LAMP OF LOVE
By K. CHANDRASEKHARAN
It is of the great handicaps of religious institutions and Mutts in this ancient land that these seats of spiritual solace and guidance fall often to partisan spirits. In this, perhaps, it shares the tendency of all institutions, whether religious or otherwise, which are independent of popular judgment. No doubt in a profession of a highly competitive nature as the legal or medical, the best talent never fails of recognition, if once it can secure the appreciation and confidence of the public. But if it happens to be a writer or an artist of authentic merit and originality, the Academies too will not show any real enthusiasm or haste to choose him as their leader. They may either give him lukewarm praise or render help to him grudgingly and that too of necessity, but they will reserve their prizes and awards only for those who share their views on art and literature and have no independent minds of their own. The same is true of religious institutions, and never more true than in times of waning faiths and wavering allegiances. The fact that the highest recognition of any leader lies in the wide publicity he receives in the press today, may not affect the claim to acceptance from a vast mass of followers, which sometimes a great teacher may be able to achieve. For ultimately all true acceptance of leadership comes from within and not from external compulsion.
We can certainly instance the truth of it by the case of the Acharyaswami of Kamakotipeetam. If Advaitic thought and pure Hinduism has an exemplary representative in these days, it is the Jagadguru, Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakotipeetam–a saint who, more than anyone else, has given fresh impetus and direction to the spiritual upsurge of the times. There are others, no doubt, whose humanitarianism is no less than his; but there have been few in whom it is so informed by true Hindu ideals, so much emancipated from grooves of narrowness and in whom it has glowed with such a steady light. To know him, to come under the magnetic influence of his large, lustrous, benediction-shedding eyes, is to feel existence at its purest and best. It is to pass into the Kingdom of God. The mental poise that comes to us very occasionally, the faith that easily dries up in us, are in him ever in an increasing measure and advancing the cause of others. His emotions are under strict control and never allowed to impress the sentimental and the sanctimonious; but they are never stifled, for they are completely transmuted by the superior wisdom inherited by him from a line of great Acharyas who had adorned the seat, in order to infuse continuity and purpose to the energies they generate. Precept and practice are so proportionately mixed up in him that anyone approaching him does not fail to mark his detachment, though equally impressed by his extraordinary mastery of worldly facts, his qualities of statesmanship and organisational drive. There has been none in our times who seems so absolutely devoid of any desire to make demands on anyone or anything in order to sustain even his minimum needs. He is strikingly all-comprehending, and yet so approachable and simple. His influence, to use a famous Western saint’s description of Godhead, is ‘like a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ He possesses a widespread compassion for all and yet secures to everyone individually the intimacy and confidence in his unobtrusive sympathies. Austerity and love have scarcely been so happily betrothed to each other, and added to them is a rare memory for details and an administrative genius of a high order.
Yet at a juncture in our country when spiritual resources were conspicuously misapplied and betrayed a considerable want of one-pointed devotion to the higher ends of man, the Acharyaswami came to the Peetam consecrated by the illustrious Bhagavatpada, who had established the religion of fearlessness four-square against all violent winds of atheism that blowed over the land once. The Acharyaswami’s is a powerful vision and a widely embracing one, so that it could not be allowed to add merely lustre to the office of a religious head. The excellence of his subtle intellect, the rareness of his gifts, his flair for languages, are universally known; but the breadth of his outlook, his entire concentration on saving swerving mortals from their distractions, places him outside the pale of normal Matadhipatis. He belongs to humanity even more than he belongs to this school of philosophy or that. The Kamakotipeetam Mutt cannot but adhere to hidebound traditions. It believes in certain forms of undiluted orthodoxy and can spare, if at all, only conventional delinquents. Hence its lack of a sense of realism and aloofness from modernism and also its obscurity otherwise, even while some of its exponents had been personalities of great spiritual grandeur.
