Namo Namah

Reflections of Kanchi Paramacharya

All of you think of me as a saint and perform namaskara to me. I have also a great yearning to perform namaskara to persons who are known to be real saints. But my position as Jagatguru and Peetadhipathi, and the title of Bhagavatpada, which have come and stuck to me at a young age, without any merit on my part for deserving them, have deprived me from that young age itself, of the good fortune of doing namaskara to saints, the great ones, moving about before our very eyes. My receiving all your namaskaras, without my performing namaskaras to any person, makes me think of my janma as empty and in vain.

Our Acharya (Adi Sankara) has done a great good in this regard. What is that? He has reminded that: "Sannyasis, like us, to whom you perform namaskaras, regarding them as saints, should never think that the namaskara belongs to us. It belongs only to the one Paramatma and Parasakthi which conducts and controls all the affairs of the jagat". Not stopping with that, he has also made a rule for us to follow, in order that we make sure of conveying your namaskara to the Paramatma and do not accept the namaskara ourselves in the thought that it belongs to us. The rule will look very easy to follow, at first sight.

The Acharya (Adi Sankara) has, in his bhashyas, referred to the one primordial principle and power (Paramatma and Parasakthi) conducting and controlling the Jagat as NARAYANA. There are many reasons for this. I will not go into a discussion on this. I will just take up one point.

Our country is a country where threadbare analysis of and enquiry into the facts of life (tatva vichara) has been taken to their end and documented in Sastras which include Vedanta, Mimamsa, Sankhya, Nyaya, etc. The Acharya wrote bashyas mainly to help those involved in the devoted study of sastras. Though it be so

Even though this country is well known for "tatwa vichara", it is even more well known (good name and bad name both) for giving us a large number of Gods (deities). Instead of the Absolute being considered as a "dry" abstract principle, the deities which are no different from the Absolute, have form, and appear as the Absolute come to life. The Acharya, in his bhashyas, could have dealt with the Paramatma as the prapancha karana sakthi, the Absolute, as a dry abstract principle. Instead of doing so, and in order that the treatment may be appealing to the community which is used to relating itself to God with Form, he had thought it necessary to refer to the Absolute at several places by a Name. The question arises about which Name to choose.

Part 2

Though there are many deities, these can be generally considered as falling under the broad classification of Saiva and Vaishnava. Between Siva and Vishnu, he may have thought about which to choose. The Acharya was himself an Avatara of Siva. So, he may have thought – why use my own Name. Siva is very dear to Vishnu. And, similarly, Vishnu is very dear to Siva. Therefore, wherever Vedanta refers to Paramatma as Jagat-karana-sakthi, Prapancha-mahasakthi, Saguna-brahman, Iswaran, with an implicit suggestion of attributed Form, where Murthy Rupa is indicated, the Acharya has used NARAYANA as the name…

In between, I mentioned the word Iswara. Though Iswara is commonly equated with Siva, in the Vedanta Sastra, Iswara is Sagunna-brahman. Ramanujacharya and Madhwacharya also have used the word Iswara in this sense only. The Acharya has composed many stotras on Siva, like Sivananda Lahiri. It may be asked whether in those stotras he was doing stuthi of himself. They are bhakthi stuthis. Different sects and communities of people have their own likes and preferences among the deities. In order to be helpful to one and all in concentrating and steadying their mind in the worship of their preferred God, the Acharya composed stuthis on all the deities. How could he have left the important deity Siva? So, he composed stuthis on Siva also.

The Acharya had no "identity" for himself. He was always "Atma Swarupa". Therefore, it was possible for him to take on, as it were, identities with different mental inclinations and work out appropriate ways for the elevation of people with different mental inclinations and preferences. Water, which is colourless, appears black when passing over black soil, and red when passing over red soil. It is like that. So, for the benefit of people who take to Bhakti marga for self-fulfillment, he made stuthis to different deities to suit different preferences. When he made such stotras, he became, as it were, the Bhakta of such deities. In that way, when he made stotras on Siva, he could become a Siva Bhakta and not remain a Siva Avatara. It would be self – praise only if, remaining a Siva Avatara, he sang in praise of Siva. If he became a Bhatka of Siva and sang his praise, did it not become permissible to him to sing his praise as much as he wanted ?

It may occur to some that the Acharya gave central place to Siva, as Chandramouleeswara, in his Mutts and made the other deities adjuncts. The Mutts are meant for all and so it may be asked why he gave central place to Siva in the Mutts. The answer is that the Acharya did not plan that this should be so. The Parameswara (God) himself gave to his Avatara five Spatika Lingas and commanded him to have them installed in five places and arrange for the pooja. In carrying out this command, the Acharya installed in both his Mutts, here in Kanchi and in Sringeri, two of the Spatika Lingas. Thus the Lingas that Parameswara himself had given and installed in these two places for which poojas were arranged became the central deities of worship in these Mutts and other deities became parivara deities. In the remaining Mutts also, for the sake "uniformity", the Acharya had necessarily to make the pooja arrangement as Siva Panchayatana.

