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A short story of Sri Ramanujacharya

From: Venkatesh Elayavalli/DCOM (vke_at_cypress.com)
Date: Fri Dec 29 1995 - 19:08:53 PST

The following is a short story of The Life of 
Sri Ramanuja, downloaded from the vaisnav home page.

PS: i just downloaded this file, i am not responsible
for the authenticity of this text. However, i would
like to hear any disagreements if any.

thanks
-venkatesh


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                                Ramanujacarya

                          The Dawning of Devotion
                                     by
                              Jeffrey Wallace
                 Originally published in "The Clarion Call"
                                     by
                       The Gaudiya Vaisnava Society.

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When the religion of the Vedas became weakened due to the influence of less
intelligent men who blindly performed ritualistic ceremonies and wantonly
killed animals in the name of Vedic injunctions, Buddha appeared on the
scene as a great reformer. Totally rejecting the Vedic literature and
substituting his rational, atheistic views, Buddha advocated the path of
ahimsa, (nonviolence and nirvana-the negation of reality as we know it) as
the ultimate goal of life. Soon after, the philosophy of Shankaracharya
overpowered Buddhism and spread throughout India.

The authority of the Upanishads and other Vedic literature were revived by
Shankara and employed as weapons to fight the Buddhist doctrine.
Interpreting the Vedas to draw a particular conclusion, Shankara established
the doctrine of non-dualism, adwaita-vedanta, stating that all living
entities were on an equal level with God. He prominently stressed those
texts which afforded an answer to the . rationalistic atheism of the
Buddhists, yet the teachings of Shankara were not wholly theistic, and thus
a further unveiling of the ultimate reality was destined. That destiny was
fulfilled through Sri Ramanujacharya.

Ramanuja was born in India during the year 1017 A.D. when, according to
astrological calculations, the sun was in the zodiacal sign of Cancer. His
parents were Asuri Kesava and Kantimati, both from aristocratic families.
Rumanja passed his childhood days in Sriperumbudur, the village of his
birth. At the age of 16 he was married to Rakshakambal.

Only four months after his wedding, Ramanuja's father was struck with a
severe illness and died. Upon the death of his father, Ramanuja became head
of the household and decided to move to Kanchi, a holy city famed for its
scholars and magnificent temples.

In Kanchi there lived a scholar named Yadava Prakash, who w as renowned for
his scholarship in the doctrine of adwaita-vedanta, nondualism. No one could
surpass Yadava l in his ability to explain Shankara's commentaries on
Vedanta-sutra. Ramanuja enrolled in Yadava's school and engaged in the study
of Sanskrit and Vedic literature. Although not at all convinced by the
Shankarite conception, Ramanufa learned his lessons well and soon became one
of Yadava's favorite students. Thinking Ramanuja to be a sincere follower of
the conclusions of Shankara, Yadava showed Ramanufa special affection, But
that affection did not last for long.

One day, after delivering a discourse on the Chandogya Upanishad, Yadava
asked Ramanuja to massage his body with oil, as was the customary service to
be performed by a student in those days. While giving the massage ing his
teacher, another student came to Yadava for some clarification on a point
from the morning discourse. The l boy had failed to grasp the meaning of the
seventh verse of the first chapter, which began with tasya vatha kapvasam
pundarikam evam akshini. Yadava proceeded to expound an interpretation which
described the sublime qualities of the Godhead in a manner which was
flagrantly objectionable. On hearing the words of his teacher, the heart of
Ramanuja, which was full of love for the Supreme Godhead, was saddened, and
hot tears streamed down from his eyes and fell on the thigh of Yadava.
Looking up at the touch of the hot tears, Yadava could understand that
something was troubling Ramanuja. When he inquired about Ramanuja's
distress, Ramanuja replied, "O great and wise master, I have been sorely
afflicted at heart to hear such an unbecoming explanation from a noble soul
like you. How sinful it is of you to debase the Supreme, who is endowed with
all gracious qualities and who is the source of all beautiful things in this
world. From the mouth of such a learned man as yourself I would never have
expected such a low and deceitful interpretation!"

Yadava became so angry that he could hardly control himself. "Well then," he
scorned, maybe you would like to give your own interpretation since you
obviously think you know better than l!"