It is this tradition that has made the Acharyaswami to be perennially employed in pujas and purificatory baths. Still the heritage of Adi Sankara is admittedly gaining in him its original glory. It makes a profound appeal even to the uninitiated. The quiet yet real austerity of the Acharyaswami is its chief attraction, qualified only by his inordinate sense of renunciation. He plays no mean part in the spiritual renascence we are experiencing. His name is ever borne far and wide on wings of the faithful and the unfaithful alike, for both seem to have a strong faith in him and his redeeming qualities. To one and all his name is a magic mantra. It has a charm of its own that, for them, no other contemporary name with the exception of the late Jagadguru of Sringeri, possesses. It is like a shower of rose water on a hot summer noon.
If we probe the mystery of his magnetism, we shall be only finding ourselves dwelling upon the mystery of his indwelling spirit. He is a representative of Advaitic philosophy, though Advaita itself is not a mata in the sense other Indian philosophical persuasions are known to students. It has recognised the existence of One supreme spirit pervading all creation and hence its non-recognition of a second. Only when there is a second is there room for anything like fear of it, and because of the fact that it recognises the One without a second, it has generated in the human breast hope eternal of its high destiny, not to be destroyed by anything on earth. It is by this grand conception that the Acharyaswami’s catholicity can be easily explained, not to speak of his own Samskaras and inner evolution which have endowed him with a magnificent humanity.
To turn to his attributes which have endeared him to high and low as well, is to live in an atmosphere rarefied by his grace. Long before he became famous he had ascended the gadi, yet it took nearly two decades for him to come into his own spiritual abode. When he was on his itineraries, he slowly gathered round him maturer minds who began to scan in that youthful figure and resplendent gaze a fund of spiritual power and guidance. The whole of his Yatra (travel) was envisaged by him only in terms of his own sublimation through witnessing every nook and corner, every temple and sacred water of his dear Bharata-Varsha. Once when an intrepid interlocutor asked him ‘How do you assume Jagadguruship? Isn’t it too patently absurd?’, his quick reply was, ‘Yes, the misconception is not mine, for I have conceived of the entire universe to be my teacher, my Guru.’ Therein lies his superiority over others. Mere resourcefulness may be attributed to this reply of his, yet to the calmly reflecting mind it means really more than a passing sally of wit. The sage of Kamakoti peetam never looks down upon anyone or any creature. Even the animals of the Mutt share the same hospitality at his hands as his human disciples. The elephant, the camel, the cow, the bull, the calf, the dog, every little and big creature forming part of his entourage receives in full measure his personal attention and care even as every visitor to the Mutt and every devotee in his presence.
His discipline is something unusual, and not a wink can intrude upon his vigils. If he has an inborn taste for good music and a beautiful talent to give shape through his own voice to some of the musical ideas within, he will not forget the stern discipline that his ashrama should exert over him. Once on an evening at pradosha he recited to a rapt audience a sloka from the ‘Soundarya Lahari’. He paraphrased every line of the verse with his soft, tenderly-intoned, spoken Tamil. He described the occasion when Goddess Saraswati, holding the Veena (Vipanchi) in her hands and tuning it began to sing, when all of a sudden she felt disturbed on hearing Goddess Parvati’s words of encouragement to her music, sounding sweeter to her ears and even causing strangely a feeling of ill-attunement in her instrument which forced her to hasten to push it in its cover and relegate it to a corner. The Swami for a moment indulged in faultless Sindhu Bhairavi raga, but only a moment, for with lightning effect came the check on himself and he made his music yield place to the words of the verse and their exposition. Indeed his control proved the stronger for his passion for music.
The Acharyaswami strikes one as working day in, day out, for the safe voyaging of the world in spiritual matters. Forgetful of his need for relaxation, sounding the depths of his soul in some totally far-off dusty village near a pond or pool of fresh water, he can go on performing his worship of Chandramoulisvarar with whatever offerings of fruit and flower the poor peasantry of near-by places can gather for him. The routine is never changing. It is the routine through which he passes and repasses in order to reach his goal of serenity.
