SrIvishNu sahasranAmam – pUrva pItikA – Part 1

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Although not questioned, sage vaishampAyana – out of utter affection – volunteered to speak thus to janamEjaya, who had a very peaceful mind having heard repeatedly from various learned people about the glories of the Lord, in order to enlighten him on many more esoteric meanings as preached in the scriptures:

श्री वैशम्पायन उवाच –
श्रुत्वा धर्मान् अशॆषॆण पावनानि च सर्वशः
युधिष्टिरः शान्तनवं पुनरॆवाभ्यभाषत  ॥ १ ॥

SrI vaishampAyana uvAcha –
shruthvA dharmAn ashEshENa pAvanAni cha sarvasha:
yudhiShTira: shAnthanavam punarEvAbhyabhAShatha || 1 ||

Having heard fully about all purifying dharmas in detail in the battle field, yudhiShTira asked the glorious son of shAntanu [bhIshma pitAmaha] further.

dharmAn – all the dharmas that are of varied kinds, mentioned in the vEdhas and smrithis, which bestow upon the followers a multitude of auspicious spiritual and material benefits – such as the rAja dharma (duties of the king), mOksha dharma (duties to be observed by a seeker of salvation), dhAna dharma (duties of a donor), and many more.

ashEShENa – in entirety, meaning – as much as needed.

pAvanAni cha – along with purifying deeds such as penance, pilgrimage, worship, et al.

sarvasha: – in all respects; meaning – in terms of fruits, limbs, nature and authority of the prescribed actions.

shruthvA – having heard.

yudhiShThiraH – yudhiShTira, verily the son of dharma [yama dharmarAja]

shAnthanavam – unto bhIshma, the one with a high-class birth, born of shAnthanu from gangA

punarEva abhyabhAShatha – asked again. The reason for asking again was to know from bhIshma about the dharma that he held close to his heart as the highest of all. This can be known from the fact that he later asks bhIshma “which – of all dharmas – do you think is the supreme?” [Reference: the next two verses in series]. Also, yudhistira considered the fact that the wise men search and seek refuge of other learned men who are strongly rooted in the ancient good practices (sadhAchAra). Being subservient to them, the seekers also engage in similar practices that are most liked by their preceptors – the learned people. In the process, the seekers also develop a taste for those good deeds and fruits. That is to say, they do not engage in the most lofty deeds for the mere reason that it is stated in the scriptures, but because such deeds have been accepted and practiced by other learned men in the past.

It has been already stated [at the very beginning of the introduction post] that the wise men should distinctly identify the subjects of knowledge from the various sources available to them, and accept only those that prove to be conducive for their welfare. Such knowledge is of two types – upAya (means) and upEya (goal). The means and the goal can further be thought to be of three types: likeable, more likeable and most likeable ‘goals’; and beneficial, more beneficial and most beneficial ‘means’.

Of these, the goals usually have their own obstacles such as birth, growth, transformations, transient nature, the various effects on the soul namely sorrow, fruits of action, ignorance, desires etc. All these are considered to be the drawbacks of the goals. Similarly, they also have their share of positives such as being free from blemishes, developing taste for soul and body, permanence, abundant knowledge, bliss, wealth etc.

The means also have drawbacks such as deterioration, exhaustion, being long-routed, deception, being over-rewarding or under-rewarding etc. The good qualities of the means are: being definitive, safe, and easy to follow, being extremely rewarding etc.

The distinction in the aforesaid three types of goals and means is achieved keeping in mind the qualities and drawbacks of each of them, as discussed previously. When a seeker finds the ‘most beneficial’ way, he should give up the other two ways namely ‘beneficial’ and ‘more beneficial’, considering them as lowly in comparison to what he holds. Similarly, when he finds the ‘most likeable’ goal, he should give up the two other lower categories of goals namely ‘likeable’ and ‘more likeable’. The true seeker should understand the need for rightly judging between the various goals and the means and holding on to the best out of them.

