Viśiṣṭādvaita stands one among the three major divisions of Vedāntic philosophy. The proponent of this philosophy is Śrī Rāmānuja muni. This school of philosophy is considered as a prominent doctrine of Śrī-Vaiṣṇavas. Bodhāyana, Nāthamuṇi, Yāmunācārya, Vedāntadeśika, Pillailokācārya are some notable Ācārya-s who contributed to this doctrine. Among these, Vedāntadeśika, the poet-philosopher, is remembered through the ages for his impeccable works that determine and define the goal of human life. Saṅkalpasūryodaya is one of them.
Figure 1: Credit: Wikipedia – Śrī Rāmānuja muni
The plot of the play revolves around the liberation of the human soul. A bona fide religious doctrine (siddhānta) is a must for liberation and the same is handled and explained to us perfectly by Vedāntadeśika in the play. Saṅkalpasūryodaya consists of ten acts excluding the Prastāvana and Viṣkambha. The qualities of human beings such as wisdom (vivekaḥ), goodness (sumatiḥ), delusion (mohaḥ), evilness (durmatiḥ) are depicted as the characters of the play. Among these, wisdom, goodness, etc., are sātvikaguṇa-s, delusion, etc., are tāmasaguṇa-s, and evilness, etc., are rājasaguṇa-s.
The author incorporates great effort throughout the play to educate us on the significance and the methodology to attain the lotus feet of the omnipotent. The first act enlightens the importance of acquiring Vedantic knowledge that is one of the tools to attain liberation. Doctrines other than Viśiṣṭādvaita are repudiated through a conversation between the teacher and his disciple in the second act. The tools for Samādhi are explained in the third act. The highlights of victory over desire and other bad qualities (anger, etc.) are described in the fourth act and the detection of hypocritical actions and their removal are explained in detail in the fifth one. The acts from six to ten deal with the ways to attain liberation. Important yogic elements like the appropriate place and absolute form of meditation, the problems faced thereby, etc., are elaborated by the author in the sixth, seventh and eighth acts of this play. The attainment of Samādhi is stated in the ninth one. And the rise of the divine grace (Divyasaṅkalpodaya) of the ultimate, His wish to liberate the soul and the attainment of liberation is wonderfully explained to us by the author in the final act of this play. Thus the play concludes.
The right place for meditation
Among these, the author has explained directly and indirectly the limbs of Yoga especially in between sixth and eighth acts. Till the fifth act, it is stated by the author that a person who has commenced the Yogic practices should be devoid of bad qualities like arrogance (Darpa), hypocrisy (Dambha), etc., for the successful attainment of Saṃyama that is the combination of final three stages, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi, of Yoga. And for that, it is now indeed needed to find out the right place, where objects considered as obstacles do not disturb the meditation process. Thus, the sixth act starts with the statement of the chamberlain, Stambha (stupefaction), of the king, Mahāmoha (i.e. counter hero of the play). He understands that the king, Viveka (wisdom), along with his charioteer, Tarka (logical reasoning), is trying to find the right place for the Puruṣa to perform his Saṃyama. The author has discussed the merits and demerits of the places considered as the sacred ones in the country through the conversation between Tarka and Viveka during their search for the right place.