Now you may ask: You said that Acharya, when he wrote Bhashyas which were books on Atma Sastra, was only in "Atma Swarupa" and had no "identity"; if he was "Atma Swarupa" , and remained as such, then why should he identify with Siva Avatara, and therefore think about "not talking about himself" and therefore think about using the NARAYANA name. I knew such a question can arise. I have my answer ready. I came to talk about this with a question paper and a answer sheet, all prepared.

Part 3

So, what is the answer? The answer is that "Atma Swarupam" will not write books. In cat, it does not do anything. It will just be as it is. It will not act or do. The moment he sat down to write, it means that the "Atma Swarupa" has yielded to place to Avatara. To be correct, the Samadhi state of Atma Sakshatkara is over, and the thought of having to perform a "duty" for the up-liftment of Dharma in this world for which this Avatara came makes him to sit down to write. In that movement, the question arises, Avatara means whose Avatara. When you get the reply Siva Avatara, it follows that Avatara Siva talking about Adhara Siva does not look proper and talking about Vishnu appears more graceful, balanced and dignified. Is that not so?

So it is, in the Bhashya books, the root (moola) of the causal principle of the Jagat is referred to by the name Narayana. The supreme central meaning of these books is the Oneness (unity) of Paramatma and Jivatma, that is Advaita. In this way, the use by Siva Avatara Acharya of Vishnu's name brings in the Hari Hara Advaita - that Siva and Vishnu are one and the same.

Mahavishnu has many names. In fact, there are a thousand names. Then it may be asked why the Narayana name is chosen. The supreme astakshari mantra of Mahavishnu has the Narayana name in it.

Ayana means path (marga). Ayana also means the end (goal) of the path. In both these senses, Narayana is the Ayana for the Nara (Jivatma). Bhrama Vidya Sastra gives the path to salvation. Narayana is Bhrama Vidya. When He appears as Krishna Paramatma, he himself says "Adhyatma Vidya Vidhyanam" in the Gita. The final goal of that Vidya is also He only. Therefore it is that when Bhrahma Vidya Guru Parampara is talked about, it starts with "Narayanam". So it is quite appropriate that in the Bhashya books, which are Bhrahma Vidya Sastras, the Narayana name is used.

The name Sankara joining with the name Narayana has given rise to a name Sankaranarayanan. In south Pandya country, there is a place where the worshipped image (murthy) is the image of Siva and Vishnu in one body showing their oneness. That image is known as Sankaranarayanan. The place is called Sankaranarayanan Koil. This is now commonly pronounced as Sankaranainar Koil in usage.

The Acharya himself has used the above name in an important context. He has bequeathed to us in a question – answer form a text called "Prasnottara Ratna Malika". In the penultimate sloka of this work, the question is: Who is called Bhagwan and Maheswara. Our Acharya does not in reply give the names of Siva or Vishnu. Our Advaita Acharya gives the reply as the one Atma which is a communion of Siva and Vishnu. Even there he does not use Siva – Vishnu or Hari – Hara but has used Sankaranarayanan.

Q: Kascha Bhagwan Mahesah?
A: Sankara Narayanatmaikah

Therefore it is appropriate that this Sankara also gives a special niche for the name Narayana.

Thus it is clear that the Acharya has referred to the great causal principle of the Jagat by the name NARAYANA. So, when he intends that the namaskaras performed to us must be conveyed to the Jagat-Karana-Vastu, he instructs: Convey to Narayana. And to carry out the instruction, he has made a rule, which appears easy on the face of it.

Only that Narayana, who has created all this and has endowed all this with vital energy (sakthi), has the "right" to accept all the namaskaras. Namaskara to any deity goes to Kesava. We recite the sloka: Sarva Deva Namaskara Kesavam Pratigachhati. When namaskaras performed to the deities go only to HIM, how can namaskaras performed to ordinary people belong to them? All these namaskaras also go to HIM only. It is that we have been asked to always remember when namakaras are performed to us. In order that we do not "misappropriate" the namaskaras rightfully belonging to HIM only and make sure that the namaskara is duly redirected to HIM, the Acharya has most kindly defined a rule for us – a rule, which as I said earlier, is seemingly easy. The rule is that when someone performs a namaskara to us, we should say "Narayana, Narayana".

Part 4

If that is done, when the name is uttered, does not the person immediately come to mind? Here Narayana is that person. The moment He comes to mind, the thought that all namaskarams belong to HIM and we should not take away what is HIS right and possession also will come to mind; and we will convey the namaskara to the right place. That is why, the Acharya prescribed remembering Narayana (Narayana Smaranam). The smaranam is important.

When we utter the word Narayana, it is only speech (vachanam). It is not remembering (smaranam). Smarana means remembering with the mind. Concentratedly remembering. Just speaking it out with the mouth is of no use. It has to be deeply and concentratedly remembered and spoken with that consciousness – from that Narayana awareness. What we see in ordinary practice is that when as a routine we recite a sloka or mantra, it becomes only just uttering the words with meaning; it wanders thinking about other things and only the mumbling goes on. If that happens here, if the Narayana name is spoken without the mind remembering the Narayana, it will be a great crime – Maha Dosham. If misappropriation is a crime between people, is it not a very big crime when what belongs to HIM is misappropriated? Everyday, sannyasi receives namaskara from a number of people. There is a great risk of his saying Narayana becoming a mere routine unless he remains ever vigilant and always awake. Otherwise, he may easily find himself involved in committing Maha-dosha. That is why I said this rule looks easy to follow; it is not actually easy.

