This is a six part article detailing the Artha Panchaka – The Five Requirements of a Srivaishnava based on The Handbook of Srivaishnavism by U Ve Sri Rama Ramanuja Achari of Sri Matham
The Transcendental Divine Nature is distinguished by 6 attributes which have given It the title of Bhagavan;
jñanam (Knowledge) – This term connotes omniscience or perfect knowledge of everything in the universe, past, present and future. (See the discussion in the section 1.2.)
aisvaryam (Sovereignty) – This refers to that perfection of the Divine Nature by which It is the absolute and highest cause and therefore Supreme Ruler of the universe. The activity of the Supreme Being is based upon total and absolute independence (svatantriya) and Self-determination (satya-sankalpa).
sakti (Energy) The Divine Nature is the ‘efficient’ cause as well as the ‘material’ cause of the universe. In the example of the potter; He is the potter (efficient cause) as well as the clay (material cause) from which the pots are made. The universe is thus a Self-projection by the Divine Nature from within. It is illogical to assume that the Supreme Being creates the world from nothing. (Ex-nihilo – The predominant theory of the Semitic religions; Judaism, Christianity & Islam)
bala (Power) This refers to the omnipotence of the Godhead which has the power to project, sustain and dissolve the entire cosmos and re-project it, without ever becoming fatigued. (The possibility of God becoming tired or needing rest even in a figurative sense is totally rejected.)
virya (Creative Potency) This terms indicates that although the Godhead is the cause of the universe It, Itself remains changeless and unaffected by the activities of cosmic projection, sustentation and transformation. The ocean remains unchanged in spite of the rising and falling of the waves, the formation of froth, whirlpools and currents etc, which are all in reality non-different from the ocean – being only its modifications.
tejas (Splendour) This means that the Godhead is totally Self-sufficient and complete in Itself and has no competitors. It does not need to rely on any other being for anything whatsoever. It is complete and perfect.
In their totality, these 6 above mentioned qualities make up the Essential Nature of God and His eternal Consort Lakshmi. (sad-gunam-vigraham-devam).
Functional Manifestations – vyuha
From this totality of perfect being, four “emanations” proceed. The operative word being; proceed – one does not create the other. Each emanation proceeds from the one before, just as a series of candles are lit, one from the other. Another example would be the modern multi-media montage technique where one person is transformed into another using the facial features of the previous person. These are known as the four Hypostatic Emanations and are named Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. They are not four separate entities but are forms assumed by the one Supreme Being for the purpose of the cosmic functions of projecting, maintaining and withdrawing the Universe.
Cosmic projection in Vedanta is viewed as cyclic and not linear as in the Semitic Religions. The basic components of Universal Matter – the atoms, are eternal and are constantly forming compounds and again dissolving. When this process applies to the Universe as a whole it is termed as srishti (projection/evolution) and pralaya (dissolution/ involution). This cycle is perpetual and continues forever.
The term ‘vyuha’ literally means splitting and refers to the splitting of the 6 attributes into three pairs. This can be likened to the process of mitosis by which cells undergo multiplication by a special process of self-division. This means that each of the Emanations has two particular qualities which are active and the other four remaining dormant.
Each of these Vyuhas has two functions; a cosmic creative one, and a moral one. The creative function is connected with the origination of beings (ontology) and the moral function is connected with their ethical and spiritual progress in the world.
The creative activities of the Vyuhas come into play one after the other, thus marking out three successive stages in the process of evolution of the Universe. In the pre-creational phase, the duality of all material matter and conscious Selves exist in a state of undifferentiated unity like the presence of curds and whey in milk. Everything is absorbed and dissolved at the end of a cycle, into the Godhead which alone remains. The sentient Selves and insentient matter exist in a unity with the Godhead but remain individually separate. In Mythological terms the Lord Narayana (The Ground of Being) lies upon the couch of eternity; represented by the thousand headed snake Ananta, floating on the ocean of Milk (Undifferentiated Unity) – the original state of matter in its potential form. The Lord mythologically contains the entire universe within His belly.
