Pancharatra is a system of mental attitude and worship followed by the Vaishnavites.
This has been popularized by Sri Ramanuja, Philosopher and Social Reformer of South India (11 A.D)
Vedic Thoughts contain Theology and Philosophy.
It has various thought streams, Non Dualism, Dualism, Qualified non dualism.Monotheism,Henotheism and Polytheism.
The purport of the Vedas is to provide the platform for individuals to evolve spiritually.
With this in mind, the Seers have shared their experiences and suggest ways of Realizing Reality or God.
The choice is left to the individual.
In The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna, to wards the close of the Gita informs Arjuna,
‘I have taught you that which is the secret among secrets.
Are your doubts dispelled?
Are you clear in your Mind?
Now that you heard Me, think according to your disposition, choose what is Best for you and follow’( Chapter 18)
Hinduism prescribes many a Route to realize God.
1.The Path of Physical and Spiritual exercise, Raja Yoga,
2.The Jnana Yoga, The Path of Knowledge,
3.The Karma Yoga, The Path of Action , and
4.The path of Devotion, Bhakti Yoga.
Any of these may be followed.
It depends on one’s dispositions, Svabhava.
All the three Acharyas , Adi Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya take their premise from the three Mahavakyas,
‘Aham Brahma’ I Am Brahman, Reality.
‘Tat Tvam Asi’,You are That.
Soham Asmi ‘He is That.
Interpretations of these Acharyas differ.While Shankara advocates Non Dualism, Ramanuja, The Qualified Non Dualism and Madva Dualism.
I had an interesting discussion with Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swamiji of Sri Sringeri Mutt, who is my Guru, about 40 years back.
I asked him that if The Veda is the Ultimate Authority, and if all the three Acharyas have taken the same three Mahavakyas to found their systems, why there is a difference in their conclusions?
Acharyas know that the dispositions of the Individuals vary.
You will be able to follow things that suits your Nature.And as the Vedas say the Truth is One, but it is spoken of as Many’
(Ekam Sat Vipra bahudha vadanti)
Therefore the Acharyas have provided different approaches to reach God.
One may follow any of these.
There is no question of what is Right and What is Wrong.
That is left to reason, which is useless in Spiritual Development.
You follow what suits you and do not bother.
You are here to realize Brahman, not to prove One is Right and another is wrong”
Of these three approaches, Vaishnavism places importance on The Bhakti Yoga. The Path of Devotion.
The path of devotion is the total surrender to God.
Ramanuja systematized the Bhakti Yoga and popularised the Pancharatra system.
What is Pancharatra?
Pāñcarātra are Vaishnava Sanskrit Agamic texts. Literally meaning five nights (pañca: five, rātra: nights), the term Pancharatra has been variously interpreted. The term has also been attributed to the Shatapatha Brahmana 12.6 wherein Narayana performed a sacrifice for five nights and became a transcendent and immanent being. The Pancharatra Agamas constitute the most important texts of the Srivaishnava Sampradaya of Ramanuja. The Pancharatra Agamas are composed of more than 200 texts; with various suggested time periods of composition; including the 3rd century BC, and a period between 600 AD to 850 AD.
The Reality is both with and devoid of Attributes. Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman
To realize the Nirguna Brahman, one has to go through the Saguna Aradhana.
This Saguna Aradhana is systematised for the Vaishnavites in the Pancharatra.
This is practiced by the Thengaliyar Sect in South India.
While total surrender to God is enough for the Thengalai Traditions, the Vadagalai traditions state that Effort for Realization(through His Grace, in the form of Guru) is also essential
Now onto Pancharatra.
Purusha is the Cosmic Being and the Purusha Sooktham describes the Evolution of the Universe.
The Narayana Sooktam is about Narayana, the Manifestation of the Purusha.
Vishnu Sooktam is about the manifestation of Vishnu, in his incarnation, which changes in every Aeon, as the Protector.( Vishnu is from the word, Jishnu , the one who supports)
In the Pancharatra, Vasudeva( The Dwadasa nama of Lord Narayana),
“Vasudeva, characterized by the six gunas, is sometimes called the first Vyuha. From Vasudeva emanates Sankarshana in whom jnana and bala alone get manifested. From Sankarshana comesPradyumna to whom belong aishvarya and virya. From Pradyumna emanates Aniruddha to whom shakti and tejas appertain.
As we have seen, the Pancharatra thinkers were very much particular in safeguarding and preserving the purity and unchanged nature of the transcendent Supreme Being. From that point of view, the chief merit, and hence its primary significance, is that it is such a process of emanation in which the Supreme Being remains unaffected and unchanged in all the five-fold manifestations.’
This aspect is that of the Apara Vasudeva, creating and simplifying things for the Devotees .
