The Unending Argument
The scene is the Srirangam Temple, acclaimed as the BhoolOka Vaikuntam, with the holy Cauvery flowing around the Lord to make an extraordinary gem-studded garland, and gently washing His holy feet, in an effort to attain universal acclaim as did the Ganga(which originated from Emperuman's tiruvadi, during His TrivikramAvatAra). The Lord reclines in unmatched splendour, surrounded by seven prAkArAs and several tall temple spires, all trying to convey to the casual visitor an inkling of the Inhabitant's magnificence. It is EkAdasi, the holiest day of the fortnight, a day to be spent in fasting, prayer and meditation on the Lord and His matchless attributes.
Sri NamperumAL (utsavar) has just had His ceremonial bath in one of the high-vaulted manatapAs, to the accompaniment of uplifting Upanishad chants and lilting recitation of divya prabandham. The Lord is still clad in His wet yellow bathrobe, and is adorned only with a single- stranded garland of Tulasi. One of His palms is raised in the "abhaya mudra", extending an assurance of universal protection. There is a beautiful lamp, fuelled by pure ghee, burning in the foreground, spreading fragrant fumes all around.
To Sri Parasara Bhattar, who is an enthralled witness to this bewitching scene, it appears as though the Lord is about to swear to somebody about the truth of something or the other. (It is customary for those about to solemnly affirm the truth of their version to do so after a bath, still clad in their wet clothes, in front of the holy fire as a witness. This is similar to the oath-taking in vogue in contemporary courts, where the witness is required to swear to the accuracy of his testimony by placing his hand on the Bhagavat Gita, Bible or similar scriptures.)
In Sri Bhattar's mind, one of the eternal arguments between the Lord and the unrepentant Jeevatma re-enacts itself thus.
The Lord stands majestically on His pedestal,flanked by His Divine Consorts, while the Jeeva stands before Him, in a stance calculated to assert his apparent independence. The Jeevatma's unstated but apparent position is that he doesn't owe anything to the Paramatma, nor does he need to abide by the latter's dictates.
After waiting in vain for the Jeevatma to pay obeisance, the Lord initiates the conversation, (this is quite in tune with His reputation as "Poorva bhAshI"-one who is not egoistic to wait for the other to initiate a conversation, irrespective of the other person's stature) in a bid to break the ice and reclaim the lost soul as His own.
Says the Lord to the Jeevatma, "Tvam mE", pointing out to the misguided soul that it belongs to the Paramatma, and that its real nature is to perform all sorts of kainkarya or service to the Lord, in this world and others.
Disputing the Lord's claim, the Jeevatma asserts its imaginary independence by saying "aham mE"-"I belong to myself and am subservient to no one. I am my own Lord and Master, not having to account to anybody for my actions, expect to those near and dear to me. I am nobody's vassal, as I have my own servants to look after my every need. I own a house, have properties, and am fortunate to have a doting wife, adoring children and dutiful servants. As such, You can hardly claim me to be Your servitor."
Humouring the Jeevatma, the Lord continues the exchange, and asks the former to adduce reasons for his assertion of independence. "Kuta: tat?" inquires the Lord.
A guilty person, when asked a pointed question, answers back with a question of his own, as we know from experience. A thief, when asked directly whether he stole the diamond ring, usually doesn't deny it outright, but says something like "What would I do with a ring like that!" etc. Similarly, the Jeevatma too, unable to adduce plausible reasons for its assertion as required by the Paramatma, replies with a question of his own-"tadapi kuta:?"
Says the Jeevatma to the Lord, "You ask me why. Can You tell me why you are making this improbable claim of owning me?"
The Lord buttresses His claim of ownership by quoting the Vedas, which are the strongest supporting evidence -"idam Veda moola pramAnAt". The supremacy of the Paramatma and the status of the Jeevatma as the Lord's servitor and property, are emblazoned in many Shruti vAkyAs, which the Lord cites as exhibits for the prosecution.