Description of the Vyuhas and the stages of Cosmic Evolution
Sankarshana – with this vyuha the entire future universe comprised of energy (spirit or purusha) and matter (prakrti) is compressed into a tiny point of space (bindu) without internal distinctions. It is in a state of ‘potentiality’ and the attribute (Guna) concerned with developing this potential is Bala (omnipotence).
Pradyumna – with this vyuha the compressed embryonic mass of the Universe bursts forth into a duality consisting of Spirit (Purusha) and Matter (Prakrti). The attribute which is involved in this separation is Aishvarya (Absolute Independence) Pradyumna in turn, causes the manifestation of three things;-
1. the ‘group Self’ (manava sarga) – all the individual Selves or jivas exist together in a conglomeration known as the purusha or hiranyagarbha.
2. Primordial Matter (pradhana or prakrti) the basic pre-molecular substance from which the universe is created.
3. Subtle Time (kala) which is the potency of change before it becomes divided into the measurements of gross time consisting of years, seasons, months, weeks, days etc. which are determined by the movements of the spheres.
Aniruddha – by the means of the attribute called shakti (energy), Aniruddha causes the evolution of the gross atoms out of the Primordial Matter (pradhana) and the development of gross time from subtle time. Thus the evolution of Matter and Spirit under the influence of Time, produces the Mixed Creation (mishra srshti) during which the pre-existent Selves become differentiated. Aniruddha becomes the ruler of the various galaxies and their contents. From Aniruddha emanate Brahma and Siva – personifications of his Grace and Wrath.
The Ethical Activities of the Vyuhas through Revelation.
The ethical activities of the Vyuhas are accomplished through the means of Scriptural Revelation. Revelation is defined as a process of self-disclosure by the Divine Nature through its intimate presence in the depths of the human mind and psyche (antaryamin). Receptivity to Revelation (God-realisation) causes one to reach a higher level of consciousness as one is attracted to an increased sharing in the divine activity of creation. Revelation is universal and is not confined to any “elect” group. Every nation on this planet has had revelations from the Divine in accordance with its own ‘effect images’, traditions, customs, mores etc.
They are all valid and bonafide for the people to whom they were revealed. Some of these revelations are universal such as love, compassion, tolerance, charity etc. and some are specific such as dietary guidelines, social conventions, methods of religious practice etc. Unfortunately one wonders how many of these alleged revelations were the concoctions of selfish priests for their own personal or group ends. Therefore when discussing ethics and spiritual paradigms we need to focus on the universal rather than the specific. The three foremost qualities of Dharma or universal ethical living are: Absence of all prejudice, compassion and charity to all beings wherever they may be.
1. Sankarshana superintends the progress and development of the individual selves (jivas) and brings about the revelation of the unity of the Godhead to all people, through the means of the Guna called jñana (omniscience).
2. Pradyumna superintends the archetypal-mind and reveals the practical application (tat-kriya) of the realisation of the unity of the Godhead through the virya Guna (potency). Practical application here refers to the practice of Dharma (right living) and pursuit of the spiritual goal (prapya) which is accompanied by the realisation of one’s identity in relation to God – a relation of complete subordination and dependency.
3. Aniruddha superintends the ego-sense (ahamkara) in all beings and causes the actualisation of the result (kriya phala) of the spiritual practice through the tejas Guna (splendour). The actualisation occurs when one surrenders completely to the Divine, and abandons the false notion of independence.
Incarnations – Avatara
Narayana plays an active part in the maintenance of the World Order by periodically incarnating in human form. This voluntary ‘descent’ into the world out of boundless compassion for all creatures is called avatara and has 4 basic purposes;
Protection of the righteous
Elimination of the wicked
Re-establishment of Dharma (righteousness)
Bestowing of Grace.
These Incarnations are of two types;
§ Primary (mukhya) – a manifestation (or epiphany) of the Divine with a non-material body eg. Krishna, whose body did not consist of flesh and blood like other bodies but was a spiritual body consisting of pure Consciousness, Bliss and Existence absolute.
