Prapatti (also known as Saranagati, Surrender, Resignation) is a frequently talked about precept in Srivaishnavam, especially in contrast with Bhakti Yoga. There’s another Srivaishnava precept called Āchārya-abhimāna (Savior’s grace/love) which is rarely talked about and thus has eluded many for that reason. Pūrvacharyas (Acharyas of yore) have explained that “Āchāryābhimānamē Uddhārakam” (Āchārya’s condescending love is the only savior) is in fact, the quintessence of Srivaishnavam. Āchārya-abhimāna is thus called the Charama-parva (also known as anthimopāya, the absolute final means), going beyond Prapatti which is called Prathama-parva (surrender to God).
Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya, out of his mercy provides a chart of various Upāyās (Means of salvation) with brief explanations in his translation of Sri Bhagavad Githa.
The 5 upāyās (means), Karma, Jñāna and Bhakti Yogas, Prapatti, and Acharyabhimana are succinctly described in Artha Panchaka (one of the 18 esoteric foundational texts of Srivaishnavam called Aṣtādaśa Rahasyas).
The contrasts among Bhakti Yoga, Prapatti and Acharyabhimana will be briefly compiled in the below, verbatim, from Artha Panchaka and other works of Srivaishnava Purvācharyās mentioned in the References section.
Prapatti will be contrasted with Bhakti Yoga first and then Acharyabhimana will be contrasted with Prapatti.
- For the purpose of discussion in this document, all the other Upāyās (means), including the below, for deliverance into eternal loving service to Sri Krishṇa explained in Sri Bhagavad Gīta and elsewhere are classed together with Bhakti Yoga:
- Nama-sankirtana (Incantation of the Lord’s sweet names)
- Avathāra-rahasya jñāna (Knowledge of the secret of Lord’s incarnations; janma karma ca me divyam)
- Purushottama Vidya (Knowing the Lord as Purushottama or the Supreme Person; etad buddhvā buddhimān syāt kṛta-kṛtyaś ca bhārata)
- Also, the words Salvation, Moksha in this document refer to Bhagavad-anubhava (God-bliss, deliverance into eternal loving service to Sri Krishṇa), not kaivalya moksha (soul-bliss) which is psychic but not Divine. These phrases are explained in Artha Panchaka mentioned in the References section at the end.
Bhakti Yoga Vs. Prapatti
In Sri Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna in Bhakti Yoga (lead up to by Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga) for the sake of those that are inclined toward Bhakti Yoga. Sri Krishna concludes His instruction in Sri Bhagavad Gīta with Prapatti (Śaraṇāgati) for those that
- find Bhakti Yoga to be difficult of practice or
- have realized their constitutional position of being an exclusive dependent/possession of the Lord and thus give up all attempts to save themselves, yielding exclusively to the saving grace of the Lord.
Bhakti is Love. Bhakti-yoga is the practice of Loving Faith. Fixture of Consciousness (Jñāna) on an idolized ideal Object of Beauty is described to be its persistence and insistence thereon, like the streaming filament of a fluid substance, uninterrupted in flow. So far, the experience obtained from such fixture is what pertains to the province of Jñāna-yoga. But when the experience partakes of the nature of love, or becomes a loving experience, it obtains the name of Bhakti. The practice of this loving experience of loving faith is Bhakti-yoga. In its onward progress it becomes more and more intense and rapturous. Instead of compelling, as it was, it has become inviting; instead of repelling, as it was, it has become bewitching. Effort is merged in craving, self-assertion giving place to self-abandon. The heart has become poured into the intellect, or, rather, the intellect has become fused with the heart. The purely mental has become united with the emotional.