A true sannyasi, a hundred percent sannyasi, has no duties. He has no obligations to fulfil. He does not have to think about the well-being or otherwise of another. In that state, if someone performs namaskara to him, he does not have to think about the welfare of that person. If he starts thinking about that, slowly he will start thinking whether some good happened to that person. If his mind gets concerned with the welfare of a number of people in this fashion, what happens to his Ashrama Dharma, which demands that Atma Vichara be his only work. His supreme and only Dharma is to be ever immersed in Atma Vichara. If he does not do so, he is not a sannyasi. Because, he is not a sannyasi, no one need perform namaskara to him. So, when a namaskara is performed to a true sannyasi, he remembers his own Atma Swarupa in Narayana aspect – the Dwaita Loka Nirvaha aspect – and transfers the person's good and bad to Him almost as if saying that it is all your (Narayana's) concern: and severs further contact with that.

That is how it should be in the case of a true or cent per cent sannyasi. But in everything, there are good, bad and indifferent types. There are people like us who cannot be called true or hundred percent sannyasis but who may be called half – sannyasis (Swamiji goes into irrepressible peals of laughter while saying this…and then reflectively) even half may be too will be fifty percent…let us use the word pass mark sannyasi…so, can pass-mark sannyasis, like us, act the same way, namely, when one performs namaskara to us, think that they have nothing to do with that and transfer it to Narayana and forget?

Some people may not understand whom I am referring to as half – sannyasis, like us. Let me make it clear. I said sannyasi has no duties. His only duty is Atma Vichara: released from duties to wife and children, he has no duties to other people either. Therefore he should transmit the namaskaras also to Narayana and leave it at that.

But we sannyasis, occupying a Gurupeetham, and exercising the position as head of a Mutt, are the ones that I distinguish from other sannyasis and refer to pass-mark sannyasis. If you ask me why, the reply is that when we took, the GURU title, we also took up a host of duties. There is a heavy duty towards people in general, the human community. To consider the entire community as a body of devotees and aspirants, and conduct them to the right path is our big duty. We cannot be indifferent to the good and the bad that happens around us and to members of the community; if we did so, it will be a negation of duty, and we will be faulted for failing in our duty. We have to concern ourselves with bringing the people to the right path and with their good and well-being; and we have a duty to perform with this purpose in mind. When this is so, when our devotees and bhakthas, believing that we will do good to them, come and perform namaskara to us, how can we think that we have nothing to do with their well – being and tell Narayana that is his business and keep quiet? Will Narayana accept this action?

I ask you for "subscription" for the preservation of Vedas. I ask for money for gopuram construction. Daily I receive "biksha" from you. All this is taking from you in the form of "dravya" . I also ask for physical labour. I ask for collection of rice from door to door for distribution. I ask for distribution of prasad from hospital to hospital. I ask for a pond to be dug for water for the cattle. Like this, everyday, I ask you for money or labour. How will it be fair, if I say I have nothing to do with you when you perform namaskara to me?

If, because of that, I give you my blessing for your namaskara, will it actually do some good to you? Does my blessing have that power? People who are in constant communion with Paramatma have the true power of penance only can impart such power to their blessing. In the case of others. It can only have a small power to do good in the sense that all good thoughts have some power of doing good.

The amusing side of this is that the one who has cut off all connections with the outside and is immersed in his sadhana of Atma marga, acquires the power of Asirvada. Grace, Anugraha, by virtue of his dedication to his sadhana and the (spiritual) experiences he gets in that process. Such power comes naturally to him. Even without his knowing and intending, his Asirvadam reaches the person doing namaskara to him and does good. It is like a fully ripe fruit bursting and pouring its juice in the mouth of anyone who opens his mouth below it.

In our case, unlike the other who has Swanubhuti as the only purpose, there is danger of our preoccupation with chores connected with our duties in the outside distracting and taking us away from what we should be doing for Swanubhuti. This is a big risk. How far we are successful in performing the duties of the Guru without jeopardising the work for Atmalakshaya, in ensuring that the two works are not mutually detrimental but work in such a manner that the sadhana for Atmalakshaya imparts nourishing and vitalising power to our work for loka-kshema and the work for loka-kshema itself is performed in such a manner that the mind gets increasingly pure (chitta suddhi) and enhances the power or intensity of the sadhana itself, - how far we are thus able to neatly balance both the works and act within limits – that will also determine the power of our Asirvadam.