Viveka says that among the fourteen worlds (seven higher ones and seven lower ones) the earth (Bhūloka) alone fits for our examination. And even on the earth, Bhāratadeśa is suitable for performing virtuous acts. So he instructs Tarka to drive the chariot towards it (Bhāratadeśa). Tarka drives through Kailasa first. Viveka says that even if it is inhabited by Lord Śiva, it has to be avoided by the person who has the intense devotion (Paramaikāntī) towards the Lord, Śrīmannārāyaṇa. Then Tarka shows Gandhamādana Hill to Viveka. Viveka says that it may suit for Siddha-s (who has accomplished Saṃyama) but not for Sādhaka-s (who wish to accomplish Saṁyama). Then Tarka shows the Tapovana of Gandhamādana. Viveka rejects it by saying that it always abounds with the Ram Bhajans sung by Hanuman along with the instruments like Vīṇā, Mṛdaṅga, Veṇu, etc., which may distract the person who wishes to perform Samyama. He also says that no need to speak with or to look at the noblewomen who enjoy here. But their anklet sound is just enough to distract the person who wishes to meditate. He states that like a ball of butter looks stiff until it is taken near to a hot pot, a person who with a steady mind had thought that he will not get distracted by anything, will also be distracted at once when a woman is nearer to him. Then they cross the Himalayas. Viveka says that the Himalaya, the abode of saints, will not suit the person who wishes to perform saṃyama as it is filled with the falling noise of the Ganges which will be a distraction for him.
Viveka then instructs Tarka to drive the chariot towards the Āryāvarta region (the region between Vindhya and Himalaya hills). Tarka praises it but Viveka rejects it by saying that it is now contaminated by the Paṣaṇḍi-s of the east, west and north region and also states that no good place could be found here as three out of four legs of the Dharma were already broken by this adulteration of people. Then they move towards Ayodhyā. Again Viveka points out the same reason he mentioned before, for rejecting the Āryāvarta region. He says,
(It means: This place (Ayodhyā) is quitted by the virtuous ones, where, the Kṛtayuga dharma (Tapaḥ – Penance) was cut by the propagation of the Paṣaṇḍi-s).
Then Tarka moves the chariot towards Madhurā. Viveka rejoices at first by thinking about the incarnation of Lord Mahāviṣṇu who in the form of Lord Śrīkṛṣṇa took birth there, to establish Dharma. But, he says that Madhurā is now immersed in Adhrama which looks similar to the Dvārakapurī’s immersion into the sea earlier. And so, it is not the right place to bestow the fruit of saṃyama. He also says –
(That means: Which will not lose its qualities because of the change of the time?)
Thus, now Madhurā also doesn’t fit for saṃyama. Now. Tarka asks Viveka, “if the places where the Lord Himself took incarnations are not suitable for saṃyama then what is the use in searching other places?
Despite this, he insists Viveka find out one place among the places that are considered sacred because of the existence of the worshipping form of the Lord. So, he drives the chariot towards north-east from there (Madhurā) and shows Śālagrāmadeśa to Viveka. But Viveka rejects it by saying that it is ill-rated now for realisation as it is polluted by the covetous people who come here often to steal the gold that exists naturally in the idols found here. Then, he takes Viveka to Vārāṇasī. Viveka says that it is now polluted by the Avaidika-s, yavana-s, and Turkish people and also by the people residing here who had forgotten to worship the Lords. Even though there exists a few (sādhu-s), they have also been made indifferent by the wicked ones. And so, it is not the right place to perform the yogic practice. And now, Viveka feels bad for the sacred places (Kāśī, etc.) that have been made incapable for meditation by Mahāmoha. He says:
(Meaning of the verse: Kāśī doesn’t shine actually (for meditation), Ayodhyā doesn’t become the abode of Sādhu-s, Avantī doesn’t protect (us) from impurities, Kāñcī doesn’t attain highness, Madhurā doesn’t provide us the ultimate goal and so all these sacred places including (the others) Dvāravatī, etc., are familiar only for their names but are not suitable for meditation).
Then, Tarka tells Viveka that he (Viveka) alone is an expert to examine the real and unreal. Also, Tarka insists Viveka look into the south region (Dakṣiṇāpatha) which is said to be pervaded by the people who always think of the Lord Nārāyaṇa. In this context, the verse of Śukamuni should also be remembered. And it is:
कलौखलुभविष्यन्तिनारायणपरायणा: ।क्वचित्क्वचिन्महाराजद्रविडेषुचभूरिश: ॥
(Meaning: Certainly, there will be devotees who dedicate their life to serve Lord Nārāyaṇa here and there in other regions in the Kaliyuga. But there will be plenty of people in the south region).