Prapatti is lovingly surrendering or having sacrificing faith, or resigned trust in God. The practicing of this is Prapatti-yōga. In other words, it is the means of unreservedly placing oneself in His hands, and ridding oneself of all notions of securing salvation by self-effort. It is the attitude of mind entirely resigned to His will. This is real renunciation (saṃnyāsa). Bhakti-yōga, supported by Karma-yōga and Jñāna-yōga, as described above, becomes a means that tries the utmost strength and capacity of mortals, nor is it compatible with the nature of those souls that have realized their essential nature – their relationship with God. This Path of prapatti is accessible to all[REF], irrespective of caste, colour, or creed (varṇa and āśrama), and soon bears fruit, while the other Paths are circumscribed by a variety of conditions. The mental act, “I trust Thee, Lord”, once dedicated, is done once for all, for, as soon as done, it is accepted by Him. Whatever series of acts the suppliant (Prapanna) may do thenceforward are no more Means to secure an End, but acquire the character of being Ends in themselves; inasmuch as all these acts become but acts of service done to Him, and devoid therefore of any ultra-motive. Motiveless-ness of all act arises from its being done as Divine Service; and is hence bereft of all binding character, such as entails phenominal existence again for the soul who does it (i.e, act with a motive). The soul, moreover, does the act on the clear understanding of its own intrinsic position or character, as liege of the Lord whom it has to serve. This is the true relation between soul and God, and from it there naturally follows the recognition of the True Means as no other than surrendering faith, or entire loving trust, or trustful faith, which is resignation. Self-surrender, or Resignation, in other words, is sacrificing oneself, or offering an oblation of oneself, at God’s feet. The truest freedom lies in self-surrender. The “Self-assert” of Bhakti has given place to the “Self-negate” of Prapatti. The uplift to sublime independence is the fruit of complete subservience to the Supreme Law – God.
Prapatti is of two kinds: Dṛpta, or Patient; and Ārta, or Impatient. The Prapanna is what we shall call the Suppliant, or Postulant.
The Postulant, Patient (Dṛpta), is he who is not only weary of, but dreads, migratory, or material, or embodied life, and is averse from all delights, mundane and ultra-mundane. To obtain relief from these and access to God, he seeks a competent teacher, and under his guidance adopts the Way (Prapatti) of Salvation. He adapts his life to the way of shunning evil, and of walking the paths prescribed by the laws of varṇa and āśrama, and, to the best of his ability, remains devoted to the service of God and of the Godly – straight in thought, speech, and deed. He constantly reflects on God being his Lord, and on himself being His liegeman; He as the Ruler, he as the ruled; He as the Master, he as the chattel; He as the Spirit, he as the body; He as the Pervader, he as the pervaded; He as the Enjoyer, he as but the enjoyed; He as the All-knowing, he as the ill-knowing; He as the Full, he as the void; He as the All-sufficient, and he as the all-wanting. Thus reflecting, the Postulant dedicates all to God, laying on Him all his burden, and spends the lease of his life that may still be left to him in perfect resignation, not allowing its peace to be distraught by considerations of self-care for self-salvation.
The postulant, Impatient (Ārta), is he in whom – by the free grace of God – by study and service with a true Teacher, wisdom has dawned, making him loathe all such bodies, places, and leaders as wean him from God, and causing him to long for all such things as wed him to Him. He throws himself entirely on the mercy of God, saying, “Lord, Thou alone canst be my Deliverer from all ills”, “Thou alone, Lord, art my Way”, and “Thee alone, O High, I adore”. He grows impatient of salvation, beseeching and besieging God in all manner of ways to lift him once for all to His Holy Feet.
The below further elaborate on Prapatti.
Conditions of Prapatti (Resignation/Surrender/Saranagati)
Some might say that the conditions may be stated thus: “If you, souls, are incapable of following the other ways ordained in the Śāstras, give them up and come to Me.”
But in reality, the conditions may be stated thus:
“If you, souls, are capable of walking in the other ways [i.e., Karma, Jñāna, Bhakti Yogas, etc.], then try your might. If your capability alone will elevate you to Me, well, try; but if you are at once keenly alive to your weakness, i.e. imbecility and ignorance to compass that end by your own strength, then why not lean at once on what is Strong and Wise, i.e. God, Myself?” The former attitude is that of self-assertiveness; the latter, self-abandonment. The former attitude is measuring one’s own strength; the latter, giving it up for God’s strength. The former attitude is one of self-emphasis; the latter, self-renouncement. The former attitude is self-glorification or self-aggrandizement; the latter, self-abasement or self-abnegation. The former attitude is one of self-perpetuation; the latter, self-effacement. The former attitude is one of self-condensing; the latter, self-rarefying. Self-indulgence the one, self-sacrifice the other. In fine, self-projection by self-will is one, whereas self-rejection for God’s Wisdom (omniscience) is the other; self-strength in the one case, God’s omnipotence in the other. The object of this constant effort to negate oneself is to break the shell of the soul’s hardened material past, and destroy the consequent mainspring of egoism (ahaṃkāra).
Is Prapatti one of the means, like Bhakti Yoga?
Some might say that Prapatti or Resignation is also a soul-initiated act, like Love to God (Bhakti), leading to Mōkṣa. [They might thus regard that] Resignation is one among the several ways leading to God.
