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More Nectar in the Life of Sri Ramanujacarya

(The following section is from the book "The Life and Legacy of Sripad Ananda Tirtha -
Madhwacarya" from the third chapter regarding the evolution and movement of intent to
prepare the way for the arrival of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, by Jaya Tirtha Charan

Sripad Ramanujacarya.
In the year 1017 A.D. Sripad Ramanujacarya, a partial incarnation of Lord Ananta
Shesha and Laxman appeared on the 'sasthi', sixth lunar mansion of the light fortnight in
the month of Chaitra, (April-May). He made his appearance in South India,
Tundiradesha, at Sriperumbudur, about half way between Kancipuram and Madras. His
fathers' name was Asuri Keshava Somayaji, also known as Sarvakratu Diksitar, who it is
believed was either an advaitin, or a smarta. His mother was Kantimati, the grand
daughter of the great Vaisnavacarya Yamunacarya. Sri Ramanuja was given the name
Ilaya Perumal, by his parents and was trained in the various studies of the Alwar saints
of South Indian. His education was mostly given by his father a pandit of the time. When
he was fifteen he was taken to Kancipuram, where he and his cousin Govinda were sent
to study under the Advaitin Acarya Yadava Prakash. As the years went by and
Ramanujas' maturity advanced. Many times there were philosophical clashes between
he and his 'advaitin' teacher to the point when Yadava prakash made arrangements for
Ramanuja to be killed. Still unperturbed he preached what became his "new" philosophy
the Vaisnava philosophy of 'Visisthadvaita', or qualified oneness. Sripad Ramanujacarya
directed his new philosophy to defeating the monistic views of Sankara. Instead of
leaving understandings as some kind of impersonalistic blank, this is 'maya' or this is
'avidya', Ramanuja gave relationships to everything, that is, everything has a relationship
to the Lord. He qualified everything. Sripad Ramanujacarya gives some nice points on
referring to the acceptance of, or usage of 'avidya'. Though Sripad Ramanujacarya uses
the word "ajnan" rather than 'avidya', the meaning is the same, ignorance. Being a
personalistic worshipper of Sri Laksmi Narayana, Ramanujacarya tackles everything as
a personalist would. He points out the existence of 'ajnan' (ignorance) as a positive entity
and as being directly perceived in such perceptions as "I am ignorant", "I do not know
myself or others". This really refers to having lack of understanding of something due to
not having any, or insufficient knowledge of what it is. So in Ramanujacarya's
philosophy he simply throws the blame back on the perceiver, not on the subject that the
infinitesimal perceiver is trying with his limited senses to perceive, like the 'mayavadis'
do. He suggests that maybe we are not seeing things fully or in the right perspective.
The 'mayavadis' simply try to blame the knife for stabbing the man to death, neglecting
the chance that someone may have been holding the knife, and maybe even with some
intent to do something, either consciously or not.
Once I observed one of my children, my then two year old, fall from the swing and
clambering to stand up rebuked the swing, you're naughty swing. But the swing actually
wasn't at fault, dare I say it was my child for not being co-ordinated.
Sri Ramanuja clarifies one rather interesting point as well. He said that if ignorance is a
perceivable thing (entity or specific item), then that cannot be ignorance for it is known.
Ignorance can only refer to that which is unknown, or that which one is ignorant of. Also
if ignorance is unknown, how can one have ignorance standing on it's own to be
perceived, one would not know? If it is argued that 'ajnan' or ignorance is 'a-visada-
swarupa' (Indistinct knowledge), then again Sripad Ramanujacarya gives a good point
that this is only to the fact that there is lack of distinct knowledge as to what it is. Even if
their, (the 'mayavadis') philosophy of positive ignorance is admitted, it must be somehow
related to something and that something must be known, which in its self is knowledge.
In that way, if 'jnan' (knowledge) of any given subject such as the material world, or the
Lord were there, the 'mayavadi' philosopher would have something to relate to. But they
don't, therefore they are known as 'mayavadis' or 'ajnanavadis' due to their ignorance.
This is understood by the Vaisnavacaryas who are in full knowledge. The opposite to
black being white, the opposite to ignorance being knowledge.

