An Introduction to Sri Sampradaya

Ramanuja System

Can spiritual experiences be different for different people?

Spiritual Truth is one. Yet, their representations in the hearts of pure devotees can be infinite. Although, these realizations appear strange to different people owing to cultural and regional difference, the truth of a spiritual statement can never be challenged. Because, truth is realizable only in individual hearts. Their individual realizations are sufficient for the devotee to sail through the ocean of Maya. Such a statement of truth is “Sri Ramanujacharya, is the Ultimate Truth, the Original Preceptor. He is the only one who can take me to my final goal, to my final Abode, Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord of Lords Sriman Narayana.

What is Sharanagati?

Surrender or Saranagati (சரணாகதி) has a fruit in its offering. The fruit of surrender to Sri Ramanujacharya is “Kainkaryam” (கைங்கரியம் servitude). One needs to understand the means (உபாயம்) and the end (ப்ராப்யம்), when one looks at the purpose of servitude or “Kainkaryam”. Our approach determines the means and latter decides the goal.

The good fortune of attainment is known as the “Nama”. Nama means the Divine name of the Lord. It is attained through the “means” that is initiation. Initiation is a process through which a devotee gets aligned to the Ramanuja or Sri Sampradaya by a bonafide guru. How can one receive inititation of ‘Nama’ of Divine Name of God?

Who are Azhwars?

The details of the initiation have been revealed by the Alvars (ஆல்வார்). Alvars were the famous Tamil Poet Saints of Tamil Nadu. Alwar also written as Azhwars. They considered Lord Vishnu and His primary expansions Lord Rama and Lord Krishna as the Supreme Beings. These divinities control the material universe. Lord Vishnu and His expansions were the sole proprietors of the devotees. Their teachings focus on the reality that the ultimate goal of devotees is to attain the eternal servitude of their Sriman Narayana.

There are 12 Azhwars who preached the glories of Sriman Narayana and Mother Lakshmi. Some renowned Azhwars are: Andal, Peyi Azhwar, Nammazhwar, Kulashekhara Azhwar, etc.

Their songs and compositions reflected the essence of the teachings of the great Acharya Sri Ramanujacharya. He was the direct Avatara of the Snake bed (Lord Adishesha or Lord Ananta) of Lord Narayana. The devotees of Sri Ramanujacharya worship Lord Narayana. They have only one goal. They desire to ascend to the spiritual Abode of Sri Vaikuntha (வைகுந்தம் land of no anxiety). The question is what shall the devotees do on ascending to the zone of Vaikuntha?

What do residents of Vaikuntha do?

The residents of Vaikuntha are the devotees who performed Sadhana to attain it. They are devotees of Sriman Narayana. Residents of Vaikuntha shall serve the eternal Acharyas (eternal teachers), Sages and Lord Narayana Himself. Now, who are these teachers and sages? The teachers or sages are the ones, who have met us on our journey on earth. They have given us the knowledge about the Vaikuntha Abode. Gurus who educated us and other devotees about Bhagawan obtain the Acharya position in Vaikuntha. Their positions as a Guru on the material plane is carried to the spiritual realm as well. These teachers shall exist in Vaikuntha in their eternal forms.

When we rise to Vaikuntha, we are given an opportunity to offer our heartfelt devotional service unto them. This is a gesture of respect for all that they have done for us. We shall also personally meet Sri Ramanujacharya in Vaikuntha. Although, we could not meet Him on our visit to earth, (because He arrived about four thousand years ago, much before our coming to the earthly platform), in Vaikuntha we get an opportunity to serve him.

Not only are we blessed to behold His great Person but also offer our service unto Him. Residents of Vaikuntha carry out services eternally, without a break. Such a service shall only add to our inner gratification and inspire us to offer more personal services unto Sriman Narayana and other inmates. This shall be our good fortune, incomparable to any earthly gain. This is the ultimate fruit of getting initiated and obtaining ‘Nama’ from a spiritual master.

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Some common questions about Spiritual Sects

Now, there are different Paramparas (or spiritual, traditional sects) that propagate a means to attain servitude in Vaikuntha. There is an extension of the Ramanuja sect in Northern India near to the Ganges belt. Service is extended to another Acharya, called Ramanandacharya who falls in the disciplic succession of Sri Ramanujacharya. Sri Ramanandacharya is believed to be the direct incarnation of our Lord Sri Rama.

When one philosophy branches from the other, why is there a need for multiple sects? Cannot there be one common parampara for all? This question shall be answered.

Why Acharyas documented their Realizations?

A sage from an older time attained Vaikuntha through ‘Nama’. His spiritual master initiated him with Nama following the teachings of Sri Ramanujacharya, which were inline with the Vedic Scriptures. But then, he documented the practices that he followed. Those practices granted him the fruit of Nama. If he would have simply attained the fruit without disclosing the path and practices his attainment could not have been useful to others.  In earlier times, Gurus, while alive realized their eternal position as a servitor in Vaikuntha. So, their guidance, will surely lead one to Vaikuntha as well as they themselves had attained the finality. Their methods to reach Vaikuntha were documented in order to lead sincere devotees.

In those documents the greater details of how he attained the “Nama” and the nitty-gritty of the means were mentioned. The documents additionally included the qualifications for a devotee, the type of sacrifices to be done, the intensity of commitment and so on.

However, the document did not consider the limitations of devotees in modern times. Today, we lack the capacity to carry out Vedic rituals owing to the complexity of the material world. So, there was an entire system built around this document that relaxed the stringent rules. But, an important thing to note: The updated rules were made more applicable and not diluted in any way. They preached the same philosophy in a more approachable way for us.

What is a Parampara?

The newer updates to the documents made the teachings of the Acharyas more applicable. The successors of the original philosophy held devotees by their hands. It guides them till they attained Vaikuntha. This system which hand holds sincere devotees till the ultimate destination came to be known as parampara (பாரம்பரியம் disciplic succession). A succession (parampara) is a chain of direct hand-holding spiritual masters extending themselves to the disciples. The gurus were Self-realized because of which, their disciples also became self-realized. This chain of self-realized masters continue to build the strong Parampara System. For this reason Paramparas have immense potency in transforming spiritual aspirants. It can grant Vaikuntha if followed with steadfast devotion and faith.

Acharyas initiated disciples and made available the right and relevant practices of Nama. On attainment of the spiritual realm, after the Acharyas left his mortal coils, the qualified disciple would attain the responsibility to carry the legacy to guide devotees on the right path. This chain continued from generations and this is called Parampara.

The purpose of the parampara is to maintain the original purity of the “means”, transmitting “directly”, the core value system “As It Is”, into the hearts of the successive disciples through an authorized set process without an inch of deviation. This is the direct-transmission process represented by the great line of teachers of the Ramanujacharya Vishishta-Advaita Sampradayam (ராமானுஜாச்சார்யா விஷிஷ்ட-அத்வைத சம்பிரதாயம்).
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