Humanism, Vaishnavite style

Humanism, Vaishnavite style

Partha Desikan

I would like to state at the outset that Vaishnavism is as much a product of Hindu/Vedantic genius as Advaita is and that the two belong to different sets and should not be compared. It is possible for an Advaitic seeker to be so involved with the welfare of other human beings that he postpones his advaitic objective of total liberation and becomes a karmayogi occupied with seva. It is also possible for him to carry on focused sadhana towards mukti and attain it through the Jnanayoga path.

Jnana does not merely consist of the ultimate realization. Imho, every bit of realization that comes out of the Infinite’s Grace to a seeker towards baby steps in his path is a Jnana module. This path also includes straying towards the right and not to the left apart from going straight. It includes also directed and protected moving towards the left for the sake of the Jivatma’s education. Good and evil can be sensed and experienced during the travel. The infinite too descends among the Jivatmas with a clear bias in favour of Sadhus rather than Dushkrts.

It is in this context that Vishnu’s avatars are reputed to have taken place and are probably still taking place. Bhagavat seva directed at Vishnu became Vaishnavism. But it evolved further to include Bhagavataseva because the natural advaitic streak in the Vishnubhakta found Vishnu in the other Vishnubhaktas. With greater refinement his mind found Madhava in every Manava (again advaitic) and Manavaseva (as is being performed by the Ramakrishna Mission) became equal to Bhagavataseva.  For such a Vaishnava, mukti can wait and  can be left to the will of Vishnu to whom he prayed daily , surrendering himself totally to his will and pleasure. Manavaseva was of the greatest priority.

This priority also implied that humility became the hallmark of a true Vaishnavite, especially when engaged in Acharyaseva, Bhagavataseva or Manavaseva.

Which is why Narsi Mehta sang that a Vaishnavite was one who felt others’  sufferings instinctively and rushed to their help. Without calling such a person a Vaishnavite, Bhartrhari said that his heart was definitely not like butter. Butter melted when heat was applied to it, whereas a Sadhu along with his heart melted when heat was applied to some one else!

Intense Ramabhakti is said to have prompted Hanuman to have refused to enter the Sarayu along with Sri Rama and a host of his followers to go to Vishnuloka, because that loka would contain only Vishnu and not in the Rama form and it would not include several of his devotees. His stay back on earth is believed to be rewarding him by allowing him to listen to Ramakatha in the nooks and corners of Bharata land  from several generations of Ramabhaktas. In return he is able to bless them and save them from different forms of evil. Legends associated with the advent of Madhvacharya call him a son of Vayu too, a reincarnation of Maruti. No wonder Madhva enunciated a doctrine leading his followers to Vishnu’s feet to serve the Lord rather than to merge in him.

Bharata’s daily worship of his elder brother’s sandals on the throne at Nandigrama is the iconic beginning of the worship of Bhagavan’s padukas by Vaishnavites all over India. Vedanta Desika has written a kavya of 1008 verses celebrating the glory of the sandals of Sri Rama/Sri Ranganatha/ Vishnu.

Ramanujacharya, the founder of Vishishtadvaita was born an advaiti. When his teacher Nambi of Tirukkoshtiyoor taught him ashtakshara mantra and forbade him from revealing it to any other person on condition that such an act of revealing would cost him both mukti and any benevolent world after death. After promising his Guru, Ramanuja is believed to have climbed to the tallest possible sitting space on the topmost vimana of the ashtanga temple and given ashtakshara upadesa to the crowds passing through the sannidhi street. For one soul(his own) going to Naraka, he got a nice deal of thousands having the chance to do sadhana and go to Vaikuntha. His Guru of course embraced him and blessed him.

A great Guru in the Madhva tradition, Ragavendra, is believed to be Prahlada reborn on earth. Prahlada’s soul was so engrossed in Vishnu seva at Vaikuntha that it had stayed in its Prahlada identity at Vishnu’s feet like other Nitya Suris and could reincarnate as Raghavendra for the service of the people. And Raghavendra is believed to have attained Jivasamadhi at Mantralaya, where his great soul lingers removing the pangs of Vaishnavite devotees who throng the holy site, rather than seeking to dissolve in the paravastu. 

If a modern Vaishnava is unable to lose himself in vishnubhajan, service of fellow bhagavatas or of people in general and if he does not bring vinaya to such service, he should not call himself a Vaishnava. He can be an advaiti like Thyagaraja, dvaiti like Raghavendra or vishishtadvaiti like Ramanuja or none of these and be just a great devotee like Meera, Ramadas or the Alvars, but his Vaishnavite essence must show. When we next use the abbreviation imho, let us mean the humble part of the phrase, if we consider ourselves Vaishnavas.

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