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Re: A tale of two thieves

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Thu Aug 23 2001 - 12:33:27 PDT

sadagopan iyengar writes:
> In other words, what
> is required is Atma SamarpaNam, through an Acharya.
> The Saranagati thus performed restores to the soul its
> lost quality of sEshatvam.

Dear Sri Sadagopan svAmin and respected members,

I have had a long-time question regarding this
development in the doctrine of Saranagati in 
our tradition. Why is that it is insisted that
the surrender *must* be done through an acharya?

Let me state at the outset that I am familiar with 
the teachings of Sri Vedanta Desika in Srimad Rahasya 
Traya Saaram, wherein the great acharya systematically 
describes the various modes of Saranagati and invariably 
mentions the vital role of the acharya.  I am also
aware of Swami Pillai Lokacharya's gracious statements 
that for one afflicted with ego (i.e., all of us) there is
no way out but the affection of the acharya (acArya-abhimAna).

Here, however, my feeble mind sees an apparent inconsistency.
While Sarangati through an acharya is a *sufficient* condition
for restoring the true nature of the self, is it invariably
a *necessary* condition for us? In other words, is an 
individual who for whatever reason directly seeks refuge 
wholeheartedly with the Lord truly lost? 

Here is why I ask this question. It is well-established that 
the Lord is an ocean of grace, and of mercy, compassion, and 
kindness.  He is eternally associated with the very embodiment of
mercy, Lakshmi pirATTi. The very names pirAn and pirATTi that we 
use in Tamil to describe our Great God and Goddess both mean 
'benefactor'. So, would it be appropriate for a Lord filled with 
such 'sauSIlya' (gracious condescension) to look askance at
a poor soul who seeks refuge directly at His sacred feet?
Is this not what He has been waiting for from day one?
(gOra-mA-tavam seyda nankol ariyEn -- says Tiruppan Alvar.
The saint cannot fathom what terrible austerities the Lord has 
been doing to secure a single soul for gracious communion.)
If He did not take care of such a soul, would it not be a
defect in His character?

The SaranAgata par excellence Nammalvar also says that a single 
mention of His holy place of residence was the pretext upon which
He filled the saint's heart -- tirumAliruncOlai malai enREn, enna
tirumAl vandu en nencu niRaiya pukundAn.

Given all of this, I beg members to inform me as to what the
fate of one who wholeheartedly and sincerely directly seeks refuge
at the lotus of the Lord is.  In my meagre studies of the
*mUla-SAstra*, i.e., the Sanskrit Vedanta, Divya Prabandham, and  
itihAsa-purANa, I have not come across any declaration that
that the Lord will ignore such self-surrender. If anything,
the emphasis on the grace being the very nature of the Lord 
convey entirely the opposite idea.

Let me make it very clear that in no way do I mean to show
disrespect to the role of the acharya nor to the acharyas
themselves. But I am seeking clarification on this bit of
doctrine.  I also am very much aware of the post-Ramanuja
arguments -- that we are all ignorant, incapable of knowing
anything, and that we have no clue about how to take
refuge with the Lord. However, this very 'Akincanya' and
'ananya-gatitva' (helplessness and being without any other
refuge) to me appear to be *stronger* reasons that the Lord
Himself would be overjoyed to accept this self-surrender,
making it perfect in whatever way He saw fit. One could almost
say that He will lovingly accept the surrender *with* all its

Let me also say that I am *not* seeking mere quotations from
pUrvAcAryas such as Sri Pillai Lokacharya, Sri Desika, and Sri
Manavala Maamunigal unless they are laced with analysis that
specifically addresses *why* the acharya is considered both
necessary *and* sufficient, given my position as outlines above.
For example, I am aware that Swami Yamunacharya's concluding
sloka of 'stotra-ratna' is used as evidence of the necessity
of an acharya -- 'pitAmaham nAthamuni vilokya, prasIda mat
vRttam acintayitvA'.  However, an impartial reading of this
sloka only proves the *sufficiency* of AcArya-sambandha, not
the necessity. The same can be said for the oft-cited pAsuram
of Andal in nAcciyAr tirumozhi, 'nallA en tOzhi...' 

Bottom line question: would the Lord be so heartless as to say, 
"no -- I see no acharya between you and me. Go back and do it right!"

With prostrations to acharyas, Alvars, and the prathamAchArya,
SrIman nArAyaNa,

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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