Monday, February 8, 2016

The Supreme Importance of the Guru in Sankaradeva's System

The human body, as we have indicated in a previous blog post, is an instrument for realizing pure devotion (bhakti) and, as a by-product of it, salvation (mukti). It is an instrument for educating oneself regarding the true nature of reality--about the external (material) world as well as our own selves--and for feeling the grace of the Lord. For the embodied pure-personality (jiva) to finally take sole-refuge (eka-sarana) in Him and lead a life of pure devotion to God. From an evolutionary perspective, the human body is the most appropriate accompaniment to the transcendental person, now fallen into the material world, for the development of his highest consciousness.
But mere presence of the human body, although it supplies the congenial environment, would not automatically guarantee the obtaining of the saving knowledge of devotion by the jiva. An external teacher is required in order to educate the jiva and to color his mind with devotion and to connect him to Paramatma, the indwelling preceptor. This requirement is fulfilled by the entity known as Guru whose job it is to instruct the lay people of the world in the matter of obtaining their supreme welfare and to exhort them to take sole-refuge in the Lord.
In the Bhagavata, it is said that as long as a person does not engage in understanding the ontological categories or entities (tattvas), he does not come out of the darkness of ignorance (this passage is from the fifth canto):

yavata puruse tattva nakare bicara
ajnana timire pari dekhe andhakara
ehimate karmmara adhina huya nara
nanana yonita bhrami phure nirantara
mai basudevata nakare yave mati
yavata sarana laiya nakare bhakati
tavadeke deha dhari bhrame samsarata
janiya bhajiyo mora carana padmata

As long as the embodied pure-personality (purusa) does not contemplate the entities (tattva),
so long does he grope in the darkness of ignorance (ajnana).
In this manner, subservient to karma's will,
man roams endlessly from womb to womb.
As long as he does not direct his mind to me, Vasudeva [the immanent supreme soul of all creatures],
as long as he does not do devotion (bhakti) to me, taking sole-refuge (sarana),
so long will he be traveling in samsara inside a body.
Knowing this truth, you engage exclusively in pure devotion at my lotus-feet.

It is precisely in order to educate the jivas regarding the tattvas (concerning such questions as which entity is inert or unconscious and which is conscious, etc.) and to direct the mind of the jivas towards God that the Guru makes his appearance. Though, literally speaking (i.e. from the literal point of view), Guru and Deva (God) are two distinct entities, yet, on account of the similarity in their essential nature, they are identified (i.e. considered as one and the same). Madhavadeva writes on this striking similarity between God and Guru in his Nama Ghosa (v. 681):

hari yena ati krpamaya bhakta gurujano sehinaya
duyojana eka sarirata matra bhinna
krparase yukta huya citta lokara hitaka cinti nita
nija gune tusta duyo ahamkare hina.

Like Hari who is extremely full of grace, the devotee-guru is also of the same kind. 
Both are the same, being different only in body. 
Hearts satisfied by the juice of compassion, thinking at all times, the good of the people,
they are by nature satisfied; both are bereft of ego.

The Lord and the Guru who gives the knowledge of devotion to the Lord are so similar in their nature (as well as their role) that the two entities are identified. Both are of utterly compassionate nature.
Now, regarding the true Guru, Sankaradeva, in his Bhakti Pradipa, has the following lines to say:

vedara rahasya tattva sakale jananta
krsnaka bhakati bole saksata karanta
krsnaka bhakati hove samsaraka tare
nahi nahi samsararta guru ata pare
ehente uttama guru kahilo samprati
iharase upadese suddha haiba mati
amata adhika guru jana sito jana
sisya huya seva karo tahara carana

[Krsna says to Arjuna:] He knows all the mysterious truth (rahasya tattva) of the Vedas
and also, he meets Krsna in person by virtue of his devotional prowess.
[One] accomplishes (pure) devotion to Krsna and crosses the cycle of births and re-births (samsara).
[For this purpose] there is no other, no other Guru apart from him in this world.
He is the best (uttama) guru, this I tell you presently.
And it is only through his instruction (upadesa) that one's intellect will be purified.
Know that one to be a guru greater than me.
Even I become the disciple of such a one and do service to his feet.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Krsna is the Personality of Grace III

