Monday, February 1, 2010

Lord Narayana - The Supreme Transcendental and Immanent Lord (Paratvam, Antaryamitvam)

May we contemplate on the Supreme Lord Vasudeva so that we may begin this journey without hurdles.

As we promised in the last post, we are now ready to embark on a journey filled with enjoyment of the Lord's Glories. What I am going to write in this series is from whatever sense I have made, with my tiny brain, of this great tradition of Sanatana Dharma. I am just a novice in these matters. All the faults belong to me, and whatever little good comes out of my writing belongs to the great teachers and preachers who I have been fortunate enough to listen to.

Contemplation on the Lord's Divine Attributes and enjoying the same with fellow devotees is one of the best ways of serving Him, and gives immense bliss to the everyone. Two of His primary attributes are: His Lordliness and His Accesibility. Everyone is familiar with the Divine Names of the Supreme Lord of the Universe - the Vedas describe Him as Narayana, Vishnu, Vasudeva, and Hari. We all are familiar with His Divine Incarnations, Divine Form, and His Divine Sportive Acts. All these prove that He is quite accessible to His devotees. In order to understand and appreciate this fully, one first needs to understand His Lordliness in a proper manner.

Let us then investigate: How then, is He intimately related to His creation? How is He to be contemplated as the Supreme Lord? We shall now see how one of the great Acharyas of the sanatana dharma, Shri Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada answers this questions for us.

Bhagavatpada Acharya says in his benedictory verse for the introductory chapter to the Bhagavad Gita:

nArAyaNaH paro'vyaktAd aNDam avyakta-sambhavam |
aNDasyAntas tv ime lokAH sapta-dvIpA ca medinI ||

Narayana is beyond the seed of material existance. From this seed, the cosmos comes to exist.
Within the bounds of this cosmic egg are the seven worlds and this earth.

[nArAyaNaH - The Supreme Lord, paraH - is beyond, avyaktAd - the primordial matter known as avyakta or mUlaprakRti (avyakta literally means "the undeveloped"). aNDam - the cosmic egg from which the entire material creation emanates, avyakta-sambhavam - is born from this primordial nature, andasya - of this cosmic egg, antaH - within the bounds, tu - verily, ime lokAH - these worlds, sapta-dvIpA - the seven islands (according to puranic literature of Hinduism, the earthly regions in the universe are classified into seven islands), ca - and, medinI - the earth in which we live (belonging to the solar system of the Milky Way, according to modern science).]

In this introductory verse, the AcArya says that the Supreme Lord Narayana is beyond the material universe consisting of the primordial matter known as avyakta or mUla-prakRti, and that it is the mUla prakRti that gives rise to the Cosmic Egg, within the bounds of which material existence belonging to the category of effects is confined to. I will try to explain the concepts and terminology in creation are further in next paragraph, which may be skipped for those who are not curious about the same.

From puranic literature, it is well-known that the first thing in the realm of effects to be created by Lord Narayana is the avyakta principle. Subject to the Lord's control and as per His volition (sa"nkalpa), the avyakta principle then evolves into mahAn, then to aha"nkAra, followed by the five subtle elements or tanmAtras (sabda, sparsha, rUpa, rasa, and gandha - sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell respectively) and the five gross elements or pancabhUtas (akAsha, vAyu, agni, Apa, and pRthvI - ether, wind, fire, water, and earth). The Lord then performs pancIkaraNa, the process of intermixing the five gross elements for creation to proceed. From this, the principles of five sensory organs and five motor organs arise. The Lord then forms a body known as Hiranyagarbha, which is then taken up by one of the several baddha jIvas or souls that are to be born in the world of samsAra (existence in the realm of effects) selected by the Lord based on their karma or actions. This jIva taking up the name and form known as Hiranyagarbha is none but Lord Brahma, who then proceeds to create further bodies based on the Lord's instructions. The jIvas are then assigned to different bodies by the Supreme Lord Narayana himself, again based on their past karma.

From the above, it is clear that Supreme Lord Narayana is different from creation, which is in the category of effects (known in Sanskrit as kArya vastu). In other words, the Lord is the kAraNa (cause) and the entire universe is His kArya (effect). Shankaracharya has also explained elsewhere (BSBh. IV.iv.19-20) in his commentary to the Brahma Sutras, that the Highest Lord is not confined in any way to this mundane universe:

"Moreover, according to scripture, there is also an eternal form of the highest Lord which does not abide in effects", and

"Scripture and Smriti both declare that the highest light does not abide within effected things".

In the previous section in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya, he says that the liberated soul is reabsorbed into the world of Parabrahman Narayana, and also that it is the purest, Highest Place of Vishnu (paramapada, vaikuNTha, or brahmaloka), which is beyond the realm of effects.