In a very gentle voice Ramanuja replied, "Revered sir, there is no need to
give a low-minded interpretation to the verse when the real meaning is
direct and glorious."

"Then let us hear this meaning of yours which is so glorious!" said Yadava.
Ramanuja then stood and with great humility recited the meaning of the
verse. "The two eyes of the Supreme are as lovely as two lotuses that are
blossomed by the rays of the sun."

"I see," said Yadava. "You speak as though there actually was such a
'Supreme Person.' That is due to your childish ignorance. You have not
learned your lessons properly. You should always remember that the j Supreme
is without form, without name, and without attributes. That is the teaching
of the great Shankara. In the future you should not voice your foolish
sentiments!" The words of Yadava were painful to Ramanuja's ears, but out of
respect for his teacher he remained silent.

A few days later a second incident occurred. While explaining a verse from
the Taittiriya Upanishad beginning with satyam jnanam anantam brahma, Yadava
said that Brahman was intelligence, truth, and the infinite. Hearing this
explanation, Ramanuja politely added, "Brahman is endowed with the qualities
of intelligence, truth, and the infinite. This means that He is not covered
by ignorance as are ordinary living entities, He is never untruthful, and
His energies are unlimited, not limited. The Supreme Brahman is the
reservoir of all good qualities, yet He is superior to those qualities, as
the sun globe is superior to sunlight."

The agitation which Yadava felt within his mind made his voice tremble. "You
young fool!" he shouted. "Your conclusions do not agree with those of
Shankara or any of the previous masters! If you are going to persist with
this useless talk about a personal God, why come here at all simply to waste
my time? Why don't you start your own school and teach whatever you like?
Now get out of my classroom immediately!"

As Ramanuja rose from his seat and quietly left the room, Yadava began to
reflect, "This Ramanuja is not an ordinary boy. If he starts his own school,
the philosophy of devotion might become a threat to the philosophy of
non-dualism. For the sake of preserving our doctrine, this fool should be
killed!"

Shortly thereafter, Ramanuja opened a small school at his home, and in no
time many people began to come to him to hear his devotional discourses.
Ramanuja's lectures were wholly theistic. He rejected the concept that the
jiva, a living entity, could be equal to the Supreme Brahman or become God
as postulated by Shankara. The living entity, Ramanuja taught, is a particle
of Godhead, and as such, his position is to serve the complete whole. He
said that as the hand is part of the body and thus a servant of the body,
similarly the living entity is part of the Supreme and thus his
constitutional position is to serve the Supreme.

Ramanuja's philosophy became known as visishtadwaita or qualified
non-dualism. Accordingly, the living entities are believed to be
qualitatively one with the Supreme and at the same time quantitatively
different. Ramanuja's assertion was that the quantitative difference means
that the fragmentary parts of the Supreme are dependent on the Supreme but
they cannot become the Supreme.

The philosophy of Shankara stated that everything is Brahman and Brahman
itself is absolutely homogeneous, undifferentiated, and without personality;
individuality arose only due to illusion or maya. But this concept was
staunchly opposed by Ramanuja. His philosophy stated that there can never be
knowledge of an unqualified object; knowledge necessarily points to an
object as characterized in some way. Ramanuja never admitted to an
attributeless, undifferentiated Brahman, but rather a Brahman which is an
attribute of a greater reality: Godhead Himself. He reasoned that as the
living entities are individual personalities, so too is the Supreme also a
personality-the Ultimate Personality.

Ramanuja further reasoned that if illusion could cover the identity of the
Supreme, then illusion was greater than Godhead. Therefore he asserted that
we are eternally individual personalities and the Supreme is eternally the
Supreme Personality, but due to our finite nature we are sometimes subject
to illusion.

Ramanuja also accepted the theory of transformation rejected by Shankara.
According to Shankara the material world is false; it has no existence
.Ramanuja, on the other hand, said that the material world is the energy of
Godhead, and the subjective reality does not undergo any change of substance
in the matter of material manifestation in the same way that a singer who
creates a song out of his own energy is not diminished due to his creation;
rather, he becomes more glorious.

