Essence of the Three Secrets | 2

The Main Doctrine

The word ‘prati-tantra' signifies a unique doctrine which is not found in any other religion.

The important and unique feature of our Viśiṣṭādvaita doctrine deals with the relationship between sentient and non-sentient beings and the Supreme as akin to the relationship between the body and the soul.

As is the soul to the body, the Supreme is soul to our soul.
The sentient and non-sentient things are the body (śarīra) of the Supreme Lord.
The Lord is śarīri, the soul.

As long as these things exist, the Lord (śarīri) supports them, controls them, and uses them for himself.

The sentient and non-sentient beings are considered to be the śarīra the Lord, supported by him, and are unable to remain separated from Him, and they exist only as His servitors (śeṣa).

Generally for an aspirant the substance that is unable to leave him as long as it exists is his body (śarīra). In the same way, these sentient and non-sentient beings are not able to exist independent of the Lord and hence they are known as His body.

The idea of the Lord supporting the sentient and non-sentient beings is to be understood as their existence, continuance and activity being dependent on His will. Keeping them under his control, His will supports their existence and continuity.

Those of the Lords qualities that help others understand the Lord and the qualities that are understood through them which belong to Him: indeed, He directly supports everything except himself. The Lord is the support of the qualities of the substances through the substances themselves.

Some say that the bodies supported by the soul are being supported by the Lord through the soul. Some āchāryas say that the Lord supports bodies through the souls and by himself as well.

Thus all substances hold on to the essential nature (svarūpa) of the Lord, do not get separated from Him at any time.

It is the Lord's will that commands the continuity of the beings. Hence it is said that He controls and rules over them.

It is the Lord’s will that makes heavy substances like the heavens and stars to stay in their places without falling off.

Therefore it is to be understood that as all these substances hold on to His essential nature and act according to His will, they are the Lord's body.

One can see such a relationship between the body and the soul on earth. The body exists as long as the soul is; once the soul withdraws, the body gets destroyed. Or, if the soul wills, it is supported.

In the same manner, the Lord is the soul of sentient and non-sentient beings. He is the Lord (Śeṣi) of them all because he fulfils His purposes through them and gains in glory.

This view is unique to the Śrī Vaishnava doctrine.

The Five Articles

As stated earlier, the basis of Viśiṣṭādvaita doctrine is that the Lord is the soul (śarīri) of all sentient and non-sentient beings. Visioning them as the Lord's body is to underline the relationship between the Lord and creation.

Elders speak next about 5 articles. Along with the relationship mentioned here, they present the number at six.

These five articles are:

1. the Lord or Supreme Brahman,
2. the Soul that must gain Him,
3. the Way to attaining Him,
4. the Goal of attainment and
5. the Hindrances on the way.

The Brahman to be gained is to be meditated upon in the opening 'Ā' sound of the Tirumantra, in the word 'Nārāyaṇa' and the phrases ‘Śrīmate Nārāyaṇāya’, 'Śrīman Nārāyaṇa’ in the Dvaya. This Brahman is Nārāyaṇa.

Whenever we think of this Nārāyaṇa, we must envision Him in the company of His consort Lakshmi who is inseparable from Him and as one who is full of infinite knowledge and shoreless Ānanda (Bliss).

Besides, we must think of Him as possessing a gracious body which supports all the worlds. His body has not been formed by the five elements. This is a form that is incomparably beautiful and has an indestructible individuality.

The Lord's form is of 5 kinds:

They are 1. Param, 2. Vyūham, 3. Vibhavam, 4. Archai and 5. Antaryāmī.

I shall deal with them in detail in the next chapter. They have been well defined In the Pāñcharātra.

Besides we must also envision Him as one who has countless Vibhūtis (glories).

Vibhuti is the substance which is subservient to Him or is His splendour.

This creation is a Vibhuti meant for the Lord’s play or sport.

This earth is but one fourth of it. Three-fourths of it is the world of Śrī Vaikuṇṭha. There it is unalloyed joy all the time. Śrī Nārāyaṇa is the Lord of both these existences.

The Lord has to be envisioned even thus:

as one who is ever with Lakshmi, an image of endless knowledge and joy, one who is untainted, ocean of countless good qualities like knowledge and power, one who has the two Vibhūtis as His image, as one engaged in the sport of birth, sustenance and death in this world.

