How to love purely, and feel loved by God eternally?
Ramanuja acharya taught this principle over millennia ago.
A foremost teacher of the Bhakti tradition, Ramanuja was born on 13th April’ 1017 at Sriperembudur, twenty five miles west of modern Chennai. He was named Ilaya Perumal by his religious parents.
Ramanuja acharya’s example and teachings have shaped the Bhakti movement in South India for over thousand years now. The year 2017 marks his thousandth birth anniversary.
Before his advent, Bhakti-or devotion to God was seen as one of the means to salvation. The followers of Shankaracharya taught that the Absolute Truth known as Brahman is formless, and Bhakti is at best a ladder that could help us come close to realizing the formless, nameless, Brahman. However Shankara and his followers maintain that eventually the path of Bhakti is also temporary and is merely a product of illusion (also called Maya). Hence these philosophers are also called Mayavadis- those who declare God and this world to be illusion or Maya. Since they dismiss a ‘personal’ aspect of God, they are also referred to as Impersonalists, and their teaching, Impersonalism.
Ramanuja acharya however broadened the scope of Vedic teachings. He taught that Bhakti is eternal; it’s not simply a means to God. It’s also the end; it’s another name for an active relationship with God. Besides, service to God and other devotees is an integral part of Bhakti. Ramanuja presented God as a person, a sentient being, with whom anyone could establish a loving relationship. He also broke the rigid caste barriers, and embraced people from all walks of life to the Bhakti fold. He thereby made relationship with God not only a tangible reality, but also accessible to all.
In the Bhakti traditions, there are four prominent schools, and the Sri Vaishnavism- lead by Ramanuja is one of them. This school maintains that Lord Himself imparted the Bhakti knowledge to his consort Lakshmi, and in the disciplic line, the legacy was passed to Ramanuja acharya. He then spread the teachings far and wide.
The other three schools of Bhakti yoga are:
Madhva – Lord first imparted the transcendental knowledge to Brahma and then in a chain of disciplic succession, it passed down to Madhvacharya and in recent times, the popular ISKCON movement follows the same tradition.
Kumara – The four Kumaras learnt the science from the Lord and one of their foremost teachers was Nimbarka acharya.
Rudra – Vishnuswami began this school and centuries later Vallabhacharya became the foremost teacher in this tradition.
To be continued….