Without responding directly to the evidence adduced by the Lord, the Jeeva asserts his liberty by pointing out that this is born out of centuries of experience-"Etat cha anAdi siddha anubhava vibhavAt". All our lives, and throughout our innumerable births, little do we realise that our creation, subsistence and end are all the work of a Super Power. We are firm in the belief that we are ourselves responsible for our achievements, and the good life we lead is the result of our own labours, with little owed to anyone for the same. Though this lack of realisation leads us again and again into the vortex of Samsara, we are loath to recognise the truth even if it shines before us. Hence the Jeevatma's assertion that its independence is the result of centuries of "experience".
Patiently continuing the argument, the Lord tells the Jeeva that his so-called experience has been held to be illusory-
"sOpi sAkrOsa Eva".
Refusing to realise the fallacy of his ways, the Jeevatma shoots back," ka AkrOsa:? Kasya?- what possible objection could there be to my independence, and who could possibly object to it?"
The Lord points out that the soul's assertion of independence has been proved to be wrong in Scriptural texts like the Bhagavat Geeta, which also lay down clearly that the individual soul is indeed subservient to the Paramatma." GeetAdishu mama vidita:" replies Sri Namperumal.
In its rejoinder, the Jeevatma points out that the Gita is after all the Lord's own composition, and as such, cannot be expected to say anything contrary to His contention. Hence the Jeeva seeks independent witnesses in support of the Lord's assertion-
"ka: atra sAkshI?'.
Untiringly, the Lord lists out His witnesses, in a vain bid to make the Jeevatma realise its own helplessness-"Sudhee: syAt". Emperuman cites as witnesses great seers and Maharshis like Sage Vyasa (the author of the Brahma Sutras, the editor of the four Vedas, and acclaimed to be a treasure house of penance), Sri Parasara Bhagawan ,( the acclaimed author of Sri Vishnu Purana, the prinicipal among the SAtvika PurANAs) and other great souls.
When the deposition of a prosecution witness is factually indisputable, it is usual for the defence lawyers to attribute motives to the witness, in a bid to discredit him. We have seen this in so many Perry Mason novels. The Jeevatma, similarly confronted with the incontrovertible evidence of great seers like Sri Vyasa, tries to wriggle out of it by questioning their impartiality-"hanta tvat pakshapAtI sa:"
In a futile bid to convince the Jeevatma of his svarupa and svabhAva, the Lord tries to search for the sort of witness who would be able to convince the unrepentant Jeevatma, and ultimately comes to the conclusion that it is difficult to convince a person, who has made up his mind not to be convinced.
Even at this late stage, and even in the face of the Jeevatma's intransigence and obduracy, the Lord still wants to instil good sense in the Jeevatma and to liberate it from the vicious and miserable cycle of births and deaths it is caught-up in. Though it is unthinkable for the Lord to swear to the truth of His averments, He prepares to do even that. It is paradoxical that the omnipotent Lord, acclaimed as the Ultimate truth itself ("Satyam GnAnam Anantam Brahma") is preparing to take an oath, clad in His wet clothes, with palm raised in solemn affirmation before the ceremonial fire, all in a bid to convince a mere Jeevatma, an insignificant member of His multi-billion-strong creation. This only goes to show the extraordinary lengths the Lord is prepared to go to, to save a single soul, and the demeaning deeds He is prepared to do for "ChEtana lAbha".
Here is the beautiful sloka of Sri Bhattar, in full-
"Tvam mE, aham mE kutastat tadapi kuta:
idam Veda moola pramANAt
Etat cha anAdi siddha anubhava vibhavAt sOpi sAkrOsa Eva
Ka AkrOsa:? Kasya ? GeetAdishu mama vidita: kOtra sAkshI? SudheesyAt
Hanta! tvat pakshapAtI sa: iti nrukalahE mrigya madhyastthavat Tvam"
This sloka has been quoted by many subsequent Acharyas like Swami Desikan, to point out the pitfalls of AhamkAra. This muktaka of Sri Bhattar is of extreme significance, for it highlights the false prestige and illusory independence that the Jeevatma revels in, unmindful of the eternal bliss it is entitled to as the natural servitor of the Lord. The sloka also focuses on the extraordinary efforts Emperuman takes to ensure that not even a single soul misses its rightful place in Paradise.