Essence of the Three Secrets | 11. Tirumantra

The Tirumantra

Till now important information, which good people should know, has been conveyed through replies to questions. All this is revealed by the three secrets, in Tirumantra, Dvaya –and Charama śloka, which Vedanta Deśika takes up for detailed exegesis now.

Of these three the Tirumantra avers that the Jīvātmā is servant of the Lord:

It removes hurdles, raises in him the desire for the supreme plane of Moksha and anxiety to gain it at the earliest. The Tirumantra will increase his desire for the fulfilment of his ideal.

To this chosen devotee, the Dvaya teaches the method of performing Prapatti. The Charama śloka commands him to perform this surrender.

From each of the secrets one can gather the significance of the Way through the sound or meaning. However, each mantra has an individual significance.

As individual meanings, the Charama Śloka is to be understood as a command to perform Śaraṇāgati, the Dvaya is the mantra to be repeated for performing Prapatti, Tirumantra indicates everything in a flash.

The Dvaya shows that the first syllable of the first word of Tirumantra, AU, symbolises the supremacy of the Lord. The middle word 'Namo’ indicates that Prapatti is the Way. The third word ‘Nārāyaṇāya’ insinuates that the fruit of surrender is kainkarya.

In Dvaya, the word ‘prapadye' signifies the humble devotee, and how he has interest in no other Way, and "namaḥ' symbolises the act of giving up what should be rejected.

These three secrets are the cause of knowledge, spiritual discipline and strength.

The Tirumantra enters the disciple's mind through the Āchārya’s initiation, chases away the darkness of ignorance found there, reveals the Jīvātmā’s true status as the Lord's servant (śeṣa) and makes him remain so. Hence it gives a status to the Jīvātmā.

The Charama śloka teaches the path of surrender and thereby helps the growth of intelligence for becoming an ideal servant.

As it is capable of granting the supreme state of Moksha even by uttering it once, and as it helps the Jīvātmā achieve transcendence by repeated recitation, Dvaya Mantra gives him great happiness.

The Tirumantra has been praised high in works like Atharvana Upanishad and Katha Upanishad, śāstras like those of Manu, and also in Nārāyaṇa Hiraṇyagarbha Kalpa, Naradiya Kalpa and Bhodhayaneeya Kalpa.

Of all mantras, those that refer to gods are great; of them Aṣṭākṣara, Dvadasakṣara and Ṣaḍākṣara are of special significance. Of these again, Aṣṭākṣara is superior:

It is the very essence of all the Vedas, has a powerful thrust to destroy all sorrows, is capable of granting all desires, a help for all paths, is common to everyone transcending caste barriers, speaks the truth about Matter, sentient beings and the Lord; and it is applicable to all forms of the Lord.

Hence the Āḻvārs and Āchāryas favoured this Aṣṭākṣara (Tirumantra). The sages have also spoken of its greatness in many ways.

The Tirumantra was taught by the Lord to Śrī Puṇḍarīka through Nārada. As he received it in good faith, he repeated the mantra and gained Moksha. The Lord Himself taught the mantra to Tirumaṅgai Āḻvār.

This core mantra with Prāṇava is not advisable for being taught to women and persons belonging to the fourth caste:

Instead of Prāṇava, its first letter ‘A’ alone can be added to get the eight letters. One should meditate upon the significance of Prāṇava when reciting this 'A'.

It is said that even if the Prāṇava is not added to ‘Namo Nārāyaṇāya' it has the same glory and strength as when ‘AUṀ’ is added to it. The Āḻvārs have recorded the Tirumantra without the Prāṇava.

The Prāṇava by itself in the instrumentation of Prapatti would mean the self-offering of the Jīvātmā to the Paramātma.

The Vedas and Dharma-śāstras say it is the essence of the three Vedas as it has the three letters, ‘A’, ‘U’, ‘M’.

Of the three letters, ‘A’ refers to the Lord. Śrī Rāmānuja has stated in the Vedānta Saṅgraha that the first letter ‘A’ always refers to the first of creation, the Lord.

This idea is found in Nigaṇṭhas and Vyākaraṇas:

Vyākaraṇa considers "A" as ‘the guardian of all’, and links it to the Lord. As the term 'guardian’ does not indicate the guardianship of a particular thing, it transpires that He is the guardian of all.

One must remember that the Lord who is the guardian of all is always in the company of Lakshmi. This has been underlined by many pramāṇas. Wherever the Lord is mentioned, the Mother's presence is understood.

Just as when engaged in devotion one must meditate upon the Lord's gracious qualities along with the Vidyās, one must meditate upon the Lord always with the Mother. This is what distinguishes the Lord from other gods.

The great sages who have experientially envisioned the Lord say that his superiority lies in being seen along with the Mother. Even the term 'Nārāyaṇa’ must be taken as indicating the presence of Lakshmi.

