Prasthanatrayi Swaminarayan Bhashyam (Study)

by Sadhu Gyanananddas | 2021 | 123,778 words

This page relates ‘Grace and Self-Effort’ of the study on the Prasthanatrayi Swaminarayan Bhashyam in Light of Swaminarayan Vachanamrut (Vacanamrita). His 18th-century teachings belong to Vedanta philosophy and were compiled as the Vacanamrita, revolving around the five ontological entities of Jiva, Ishvara, Maya, Aksharabrahman, and Parabrahman. Roughly 200 years later, Bhadreshdas composed a commentary (Bhasya) correlating the principles of Vachanamrut.

What role does self-effort play and what is the significance of Parabrahman’s grace to attain the ultimate spiritual goal? Or do both have equal weightage? These are some of the most discussed questions in the Indian Vedanta tradition. In the Svāminārāyaṇa tradition, both factors are necessary to attain liberation. Yet, each factor has a perfect proportion and essential role, which are elaborated in the Vacanāmṛta. Firstly, Svāminārāyaṇa chides those who rely on their endeavors to achieve liberation while discounting the absolute need and power of Parabrahman.

Evoking the classical imagery of crossing the ocean of life and death, Svāminārāyaṇa explains:

“A person without such a resolute conviction of Parabrahman’s nature attempts to attain liberation using the strength of his own endeavors, but he does not strive for it by relying on the grace of Parabrahman. Such a senseless person is as stupid as someone wishing to cross the ocean by his own efforts without the aid of a ship. On the other hand, one who wishes for liberation through the grace of Parabrahman is wise, like one who wishes to cross the ocean by traveling in a ship.” (Vacanāmṛta Gadhadā I/37, p.94) 233

On the other hand, Svāminārāyaṇa highlights personal endeavor or self-effort as well:

“Therefore, the personal endeavor itself is the greatest of all spiritual endeavors for attaining liberation.” (Vacanāmṛta Gadhadā II/12, p. 416).

Now we will elaborately analyze the roles that each factor plays in attaining liberation. In the Svāminārāyaṇa tradition, with the inspiration of the Guru, when the aspirant’s spiritual endeavor (sādhanā) reaches its acme of performance, it sketches a quicker answer from Parabrahman and His ensuing grace. He sprinkles His grace, draws a seeker closer to Him, uplifts him to the height of perfection and blesses him with the place in His divine abode. Parabrahman is the beginning and Parabrahman is the end of all endeavors. He is both an indispensable and sufficient means to realize the highest goal.

Parabrahman’s grace motivates a seeker to tread the path of perfection, grants the necessary strength needed to perform spiritual endeavors, and provides inspiration in each stage. Bhadreśadāsa cites:

dayārṇavaḥ kṛpāsādhyaḥ prasādāt sulabhā kṛpā |
brahmabhāvāt prasīdecca hyakṣarapuruṣottamaḥ ||
SSSK 366 ||

“Parabrahman is an ocean of compassion and attainable through His grace. His grace is easily attainable through his favor. Puruṣottama, who is accompanied with Akṣara, is pleased through brahmabhāva.”

To remind the power of Parabrahman’s grace, the Śruti reveals:[1]

Paramātman cannot be attained by instruction, nor by intellectual power, nor even through much hearing (i.e., learning). He is attained only by the one whom the Paramātman chooses. To such a one, the Paramātman reveals his own form.” (Mundaka-upaniṣad 3/2/3, Katha-upaniṣad 2/23).

When elaborating on the term ‘chooses’ (vrnute).

Bhadreśadāsa explains: “yaṃ mumukṣuṃ vṛṇute svānugrahena svīkaroti, yasmin prasanno bhavati iti yāvat, tenaiva paramātmānugṛhītena kṛpāpātreṇa bhaktena eṣaḥ paramātmā labhyaḥ sākṣātkartuṃ śakyaḥ |” (Katha-upaniṣad 2/23, pp.118-119)

“Of the worshipper who is dedicated solely to Him (svaikanistha upāsaka). Only to such a vessel of Parabrahman’s grace (Parāmātmakspābhājana) does he become realizable (labhya) and reveals himself.”

Here, he describes Parabrahman as ‘an ocean of great compassion (parāmadayāsāgara) and a treasure of true love and grace (kṛpānidhi).” Bhadreśadāsa adds at Katha-upaniṣad 2/23 that preachings, intellectual power, and scriptural learning represent all endeavors that can be performed in an attempt to reach Parabrahman. They alone are inadequate. Parabrahman, eventually remains ‘kṛpā sādhya’, attainable by grace alone.[2]

Bhadreśadāsa is cautious, however, of not forcefully pitting human effort against divine grace.