But in reality, Resignation is not one among the ways, but the Way or the Means, the adoption of which specifically characterizes those high souls who have sought that way, to the exclusion of others. This attitude of entire capitulation or surrender to God differentiates such souls from others, so that they are not to be classed with others, i.e. others whose hearts are still attached to the other ways, and have, therefore, not arrived at the ripe condition of implicit attachment to the way of Resignation. This way is God Himself, whereas the other Ways are Ways of God. Prapatti [Resignation] is called a “Way” [only] for convenience (upacārataḥ).
Does Prapatti win or buy grace?
Some say, Yes. As in the Path of Works (read Karma Mīmāṃsā) works leave insensible residua, technically called Apurva, so in the path of knowledge (read Brahma-Mimamsa) Prapatti answers to Apūrva; and as Apurva produces material fruit, Prapatti produces Moksa fruit or spiritual fruit. [This is humorously called markata-kishora nyaya, to signify the fact that the offspring of a monkey need to cling onto the mother monkey as the mother jumps from one tree to another.]
But in reality, to interpret Prapatti as a means or effort put forth by the soul to compel God’s grace is tantamount to not knowing the very nature of Prapatti. Prapatti as understood by you, viz. as compelling grace, is not Prapatti at all; for, so interpreted, it is not explained as unconditional surrender or as undoubting resignation. Nay, it thus constitutes a barter, or a huckstering with God. Prapatti is that which completely resigns, and leaves Him the Master of the situation. Prapatti as understood by you may be called Svagata-Svīkāra, or acceptance by God initiated by your asking; as understood by us, it is Paragata Svikara, or acceptance by God of His own free will and choice, unasked, uncompelled. Apurva is no other to us than this Grace. [This is humorously called marjala-kishora nyaya, to signify the fact that the cat carries its offspring by itself without any effort on the part of the offspring.]
Who should resort to Prapatti?
Some might say that only those who are incapable of walking in the other paths resort to this path of Prapatti or Resignation. [They say that] It is sheer helplessness that drives the soul to seek shelter in Resignation.
But in reality, the way of Resignation is for all, be they capable or incapable. Resignation is the sine qua non of every penitent soul. Without this chief feature, other qualifications are futile. With it, other qualifications, because they qualify, derogate from the greatness of Resignation. Resignation per se is all-powerful. Qualifying it is to weaken it and detract from its dignity.
Do qualifications of the other ways qualify Prapatti?
Some say, yes they (i.e., Karma Yoga, Jñāna Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, etc.) do qualify (or aid) prapatti.
But in reality, they (i.e., Karma Yoga, Jñāna Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, etc.) do not qualify (or aid) Prapatti and in fact, disqualify. For, the only qualification that is required is for the soul to absolutely cognize its intimate relationship with God. That relationship is the one which comes of Serviency (śeṣatva) on the part of the soul, and Sovereignty or Paramouncy (śeṣitva) on the part of God. “I am Thine (Yours), not Mine” is the cry of the Prapanna. The distinct vision by the soul of its own helplessness, in its relation to the only helpfulness of God, is the only help; the only passport to success; the only way leading to the open portals of Heaven [i.e., Vaikuntha, the eternal spiritual universe]; and therefore, liable to be vilified by other qualifications which the soul may put forward as its own self-earned quantum or modicum for salvation.
Does Prapatti aid/help other ways (i.e., means)?
Yes, it does. As explained in Sri Ramanuajcharya’s purport to Gita verse 18.66, Prapatti can be used as an aṇga (limb/adjunct), as a preparatory step to clear away the accumulated sins so one can then embark on Bhakti Yoga. Prapatti can also used as an aṇga (accessory, adjunct) to aid/complete Bhakti Yoga, in order for Bhakti Yoga to be successful, as explained in the previous sub-section (Do qualifications of the other ways qualify Prapatti?).
But, as mentioned in the preceding sub-sections, Prapatti by itself is most potent, and thus the highest “means” so to say.
Does adopting Prapatti mean giving up Karma, Jñāna and Bhakti Yogas?
