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A VRIDDHA VASISHTA IN THE 21st CENTURY!


1. We have a VasishTa in our midst! He is the eldest among YathisreshTas of Bhagavad Ramanuja - Swami Desika Satsampradaayam. He is the eldest not only in point of age but also in point of years of observance of Chaaturmaasya vratas. He is turning 91 years of age and he has completed about 30 Chaaturmaasyams. He is VayO Vriddha, Jnaana Vriddha, AnushTaana Vriddha and most importantly Vairaaghya Vriddha with Zero tolerance to anything that can even remotely be considered beyond the pale of Vedic practices. No wonder, he is hailed verily as VasishTa unanimously by all YathisrEshTas among them and as NaDamaaDum Deivam (God walking on earth) He is none other than Srimad Andavan, Poundarikapuram Swami Asramam, Srirangam, whose 91st Tirunakshatram we are celebrating today at Srirangam. You will agree with me once you meet the tEjas of this Mahaan face to face. 2. SRIMAD PERIYA AZHAGIYA SINGHARS QUOTE: Srimad Periya Azhagiya Singhar was referring to the following slOkam in Srimad Ramayanam (105.24) in one of his Tirunakshatrams at TiruvaLLur a few years ago. Nandanti udita aadityE nandanti astamitE ravou / AatmanO na avabhudhyantE manushyaa jeevita kshayam// Meaning Man delights at sunrise that he would earn his livelihood; at Sunset, he delights on the opportunity to enjoy what he had earned. He does not realize that with every passing day, one day from his lifespan is imperceptibly ticked off And continued Though this is true, on seeing much too numerous Sishyas and abhimaanis congregating here to wish me Happy birthday, and showering their offerings, I am tempted to wish for celebrating my birthdays at least twice or thrice in a year and if possible every day of my life!

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It used to be said that unable to enumerate the auspicious qualities of Bhagavaan, the Vedas returned crestfallen unable to complete the list. Yatho vaachaa nivartantE apraapya manasaa saha The same can be said of the qualities of head and heart of Asmad Acharyan. However much we may extol his GuNas, they fit him like a T and yet fall far short of describing him fully. I was therefore, scared to write about him lest it should give an impression that this was all that could be said about him. However, his very qualities compel me to venture to say a few words of obeisance to him. As LakshmaNa put it, I became a slave to his GuNas. guNair daasyam upaagata: As Swami Desika puts it in his GOdha Sthuti, his guNas embolden even a dumb person like me to venture to write a few lines about him. mounaan mukharayanti guNaas tvadeeyaa: 4. WHAT MAKES HIM QUALIFIED FOR THESE EPITHETS? Asmad Acharyan belongs to a long line of Munis who are absolute Viraktas to name, fame and material gains but remain silent to the point of being almost incognito shunning publicity and pomp, doing their duties with incredible rigor and intense self discipline. 5. MUNI IN ALL TANIANS If you look at the Tanians (Stand alone dedicatory verses) of successive Achaaryas of Poundarikapuram Swami Asramam, you will find the word MUNI repeated in each one of them (For example) Paravakkottai Andavan: gOpaala Desika MUNIM gurum assrayaama: Vinnatrankarai Andavan: Sri Srinivasa MUNIVARYAM aham prapadhyE Mannargudi Andavan: Jnaabdim suguNaakaram MUNIVARAM Sriranganaatham bhajE Poundarikapuram Andavan: rangEsa paada vinatam Srinivaasa MUNIM bhajE Narayana Maha Desikan: naaraayanaakhyam MUNIM aasrayaama: PeriyaaNdavan: Sri Srivaasa MUNEENDRA dEsika maNim sreyOnidhim samsrayE TirutturaipooNDi Andavan: Srimad Srivaasa Ramaanuja MUNIM anagham tam bhajE DesikEndram

