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From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Sat Oct 12 1996 - 02:54:49 PDT
SrimathE LakshmiNrsumha Parabrahmane Namah Sri Vedanta Desika GuravE Namah Some "bhAgavatottamas" have alluded to some portions of my last posting on this subject and have misunderstood therefrom that the authority of texts of our great achaaryas like the Sri Vachana Bhushana and Mumukshuppadi are under question. I hasten to state that woe befall me if I had such "bhAgavata-apacharam" in mind. I sincerely regret that the trajectory of my arguments have given rise to such a surmise.In both the study and practice of SriVaisnavism there could be no ignoramus greater than I.So please forgive me for the sloppy way in which I may have conveyed the central ideas of our achaaryas as I have absorbed (or think I have) it. The gravamen of my views was that "sampradayam" dictates the ways in which hallowed Vaishnava doctrines like "prapatti" are applied and in observance of such "sampradaya" it is wiser for us to err on the side of caution than to succumb to the temptation of rationalising what is expedient in our age.In this view of mine I have been guided only by a question I posed to myself. It runs like this : Swami Desikan's magnum opus "Rahasyatraya-sara" deals with the doctrine of prapatti and application of the ashtakshara/dvaya mantras and charama shlokam that are central to its practice. Now one must pause here to wonder why Swami titles it as "rahasya" if indeed there were essentially no restrictions whatsoever on their dissemination, instruction,imbibing and practice. Isn't it obvious that these doctrines are meant to be esoteric rather than exoteric? Now I learn from a "bhagavottatamar" that in his community, groups get together and routinely chant the 'tirumanthram' lead by an 'advaitin'.The question posed here is that why create a such a fuss about a 'mantra' which people are willing to blissfully chant as part of congregational worship and are none the worse for it? Now an argument of this sort cannot be adequately countered in a question involving "sat-vishayam". It puts one in a quandary of the sort faced when queried,"Have you stopped beating your wife?". Any answer to that poser damns the respondent and I submit I refuse to fall into the trap. In a debate of this nature one can only deal with substantive issues raised and clarified by the scriptures as revealed to us by our beloved "achaaryas". Another argument that has been put forward is the age-old one of "primacy of substance-over-form" and that what our acharyas have held rahasya is the meaning(substance) of the mantra and not its acoustic 'swarupa'(form). Now this is a very good line of reasoning (even our revered Sriman Mani Varadarajan has referred to it in his latest posting). But even in the face of this most formidable line of reasoning one can't help a lingering whiff of doubt.Let me explain myself. Our ancient vedic treatises consistently hail what are collectively known as inviolable 'mantra-sastras'. They reiterate most emphatically that at the essence of mantras lie the power of "shabda" --- primordial sound which is reality i.e.Narayana Himself. The scriptures state in many ways that "shabda" verily unravels reality.Our samhitas and smritis, I have heard being explained by scholars,state at many places that ancient sages and seers who had trancended mere "mantra-dhyana" actually "saw" the mantras.("mantra-dhristhi").It is said that Sage Viswamitra actually "perceived" the Gayatri mantra. Another instance of "mantra-dhristi" that scholars have commented on is very interesting --- they allude to a shloka in the "aranyakAnda" where Sage Valmiki refers to the Lord Rama,Sita and Lakshmana treading through a forest pathway . Abruptly the shloka seems to abort in mid-sentence with a non-sequitor "exclamation" of "Ha!" which (scholars point out) is not deliberate poetic affectation or fancy but a sign of genuine and spontaneous revelation.In describing the situation where the Lord and Lady of Ayodhya tread through the forest, Sage Valmiki (the scholars say) is overwhelmed by the word-picture he has painted, because suddenly in the very moment of its creation, in a blinding flash, he "actually perceives 'pranavam' in motion". Again (it is said as being explained in various vedic treatises) rishis of yore actually could induce "physico-chemical" phenomenon through mantras. For e.g. in "yagnyAs", it is said in those days, rishis did not use "arani-kattai" to induce the incipient fire; they induced the fire by the mere recitation of the appropriate mantra beckoning the spirit of Agni-devata. One hesitates to 'pooh-pooh' these occurences since various 'mantra-siddhantas' categorically state that 'mantras' yield results unfailingly. One has to merely look at the secular (and humourous too) example of a "brahmacharin" utter "bhavati-bhiksham-dEhi" and Lo! he receives "annadAnam"(the "mantra-phalan"). All this leads one to believe that, from the standpoint of pure faith, mantra is both "form" and "substance". It is abundantly clear that at a trancendent level, they cohere, so to say,into reality and there is nothing to distinguish the mantra into its logical and semantic categories of Form and Substance. >From this angle one wonders how well the argument of 'mantra-svarUpa' being contradistinct from 'mantrArtha' holds water. I have read somewhere that in Swami Desikan's "SriSampradAya parisuddhi" he has stated that : vaishnava doctrines are either exoteric or esoteric but should be mutually non-contradictory. Where does that leave us? I once again urge, in conclusion, all members of the prapatti group to treat my participation in this discussion as merely the groping-in-dark of a helpless, hapless student.I am sure you will all agree there is however neither the danger of "bhagavath-" nor "bhAgavatha-" "apachAram" if the student embarks on a journey of perennial inquiry in a spirit of humility. SrimathE srivan sri narayana yatIndra mahadEsikAya namaha. sudarshan.