No. They are not given up altogether. Only they are no longer performed as means (upāyas) to an end. The Karmas constituting Karma Yoga will all be performed by a Prapanna, not as means for attaining moksha, but as loving service unto the Lord. Comprehension of the Lord’s transcendental glory (Jñāna or knowledge) shall serve to illumine his own essential nature. Bhakti (devotion to the Lord), will be practiced, not as a means, but as an intense longing for the object of attainment, which is a prerequisite, even as hunger is, for relishing food. Prapatti, the loving surrender to the Lord, leads to the acquisition of a correct perspective of the true or essential nature of the individual soul, namely, absolute and exclusive dependence on the Lord and complete self-abnegation. [Mumukshuppadi pdf pages 38, 39]
Nama-sankirtana (chanting of the holy names of the Lord) is no longer performed as an upāya (means) but becomes upēya (fruit). Instead of it being performed with the idea that it will cleanse one’s heart (which it definitely does) or with some other motive, it’s performed as part of loving service, constituting the svarūpa (essential nature) of the jīva (spirit soul). In some Vaishnava traditions, Nama-sankirtana is performed as the means, with Prapatti serving as either a preparatory step to clear away one’s samchita karma or as an adjunct to make Nama-sankirtana to be successful or both. But as explained by Srivaishnava Acharyas above, Prapatti by itself is all powerful.
Meaning of Works to the Resigned (Prapanna)
Some say that the acts done by the Resigned soul conduce to evoke God’s pleasure; and should, therefore, be performed to seek that end.
But in reality, it is presumptuous to think that the souls’ acts ought necessarily to please God. They may or may not. It is not for the soul to judge or predetermine the effects from causes set afoot by itself. Performance of Works by the Resigned has not this sense, but the sense that by their means an example may be set to those whose way to salvation is yet begun -steep and uphill- that they may so be led up. Philanthropy is the motive of Works, not currying the favour of the Godhead. To imagine thus a purchase or barter with God savours of audacity indeed in the soul.
Didn’t Krishna emphasize Bhakti in Bhagavad Gita?
Bhakti is sweet and integral to kainkarya (loving service to Krishna) which is the ultimate fruit. Thus, Bhakti is sought after even by Prapannas (those that have resorted to Prapatti as the sole means). In fact, after surrendering to Sri Ranganatha, Sri Ramanujacharya asks for Para bhakti, Para jnana and Parama bhakti. Parabhakti is continuous uninterrupted meditation with love and affection. This leads to Parajñāna – mental vision of the Lord and to Paramabhakti – state of not being able to sustain a moment without Him. In that sense there’s a natural emphasis on Bhakti as is seen from Sri Bhagavad Gita. But, as for using Bhakti Yoga as the means to reach Krishna, it becomes part of a ladder of successive means, starting with Karma Yoga, leading to Jñana Yoga and then to Bhakti Yoga, catering to jivas that are at various levels of advancement on their spiritual journey. In fact, Krishna instructs even those that mistake āthma (soul) to be the body, in verses 2.26, 2.27, 2.28, 2.33, 2.34, 2.35, 2.36 and 2.37. Thus, Krishna is instructing jīvās at various levels of their spiritual journey starting with those mistaking the āthma for the body.
Why didn’t Krishna teach only Prapatti?
First of all, not everyone has Moksha as the aim. The karmakanda portion of the Veda exists for those with material fruits as aim as explained in Gita verses 2.45 and 2.46. As mentioned in the previous section, Krishna instructs all, starting with those that mistake the body for ātma, then those that want to persevere on a path (such as Karma, Jnana and Bhakti Yogas) to achieve either aiśvarya (material enjoyment), Kaivalya (soul-bliss) or moksha (God-bliss) respectively and then ultimately instructs in Prapatti. Not everyone has Mahāviśvāsa (complete trust) in the saving grace of the Lord as the sole “means”. For example, even after studying this paper, not everyone would be inclined to become a Prapanna, since many are accustomed to the time-honored technique of self-effort in mundane careers of effort and reward.
In fact, preaching Prapatti to the unresponsive is like throwing pearls in front of swine, and it is for this reason that Sri Ramanujacharya fully revealed Prapatti to His followers in a separate work called Gadyatrayam. Sri Krishna advises not to divulge Prapatti to the non-austere, etc., in Gita verse 18.67.
‘This to thee. It is not to be revealed to the non-austere, to the loveless; not to the undutiful, and never to him who hateth Me.’
Are any preliminary preparations needed for Prapatti?
Some say that the below sixfold preparations necessarily precede Prapatti, viz. those mentioned in the verse:
- Ānukūlasya saṃkalpaḥ (Harmony with God and all His creation).
- prātikūlasya varjanam (Riddance of the reverse of (1)).
- Rakṣiṣyati ‘ti viśvāsō (Implicit faith in God’s providence).
- gōptṛtva -varaṇam tathā (Supplicatory temper).
- Ātma-nikṣēpa (Self not for self, but oblated to God).
- -kārpaṇyē, saḍvidhā śaraṇā-gatiḥ (Humility or destitution of means).
