Sri Kanchi Mahaswami’s Discourses

(English translation by P.N. Ramachandran)

Swami (in Sanskrit) or Udamai (in Tamil) refers to ownership. Udaiyavar or Swami means one who owns everything. In Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu) parlance, God is known as Swami or Udaiyavar. Originally, Saivaites (followers of Siva) also referred to deities as Kapaaleeswaramudaiyar etc. As Guru and Swami are considered one and the same, Sri Ramaanujaa (founder of Visishtaadvaita philosophy) goes by the title of Udaiyavar himself.

Physically humans have some energy and so are able to lift weight up to a limited extent. Cattle lift heavier weight than humans; camels and elephants can lift even heavier weights. In intelligence too, worms, ants, cattle and humans display progressively higher levels. Pursuing this line of discussion, one would conclude that there must be a basic entity with the fullest physical and intellectual prowess. That entity is named as Swami (God).

Nature displays pair of opposites in the energy too. Samples are: severe winter – severe summer, night – day, soft flower – sharp thorn, sweet – bitter, love – hate etc. Thus each entity in nature has another different entity with the opposite qualities. To continue the logic, there has to be something different from human mind. What is the nature of the human mind? It is to be always thinking immersed in likes and dislikes, to be discontented always without ever being satisfied. Conversely there has to be something without any motion, perpetually calm, peaceful and contended. That something is named as Swami (God).

In nature there is continuous change. A few changes are visible to us. Though we consider the mountain and the ocean as unchanging, these too keep on changing in the course of time. In nature nothing is permanent. In opposition to this state, there must be an entity which is unchanging or permanent. That entity is Swami (God).

In nature again, one entity leads step by step to another entity. In the same nature, all entities have changes. Both these happenings point to a divine principle. These lessons are conveyed by Sridevi (Goddess).

The question arises why one should worship the divine. What is our condition? We are always with endless wants. Paramatma (God) remains without any wants whatsoever.

We with our countless wants have but limited prowess. On the other hand, the want-less God is all-powerful. We are in depths. God is in great heights. Not only is He supreme in prowess and knowledge; He is highest in mercy too. Therefore, He lifts us up from our depths and makes us fulfilled. We are deficient. He is the fullest of the full. Only His fullness can fulfill our wants and make us also full. He is such an all-merciful. If we worship Him, He dispels our shortages.

If there is shortage it means something is wanting. If our wants completely disappear, we can become full then and there. God fulfills our wants. He leads us to the satisfaction of fullness where we feel complete lack of wants. Then that supreme height (God) fills our depths; and lifts us who have been in depths and makes us equal to and the same as Himself.

Swami remains Brahmam (action-less God) residing inside human beings; He is also the outside entity Isvara who performs all actions.

Human beings are swimming in the waves of samsara (the world or the constantly repeating cycle of birth and death). Seers are standing in the fields on the other side of the lake. In between is the shore of the lake. Due to its intervention the seer is unable to see the lake. He is not visible to the human beings in the lake. Swami on the other hand is in the shore between the two. Hence the title, Thatasta. He sees the universe as well as the Seer; the latter is bereft of awareness of the world. God is capable of calling the person in the field (the Seer) and instruct him to rescue the sinking man and place him on the shore.

God is fully aware of His omniscience. But He playfully looks upon as distinct (from Him) those persons who consider themselves separate and distinct from Him.

His greatest act is to liberate people from Maya (illusion). That act is known as anugraha (grace or blessing). There is no other path but this Anugraha to attain the state of advaita (non-duality or oneness with God). Soliciting this Anugraha again and again is termed as Bhakti (devotion). Believing God is full of mercy and capable of gracing us we have to pray with extreme sincerity and devotion. This is called Bhakti.

We now roam about calling something as “I”, “I”. In reality this “I” belongs to Him alone. If this awareness is mentally and intuitively attained, then our roaming about will cease. If we realize that there is no case for personal likes and dislikes, then there will be no roaming about. There will only be complete peace and quiet.

The term Swami itself has been formed to emphasise that we have no right to anything on our own; we are His property to be used at His will. Such a realization is Saranagati (complete surrender) that is the ultimate ideal of Bhakti (devotion).