The first letter 'A’ in the Prāṇava is in the dative or fourth case singular where the singular suffix has been dropped. As the letter A signifies the Lord, there is this need of the fourth case.

To the Supreme Lord signified by 'A' belongs the Jīvātmā signified by 'M'.

The first letter of Tirumantra, i.e., the Prāṇava indicates that the Jīvātmā is the servant of the Lord. This is equal to saying that the Prāṇava is the mantra that offers the Jīvātmā to Paramātma.

When it is said that the Paramātma is the Śeṣi (owner) of all and Jīvātmā is His servant, it should be remembered that Nārāyaṇa with Lakshmi is the Śeṣi. Hence the Jīvātmā is servant to both Lakshmi and Nārāyaṇa.

Śeṣa means one who does not regard the good of himself but is ever intent on the good of others. The 'others' in the Prāṇava are Śeṣi. Hence the ‘A’ itself means Jīvātmā is the servant of Lakshmi and Nārāyaṇa.

The Kata Śruti refers to the middle letter 'U' as Lakshmi. Thereby we understand that the Jīvātmā symbolised by 'M’ as servant to Vishnu who is signified by ‘A’ and Lakshmi by ‘U’.

The ‘U’ also shows that this Jīvātmā is servant only to Lakshmi and Nārāyaṇa and none else. It means that the Jīvātmā has always to be their servant.

The idea that the third letter of Prāṇava ‘M’ refers to the Jīvātmā:

according to the rules of grammar it refers to Jīvātmā who is the image of knowledge, is intelligent and atomic. Though the general idea is an image of knowledge, it is particularly understood as the image of Ānanda.

Here some people conjoin ‘M’ which means ’myself' and explain it as, "I am the Lord’s servant". Others say, ‘M’ being ‘myself, there is no need to tag on another letter.

It is appropriate to consider 'M’ itself as ‘myself’. The meaning of Prāṇava is clear: I belong to the Supreme Lord and no one else.

In the second syllable 'nama’, ‘ma’ refers to the Jīvātmā. Since this ends in the sixth or genitive case, and 'na' would mean not, the syllable ‘nama' means 'not for me’. As not is important, ‘na' stands first.

If we say "it does not belong to me", the question could be posed: “What is that which does not belong?" Bring the third letter of Prāṇava here and get the meaning proper: “l do not belong to myself”.

It is clear that the Jīvātmā in the Prāṇava belongs only to the Lord and no one else. If one should wonder whether the Jīvātmā is master of himself, the term ‘nama’ makes it clear that the Jīvātmā is not master of himself either.

Also, Jīvātmā is not master of any quality or thing belonging to him. It is the Lord who is the owner. The Jīvātmā controls the body, qualities and the rest by the permission of the Lord.

All that belongs to the Jīvātmā have been gifted to him by the Lord. The Lord gives all that to the Jīvātmā actually for His use. The Jīvātmā has no freedom in anything. The Jīvātmā does everything by the grace of the Lord.

Usually, in this world of human affairs, nobody likes to be beholden to others for actually being master of himself, the freedom to do as he likes or as a servant. But such thoughts arise only due to karmic reasons.

It is natural for the Jīvātmā to be a servant and it pleases him. Just as he is a servant to the Lard, he happens to be that for other devotees as well in consonance with the Lord’s wish.

As he is under the control of the Lord and has to gain his wishes through His grace, the surrender undertaken by him in the Dvaya and the Charama Śloka to fulfil his wishes is indicated in the Tirumantra.

Epics like the Mahābhārata indicate the act of surrender by 'nama'. Here also the term refers to Prapatti or surrender. "Nama’ is also used as offering oneself.

Therefore the conclusion: I do not belong to myself. My actions are not under my control. All of this belongs to the Lord.

The Nirukta when explaining 'Namaskāra' speaks in such terms. The term ‘nama' in its external meaning and inner sense refers to surrender.

The term ‘Nārāyaṇa’ refers to the Lord whose grace is elicited through surrender and as one who accepts servitude indicated in the fourth case, and who is the protector of all of us.

This places Nārāyaṇa apart from all other gods. The term does not indicate any other person or god.

Without any doubt, it has been made clear that the ‘A’ in the Prāṇava is Nārāyaṇa. The Nārāyaṇa anuvāka of the Veda repeats that Nārāyaṇa alone is the Supreme Deity.

The Rishis and Āḻvārs say that one who repeats the terms Nārāyaṇa gains all prosperity and his sins and dangers are washed away. Some Purāṇas even give eight letters to the term Nārāyaṇa and equate it with Tirumantra.

Another meaning of Nārāyaṇa is that He is the Lord of everything (Naras) and upholds them all. There is also a meaning that the Naras are the residence of the Lord.

That is, the Lord is Antaryāmī, the Indwelling Universal. From this it is understood that the Lord upholds all and that the Lord pervades everything.

When it is said Nārāyaṇa is the upholder of Naras, it indicates that the world is made up of things that have all sprung up from the Lord, Nara.