Neither the material world nor the living entities are conceived of as being
independent of the Supreme Personality in the system of vtsishtadwaita
philosophy. The living entities are a different manifestation of the Supreme
due to their being endowed with free will, whereas the material energy is
manifest directly under the will of the Supreme. The free will of the living
entity is an all-important factor, since that free will is considered to be
the basic principle of reciprocal relations between Godhead and the living
entity.

Ramanuja presented the living entities' relationship with Godhead as being
one of eternal service. According to Ramanuja, when the living entities are
freed from the illusions produced by the material energy by the method of
devotion and natural love of GodDlike the dealings between an affectionate
servant and his masterD then the soul enters the spiritual sky known as
Vaikuntha. Once having reached the Vaikuntha world, the soul engages in
eternal service to the Supreme Person, Narayana (Vishnu). This sublime
message was daily imparted by Ramanuja to his listeners.

Seeing the growing popularity of Ramanuja and the influence which he had on
the people of Kanchi, the proud and arrogant Yadava Prakash became restless.
Gathering his faithful students by his side, Yadava said, "This impudent
Ramanuja is a heretic! He is a nuisance to society and a threat to our
doctrines of non-dualism. I can see

no other solution to the problem than to kill this rascal! What do you say?"
Yadava's disciples were in complete agreement with their teacher since they
too were envious of Ramanuja. Thus they devised a plan to kill him.

On the plea of worshipping the sacred river Ganges, Yadava and his disciples
made arrangements for a pilgrimage to Banaras and asked Ramanuja if he would
like to join them. Unsuspecting of their treacherous plan, Ramanuja accepted
the invitation. As the group was about to depart, Ramanuja requested his
cousin Govinda to accompany him. On the fourth day of their journey, Govinda
was taken into confidence by some of Yadava's younger students who disclosed
the plan to kill Ramanuja.

Shocked at the evil intentions of Yadava and his followers, Govinda took
Ramanuja to a secluded place in the forest and informed him of the danger.
Govinda requested Ramanuja to flee into the forest immediately before it was
too late.

Govinda then returned to the camp and told the others that while he and
Ramanuja were looking for wild berries in the forest, a tiger had pounced
upon Ramanuja and dragged his helpless body away. Outwardly Yadava and his
disciples displayed symptoms of sorrow, but inwardly their hearts leaped
with joy. Ramanuja was now gone from their lives forever. Or so they
thought.

While wandering across the countryside trying to find his way home, Ramanuja
came to a well where a man and woman were busy drawing water to take to
their village. The couple offered Ramanuja a cup of water to relieve his
thirst. After drinking, Ramanuja laid down to rest and fell into a dreamful
sleep. He dreamt that while walking in the forest he saw the incarnation of
Godhead Ramachandra and His consort Sitadevi, who showed him the way to his
village. When Ramanuja awoke from his dream, the man and woman at the well
were gone. As he looked around he saw that he was now on the outskirts of
Kanchi. How he had gotten there he could not ascertain, save and except that
it was by a miracle.

Ramanuja resumed his normal life at Kanchi and did not reveal to anyone that
his life had been in danger. Several months passed until one day, Yadava and
his disciples finally returned to Kanchi after completing their pilgrimage.
They were staggered at the sight of Ramanuja alive and conducting his school
as usual. Thinking that their plan might have been discovered, they became
fearful and abandoned any further plans to kill Ramanuja.

The fame of Ramanuja continued to spread far and wide. One day as Ramanuja
sat in the solitude of his study, a venerable saint named Yamunacharya came
to his door for alms. Extending his full courtesy, Ramanuja welcomed the
saint into his home. Ramanuja learned that Yamuna was from Sri Rangam, the
famous temple of Vishnu. In the course of their discussion, Ramanuja soon
realized that Yamunacharya was a qualified spiritual master of the science
of devotion. Overwhelmed with ecstasy and jubilation, Ramanuja fell at his
feet and asked to be accepted as his disciple.

Yamuna instantly raised Ramanuja up from the floor, and embracing him with
deep love, said, "My child, I am blessed today by seeing your devotion to
God. May you live a long and fruitful life always being intent in the
service of Narayana, the Personality of Godhead." Ramanuja then
circumnambulated his guru to invoke auspiciousness, and Yamuna left for Sri
Rangam

Now more than ever, Ramanuja preached the doctrine of devotion with strength
and conviction. So convincing was Ramanuja in his presentation that even
Yadava Prakash and his followers surrendered and became the disciples of
Ramanuja.