However, solid, steadfast, stable Prapatti stands in no need of any prelude. It is per se the main act which spontaneously engenders, on the other hand, the so-called preliminary signs. E.g. the pounding of paddy is the act; perspiration and other signs follow it as a matter of course. Ānukūlya, etc., are thus not postulates but corollaries. The offspring is mistaken for the parent. It is a posterior effect, not an anterior cause.
Having seen the contrast between Bhakti and Prapatti, we will now see the contrast between Achārya-abhimāna (Savior’s grace) and Prapatti, in the next section.
Savior’s Grace vs Prapatti
Prapatti and its distinguishing characteristics have been explained in the previous section. Achāryābhimāna (Savior’s Grace) is now explained in the below.
Achāryābhimāna (Savior’s Grace)
Sri Ramanujacharya showed Prapatti, by example, in Gadyatrayam, but it still may not be efficacious for everyone. First, there’s the question of eligibility. As mentioned in the previous section, Sri Krishna advises not to divulge Prapatti to the non-austere, etc., in Gita verse 18.67.
‘This to thee. It is not to be revealed to the non-austere, to the loveless; not to the undutiful, and never to him who hateth Me.’
Even if Prapatti is performed by a jīva, there’s the fear in the mind of the jīva, of the Lord, being a Swatantrya (independent) placing the jīva back in samsāra, looking at the enormous sins accumulated over innumerable lifetimes. It is for these reasons, that the Lord arranged for the ultimate means of Achāryābhimāna. From Artha Panchaka:
Acharyabhimāna is either resort to the Mediator by the aspirant for salvation, or resort to the saved by the Mediator Himself from His own free choice. This fifth Means of Salvation possesses the virtue of being within the nearest reach of mankind, as contra-distinguished from all the other Means [Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Prapatti/Saranagati] aforesaid. These no doubt prescribe God as the object for resort, but He is so beyond the reach of mankind’s senses, minds, and hearts, as to forbid His being used in the manner of other objects more accessible. This want is supplied by the Mediator, insomuch as he is tangibly present in the midst of mankind, as one of their own, and therefore so accessible and so within reach, that the work of salvation becomes for souls, so to say, a practical reality. This contrivance in the Scheme of Salvation has been devised by God Himself, in the manner of the mother feeling love for her child, and the Mediator, patent to all mankind, is the result. The Mediator sees his children as weak and helpless, incapable of shifting for themselves. He stretches his hand down to them, on the one side, to lift them up, and he stretches his hand up, on the other side, to present them to God as fit objects for His mercy and compassion. The function of the Mediator is thus twofold. He is the Mother who is ready to sacrifice her own comfort by voluntarily treating herself to medicine and regimen for the sake of saving the sick child, and he is the Servant who, by such act of self-sacrifice, performs a great deed that pleases his Master, God, who, of course, in the first instance delegated him, or deputed him, for this loving task. He submits to personal suffering in order to redeem the fallen. The Mediator, then, is the Ready Means, under the grace of which souls may take refuge and shape their conduct entirely at his sole bidding. The resort to a Mediator is both an independent Means and an auxiliary Means to the other Means aforesaid, just as God Himself, the Eternal, is both directly the Goal, and indirectly the Goal as the Spirit indwelling in all the lesser [divinities] of the Pantheon.
It is in fulfillment of this arrangement that, Sri Ramanujacharya performed prapatti on behalf of all Srivaishnavas to follow and established 74 successors to accept jīvās on His behalf, as mentioned in this discourse by Sri Velukkudi Krishnan Swamin. The same is mentioned in the Gadyatrayam translation by Sri V.V.Ramanujam Swamin. 
In the Foreword to the translation of Gadyatrayam into English by Śrī V.V.Rāmānujam Swāmi, Vidyābhūṣaṇa Śrī A.N.Śrīnivāsa Iyengār Swāmi states:
The composer of `prapanna pārijātam’ [Sri Vatsya Varadacharya, also known as Sri Nadadūr Ammāḷ, a great 12th century Srivaishnava Acharya] says, “bhakti prapatti yadi duṣkarēva rāmānujāryam bhajatēti avādit”. Accordingly, for those who are too weak to do ‘prapatti’, they can attain mōkṣa by resorting to the feet of Ācārya Rāmānuja, the Kṛipāmātra Prasannācārya.
Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya in the table of various means for Moksha included in His translation of Bhagavad Githa explains Acharyabhimana as below:
[Karma Yoga, Jñāna Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Prapatti:] Salvation-seekers directly with God. And it is left to God to save them or dispose of them otherwise as He may will. But [recipients of Acharyabhimana] are, by reason of their Salvation-seeking indirectly, or through God-sent Saviours, necessarily saved, and God can never dispose of them otherwise, than save, by keeping them in bondage etc. For, God’s will to save through His own will-sent Commissioners, is non-alterable, when such Commissioners execute their mission by bringing to souls God’s Feet.
Further, from Śrīvachana Bhūshaṇa:
Aph : 407-409 : ‘Charamopaya’ or adoration of the Acharya as the sole means for the attainment of Moksha:
It has all along been elucidated, in this treatise, that the Supreme Lord is the ‘Siddhopaya’ or the direct means for the attainment Of ‘Moksha’ by the Subjects, brooking no external aid besides Himself. But the Lord has several facets in one of which He would keep the Subjects clinging to ‘Samsara’, in the light of their ‘Karma’, while, in another, He would exhibit His quality of Mercy and redeem the Subjects to the highest state. He could thus be instrumental in keeping the Subjects bound down in ‘Samsara’ as well as for their emancipation. That is why the fear of continued retention in bondage due to his Karma haunts the Prapanna, at times, and the depression is then got over by his meditating on the Lord’s infinite mercy and tender solicitude for His devotees. This lurking uneasiness can, however, be got over if the Preceptor (Acharya) is regarded as the sole means for the attainment of Moksha, seeing that the Preceptor is none but Lord Sriman Narayana Himself, come down in mortal form, out of deep compassion for the Subjects, getting drowned in the ocean of Samsara, to lift them ashore with the help of the Shastras, which take the place of the pair of hands.
“Sakshan Narayana Devah Kritva
Magnanuddharate lokan Karunhayath
See also Stanza 38 of Arulalapperumal Emberumanar’s ‘gnanasaram’, conveying the same idea.
In this new dispensation. the Subject can be absolutely free from panic or uneasiness of any kind. This secret of the Acharya holding the trump card in regard to our salvation, shared by our great ‘Poorvacharyas’, is now being divulged and discussed in the remaining portion of this work, for the benefit of the people at large.
Vadakku Thiruveedhi Piḷḷai, the illustrious father of Sri Pillai Lokacharya and an ardent disciple of the famous Nambillai, used to cite very often the Great Master’s utterance that there is absolutely no salvation for the Subject [jīva], lost, for long, in selfness and selfishness which destroy love to God, except the Acharya’s condescending love. This is the key-note or the central idea of the entire treatise and the five aphorisms elucidating this theme (443-447) shine forth like the key-stone, the cynosure of this precious jewel. The Great Master, Nambillai is quoted, in this context, to impart the requisite traditional sanctity to this meaning.
While the Shastras have prescribed various other ‘Means’ like ‘Bhakti’, ‘Prapatti’ etc., why should it now be maintained that ‘Salvation’ lies only in the condescending love of the Acharya? Well, ‘Bhakti’ involving incessant personal effort and fierce concentration on the part of the Individual is likely to stir up his ego and it is the fear of this untoward possibility that makes him give up ‘Bhakti’, as the ‘Means’ for the attainment of God. Even ‘Prapatti’, betokening the Subject’s implicit love for god, which is quite in consonance with his essential nature, is given up by him as the ‘Means’, fearing the off-chance of an Independent Lord putting him back in ‘Samsara’, in the light of his unsettled ethical account. For the matter of that, even his courting the Acharya is not unmixed with personal egoism and is, therefore, likely to unsettle the Subject’s essential nature. To look upon the Acharya, as the ‘Means’, in such a mental state of the Subject would again be futile and harmful, like unto one wearing a ring made out of Gold, consecrated to Yama, the deity, who brings on death. So then, the only solvent, that really matters, is the condescension and Grace of the Acharya, the loving acknowledgement by the Acharya of the Subject, as belonging to the Pastor’s benevolent fold.
Aph : 448-454 : Who will give up the Acharya, well in hand, and run after God, an unknown and uncertain quantum? Will one any give up the asset on hand and go about digging deep into the earth, in search of a dubious treasure? Will a man, dying of thirst, have recourse to rain water, to be dropped down by the clouds, or water from the distant sea, river or well, ignoring the water in the vessel, right in front of him?
