SreeNarayana Guru - Govindh K.Bharathan





          It is ironic that the rational spiritualist is to this day faced with a question as to who Sree Narayana Guru was.  Is he an Avarar? I he a Sanyasin? Is he an Advaithin? Or is he merely a social reformer? To me, it is the uniqueness of the Guru’s life and teachings and his impact on mankind that this question remains unanswered and is likely to remain so. 


          There was time when the very foundations of Hinduism were shaken by dissent and dichotomy.  The Shaivite and Vyshanavite creeds threatened to become to different religions, almost rending Hinduism into insular opposing cults.  The Dvita and Visishtadvaita schools of thought also pulled our religion in opposite directions. Hinduism instead of being a vital living creed had split into a thousand schools of thought headed by pompous self-proclaimed Acharyas and Gurus each of whom propagated his own cult based on hair splitting pseudo-philosophical distinctions.  Rutuals had lost their meaning and had become religious extravaganzas which could be performed by a miniscule privileged class which jealously guarded its exclusive right to secure divine favours for the few who could afford them.  In comparison, the teachings of the Buddha seemed gloriously simple, infinitely accommodating and refreshingly free of unnecessary ritual and inconsequential doctrinaire.  A wave of conversion swept all over the country.  Kings and commoners opted alike for the new prophesy which seemed to them to be the answer to all the ills spawned by the decadence of Hinduism. 


          The stage was thus set for the advent of Adi Shankara.  Many consider Shankara to be an Avatar of Lord Shiva who came to set right the degeneration of our glorious Vedic tradition into meaningless Brahmanical rituals. Shankara traversed the length and breath of India with small band of disciples, wrote commentaries of ten leading Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavat Gita, attacked with missionary zeal the various sects which were eating into the vitality of Hinduism, established Advaita as the reigning philosophy, and gave new meanings to our ancient practices and rituals.  After 20 years of ceaseless and relentless work, Adi Shankara attain Mahasamadhi at the age of 32. 


          It Shankara who saved Hinduism through the Doctrine of Advaitha.  It is said that Shankara epitomized the entire concept of Advaita in one verse:


                             “Slokaradhena pravakshyami

                             Yad uktham granthkotibhi

                             Brahma sathyam jagan mithya

                             Jivo brahmaiva naparah”


          The ultimate principle of unity of creation, the oneness behind the many, the principle that it is the same divine entity that pervades all animate and inanimate beings reunified the Hindu religion, and established a new base and gave ancient creeds new meanings. 


          But Advaita itself had its inherent grey areas.  For one thing, the concept that the world was an illusin crated new philosophies of detachment driving spiritualists into ivory towers which had little relevance to the strife and turmoil of human existence.  it is veryeasy to ignore human reality and seek refuge in the lofty areas of a false detachment in a feigned denial fo the problems of every day life.  Adi Shankara little in his teachings thereafter which made Advaita a living experience in human life. 


          It is here that Sri Narayana Guru steps to complete the magnificent wave released by Shankara on the ocean of Sanathana Dharma.  Gurudev brought Advaita directly into our lives. To him, the world was not an illusion but worldliness was. In the Devadasakam Gurudev wove Advaita into the essentials of daily lif in these words. 


                   “Annavastrathi muttathe

                   Thannu rakshichu nhangale

                   Dhanyarakkunna nee onnu Thanne

                   Jnangalku Thampuram.”


          To Gurudev, wherever there was disparity or inequality or oppression the answer was to be found in Advaita.  It is with this vision that he approached the caste problem in Kerala.  The social revolution initiated by him was the application of his concept of Advaita on the existing inequities of the caste system.  Advaita contemplated universal unity which could not accommodate any distinction between man and man for the mere reason that he was born in a particular caste.  It was the Advaithin in Gurudev which manifested as the social reformer.  In other words the question whether he was an Edvaithin or a social reformer ceased to have anyrelevance.  The applciaiton of Advaita to daily life became Gurudev’s social reform. 


          Five Thousand years ago the Lord the kneeling Arjuna that whenever Dharma was shaken, he would incarnate from age to age to re-establish Dharma.  The Lord said:


                   “Yada Yada He Dharmasya

                   Glanirbhavathi Bharatha

                   Abyukthyana Adharmasya

                   Tadatmanam Sujamyaham


                   “Parithranaya Sadhonaam

                   Vinashaya Cha Dushikrithaam

                   Dharma Samstapanarthaya

                   Sambahavami Yuge Yuge.”