Sripad Ramanujacarya clears up the theory of illusion as set by the Sankarites in the
following way by saying that if one knows what is truth, one may, for a short period, be
subject to illusion by which normal things appear different to what they should be. But it
cannot be said that illusion has no cause other than illusion itself, or is unknown or just
appears for no reason. Ramanuja goes on to say that if illusion were an inexpressible of
an unidentifiable thing, again when or where would one even known it was illusion for
one would be in illusion and would have nothing to compare with as real.
According to the 'avidya', 'advaitistic' philosophy of Sankara, the dream state, the
wakeful state, and the state of self are all unreal and illusory. But according to
Ramanujacarya there is a real character in all these three states. Even dreams are not
illusion entirely. During the waking state the self is awake, and it contacts the objects of
the senses externally through the mind and senses. In the dream state, the self
becomes detached from the external world of the senses and their objects. The mind,
however, experiences a succession of images presented from the memory without really
any necessity of logic or reason. Originally the objects were seen or touched, smelt or
heard through the senses, and the mind stores the information. The mind acts in this
way, that's its function, so definitely it cannot be called illusion or unreal for it is just a
reflection of reality that the mind has come in contact with.
Sankara says that in the case of sleep one is the witness of 'avidya' (ignorance). After
waking, one says, "I slept well, I was pure spiritual consciousness, free from all material
conditioning, and a witness to 'avidya'." Sripad Ramanujacarya however sheds a deeper
light on this subject. He says that person who was sleeping is not only pure spiritual
consciousness, but is a spirit soul, eternal servant of the Lord, and that pure spiritual
consciousness is an attribute of the soul by which the soul can be perceived
('swarupopadhi'). So by this we can see that if the soul (self) did not remain conscious in
sleep, then how could he then remember upon waking that he had been sleeping, or had
slept well? Thus there would be a gap in his life, not knowing he had done anything
what to speak of sleep, so what is this witness to 'avidya'. This is not a fact, for the soul
has a sense of permanent consciousness carried by memory which tells him that he has
done something or give the sense of fulfilment knowing he has taken rest for a set
The 'mayavadis' say that the perceptions one may have in a dream are all unreal in the
same way scriptures are not real, as the written word cannot do justice to a spiritual
reality. Sri Ramanuja refutes this saying, that, it is not true that dreams are unreal, but
the circumstances are different, in as much as the activities may be there in a dream,
and the same activities are there in a waking state. One could in fact say the activities
are the same, in both states, but 'that is the only qualification to their one-ness'
('visistadwaita'). It is not that the dreams of subtle nature and the activities of the wakeful
state are exactly one, however, there is a qualification to their one-ness. The activity
may be of the same kind of act, and it is the same person who sees in relation with both.
One could further say that the vision exists, but in the dreaming state not on a gross
platform. The objects seen may not necessarily grossly exist, though certainly the
objects do exist somewhere. An example may be given that one may see in a dream a
golden mountain, and it is a fact that gold exists and a mountain exists, but to see a
golden mountain?? Well maybe! Another example is that sometimes, due to our
defective material vision, we may mistake a rope on the floor for a snake. Certainly
ropes exist and snakes exists, but to fear a rope or pick up a snake, this kind of all one-
ness can cause problems. The reason that one fears a snake that one sees in a dream
even if it is a rope, is because of one's previous experience of the potency of snakes.
Another argument sometimes used is that of seeing silver in a pearl or that of a shell. If
one has defective vision one could say that there is definitely silver in a shell or pearl.
Silver is real and pearls and shells are also real, but when one's defect in vision is
restored one can actually see what is actual silver and what is pearls colouration (mother
of pearl in shells). Again, the perception was true but it was due to a particular
circumstance. A conclusion can be drawn at this point that the qualification of oneness in
different objects can be seen according to the perception of the seer. As with the pearl or
shell, one can grasp what is there partially or totally depending on one's vision. So the
practicality of discriminating in every day life proves that everything is not one, though
due to everything having it's roots in the Lord, and the changeable nature of things in
this material world one could say that, due to everything emanation from the Lord, it is
one, but due to the practically unlimited varieties of temporary manifestations in the
universe there has to be a qualification to the oneness, 'Visista adwaita', qualified

There are three ways of understanding the truth, out of the three ways Sripad
Ramanujacarya says, one must accept 'Sruti pramana', Vedic literature without doubt.
'Anuman pramana', inference or reasoning can also be accepted if it falls in line with
'Sruti', and 'pratyaksa pramana', sensual perception can also be accepted as an
authority in this matter if it falls in line with 'Sruti pramana'. Though 'anuman' and
'pratyaksa' can be debated, Sruti must be accepted as absolute truth having come down
from the Supreme Lord. This in essence is the summary of Sripad Ramanujacarya's
philosophy of 'Visisthadwaita', everything being based on what the Lord has said or
Sripad Ramanujacarya makes the statement in his Sri Bhasya commentary on Vedanta
Sutra, "For those who accept God as the highest and ultimate reality, who has the power
to create all of these unlimited universes whilst in a dreaming state lying in the Karana
Ocean. Who is glorified through the Vedic literatures, who is omniscient and free from all
defects, and is full in all good qualities personified, having a body made of eternity,
knowledge and bliss, to these fortunate Vaisnavas, what can be achieved or proven
simply by dull witted argument, or blunt senses? The Supreme Personality of Godhead
created all the universes for His own pleasure, and the tiny living entities (the Jivas) can
enjoy in this world by serving the Lord or engage in their own selfish pursuits and
become criminally entangled and further conditioned in the world of birth and death. The
Lord gives results of one's actions through the contact of the senses and the objects of
the senses, the result being happiness or distress. Due to the action the concomitant
result follows for a limited period of time."
"Thus the distinction between experiences that are contradicted (like dreams) and those
that are contradicting (like wakeful experiences) is a distinction between objects of the
senses that are experienced by everyone and those that are not (as in dreams)." This is
an example of qualified oneness.(Sri Bhasya 1:1:1. 'opening verse'.).