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Vazhuttur Andavan: vEdaanta LakshmaNa MUNEH srita bhaagadEyam paadaara vinda yugaLam saraNam prapadhyE Tirukkudantai Desikan: vEdaanta LakshmaNa MUNEENDRA krupaata bOdam Sri Saakshaat Swami: vEdaanta LakshmaNa MUNIM saraNam prapadhyE This repetition of the term Muni is not by any accident nor because the composers could not find alternative expressions! I feel it was by way of conscious recognition of the Virakti of these Acharyas in not indulging in vain talk but keeping mum in silent contemplation and meditation on the Lord. This does not mean that they never speak out at all. Speak they will, but only while expounding the nuances of our Siddhantam in KaalakshEpamas or while advising on AnushTaanams to their Sishyas in private. 6. YATHI DHARMA SAMUCHCHAYAM You may know that Yaadhva Prakaasa, former Guru turned Sishya of Bhagavad Ramanuja later has written a grantam entitled Yathi Dharma Samuchchayam expounding intricate details of how a Sannyaasin should conduct himself and what he should not indulge in. What some of you may not know is that it has been edited and translated into English by Patrick Olivelle and published by Sri Satguru Publications, Indian Books Centre, Delhi, India in Sri Garib Dass Oriental Series No 208. The book is entitled Rules and Regulations of Brahminical Asceticism. You will be wonderstruck how our VasishTa scrupulously observes these rules and regulations in letter and spirit even in this decadent Kaliyuga. 7. JNAANAM (KNOWLEDGEOF DHARMA) AND ANUSHTAANAM (PRACTICING DHARMA) It should be remembered that Jnaanam (Knowledge of Dharma) and AnushTaanam (Practicing Dhramam) are the hallmarks of a preceptor. Is it not said Sunah Puchchamiva anartham PaaNDithyam Dharma varjitam ? Mere knowledge without anushTaanam would be like a dogs tail that cannot even hide its private parts. A person may have the gift of the gab and may be able to expound what little he has learned with utmost gusto but his instructions would fall flat, would be evanescent and will not carry conviction unless backed up by his adhering to the Dharma that he presumes to preach. We find today so many so called self-styled gurus who strut about petulantly presuming to teach common folk how to regulate their life without first regulating their own! Their only aim is to garner as much money as possible from the Sishyas who are surfeit in materialism and starving in spiritualism who are carried away by their gimmicks! Bhagavad Ramanuja and Swami Desika preached what they practiced and practiced what they preached. That is why their UpadEsams have become classic - meaning that they stood the test of times. The same can be said about our Acharyan. He is indeed a Vriddha VasishTa of the 21 st century.

8. TIRTHIP PANI KOLLAL H.H. is strict on himself and strict on others who come to him. He would never spare anyone committing any indiscretions like coming into the Asramam without washing their feet, without wearing Oordva puNdram and the traditional Pancha Katcham (Grihastas) and MaDisaar (for Sumangalis). But, his advice would always be polite hitam so that we would be made to feel ashamed of ourselves for the indiscretions. 9. MESSAGE BOARDS INSTRUCT OBSERVANCE OF MINIMUM STANDARDS OF DISCIPLINE When you enter the Asramam, you cannot miss the message boards at strategic locations that instruct minimum standards of discipline one should follow. As you read the writings, you will realize your own duties and your resolve to commit yourself to following the same. An ingenious and ingenuous method of instruction that stays with you indelibly all through your life! 10. SANDHYAVANDANAM - A JUSTIFIED HARSHNESS In the matter of doing Nitya karmas like Sandhya-Vandanam, he is uncompromising. Sometimes, he may look a bit harsh but it would always be for our good. Indeed, it is justice tempered with mercy He would ask Are doing Sandhya-Vandanam? If you say yes, He will then ask whether you do it three times a day. If you say that for some reason, you miss doing all the three times, then his tone will turn a bit harsh. He will ask Do you go to bed without taking food? If you cannot skip food, why do you skip doing your nitya karma anushTaanam? He will then proceed to explain Do you know when one skips doing it regularly, one becomes what Sastras say a Karma ChaNDaaLan. There is redemption for a Janma ChaNDaaLan (ChaNDaaLan by birth) but there is no redemption for the Karma ChaNDaaLan- one who knowingly does not perform the Trikaala Sandhyavandanam. And, turning to your wife who may stand by you, he will say If he is ChaNDaaLan, dont you automatically become ChaNDaaLi?. Dont give him food if he does not do his Sandhya-Vandanam Harsh he may be, but out of infinite compassion, and recognizing the practical difficulties (like Shift duty etc), he would suggest practical alternatives like pulling up the arrears in the missed performance by doing it along with the next occasion with a special

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Praayschitta Sankalpam saying PooarvEdhyu: un-anushTitam Praarta: /Maadhyahnika/ Saayam Sandhyam Adhya aham UpaasishyE. He would even suggest that you may do Maadhyahnikam along with Praata: Sandhyvandanam in exceptional circumstances. We are, however, experts in making the exception the rule to live by!