There is another justification for practicing Bhakti (devotion). There is no pleasure in living without love. It is the gist of experience that there is incomparable pleasure in love. But the person we love will separate from us one day or we will separate from him. Then the love instead of being source of pleasure becomes the cause of grief. Isvara (God) is the only permanent entity, which will not go away or separate from us. If we place our love on Him that love will give us pleasure eternally. On maturing this love leads to the awareness that He is one and all. This will not have the basis that love towards one, means hate towards another. Since He is in all beings, we shall have same love without any discrimination towards all. Thus Bhakti (devotion) helps us to avoid being loveless and waste our lives.

There is no need to try directly for liberation, giving up the practice of Bhakti. The constant practice of the latter itself leads to liberation. Hence it is sufficient to pray not for liberation as such but for the gift of Bhakti (devotion). As the Tamil poet Gopalakrishna Bharati says, practicing Bhakti gets one Moksha (liberation).

Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada has composed Stotras (prayers) wherein all deities are looked upon as the embodiment itself of Brahmam (Supreme God). He has also explained the characteristics of Bhakti (devotion) beautifully in Sivaananda-lahari. He has cited five apt illustrations.

Ankolam nija-beeja santatir
Ayaskaantopalm soochikaa

(Sivaananda-lahari, 61)

Just as: the seed of azhinjil (or ankola) tree merges with the parent tree; the iron needle is attracted towards the magnet; the devoted wife is immersed in thoughts about her husband; the creeper grows around the tree; and the river merges with the ocean: Bhakti is the constant immersion of the mind in the thoughts about the lotus feet of Pasupathi (or Siva).

It is stated that there is a tree called Eru Azhinjil. Its fruit ripens, falls on the ground and breaks open. Then the seeds from the fruit, attracted as it were by a sort of force of gravity, move gradually and attach themselves to the parent tree. Thereafter it is said that these seeds form part of the latter and disappear from sight. We, who have become separated from Bhagwan (God) should similarly gravitate towards Him; and ultimately become one with Him.

The next example is that of the iron needle moving quickly towards, and sticking with the magnet. The needle stuck to the magnet, develops magnetism itself and starts attracting other pieces of iron. By this example Sri Bhagavatpada illustrates that the Bhakta (devotee) will also develop the qualities and powers of Bhagwan (God).

Next comes the example of the devoted wife. A devoted wife’s thoughts, speech, actions all will be about her husband. Likewise our mind, speech and actions should be about Bhagwan (God). Sri Bhagavatpada terms the husband as vibhu (in Sanskrit). When applied to Bhagwan (God) this term means omniscient. By this Sri Bhagavatpada indicates that we should regard Bhagwan (God), not as one confined to a particular location, but as one who is omni-present and all pervading.

The example of the creeper comes next. If we separate the entwining creeper from its tree, it wavers in the wind but ultimately entwines itself around the supporting tree. This illustrates that we should not swerve from our ideal, ignoring the many distractions that take our mind away from the thoughts of Bhagwan (God).

Last is the example of the river and the ocean. This is the height of advaita (non-duality) philosophy. Water from the ocean evaporates, forms into clouds and falling back into earth as rain, becomes river. The two are not distinct from each other. Whichever may be the mountain top from where it originated, the river flows in continuously (- and it seems tirelessly -) merges with the ocean; and losing its individual name and shape, becomes the ocean itself. The ocean comes forward and greets the river! This is the reason why the waters of the river taste brackish some distance ahead of the estuary. Similarly if we have real devotion, Bhagwan who is like an ocean of mercy, will come forward, bless us and make us His own.

One may practice devotion at first for material benefits or higher social status etc. But, due to His extraordinary qualities, we shall gradually attain the maturity of devotion to Bhagwan for its own sake. In the end we shall merge into the nirguna (without the attributes of qualities) Brahmam (Supreme God) and become one with Him.

For a good life on earth or for personal realization of the philosophies of dwaita (duality), visishtaadvaita or advaita (non-duality) – for whatever goal, Bhakti (devotion) becomes essential. Of all the routes to attain Moksha (liberation), Bhakti is the best, says Sri Bhagavatpada. He follows with the statement that Bhakti is defined as the intuitive realization of the real nature of Atman (Soul).

Mokshasaadhana saamagrayaam bhaktireva ghareeyasi