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bandhus & jantus

From: R.Balaji (
Date: Thu Jun 11 1998 - 05:27:19 PDT

srimathe lakshmi-nrsimha parabrahmane namaha
sri vedanta gurave namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

You will be surprised to know that much of Vedic and Vedantic scripture
(the Srutis, Upanishads) and much of Veda-inspired literature like the
"puranA-s" and "itihAsA-s" also brim with references and allusions to
the "cosmic orphan-hood" of the human species! 

In SriVaishnava tradition the sense of cosmic desolation or helplessness
felt by Man (described briefly in my last post on Loren Eisely) is
variously described in Sanskrit as "kArpannyam", "AkInchanatvam" and
"naichyAnusandhAna". The 4000 verses of the Azwarís "divya-prabhandhams"
and the magnificent compositions of SriRamanuja, Kuresan, Bhattar and
Swami Desikan are all deeply interwoven around the common leitmotif of
the essential orphan-hood of Man.

Objective and scientific inquiry, on the one hand, and deeply personal
and religious experience, on the other, converge in some rare cases, as
in this instance, onto the same lofty Truth! It is what perhaps led even
the hard-nosed English logician and philosopher, John Stuart Mill, to
once admit, "There are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be
realized until personal experience has brought it home."  
Amazingly, the sense of manís "cosmic orphan-hood", spoken of in rather
grim and morbid terms by modern science, is regarded in the Vedantic
tradition, in fact, as an unqualified blessing for him! Manís deep sense
of his cosmic disenfranchisement, seen by modern science to be some kind
of fatal flaw in his biological character and make-up is regarded,
however, in the Vedic religion to be Godís best opportunity to reclaim

In the SriVaishnava tradition, the pathway "from orphan-hood to Godhead"
is actually a well-beaten, oft-travelled route for the human spirit that
wishes to soar!

Through a plethora of "purAnic" lore and devotional poetry, the Vedic
masters affirm, again and again, that when true awareness of being a
"cosmic orphan" -Ė of being utterly helpless ("AkInchanan") and
abandoned in a spiritual desert ó- when such awareness dawns in a manÖ
or in any "jantu" for that matterÖ you can be sure the great journey 
to God-realization has well and truly begun!

Great spiritual Masters actually hail "AkInchanatvam" as the greatest
manna that heaven can bestow on man. The sense of being a "cosmic
orphan" is in fact declared by Swami Desikan in a verse of extremely
intense feeling (in the "Dehaleesa-stuti"-Verse#25) to
be Manís "mahA-dhanam" ie. "priceless, measureless wealth" conferred on
man by the gods:

     "manyE dayAr-dahrdayEna mahA-dhanam may
         dhat-tham tvayE-damanapAya-akinchana-tvam I
      yEna sthanan-Dhayamiva svahitA-naBhighnyam
         nyAsIkarOshi nijapAda-sarO-ruhay mAm       II

My free translation of the central idea in the verse: 

     "Mighty indeed is an infantís frailty 
       That dost make mothers
       Tremble with love 
       And scurry
      To suckle their little one!

      Such is mine own strength too
      My Lord!
      My destitution, my pitiable state
      Which verily is my riches, 
      Shalt surely, by and by,
      Bring Thee to me!
We see here a curious irony if we look closely:

Both the religious mystic and the modern scientist, no doubt, come to
the same intuitive awareness of the "cosmic orphan" that Man is.

To the scientist such awareness presents itself (as it obviously did  
in the case of Loren Eisely) merely as a spiritual dead-end --- an
experience of Manís  metaphysical and terminal desolation on earthÖ

But the great Vedic "AchAryA-s" go forward and far beyond scientific

To the great Masters the awareness of "orphan-hood", of "kArpannyam" or
of Manís spiritual helplessness in the face of a terrifying Cosmos,
presents itself as opportunity for Manís redemption from the plight of
his own humanity. It is opportunity for man to become "un-flawed" in his
natural state, to become "un-incomplete", to turn "un-unfinished", as it
were --- and to be able to reach for the Heavens themselves, so to say!

We see therefore, in this case, that where Science confronts a
cul-de-sac Religion beholds instead a veritable Gateway to Heaven! When
Science tends to slink away into a mood of philosophical despondency,
Religion holds out the glimmer of hope and of faith for Man!

Next we must ask ourselves some important questions: 

We say that the dawn of "AkInchanatvam" or awareness of "cosmic
orphan-hood" in a man -- or in any "jantu" -- is his first step taken
towards Godhead.  

How are we to know,in the first place, that such an awareness has been
born in us ?

How do we recognize within our hearts the experience of "kArpannyam"?

Many of us at some time in our lives have, on a sultry night perhaps,sat
on a terraced balcony at home and gazed into the night sky. We may have
then turned a little contemplative as we watched the stillness of the
empty spaces vaulting above us. On such occasions of brief but profound
reflection, we find ourselves suddenly struck by the awesome mysteries
of the heavenly spheres. It is then we realize, rather uneasily perhaps,
how puny and inconsequential we really are in the great cosmic scheme of
things! We actually sense how helpless and abject ("akInchina") we
really are as "jantus" or as plain and simple beings of nature!

Are we right to conclude, in such moments, that true awareness of Manís
great "cosmic orphan-hood" has actually dawned on us? 

If so, then as the "AchAryA-s" have revealed, are we all well on our way
to spiritual enlightenment?

If it took only an evening of gazing into the night sky from the balcony
in our homes to arrive at the awareness of Man being a "cosmic orphan",
then, would the Loren Eiselys of the world earn or deserve half the
eminence they command in the world today? Or would 
we all ever be moved to hold the "AzhwArs" or Swami Desikan in so mcuh
esteem and with so much awe and reverence? 

No, true insight into Manís "kArpannyam" does not come that easily. It
arrives but rarely amongst men and when it does it is usually
accompanied by searing pain in the soul and copious tears from the
heartÖ the sort which is evident in the poetry of the "AzhwArs" and
Swami Desikan.

The question nevertheless keeps nagging us, doesn't it:

"How do we ascertain for ourselves that we have arrived at an intuitive
awareness of our "AkInchanatvam" or of our being "cosmic orphans of

The "AchAryA-s" have devised a simple test to help us answer the above

The test is this: 

"When we have begun to understand that our earthly "bandhu-s" have
forsaken us, then indeed do we turn true "AkInchanA-s"(cosmic orphans)
on the road to God-realization."

Now what do the "AchAryA-s" mean by this?

We shall examine the question in the next post.

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yatindra mahadesikaya namaha