Thus encouraged by Tarka and Viveka was ready to have a look in the south region to find the right place for meditation. Then, they both move from the premises of Vindhya hill and reach the Yādavācala (Tirunarayanapuram [located between Bangalore and Mysore]). Now, Viveka says that even though it may be considered as a place for commencing the saṃyama, the power of the wind may distract the Puruṣa who is of an unsteady mind now. So, Viveka asks Tarka to show some other places. Tarka drives the chariot towards Paraśurāmakṣetra (Kerala). He shows the Padmanābhasannidhi to Viveka. Viveka rejects it by saying that Bhagvān Paraśurāma is now preaching pravṛtidharma (following the worldly path and seeking liberation) instead of nivṛttidharma (renunciation of worldly aims) and so it has to be avoided by the person who desires to attain the Supreme soul. He also adds that the saints are being tortured here by the wicked ones.
Then Tarka recommends Agastyāśrama to Viveka for meditation. But Viveka says that the breeze blowing here will definitely distract the mind of the sādhaka’s (a person commences the yogic practice) mind. Also, he is quite amazed to see saints like Agastya, etc., are staying here who have renounced worldly pleasures. Then, they move towards Pāṇḍyadeśa and Tarka shows the Vṛṣabhagiri (Maliruncholai – located near Madurai) to Viveka. But he says that the sounds of the river will disturb Puruṣa in performing yogic practices. Then, they move towards the north-east direction from there and reach Coladeśa [Tanjore, South Arcot, Trichy]. But Viveka instructs Tarka to move the chariot away as quickly as possible because the poets, who are blessed with the sweet words which look like the sweet sounds of the anklets of the Goddess Sarasvatī, are quite enough to steal the hearts/thoughts of a sādhaka who has just commenced the yogic practices. Then they go to Śrīraṅgam. After praising the Lord Raṅganātha, Viveka tells Tarka that, it can be the second one (after Yādavācala) which may suit for meditation. But he instructs Tarka to find a better place again.
Tarka drives the chariot towards the north side and insists Viveka have a look at the Satyavṛatakṣetra which is the abode of Lord Śrīvaradarāja. But Viveka says that it may suit for performing sacrifices (Karmānuṣṭāna) which will bestow good fruits because of the grace of the Lord Varada. Afterward, they move to Veṅkatādri (Tirumala) and Viveka starts worshipping Lord Veṅkaṭeśvara. Now, Tarka says to Viveka, “Thus, all the places, where the deities are worshipped by Brahma, etc., are quite enough to remove the turmoil of the Kali. And now it is the time to determine a place among these that are fit for meditation”. Viveka replies, “All these places considered as the sacred ones are somehow influenced by the Kali. And so, it is very difficult to determine the right place, for the practice, saṃyama, which is known for the first yuga (Kṛtayuga). Of course, obstacles may encounter the Puruṣa everywhere while he is putting effort to accomplish samādhi. But if one is completely surrendered to the ultimate, then, he will easily overcome all the obstacles by His divine grace”,
Here the words of the Supreme soul from the Gītā should be remembered:
(Meaning: My divine energy Maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is very difficult to overcome. But those who surrender unto me, cross it over easily).
And now, if it asked which is the right place to commence the saṃyama? Then Viveka says:
All these external places (termed also as sacred ones) may look better than one another because of some merits and demerits. And they are familiar because of making such actions fruitful and it is also because of the grace of the deities present there. It is not the time to discuss the righteousness of the places but it is time to start the saṃyama.
And, for the mind, which is somewhat purified and prepared to think about the ultimate continuously, the right place to commence saṃyama is nothing but “the inmost heart” which is also termed as “Daharākāśa” and “Hṛtpuṇḍarīka”. It is the common and the connective place for both the beginning-less Supreme Soul and the person who wishes to surrender himself to that ultimate. And it is a place that is not polluted and cannot be polluted by any external objects as it is a monotheistic one.
