Sri Vachana Bhushanam

Srivachanabhushanam or the compilation of jewels of rare excellence has been termed as a ‘Maha Shastra’ by the followers of Srivaishnava Sampradhayam. Its contents are so impregnated with deep philosophical insights that Manavala Mamunigal, a successor to Lokacharya, termed it nigh impossible to comprehensively understand the work’s prescriptions and put them to practice. Srivachanabhushanam contains a total of 466 aphorisms or sutras and is broadly divided into four cantos (prakaranas). Based on its topical coverage, the work can be said to comprise six sub-sections detailing: (i) The Glory of the Mahalakshmi, the Mediatrix; (ii) The overwhelming merit of Prapatti or the path of self-surrender; (iii) The code of conduct for a Spiritual-Seeker; (iv) The manner in which a spiritual aspirant should seek and serve a teacher of eminence; (v) The nature of the Sriman Narayana’s redemptive grace; and (vi) The role played by a spiritual teacher in enabling a disciple to cross the vast expanse of Samsara or bondage.

Srivachanabhushanam is a compendium of the doctrines of salvation put forth by the preceptors of Lokacharya and encompasses a vast array of topics that cover the nature, process and the means of attaining liberation from bondage. Drawing upon the Vedic teachings and the divine revelations of the Azhwars, this work comprehensively presents the knowledge and discipline that befits a follower of the Prapatti marga (i.e. a prapanna). The contributions of this Mahasastra to Srivaishnava Sampradhayam can be subsumed under its six topical heads:

(1) Purusakara Vaibhavam (Sutras 5 to 22): This section delineates the greatness of Sri or Mahalakshmi, the unfailing mediatrix and intercessor between the Supreme Soul (Sriman Narayana) and the Jivatma. Lokacharya describes the qualities that need to be present in a mediatrix and how the Divine Mother fulfills these criteria. Drawing upon instances from Srimad Ramayana, Lokacharya offers numerous examples to illustrate the mediating role played by Sri during her union (with) as well as separation (from) Lord Rama. This section details the role of Sri in procuring salvation on behalf of the million jivatmas who are steeped in countless transgressions of all sorts. Sri resorts to friendly advice to urge the Lord to grace His sinful devotees and when her pleas to the Lord don’t achieve the desired effect, she uses her beauty as a means to coerce Him to shower His grace on the jivatmas. On the other hand, she uses advice to instruct the jivatmas to mend their ways and when it does not work, she graces the jivatmas herself and brings them back on track of spiritual discipline.

(2) Sadhanasya Gauravam (Sutras 23 to 80): This section describes the efficacy of the path of loving surrender unto the supreme Lord (also called ‘Prapatti’ or ‘Saranagati’) as the sole means of attaining Him. In addition to explaining what Prapatti is, this section highlights the superiority of this means alongside other paths of attaining salvation. Lokacharya asserts that prapatti represents a quality that is to be present in a spiritual seeker (adhikari visesana) and does not independently qualify as a means to salvation. He clarifies the nature of prapatti as one which, either by itself or in collaboration with alternative paths bears zero tolerance to be considered a path for salvation. Prapatti requires an outright acknowledgement of: (i) a jivatma’s servitude unto the Supreme Lord (sesatvam), (ii) a jivatma’s utter incapability to resort to means for protecting itself (ananya gatitvam) and (iii) it is the Lord who benefits when a jivatma is released from bondage, having reclaimed His lost property. Prapatti is not governed by time-bound and methodology-bound injunctions and does not demand any candidational qualifications from the jivatma. It can be performed by everyone, at all times, and for achieving fruits ranging from material prosperity to release from bondage. The only mandatory requirements on the part of the jivatma are (a) to direct this prapatti towards an object that is complete in terms of auspicious attributes and (b) not to obstruct the protective benevolence of the Lord. Lokacharya opines that prapatti should suitably be directed towards the Supreme Lord in His iconic manifestation (arcavatara) as it is here that His auspicious attributes shine brightly like a lamp illuminating a dark room.