Then one day, a messenger came from Sri Rangam and informed Ramanuja that
his guru was ill and on the verge of death. Ramanuja immediately departed
for Sri Rangam, but was not able to reach there in time. Shortly before
Ramanuja arrived, Yamuna left his body and entered the blissful realm of
Vaikuntha.

Crossing- the river Kaveri, Ramanuja reached the island on which the temple
of Sri Rangam was located, and went directly to the place where his guru was
lying. Surrounded by a group of his disciples, Yamuna laid on a bed with his
eyes closed, his arms outstretched at his sides, and his face shining as if
immersed in thoughts of infinite beauty.

Momentarily, everyone's attention focused on Ramanuja as he entered the room
and came to sit by the side of his guru. Tears of love filled his eyes and
he wept, his heart feeling great separation from his master. The left hand
of Yamurva was poised in the yoga posture for peace, with three fingers
extended and the thumb and forefinger joined together at the tips. His right
hand, however, was at his side but clenched into a fist. All the disciples
were struck with wonder about the position of their guru's right hand. and
none of them could understand the meaning. As everyone looked on in wonder,
Ramanuja broke the silence by declaring, "Our guru. the revered
Yamunacharya. has three desires that he wishes to be fulfilled. I will
protect the people in general who are deluded by impersonalism by bestowing
upon them the nectar of surrender at the lotus feet of Narayana."

As Ramanuja spoke, one of the ! fingers on Yamuna's right hand extended
outward. Then Ramanuja said, "For the well-being of the people of the world,
I will prepare a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra that will establish the
Supreme Person as the ultimate reality." At this, a second finger extended,
and Ramanuja continued speaking. "And in order to honor Parasara Muni, who
in ancient times established the relation between jivas, I living entities,
and iswara. the Supreme Person, I shall name one of my disciples who is
greatly learned and devoted after him."

Ramanuja then became silent and the third finger on the right hand of Yamuna
extended. Everyone present was amazed to see this miracle, and from that day
on they all accepted Ramanuja as their leader and guide. Ramanuja continued
to live at Sri RanRam for the remainder of his life and in due course all
three vows were fulfilled by him.

Although he lived for many years as a successful householder, Ramanuja was
destined to accept the path of renunciation. Eventually he took up the
renounced order of life, sannyasa, by going before the deity in the temple
and praying to be exclusively engaged in the service of Godhead. From that
day forward Ramanuja always wore the the symbol of Narayana on his forehead,
dressed in saffron cloth, and carried the renunciate's three-sectioned
staff, which signified service to God by body, mind, and words.

So powerful was Ramanuja that the philosophers of non-dualism soon found it
difficult to maintain their position in any kingdom. Ramanuja established
the tenets of devotion so firmly that none could oppose him. Many great and
learned scholars came to hear him speak and became his disciples.

Feeling oppressed by the growing popularity of devotion, a certain group of
impersonalists went to see the Chola king, Krimikantha, at Kanchi. Bowing
humbly before the king, who was himself an impersonalist, they asked him to
do something to stop Ramanuja. After some discussion it was decided that the
king would invite Ramanuja to take part in a philosophical debate at the
palace. Thus the king's messengers were sent to Sri Rangam to fetch
Ramanuja. The king had it in mind to convert Ramanuja by force if necessary.
Once Ramanuja had been indoctrinated, he thought, then everyone in his
kingdom would return to the fold of Shankara.

After meeting with the king's messengers at Sri Rangam, Ramanuja prepared to
go to Kanchi. However Kuresh, a wise disciple of Ramanuja, did not trust the
intentions of the king. and pleaded with his guru to allow him to go in his
place. Kuresh insisted, and

Ramanuja had to submit. Kuresh then dressed in the saffron robes of his guru
and appeared before the messengers with staff in hand. Thinking Kuresh to be
Ramanuja they started for Kanchi. Meanwhile, dressed in white robes,
Ramanuja remained behind.