In adding the word ‘kevala’ his comment above, he sheds light on that while all endeavors are adequate in realizing Parabrahman, they are insufficient alone.

“They can still be effective in pleasing Parabrahman, who will then bequeath his liberating grace upon his beloved devotee. Convincingly, we can say that Parabrahman is pleased with the seeker’s devout, sincere and persistent effort or striving. Parabrahman Himself remains infinitely beyond the reach of those actions. So, Parabrahman’s grace is absolutely indispensable, useless either, even though they can only please Parabrahman and fulfill your endeavors through his grace.”[3]

So,

paramātmā na svataḥkalpitasādhanasādhyopi tu tatkṛpaikasādhya iti siddhāntitam” (Mundaka-upaniṣad 3/2/3, p.293)

“Parabrahman is not realized by self-imagined means but by only His grace. This is the principle.”

It is noteworthy that if there are any efforts that Bhadreśadāsa does dismiss as utterly pointless, they are the ‘self-imagined means’ (Svataḥkalpitasādhanā) of a person who does not follow the authoritative instructions enjoined in revealed texts or by the Guru. 235

These qualifications are indispensable because in the subsequent verse of the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad:

“Paramātman cannot be attained by one who is weak, nor by inadvertency, nor by austerities marked without authoritative endorsement.”

It then concludes:

“But the knower of brahmavidyā who strives by these means [i.e., learning, austerities, etc.) attains this Paramātman and enters Brahmadhāma. (Mundaka-upaniṣad 3/2/4) In consequence, when these same efforts -including those mentioned in Mundaka-upaniṣad 3/2/3 and all others are informed by correct philosophical knowledge, practiced according to the calling and guidance of the Guru and directed solely to pleasing Parabrahman, they can indeed play some useful part in fortifying liberation by Parabrahman’s grace.” (Mundaka-upaniṣad 3/2/3)

In this fashion, Parabrahman showers his grace upon whomsoever He pleases. Thus, even if Parabrahman’s grace is available entirely and equally for everyone, like the rain that showers upon the earth, it is only those who are adequate ‘vessels’ who can receive that grace and make use of it. Svāminārāyaṇa elaborates on this in Vacanāmṛta Sārangpur 11.

When Muktānanda Svāmi asks,

“Personal endeavor is declared in the scriptures, but how much is actually achieved by personal endeavor and how much is achieved by Parabrahman’s grace?”

Svāminārāyaṇa remarkably describes a worthy recipient of Parabrahman’s grace.

Such a person, he illuminates, strictly observes dhārmika disciplines such as:

“Non-violence and eightfold brahmacarya, has an absolutely firm realization of him/herself as the ātman, is firmly detached from worldly pleasures and has extreme and enduring devotional faith. These four aspects of sādhanā correspond to what is traditionally termed within Svāminārāyaṇa texts as dharma (observance of scriptural injunctions), jñāna (ātman-Paramātman realization) (not to be confused with the broader, more philosophical knowledge of Brahman and Parabrahman), vairāgya (detachment) and bhakti (devotion). Cooperatively, they are called ‘Ekāntika Dharma’ or ‘Bhāgavata Dharma’, which we will learn further is one of the reasons for Parabrahman’s manifestation on earth,”[4]

And which features repeatedly in the Vacanāmṛta and Svāmīni Vāto as a milieu for pleasing Parabrahman.[5] In Vacanāmṛta Sārangpur 11, Svāminārāyaṇa is sure to add that all of these endeavors should be enjoined by the words of a true Guru and the scriptures, before concluding he says: “Parabrahman’s grace is only bestowed upon one who has such characteristics.”(Vacanāmṛta Sārangpur 11, p.228)

Possibly sensing the scale of the task of perfectly cultivating these characteristics, Nityānanda Svāmi firstly acknowledges Svāminārāyaṇa’s theme but then instantly asks that what becomes of one who has some deficiency in cultivating these characteristics? Svāminārāyaṇa straightforwardly replies that then he does not attain ultimate liberation, i.e. Parabrahman’s Akṣaradhāma. Instead, he attains some other abode of Parabrahman.[6] Here, Svāminārāyaṇa refers to the abodes of other avatāras and paradisiacal realms of the devas, which, in comparison to Akṣaradhāma as good is extremely inferior.

