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mantra and adhikara

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Mon Oct 14 1996 - 08:24:26 PDT

SrimathE Sri LakshmiNrsumha ParabrahmanE Namaha
Sri Vedanta Desika GuravE Namaha.

In my few postings on the above subject of discourse and debate in the weeks
that have passed by, we have seen the position -- "mantras" are not to be
trifled with in quotidian life by  'prapanna-s'and non-'prapannas' or lay
SriVaishnava-aspirants ---  we have seen this position being supported by:

a) the fact that in several non-esoteric works, our achaaryaas (we quoted
the 'Vishnu Sahasranamam' and the 'Amalanadipiran' as illustrations) have
embedded (seamlessly tailored, as it were) the esoteric "mantras'.The
inference that can be drawn from here, "mAhans" point out, is that the
achaaryaas were principally motivated (inspired, is the better expression)
in this by their anxiety that casual "mantrOtcharaNam" by lay spiritual
aspirants should not impair their genuine spiritual efforts. At the same
time, the achaaryaas also enabled us to utter "rahasya mantras" in a very
indirect, innocuous but equally effective way by urging us to instead recite
or otherwise experience their non-esoteric works that discreetly couched
those very sacrosanct "mantras" under a camouflage of devotional and
literary excellence.

b) we also put forward the argument that "mantras" have an inherent
constitution of "swara"/'srutis'/'mAtra' and other rules of phonetic
grammmar that are ever in danger of violation, in the natural course of
day-to-day living, by the untutored and casual aspirant.The consequence of
such constitutional violation is considered as "sastra-virOdham" i.e.
practice inimical to prescribed scripture.

c) we also took up the argument of contra-distinction between
"mantra-svarUpa" and "mantrArtha" and saw how it does not perfectly tally
with some of the "sastra"-ic experiences of "mantra-dhristi"(direct
perception) and "mantra-shakthi" (phenomenon-inducing force) that is
elaborately dealt with in "srmriti,purana and itihAsa" literature.

d) we also argued about the untenability of the opposite view (that takes a
"soft" line on less-than-meticulous articulation and practice of "rahasya
mantras")from the standpoint of the "prAyaschitta" sastras.

With the permission of "bhAgavatOttamas" I propose to put forth one more
last argument before finally bringing the curtain down on my participation
in this debate.(do I hear polite but loud sighs of relief?)

The various injunctions to be observed by a "prapanna" have been eloquently
commented upon by several 'mahAns' in SriVaishnava literature. According to
this literature, our great "bhAshyakAr-ar" has himself laid down the
"post-prappathi" lifestyle of a "prapanna".It is usually summarised as follows :

1) The first duty of the "prapanna" is to study Sri Bhashya and propagate
its truths to others.   
2) If a prapanna is not qualified to study and understand SriBhashya, he
should study the Divya Prabhandham and propagate its truths to others.
3) If a 'prapanna' is incompetent to perform 1 and 2 above, he should
perform service in holy temples (bhagavath-kainkaryam).
4)If a "prapanna" is incompetent to perform even 3 above, then he should
continuously meditate on the 'dvaya' mantra.
5) If a 'prapanna' is unable to do any of the above he should attach himself
as a 'sevaka' or 'dAsan' of a learned and holy Sri Vaishnava and serve him
to the best of his abilities and cheerfully.

Now one will notice from the above, Sri BhashyakArar has laid out a
hierarchic scale of duties for various "personality-types" of "prapannas".It
is clear that he was appreciative of the wide variances in capacities and
'core-competencies'(to use a modern buzzword in management theory) that
prevail amongst individual 'prapannas'. Implicit here therefore is the idea
of "adhikara" and qualification for each plane in the hierarcy.

It must be stressed here that although the "competencies" of 'prapannas' may
vary, in the application in the practice of "prappathi", they are all
equally eligible for the ends of 'prapatti'. This is, of course, subject to
the proviso, the 'prapanna' faithfully and scrupulously adhere to the scale
of duties listed after having chosen one most appropriate to the station in
life to which he belongs.

The prescribed duties of a 'prapanna' are given deliberately within the
framework of a "hierarchic scale" i.e. duties listed nearer the top of the
scale are superior to those further below.This I believe is to stress an
order of "adhikAra". This is not however suggestive of a hierarchic order of
superiority based on birth, background, scholastic accomplishment and other
such mundane criteria (like the "tax-bracket" to which the 'prapanna' may
belong or the type of US-visa he holds, for instance!).Although they fall
into different planes or levels within the hierarchy there is no difference
in the intrinsic worth of each listed duty. Our achaaryaas say, indeed, they
are all equal in all respects to each other except in one respect i.e. their
position on a hierarchy of 'core-competencies' or "adhikAra".