Even then, the real source of power is Narayana only. We should never forget that. If nothing moves without Him, it means that an Asirvadam also can bear fruit only if His Grace is there. So, we can neither "push away" the namaskara (to Narayana) thinking that we have nothing to do with it, nor think that we have "power" to give Asirvadam and bless. Then, what should we do? When you lower your body on the floor and prostrate before us, we should say "Narayana, Narayana" with the mouth, remember Narayana, mentally do namaskara to Him, and pray to Him, "Let your Grace do good to these children".

Look at the problem our position creates for us even in this. We are not able to make even this prayer (prarthana) on your behalf with "anjali" (use of hand). When you perform namaskara to us, we ourselves give "asirvadam". You also expect us to do so. If we say that we also have to do namaskara to another (nr0 and "try to tap" that source for giving the blessing to you, you will be disappointed. One feels comfortable only if the blessing comes immediately from the person to whom the namaskara is done. So, even though mentally we transmit your namaskara to Narayana, our hand which should be turned in "anjali" to Him, has to turn to you in the "asirvada" mode.

All these years, you have been coming in numbers everyday and performing namaskara to me. I, for my part, have been trying to do my utmost by way of mentally praying to Him on your behalf and for your good. Even then, if any of your prayers have borne fruit, more than my effort, it is due to your faith. I think that the "sincerity" of my prayer on your behalf cannot match your limitless faith in me. That is why I said that even your thinking that you get the fruit of my blessing is the fruit of your own faith. In the ultimate analysis, the only cause for the fulfillment of your prayer is Narayana's compassionate Grace toward you, which is yours without my "vakalat".

Enthroned on a pedestal, and hundreds and thousands of people doing namaskara, and on top of that, hearing people saying "It is because of your blessing that such and such good happened; it is miraculous",….all this may land us into falsely thinking that we have the "authority" to give asirvadam, so, it becomes necessary to be very careful not to fall into the trap.

If we slip up even a wee-bit in this regard, we will be committing the maha-dosha of misappropriating what belongs to Narayana.

Though outwardly the "Peetham" and "position" are there, in reality we are like the coolie carrying load. The coolie carries the load (luggage) of another. He carries it on his body. Similarly, we are to carry the "load" of your namaskara in 9our mind, and add the "weight" of our prayer on your behalf, and reach the whole to Narayana. It is doubtful whether the truth which is clear to the coolie is equally clear to us. The coolie knows that the luggage he carries does not belong to him; it belongs to another; and his job is only to reach it another place. This is the truth I am referring to. If we do not reach the "luggage" of namaskara to its destined place, namely Narayana, "He" will give us the "wages" for our crime. Like the coolie feeling the weight of the load on him, we have also to feel the weight of the namaskara and not treat it as an honour done to us. Out of our love for our bhakthas, the weight has to be carried gladly, though temporarily, until it is reached to Him. Even temporarily when it is carried, it is no doubt a weight. But if it is also appropriated, it becomes a permanent big weight of sin on us.

The predicament of the person to whom namaskara is performed is fraught with such risk!

On the other hand, the case of the person performing the namaskara appears a blessed state. Blessed in which sense? When he lowers his body and prostrates before another person whom he considers a saint, he also "pushes" a load off his mind as it were, in the belief that the other person will take care of that. Namaha is sometimes itself interpreted as the meaning of "Na Mama" (not mine") – that is pushing away something as "not mine". A true namaskara will always be in this attitude only. Most people do not perform such true namaskaras. As I said earlier, there are cent per cent and pass mark types. Even in a pass-mark namaskara, at least for that fraction of the moment during the actual performing of the namaskara, he feels a relief. This is what we notice daily.

I lost this "blessing" to prostrate before another and to enjoy the feeling of lightness and relief in just remaining in the namaskara posture, at a very young age. The position (sthanam) robbed me of the blessing.

Of course, there is no bar in doing namaskara to deities and purvacharyas. But even here, according to the sastras governing us, we are not permitted to lower our body to the ground and to perform namaskara, barring one or two exceptions. We are to do namaskara with our "dandam" (staff), swiveling it and touching the ground with it in a particular way, and it is called "Danda Vandanam". The namaskara that you do is also called "Dandakara namaskaram". The meaning there is different. Danda there also means staff. But, there it metaphorically refers to the body. If the staff is held straight, it stands erect. We also refer to people who are not humble by saying "erect or unbending like a staff". The same staff falls flat to the ground if the grip is taken off. The mind of the Jiva generally "stands erect" like the staff. It is because of the hold of ego (Ahambava). If it is released from the hold of ego, it becomes humble. In such humble state, it experiences the highest sukha. Lowering the body in performing namaskara symbolises the release of the ego-hold on the mind. That is why it is called "Danda Namaskaram". If the namaskaram is done without understanding this central idea, that namaskaram is itself "Dandam" i.e., in vain (Dandam in Tamil idiomatically means useless).

