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thirunakshatram of Sri Pillai Lokacharya

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_srirangam.esd.sgi.com)
Date: Tue Oct 31 1995 - 16:50:11 PST

Today is the thirunakshatram (birth anniversary) of Sri
Pillai Lokacharya (c. 13th-14th centuries A.D.), a great
acharya of Sri Vaishnavism and senior contemporary of Sri
Vedanta Desika.  He was reknowned for his catholicity of 
spirit and lucidity of exposition.  Many of his works were 
written with the expressed purpose of explaining the higher
doctrines of Sri Vaishnavism to the less literate members 
of the community.

Pillai Lokacharya was born in a family known for its
erudition and devotion.  His father was Vadakku Thiruveedhi
Pillai, the author of the Eedu Vyaakhyaanam, the famed
commentary on Nammaazhvaar's Thiruvaaymozhi written at the
dictation of his teacher, Nampillai (Lokacharya).  Since
Vadakku Thiruveedhi Pillai's wife gave birth to a son
through the blessings of Nampillai, the baby was named
Lokacharya Pillai, later transposed to Pillai Lokacharya.  A
second son, Azhagiya MaNavaaLa PerumaaL Naayanaar, was born
to the couple at the blessing of Azhagiya MaNavaaLan, Sri
Ranganaatha PerumaaL Himself.  This acharya died at an early
age, but not before producing a very deep treatise on the
teachings of Nammaazhvaar, the Achaarya Hridayam.

Both Pillai Lokacharya and his brother remained lifelong
brahmacharis, and indeed, the works of both the acharyas
seem to favor such a life.  Both spent most of their time in
Srirangam, with Sri Lokacharya attracting a large number of
disciples, both male and female, from all sections of
society.  Late in life Sri Lokacharya was forced to flee
Srirangam due to the invasion of Malik Kafur.  He carried
the utsava moorthi of Ranganatha away with him to prevent
its destruction by the invaders. Exhausted by the frantic
journey, he died a short time later at the village of
Jyotishkudi.

Sri Lokacharya produced 18 treatises, later known
collectively as the AshtaadaSa Rahasya or ``Eighteen
Esoteric Teachings.'' Of these, the most important are the

    (1) Tattva Trayam, a Sanskrit work summarizing the
        Visishtadvaita conception of reality; 
    (2) the Mumukshuppadi, a MaNipravaaLa (Sanskritized Tamil) 
        work on the three supreme mysteries of the Sri
        Vaishnava religion (ashtaaksharam -- "om namo naraayaNaaya", 
        dvaya mantram, and the charama slokam -- Gita verse 18.66); 
    (3) and Sri Vachana BhushaNam, a collection of 
        ``ornaments of sayings'' of the Azhvaars and
        Acharyas, explaining the nature of God, the self, bhakti,
        and prapatti.  

Together with the Achaarya Hridayam and the works of Vedanta
Desika, these are the most important doctrinal texts of Sri
Vaishnavism.

Pillai Lokacharya was an exemplary representative of
``Ubhaya Vedanta'', the tradition based upon both the
Sanskrit Upanishads and the Azhvars' Divya Prabandham.
Utilizing the Vedanta as expounded by Sri Ramanuja, the
background of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the doctrines of
the Paancaraatra, and the sayings of the Azhvaars, he wrote
several independent works propounding the philosophy of
self-surrender and explaining the conduct of a true
prapanna.  The style and content of his writings show a man
especially concerned with communicating Vaishnavism to the
uninitiated masses of South India.  He was the first to
write independent rahasya granthas that presented the deeper
meaning of Vedanta in the vernacular.  Given this and his
liberal views on caste, he was a true successor to the
social tradition of Nammaazhvaar and Ramanuja.

It is recorded that some prominent Sri Vaishnavas once
objected to Sri Lokacharya's teachings concerning the status
of Bhagavatas.  Sri Lokacharya writes in the Sri Vachana
Bhushana that the Bhagavata status transcends caste -- even
though one may be born from the lowest caste, such a one is
to be given the highest honor and service.  The story goes
that the complaint was taken up by Azhagiya MaNavaaLa
PerumaaL Naayanaar in the presence of Sri Ranganaatha
Himself, and that the Lord through the priest vindicated Sri
Lokacharya before the Sri Vaishnava community.

The works of Pillai Lokacharya and his brother have come to
us due to the great efforts of Sri MaNavaaLa MaamunigaL, who
wrote lucid commentaries explaining the difficult portions
of the texts in simple Tamil.  I have had very little
exposure to these granthas, but even from my limited
experience, I can safely say that they deserve to be studied
by all.

                            -----

	lokaachaaryaaya gurave kRshNapaadasya sUnave |
	samsaara bhogasandashTa jIvajIvaatave namaH ||

                            -----

[Life story based on the introduction to "Sri Vachana
 Bhushana of Pillai Lokacharya", by Robert C. Lester.]

Mani