(3) Tadadhikari Krityam (Sutras 81 to 307): This section explains the prowess of those jivatmas who pursue the path of Prapatti by pinning their faith solely on the Supreme Lord. In addition, this section also covers the code of conduct to be followed by the spiritual aspirant with a clear comprehension of the quintessence of the Vedic teachings. While resorting to the Lord as the sole means, self-protection has to be avoided, as was demonstrated by Goddess Sita during her incarceration in Lanka. One has to pin one’s faith solely on the Supreme Lord and remain oblivious of all kinds of extraneous considerations. Lokacharya declares that a prapanna has to give up the performance of an act enjoined by the scriptures as a means of attaining the Lord. However, if the prapanna performs the act as an end in itself (svayam prayojana), or out of Supreme Love towards the Lord (kaimkarya), it is considered to be perfectly in order. In addition, Lokacharya also describes the importance of a prapanna’s relationship with the devotees of the Lord (bhagavata sambandha). He asserts that a mere contact with the bhagavatas is enough to lead one to salvation even if there is a deficiency in learning and religious observances. Conversely, any offence committed towards them can throw one on the road to hell, one’s erudition and meticulous religious observances notwithstanding.

(4) Asya Satguroopa Sevanam (Sutras 308 to 365): This section describes the manner in which a spiritual aspirant should seek and serve a teacher of eminence. It is the bounden duty of the disciple to attend to all the physical needs of his preceptor. The disciple’s salvation materializes through (i) The Supreme Lord’s thoughts on him, (ii) The instructions imparted by the preceptor to his student as service rendered to the Lord itself. The traits of a glorious teacher who leads his disciple to the abode of Sriman Narayana is also described in this section. While imparting spiritual instructions, the preceptor should (i) be humble enough to admit that he is but a mouthpiece relaying instructions received from his immediate acharya and (ii) acknowledge that the disciple in front is but a co-disciple of the same acharya. The instructions imparted to the disciple should enable the latter to join the ranks of those who are engaged in selfless service to the Lord and His devotees.

(5) Haridayam Ahetukeem (Sutras 366 to 406): A prapanna spends his time reveling in the Glory of the Lord and His devotees and contemplating his own shortcomings. This contemplation is likely to instill in him a sense of fear about the prolongation of the cycle of births and deaths. Such fears are alleviated in part by taking refuge in the Lord’s auspicious qualities of Love, Mercy, etc. However, the fears are likely to return if the prapanna were to dread the idea of the Lord punishing him on the basis of his karma. The Lord expects all jivatmas to follow the decrees of the scriptures and develop devotion towards Him. It is His infinite grace that put the individual soul, which was lying alongside inert matter during the Great Deluge (pralaya), back on its feet and endowed it with a body, limbs and sense organs such that it can follow the path of the scriptures and get back to His abode. When the jivatmas get stranded in samsara and enjoy the fruits of their own karma, the Lord out of sheer compassion, lends a helping hand to pull the jivatmas out of bondage. Lokacharya dedicates this section entirely to discussing this redemptive grace of Sriman Narayana that flows with sweet spontaneity. Lokacharya asserts that the Lord bestows His supreme grace upon His subjects without expecting any initiation on their part. If anything, he expects the jivatmas to display love for Him (abhimukhya) and be free of hatred towards Him (advesa).

(6) Gurorupatyvam (Sutras 407 to 463): The fear of continued retention in Samsara is likely to haunt a prapanna. Lokacharya asserts that this prevailing uneasiness can be overcome if one’s preceptor is considered as a sole means of attaining salvation. This section details the part played by a spiritual master in enabling his disciple to cross the ocean of earthly bondage. It stresses the paramount need for reverence to one’s spiritual teacher to the extent that service unto one’s teacher is to be considered an end it itself. Here, one’s preceptor is considered to be Sriman Narayana Himself, who has assumed a mortal form out of His sheer compassion for His subjects. Terming this conduct charama parva nishta, Lokacharya elaborates upon this concept of considering one’s preceptor as the unfailing medium of attaining salvation. A jivatma resorts to Prapatti when he finds the performance of bhakti hard besides considering it to be against his very nature (svarupa).  But even this prapatti, which places immense and implicit faith in the Lord’s redemptive grace, is not failsafe. The Supreme Lord, who is an embodiment of Compassion, also possesses unbridled independence (svatantrya) in exercising His grace. This risk can only be eliminated by taking refuge under a preceptor’s protective benevolence, which can redeem, correct and perfect the protégé.

References:
[1] ‘The Ashtadasa Rahasyas of Pillai Lokacharya’ by Puttur Krishnaswami Iyengar, Puthur Agraharam, Trichy, 1987.
[2] ‘Srivachanabhushanam – Manipravala Commentary’ by Manavala Mamunigal, 1908
[3] ‘Srivachanabhushanam – An English translation’ by Gwalior Sathyamurthi Iyengar.

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