Simple Guide to SrivaishNavam - AchArya-Sishya Relationship

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In the previous article we saw how pancha samskAram begins ones journey as a SrIvaishNava. We also saw the beginning of a unique relationship named "AchArya-Sishya" relationship. Since this is such an important aspect in our sampradhAyam, let us understand a little bit more about this relationship based on purvAchArya sri sUkthis.

AchArya literally means "one who has learnt SAsthram, applying it in his own life and teaching it to others". It is also said in the SAsthram that "even a sanyAsi, if he does not accept vishNu parathvam (supremacy of Lord vishNu), he must be considered to be a chandALan only". So it is imperative that AchArya must be a vaishNava - i.e. one who accepts Sriman nArAyaNan as the supreme god and is trying to please him every moment in his every action. Our purvAchAryas have insisted that one who performs the thirumanthra upadhESam (along with dhvayam and charama slOkam) during pancha samskAram is the direct AchArya.
Sishya means one who undergoes SikshA (correction/purification). It is generally translated as disciple in English - which means one who is to be disciplined. Here the Sishya gets himself/herself shaped into a proper mould under the guidance of the AchArya.


udaiyavarAzhwAn (ideal AchArya – Sishya), kUram

Our purvAchAryas have discussed the qualities of AchArya and Sishya in a very detailed manner. To start with they have established based on the SAsthram that AchArya-Sishya relationship is exactly the same as father-son relationship. Just like the son is always totally subservient to the father, Sishya must also be totally subservient to the AchArya.

In bhagavath gIthA, kaNNan emperumAn says "thadh vidhdhi praNipAthEna pari praSNEna sEvayA, upadhEkshanthi thE gyAnam gyAninas thathva dharSina:". This nicely summarises the qualities of AchArya and Sishya. In the first line, he says that "you should submissively approach an AchArya, render service to him with humility and ask him questions submissively". In the second line he says"the AchArya will teach you that gyAnam as he has understood the real thathvam (that is bhagavAn)".

Some of the qualities that are expected out of an AchArya are:
  • AchAryas are generally equated to pirAtti (SrI mahAlakshmi) - their main job is to do purushakAram (recommendation as done by pirAtti) to emperumAn.
  • Just like pirAtti, they should also accept that they are only subservient to emperumAn, they accept emperumAn as the only upAyam and their acts are for the enjoyment of emperumAn only.
  • They should be full of krupai (compassion) - to accept Sishyas, develop their Athma gyAnam (knowledge about self) and vairAgyam (detachment), and involve the Sishyas in bhagavath/bhAgavatha kainkaryam.
  • Per mAmunigaL's dhivya SrIsUkthi, AchArya must only be focussed on Sishya's Athma rakshanam (uplifting the soul).
  • piLLai lOkAcharyAr says "An AchArya should have proper knowledge about self, Sishya and the result".
    • He should think that he is not the AchArya but his AchArya is the AchArya.
    • He should think that his Sishya is not his Sishya but his AchArya's Sishya.
    • He should think the result is to create a well matured Sishya who will constantly perform mangaLASAsanam to emperumAn - nothing else.
  • As explained in vArthA mAlai grantham and SishtAchAram (as in elder's practices), AchArya should treat his Sishya with great respect - since the Sishya has come to AchArya (without analysing the AchArya’s qualities/capabilities) for total protection purely based on injunctions in SAsthram.
  • It is explained by our purvAchAryas that even emperumAn likes to be an AchArya. That is why he chose to be the first AchArya in our OrAN vazhi guru paramparai (disciplic succession). He also likes to have an AchArya for himself - that is why he chose the most perfect AchArya for himself - azhagiya maNavALa mAmunigaL.

Some of the qualities that are expected out of a Sishya are:
  • piLLai lOKAchAryar says
    • Sishya should free himself from everything (i.e., aiSwaryam and AthmAnubhavam) other than emperumAn and AchArya
    • Sishya should be ready to serve his AchArya at anytime in all the ways
    • Sishya should feel mental agony by looking at this material world
    • Sishya should have desire in bhagavath vishayam and AchArya kainkaryam
    • Sishya should be free of jealousy when learning about bhagavath/bhAgavatha glories
  • A Sishya must think all his wealth belongs to his AchArya. He should only take as much is required for him for dhEha dhAraNam (to run the basic livelihood).
  • A Sishya should also think that his AchArya is everything for him as explained by ALavandhAr in "mAthA pithA yuvathaya: ..." slOkam.
  • He should take care of his AchArya's livelihood.
  • mAmunigaL also explains in upadhESa raththina mAlai that "one should not stay away from his AchArya even for a moment when he is in this world".
  • A Sishya should glorify his AchArya in his presence and always have upakAra smrithi (gratitude) for the knowledge that is given by his AchArya to him.
It is also explained that it is inappropriate for the Sishya to do Athma rakshaNam of his AchArya (i.e., Sishya should never perform svarUpa sikshai (corrections) to AchArya) and inappropriate for the AchArya to do dhEha rakshaNam of Sishya (i.e., Sishya should not expect that the AchArya will take care of his livelihood).

