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bandhus & jantus

From: sudarshan (lucasfie_at_md2.vsnl.net.in)
Date: Sat Jun 20 1998 - 21:19:04 PDT

srimathe lakshmi-nrsimha parabrahmane namaha
sri vedanta gurave namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

In the last post a pretty formidable question loomed before us viz.:

"How does one ascertain for oneself that one has arrived at an intuitive
awareness of "cosmic orphan-hood" or, in other words, that one is a true
"akinchanAn"?

We answered tentatively by referring to the simple "test" devised for the
purpose by our "AchAryA-s", the great Masters of the Vaishnava tradition. 

According to the Masters we may be said to "test positive" for
"akinchinatvam" when, at some point in the sojourn through life, the
realization dawns, either gradually or suddenly, on us that those whom we
long regarded as our "bandhu-s", our loving kinsmen, have, alas, forsaken
us. 

Centuries ago in the holy town of Tiruvarangam, Tondar-adi-podi AzhwAr
spoke  of his own "akinchinatvam"-- of his acute awareness of being an
absolutely helpless "cosmic orphan". In just a couple of short but
heartrending phrases -- especially in verses#29 & #31 of his famous poem
known as the "tirumAlai" -- the 'AzhwAr' immortalised the predicament of
Man as the "orphaned" "jantu" of Creation:

"oorilEn kAniyillai, ooravu-matruvar-illai…en kannanE! kadharu-ginrEn…!"
("Won't Thou hear me, my Lord … me the forsaken one to whom neither clod
nor kin in this world belong…!")

and then again,

"tavattullAr tammil-allEn,dhanam-padaittha tAril-allEn,
 uvarttha-neer pOla endhan uttravarkku-onrum-allEn...."
(What am I, my Lord! Naught a man of wisdom 
 nor a wealthy one...
 My kinsmen, my "bandhu-s", no doubt,
 Have as much use for me as 
 There is for the sullage
 Streaming through the gutters 
 (Lined along the lanes of Tiruvarangam)!"   

This 'test of "akinchinatvam" or "kArpannyam"', that cosmic helplessness
extolled by Swami Desikan as "mahAdhanam" (the priceless wealth of the
spiritual aspirant), that special "test" needs further explaining and I'm
afraid we might have to look a little closer again than before at the
meaning of the Sanskrit term "bandhu".

"bandhu" is a derivative of the word "bandham". Many of you may have come
across other derivatives like "bandhan" (in Hindustani), "sam-bandham" or
"sam-bandhi" (quite common amongst Tamil-speaking peoples).

"bandham" (or the Hindustani "bandhan") means "that which binds" or holds
together. When two entities are bonded, chained or braided together there
is said to be between them a "bandham". (I am no student of linguist but I
am strongly tempted to conclude that even the English words "bind" and
"bonding" must have their philological root in the Sanskrit "bandham"!) 

When two persons are bonded together in blood they become "bandhu-s" to
each other.

When two families are brought together by a matrimonial pact they become
"saha-bandhus" or, to use the Tamil colloquial, "sambandhi" to each other.

When two parties, say, communities or social groups, become bonded by some
sort of common covenant or interest then they are said to have forged a
"sambandham" between each other. They are said to have struck an
inalienable nexus with each other.

All forms of human society, from the simple household to the complex
corporate organization, are indeed nothing but intimate web-work of
"sambandham-s" or nexus of relationships, isn't it?

In the same vein, if you think deeply about it in a very universal sense,
our individual self too is nothing but a determinate of the various
"sambandhams" we build around ourselves in life. 

Consider this for a moment please:

At any point in our lives, when we put to ourselves the question, "Who am
I?" would we be able to ever define or identify ourselves without invoking
some relationship or the other -- some "sambandham" or other -- with the
outside world?

None of us, truly speaking, has actually any idea of who we are except in
terms of the several ways in which we may happen to relate to the world at
a given moment in our life. Thus, we know ourselves only as somebody's son,
somebody's spouse, somebody's parent, somebody's friend or then perhaps, as
somebody's employee, somebody's research assistant, somebody's professor,
somebody's paramour, somebody's bete-noire, somebody's great hope,
somebody's enemy…. The list will go on almost endlessly if you care to
enumerate.

Yes, the simple truth is that it is the "bandhu-s" in our life, or those
with whom we have forged various "sambandham-s", who really define or
determine WHAT and WHO we think we really are. In fact, very often there is
really no way one can see one's real self except for what is mirrored of it
in our relationships with "bandhu-s". 

Thus, for example, if our parents are happy and proud of us, we at once see
ourselves as good and dutiful offspring. If our wife is cheerful and
contented in life we gather enough courage to happily presume we are
reasonably good husbands! If the company or employer we work for is making
steady profits, we consider ourselves as dashingly successful "corporate
executives" or "businessmen". If our professor gives us good grades we let
it be known we are exemplar students or scholars…and so on and so forth…  

Our "AchAryA-s" quite rightly, therefore, point out that there seems to be
no measure in the world with which to understand or plumb our true selves
other than the yardstick of our relations with our "bandhu-s", and the
nature or quality of the "bandham" with them.

Indeed, take away all our "bandhu-s" from us and we would be reduced
instantly to existential ciphers! We would lose sight of who we are! The
world, and our life in it, would suddenly make no sense to us at all!

Now, in the case of a "jantu" other than Man viz. animal, we know the
feeling of mutual kinship or bonding ("bandham") amongst members of a
species is actually even stronger than it is amongst humans. 

Which is why we give that sort of "bandham" a rather special name... "HERD
INSTINCT", right? 

So strong indeed is this "bandham" amongst animals that we know many of
them simply cannot live outside their respective community. Elephants,
cattle and deer stray from the "herd", if ever, only to be slayed by a
predator. Pigeons and wild geese always fly around in "flocks". Monkeys and
other great apes of the forests know of no existence outside their "clan".
In the deepest waters fish thrive only in "shoals" and dolphins in
"schools"…! 

Next to the instinct for survival and self-preservation, thus, it is the
feeling of "bandhu-hood", the thing we call "herd-instinct", which perhaps,
is the most primal and compulsive in all of the animal kingdom, isn't it? 

Now, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", if you have been closely following the drift
of what has been explained above, I'm sure you will have no trouble in
understanding the "kArpannya" principle illustrated by the great Masters of
the SriVaishnava "sampradAyam" in 3 separate episodes from the
"purAnA-s/itihAsA-s" viz: 

(A) Gajendra, the elephant 
(B) Vibhishana, the 'rAkshasa', in the great story of the Ramayana
(C) Draupadi, the beloved of the 5 Pandava princes in the epic    
    Mahabharatha

The doctrinal nuances of 'kArpannyam' are nowhere so well and vividly
illustrated by our wise old "AchAryA-s" than in the dramatic sequences of
the aforementioned "purAnic" stage. In all the annals of religious legend
in SriVaishnavism, they must surely reckon, in my humble opinion, as
"All-time Greats"!

If we show some patience and care to reflect a little deeply on the
episodes we might get an inkling of what the so-called 'test of
"akinchinatvam"' signifies and how indeed it applies to our dear friend the
"cosmic orphan"-- the one undone by the "bandhus" of this earth!
 
We will examine each of them in some detail in the following posts.
Hopefully, and eventually perhaps, we should acquire a deeper understanding
of why Swami Desikan, our beloved "kavi-simham", hails the Lord as
"bandhumakhilasya-janto-ho"!

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yatindra mahadesikaya namaha
sudarshan