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From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Thu May 08 1997 - 14:03:34 PDT
Dear Bhaktas, I have a few more thoughts on what I understand to be our Alvars' and Acharyas' idea of grace. The key idea we should keep in mind is this: it is not so much He who responds to our prayers or requests, as much as we who respond to His everpresent grace. God's initiating grace is present prior to our very existence, since creation itself is a manifestation of this grace. If there is any way by which we even begin to turn our thoughts in the direction of the Divine, it is because of the thiruvaruL of PerumaaL. God's grace is the very foundation of any relationship with Him, and as such can never be undervalued. Time and time again, Nammalvar denies that it is any quality in him that "prompts" or "evokes" the grace of God. It is no question of being worthy, compared to other beings, of the grace of God, or a question of "earning" the experience of Him. He declares "neecan enniRai onRum ilEn" (tvm 3.3.4) -- I am low and without any merit whatsoever, but yet He continues to bless me. This is identical to Sri ManavaaLa MaamunigaL's view that there is no need to prompt Him for his thiruvaruL; nor is it different from Sri Desika's reminder to never think of prapatti as the cause of moksha. In other words, God's making Himself accessible is not induced by us; He is always accessible should we allow ourselves to realize His grace. It is no exaggeration to say that God desires us to realize Him far more than we desire to go to Him. This is what is so apparent in Nammalvar's poems: we would not even have the smallest inclination toward Him had He not condescended and made Himself accessible in the first place. aazhvaar emberumaanaar dhesikan jeeyar thiruvadigaLE saraNam Mani P.S: In the end, it is perhaps futile to try to actually ascertain a causal relationship between grace and any human effort to "procure" it. Nammalvar describes this vividly, speaking of the Lord showing him the path, his finding refuge, and of his realization that nothing he could do or give could be sufficient payback for this supreme gift of grace: aaRenakku nin paadhamE saraNaagath thandhozhindhaay, unakku Or kaim maaRu naan onRilEn enadhaaviyum unadhE sEru koLkarum pumperuncennellum malithan sireevaramangai naaRu poondhan thuzhaaymudiyaay! dheyva naayaganE! -- thiruvaaymozhi 5.7.10 You have given me your feet where I find my only refuge I have nothing to give in return my soul too is yours O resident of cool Sri Varamangai where stalks of sugarcane and paddy grow tall O Lord of celestials wearing the cool fragrant Tulasi crown! Without denying the reality of human volition before relying on His grace, nor denying the primacy and ever-existent nature of this grace to begin with, I believe we can all appreciate the wonderful mystery expressed by Nammalvar.