You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : March 1997

"prapadyE"-2

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Mon Mar 10 1997 - 23:47:16 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha para-brahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

The salutary word "prapadyE" is roughly translated into English as : "to
take refuge/shelter".

We observed in the last post that the above translation is a gross
approximation of the Sanskrit original, especially when considered in the
context of the SriVaishnava doctrine of "prappati". This is because the
expression "to take refuge or shelter" essentially conveys "passivity"
whereas "prapadyE" is a "dynamic" concept.

Let me explain "passivity" and "dynamism" in a simple way we can all understand.

When we say "take refuge or shelter" there are some images that come
immediately to our minds, isn't it ? For instance, it brings to mind, say,
someone who is caught outdoors in a thundershower and hence runs for cover
and "takes shelter" under a way-side tree or tin-roof.

Or, to take another instance, it brings to mind the image of a fugitive
eluding something or someone and who seeks and obtains protective sanctuary
somewhere, someplace.

Now, look closely and you will find that in either of the two examples, the
expression -- "to take refuge or shelter"-- does convey a distinct flavour
of "passivity" that is INHERENT IN THE VERY ACT of seeking "protective
sanctuary".

By "passivity" is meant that once "sanctuary" is obtained no "further action
or deed" is required of he/she who takes such refuge or shelter. In our
example, the person who scurries for cover in a downpour, by the VERY ACT
and in the VERY MOMENT of huddling under a tree-branch, obtains the
"shelter" he seeks, doesn't he ? Therefter he/she merely has to remain --
immobile and "passive" -- under the tree to continue receiving and enjoying
the "protection" from the downpour.

In the SriVaishnava doctrine of "prappati" (surrender), too, it is the same
subtle but specific shade of meaning -- viz. "passivity", as explained above
-- that is attributed to the act of "seeking shelter or refuge from the
Lord". The belief in "prapatti", as we know, is strongly rooted in the
recognition that he/she who has performed "prappati" -- implicit in the
exclamation "prapadyE !" -- can rest happily and, indeed, must remain
"passive" thereafter to continue receiving the "guarantee" of protection
from the Lord. 

In Verse#18 of a hymn called "nyAsa-vimshati" Swami Desikan pointedly hints
at this "passivity" :

"tvam mE gOpAyithAs~yAstvayi nihitha-bharOsmyEva-mithyar-pithAthmA; 
yasmai sa nyastabhAraha sakrdatha thu sadA na prayasyEth thadhartham."

Now, you might, perhaps, choose to call such "passivity" by another name
viz."steadfastness", but then there is an element of "impassivity" in
"steadfastness" too, isn't there !? 

So if we grant all the above for a moment, then the question to next ask of
ourselves is : don't both expressions -- "prapadyE" and its English
equivalent, "to take refuge/shelter" -- at first glance, seem to connote the
same degree and nature of "passivity" ? If so, why should the English
translation be held to be "approximate" ? On the contrary, isn't it rather
perfect ?

On closer examination, however, we find the "passivity" connoted by the
English term is not quite the same as the one suggested by the Sanskrit term
"prapadyE".

"prapadyE", in the specific milieu of SriVaishnava doctrine, hints at a
"dynamic" rather than a "static" act of "taking refuge". 

We would be wrong in understanding the "passivity" of "prapadyE" as akin to
that of our good friend who takes "shelter" under a tree-branch from
thunder-showers; and thereafter merrily sits doing nothing except watch the
raindrops dancing around him and listen to their soft, pitter-patter sounds !! 

We MUST, instead, probe and understand the word "prapadyE" at a deeper
doctrinal level ! 

To begin doing that we must first know that the refuge-seeker ("prapanna")
who utters "prapadyE" is a person altogether different from our friend under
the tree-branch !

How ?

A "prapanna" is "different" in that it is not merely cessation of a state of
discomfiture -- or relief from a condition of personal travail -- that
he/she seeks. (If that were the case then the commonplace English
translation "seek refuge/shelter" would suffice indeed). The "refuge" sought
by a 'prapanna' is not merely one that provides "RELIEF from an EXTERNAL
state or condition"; instead, it is one that "TRANSFORMS" the "INTERNAL
condition or state" of the refuge-seeker himself !!

To repeat, it is not merely for cessation of personal travails that one
seeks such "refuge" through the exclamation, "prapadyE !"; much more
importantly, refuge is sought for transformation of the "personal condition"
itself !

If you are a student of the modern discipline called "Organization &
Management" you might be able to appreciate the above distinction by the
following analogy:

When we exclaim "prapadyE!" what we may be said to seek is a "PARADIGM-SHIFT"!
 
By translating it into "taking refuge or shelter", however, all that we
might be conveying is little more than : "we seek PROCESS RE-ENGINEERING" !!

If you do not care for "management mumbo-jumbo", dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",
and prefer plain English to distinguish between the "static" and "dynamic"
profiles of "prapadyE", please see if imagining the following helps you
grasp the essence of what I am trying to say :

If a political defector from the erstwhile USSR sought "refuge or shelter"
in the USA, you might say he is simply seeking "political asylum".

If the same defector, in the very ACT and MOMENT of seeking "asylum", also
became entitled, under some special covenant of the United States
Constitution, to hold the Office of the President of the United States
itself, how would it be called ?!

"Dynamic refuge-seeking", perhaps ?!!

                 ******************************************

I will now leave you, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s" to reflect on all the above
fine distinctions of "prapadyE" before proceeding in the next post of mine
to a "literary appreciation" of the delightful ways the word has been used
by Swami Desikan in the 5 "stOtrA-s" named earlier viz.

(A) Daya Satakam (B) AshtabhUjAshtakam (C)Sri StUthi (D)Bhu StUthi
(E)GodastUthi.

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha

sudarshan