11. DID YOU WASH YOUR HAND? Once, I was attending the Abhigamanam and Pongal prasaadam was offered and we had to take it with a leaf in our cupped up palms. I had unwittingly kept it on the floor because I was called to attend to some urgent call. This had not escaped the watchful eye of H.H. When I returned and was about to take the prasaadam back, he asked me whether I had washed my hands. 12. ACCEPTING SISHYAS AND ADMINISTERING RAHASYA MANTRAS H.H. follows the traditional method of testing would be - Sishyas before accepting. He is not the one to consider Anything is fish that comes to the net. This is because his only concern is the spiritual welfare of would be - Sishyas and he is never motivated by monetary considerations that might accrue by accepting Sishyas indiscriminately. He does not indulge in body-shopping canvassing for Sishyas with a view to bringing in considerable funds for the Asramam. Swami Desika says in Srimad Rahasya Traya Saaram - Guru Paramparaa Saaram that an Acharya would incur the sins of his Sishya accepted without considering the eligibility of the would-be-Sishya by approved strict methods of evaluation. Swami observes Petradu guNamaaga upadEsithaal sishya-paapam gurOrapi engaiyaalE nishTai kulaiyum padiyaam and gives an example of how Brahma instructed Indra without first testing his eligibility to receive UpadEsam varuvadu vichaariyaade indranukku upadesithu taanum Brahma vidyayai marandu, tan sishyan aana Naarada bhagavaanai iTTu Sarvesawaran uNarthuvikka vendumpadi irunda chaturmukhan pakkalilE kaNDu koLvadu (Brihan Naaradeeya Vachanam) It is obvious that such acceptance of Sishyas with an eye on the potential to fill the coffers of his organization is clearly against the scriptures. 13. BHARANYAASAM AND MANTRA UPADESAM In my case, when I went to him for BharaNyaasam some 30 years ago, he asked me to go back and listen to KaalakshEpams of the then Villivalam Swami (Present Periya Jeeyar of AhObila Mutt) before coming back to him for the purpose. He asked me to have a bath in the sea at TiruppullaaNi for receiving the mantras. 14. ASHAD- KARNAM

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He insists on what Swami Desikan says as Ashad-karNam method (Not audible to more than the four ears of the Acharya and the Sishya) in administering Rahasya mantras and does not initiate Sishyas en masse like GOshTi Upanayanam/ mass marriage etc. that defeats this very dictum.

15. MOSQUITOES NOT DRIVEN There were several occasions when we were given to realize that the Sareeram of Achaarya (like that of the Lord) is made of Suddha Sattvam and not like ours. While describing Rama to Sita in the AshOka vana, Hanumaan says:

naiva damsaan na masakaan na keeataan na saree srupaan/ raaghavO apanayEt gaatraat tvad gatEnaanantaraatmanaa// (VR-6-36-42)
Meaning Rama does not eat meat or even chase away flies etc that torment his body because he is engrossed in thinking about you. I could see this once when I visited the Asramam in the evening. Swarms of mosquitoes were invading everywhere. One cannot open ones mouth lest a bunch of mosquitoes should get into the mouth. We were fidgety all the time. H.H also went through the same torture. But, not once did he venture to chase away the tormentors, not because he was not bothered but because his concentration was on Bhagavaan. Is it not said Paramaatmani yO raktah viraktah aparamaatmani 16. COMPASSION EVEN TO A SERPENT SPOTTED AT THE ASRAMAM! Once, the Sishyas spotted a snake inside the Asramam and rushed to asmad Acharyan to report the sighting. Swami asked them not to harm the reptile but leave it alone and said that it would go away on its own. And, it did. Such was his compassion even to a serpent! 17. FRACTURE Another occasion we were reminded of this was when he had a fall and fractured his leg. The Sishyas offered a wheel chair for him to sit but he refused saying that he was not supposed to touch metal. With excruciating pain, he slowly got up and moved to the Asramam. Anyone of us in similar circumstances would have raised a hell of noise renting cries of suffering. Here is an Achaarya who proved his mettle in the face of grave pain. 18. NO RAILINGS!

