Srila Ramanuja Acharya's Disappearance Day

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Sri Ramanuja Acharya Disappearance Day 01/29/2015

Ramanuja was born in India during the year 1017 A.D. when, according to astrological calculations, the sun was in the zodiacal sign of Cancer. His parents were Asuri Keshava and Kantimati, both from aristocratic families. Rumanja passed his childhood days in Shriperumbudur, the village of his birth. At the age of 16 he was married to Rakshakambal.

Only four months after his wedding, Ramanuja's father was struck with a severe illness and died. Upon the death of his father, Ramanuja became head of the household and decided to move to Kanchi, a holy city famed for its scholars and magnificent Temples.

In Kanchi there lived a scholar named Yadava Prakash, who was renowned for his scholarship in the doctrine of adwaita-vedanta, nondualism. No one could surpass Yadava in his ability to explain Shankara's commentaries on Vedanta-sutra. Ramanuja enrolled in Yadava's school and engaged in the study of Sanskrit and Vedic literature. Although not at all convinced by the Shankarite conception, Ramanuja learned his lessons well and soon became one of Yadava's favorite students. Thinking Ramanuja to be a sincere follower of the conclusions of Shankara, Yadava showed Ramanuja special affection, but that affection did not last for long.

One day, after delivering a discourse on the Chandogya Upanishad, Yadava asked Ramanuja to massage his body with oil, as was the customary service to be performed by a student in those days. While giving the massage to his teacher, another student came to Yadava for some clarification on a point from the morning discourse. The boy had failed to grasp the meaning of the seventh verse of the first chapter, which began with tasya vatha kapvasam pundarikam evam akshini. Yadava proceeded to expound an interpretation which described the sublime qualities of the Godhead in a manner which was flagrantly objectionable.

On hearing the words of his teacher, the heart of Ramanuja, which was full of love for the Supreme Godhead, was saddened, and hot tears streamed down from his eyes and fell on the thigh of Yadava. Looking up at the touch of the hot tears, Yadava could understand that something was troubling Ramanuja. When he inquired about Ramanuja's distress, Ramanuja replied, "O great and wise master, I have been sorely afflicted at heart to hear such an unbecoming explanation from a noble soul like you. How sinful it is of you to debase the Supreme, who is endowed with all gracious qualities and who is the source of all beautiful things in this world. From the mouth of such a learned man as yourself I would never have expected such a low and deceitful interpretation!"

In a very gentle voice Ramanuja replied, "Revered sir, there is no need to give a low-minded interpretation to the verse when the real meaning is direct and glorious."

"Then let us hear this meaning of yours which is so glorious!" said Yadava. Ramanuja then stood and with great humility recited the meaning of the verse. "The two eyes of the Supreme are as lovely as two lotuses that are blossomed by the rays of the sun."

"I see," said Yadava. "You speak as though there actually was such a 'Supreme Person.' That is due to your childish ignorance. You have not learned your lessons properly. You should always remember that the Supreme is without form, without name, and without attributes. That is the teaching of the great Shankara. In the future you should not voice your foolish sentiments!" The words of Yadava were painful to Ramanuja's ears, but out of respect for his teacher he remained silent.

A few days later a second incident occurred. While explaining a verse from the Taittiriya Upanishad beginning with satyam jnanam anantam brahma, Yadava said that Brahman was intelligence, truth, and the infinite. Hearing this explanation, Ramanuja politely added, "Brahman is endowed with the qualities of intelligence, truth, and the infinite. This means that He is not covered by ignorance as are ordinary living entities, He is never untruthful, and His energies are unlimited, not limited. The Supreme Brahman is the reservoir of all good qualities, yet He is superior to those qualities, as the sun globe is superior to sunlight."

The agitation which Yadava felt within his mind made his voice tremble. "You young fool!" he shouted. "Your conclusions do not agree with those of Shankara or any of the previous masters! If you are going to persist with this useless talk about a personal God, why come here at all simply to waste my time? Why don't you start your own school and teach whatever you like? Now get out of my classroom immediately!"

As Ramanuja rose from his seat and quietly left the room, Yadava began to reflect, "This Ramanuja is not an ordinary boy. If he starts his own school, the philosophy of devotion might become a threat to the philosophy of non-dualism. For the sake of preserving our doctrine, this fool should be killed!"

Shortly thereafter, Ramanuja opened a small school at his home, and in no time many people began to come to him to hear his devotional discourses. Ramanuja's lectures were wholly theistic. He rejected the concept that the jiva, a living entity, could be equal to the Supreme Brahman or become God as postulated by Shankara. The living entity, Ramanuja taught, is a particle of Godhead, and as such, his position is to serve the complete whole. He said that as the hand is part of the body and thus a servant of the body, similarly the living entity is part of the Supreme and thus his constitutional position is to serve the Supreme.

Ramanuja's philosophy became known as vishishtadwaita or qualified non-dualism. Accordingly, the living entities are believed to be qualitatively one with the Supreme and at the same time quantitatively different. Ramanuja's assertion was that the quantitative difference means that the fragmentary parts of the Supreme are dependent on the Supreme but they cannot become the Supreme.