In the previous post, we saw how the grace of the Lord towards His jivas is manifested through His formulation of the policies of creation and preservation. To recap:
  • The biggest proof of the grace of the Lord is the fact that all creatures have come to be equipped with a material body providing all the supports and adjuncts necessary for the development of consciousness
  • The material body comes into being and is preserved in the initial stages of its development through the active involvement of Isvara.
  • Finally it is this material human body which by providing an avenue for the expression of the dormant consciousness of the jiva enables him to acquire the knowledge of devotion (through the Guru) and connects him to Paramatma
In this post, we will be looking at possible objections to this theory and also seek, as best as we can, to resolve these doubts. Legitimate doubts should always be welcomed into our study and we should seek to answer these doubts on the basis of our understanding of the text(s). Sankaradeva always incorporated sanka into his rendering of the Bhagavata and also provided the answers. Our study should be a reasoned one; the solutions provided should make sense.
The first of these doubts may be phrased as follows:
Doubt 1: You say that the biggest proof of God's grace is life itself. But can not the development of life, the acquiring of the body by the jiva, be explained on the basis of mere material evolution alone? Life is a purely material phenomenon. Why bring God (or His grace) into this?
The answer to this doubt may be given as follows:
Resolution of Doubt 1: It is true that the human body is developed through the process of material evolution. Embryological development takes place. A single cell grows into a fetus and finally, a (full-fledged!) baby is born. These biological processes are undoubtedly material but would such an evolution not need an initial actuator or initializer or, a driver of this evolution, a programmer and/or a policy-framer? In other words, would it not require a supreme cause, a parama karana? Such a supreme cause, further, cannot be matter (prakrti) for it is dead and unintelligent and dependent on consciousness. It is mere clay for building the universe (microcosmic or macrocosmic); it is mere substance. And surely, substance cannot build, let alone frame policy! (This intuitive fact may be proved through basic observation.) Therefore, the supreme cause driving material evolution has to be a personality (purusa). But neither can it be a personality (purusa) of the nature of those who themselves are trapped within this material process; who are themselves in an unconscious state. Therefore, the conclusion is clear. That supreme cause (parama karana) must be a supreme personality (parama purusa) who, while himself remaining outside the causal processes of prakrti, sets into motion the process of creation (evolution). And that fully conscious supreme personality (parama purusa) is the Lord (isvara). Therefore, like the origination of the external universe, from the ultimate (parama) point of view, it is God, Paramatma, the supreme soul, who drives the evolution of the mini-universe that is the human body. It is He who evolves the mind (manas), the intellect (buddhi) (both terms actually referring to the same entity, but in different roles), the vital airs (prana), the basic (gross) organic substances (bhutas), the organs of sense and action (indriyas), etc. And it is He who leads to the development of life (by which term we mean not the innate essential characteristic of the pure personality but rather the working of the body and its various mechanisms in the manner of a well-coordinated automaton).
Now, why bring God's grace into this. Why it has to be His grace. It has purely to be His grace to His jivas because apart from realizing the salvation and happiness of the jivas, such a policy of creation and preservation would serve no other purpose to God. God is the Lord of Vaikuntha, the transcendental realm. What need has He, the Lord of All Opulence, to sport in such a material creation. Also, it is inconceivable that the Lord who is all-happiness and all-joy (ananda) would seek to derive any sort of joy from mundane matter (prakrti). This proves that the compassionate (krpamaya) Lord is doing it solely for the welfare of His jivas.
Therefore, the final conclusion is that the material life of the jiva is made possible only by the grace of the Lord and the very presence of such a life is the biggest and direct proof of the love of the Lord for His jivas.
Next, we proceed to the resolution of another doubt that may emerge over our discussion of the Lord's grace in the previous post. This doubt may be expressed pithily as follows:
Doubt 2: If the Lord is so graceful, then why doesn't He gift the jiva with instant redemption instead of first placing him in a material body and then hoping that he uses his intellect to tide over his ignorance? Why not grant him immediate freedom from material darkness?
Resolution of  Doubt 2: It is true that the Lord can grant the jiva immediate relief from the afflictions of nescience (avidya, maya) and magically, as it were, transform the jiva into a devotee (bhakta) in His eternal service in Vaikuntha. But the Lord, being truly graceful, respects the freedom of choice of the jiva. He is not in favor of a forced conversion. The Lord is the personality of grace and the jivas are the recipients of such a grace of Isvara. For such grace to be truly meaningful, the jiva must first, with a pure intellect, understand the reality of his own existence and, then, knowing Isvara to be the sole object of refuge (parama asraya), on his own accord, surrender before Him. The jiva has the free will to decide. He has only to yearn for the nectar-flavored devotion of the Lord's feet. And the Lord will satisfy his craving. The surrendered one will give (himself) and the Lord will take. This is the way real grace works. Needless to say, through such an arrangement, the compassionate Lord also leaves something for the Guru to do!

No Means apart from Bhakti for Purifying the Consciousness

According to the Bhagavata , for the purpose of purifying the consciousness, there is no means apart from devotion ( bhakti ): p. 148 ...