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Yet another occasion arose at the time of his SathaabhishEkam in 2001. H.H. used to get up early in the morning before dawn and climb down the steps of the tank that had dried up but with some water in a deep well dug at the center of the tank. Seeing how he was struggling to climb up and down, we suggested that we would put up railings on the side walls of the tank and well so that he could hold them for steadying himself, especially as there was lot of moss and algae all over making the surface slippery. He declined the offer saying again that he cannot touch iron railing. To this day, he has been adhering to this difficult exercise!

19. TOUCHING GOLD During the SatahbhishEkam of the Acharya in 2001, Srimad Azhagiya Singhar observed that asmad Acharyan blessed him during his PeeTaarOhaNam showering gold coins and reciting the mantram with which VasishTa blessed Sri Rama on his coronation. Valmiki describes the scene thus:

tata: sa prayatO vriddhO VasishTO brahmaNai: saha/ Raamam ratna mayE peeTE saha seetaam nyvEsayat // abhyashinchan nara vyaagram prasannnEna sugandhinaa/ SalilEna sahasraaksham vasavO vaasavam yathaa
Our Swami was quick to admit mea culpa (my mistake) to which Azhagiya Singhar said You made an exception in my case and I am honored and I am thankful to you for the honor 20. NO PALLAKKU! He is the only Achaarya who does not travel by car or palanquin till this day. He normally does not go out of Srirangam but when he does on Sanchaaram, he always goes by foot as ordained by the Saastras. This is not a reflection on others who may use vehicles. H.H. used to say that he would not comment on them but this is the norm that he had been following ever since he took up the ascetic order about 30 years ago and there was no reason for him to change it now. Indeed, he is literally and figuratively a NaDamaaDum Deivam ! 21. NO TELEPHONE! When we suggested that he should have a Telephone in the Asramam, he resisted the idea saying that it would be a nuisance interfering with his AnushTaanams. We had to convince him that it was in the interests of his Sishyas who were like his children that

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there should be a phone installed in the Asramam for our sake. I even suggested that we would install an Answering machine with caller ID so that he need not have to answer the calls right away but could choose to call back if he felt later that it was necessary for him to respond. Only after much persuasion did he agree to our request to install a telephone. And, this has been a boon to us because we are now blessed to hear his voice through Tele-discourses.

22. SAPTADI, SATABHISHEKAM AND RAJAT JAYANTI OF HIS SANNYAASA SWEEKARANAM H.H. would have none of the Celebrations part on the occasions of his Saptadi, Sathaabhishekam and Rajat Jayanti of his Sannyaasa Sweekaranam and wanted to keep them at a low key without pomp and paraphernalia. It was almost impossible task for us to make him agree to it. It was because these functions gave opportunities to be in the midst of Veda Vidwaans whose company was dear to his heart, that he accepted our requests. He quoted a verse from Mahaabhaaratam thus: na Ammaayaani theerthaani na mrith silaa mayaani cha/

tE punati urukaalEna, drasanaadEva saadhava://;


Meaning: Even bathing in holy waters and praying to Vigrahams made of mud and stone can yield results only in due course; what will give instant results is the sight of Saadhu congregation like the one I see before me. 23. NEXUS WITH ALL MUTTS AND ASHRAMAMS Our Asramams nexus with all other Mutts and Asramams is proverbial. A few instances are mentioned below: (1) Ahobila Mutt: (i) When the Rajagopuram was being built the then Jeeyar (44 th ) asked asmad Acharyan to shoulder the funding of one tier. Asmad Acharyan had just then assumed charge of the Asramam and had not even familiarized with the Asrama Sishyas. He instantly undertook the task and was able to collect funds for the 12 th tier of the Rajagopuram and submitted it to the Jeeyar. (ii) When someone went to court demanding that he should be debarred from the claim to be called Andavan, an honorific that had been in vogue for long time, the 44 th Jeeyar defended asmad Acharyan and counseled the litigants to insist on such a move on those who were also known to use the

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honorific (like Meivazhi Saalai Andavan, Nagoor Andavan etc) and then come to asmad Acharyan. Thereupon, the litigants dropped their case! (2) PARAKAALA MUTT Asmad Acharyan listened to Kaalakshepams at the feet of the then parakaala Mutt Jeeyar. This is also mentioned in his Taniyan.