Serenity comes not through insouciance or complacency or through administration of potions of superstitious ritualism. It comes only through an enlargement of the mind, a sovereign outlook of optimism, a kindly gaze at seething life around and a splendid faith in practical Advaita. All these and more the head of the Kanchi Kamakotipeetam has. In his spacious presence there is no room for smallnesses and intolerances. All is dissolved because no one has need for ego. All is understood, because all is bathed in the sunshine of his smile. He penetrates the heart of every adult and child with a consuming power, but he penetrates it with a balmy touch, never with a pricking motive. He clears the mind of the pedant and the pandit of the hanging cobwebs of confusion and undigested learning. He can, if he wants, easily enter an argument of a highly metaphysical nature, only in order to prove how very essential sastras are for a mind to get disciplined in the search of Truth. But in the process, the person dealt with never shudders at the revelation, hardly feels touchy or discomfited–only the experience is salubrious enough to make him throw off his erstwhile drowsiness and feel awakened from a mental torpor.
He is a staunch student of archaeology, and epigraphy, one of the few researchers–if the term may be applied in its best sense to him,–with no desire for credit of having discovered some of the most useful information in reconstructing the history of the Kamakoti Mutt. His speeches and talks, collected so far in print, are better appreciated by professors of history and scholars of antiquity for their fund of original material and their flood of light on topics baffling normal plodders in the field. In his religious discourses there is neither authoritarianism nor polemics.
He leaves narrow points of difference in the various schools of philosophy and wings the azure heavens of a vast perception of the true spirit. The whole series of his sermons may be called Message of Hinduism. They are embedded with gems of thought and naturalness of observation. He speaks in simple Samskrita and Tamil, sentences often of not more than half a dozen words, not snappy, but refreshingly linking the developing sequence of a thought into a whole, profound thesis. His philosophy is only love. There are no portals Of the enlightened and the learned to that sanctorum, but all are of it, who care for sincerity and sacrifice, who hear there the voice of God and determine to follow it.
His devotees belong to all kinds of philosophical persuasions; but most of all his heart envelops those exiles from the old order, who have regenerated themselves as followers of a liberal Hinduism. For these, as for all those who make heavy sacrifices for keeping their integrity unsullied, he has not merely good feeling but wholesome regard. In his behaviour the impression he creates is of a superior type of generosity and charity. His mind laves in no stagnant pool, but shears its way through a hybridized world, and the tone of his conversation lifts the mediocre too from his ennui and blesses him with an unusual satisfaction that he has not lived in vain.
Withal he is a rare specimen of Sanyasa, unaffected in his intellectual approach to problems and uncanny divination of the causes of our social upheavals. He is ready to forgive and forget any serious blemish in character with an air of utter unsophistication. If a boy of ten reading in a school, pretends to have filled pages and pages with the holy script of Sri Rama Jayam and makes the Acharyaswami believe him to be the scribe, while later he himself confesses to his elder brother alone having been the scribe, there is no evident twitch or fierceness of look in the face of the Jagadguru, but only a smile as he remarks, ‘So your brother has done this and feels shy to present it himself to me lest his classmates in the college should rail at him. Go and tell him not to feel any shame. Anyhow, you can take a gold coin for it with my blessings.’ The crowd round about watching the incident is really amazed first at the little urchin’s audacity to play tricks with the Swami and equally amazed at the great one’s intuitive divination of the cause of the boy’s elder brother’s folly, and much more amazed at the final words of comfort administered by the High Priest of Advaita to the young culprit.
His fifty years as the head of a great seat of spiritual administration have hardly robbed him of his ever innate desire for service to his fellowmen. His sixty-three years on this earth during times of cataclysmic changes have not warped his outlook or made it hard towards unbelievers and nihilists. His hopes are as ever bright, himself being ever ready to engage in an interesting argument with anyone of whatever reformist group or school of thought on an impersonal basis. He is, in short, an epitome of all that is permanent and great in the Hindu conception of a Mumukshu. He brings very valuable cargo with every voyage of
his, on the high seas of the spirit-that precious unction to the soul which needs it even more today than at any other time.
The great populace of South India has paid belated tribute to him in taking steps for founding a Samskrita University after his name, but his true sympathies are not for mere education in the Sastras, though he yields to none in wishing for a vigorous course of studies for a student, planned according to the ancient way, which, according to him, is the only way. His genuine interest is in uplifting the masses from the morass of penury and the still worse penury of the soul. His growing indifference towards all former activities in connection with the Mutt administration is a clear indication of his realisation of the main purpose of his mission in life, which means certainly a blessing to the vaster humanity outside his fold.