Sripad Ramanujacarya could not stand the way things were at the time, the so-called
religion that was being practised, the cheating of priests ('Purohits') and the ignorant
blind following of the people. Although he accepted the 'daivi varnashrama' system, it
was not solely based on birth rite, but on quality and qualification, 'guna' and 'karma'.
Some guide lines he laid down were as follows:- That a devotee, or for that matter
everyone, should be like salt. That is, the same within and without, free from duplicity
and cheating. He also gave an example how one should be even like a fowl, in as much
as a fowl is able to pick out the wholesome things even from a stock-pile of rubbish.
These are also examples used by other great teachers, 1) to take gold from a dirty
place, 2) to separate milk from water, 3) to take a good wife from even a low class family
and 4) even take good advice from a fool. Another famous saying of his was that one
should be like a bird called the crane, who is very watchful for his prey. Expect the
unexpected and don't be surprised when calamity comes.

Sripad Ramanujacarya was a great propounder of and follower of the 'Pancaratriki'
system of 'Puja', Deity worship. This system is so designed to invite the personal form,
or image of God to reside in the temple, and then to render all kinds of opulent services
to the Lord, that otherwise one would not be able to perform, for His pleasure. By doing
so one can develop further one's own personal relationship with the Supreme Person by
this simple process as laid down in the scriptures by such great devotees as Narada
Muni. By such worship in the temple or in the home under the guidance of 'guru',
'shastra' and the devotees one' life can become perfect. There are various 'Pancaratric'
texts which he followed (and to this day are followed by his followers), but basically the
principal behind 'Pancaratra' is, giving the necessary rules and regulations, for purity,
punctuality and use of exclusive privacy for 'puja' and preparations for the worshiping of
the personal form of the Lord. In all of his institutions great care was taken daily to see to
the worship of the deity in the temple, very high standards of personal service to the
Lord were always followed, cleanliness and punctuality being of the utmost.

To establish his teaching he compiled the Sri Bhasya which was his commentary on the
Vedanta Sutra. Also he made a commentary of Bhagavad Gita.

We can recap how Sripad Ramanujacarya strongly attacks the philosophy of Sankara.
Saying that the concept of 'Brahman' as being without qualities is meaningless or fiction
as it cannot be seen, touched, spoken about or known. Sripad Ramanujacarya goes on
to state that it is not a fact that this world is false, but it is a fact that it is temporary, and
originally comes from God and in that way, yes, everything is one because everything is
coming from the Lord, and therefore that is the only qualification to its oneness.

aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
budha bhava-samanvitah

"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The
wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all
their hearts."(Bhagavad Gita 10:8.).

Srimad Bhagavad Gita (14:27.) says:
brahmano hi pratisthaham
amrta syavya yasya ca
sasvatasya ca dharmasya
sukhasyaikantikasya ca
"I am the origin of the impersonal Brahman which is immortal, imperishable and eternal
and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness."

During Sankara's reign he founded the philosophical deviation, 'panchopasaka', that one
can worship five kinds of Deities together equally as one, they are listed as Visnu, Shiva,
Ganesha, Surya and Devi (either Durga, Laxmi or Saraswati). However, in the Padma
Purana it is stated that the second offence against the Holy Name of Lord Krsna (Visnu)
is "To consider the demigods such as Lord Shiva or Lord Brahma or others to be equal
to or independent of the Holy Name or form of Lord Visnu." When Sripad
Ramanujacarya came he very strongly challenged this bogus idea of Sankara using the
teachings of Sri Narada Muni from the Narad Pancaratra to firmly establish that Lord
Visnu (Narayana), is the one true and Supreme Lord without a second.
Sri Ramanujacarya said that Lord Narayana (Visnu) is supreme and that all others are
subordinate. One may offer respects to any demigod as one would to any devotee, but
to mis-identify the Supreme Lord with a small lord is an offence. He quotes the verses
from the Srimad Bhagavatam spoken by Lord Brahma (Canto 2., Adhyayah 5., texts 15-
16-17.). Wherein it is said, "The Vedas owe their existance to Narayana. The 'devas' are
all tiny aspects of Narayana. all the worlds are manifestations of Narayana. All worship is
inspired by Narayana alone. The term yoga is meant for gaining union with Narayana. All
austerity is meant to be performed for Narayana. Knowledge is only of Narayana. The
final destination or goal is the association of Narayana. I am also a creation of that
Supreme One who is the Ultimate Seer, the Eternal Lord, and the Supreme Soul who
accompanies all souls in this world. By His grace alone, and by His command, I have
become the creator and am doing the work of creation."(Srimad Bhagavatam 2:5:15-17.)

There are many instances in Sripad Ramanujacarya's eventful life which draw us to
some kind of appreciation of how hard he battled to establish Visnu as supreme, even
plans were made to kill him, to stop his mission, but the Lord came to his aid. There are
many wonderful pastimes which could be told, but they are too numerous to do justice to
here. I personally suggest instead, that one read the very nice book by Naimasaranya
dasa of ISKCON entitled "The life of Ramanujacarya," many hours of enjoyable reading.