Thus, in order to clearly differentiate between the various goals and means, yudhiShTira further classified his doubts into six questions, and posed them to bhIshma thus, as seen in the following two slokas:

युधिष्ठिर उवाच –
किमॆकं दैवतं लॊकॆ किं वाsप्यॆकं परायणम्
स्तुवन्तः कं कमर्चन्तः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवाः शुभम् ॥ २ ॥

yudhiShTira uvAcha –
kimEkam dhaivatham lOkE kim vApyEkam parAyaNam
sthuvantha: kam kamarchantha: prApnuyurmAnavA: shubham || 2 ||

कॊ धर्मः सर्वधर्माणां भवतः परमॊ मतः
किं जपन् मुच्यतॆ जन्तुः जन्मसंसारबन्धनात् ॥ ३ ॥

kO dharma: sarvadharmANAm bhavatha: paramO matha:
kim japan muchyathE janthu: janmasamsArabandhanAth || 3 ||

A question on The Supreme Entity as the Goal

Having known that the various means lead to an ultimate goal, yudhiShTira proceeded to inquire about the ultimate goal at first. Since the philosophies and scriptures have projected and preached about the ultimate goal in two forms namely ‘The Supreme Entity’ and ‘The Ultimate Destination’, he inquired about the ‘Supreme Entity’ at first.

yudhiShTira asked ‘Which is the Supreme Godhead shown by the scriptures? and who is the one whom we should attain?”. The words “Which” (kim) and “in the scriptures” (lOkE) are to be read along with every question that yudhiShTira has asked. Similarly, the phrase “the loftiest in your opinion” (bhavatha: paramO matha:) should also be applied to all the six questions that he has asked, according to the ‘simha-avalOkana nyAya’ (just as a lion looks back at the way it has treaded after walking a certain distance). The “vibhakthi”s in each of the questions need to be modified as required while applying these aforesaid phrases in all the questions. The word ‘lOka’ has an origin as: ‘lOkyathE anEna’ (through which everything is seen), which indicates that the word ‘lOka’ in this context doesn’t refer to the world as it normally does, but refers to the ancient scriptures such as vEdhas, smrithis, and other SAsthras using which we see the Supreme Reality.

The word ‘Ekam’ refers to the main entity that has no equivalent or superior power to it. This is in concord with the phrases “the Supreme One who is also the biggest effulgence”, “of that One who is the chief of the world” etc. This doesn’t stop at the nature alone (the word ‘Ekam’ doesn’t refer to the nature of being Supreme alone), but also represents the numeral ‘one’ as it normally does. The next word ‘dhaivatham’ – due to its connotation and the use of singular form of the word – does not eliminate its representation of the Supreme Godhead as well as singularity. No Godhead exists, which has no nature of its own or which is multiple in number (in other words, all Godhead entities are indeed one in number, and have their own nature). Thus, even though it is known that the Godhead being referred to is singular, the usage of ‘Ekam’ is made specifically, for which no other meaning can be deduced. So in this context, the word ‘Ekam’ holds a special meaning, which represents ‘the Supreme One’, and not just the numeral one.

The word ‘dhaivatham’ refers to the connotation of the Supreme Mastery of all worlds, as also the representation of extraordinary qualities. Yudhishitra meant to ask “which is the loftiest of such Godheads professed by the scriptures in your opinion?” The reason being: even some of the learned scholars, who know about the Supreme Entity from the various scriptures, have their own doubts regarding the natural superiority of that entity due to the various ill-effects on it driven by illusion, limitation, transformation etc, and also due to the differentiation seen among the divine trinity – hari, hara and hiraNyagarbha (Brahma) – due to various common and special causes. So, in order to get these doubts clarified by bhIShma, yudhiShTira asked unto him: “Which is that Supreme Godhead, which is professed by the scriptures, in your opinion?”

A question on The Ultimate Destination as the Goal

A similar confusion about the salvation (mOksha) can be found in the phala-SAasthras, the scriptures that detail about the ultimate goal. Many people are of the opinion that the destruction of the identity of self along with ignorance is itself called as salvation, while many others opine that the voidance of some special characteristics of the soul itself is mOkSham. While some more propound that attaining the status and powers of the Supreme Brahman itself is salvation, some others declare that attaining of the qualities of Bhagavan is salvation. Some also opine that attaining the abode of the Supreme Self and residing in his shelter is mOkSham. Many others think that attaining the eight qualities such as the Supreme Bliss and the like is mOkSham, whereas some others think that performing eternal service of all kinds to the Supreme Brahman itself is mOkSham. With so many people professing so many meanings for ‘salvation’, yudhiShTira – with a mind to know the truth – posed his second question unto bhIShma thus: “Which is the only ultimate goal?” (in other words, “what is mOkSham?”)

Further to this, he has asked for two things – ‘dhaivatham’ and ‘parAyaNam’ (Supreme Entity and Ultimate Goal). In order to know if the two are totally different from each other or refer to the same entity in different states, there is the usage of two conjunctions ‘vA’ and ‘api’ (‘or’ and ‘also’). The word ‘Ekam’, as before, refers to the entity (destination, in this case) being Supreme – with no equivalent or superior, untainted, and auspicious in nature, and hence being the ‘Most likeable’ goal. ‘ayanam’ refers to the goal/result; the one which should be attained. yudhiShTira, in this question, intends to inquire about the highest goal (parAyaNam) in everyone’s life that helps achieve immense benefits both in this world as well as the nether, in bhIShma’s opinion. Thus are the first two questions on the “Goal” (puruShArtha – the Supreme Entity and Destination) that needs to be attained by every soul.

