A preceptor’s kind glance is ranked even higher than divine blessings, and takes the disciple far ahead.
यत्पदाम्भोरुह-ध्यान विध्वस्ताशेष कल्मषः,
वस्तुताम् उपयातोऽहं यामुनेयम् नमामि तम्.
yatpadaambhoruha-dhyaana vidhvastaasesha kalmashah,
vastutaam upayaato’ham yaamuneyam namaami tam.
“I offer my obeisance to Yamunacharya, by meditating on whose sacred feet, I have all my sins destroyed and been counted as an entity.”
This is the isolate (taniyan) verse sung by Sri Ramanuja at the commencement of his famous work, the Gitabhashya. Sri Ramanuja had never met Sri Yamunacharya (Sri Alavandar). He heard about the latter through a song of his, sung by Sri Periya Nambi, in the precincts of Sri Varadaraja temple at Kanchipuram. This verse conveyed the following ideas:
“O Narayana! Is there anyone among the Vedic scholars who does not acknowledge Your supremacy and Your natural, immeasurable excellences? Brahma, Siva, Indra and the nityaasuris are but droplets in the ocean of Your glory!”
For one who had left the tutelage of his old preceptor Yadavaprakasa, and whose mind was in a state of confusion about the nature and qualities of the supreme Being, this verse was like manna from heaven. So, on finding out from Sri Periya Nambi that Sri Yamunacharya was the author of the verse and the venerable preceptor was also keen to see him, Sri Ramanuja left for Srirangam, accompanied by Sri Nambi. But fate intervened and Sri Yamunacharya attained eternity before Sri Ramanuj a could meet him. Sri Ramanuja returned to Kanchipuram, a totally desolate man. Later, Sri Ramanuja was sent for by the disciples of Sri Yamunacharya and installed as the chief of the establishment which the acharya had founded and headed. Sri Ramanuja then studied under all the senior disciples of Sri Yamunacharya and attained pre-eminence as the expounder of what is known as the `Ramanuja siddhanta’
Grace through glances
How then can one explain the taniyan verse of Sri Ramanuja? It is because, as detailed in the Guruparampara records, Sri Yamunacharya had seen Sri Ramanuja during the latter’s student days under Yadavaprakasa, and had blessed him with his benevolent glances. Then and there, he mentally selected Sri Ramanuja to succeed him. But he did not want to interrupt Sri Ramanuja’s studies. So he went to Lord Varadaraja’s sanctum sanctorum and offered the following worshipful and significant prayer.
यस्य प्रसादकलया बधिरह् श्रृणोति
पङ्गुः प्रधावति जवेन च वक्ति मूकः,
अन्धः प्रपश्यति सुतं लभते च वन्ध्या
तं देवमेव वरदं शरणं गतोऽस्मि.
yasya prasaadakalayaa badhirah srinoti
panguh pradhaavati javena cha vakti mookah,
andhah prapasyati sutam labhate cha vandhyaa
tam devameva varadam saranam gato’smi.
“O Varada! I surrender myself to You. A mere drop of Your grace causes the deaf to hear, the lame to run, enables the dumb to speak, helps the blind to see and has a barren woman produce a child”.
Only this glance of Sri Yamunacharya enabled Sri Ramanuja to leave Yadavaprakasa later on and took him step by step to the pinnacle of his glory as a propounder of a new philosophy and a preceptor of undying fame. The power of an acharya’s glances can make anything, even the improbable, happen; it cannot be underestimated. Sri Desika conveys this through a verse in his Subhashita Neevee (8.10). The verse and its meaning are as under.
एकयैव गुरोर्दृश्ट्या द्वाभ्याम् वापि लभेत यत्,
न तत् तिस्रिभिरश्ताभिह् सहस्रेनापि कस्यचित्.
ekayaiva gurordrishtyaa dvaabhyaam vaapi labheta yat,
na tat tisribhirashtaabhih sahasrenaapi kasyachit.
“What a person gets through a glance or two from his preceptor cannot be got even from the glances of the Three-eyed (Siva), Eight-eyed (Brahma) or a Thousand-eyed .”
Such is the graceful power of the glance bestowed by a preceptor on his disciple. This includes a sidelong glance (‘ kadaikkanpaarvai’ in Tamil) also. Seeing with both eyes means not only blessing, but also imparting knowledge, praying to the supreme One for the disciple’s liberation, removing the disciple’s sorrows, etc.
Earlier and later cases
In the Srivaishnava Guruparampara, it is not only Sri Ramanuja who rose to eminence through mere glances from an acharya. Sri Alavandar himself received the kind glances of (his grandfather) Sri Nathamuni, who did not teach him at all. Remembering this, he extolled Sri Nathamuni in the first three verses of his Stotraratna. Again, in the last verse, he prays for the Lord’s grace just on account of being the grandson of Sri Nathamuni! Then, we see Sri Ramanuja himself blessing Sri Parasara Bhatta in a similar fashion. When Sri Bhatta was just a babe¬in-arms, he was brought by Sri Embar to Sri Ramanuja’s presence for his blessings. Along with his blessings, Sri Ramanuja also asked Sri Embar to tutor the child. This child grew up to be a genius and was a leading preceptor in the days to come. Referring to these blessings, Sri Bhatta extols Sri Ramanuja in his Srirangarajastava (verse 3) as ‘one who stemmed the malevolent Kali in his tracks’.
Then we have Sri Nadadur Ammal blessing Sri Vedanta Desika as a five-year-old boy with the following famous verse.
प्रतिष्टापित वेदान्तः प्रतिक्षिप्त बहिर्मतः,
pratishthaapita vedaantah pratikshipta bahirmatah,
“May you establish Vedanta on a firm basis and refute the arguments of rival faiths! May you be revered by scholars of the three Vedas! May you receive all auspiciousness!”
Like Sri Ramanuja designating Sri Embar as a preceptor of Sri Bhatta, Sri Nadadur Ammal nominated Sri Kidambi Appullar as the preceptor of Sri Desika. Like Sri Bhatta, Sri Desika rose to eminence and protected Sri Ramanuja’s philosophy in a manner none had done before. Thus we have the instances of Sri Yamunacharya, Sri Ramanuja, Sri Parasara Bhatta and Sri Vedantadesika who received only the benign glances of their senior preceptors and became beacons of Visishtadvaita philosophy. The powers of the acharya’s glances are indeed inestimable.