The staff that is prescribed for us and which we carry is itself meant for the control of the mind. It is a controlling, subjucating weapon. The names Dandapani, Dandayudhapani are familiar to you. The word "Dandanai" (in Tamil) for punishment came from Dandam. Since the important duty of the State is to prevent people from taking to disorderly ways and to check enemies (of the state and people) from rearing their head, statecraft is itself called Danda-niti. In that way, the Danda is prescribed for us as a symbol for keeping our minds under strict control. It is not merely a symbol. When it is charged with mantra by our Guru and bestowed on us, the Danda gets the power to be a help in the control of mind. The inventions of science have some spectacular powers in the outer world. In the same way, the mantras have miraculous powers in the inner worlds. Can you not touch an electric wire with a stick without receiving a shock? Are not radio waves "caught" by the aerial? Does not a lightning protector rod catch electricity and save from thunder? This is also like that. In our case, the Dandam is a symbol for the mind and its shield; the mind having been entrusted to the Danda. This way of doing namaskara can still not compare with the other way of doing it by lowering the body and lying prostrate on the ground. The psychological feeling of humility one experiences in lowering the body to the ground and the delight of just remaining like that cannot be matched.

There is another point. That is what I wanted to mainly place before you. More than the namaskara performed to the deity, more than the namaskara performed to the saints and sages of ancient past, it is only when namaskara is performed by prostrating before a living saint, a saint who is moving about right before our eyes, that the "vinaya bhava" (feeling of deep humility) is even more intensely experienced.

Deities have limitless power. We believe that the sages and saints of yore were "daivamsas". We cannot think of them except as divinities. We may say that they really were so luminous and great and that is why we cannot think of them in any other way. It is no wonder therefore that we lower our bodies before such giant divinities and prostrate, with consciousness of our own smallness.

Now, how do we think about the saints who are here, right before our eyes. However much divine or godly we may consider them, we find that they are not always acting or working at that level of whatever we consider is divine nature. We find that they perform many actions at human level. Though these may be explained away as "Maya" (appearance and not reality), or "Lila" (divine sport), or divine sporting an appearance for easy reach (soulabhya), the state of mind we have in respect of deities and ancient sages about whose divine status questions do not even rise in our minds, that state of mind does not seem……..I don't have to complete the statement. That is why we do not revere and worship them for what they personally are, as themselves, but a tradition has come down that they are revered and worshipped as avatara of some deity or of some ancient sage or Acharya. Whatever may be the real reason, we see a difference in our thinking about the divinity of living saints – whom we have seen and known – and even then, if we lower our bodies before such saints to prostrate, our "vinaya bhava" is particularly well – revealed.

There is another difference in our thinking. It is "different" from the difference that I earlier talked about. From what I said, you may think that the "respect" we show to the deity and the ancient sage would be more than the "respect" shown to the living saint. What is the reality? Just reflect on what you yourself do. You have no doubt lot of bhakti towards images of God. But you do not go before them with "hands crossed on the chest and palm closing the mouth" – in a show of deep submission and respect. It is not that "respect" is absent in your approach. But it is not the main constituent. Bhakti itself is something which is very difficult to define and delimit. Love in many facets (rasa-bhava) fills bhakthi. We are also not able to exactly define our own "approach" to the deity towards which we have bhakthi. How we experience Bhakthi towards our deity and how we "approach" the deity seems to be something happening in us which is beyond our intelligence to grasp. "Respect" may figure in it; or may even not. In total "swadhina" bhava, have not "ninda-stuthis" been sung (by bhakthas)? (Ninda Stuthi is praise couched in apparently denigrating language).

In the case of sages of yore, such "swadhina bhava" – taking liberties – is not so much in evidence. Compared to the case of deities, it seems that there is more of "respect' (in the bhakthi towards them). But it is not the main constituent; the other rasa – bhavas of bhakthi are also equally evident.

When we consider the case of the saints of our times, who are right before us, "respect" seems to take the main place in our bhakthi towards them. In our scale of divinity, … it is another matter whether such measurements are correct or not…if we give marks to deities, ancient sages, and saints of our times, we find that the "respect" in our bhakthi towards them is in inverse proportion to the divinity on the scale. The amsas (parts) of bhakthi like priya, bandhutwa, swadhina are not evidenced in our bhakthi towards living saints and perhaps because of that the "respect" amsa of bhakthi is prominently witnessed. Not only in the spiritual or religious field, but in other fields also – like stalwarts in politics, intellectual leaders, eminent artists, wealthy people – everywhere, our "approach" to the big and great in any field is mainly characterised by "respect".

We do not use the word "respect" in regard to deities. "Respected" is never used with a deity's name. For our ancient sage and Acharyas also, it is the same story. We may say "adored". Adoration means worship; it includes "respect"; but it has other elements also. In the case of living great or big people only, "respect", "respected", becomes a main attribute.

The divine excellence of the deities is considered by us as natural (swabhavic) to them; we do not consider that as something for which special respect or reverence should be shown. Similarly, in the case of great sages of yore, we consider them as endowed with deivamsa and their excellence is attributed to the deivamsa in them. But when we consider people like us who have become great or big in spirituality, scholarship, status or wealth, we consciously take note that someone belonging to our own (human) community has been able to reach great heights and that realisation, recognition generates special feelings of respect. And, in the case of those who have risen to great heights in the spiritual field or connected with religion and God, such special feelings of respect spontaneously swell in the heart. Consequently, the namaskara performed to such saints – more than the namaskara done to deities and sages of yore – induce and instill a deep feeling of humility and simplicity that we are but small".