Absolute object that fits for meditation
The right place to start saṃyama is thus determined and it is the time to determine the absolute object to be meditated on. And that is explained in the seventh act of the play. Viveka tells Sumati that one should avoid the desire to see the unascertained creation (i.e. worldly things) in order to find out the most ascertained, real, and ultimate truth (i.e. the Supreme soul). It is also said by Śaunaka:
(Meaning: From the Brahma to a pillar, all things exist in the world because of the birth and death caused by Karma. And so, they will not be helpful as “the objects of meditation”. It is because they are all in ignorance and subject to change. And so, one should avoid his sight from the worldly things and should direct it towards the Supreme soul).
Vyavasaya, a character of the play which helps Viveka and Sumati to determine the right object to be meditated on, adds his view to Viveka’s saying. He says,
(Which means, one who desires to obtain Samyama should not see the ocean-like universe which is possessed of three qualities (satva, rajas and tamas)).
Thus, redirected by Vyavasaya and Viveka, Sumati has now started to concentrate on determining the right object to be meditated on. Thereafter, Vyavasaya tells both Viveka and Sumati the absolute object to be meditated on. He says, “Among the five different forms (Para, Vyūha, Vibhava, Antaryāmī and Arcā) of Lord Mahāviṣṇu, the first two that is Para and Vyūha (and Vyūha’s allied form vyūhāntara-s) are not fit for meditation as they have not been experienced. And so our sight should be on the Vibhava (i.e. incarnations)”. Viveka accepts the view expressed by Vyavasaya and says that the steadiness of mind is possible only when the object to be meditated on should be similar to an object that is experienced. And as we have experienced many charming actions of the incarnations through the Itihasa-s and Purna-s, it is easy to control our mind to meditate on those incarnations. Vyavasaya says that it is even said by Lord Śrīkṛṣṇa (in Gītā) that one, who knows the birth (incarnation) and the activities of Him (the Supreme soul) are the divine ones, alone attains me and never gets rebirth. And then the discussion proceeds with the verses praising the incarnations (Matsya, Kūrma, etc.) of Lord Mahāviṣṇu and their divine activities.
Thus, the author ends the act by saying that the person who has commenced his Samyama should meditate on any one form of the incarnations and should continuously think about the actions performed by Him in that incarnation. Then he should compare the action of that incarnation with the present and should affirm in him that He (the Supreme soul) will definitely extend His divine grace (divyasaṇkalpa) on him to lift his soul from this ocean-like world. And that divyasaṇkalpa is nothing but the resolution of the Supreme that “He (the Supreme soul) will liberate that human who is continuously meditating on Him”.
Obstacles to be encountered and the way to conquer them
Thus, after determining the absolute object and starting meditating on it, one may encounter a lack of concentration due to Nidrā (sleep), Ālasya (laziness), etc. But clinging to the process again and again he can regain the continuity in the meditation process on the Supreme. Also because of the impact and influence of the deeds of the previous birth, one should encounter the same obstacles which he had already overcome at the initial stage. And they are desire (kāma), greediness (lobha), anger (kopa) and ego (Ahaṅkāra). But this time he should overcome these by the other four qualities such as abhorrence (jugupsā), satisfaction (tuṣṭi), patience (titikṣā) and the knowledge of the soul (Ātmavidyā). And it is wonderfully described by the author in the play.
The following verse describes the victory over greediness:
(Meaning: The Ādiśeṣa like five headed ferocious serpent namely, Tuṣṭi appeared suddenly and devoured the rat-like greediness. (Five head is meant to indicate the five matter of subjects: Rūpa, Rasa, Gandha, Sparśa and Śabda))
Likewise, the following line describes the victory over desire:
(Meaning: Again the Manmatha (in the form of desire) attained the bodiless stage because of entering into the Rudra’s third eye’s fire-like Virakti).
