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Thirumantram

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Tue Oct 08 1996 - 02:21:54 PDT

I have been following the net with growing interest the past few days a
debate of high quality amongst 'bhAgavattotamas' of this group on the
subject of the propriety of freely broadcasting certain sacrosant 'mantras'
like the 'thirmantram' through the net or otherwise. Unfortunately Vaishnava
'sampradayam' does not seem to have an unambiguous position on this matter
to dispel doubts that arise in this regard.The matter is not made any less
complicated by the fact that there are indeed weighty and most reasonable
arguments to put forward in favour of either opposing views.

Inveterate Vaishnavism has a 'sampradayam'--- and a very wise one, indeed
-- that in the matter of such doubt we must look for resolution not amongst
ourselves but appeal to the wisdom of what our various "achaaryas" have
reflected on the subject. When referring to the appellate authority of the
"achaaryas" we must bear in mind that they often speak in terms of subtle
nuance.Sometimes what they merely imply is more important than what they
have said explicitly.This is the wonder of the reticence of most of our
great 'achaaryas'.Most often it requires a very spiritually advanced mind to
appreciate the underlying spirit of what they have said long after the heat
of debate on the letter of their utterances has died down.

"BhAgavattotamas" must indulge me in my parrot-like re-production below of
the central ideas on this subject that I have heard being elaborated in the
past by "Ubhaya Vedanta" swamis at various 'upanyasams' and 'kalapshemams' I
have had the good fortune to attend over the years. If there are any errors
they may be attributed to my poor recollection and inadequate understanding.
They may please be forgiven as the natural clumsiness of the spiritual
novice that I am.

1)"Mantras" are acoustic symbols of a higher spiritual reality. 
2)Dhyana of these mantras facilitate the spiritual aspirant's realization of
the reality it symbolises.
3) Mantras being essentially acoustic in nature, they have to be learnt from
an 'achaarya' adept in its practice and not from all and sundry.
4) Mantras being acoustic in essence have to learnt by "word of mouth", so
to say, at the feet of an 'achaarya'and not through the medium of the
written word or through other modern accessories and appliances like
cassettes, CDs etc.
5) The reason for the above restrictions are that "mantras" being acoustic
in essence have inviolable phonetic features (lakshaNangal) like
'sruti','swaram', 'mAtr'; to these one may add, using the idiom of classical
Carnatic music, the feature called "manOdharma" or the mental "fitness" of
he who articulates the 'mantra'.Lack of such "fitness" can also be fatal to
the spiritual aspirant's progress as surely as jogging can be to someone who
is unaware he has a heart condition.
6) Improper articulation/enunciation of the "mantra" will mutilate its
essential form and far from facilitating the spiritual aspirant's progress
towards the reality he aims for, it will positively impair his efforts.
"Krama" is of utmost importance in "mantrOtchAraNam"."A-kramam"-ic
articulation leads to "anar-tham" and the disfiguration of the acoustic
symbol. That leads sometimes to the conveyance of meanings opposed to the
esoteric original."BhAgavatOttamas" in the group who have a background in
mathematics can appreciate how the mutilation of a symbol in a complex
equation can reduce a line of mathematical reasoning to absurdity and
produce erroneous results e.g.as a very simple example imagine employing the
symbol for differentiation in a problem involving integral calculus. 
7)Improper "Utcharippu" can also cause physical discomfort and infirmities.
It must be remembered that the proper articulation of the acoustic symbol is
known to create and set off a complex of sonar/magnetic/electrical/psychic
effects and phenomenon in the body and mind.Here one has to remember that it
is only at a certain critical sound frequency that crystal glass is known to
splinter.
8)From the point of view of pure faith, improper "Utcharippu" also is said
to insult the "devata" or spirit resident in the "mantra".A very humorous
example is often given by learned "swamis" which Tamil-speaking
"bhAgavatOttamas" may appreciate. There are many ways to articulate the
expression of welcome used to beckon guests into one's house. You can say
"vAngO" using inflections signifying joy in receiving them as in
"vAngO,vAngO....VAngO". Contrariwise, by simply extending the second
syallable in the word one can easily convey the opposite of welcome to the
guest by saying "VAAAngO". Combined with the use of appropriate
"body-language" to convey the message, one can indeed use the change in
inflection of the voice to devastating effect when using this particular word !

It is for the above reasons that our "achaaryas" have laid down that one
needs to handle the matter of "mantras" with the utmost circumspection. A
cavalier attitude in using it, articulating it, broadcasting it and debating
on it is generally frowned upon by the orthodoxy.

Having said so much, one must also mention the kindness and prescient wisdom
of our achaaryas who seem otherwise so stern and inflexible in this
regard.They foresaw that the spiritual aspirant of every age (even in the
age of the Internet), would tend to be impatient with such strictures and
restrictions regarding "mantrOtchAraNam" (especially given the popular
belief that "mantra" easily paves the way for spiritual progress and
external restrictions on its use that may be imposed may be seen to be a
conspiracy of the "pandits" against the hoi-polloi). They even feared that
ordinary untutored aspirants like most of us would tend to flout such
restrictions in our misplaced zeal to progress towards our spiritual
goals.And in the process we would become prone to the negative effects of
"a-kramam"-ic "UtchAraNam" of mantras.  

