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The Process of Diksha in the Sri Sampradaya
In Vaishnava Diksha there are 5 types of Samskaras or types of Vedic processes that are carried out namely Tapa (तप), Punya (पुण्य), Mantra (मंत्र), Nama (नाम) and Yaga (यज्ञ) Samskara. In the Tapa Samskara, the embossed emblems of the Lord such as Shankh (शंख) and Chakra (चक्र) are heated in fire and applied on the arms of the devotee. The three Vertical symbols of Tilaka are applied by the devotee on his forehead as a mark of Sharanagati. In the Nama Samskara the Spiritual preceptor of the devotee gives a new Name to him that represents the name of the Lord and then adds Das in the end of the name. For example if the devotee is given the name Damodar, then he is addressed as Damodar Das. Then the mantra is given to the devotee by his preceptor through appropriate rituals. The devotee then does Sashtanga Dandavat to the Lord. The spiritual master, on behalf of the devotee, prays to the Lord to accept the devotee into His fold. Only after such a process, the Lord accepts the devotee as His surrendered devotee. This is the authorized process of getting into the devotional process, in the Sri Sampradaya. In Kanchi, Sri Ramanujacharya accepted the Kainkaryam (கைஂகர்யம் devotional Servitorship) to Sri Varadaraja Perumal.
What is Mantrartha
There was a very renowned sage in the Vaishnava Sampradaya known as Goshthipurna Swamigal. Sri Ramanujacharya had the good fortune of hearing Mantrartha (मंत्रार्थ) from the sage. It is important to understand what Mantrartha is. When someone gets a mantra like “Om Namo Narayanaya”, one only understands this mantra with respect to the direct meaning of the mantra; here it means “ I bow down to Sriman Narayana who is praised by the syllable Om” However this is only the external significance of the mantra. When each syllable of the Mantra is weighed by the seers of Truth, the meaning of every syllable can fill a 300 pages book. Hence an eight syllable mantra, from the seer’s viewpoint can churn out meaning that can fill 2500 pages. This is the rough meaning of Mantrartha. In the Bhakti Parampara, Mantrartha is only shared with a devotee who has devoted his heart completely into the service of the Lord, with no ulterior motives. In about 1000 devotees only 1 or 2 devotees can qualify for hearing Mantrartha. The Mantrartha has to be adorned in the heart and not everyone shall have the capacity to digest the esoteric aspects of the Mantrartha. One who attains the understanding of Mantrartha becomes a confirmed candidate of Vaikuntha, the spiritual world.
Compassion of Sri Ramanujacharya
Sri Goshthipurna Swamigal found that Sri Ramanujacharya was a perfect candidate for receiving the Mantrartha. The sage told Sri Ramanujacharya “I am giving you the most elevated and auspicious Mantrartha for the Mantra that you received from your Spiritual preceptor. However do not share it with anyone else because it is a great secret and not everyone is eligible to accept Mantrartha.” Ramanujacharya enquired “Why Guruji, Why should it not be shared with ineligible people?” To this the Swamigal replied “Then, even those beings shall ascend to Vaikuntha, but the one who has leaked this to ineligible beings shall go to the lowliest hell. That is the scriptural law in relation to the Mantrartha.” Sri Ramanujacharya received the Mantrartha from Swamigal and then pondered, “If everyone can easily go to Vaikuntha with this Mantrartha, why not give it to everyone freely? Only I shall go to hell, but all the rest shall ascend to Vaikuntha. This is not a bad deal at all.” he thought. The Ocean of Compassion, Sri Ramanujacharya climbed up to the highest point of the temple dome known as the Gopuram. He spoke the entire Mantrartha in a very loud voice so that all the people in the crowded streets could hear. Out of the population that was present on the streets, 72 people were able to completely adorn the Mantrartha and could assimilate its deep import. These 72 individuals, later, became the pontiffs (पीठाधिपति Peethadipati) of the Mutts that Sri Ramanujacharya established all around Bharata Desham. Through the medium of these 72 Mutts Bhakti Parampara spread through the length and breadth of the country. When Sri Goshthipurna Swamigal came to know of Sri Ramanujacharya’s act of shouting out the Mantrartha, he was upset that Sri Ramanujacharya had gone against the instructions of the spiritual preceptor. The Swamigal asked Sri Ramanujacharya, “Are you not afraid of hell, that you have gone against my instructions?” To this Ramanujacharya, bowing down humbly before his preceptor said “By disobeying your kind orders, only I shall go to hell. But the good news is that, the people who have heard me the other day shall reach Vaikuntha and that is my success.” Seeing the compassion of Sri Ramanujacharya, the Swamigal embraced Sri Ramanujacharya out of intense love and affection. He said “You cannot go to hell. Even if someone utters your name, shall go to Vaikuntha. Whoever remembers you, who shall surrender to you in their hearts, people who consider you as their Acharya, all of such beings shall ascend to Vaikuntha without doubt.”