Another aspect of His lordliness is that though He exists beyond the material universe, He simultaneously exists as the manifest universe in two ways: (1) with the entire cosmos is His body, and (2) as the inner-controller of every particle and every being/creature. This is part of his divine pastime, and in no way compromises his Lordliness.

Mundaka Upanishad 2-1-4 says:

The indwelling Self (Atman) of all is surely He of whom the heaven is the head, the moon and sun are the two eyes, the directions are the two ears, the revealed Vedas are the speech, air is the vital force, the whole Universe is the heart, and (It is He) from whose two feet emerged the earth.

In the penultimate sentence of the commentary to the same verse, Bhagavatpada Acharya says:

"this dEva, (known as) Vishnu or Ananta, is the first to have a body in this universe, and has all the three worlds as his body. He is the inner-dweller of all elements."

We will explore the concept of inner-dweller (antaryAmi/antarAtmA) in a little while. It is worth comparing the statement made by Bhagavatpada Acharya to that of his immediate disciple Totakacharya, who further adds the following lines in the last verse of his work shrutisArasamuddharaNa. This famous verse is now recited by everyone who chants Vishnu Sahasranama, in the dhyAnam section just before "shAntAkAram bhujaga shayanam", even though it does not belong to the original Sahasranama text in the Mahabharata:
bhUH pAdau yasya khaM codaramasuranilaH candra sUryau ca netre
karNAvAshAH shiro dyaurmukhamapi dahano yasya vAstavyamabdhiH |
antaHstaM yasya vishvam suranarakhagagobhogigandharvadaityaiH citraM
raMramyate tam tribhuvanavapuSaM viSNumIsham namAmi ||

(shrutisArasamuddharaNa, 179)
"I bow down to Lord Visnu (Vishnu), whose body comprises the three worlds. His feet are the earth, the cavity of His belly is space, his vital breath is the wind, and His eyes are the sun and the moon. His ears are the directions, His head is the heaven, His face is the fire, and His bladder is the ocean. Within Him this universe delights with its variety of gods (divinities created by Supreme Lord), human beings, birds, cows, snakes, celestial beings, and demons. To that Visnu I offer my salutations."

The above principle that the Lord has the material universe as (one of) His body (ies), or in other words, that He is the supersoul of all of His creation, is known as sharIra-sharIri bhAva in vishiSTAdvaita vedanta school of Bhagavad Ramanujacharya. In this school, the Lord is aptly called "ubhaya-vibhUti nAtha", meaning both the material universe (liilA vibhUti) and His own transcendental realm (nitya vibhUti a.k.a. vaikunTam or paramapadam) are His bodies.

The Vedas further affirm that the Lord entered into his creation as the inner-controller of all as he created. The name Vishnu is significant here since it means "all-pervading". Hence, Lord Narayana, having created the material universe, entered into each and every particle of creation as the antaryAmin, which menas inner-controller. This is confirmed by Shankaracharya in his commentary to the antaryAmi brAhmaNa section (Chapter 3, Section 7) of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where he says:

"Such is the Lord, who controls from within, known as Narayana, who dwells from within the earth and controlls it, whom the earth-deity (prithvI) does not know. He is also the inner-controller of everyone, including you, myself, and all beings." (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya 3.7.3)

Sureshvaracharya, another disciple of Adi Shankaracharya (as attested by himself in his works), confirms this further in the antaryAmi brAhmaNa section of his vArtika (metrical exposition) on Bhagavatpadacharya's commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

"Krishna Dwaipayana (Veda Vyasa), desiring welfare for all creatures, has repeated this time and again: Lord Narayana is beyond the avyakta, the cosmic egg is born from it. Salutations to Lord Narayana, the inner-dweller of all the dEvatas (divinities created by the Lord). It is to Him that the Narayana chants in the Vedas are addressed to." (Brihadaranyaka Bhashyavartika, Verses 39-42 expounding Section 3.7)

Anandagiri or Anandaj~nAna, a medieval advaitic scholar and a disciple of shuddhAnanda, wrote a Tiika (gloss) on the vArttika. To the above, he says: "The author of the vArtika says that the glory of the Supreme Lord Narayana is evident not only from the purANic and Agamic texts, but also in the Vedas." Anandagiri then quotes the first verse in the Narayana Sukta of Taittiriya Aranyaka (Section 10.11) to his support.

The Acharyas of yore have thus praised the Lord as the Supreme Transcendental (beyond material existence) as well as Immanent (who pervades and controls everything) God. Such is his greatness, as understood in the Vedantic texts.
 (to be continued)

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