Naturally this means Brahma, Rudra and others were created by Nārāyaṇa. He is their Cause. Ayanam means that which is attained.

Thus all these are dependent upon the Lord and the Lord pervades them and is everywhere. It also indicates that the Lord is subtle whose characteristics are not found anywhere else.

It has been said Nara means the group of jivātmās and their refuge is the Lord.

Ayanam’ has 3 meanings:

The Lord is upeya when we say 'he gains the fruit’.

When it is understood as 'in Him it is attained’, the Lord becomes the basis of everything. That means He is the Way and the Goal Supreme.

Besides, ‘Ayana’ means residence, that is residence for all:

So the Lord surrounds everything. As one who resides in everything, he is immanent all over. These two truths are mentioned in the Vedas also.

One may ask: How can one say a subtle being like the soul is pervaded by something else? Where is place within?

Indeed, when it is said the Lord pervades, it means the Lord's aegis is part of these selves. Wherever they are, the Lord is.

Vedas and other scriptures refer to the Lord as subtler than the atom. It means He is within, that He cannot be denied entry anywhere, not that He is an atom.

By the letter ‘A’ in Prāṇava, the 'Nara’ in 'Naram’ and the syllable ‘Ayana' the Lord is addressed.

When addressing with the three syllables, one takes in the significances that the Lord is the guardian, the doer, the eternal and the mover of all. By these three one should realise the effects of the Name.

In works like Subāla Upanishad, Nārāyaṇa is differentiated from other deities as the Indweller of all and a relation in every way:

The relations one has on earth became relations by the will of the Lord. It is the Lord who appears like the father, the mother, the son and everybody else. If His grace is present, even He can be no enemy. He becomes a priceless friend.

Then the fourth case, "Nārāyaṇa". First it appears as 'for Nārāyaṇa’.   As it is added to 'namaḥ’, it appears as the fourth case. But there seems to be no particular function for it. This is the place for the cause that leads to fruition in Tirumantra. It is also taken as a prayer for results. The sterling significance is that we are offering this Ātma to Nārāyaṇa.

Vedanta Deśika says that the elders have found 10 significances for the Tirumantra:

First:  Take it as a single sentence which means, 'I salute Nārāyaṇa'.

Second: Divide the Tirumantra into two sentences to mean the Lord indicated by ‘A’ and ‘Nārāyaṇa’ as the guardian of all, and that ‘I am the servant of Nārāyaṇa alone who is the base of all, and have no freedom for myself’.

Third:  Another meaning when it is taken as two sentences. Elders speak of the Tirumantra itself as Prapatti (the act of surrender). Nārāyaṇa of 'ma’ has been offered ‘A’ the Jivātmā. It means that, I am not master of myself. Śrī Rāmānuja has spoken of the Tirumantra itself as the mantra of surrender in his Nitya.

Fourth: Praying for           servitude to Nārāyaṇa indicated by ‘A’ and that nothing may prevent it. Thus the prayer is for being granted what he wants; also to keep away what he does not want.

Fifth: Tirumantra is read as three sentences: Prāṇava, Namo, Nārāyaṇāya. I am the property of Nārāyaṇa of ‘A’ as I am not my owner. I want to serve Nārāyaṇa all the time in every way. So you have three meanings.

Sixth: Prāṇava means the same. Namaḥ means I do not belong to myself, nor does anything belong to me. The intention is to reject what the Jīvātmā does not want and through Nārāyaṇa signify that he wants only Nārāyaṇa and servitude to Him.

Seventh: It shows the true form and the Way which are indicated by ‘Ayana', that the Lord is the Way and the Goal.

Eighth: Some say the order found in Charama Śloka and Dvaya are indicated by Prāṇava (surrender) and the other syllables (results).

Ninth: The Prāṇava is said to indicate the nature of the Lord and Jīvātmā, Namaḥ speaks of the Way and the rest refer to the accruing results.

Tenth: The conclusion is as follows: Only through Vedanta can one understand clearly and in detail the real nature, the Way and the Goal:

The Vedanta śāstra has four sections. The first two sections speak of the nature of Brahman. The third section speaks of the Way and the fourth section of the Goal.

Prāṇava, Namaḥ and Nārāyaṇa have been set in that order.

One who understands properly the significance of the Tirumantra and has full faith in it becomes so close to the divine that the land where he lives is free from drought, sickness and thievery.

The śāstras say that the Tirumantra contains the Rig, Yajus, Sāma and Atharva Vedas. The Tirumantra reveals to aspirants who want moksha all that they desire.

It said that by pronouncing the divine Tirumantra once, one gains the fruit of reciting Rig, Yajus, Sama and Atharva Vedas. One gets the fruits desired by him in proportion to his faith in the mantra.

We noted earlier that Tirumaṅgai Āḻvār received initiation of Tirumantra from Nārāyaṇa Himself. Indeed, even the Lord cannot adumbrate entirely the mantra's glory!