Envisioning the Lord thus, the individual soul must anxiously try to attain Him.

Now, one must understand the nature of the individual soul:

This Jīvātmā is of 3 kinds: Baddha, Mukta, Nitya.

Of these, the Bhaddas (the bound) are the souls from Brahma to the tiniest plant that have been in existence in creation.

The Muktas (released souls) are those who have held on to one of the ways suggested in the Scriptures and have by the grace of the Supreme transcended life on earth to Śrī Vaikuṇṭha where they exist with the Lord experiencing limitless Ānanda.

The Nityās (the eternally free) are like friends of the Lord in Śrī Vaikuṇṭha and have been enjoying bliss since times immemorial. They include the snake Anantha, the bird Garuda and the rest.

The Muktas and Nityās consider servitude to the Lord to be the highest Ānanda.

The common attribute to all these is atomic; their knowledge is Ānanda. Their characteristics lie in being servant to the Lord and remaining under His control.

This soul must be thought of while meditating on the Prāṇava, Namo in the Tirumantra, Nara in Nārāyaṇa, the first person singular of prapadye (I seek refuge), and the second person singular of prapadye and in the word Vraja (surrender thyself) and tva (thee) in the Charama Śloka.

Next comes the Way (upāya) the soul must take to attain the Lord. It will be presented in detail in later chapters:

This may be learnt from the word Namaḥ and the part Ayana (resting place) in the Tirumantra, the first part of the Dvaya and in the first half of the Charama Śloka.

The fourth is the Fruit to be attained: This is servitude to the Lord in Śrī Vaikuṇṭha. This must be understood in the dative or fourth case (Nārāyaṇāya), the word Namaḥ in Dvaya and the sentence sarvapāpebhyo mokṣyayiṣyāmi (I will free you from all sins).

The fifth point to be known is the hurdle that come’s in the way of attaining the Lord. It is ignorance and the rest which hinder the attainment of Moksha.

Foremost among the evils of ignorance is rebelling against the orders of the Lord which have been followed from times immemorial:

His orders are the Vedas and the Dharma Śāstras. By going against the Lord's orders, one incurs his wrath resulting in chastisement. This is indeed the most important obstacle.

Hence the pure knowledge of the soul gets constricted:

The reason is the association with Prakriti (Nature) that makes the soul subject to the body and the senses. Hence the soul gets bodies like those of birds and animals through many births.

Even if he does gain a human body, he remains a stranger to authentic scriptures. Following religions that lead one astray, he gets lost. Or, he takes to evil ways for the sake of small gains and becomes loaded with sin.

Some worship lesser gods for the lowly gifts they confer. They consider these gifts as great as if they were themselves worms or insects.

Even if some aspirants overcome such temptations and gain expertise in scriptures, they take to lesser ways of gaining good and never rise to higher planes of achievement.

It is but the Lord's punishment that keeps one away from the path which takes us to Moksha and release from birth and continues to keep us struggling in wrongful paths.

The reason is Avidya (Ignorance). Ignorance it nothing but the act of considering what is eternally good as evil and taking to evil as if it were good. This is the hurdle to Moksha.

There are paths like Karma yoga to gain the Lord’s presence. But it is not possible to count the number of births that would be needed to gain moksha by following such pathways.

However, since the path is good, it is certain to lead us to the goal:

Though Vasiṣṭha and other sages were realised souls, they gained Moksha only after a very long time. Others like Vritra and Kshatrabandhu had innumerable hurdles on their way to moksha, but gained it speedily.

Hence it is not possible to gauge the qualities that help us gain Moksha soon. Nor is it possible to find out the sins that may dwell in one which delays Moksha.

Suffice it to say that by contravening the orders of the Lord, one's progress gets delayed. The Lord punishes the aspirant for this reason.

The only way to escape the Lord's wrath is surrendering at His feet. In this context, Śrī Rāmānuja says that surrender is the only way to gain the Lord's kind attention.

The hurdles mentioned therein must be meditated upon by thinking of what has to be eschewed as stated in the Three Secrets, and hold oneself in readiness and work fast to gain the Goal swiftly.