In their deep love and concern for us and to prevent us from falling into
such a treacherous condition, it is said, our great "achaaryas" set out to
make things easy for us.They did this by the wonderful contrivance of
embedding the esoteric and sacred 'mantras' in their devotional works of
verse.Untutored aspirants by merely reciting these works of theirs thus were
enabled to articulate the "mantras" without exposing themselves to the
dangers of "a-kramam"-ic "Utcharippu".

We only have to recollect a few examples to be convinced of the great
kindness that our "achaaryas" have shown us in this regard.

Look at the first 3 stanzas of the Vishnu Sahasranamam as it emanated from
the mouth of the Great Bhishma and as recorded by that most wonderful of
sages,Vyasa.
Starting with "VishnUm, VishnUrva ....." until the end of the third which
ends with " ... Kesava: PurushOttamah:".
If you count the number of "namas" in the three verses you will arrive at a
sum of 24 which is a multiple of 8 or the "ashtakshara". It is said that by
reciting the first 3 verses of the Sahasranamam itself one can reap the
benefit of articulating the Gayatri,Dvaya and Tirumantram.Which is why even
those who are not recipients of "brahmOpadesa" are urged to recite the
Sahasranamam so that they too can realise the same benefits as accrue to
those who cherish the esoteric "gayatri" mantra.

Or consider the first three verses of "Amalanadipiran" of TiruPaNazhvar.The
first pasuram beginning with "AmalanAdhipiran....." has as its first
"akshara" the sylablle "A". The second verse beginning with
"UvandhaULathanAy ...." begins with the syllable "U" and the third
verse,"MandhipAy ...." begins with the syllable, "Ma". If you add the three
syllable you get "A" "U" and "M"; in other words you get the sound of the
"pranava" or "Omkara". Now they say that even the 'pranava mantra' has to be
handled with great care in enunciation. It has to be articulated with the
right pauses giving due regard to the appropriate "matr".If one is not
properly schooled in it, never mind ! simply reciting the "Amalanadi-piran"
is a worthy substitute.

Again in the "AmalanAdipiran", there are three continuous stanzas which begin as
"PAramAyapazhavinai...." followed by the next stanza which begins with
"ThUndavinpirayan ...".This is followed by "KaiyInArsuri.....". Now if you
take the first three syllables of each of the three "pAsurams" you get "Pa",
"thu" and "kai" giving you the esoteric significance of the Lord's "padukai"
or his Divine Feet to which we all are hankering after in varying degrees.

Similarly, the "Nrsumha mantram" is embedded in the
"Mantra-raja-pada-stotram" by reciting which the ordinary aspirant earns the
benefit accruing to he who correctly performs the "Nrsumha-mantra-dhyana".

Another example is in Swami Desikan's "Gopala Vimshati"(verse 2) and the
"Garuda Dandakam" (verse 4) where the "Krsna mantram" and the "Garuda
mantram" are respectively embedded.

The examples are galore and I would earnestly request the "bhAgavatOttamas"
of the group to please ferret out more such examples and share it for the
benefit and 'anubhavam" of the group.

To conclude, the position that appeals to me, is that in matters like these
we should refrain from putting forth arguments of a secular nature so common
in quotidian political (the Indian variety; I don't know about the American)
life. There is no question of such thigs like spiritual pride and the
democratic credentials of SriVaishnavism arising in debates of this nature.
We should simply like good SriVaishnavas beseech our "achaaryas" to show us
the way. And here they have shown us, in their inexhaustible concern for
future generations to which we now belong, that their poetic verses
themselves contain the quintessence of greater "mantras". We simply need to
cling to them to reap the same benefits in a measure that lesser mortals
like most of deserve in proportion to our respective "karma". If we
disregard such a position and debate the issue from the angle of 'who is an
"adhikaari" and "non-adhikaari" ' to articulate such mantras, we will not be
cherishing the memory of our great "achaaryaas". More tragically, we would
be ignoring the true spirit of their works they have bequeathed to us in
their infinite kindness and affection for us.

If I have in the course of the above conversation hurt the feelings or
sentiments of "bhAgavatottamas" I crave their forgivance. It was not my
intention to further stoke a debate into which I am unworthy of inclusion,
in the first place. My purpose has been purely to try and demonstrate that
our "achaaryas" have themselves, more implicitly than explicitly, stated
their position on this. We merely have to reach out to absorb their true
message to get our answers.

Sri LakshmiNrsumhAya Namaha.
Sri Vedanta Desika GuravE Namah
Srimate Srivan Satagopa Sri Narayana Yatindra MahadesikAya Namaha 
 
Most Humbly,

M.K.Sudarshan