Lives of Saints: Ramanujacharya

Standing atop the temple (Gopuram) with the citizens staring up at him, Ramanujacharya calls out three times, ‘om namo narayanaya’. The people respond, echoing the mantra back each time. They came expecting jewels and left with the grace of peace and love of God within their hearts.

Written by: Aksharananda

All of you are dearer to me than my own life. Therefore, I long to deliver you from the suffering all of us must undergo in this transient world! Please recite this mantra which I obtained for you and the Lord's mercy will be upon you!

In his long life of 120 years, Ramanujacharya left an ongoing impact on the world that we still experience today. There are endless praiseworthy and outstanding acts. However, it’s not these innumerable accomplishments that should be noted. In truth, it was his unrivalled love and service for God that was infused into every one of his actions that remains. 

Ramanujacharya did everything for the Love of God. 

RAMANUJACHARYA AS A YOUNG MAN

He was born into a brahmana family. At an early age, he risked his life speaking his truth about the importance and depths of our relationship with God. Ramanujacharya was touched by the devotional works of the twelve great Alvars –  bhakti poets and saints – who spoke of their love for Sriman Narayana. 

This love pushed him further to propound the Vaishnava theories, debating those of Adi Shankaracharya which were firmly rooted throughout India. He was one of the first Vaishnavas to offer a strong rebuttal in response to Adi Shankaracharya’s teachings from centuries prior. He proclaimed God’s personhood and immanence just as much as he spoke of God’s transcendence. Because of his profound insight and intellect, he was called beside great gurus and masters within the Vaishnava sangha as a young man. They inspired him and revealed his life’s work to come.

One such inspiration came in the form of Kanchipurna, a low-caste servant of Lord Varadaraja. It is said that Lord Varadaraja Himself came to be with Kanchipurna. It was Kanchipurna’s humility and innate wisdom of Love that guided Ramanujacharya early on. 

Ramanujacharya saw that service to God should not be exclusive, but rather, that all should have the opportunity to serve the Lord. Caste, he saw clearly, was no reason to discriminate in relation to the Lord. If castes mattered, why then would Lord Varadaraja Himself come to be with such a devotee as Kanchipurna? 

This would impact him for the rest of his life as he strove to create sangha throughout South India that would facilitate the service to the Lord regardless of caste.

RAMANUJACHARYA’S MISSION

Yamunacharya, the great Vaishnava acharya of Srirangam Temple in Tamil Nadu, had kept his eye upon Ramanujacharya for some time. Eventually, Yamunacharya saw that he would need to choose a successor to care for the temple and sangha upon his death. Ramanujacharya was the clear choice in the great guru’s eyes. 

Ramanujacharya was called to his deathbed, where Yamunacharya revealed three of his wishes for Ramanujacharya to accomplish in his life. The three wishes were:

1.       To free people from illusion and spread the glories of Lord Narayana throughout India

2.       To establish that there is no truth beyond Lord Narayana and that a Vishishta-advaita commentary be written on the Vedanta-sutras and expound Vaishnavism

3.       To continue to commemorate the name of Parasara, the author of the Vishnu Purana

Disturbed by the death of the great master and leader of the Sri Vaishnava community in Tamil Nadu, Ramanujacharya retreated back to Kanchipuram only to be called back a year later to take over Yamunacharya’s old position as leader of the sangha and temple.

Hardly thirty years old by that time, Ramanuja had been already esteemed by great masters and gurus alike to lead the Sri Vaishnava tradition and to firmly establish a sampradaya -- a formal lineage of disciplic succession, with tradition and teachings.

SUCCESS IN HIS MISSION AND LASTING IMPACT 

In time, Ramanuja did succeed in fulfilling the wishes of Yamunacharya. Among the many accounts of miraculous healing, he substantiated the tradition of Sri Vaishnavism and established the roots of the practices. He decided on the rituals and chants that were to be performed as service by the devotees. He continuously gave discourses about the Love of God, immanence and transcendence of the Lord, and taught that the highest goal of humanity is to realise God. He made sure to spread the mantra om namo narayanaya and the passion of the Alvars throughout India.

Guiding lost souls to take shelter of Sriman Narayana's Lotus Feet was his complete focus. Everything he did in his life was to serve the Lord and to serve the people in their relationship with God. He had brought many locals together to form the service of sharing the grace and blessings of the Lord to all the people in the community. There was an urge to care that the great acharya had brought with him wherever he went. This deep compassion for the well being of all, both in body and in spirit, was evident in Sri Ramanujacharya.

His life was a true dedication of Love. He is venerated as a true example of the Lord’s grace and Love. Thanks to him, we all have a maha-mantra that calls upon the mercy of God to release us from suffering and lift us into the shelter of the Lord.