(3) SRIRANGAM SRIMAD ANDAVAN, PERIYAASRAMAM The common thread that binds the two is the fact that both belong to what is known as Munitrayam comprising as it does the trio of Naatha Muni, Yamuna Muni and Ramanuja Muni. (4) H.H. Rangapriya Swami Many of you may not know that as a child, this Swami was mute. Once, when he was taken to Poundarikapuram Swami Asramam, the then Pontiff whispered in the childs ear Hayagriva Dhyaana Slokam and Lo and behold! The child that had not uttered a word since birth repeated the slOkam. Thereupon the Pontiff blessed the child saying that he would blossom into a great yOgi. True to the blessings, the child grew up to be His Holiness, Rangapriya Yathi, establishing AshTaanga Yoga Vigjnaana Mandiram functioning to this day in Hanumanta Nagar, Bangalore. 24. SAMARPANAI H.H. never asks for any assistance especially financial assistance from anyone, whether it is for any function or for any Kainkaryams or for even running of the day-to-day administration of the Asramam. He is not the one to accept any Samarpanai unless he made sure that it was tendered without any ulterior motives. Once, he contributed an article to one of the Souvenirs. The publishers published it in the name of another author. H.H. had noticed this but did not object. When the publishers came to offer some honorarium for the article, he politely declined. 25. COMPASSION INCARNATE His extraordinary compassion to Sishyas and Abhimaanis should be seen to be believed. During my visit in 2006, I could do the SaashTaanga namaskaaram only with great difficulty, due to knee pain. H.H. noticed this and immediately motioned to me saying that I did not need to prostrate and that an Anjali was enough. He suggested that I should apply some Ayurvedic Thailams to the knee and even took pains to explain how to apply and how long to apply to get full relief. 26. TIRU ANBIL DWAJASTHAMBA KAINKARYAM

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I will be failing in my duty if I do not mention the immense help and guidance he gave in completing the Dwajasthamba Kainkaryam in 2006. From the inception to the conclusion, H.H. took personal interest in obtaining estimates from various Sthapatis, arranging for the approval by Temple and HR & CE authorities and instructing on even the minutest details in executing the project. 27. SAT SAMPRADYA PRACHARA VICHAKSHANA The Sishyas were celebrating on 14th February 2007 the Rajat Jayanthi (Silver Jubilee) 25th year of asmad Acharyans assuming the PeeTam of Poundarikapuram Swami Asramam. Due to unavoidable circumstances, I could not go to India to attend the function. In his infinite grace, Swami had conferred the title of Sat Sampradaya Prachaara VichakshaNa on aDiyEn and sent his Mantra akshadai blessings and other memorabilia and the plaque through Sri Murali Rangaswamy, who forwarded them from Boston to Atlanta. 28. READY ANSWERS Every time I go to India, I used to collect a long list of doubts bearing on our Siddhaantam and AnushTaanams for securing clarifications from the H.H. He himself would ask me Have you brought any list this time? For every question, he would give a ready and convincing reply and for every doubt he would give startling clarifications with appropriate PramaaNams. 29. GUEST HOUSE Noticing that Sishyas and Abhimanis coming from outstations and overseas were experiencing difficulty in getting suitable lodging facilities, he had constructed a beautiful guest house very near the Asramam. Anyone who goes to pay respects to H.H. can book a room practically RENT- FREE. This is a great boon for people like me. 30. ACHCHIDRA ASWAMEDA PAARAAYANAM During my SathabhishEkam in 2005, H.H. suggested that the famous AchchidraAswamEdha PaaraayaNam may be arranged. I could not find anyone to do it in U.S.A. H.H kindly arranged to have it performed on my behalf at the Asramam itself under his immediate supervision and the Veda Vidwaans were sumptuously rewarded and a grand Tadeeya Aaraadanai was also done at the Asramam. 31. BOOKS GALORE H.H. has brought out several publications like Srimad Rahasya Traya Saaram, Chillarai RahasyangaL, Raampiraanai KarpOm etc and almost all Desika StOtras with commentaries of Poorva Achaaryas. This is a yeoman service to the SrivaishNava world that will be eternally indebted to him. We have the sacred duty of praying to Divya Dhampatis to grant him PoorNaayus with pink of health.

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Dasoham Anbil Ramaswamy