Aph. 458-463 ; In the Subjects pursuing the path of ‘Bhakti’, ‘Prapatti’ or ‘Acharya nishta’, either ‘swagata sveekara’ (i. e.) courting the Acharya as the ‘Means’ or ‘paragata sveekara’ (i.e.) soliciting the favour of his condescending love as the sole succour, there should be an irresistible urge to get to the destined land yonder, and a corresponding dislike for this despicable abode. Besides, it should be a case of sheer inability for them to stay in this body, any longer, away from the cherished goal, betokening their inordinate longing for early consummation of the ‘End’. As elucidated a little earlier, courting the Acharya as the ‘Means’ (swagata sveekara) is tainted by egoism and is likely to disturb the Subject’s essential nature. Nevertheless, the goal is achieved. c. f. Stanza 89 of Thirumazhisai Azhvar’s ‘Nanmugan Thiruvandadi’, wherein he says: “have Come to know a sure ‘Means’ for opening up the gates of Heaven and entering it, namely, worshipping the feet of those who devoutly meditate on the lotus feet of the Lord, reposing in the Milky Ocean.” In ‘Bharadwaja Samhita’, it has been stated that he on whom the Acharya sheds his voluntary Grace (Paragata sveekara) as well as the one, who courts the Acharya’s Grace (Swagata sveekra), attains Heaven.
“Gurunha yobhimanyathe Gurumva
Yobhimanyathe, thavubhau Paramam
The authority for the ‘Paragata sveekara’, (i.e.) the Acharya shedding his voluntary Grace on the disciple, can be found in Sri Andal’s ‘Natchiar Thirumozhi’ X-10 (Nallaven Thozhi…), Thirumazhisai Azhvar’s ‘Nanmugan Thiruvandadi,’ Stanza 18, (Maraya Thanavanai . ), the last sloka of Sri Alavandar’s ‘Stotra Ratna’, (Pithamaham Nathamunim vilokya praseeda matvrittam achintayitva) and the Pauranika Sloka, “Pasurmanushyah Paksheeva Yeeha Vaishnava samsrayah thenaiva the prayasyanthi tat vishnoh paramam padam.”
Sri Andal is sanguine of seeing God through her foster-father, Periazhvar, to whom He is easily accessible. Thirumazhisai Azhvar affirms the commanding stature of the ‘Charama parva nishtas’ (i.e.) those who worship the devotees of Lord Mahavishnu, Who, as Narasinga, tore into two halves the opposing Hiranya, with His sharp nails. In the concluding sloka of ‘Stotra Ratna’, Sri Alavandar beseeches the Lord to shed unto Him, His Grace, for the sake of his Grand Father, Sriman Nathamuni, the Great Savant, turning a blind eye to his own shortcomings. The pauranika sloka, quoted last, declares, in no uncertain terms, that, whoever comes within the purview of a Vaishnava’s Grace, a four-footed animal, human being or bird, reaches the Supreme habitat known as Heaven [Vaikuntha].
For learning any art, initiation by the Acharya is essential. The condescending love of the Acharya is thus an adjunct (anga), the launching pad for embarking on all the other ‘Means’ (upayas). How then has it been stated, in the aforesaid pauranika sloka, that the love of a Vaishnava, by itself, sends his wards to Heaven (thenaiva the prayasyanthi), savouring of an independent ‘Means’ (swatantropaya)? It is like ‘Prapatti’ (surrender to the Lord’s Grace) which normally operates as an adjunct to the other ‘Means’ such as ‘Karma Yoga’, ‘Gnana Yoga’, ‘Bhakti Yoga’, becoming self-sufficient and self-supporting, when it is resorted to, as the ‘Means’, operating both ways, namely, eradication of the unwholesome trends and bestowal of all felicity. Likewise, Acharya’s grace can operate by itself, eradicating all ills and evils and bestowing the highest state. c. f.
pangavo badhiras thatha
prapnuvanti param gathim.”
(Baradwaja Samhita 1-35)
“Even unevolved children, the dumb, the dullard and the blind can attain Heaven through the grace of the eminent Acharya.”
It may be recapitulated now, that ‘Prapatti’ is resorted to by those who find the discipline of ‘Bhakti’ pretty hard besides running counter to their essential nature (swaroopa)’. Even ‘Prapatti’, preconditioned by the Subject’s immense and implicit faith in the Lord’s Grace, is fraught with the risk of the Lord operating in one of two ways, namely, throwing the Subject back into the bondage of Samsara in the light of his Karma, in His unbridled Independence (Swatantrya) or granting ‘Moksha’, in the exercise of His redemptive Grace. This risk is eliminated by the Subject switching on to ‘Charamopaya’ or the Acharya’s protective benevolence, the one-way traffic leading to ‘Moksha’. The loving condescension and Grace of the Acharya helps the Subject’s advancement in three distinct stages, beginning with the infusion of fresh vitality into his essential nature, like unto the tender leaf sprouting on a stalk, withered due to long years of aloofness from God and the Godly. The spiritually revitalised and regenerated Subject then blossoms into the service of the Lord’s devotees and ultimately starts yielding fruit, as a ‘Charma parva nishta’, wedded to the condescending love of the Acharya, which alone matters, in the final analysis, redeeming, correcting and perfecting the protege. This is indeed the ultimate blending of the ‘Means’ and the ‘End’, dealt with in the first and second part, respectively, of ‘Dvaya’, the Mantra Ratna.