As explained by piLLai lOKAchAryar, it is very difficult to be a Sishya (and also we do not really understand to be a proper Sishya no matter how much we learn about it). That is why emperumAn himself took the form of "nara" rishi and became the Sishya of "nArAyaNa" rishi (who is an avathAram of emperumAn as well) to learn thirumanthram and demonstrate how one should be a proper disciple.
With this background, we can also try to understand the different categorizations of AchAryas.

anuvruththi prasannAchArya and krupA mAthra prasannAchArya


anuvruththi prasannAchArya

During the days before emperumAnAr , the AchAryas were testing the prospective Sishyas for their level of dedication before accepting them. It was customary for a prospective Sishya to go to his AchArya's residence, stay with him and serve him for a full year before being accepted.

krupA mAthra prasannAchArya 

But when emperumAnAr saw the nature of kali yugam, he realized that if AchAryas are like this, only a very few will be motivated towards giving up worldly attachments and many will not be able to satisfy the demands of the AchAryas. So, out of his unbounded mercy, emperumAnAr relaxed the rules and gave this most valuable knowledge to those who had the true desire to learn bhagavath vishayam. So the qualification was changed from “deserving” to “desiring” candidates. He also laid the guidelines for his Sishyas to follow the same methodology and brought in several thousands of people into the fold of SrIvaishNavam out of his grace. Starting with emperumAnAr, our AchAryas are called krupA mAthra prasannAchAryas.
mAmunigaL, explains this concept wonderfully in his upadhESa raththina mAlai pAsuram "OrAN vazhiyAi upadhEsitthAr munnOr, ErAr ethirAsarar innaruLAl pArulagil Asai udayOrkkellAm AriyargAL kURum enRu pEsi varambharuththAr pin”.

uththAraka AchArya and upakAraka AchArya

In charama upAya nirNayam - a work done by nAyanArAchchAn piLLai, he explains these two types of AchAryas. This grantham establishes the glories of emperumAnAr very clearly.

uththAraka AchArya

uththAraka AchArya is the one who is capable of taking some one from samsAram and placing him/her in paramapadham easily. It is explained that Sriman nArAyaNan, nammAzhwAr and emperumAnAr are the only 3 uththAraka AchAryas (Of course, maNavALa mAmunigaL who is yathi punaravathAram is also established as an uththAraka AchArya by erumbi appA in his varavaramuni Sathakam).
  • SrIman nArAyaNan is the prathamAchArya (first AchArya) and being sarvagyan (omniscient), sarva sakthan (omnipotent) and so on, he can easily give mOksham to anyone.

periya perumAL - SrIrangam

  • nammAzhwAr who was hand-picked by emperumAn to give knowledge to samsAris and correct them is also capable of giving mOksham to anyone. This is understood from his own words in thiruvAimozhi - "ponnulagu ALirO, bhuvani muzhuthu ALIro" . He is asking the birds which he is sending dhUthu (as messenger) to emperumAn, that he can give both nithya vibhUthi and leelA vibhUthi to them as sambhAvanai (allowance) for their recommendation.

  • emperumAnAr was declared as udaiyavar - the controller of ubhaya vibhUthi - by SrI ranganAthan and thiruvEnkatamudaiyAn (SrInivAsa – thirumalA). Not only he was immersed in bhagavath anubhavam, he also lived in leelA vibhUthi for a long period (120 years) and served emperumAn's mission fully. He established proper temple worship, initiated 1000s of Sishyas, established 74 simhAsanAdhipathis to carry forward the divine message.

emperumAn acts purely according to SAsthram, he either gives mOksham or keeps the jIvAthmAs in the samsAram, based on the their desire and karma. So, nAyanArAchchAn piLLai concludes that uththArakathvam is complete in emperumAnAr.

nammAzhwAr, after receiving this knowledge, as he is an AzhwAr - even though he did parOpadhEsam (instructing others) a little bit, he got so immersed in bhagavath anubhavam and out of his Arthi left the material world at a very young age.

emperumAnAr with his parama krupA (great compassion) gave this benediction to anyone who desires and delivers them to emperumAn.

