is, He continues to provide the soul with opportunities whereby it could conduct itself more favourably towards Him. It is imperative to note the following points in the context of this discussion:
- When a king confers authority (independence in performing certain tasks) to some of his ministers, the ministers will carry out their duties by exercising this authority. This temporary arrangement, however, does not mean that the king’s authority is undermined. Also, the temporary devolution of power does not void the minister’s dependence (paratantriyam) on the king for carrying out instructions. Similarly, when the Lord confers independence upon the soul for the first time, and when the soul reciprocates this gesture with an exertion from its end, the Supreme Being’s sovereignty (svatantriyam), instrumentality (karanatvam) or His ability to confer fruits of actions (karmanuguna phalapradatvam) do not change. Neither does the dependency of the soul on the Supreme change as a result of this offer.
- In the first instance, where the Supreme Lord confers independence on the soul, He lacks the ability to direct the actions of the soul (visesha karanatvam). However, since He is the one who conferred this independence on the soul, His greatness does not get undermined. Thus, at all times, the actions of the soul are subservient to the will of the Supreme Lord (paramatma adhina).
- If the Supreme Lord is to be the internal controller (antaryami) of the soul’s actions as well as the judge of them vis-a-vis the prescriptions of the dharma sastras, isn’t it unfair? Why is there a need for the scriptures in the first place? The clarification to this question is that the Supreme Lord offers the soul an option to be independent during the first instance (of every action). Depending upon the soul’s choice, the latter’s actions are subsequently determined by the fruits of the previous actions carried out by the soul. This eventually determines its rebirth or ascension to the Divine abode.
Thus, by pointing to the subservience of the soul to the Supreme Lord, Lokacharya defines servitude alongside knowledge as attributes that uniquely identify the soul.