The story of Ramanuja acharya begins years before his birth. A stalwart devotee of God (Krishna or Lord Vishnu) named Yamunacharya desired that the message of love for God and humanity should spread far and wide. He fervently prayed for a successor who would spearhead this movement. Through his divine vision he realized that the young boy Ramanuja would carry forward this tradition of loving devotional service.
Yet he saw a serious challenge to this prospect: the prevalent philosophy of Impersonalism was so deep rooted in the society that even the prodigious Ramanuja was enrolled in the school (gurukul) of a prominent Mayavadi, Sri Yadav Prakash. How then would the Bhakti movement spread? Yamunacharya chose patience; he waited for the right time, and knew things would soon fall in place.
Although Yadav Prakash taught the impersonal interpretation of the scriptures, young Ramanuja’s heart hankered to hear personal and devotional explanations. As a submissive student, he quietly tolerated the ‘dry’ speculative theories that were devoid of deep sentiments for Lord Vishnu. Until one day when he could tolerate no further.
Yadav Prakash relaxed as he lay on the floor, and chanted verses from the Chandogya Upanishad, while Ramanuja massaged the feet of his guru. Yadav Prakash then babbled an offensive interpretation of a verse where he compared Lord Vishnu’s eyes to the lower part of a monkey. Ramanuja’s fine devotional sentiments were hurt; he also got furious, but being a humble student, he wouldn’t confront his teacher. He swallowed the pain but his eyes brimmed with tears on hearing derogatory statements about his worshipable Lord. As he quietly continued to massage, the hot tears from Ramanuja’s eyes fell on Yadav Prakash’s thigh, and he rose with a start.
“You are crying?” asked Yadav Prakash, “what’s wrong with you?”
Ramanuja fearlessly, yet humbly replied, “Dear gurudev, your interpretations of this verse is not only insensitive to God but also wrong.”
Outraged by Ramanuja’s response, Yadav Prakash challenged, “You arrogant fool; you think you are better than Shankara and your own spiritual master?”
Ramanuja hung his head low. The guru roared, “Let me see if you could offer a more cogent description.”
Ramanuja said, “The verse says Lord Vishnu’s eyes are ‘Kapyasam’ and you translated the word literally as ‘kapi’ means a monkey and ‘asam’ means bottom. But this smacks of your insensitivity because scriptures offer poetic descriptions of Lord’s beauty. When you understand this mood, you’d see the word differently. The word ‘Kapyasam’ also means ‘that which grows in water.’ And another way of seeing it is, ‘Kapi’ means that which ‘swallows darkness.’ ‘Aasam’ refers to ‘blossom’. What does the sun, which ‘swallows darkness’ cause to ‘blossom’? That’s a beautiful lotus flower that abundantly grows in the lakes. Therefore Lord’s eyes- that are like ‘Kapyasam’ – means His eyes are like the beautiful petals of a lotus flower.”
To be continued…