Question on the means – simple/detailed means and pursuable/established means

Further, the various scriptures indicate three means of attaining the ultimate goal – namely karma yOga, jnAna yOga and Bhakthi yOga. There are again confusions about these means of attaining the highest goal. Some people say the three means are mutually exclusive. Some others say they should all be treated / practiced together. Some say that one of three is the main way, and the other two are just limbs of it. With all these confusions in mind, it is naturally the best to inquire about the different ways of achieving the highest goal of life from a learned scholar. The upAya or the means of attaining a certain result is of three types – sidhdha (established), sAdhya (pursuable) and sAlambana (supported). Of these, the ‘established’ way refers to verily the Godhead that provides the intended fruits upon due worship. This worship of the Godhead can further be classified into two subtypes, namely ‘simple worship’ (laghu) and ‘detailed worship’ (alaghu). Classifying thus, yudhiShTira asks in the second half of the SlOka thus: “praying to whom and worshipping whom, will the humans attain their welfare?”

‘kam sthuvantha:’ – pleasing whom by prayers alone (only by singing the glories, praising the qualities) –> refers to the simple worship

‘kam archantha:’ – worshipping whom – in the form of upAsana – with utmost devotion –> refers to detailed worship

‘mAnavA:’ – all ‘Humans’ – devoid of any restrictions in terms of race, clan, gender, age, etc

‘shubham’ – two types of auspicious results, namely ‘well-being in this world’, and ‘attainment of the Paramapadham (ViShNulokam)’

‘prApnuyu:’ – shall attain

Question on the ultimate pursuable means

The ‘sAdhya’ upAya or the pursuable means refers to an absolute involvement of the three prime faculties called speech, mind and body in terms of chanting, meditating and worshipping respectively, in order to please the respective Godhead and gain the benefits. When yudhiShTira asks “Which – of all dharmas – is the loftiest, in your opinion?” (SlOka 3), he means to ask “Of all the dharmas prescribed by the scriptures and connotative of all the aforesaid natures, which is the One – in your opinion – that is distinctly unique with no equal or superior dharmas to it, which is clearly proven and can be relied upon similar to Apaddhanam (wealth in times of dire need)?”

Question on the verbally supported means

Finally, he asks a question regarding the verbally supported means of achieving the goal. He inquires about the support of verbal chanting done along with the help of prayers, mantras, and the idol of the deity, sandal, flowers, and other things. He asks, “Having chanted which one, will all the born souls be released from the cycles of births and samsara?”

‘japa:’ – refers to the restricted and specialized repetitions of mantras and the like

The manu smruthi declares: “Only by japa will a brAhmaNa attain all benefits/fruits; there’s no doubt about it. Whether a person practices anything else or not, he will be considered as a brAhmaNa only by his friendly nature”.

The same scripture also says: “The worship with japa is ten times better than worship with physical objects”.

Krishna, in his SrI bhagavadhgIthA declares: “I am the japa-yajna among the modes of worship”.

Since the loftiness of verbal ‘japa’ has been established with such assurances, the other modes of worship with mind and action are not being inquired by yudhiShTira.

‘janthu’ – that which is born

‘janma’ – the cycle of aging, death, and birth, and other pains as an effect of samsAra are shown with this word, and

‘samsAra’ – refers to the main causes due to which the soul is bound in this creation, namely ignorance, fruits of action, habits, tastes / desires etc.

The ‘janma’ and ‘samsAra’ are the two obstacles that are stopping a soul from attaining the ultimate goal of life called paramapadham. These obstacles will be warded off with the help of japa. The ‘mOksha’ or salvation mentioned in this context is representative of all other auspicious benefits, since the various scriptures clearly mention both material as well as spiritual benefits in plenty for the japas that they prescribe.

Thus, beginning with phrases like “in entirety” (ashEShENa), “by all means” (sarvasha:) etc, and later on using more phrases such as “in the scriptures” (lOkE), “all humans” (mAnavA:), “auspicious material/spiritual benefits” (shubham), et al, these questions also clearly intend to highlight the best modes in terms of time, authority, limbs of action, and the fruits of action.

adiyen srinivasa raja ramanuja dasan

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