After further elaboration, Svāminārāyaṇa concludes by reiterating his answer, this time with added force:

“Hence, whether it takes one life or innumerable lives, only when one develops the previously described characteristics and becomes extremely free of worldly desires, does one become a worthy vessel of receiving Parabrahman’s grace, and only then will one attain ultimate liberation. Without it, one will definitely not attain it.” (Vacanāmṛta Sārangpur 11, p.228)

In this way, Svāminārāyaṇa candidly mentions that liberation is a result of Parabrahman’s grace only, and that spiritual endeavor is required to receive and apply that liberating grace. Bhagavad-Gītā echoes:

vidheyātmā vidheyaḥ śāstragurvādeśavartī ātmā yasyāsvacchandācāraḥ prasādaṃ guruharyanugraham adhigacchati prāpnoti” (Bhagavad-Gītā 2/64, p.64)

“A devotee who treads the path of righteousness shown by the scriptures and the Guru will attain the grace of Parabrahman and the Guru.”

Moreover, the very next verse of the Bhagavad-Gītā declares the benefit of this grace:

“All the miseries and problems of that devotee are eliminated and he can engross freely in the form of Parabrahman.”[7]

In this manner, the Bhagavad-Gītā invariably demonstrates the micro role of both factors.[8] The Brahmasūtra also highlights this fact.[9]

Now, we can figure a connection between the grace and the efforts by this example:

paramātmakṛpayaiva tadupākasya svābhīpsitasakalasādhanodyogasaṃbhavāttadṛte kevalānāṃ sādhanānāmakiñcitkaratvāt sacchāstrapratipāditatadalaukikamāhātmyānusandhānalakṣanastadabhisaṃbandhaḥ sarvatra sādhaneṣu niyamena upasaṃhārya iti bhāvaḥ” (Brahmasūtra 3/3/55, p.351)

“Only by the immense grace of Parabrahman, an aspirant can accomplish his spiritual endeavors, without Him, all the spiritual efforts are worthless, so one must add the brahmabhāva in his spiritual efforts in order to make them fruitful, which are asserted in the scriptures.”

At this stage, an important question is rising: in which form Parabrahman exhibits this grace? Bhadreśadāsa replies while commentating on Katha-upaniṣad 2/23, the same verse found in Mundaka-upaniṣad 3/2/3 cited above.

The answer of this question can be given on the basis of the Svāminārāyaṇa Bhāṣya that the form of Paramātman’s grace is like by seeing his devotee sincerely endeavoring by several means to please him,

“Parabrahman, the ocean of grace that He is, gifts that devotee access to the profound association of the Akṣarabrahman Guru–who is his Paramātman’s supreme worshipper, who has the greatest affection for Him, who eternally has a complete and perfect realization of Him, and who can be regarded as His own form—so that his devotee can easily realize him Paramātman.”

Then, by listening, reflecting, etc. upon the Guru’s teachings, and serving him with the belief that he is the very form of Parabrahman—as directed by such statements as:

“Wo has the highest devotion to Parabrahman and, as he does to Parabrahman, also to the Guru (Svetāśvatara-upaniṣad 6/23),” etc.—

That devotee, having developed oneness with his self and Brahman and having received the grace of Parabrahman, realizes Paramātman. (Katha-upaniṣad 2/23) In this way, the Svāminārāyaṇa School explicitly deciphers the role of Parabrahman’s grace and personal endeavors.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Here, ātman term is used for Paramātmana

[2]:

Katha-upaniṣad 2/23, p.119

[3]:

Katha-upaniṣad 2/24, p.120

[4]:

Vacanāmṛta Gadhadā II/46, Gadh. 3/21

[5]:

Vacanāmṛta Gadhadā I/21, Svāmīnī Vāto 3/25

[6]:

Vacanāmṛta Sārangpur 11

[7]:

Bhagavad-Gītā 2/65; p.64

[8]:

Bhagavad-Gītā 18/56,58,62,73,75

[9]:

pratyakṣabrahmasvarūpagurudṛḍhatamaprasaṃgopadeśābhirbrahmātmaikyaṃ saṃpādya pratyakṣaparamātmasamārādhāna lakṣaṇabhaktāvanuṣṭitāyāṃ tasyaivānugrahatasdivyasvarūpaṃ sākṣātkriyate” (Brahmasūtra 3/2/23, p.300)

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