Originally published in Vedanta Desika Vidya, May 2010 edition
Though surrender has been enjoined as a sure means to secure His grace by the supreme Lord Himself in His various incarnations as Sri Varaha, Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, it was only after preceptors like Sri Alavandar and Sri Ramanuja arrived on the scene, that this means gained popularity among the people at large.
Both of them surrendered to Lord Ranganatha as seen from the Stotraratna and the Saranagati-gadya respectively. They took their stand not only on the statements in the Vedas but also the experiences of the Azhvars as recorded in the Divyaprabandha.
While, no doubt, preceptors who came after Sri Ramanuja adopted this means to secure their liberation, it was left to the redoubtable Sri Vedanta Desika to postulate the ‘Doctrine of Surrender’ on irrefutable authority as a sure and ready means of salvation through his continuous discourses and a variety of works – poetry, prose, drama, treatise, etc. – in Sanskrit, Tamil, Manipravala and Prakrita. He is therefore called ‘Prapadanakalaa-janma-jaladhi’ for this outstanding contribution to world-thought.
In one of his hymns specially dedicated to the subject of surrender, viz. the Nyasa-tilaka, Svami Desika clarifies several points with reference to surrender and dispels many doubts regarding the efficacy of this means, given the background of the weight of the sins we have committed in the past. He ultimately assures us that surrendering to the Lord will secure us a place in the supreme Abode, a goal which seems to be beyond the reach of even the highly placed gods.
In one particular verse (19) of the Nyasa-tilaka, he raises several doubts, which rise in our minds in the practice of this means, and gives us plausible, thoroughly satisfying reasons why the Lord would listen to us when we pray for liberation and not forsake us, keeping in view our past sins and errors. In one stroke, Svami Desika drives away suspicion from our minds and makes us vibrant and optimistic.
kartavyam sakrudEva hanta kalusham sarvam tatO naSyati
brahma Isaadi sudurlabham padamapi prApyam mayA drAgiti|
viswAsa pratibandhi cintanamidam paryasyati nyasyatAm
rangAdheesa ramApatitva subhagam nArAyaNatvam tava ||
“O Ranganatha! Performed just once, (this act of surrender) extinguishes all accumulated sins. I get within a short time, a place not easily attained by Brahma, Siva and others. Such scepticism,which erodes the high level of faith needed for an aspirant for liberation, is washed by waves of thoughts of Your position as the Consort of Goddess Ramaa, Your own compassionate nature and by Your irrefutable Will and unbounded supremacy.”
Detailed analysis of the verse
Five doubts: The first two lines contain seeds of doubts which usually arise in the mind of an aspirant for liberation, viz. whether:
(i) a single momentary act of surrender can wipe away the heavy load of past sins which he carries,
(ii) the supreme Abode, which cannot be accessed by Brahma, Siva, Indra and other deities can be made available to him so easily,
(iii) the Lord will be moved by this simple act to grant his request,
(iv) He will grant the request at a time chosen by the aspirant (either at the end of his present life or even earlier) while He is known to delay grant of several requests and
(v) He will not distinguish between the high and the low among people who seek liberation. (The aspirant is acutely conscious of his abject status, which places him among the lowliest of the lowly, and hence these doubts.)
These five doubts are known as sankhaa-panchaka and they would considerably weaken the store of immense faith which one has to possess while performing surrender for liberation. Unless these doubts are set at rest, one important ancillary (anga) of surrender, viz. unshakeable faith (mahavisvasa) cannot be fulfilled and to that extent, the act of surrender itself will be incomplete.
Referring to this ancillary, Sri Ramanuja has said that ‘the act of surrender itself represents faith’ (prapattirvisvaasah).
Clearance of doubts: These doubts can be expelled by having recourse to a competent preceptor who will point out two aspects of the Lord which will put paid to such scepticism. The Lord is the Consort ofGoddess Ramaa; He is also compassionate, besides being supreme, independent and powerful (hence He is known by the name Narayana.)
An analysis of these two statuses of the Lord will comfort the aspirant and restore his full faith. By being the Consort of Goddess Ramaa, He listens to Her intercession on behalf of the aspirant. She never sees evil in any being and has the motherly instinct of overlooking all errors of omission and commission. The Lord cannot overrule Her intercession. He listens to Her pleas and forgives the sins of the aspirant.
Secondly, He has an inalienable relationship with the aspirant (in fact, with every being on earth) as the Father, Master, Disperser of grace and above all, a constant Supporter. This relationship infuses confidence in the mind of the aspirant that his prayer for liberation will not go unheeded by the Lord.
Thirdly, the Lord has the innate and incomparable quality of compassion, which gives rise to His affability, easy approachability, gentleness, generosity, steadfastness and commitment to help out those who seek His grace.
Fourthly, His Will is implacable and none can dare question the extent and timing of His benevolence. While He generally withholds or sparingly grants many earthly favours (dharma, artha or kama), He always grants liberation (moksha) to those who seek it.
Finally, He is favourably inclined towards those who yearn to serve Him and Goddess Lakshmi. He considers all those who want His favours as noble people and, among them He prefers those seek Him. (Gita 7.18: udaaraah sarva evaite jnaanee tu aatmaiva me matam). All these statements are borne out from His name Sriman Narayana, which connotes His inseparability and identity of views with Goddess Sri and also His own status as the In-dweller and Benefactor, besides being the Beneficiary of the services of the aspirant in the ultimate liberated state.
Thus by contemplating on all these facts, seriatim, with reference to the doubts raised earlier, unshakeable faith is restored in the mind of the aspirant.
Why unshakeable faith not just faith?
The answer to this query lies in a verse (7) in another hymn of Svami Desika on surrender, viz. Nyasa-vimsati. In that verse, he accepts that it is quite natural for an aspirant for liberation to harbour these doubts. For, the aspirant has passed through several lives in the past and has accumulated quite a good amount of sins (Svami Desika calls them grave and terrible offences – ghora aparadhaah) the burden of which will drag him from behind, preventing a forward movement towards God. Sri Desika says that this experience is likely to befall even to a sincere and learned soul who seeks liberation. Hence, what such a person needs to have is immense faith and not just ordinary faith.
How can he cultivate such faith is the next question. To this, Svami Desika answers that, through sustained and detailed instructions from a preceptor on the Lord’s attributes, the aspirant can acquire and build up mighty faith in the Lord’s redemptive power and willingness to help the aspirant.
The act of surrender is merely a re-affirmation of the well-known fact that the soul is not just notmindependent, but is totally dependent on the supreme Lord, Sriman Narayana alone, from Whom he draws sustenance for his form, existence, actions as well as fruits of such actions. Till the time of his surrender, the aspirant either identified his soul with his body, or considered himself to be independent or thought he is subordinate to some other deity. All these wrong notions have led him through several births in this world in several bodies. This ceaseless cycle of births and deaths will come to an end, the moment he utters the Dvaya-mantra and surrenders, placing his soul back at the feet of Goddess Sri and the Lord and praying to Them to take care of him forever in future. The divine Couple respond with compassion and alacrity, liberate him from the shackles of future worldly life and place him close to Them in the eternal Domain, providing him with unbounded and eternal bliss of existence and accepting his devoted services with love and affection.