A dilemma of Lord Balaji
There is an interesting anecdote of Shri Tirupati Balaji, the Lord of Tirumala in modern day, Andhra Pradesh. This is the story of how Tirupati Balaji, the Supreme Lord accepted the discipleship of Sri Ramanujacharya. When the Lord first appeared at the 7 hills of Tirumala, in the form of His Archa Vigraha (अर्च विग्रह) or the deity form, the local population thought that it was the deity form of Lord Karthikeya, the son of Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati. A temple was built immediately around the deity. The local people used to offer oil to the deity and other offerings normally given in service to Lord Karthikeya. The Supreme Lord, Balaji was unable to tolerate this misrepresentation of His deity form. Hence He appeared one day in the dream of Sri Ramanujacharya and apprised him of His predicament. The Lord requested Sri Ramanujacharya to perform worship and offerings to His Balaji deity form and revive Him in accordance with the Vaishnava Parampara system. Sri Ramanujacharya then went to the seven hills of Tirumala accompanied by 1000 Sanyasis of the Vaishnava order. The King of the region was summoned. Many spiritual debates were held between the groups of Sri Ramanujacharya and the local scholars. The debates went on for several days, but the King desired a quick decision regarding the nature of the deity form of the Lord.
The King has a plan to identify the deity
The deity did not bear any emblems of marks that could determine the form of the deity, whether it belonged to Lord Karthikeya or Lord Balaji. The deity had four hands and yet there was nothing that could identify the form of the deity. The King devised a mechanism to identify the form of the deity. The King said “Keep a Trident, conch, sword, other arms and weapons of various deities and then keep the doors of the Temple locked for a night. Respective devotees can pray to their deity form. If the deity is genuine, it shall adorn the respective weapons depending on the deity’s real form.” Likewise, for that night, the weapons were kept inside the temple and the doors were locked. Devotees who believed that the deity belonged to Karthikeya prayed to this form in their hearts whereas the Vaishnavas prayed to Lord Narayana in their heart. During the course of the night long Hari Kirtanam, the Lord spoke to Sri Ramanujacharya in his heart. The Lord said, “It is your duty to safeguard my interests, so do something.” Sri Ramanujacharya then said “Oh Lord, what can I do? I am also helplessly doing your Kirtanam sitting outside the locked doors of the temple.”
Sri Ramanujacharya is the incarnation of Lord Sheshanaga
The Lord replied “Just enter the temple and install the Shankh (Conch) and the Sudarshan Chakra onto my hands. The problem shall get solved.” Sri Ramanujacharya said “Oh Lord, what type of proposal is this. The Temple is shut and locked. How can I enter the sanctum? You are the Supreme Lord you can do this job by yourself because you are all-capable” The “helpless” Lord said “In my Archa Vigraha Lord, I do not do anything. My devotees are supposed to take care of my needs. Here I am supposed to take services. If the devotees give me a bath, I take a bath, If my devotees offer me food, I have it. Otherwise I do not do anything. If you can do something, then do it” Sri Ramanujacharya again expressed his limitations and inability. The Lord then spoke thus “You are Shesha Avatar, Lord Sankarshana, my resting couch, who assists me during the course of all My earthly incarnations. You are all-capable. In one form you continue doing Kirtanam and in another form of a snake, enter the temple through the drain pipe and get my work done.” Sri Ramanujacharya then realized His own eternal position and assumed the form of a snake, entered the temple and installed the Shankh and Chakra on the hands of the deity form of Sri Tirupati Balaji. Now the Lord proclaimed, “You have installed Shankh and Chakra on my hands, just as the Guru embosses the Shankh and Chakra on the hands of his disciples and saves them. Similarly you have saved me and hence you are my Guru now.” Sri Ramanujacharya was a first-class intelligent devotee of the Lord. He addressed the Lord thus, “Lord, since you have proclaimed me as your Guru, you should give me Dakshina.” (दक्षिणा presents given to the spiritual preceptor). The Lord said “Whatever you shall demand will be given at once.” Sri Ramanujacharya said “Oh Lord, whoever considers me as their Acharya, should have all his sins cut without delay.” Hence, even to this day, whoever, sincerely accepts the Parampara of Sri Ramanujacharya , at once loses all his sins without a second’s delay.