When Kuresh reached the palace, King Krimikantha greeted him with respect,
thinking him to be Ramanuja. But later, when Kuresh refused to he
intimidated by the behavior of the king, Krimikantha, in a mad rage, ordered
his soldiers to arrest Kuresh and burnt his eyes out. The king s men took
Kuresh to a prison, and after blinding him, released him in the forest.
During the entire horrifying experience Kuresh never once protested. He
found strength within knowing that his guru was safe.

With the help of some people from Kanchi who were appalled by the action of
the king, Kuresh was able to rejoin his guru at Sri Rangam. Within a matter
of days after committing that grave offense against Kuresh, King Krimikantha
was stricken with an incurable disease and died a miserable death.

At Sri Rangam. Ramanuja took Kuresh before the deity of Narayana, and with
fervent prayers asked the deity to restore his sight. O master of the
universe, You are the protector and well-wisher of Your devotees. Kindly be
merciful and renew the eyes of Kuresh, who without protest has made the
supreme sacrifice. At that very moment Kuresh felt a gentle breeze blow
across his brow and he immediately regained his sight.

Ramanuja continued living at Sri Rangam, serving the deity of Narayana and
imparting enlightenment to whoever came to him until he was 120 years old.
One day while worshipping the deity, he prayed, Dear God, whatever I could
do to preserve the essence of the Vedas, to uplift the fallen souls, and to
establish the shelter of Your lotus feet as the supreme goal in life, I have
done. Now my body has grown tired after many years in this world. Kindly
allow me to depart from this mortal world and enter Your supreme abode."

With this prayer Ramanuja returned to the assembly of his disciples and
announced his desire to depart from this world. Thrown into an ocean of
grief, the disciples clasped the feet of their guru and petitioned him to
remain with them. It is unbearable for us to conceive of the disappearance
of your divine form, which is the supreme purifier, the abode of all that is
good. the destroyer of all afflictions, and the fountain of unlimited joy.
Out of pity for your children. please stay with us for some time longer."

Ramanuja remained on Earth for three more days. To appease their afflicted
hearts. Ramanuja spoke his last instructions to those who were most near and
dear to him. always remain in the company of and serve those souls devoted
to Godhead just as you would serve your own spiritual preceptor. Have faith
in the teachings of the Vedas and in the words of the great saints. Never
become the slave of your senses: always strive to conquer the three great
enemies of self-realization: lust. anger, an(l greed. Worship Narayana and
take pleasure in uttering the holy names of God as your only refuge.
Sincerely serve the devotees of Godhead: by service to the great devotees,
the highest service is done and one quickly gains the supreme mercy.
Remembering these things you should live happily in this world for the
attainment of the next. "With these departing words, Ramanuja, keeping his
head on the lap of Govinda and his mind fixed in spiritual trance,
relinquished his mortal body and entered the realm of Vaikuntha.

Ramanuja was indeed a great theologian whose life and teachings have had a
lasting influence on the development of theistic thought in India.
Ramanuja's introduction of the Godhead as the absolute entity with
supersubjective characteristics and his having pioneered the dawning of
devotion to Godhead opened the door for future theistic reformers who would
in due course fully reveal the highest potential of the soul in a loving
relationship with God and His eternal servants.

"I take refuge at the feet of Sri Ramanuja, our venerable master, who,
during the dark night of the impersonal conception of divinity, carried the
torch light of knowledge and thus illuminated the path of devotion to the
Personality of Godhead.

Ramanuja's Literary Contributions:

  1. Vedartha-Sangraha - A treatise presenting the tenets of Visistadwaita,
     a reconciliation of different conflicting srutis.
  2. Sri Bhasya - A detailed commentary on the Vedanta Sutras.
  3. Gita-Bhasya - A detailed commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita.
  4. Vedanta-Dipa - A brief commentary on the Vedanta Sutras.
  5. Vedanta-Sara - Another brief commentary on the Vedanta Sutras and meant
     for beginners.
  6. Saranagati-Gadya and Sri Ranga-Gadya - Manuals of self surrender to
     Lord Visnu.
  7. Sri Vaikuntha-Gadya - Describes Sri Vaikuntha-loka and the position of
     the liberated souls.
  8. Nitya-Grantha - A short manual intended to guide the Sri Vaishnava
     devotees.

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