Thus, nAyanArAchchAn piLLai concludes that emperumAnAr has the uththArakathva pUrthi (completeness).

upakAraka AchArya

He is the one who is capable of leading us to an uththAraka AchArya. In our sampradAyam, all AchArya paramparais coming under emperumAnAr up to our own AchArya are classified under upakAraka AchArya. Whenever we undergo pancha samskAram, our AchArya requests emperumAnAr through his guru paramparai to hand over that jIvAthmA to emperumAn as a person with the desire of leaving samsAram and reaching paramapadham.

Both uththAraka AchArya and upakAraka AchArya are equally respectable - though emperumAnAr has a special place in our sampradAyam. mAmunigaL in his upadhESa raththina mAlai starts with thiruvAimozhip piLLai and ends with emperumAnAr to show us the proper approach.

samASrayana AchArya and gyAna AchArya
  • samASrayana AchArya is the one who is performing pancha samsakAram to us.
  • gyAna AchArya is the one from whom we hear grantha kAlakshEpams, etc which develops our Athma gyAnam.
While we are always indebted to our samASrayana AchArya and should be totally surrendered to him, gyAna AchArya should also be respected equally. For some, both samASrayana and gyAna AchAryas will be the same person. In fact, every SrIvaishNava must be respected as one’s own AchArya as per SrIvachana bhUshaNam.

To summarize, a Sishya must depend on his/her AchArya totally. He/She also has the responsibility to take care of the livelihood of the AchArya. One must constantly be in touch with the AchArya and also assist in his needs.

There were many wonderful incidents in our pUrvAcharyas’ lives between AchArya and Sishya. We will see some of them here:
  • maNakkAl nambi used to do menial services at his AchArya's (uyyakkoNdAr) residence.
  • maNakkAl nambi took so much effort to bring ALavandhAr into SrIvaishNavam.
  • emperumAnAr treated kUraththAzhwAn with utmost respect even though he (emperumAnAr) was the AchArya.
  • Once when emperumAnAr got upset with kUraththAzhwAn, AzhwAn said, "adiyEn is emperumAnAr's property - he can do whatever he wants".
  • embAr used to examine his AchArya's bed by lying down on it first. When asked if it is not a sin, he said he will not mind to commit such sin, as long as his AchArya's bed is ensured to be most comfortable.
  • emperumAnAr says to ananthAzhwAn that parAsara bhattar is just like himself and should be treated the same.
  • bhattar and nanjIyar had excellent conversations. nanjIyar gave up everything and became a sannyAsi. He said once, "if my Asramam comes in as an interference for my service to bhattar (his AchArya), I will break my thridhaNdam."
  • nanjIyar encouraged nampiLLai's view points even though they were sometimes different from his own for some pAsurams.
  • pinbazhagiya perumAL jIyar said he wanted to stay in this leelA vibhUthi just to observe/enjoy nampiLLai's (his AchArya) thirumuthugu (upper-back) while coming back from cauvery after bathing.
  • kUrakulOththama dhAsar took so much effort to bring thiruvAimozhip piLLai into SrIvaishNavam.
  • maNavALa mAmunigaL took thiruvAimozhip piLLai's (his AchArya) orders as his only goal in life. He learnt SrI bhAshyam once and gave lectures on it but then he focussed during the whole time in aruLichcheyal and rahasya granthams.
  • SrI ranganAthan with SrIdhEvi and bhUdhEvi listened to eedu kAlakshEpam from maNavALa mAmunigaL in front of his sannidhi for a whole year and gave his own SEsha paryankam  as his AchArya sambhAvanai and a thaniyan to his AchAryan which is chanted everywhere both at the beginning and at the end of any aruLichcheyal (dhivya prabandham) gOshti even today as per his order.
  • maNavALa mAmunigaL gave his own seat, thiruvAzhi (chakram/disc) and thiruchangu (sangu/conch) to ponnadikkAl jIyar and asked him to do pancha samskAram for appAchiyAraNNA.
There are many such incidents but just listed some to understand how AchAryas and Sishyas interacted with each other in their lives.

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

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