Closely connected with the doctrine of vyuhas, is the next manifestation of God, named as vibhava (manifestation) or avatar (descent). The only supreme being the Pancharatra philosophers knew about was the Transcendent One, who was not in any way directly related to the world. Therefore, the Samhitas explicitly describe the avataras as either all springing from Aniruddha, or some from Vasudeva and the rest from the other three vyuhas. One should not be mistaken here in assuming that the Supreme Being himself takes avatara. This is a puranic conception. The Pancharatra Samhitas nowhere maintain that the Supreme Being, laying aside its transcendent, unmoving nature assumes these finite forms. This is impermissible by the premises of the system. The Supreme Being is merely a spectator with an attitude of passivity and indifference. It cherishes no attachment to the mundane world, and it is beyond its nature to do so.
The fourth manifestation is the Antaryamin avatara, which is Aniruddha as the ‘Inner Ruler’ of all souls. It is a mysterious power seated in the ‘lotus of the heart’. Here again it should be noted that this is not a manifestation of the Supreme Being, but only of Aniruddha, one of the vyuhas.’
This approach does not really alter the essentials of the Vedas or the Attributes of the Reality.
Look at the word used,
This is a strategy to realise God hood or reach the feet of the Lord.
Six Aspects of Surrender.
Surrender to god is one of the core teachings of Pancharatra. The six aspects are explained below in brief:
i) Atma-nikshepa or nyAsa - placing oneself completely and directly under God’s care. This involves giving up independent ownership in matters of actions or fruits thereof. This in fact is the real SaraNAgati. The subsequent five are to be regarding as assisting this. The obstacle to nyAsa is phalepsA or the desire for mundane benefits,which should therefore be avoided.
ii) kArpaNya - This refers to absolute humility bordering on lowliness and honest awareness of one’s own natural ignorance, impurity etc., partly because of stains acquired through countless births. We all know the enormous feeling of kArpaNya that our AzhvArs have expressed through their compositions. This leads to ridding the arrogance that one may have because of parentage, learning, wealth, etc., and to get the sense that without the aid of Godhead, whatever we undertake on our own is bound to fail. The enemy for kArpaNya is the feeling that one is free, independent,and competent to do whatever he likes (sva-svAtantryAvabodha).
iii) mahA-viSvAsa - irrepressible and great faith in Godhead. Involves the understanding that God is the benefactor of all beings, and His compassion is always and readily available. The firm conviction that He will not fail to protect us is ‘viSvAsa’. This by itself is capable of eradicating all sins.
iv) goptR - The deliberate choice of bhagavAn SrIman nArAyaNa as the sole Protector. Even when it is granted that anyway He is the sole protector, lakshmI-tantra points out that what is involved in this a’nga is the conscious and mindful selection of Him, the acknowledgment that we need protection, and that He and only He can protect us.
v) prAtikUlya-vivarjana - giving up whatever is antagonistic to any of His creations or to Him. A devotee must realize that all beings are like himself.
vi) AnukUlya-niScaya - The resolve to do good to all beings. The realization that all beings are in actuality the body of God, and the resolve to live in accordance with the will of God. Ahirbudhnya samhitA gives a beautiful illustration of SaraNAgati using a passenger who wants to cross a river in a boat. It is the passenger’s responsibility to go and sit in the boat, and that is the end of his responsibility; the job or rowing the boat is not his, but that of the boatman (in this case God Himself).
Six aspects of surrender are described in many PancarAtra samhitas such as Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Lakshmi Tantra etc., thought the order of importance may vary. Lakshmi Tantra give the following:
“AnukUlyasya samkalpah prAtikUlyasya varjanam |
rakshishyatIti viSvAso goptRtva varaNam tathA ||
AtmA nikshepa kArpaNye shadvidhA SaraNagatih || (Lakshmi Tantra 17, 59-61)
Thus the order of the limbs given in Lakshmi Tantra is: Anukūlya Samkalpam, Prātikūlya Varjanam, Mahā Viṣvāsam, Goptṛtva VaraNam, Atma Nikshepam, and kArpaNyam. In Ahribudhnya Samhitā, the order given is: Atma Nikshepam or Nyāsam, KārpaNyam, Mahā Viṣvāsam, Goptṛtvam, Prātikūlya Varjanam, and Anukūlya Sampakpam. Svāmi Deṣikan has addressed these confusions in his Nyāsa VimSati (Slokam 12), and concludes that those who know Prapatti Sāstra well agree that there are five anga-s to Prapatti, and the different positions taken in respect of the number and sequence of importance etc. of the aspects of Prapatti really say the same thing in the end (sarva vākya eka kaNThyam).
Atma Nikshepam or nyāsam is considered the main ingredient of Prapatti – the conviction that one’s own effort in attaining Him will not bear fruit, and placing oneself directly under His care and giving up ownership of one’s own protection or the benefits from any actions to Him. The other five are then the limbs for Nyāsa, that are of equal importance as conveyed to us by Svāmi Deṣikan. Thus, for performing surrender or Atma Nikshepa or Nyāsam, one needs absolute humility (KārpaNyam), Anukūlya Samkaplam, Prātikūlya Varjanam,
* Corrections, with Source are welcome.