The following one describes the victory over anger:
(Meaning: The anger which seems to be possessed of the fire sparkles that rises during the destruction of the world is now made disappeared by the ocean-like patience).
And finally, conquer over ego is described in the following verse:
(Meaning: Ego that arises in different aspects such as by descendant, by wealth, by education, by discipline, by ability, etc., is now defeated by the noble sight created by Viveka. (Noble sight: seeing others with a superior manner)).
And, as said above, if the bad qualities are defeated by the good qualities then the wisdom (Viveka) will conquer the delusion (Moha) without any difficulty. Then, the Puruṣa will get the continuous concentration to meditate on the Supreme Soul.
Thus, the author, Vedāntadeśika, explained to us, the way to meditate, the object to be meditated on and the way to overcome the obstacles faced during the mediation. So, one should find a place where he is not disturbed by any external objects, especially sound. Then he should make a pavilion in his heart made by the four pillars, Jñāna (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion), Vairāgya (detachment), Śānti (peace of mind). And the Supreme Soul, Śrīhari, with divine ornaments like a crown, garland, etc., should be placed in the pavilion and then he should start meditating on Him. He may be distracted because of the deeds of the previous birth. But one should not give up at this stage. He should continuously meditate on the absolute, the real, and the ultimate one. After seeing one’s continuous effort in this Samyama, the Lord Himself will shower His divine grace on him which is a must for the liberation of the soul. Then, the liberated soul attains the intimate union with the Supreme Soul and rejoices in bliss, and never takes rebirth.
- Veṅkaṭanātha. (1948). Saṅkalpasūryodayaḥ(Vol. 1-2). (Pandit. V. Krishnamacharya, Ed.) Madras: The Adyar Library and research centre.
- Veṅkaṭanātha. (1971). Saṅkalpasūryodayaḥ. (Uttamur T. Viraraghavacharya, Ed.) Madras: The Adyar Library and research centre.
- Śrīrāmānujamuni. (1972). Gītābhāṣyam. (Uttamur T. Viraraghavacharya, Ed.) Chennai: Ubhaya Vedanta Granthamala
- Vedavyāsa. (1999). Bhāgavatamahāpurāṇam.Gorakhpur: Gitapress (Previous Edition in 1998)
Assistant Professor, Department of Oriental studies and research, SASTRA Deemed University, Thanjavur, Tamilnadu
Researcher, Department of Indology, French Institute of Pondicherry, Pondicherry
त्रिवर्गपुटभेदनत्रिदशयोग्यवर्षंत्यजन्प्रवर्तयरथोत्तमंसपदिभारतैकोन्मुखम्!! (saṅkalpasūryodayaḥ 6.11)
कठिननियमोऽपि पुरुषः सहसा नवनीतकुम्भवद्भवति।
वरयुवतिवह्निकुण्डे सन्निहिते सपदि लीयमानमतिः॥(saṅkalpasūryodayaḥ 6.20)
हरिचरणनदीनिपातघोषैः मुखरितकाननगह्वरो हिमाद्रिः(saṅkalpasūryodayaḥ 6.23)
तपः शौचं दया सत्यमिति पादाः प्रकीर्तिताः (Śrīmadbhāgavatam 1.17.24)
 Translation from online source:https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/7/verse/14
पुरुषस्य पुराणस्य पुंसश्च शरणार्थिनः।अपृथक्सिद्धयोरेकमदूष्यं स्थानमन्तरम्॥ (saṅkalpasūryodayaḥ 6.81)
Cited in the commentary,Prabhāvilāsa, in the seventh act of the play. Pg. No.618
जन्म कर्म च मे दिव्यमेवं यो वेत्ति तत्त्वतः।
त्यक्त्वा देहं पुनर्जन्म नैति मामेति सोऽर्जुन।।(Śrīmadbhagavatgītā 4.9)
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