Posted in Śrīvaiṣṇava practices, Śrīvaiṣṇava texts, Śrīvaiṣṇava Ācāryas

Is meditation a requirement for liberation?

This topic is restricted to the Śrīvaiṣṇava soteriological beliefs. We all know of the different views held by the two schools of Śrīvaiṣṇavims (Vaṭakalai and Teṉkalai) on the key topic of liberation, especially vis-à-vis the means of getting it. For those who don’t know of it (or of Srilata Raman’s work or Patricia Mumme‘s), roughly, the Vaṭakalais believe that one should ask for liberation in order to be liberated by God, while the Teṉkalais contend that God doesn’t need to be asked, He liberates those whom He wants to, and that it is sufficient not to repulse Him when He comes to you. The Vaṭakalais thus perform an act of surrender (bharanyāsam, prapatti, etc.) with the help of the Ācārya, which is separate from the pañcasaṃskāra rites, and the others do not. This is a very approximate summary, which will have to do here for our purposes.

Now, a few years ago, when I started attending MA Alwar’s lectures on Rāmānuja’s Śrībhāṣyam, he once mentioned that according to Rāmānuja, meditation is a requirement for obtaining moksha. And he added, to the utter bewilderment and shock of the audience which was palpable even when most were silent, that without meditating upon God every day, one cannot hope to get liberation. You can imagine the shock of the people who had been told that surrendering unto God in one way or another (depending on the school) was enough to guarantee liberation at the end of the present body. That Rāmānuja performed surrender at the feet of Śrīraṅganātha so that all the people related to him could be liberated. Not to forget that meditation could be a daunting practice for those not used to it.

In January 2017, during the Rāmānuja conference held at the University of Madras to commemorate the saint’s 1000th year, at some point, one of the devout scholars claimed that thinking is meditating. I wondered whether some of the discussants were part of the audience of the Śrībhāṣyam online classes… Not sure there are textual sources for this kind of belief, is there?

Anyway, I worked for a few days on the topic of contemplation in Śrīvaiṣṇavism for a talk (see below). And I indeed realised the importance that Rāmānuja placed on meditation. I found dhyāna mentioned throughout the Nityagrantham, a manual for worship, at the different stages of daily worship. Marcus Schmücker suggested that I look at Rāmānuja’s words in Śrībhāṣyam 1.1.1. (56 onwards). You can know more about the topic from Halina Marlewicz’s article, “Loving is remembering. Bhakti meditation in the Śrībhāṣya of Rāmānuja”. But I don’t seem to remember Rāmānuja linking meditation to liberation. Or am I missing something? Of course, theology evolved since his days, when it came all the way down to the later Ācāryas, such as Piḷḷai Lokācārya. But had it evolved so much that meditation was erased from the field of liberation? Any ideas or thoughts?

As for contemplation, there are many topics that one is required to think of everyday, at least according to the Teṉkalai school (I guess), my source being Velukkudi Krishnan Swami’s discourses: in the morning, Gajendra’s mokṣa, the five manifestations of Nārāyaṇa (and I suppose plenty more); then, there are the three journeys that one ought meditate upon: the liberated soul’s journey towards Vaikuṇṭha (arcirādigaticintanam), Akrūra’s expedition to Gokula to bring Kṛṣṇa to Mathurā, and the pilgrimage to Veṅkaṭam. So the talk that I gave the day before yesterday was on this topic. I was so exhausted around then, that I started dropping s’s, hesitating a little, and mispronouncing words. But if you feel up to it, you can watch this less than perfect talk on the topics above:

Note: the source of the featured image is this blog.