Blessed be the holy feet of
Sri Pillai Lokacharya!
Blessed be the holy feet of
Srimad Vara Vara Muni!
The above excerpts are from the final section of Śrīvachana Bhūshaṇa, starting from PDF page 83 onwards, explaining the crown jewel, ‘Charamopaya‘ or Acharya’s protective benevolence as the sole means for the attainment of Moksha. Everyone interested is encouraged to study the rest of the portions from the main text, also listed in the References section below.
Is Achāryābhimāna an Independent Means?
Although Āchāryābhimāna is classed separately as a “fifth” means, beyond, Karma Yoga, Jñāna Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Prapatti, to highlight its supremacy as the surest, unfailing “means”, it is important to NOT see Āchāryābhimāna as an independent means. Achāryābhimāna, though classed as the Fifth (beyond Karma, Jnāna, Bhakti Yogas, and Prapatti) is really included in the Fourth (Prapatti), inasmuch as all Śrīvaishṇava Āchāryās constitute members of the One God-head, and constitute His body. As mentioned in Artha Panchaka:
This contrivance in the Scheme of Salvation has been devised by God Himself, in the manner of the mother feeling love for her child, and the Mediator, patent to all mankind, is the result.
More information on Sri Rāmānujāchārya’s saviorship can be found on the main page of this website.
Prapatti through Acharya
Due to Prapatti being generally discussed frequently in Srivaishnavam, many these days might be under the impression that Srivaishnavas perform “Prapatti to God through Acharya”. While it is possible to do so, and many do, it is not Achāryābhimāna proper as explained above. Rather this is using Acharyabhimana as an adjunct (anga) to Prapatti (please refer to the occurrences of the word “adjunct” earlier in this page), and is in a sense degraded, per the below from Artha Panchaka:
The resort to a Mediator is both an independent Means and an auxiliary Means to the other Means aforesaid, just as God Himself, the Eternal, is both directly the Goal, and indirectly the Goal as the Spirit indwelling in all the lesser [divinities] of the Pantheon.
Achāryābhimāna by itself saves. When a jīva takes refuge at the lotus feet of a Srivaishnava Acharya, the Acharya accepts the jīva as His own, and performs panchasamskāra (5 formal sacraments of the Srivaishnava faith) while reminding God of His promise to Sri Ramanujacharya to grant eternal loving service to Himself, to the jīvās that have established a spiritual relationship with Sri Ramanujacharya. This has been related in this discourse by Sri Velukkudi Krishnan Swamin. The most important principle to understand is that it is the Acharya’s condescending love (Nirhetuka Kripa, Freegrace) accepting a jīva as a member of His fold, that is responsible for the jīva’s ascension to Sri Vaikuntham at the end of this same birth, not the prapatti done at the lotus feet of the Acharya.
There’s more information on this topic on the Why Propagate? page of this site.
Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya, out of his mercy provides a chart of various Upāyās (Means of salvation) with brief explanations in his translation of Sri Bhagavad Githa.
- The Artha-Panchaka of Sri Pillai Lokacarya (July 1910).
- Subtle Srivaishnava Precepts
- Srivachana Bhushanam
- Gitabhashya (Bhagavad Gita)
- Charamopaya Nirnayam
- Anthimopaya Nishta
- Gadyatraya of Bhagavad Ramanuja translated into English by Sri V.V.Ramanujam Swamin (1994)
- Divine Wisdom of Dravida Saints
- Sri Ramanujacharya secures Moksha for His followers: Discourse by Sri Velukkudi Krishnan Swamin
- Chart of various Upāyās (Means of salvation) with brief explanations
Other content on this site
- Ramanuja, World Savior
- Five Truths
- Why propagate?
- Bhakti vs Surrender vs Savior’s Grace
- Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya
- Sri Ramanujacharya
- Monism or Monotheism?
- Equality in Srivaishnavam
- Idolatry or Deity?
- Suggested Study
- Subtle Srivaishnava Precepts