The "bhagya" of experiencing such a feeling of becoming light through namaskara was taken away from me at a very early age. When the dignity of a position is weighing me down, how to become light?

In my case (meaningfully he stresses on "my") I got two special "unlucky prizes". What are the two unlucky prizes? There is a general rule that a junior sannyasi should do namaskara to a sannyasi who is his senior. The senior and junior are not determined by age of the person. It is reckoned on the number of vyasa poojas performed. Every sannyasi has to perform vyasa pooja in ashada pournami. If supposing one person became a sannyasi at age 20, he would have performed 10 vyasa poojas by the time he reaches the age 30. If another person took sannyasa at 55 when the earlier person was only 25, then he would have performed five vyasa poojas only by the time he is 60 and the earlier person is 30. If they both meet at some time, the 30 year old sannyasi with more vyasa poojas will be the senior and the 60 year old sannyasi will do namaskara to him…. After I became a sannyasi, I have met a number of sannyasis with more vyasa poojas to their credit; even then, I did not do namaskara to them but the opposite happened. Reason, the title of Jagatguru! Even though I understand the title as meaning that the entire jagat is my guru, in common practice I have to act according to the law of the mutt which ordains that "the entire jagat is sishyavarga of the Jagatguru and namaskara to the sishya is not even to be thought of". Therefore, I could not do namaskara to sannyasis who were otherwise senior to me.

Still more unlucky, and that applies in my case only, is another circumstance. Other sannyasis becoming Jagatgurus would have performed namaskaras to their Guru who coronated them with the title. They must have done namaskaras in plenty. Here… (pointing to himself)…even that bhagya was not to be mine. You may know the story yourself. (the previous peetadhipathi attained mahasamadhi after nominating the successor but before coronating).

The namaskara bhagya that I could not get, all of you have got. I desire that you should make full use of the good fortune and blessing that you have. In addition to performing namaskara to deities in the temples, go in search of living saints, who move about in front of our eyes, and perform namaskara to them. As I said earlier, it is in the latter that the feeling of respect and reverence is prominently and mainly experienced. If you ask: "let it be so. What is so great about it?" There is a lot that is great about it. It is the feeling of respect that brings out the noble qualities of humility and reverence. Namaskara itself can be done only by "bending down". This "bending down" blossoms and shines as reverence, not so much in namaskaras performed to the deities in bhakti bhava, as in namaskaras performed to saints with intense feeling of respect. When the body is lowered to the ground in prostration before the saint, humility as a quality takes a concrete shape and you are able to enjoy and delight in that experience. Not only that. Namaskara kriya does not only help in concretising through experience the vinaya bhava but also nurtures its enhancement in one's being.

All animal life grows horizontally. Man is the only animal growing vertically. His face (head) is the vanguard of vertical (urdhva mukha) growth. Man is considered the best among the created species and therefore this arrangement is considered a matter for pride. But if this "feeling of best" lands him in bloated ego (ahambhava) and conceit, he will find himself even below the animals. His thoughts and content of life should not end with the pleasures of the senses but have to rise above them. He must know that God has created us like this for this purpose, make the necessary efforts in that direction and rise to further heights. He should not fall down because of conceit. Conceit is also called "head-weight". If head weight increases in a horizontally growing animal, it does not matter. It can still manage not to lose its balance. If head weight increases in the vertically growing man,…if top heaviness results, what will happen? The equilibrium will be disturbed and lost, ending in a crashing fall. If God has created the vertically growing man with head on top, he has to protect himself, save himself from the "crash" by ensuring that the head weight does not increase. We use the words "patitan", "patitai" in a very disparaging sense. The straight meaning of these words is "fallen".

Performing namaskara with humility will save us from such fall. A person who is standing can fall and get himself hurt. A person who is sitting also can tilt and get hurt. A person lowering the body prostrate on the ground cannot either fall and tilt; and cannot get hurt. Is that not so?

As the height increases, the fall becomes more severe. The fate of one in high position is also similar. If he does wrong, slips and falls, he is unable to even get up – that is recover to the high position. He is damned by the snub and ridicule of the world.

Leave alone the snubbing and the praising. What is intrinsically good for a man? By what manner of living does he get an inner contentment, inner peace? Is there peace if you carry a load or you are off the load? Load is not merely the troubles and cares of this world – samsara. The biggest load is the ego-sense, the I-sense, the Ahambhava. There is permanent peace if that load is off you. The namaskara kriya is the best aid for getting that load off you. That is how in the namaskara, the head which is at the top is brought on level with the other parts of the body. It is no more the "head dominating the body" but just one of the many parts of the body. If the head is brought down by others, it is a disgrace. If we bring it down ourselves, it is reward, honour. This is vinaya sampath (humility that is wealth itself). It is to get away from "head weight" and mental conceit that the namaskara I performed with the head. Appar Swami sings: "Bow down, bow down, O Head!"

