Thursday, December 21, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami (1917 - 1989) - 01

Hare Krishna Friends,

From today, we will see the life history and teachings of another renowned Jivanmukta, Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami of Sringeri. I thought of slightly changing the presentation pattern. In the first half of the message, we will walk through the life sketch of Mahasvami, in the second part we will see some parables, elucidations or messages of Mahasvami. Praying Mahasvami to guide us all in this process.
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On Fridays, after completing his anushtanams Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami used to visit the Sharada temple in Sringeri, have darshan of the mother and then distribute Prasadam to the Mutt’s Veda Patashala students. On one occasion, while giving the Prasadam to the young boys, Mahasvami asked each of them “Child, what is your name?” when the boy answered the Mahasvami continued “Can you tell me why your parents named you thus?” The boys did not know how to answer the second question. When 13 year old Srinivasa came for receiving the Prasadam, Mahasvami posed the same question. The humble Srinivasa answered “Svami, with the intention that at least when somebody calls my name I remember the Lord, my parents have named me Srinivasa.” Mahasvami was very pleased with the answer. It was this same Srinivasa who later adorned the Sringeri Sharada Peetham as its 35th pontiff.

On 13th November 1917, the country was celebrating with great enthusiasm the festival of lights, Deepavali. On the same day Srinivasa, as Acharya was known in his purvashrama was born to Venkata Lakshmi Amma and Rama Shastry in Bangalore. Even from his childhood days, Srinivasa was an embodiment of such divine qualities as compassion, firm belief in Ishvara, forbearance etc. His belief in God was far from superficial. A tank was believed to be infested with ghosts and people used to abstain from using it after sunset. On an amavasya (new moon) evening, the young friends of Srinivasa challenged him to go to the tank. He boldly ran to it, washed his hands and feet, rinsed his mouth and returned. When asked for the reason for his fearlessness, he said, "I was chanting the name of God. How could any evil spirit approach me?"

Once, Srinivasa told his friends that the goal of his life would be to realize God. During this conversation, one of his friends challenged his conviction that “God exists” on the ground that neither he nor those he knew had seen God.

Srinivasa: Can you prove that there is no God? Would you say that something does not exist because you have not seen it? For instance, have you seen Bombay? No. Does it then follow that Bombay is non-existent?

Friend: I have not seen Bombay but I have seen many who have. That is why I believe that Bombay exists.

Srinivasa: Very well. Likewise, our ancient sages who had seen the Lord have given clear indications to that effect. What is wrong if we unreservedly accept their words? Their experience cannot be set aside and so we must concede the existence of God.

At school, Srinivasa was an obedient and conscientious student. From a very young age, Srinivasa began to regularly express to his friends his desire to renounce the world (take up sanyasa). When one boy praised the position of a King, Srinivasa replied "Do not think thus. What long-lasting benefit is there in becoming a King? An Emperor can enjoy only when he is at the helm of power and this state has to come to an end sooner or later. If, however, I become a sanyasi, I can constantly meditate and be without any worries. There will be a wonderful opportunity to behold God and I shall remain ever protected by him". Strange words of wisdom indeed from one who was hardly a teenager!

Sriniavasa’s family was stricken in poverty. Though the boy was nearly 13 years old, his Upanayanam had not been performed and the parents were much worried about this. By Sri Sharada and Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami’s grace, good fortune knocked on their door in the form of an invitation to perform Srinivasa’s Upanayanam at the Mutt’s expense in Sringeri. The Upanayanam was performed on the 4th of May 1930 at Sharada temple. After the completion of all the observances, the family went to Narasimhavanam (on the bank across Sri Sharada temple where the Acharyas usually stay) to pay respects to Mahasvami. The young Brahmachari sought the Jagadguru to stay back and learn Sanskrit and other holy scriptures at the Mutt’s Patashala. The compassionate Mahasvami posed some questions to Srinivasa and was very satisfied with the answers and happily consented for Srinivasa’s stay in the Mutt. The parents left for Bangalore leaving their dear son under the loving care of Mahasvami.

Srinivasa was unquestionably the most brilliant of the students at the Mutt. Mahasvami regularly monitored the progress of the students. He found Srinivasa head and shoulders above the others. In the evenings, Mahasvami generally went to the Kalabhairava temple and often took Vaidyanatha Shastry (teacher at the Mutt’s patashala) and the young students with him. On such occasions, several topics were discussed and quite often Antadi Shlokas were chanted [this is similar to our Antyakshari game. The last word (Anta) in the preceding Shloka must be the first word (Adi) in the succeeding verse]. Sometimes, Mahasvami used to ask the meanings of the verses and he was very pleased by Sri Srinivasa's unique interpretation of the Shlokas and situations.

Occasionally Mahasvami would inquire about the welfare of the boys and also asked them about the quality of food. The boys usually gave various kinds of answers but Srinivasa kept quiet on such occasions. Noticing this, one day Mahasvami asked Srinivasa the reason for this. Srinivasa said, "All that we get is Acharya's prasadam. As such, it is always tasty". Mahasvami was very pleased on hearing this. It had been his intention to find out how far the boys were slaves of their tongue.
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The following conversation between Acharya (A) Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami and a Devotee (D) is picked from the book “Exalting Elucidations”.

D: We find differing views in the Advaita texts themselves. For example, I have learnt from the Panchadashi that the Jiva is a reflection of consciousness in Avidya. In some other texts, Brahman delimited by Avidya is termed as Jiva. Some works speak of the presence of only one Jiva. Some others say that there are multiple Jivas. What is the reason for such differing views?

A: Advaita philosophy, which stems from Shastras and is elucidated by Sankara Bhagavatpada has some variety just as the Ganges branches before merging with the ocean. However, all Advaitins agree that:

Brahma Satyam Jaganmitya. Jivo Brahmaiva naparaha.

“Brahman is real, the world is unreal and the Jiva is verily Brahman, and not different from it.”

Further, the followers of Bhagavatpada are unanimous that Jnana alone is the cause of Moksha.

The variations seen are in the description of the world, God and the individual self. The different views serve to cater to the requirements of aspirants of differing competence and temperament. To a highly competent and advanced aspirant, the eka-jiva-vada (the view that there is only one Jiva) is appealing. Difficulty may arise if others are also taught in the same fashion. So, for them nana-jiva-vada (the view that there are many jivas) is presented. Sureshvaracharya has clarified, “By whatever method one gets the knowledge of the inner Self, that means should be considered proper. Such methods are several.”
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