Some learned commentaries in this regard, lead one to believe that a
"prapanna" is expected to make his choice from the menu of duties by
traversing "top-down' rather than 'bottom-up'. A Vaishnava is supposed to
make his choice of the level to which he would like to belong by travelling
from the higher orders to the lower orders and not vice versa. (One always
tends to find out to what order of skills or "competency" one belongs by
first trying to see if one can fit into or qualify at the top of any league,
isn't it?) 

If that may be accepted, then the choice of the level involving "continuous
meditating on the dvaya mantra" appears four levels below the top.

Now when one utters or otherwise experiences the 'dvaya' mantra one must
realise that one is virtually applying level-4 'core-competency' laid down
for a 'prapanna' in performing his 'post-prappati' duties. One must also
realise that at this level of 'adhikAra' 'prapannas' are unable to fulfill
the higher orders of duty viz. the realization of the truths and propagation
of 'sribhashyA' or the 'divya-prabhandhas' or 'bhagavath-kainkaryam'. But,
verily by virtue of the 'prapatti' faith, the fourth level of competency is
no less worthy than those of higher order in the hierarchy.

The thrust of all this reasoning adds up to the truth that mere utterance by
a 'prapanna' of "dvaya-mantra" is tantamount to propagating the 'SriBhashya'
or of the 'Divya Prabhandha-s' or performing 'bhagavath-kainkaryam'. A
purely physical act of chanting and meditating on a mere "mantra' is thus
sought by SriVaishnava 'sampradaya' to be invested with a spiritual
significance equivalent-- in force, scope and yield -- to that of realizing
the whole truth of the 'SriBhashya' or of the 'prabhandhams' or of
'bhagavath-kainkaryam' ! In uttering the "dvaya' mantra, further, a
'prapanna' is also implicitly bowing in deep obeisance to those of his
fellow-'prapanna-s', past and present, belonging to a superior order of
'core-competency' or 'adhikara' at the top of the hierarchy!

How very appropriate and reasonable therefore that our 'sampradayam' sternly
prohibits the casual and indiscriminate use of esoteric 'prappati' mantras! 

In logic the worst and most ineffective instrument to use to drive home a
point is employing analogies. Never mind, I now offer this analogy, at the
end of this last posting, in the hope that it will serve as a concluding sum-up.

Imagine, for a moment, how carefully we would handle, or how much fuss we
would normally make over, a leaf out of a cheque-book filled in for,say, a
$1 million. 

We wouldn't let even our beloved children within 3 feet of it, lest they
man-handle it, though we'd know that the cheque-leaf itself is worth nothing
more than a piece of expensive stationery carrying the hologram of your own
signature on it!

I now ask :

Wouldn't we bestow on the cheque-leaf the same care and affection we would
most certainly shower on the hundreds of wads of crisp 'green-backs' that it

Would we dare mutilate,disfigure or otherwise stain the instrument?

Would the leaf have an identity other than its MICR encoded number?

Would we able to transact business at a bank without correctly quoting the
exact (no room for slightest error) MICR number of the cheque-leaf ?

Would we not try and commit to memory the MICR code number just for the odd
chance that we might lose the leaf ?

Would we freely share the wherabouts of the cheque-leaf in the study-room
locker with the next-door neighbour ?

Would we dare to carelessly leave the cheque-leaf "lying around in our
bathrooms" (remember the "bhAgavatOttama" said about 'rahasya mantras' and
bathrooms in his posting!) and then joke about the lapse with our friends on
the net?

Would we dare to send details of the cheque(its number,pin,drawing bank
etc.) on an un-protected e-mail channel?

"BhAgavatOttamas" must play a little game with themselves and try answering
the above questions with the following ground-rules in mind:

1) The cheque-leaf is to be treated as "prapatti".
2) The MICR code number of the leaf is to be treated as the "dvaya" mantra.
3) The bank : Sri Vaikuntam itself !
4) The $1 million : Sriman Narayana Himself !

I now thank all "bhAgavatOttamas" for provoking me into reflecting at length
on the significance of 'rahasya mantras' these past few weeks. I have never
hitherto reflected very seriously this matter in the context of our
"sampradayam". But today the debate here in this group has kindled in me in
some measure to delve even more deeply into a study of this matter.

If one thinks about it deeply, this debate was essentially not at all about
Vadagalai/Thengalai schisms or the validity of what this achaaryaa or that
achaaryaa has said in this work of his or that. I think it has been, more
than anything else, all along, a process of sharing faith among
'bhAgavatOttamas'; of sharing how each has experienced and felt about one of
the principal doctrines of SriVaishnava-ism i.e. Prapatti.

As you Americans would say, "Hey, man, that's what this i-net group is all
about, isn't it?"

SrimathE Srivan SatagOpa Sri Narayana YathIndra MahadEsikAya Namaha

Most Humbly,