In order that this kriya is done with single pointed attention, and one does not look to this side and the other, the namaskara is always done with face to the ground. The indriyas (sense organs) face towards the outer world when we lie flat. But when we are prostrate on the ground with face to the ground, they are also turned away from the outer world.

Heights are not wanted. Being humble is what is wanted. If our minds are in this mode, the Grace of the Almighty (kripa varsha) will flow freely and fill us. Just like, water does not remain at altitudes but flows to level ground and fills it. As a symbol of this mental move, the body is lowered prostrate to the ground head to foot.

This is called "Sashtanga Namaskara". Sashtanga is Sa Ashta Anga, that is eight parts of the body are in contact with the ground. The eight parts are: forehead, two shoulders, two hands, torso, two legs. You also know that women do not do the namaskara in this way. In their case it is called "Panchanga". Panchanga here does not mean the almanac. Leaving out the two shoulders and the torso, only five angas are in contact with the ground in their namaskara. So it is called Panchanga Namaskara. Our rule makers (makers of sastras) while making the rule that namaskara should be by lowering the body prostrate on the ground, eschewing every thought of self importance and finding the lowest level with the ground, they duly thought of the Universal Mother aspect (matrutwam) of Parasakthi (Ambal) which is a distinguishing divine principle in women, and took care not to imply any suggestion of lowering its importance. They ruled that the part of the body which sustains the growth of the foetus during pregnancy and the part that creates within itself the nourishment for the new born and feeds it should not be allowed to come in contact with the ground. If the torso should not touch the ground, then the shoulders have to be excluded so that the namaskara can conveniently performed. Thus, excluding the three angas, in their case it becomes panchanga. This also symbolises the need for women to have a "bending" nature. Bowing down itself means bending and it seems that the namaskara performed by women is real bowing down. Men sometimes may use the hand only instead of lowering the body for "bowing" but women always do sarvanga namaskara.

A particular human action intended to express a particular inner feeling and thought, performed in the same fashion generation after generation by many people gets an inner strength as the inner core of a matured tree. Later on, the action itself begins to reinforce and intensify that inner feeling and thought. Basically, any action done with the right thought and feeling behind it, in turn, enhances and enriches that experience. Thus, the sashtanga and panchanga namaskaras are a great aid for nurturing and heightening the "tallest" inner quality of utter humility – that is, the "vinaya sampath".

In out timeless tradition, "vinaya" finds a very special place. Status, money, learning, beauty, - all these are causes for the ego – sense, I-sense, to grow. Even among all these causes, the conceit born of learning is the worst. Such people talk about everything with contempt and ridicule. If learning is inextricably tied to humility, there is scope for escape from conceit. This is what our scriptures (sastras) again and again underline. That training for learning (vidya) must always be with training for humility (vinaya). Otherwise, they say, all learning is in vain. Bhagawan Krishna (in the Gita) also puts vidya and vinaya together – "vidya vinaya sampanna".

Since the Grace of God flows only where vinaya is, yearning for Vinaya, one should perform namaskaras again and again. It used to be taught in the past that one should go in search of saints and perform namaskaras to them. Such saints may belong to any type; one who himself gives asirvad, or one who prays to Narayana for asirvad to us, or one who transmits the namaskara to Narayana without involving himself; we need not think about these things; and prostrate before them all saying "Namo Namah". If we do so, Narayana-kripa will be ours in some form or the other. "Namah" is not said once only; it is always repeated, as "namo namah". In ordinary usage also, we say: "A thousand namaskaras to you; a crore namaskaras to you". In this way, the great legacy of namaskara – kriya to which our tradition has bequeathed to us should not be allowed to decline and disappear.

With humility, and for the sake of humility, this kriya must be performed. This is very important. If the inner feeling basic to it is absent, namaskara is nothing more than a mere exercise for the body. Dandakara namaskara should not degenerate into a mere exercise. It is only for man that God has shown ways of reveling in the inner being through divine perceptions, through atma-anubhava. When that is so, if we seek only to increase the animal instincts for pleasures, we will be no different from them. Even though the ways shown by God are spoken of variously, its central purpose is how to progressively minimise and reduce the strong and staunch hold of ego. Saying "Namo namah" and prostrating at the feet of the saints, who in human form are present right in front of our eyes, is the only way.

Parameswara (Lord Siva) is described as "abhisheka priya" (pleased by worship though abhisheka); he is also prescribed as "namaskara priya" (pleased by worship through namaskara). In the well – known and commonly chanted rudra Sukra (in the Vedas), a whole passage called "Namakam" occurs. In that passage, Siva is invoked by several names with plentiful and repeated use of "Namo Namah". The "pancha akshari mantra" of Siva and the "ashta akshari mantra" of Vishnu both start with the word "Namah". Many will be familiar with the method of worship of the Sun through "Surya Namaskara".

