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Re: A matter of synonyms?

From: Venkatesh K. Elayavalli (
Date: Mon Aug 09 1999 - 07:54:53 PDT

Dear Sri Sudarshan,

>Is there a difference between "guru" and "AchAryA"?

Sri Periyavaachchaan Piallai has dealt with the issue of "Who is
Acharya?" in his work, Manikkamaalai. I apologize, for this turns out to
be a bit longer email than I had planned.


AchArya means the one who is the foremost among the Vaidhikas
(vaidikAgresara), who has devotion to BhagavAn, who is without egoism,
who understands the tirumantram according to the correct meaning - that
tirumantram is the essence of all the Vedas, the case of all mantras,
the document for the inseparable relationship of the soul and the Lord,
the savior of Mumukshus-, who has no interest in artha and kAma but yet
lives within the world and follows  the dharma, artha, kAma
(lokaparigraha) [and hence practices dharma, artha and kAma].

This definition of an AchArya establishes several important points. The
AchArya must strictly follow the Vedic traditions, and he can live
within the world as long as he has no specific interest in artha and
kAma. Sri PV Pillai illustrates this definition by referring to the
lives of RAmAnuja and KUrattAlvan. Next, PV Pillai describes the
different categories of AchAryas: father, maternal uncle, father-in-law,
the giver of SAvitrI mantra, the teacher of the Veda, the giver of any
mantra, or the giver of bhagavanmantra. But all these AchAryas cannot be
accepted as AchAryas for the prapannas. According to the tradition, the
AchArya who is eligible for initiating one into prapatti is the one who
instructs the individual on how to withdraw from any action that is
considered to be an obstacle for obtaining the Lord. This AchArya is
also the one who preaches (upadesa) that one should trust and be
fearless and understand the Lord, Who is the consort of Sri is alone our
protector". He encourages his disciple and tells him that by grace of
the Lord he came to the correct path as a Srivaishnava.  The good
disciple (Sishya) will not become proud because of the AchArya's
affection; he will be grateful to his AchArya for making him worthy (of
prapatti), and he will always admit that whatever greatness that he
possesses comes through his AchArya's grace. PeriyavAcchAn Pillai next
quotes phrases from the AlvArs that usually denote the Lord but here
used to refer to the AchArya.


In conclusion, any Guru cannot become one's Acharya. This definition of
Acharya, by the way, is very specific to the Sri Vaishnava sampradhayam
and in this context the term Guru and Acharya are different. For more on
Manikkamaalai, please visit

Sri Periyavaachchaan thiruvadikalE Saranam,


Venkatesh K. Elayavalli             Cypress Semiconductor

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