§ Secondary (gauna) – these are exceptionally elevated beings (jivas) who are chosen to act as vessels for the Divine activity. Their bodies are pervaded by the energy of the Lord for fulfilling a particular mission. eg. Vyasa, Parasurama, Buddha etc.
In addition to these Incarnations there are other manifestations known as
§ Pradurbhavantaras – these are Divine Beings (devas or gods) which are rays of the Lord’s energy (shakti) and are manifested for some cosmic function. They are the administrating gods like Indra, Agni, Yama etc.
Iconic Embodiment – Archa
It is impossible for the human to worship, meditate or praise a deity without form. Therefore the Divine should be worship through form.
Parama Samhita 3 ; 7
When an inanimate object like a statue (icon) is constructed and consecrated correctly, according to the dictates of the Agamas which are the Sacred Scriptures dealing with ritual worship; then the Supreme Being by dint of His omnipotence and omnipresence, and prompted by His boundless compassion for all beings manifests in the icon. The Godhead is indeed omnipresent, and all material nature is pervaded by Divine Consciousness, but with a tiny portion of His Spiritual Energy (Shakti) He particularises His being and His presence in the sanctified icon for the purpose of receiving the devotion and worship of the devotees and for bestowing His Grace and compassion upon them.
The Icon is thus not merely a symbol or a representation of a subtle idea, neither is it simply an aid to concentration. It is in actual fact the material manifestation of the Divine – it is the divine-auspicious-form (divya-mangala-svarupa). It is important to understand that it only becomes such when it has been consecrated, and the Divine Presence has been invoked into it by the priests at the elaborate rites of consecration (pratishta). This doctrine can be compared to the doctrine of transubstantiation of the Eucharist in the Catholic belief.
Prior to the rites of consecration the statue is a mere image or symbol of the deity but it is through the invocations and prayers of the devotees that the image is infused and empowered with the Divine Presence and becomes a sacred Icon or Presence worthy of being worshipped. The Presence (sannidhyam) of the Lord is invoked from within the heart of the worshipper at the beginning of the rites (avahana) and is then requested to depart (visarjana) once the rite has ended. The Iconic manifestation is the response of a Perfect God to the earnest supplication of His devotees.
Communion with the other theological manifestations of God and all-pervading perception of the Divine can only be attained by certain highly evolved beings and at certain times and places only, whereas the Iconic form is accessible to all beings at all times.
In Srivaishnava religious practice the Archa form is given the utmost importance and emphasis, along with the temple rituals and festivals. In fact all devout Srivaishnavas are encouraged to live in the vicinity of a temple, and regular attendance at the temple functions is recommended for spiritual advancement together with some form of service (kainkarya) which can take the form of either physical labour or cleaning, renovating, making garlands or rendering verbal service in the form of chanting the hymns or simply by gazing upon the sacred forms. The iconic form is known by several names such as vigraha, bera, murti, pratima, bimba & rupa.
Indweller – antaryamin
Within all living beings the Lord dwells along with the individual Self (jiva) as the Over-Self (paramatman). He is the witness of all the actions of the jiva. The jiva alone acts and reaps the fruits of its actions in the form of sorrow (duhkha) and happiness (sukha). The question can be raised as to why the Lord allows the Self to act in a contradictory way if He is the Indweller, support and constant companion of the jiva, why does He not restrain it? The answer is that the Lord has given the jiva free-will. He therefore permits the jiva to act according to its desires, and He observes and rewards it accordingly. The jiva initiates the activity and the Lord either sanctions it or vetoes it in accordance with the jiva’s karma. Like two partners who jointly begin a business venture; one senior and one junior. The junior cannot do anything without the permission of the senior partner. The senior partner may even allow the junior partner to sometimes !make the wrong decisions to enable him to learn by his mistakes.
As the Indweller, the Lord pervades all the creation within and without. The Lord is thus referred to as Vasudeva – that which pervades all beings from within, and Vishnu – that which pervades all beings from without.