The Taittriya Upanishad proclaims: Think of Paramatma himself as Namaskara and worship Him; all desires will start doing namaskara to you. What is the meaning of this? We normally perform namaskara for the fulfillment of our desires. Is such complete fulfillment of desires possible? Will the Law of Karma permit that? Even if such a possibility is there, will it give inner contentment and peace? Desires have no end. Praying for the fulfillment of desires is therefore an endless pursuit. The intelligent course is to pray for freedom from desire. It is that liberated state that is here referred to as "desires doing namaskara to you". The devotee here performs namaskara not for the fulfillment of any desire; so desire appeals to the devotee not to be ignored so totally; this thought is presented with poetic beauty in this Upanishadic statement.

In a way it is even foolish to seek fulfillment of any other desire through namaskara. Because, namaskara automatically gives, by itself, the great fruit of "vinaya". That is fulfillment, blessing, wealth, everything. Our Acharya (Adi Sankara) invoked Goddess Lakshmi in a stuti for the blessing of a shower of gold for an extremely indigent, pure couple, but in the same stuti, for himself he sought only namaskara baghya (to fulfil his only desire to do namaskara to the Goddess Lakshmi). So, in Kanakadhara Stuti, he sang: "Twat vandanani mameva mataranisam kalayantu".

Therefore, just as Saint Thiagaraja sang, "Endaro mahanubhavulu, andariki vandanamu", whenever and wherever you come across people who are saints, "andariki", to all of them, do namaskara…. Sashtanga if men and panchanga if women. I do not mean that you should fall on the floor to do namaskara even in crowded places. That will be a nuisance to others and you run the risk of being trampled upon. Everything has to be done with reference to time, place and context. In a crowd, the namaskara may be done mentally. Compensating for the inability to do it with the entire body, make it deeply with the mind. Make the namaskara into manasakara. In other places, make it with the body to purify the mind.

Whether they are really saints with the power to bless but desist from giving asirwad, or whether you thought of them as saints and they were really not so, this does not matter; because your namaskara begets you its own fruit. You may ask how can that be. You give an application for a job to someone thinking that he has the power to give you the job. He turns out to be the branch manager and he has no power to give the job. Only his general manager has that power. All the applications have to go to the general manager and he has to give the job. The branch manager can only strongly recommend. Because of that, the general manager may give you a slightly better start in the scale. But, for giving the job, he did not require the recommendation by the branch manager. Does that make it clear?

Because it is difficult to catch the "general manager", let us give the application to the "branch manager…"

I have dwelt at length on the greatness and importance of Namaskara (Namaskara Mahamityam). You may wonder why I chose this topic to talk on. One respectable person was referring with sadness to the steady decline among people in general in the qualities of humility and reverence, in vinaya bhava. I started thinking about it and possible antidote for it. I thought of placing before you the outcome of that contemplation. It seems that ever since loud voices have started being made about equality, freedom, self-respect and so on, decline in the wealth called vinaya started, leading us to ways of indiscipline and violence. Talking about "rights" and "rights", we are led into "fights". Viewed in the economic and social context, it is not as if that these new perceptions are without a justification. I accept that without any objection. But everything must operate within limits. If the new approaches are actualised in practice within properly defined limits, things will be in their places, the present day condition of calls and other social conflicts will ease and conditions for peace, brotherhood and unity will be created. How to regulate, how to set limits in these matters? The only way to increase the wealth of "vinaya" in the whole of society. Will economic wealth alone give fullness to life? Certainly not. We have to seek spiritual wealth and with the help of that, regulate the pursuit for economic wealth. Vinaya is the only route to spiritual wealth. How do you get vinaya? Impelled with the basic desire to seek vinaya, seeking the saints and doing namaskara to them is the only way. This kriya will help raise, from what is already "basic"(latent, dormant, underlying) in us, a visible edifice. The timeless and enduring living tradition of this country has the power to convert and soften the most stubborn conceit and self-arrogation. If a little effort is forthcoming, in course of time, desirable changes in mentality will be felt.

Spiritual advancement had been the main goal of life in this country. Stricken by the disease of "ahankara", material advancement has come to be considered all that matters. I have talked about the only remedy that I know of. I considered it proper to place before you the remedy and the reasons why I think it is a remedy. That is why I elaborated on the subject. It seemed to me that, more than anybody else saying it, my saying it will have a deeper impact. When I say so, does it mean that I am trapped in my "ahankara"? No, that is not my meaning. It is because of people pursuing "seats of power" mindlessly that loud slogans are raised in the name of equality, freedom, self respect and the like, and this din has led to wars. In such a context, I thought that a person like me, whom fate (providence) has catapulted into a "seat above which there is no seat and to which there is no equal" and "who does not find fulfillment in the situation that he does not have to bow before anyone" letting it be known to the world of his acute sense of a lack due to denial of the opportunity or occasion to show (and therefore experience what it is to feel) respect and reverence, and therefore pining, "what a janma", may cause people to realise in their inner being the necessity and importance of "vinaya". That is why I said all this.

You have the namaskara bhagya, which I did not and cannot get. I pray to Narayana, saying "Namo Namah", that all of you may make full use of the namaskara bhagya, and receive the highest blessings in life. And I do namaskara to HIM.


Courtesy: Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Satsangam