20.2 SARVA-DHARMAN PARITYAJYA - 2:
VEDANTA-DESIKA'S CHARACTERIZATION OF THE POST-SHARANAGAATI SCENARIO
Vedanta Desika (1269-1370) is the second great name in Vaishnavism. Having mastered all the known religious literature both in Sanskrit and Tamil, even before the age of 20, thereafter for more than 75 years he enriched the Vaishnava world with his teachings and writings, which number more than a hundred. One of these is Desika-Prabandham. Out of the 45 Prabandhams (which are poetical compositions in Tamil, each containing several verses) which he seemed to have authored, only 19 are extant now, which together have 405 verses. They all contain an incisive clarity of appeal that is instructive to the seeker as well as being a treat to the connoisieur. Verse No.143 deals with the question of what happens to the spiritual seeker after he has done the sharaNAgati, also known as prapatti in Vaishnavite usage. The seeker, being after all a human being, inspite of his dedication and well-meant sharaNAgati, may still not be free from certain of his failings which may prompt him to continue some of his wrong ways of living. So the Acharya takes up the question of what happens to his sins, before and after his sharaNAgati, in the light of the second line of the Carama-shloka of the Gita. The analysis is made as follows.
The Lord says ‘I shall release you from all the sins’. According to Desika, this means the seeker will be absolved of all the sins committed before the Prapatti. But regarding any sins that may be committed after the sharaNagati,
they have to be categorized whether they are committed out of ignorance or not. Ignorantly-committed sins will be absolved. But those which are committed inspite of the knowledge of the sinful nature of the act, again they have to be categorized whether they were committed unavoidably because of an emergency or the like, or whether they were committed in the normal spectrum of activities. If the former, again they will also be absolved. If it is the latter case, amends have certainly to be made by the sinner. One fourth of such a sin will be washed off by a proper regret (paschAt-tApa, as it is termed in Sanskrit), one fourth will be washed off by stopping any further repetition of that sinful act, another one-fourth will be washed off by taking steps to make amends and a final one fourth will be washed off by making the actual prAyaschitta (amends). The PrAyaschitta itself is only another Prapatti!.
Incidentally in the stanza #143, where all this is described, Desika uses a peculiar phrase (in Tamil): ‘eTTum iRaNDum eNNAdaar’. ‘eTTu’ in Tamil is the numeral ‘eight’ and ‘iRaNDu’ in Tamil is the numeral ‘two’. The phrase therefore says ‘those who do not think of eight and two’! The knowledgeable Vaishnavite spiritual seeker immediately understands that here the ‘eight’ stands for the eight-lettered Narayana mantra and the ‘two’ stands for the pair of sacred mantras called ‘dvayam’. The Narayana mantra and the ‘dvayam’ are formally transferred by the Guru to Vaishnavite seekers . These together with the 66th shloka of the Gita (called the carama-shloka) constitute the peak spiritual legacy that a Vaishnavite has to aspire for.
Now comes the punch-line of this story. The phrase ‘eTTum iRaNDum’ occurs originally in the great Tamil work Tirumandiram of the Saivite mystic Tirumoolar who is traditionally allotted a date of 3000 B.C.E. but is assigned to the period between the 4th and 6th centuries C.E. by scholars. That work is actually a spiritual encyclopaedia, containing a synthesis of Vedantic knowledge, but written in Upanishadic cryptic style admitting of several meanings at the same time. The meaning of ‘eTTum iRaNdum’ occurring here has been explained by the 19th century saint Jyothi Ramalinga Swamigal in a very fascinating way. From ancient times the Tamils had their own way of writing the numerals zero to nine, by the symbols,
o ௧ ௨ ௩ ௪ ௫ ௬ ௭ ௮ ௯
Here ‘eTTu’, meaning numeral eight, happens to be precisely the first letter of the Tamil alphabet ‘a’ pronounced as in ‘that’. ‘iRaNDu’ meaning numeral two, happens to be precisely the letter ‘u’ pronounced as in ‘put’. The ‘a’ and ‘u’ together with the ending ‘m’ give the mystic syllable AUM of Hindu religion and philosophy. All religious literature from the Upanishads downwards extol the greatness of the syllable. In fact the Gita says (8 – 13) ‘He who casts off his body uttering the monosyllable AUM representing Brahman and remembering Me, proceeds to the highest goal’. This is what Tirumoolar means when he says ‘eTTum iRaNDum nalvazhikkEhum’!