          “Arjuna, whenever there is decline of righteousness,

          and unrighteousness is in the ascendant, then I body

          myself forth.”


          “For the protection of the virtuous, for the destru-

          ction of evil-doers, and for establishing Dharma

          (righteousness) on a firm footing, I am born from

age to age.” (B G IV.7, 8)


It is in this context that we have to view the coming of Sri.Narayana Guru.  Caste had almost wrecked the fabric of social life in Kerala.  Vivekananda had branded our land as a lunatic asylum.  A stage had been set in which the Hindu religion appeared to be the greatest enemy of an overwhelming majority of Hindus who were stigmatized by birth into a particular caste.  The very foundations of Hindu Dharma appeared to be shaking and in sharp contrast, Christanity and Buddhism seemed to promise a life of decency and dignity to the depressed castes.  It was on this stage that the Narayananvathar appeared. 


          The Guru took birth, lived and died to demolish the abominations of the caste system which had poisoned the social life of Kerala.  And such was the universality of his teachings both by words and examples, that his avatharhood could not be contained within the boundaries of Kerala but overflowed into wherever man crated artificial boundaries between himself and his brother.  The Guru’s message is the ultimate answer to inequity and inequality anywhere in the world. 


          In an article published in “Gurudevan” magazine, Dr.Sukumar Azhikode says in “Sree Narayanante Darshanam” that Sri Narayana Guru is indeed Sri Naryananvatar.  However, Dr.Azhikode, with great respect does not appear to have understood the Vedantic concept of an “Avatar”.  To him it is those rare individuals who devote their entire life in the pursuit of a noble cause who are Avatars.  In the same breath Dri.Azhikode conceded that Gurudev was an Advaithin who ranked with Adi Shankaa.  It is here that one cannot agree with Dr.Sukumara Azhikode in his definition of the Avatar. 


          Vedanta preaches that at the end of the cycle of births and deaths, the rare one ultimately merges into the Divine.  It is this merging that is expressed in the Mahavakya  “Aham Brahmasmi”.  After so merging, the Divine takes form in human shape and descends amongst us, to walk the earth as a human being and suffering once again the pangs of birth aging decay and death.  This descent is to show mankind the royal pathway to the absolute – Brahman. It is this descent of the divine into human form that is called the Avatar. 


          On the other hand a rare human being may have a darshan of the truth and leaving aside the world and worldliness may devote his entire life to the pursuit of that goal and may in the process raise himself to the realms of the Divine.  Such an individual is in Vedantic parlance, a Siddha.  At the point of attainment of divinity through single minded and total devotion to the cause to which he has dedicated himself, there is no difference between the Siddha and the Avatar, since at that point both of them are Divine.  But the basic difference between the two is in the paths that they take.  The Avatar comes armed with all the powers of the divine including a supreme weapon of knowledge (jnana).  This Jnana encompasses the ultimate experience of Advaita.  Gurudev was armed with this knowledge and that is why the caste system which had been entrenched in the psyche of our motherland for countless  centuries crumbled under his touch and millions who had been hitherto ruthlessly suppressed under the iron bondage of stigma suddenly arose at his call breaking their shackles and taking their place along with or even ahead of the so-called upper classes.  And the wonder of it all was that this was done without even the faintest suggestion of violence or hatred or antagonism.  It was as if with the advent of the sun the darkness faded away.  With the advent of Gurudev, fear, backwardness untouchability and inequity seemed to depart wordlessly and without protest. Perhaps no other Avatar has accomplished so much in so short a time and with such calmness and equanimity of mind and wish such calmness and self assurance. 


          According to Gurudev Advaita was the philosophy of the great integration of all forms of existence, human animal vegetable or otherwise.  The basic integrity of all creation which is the core of Advaita could not thus accommodate any difference between man and man.  It is with this approach that he attacked the caste system which held one segment of mankind superior to another, in a progressive degree of differentiation based on the accident of birth. 


          To Gurudev the caste system could not exist if perceived through the pure brilliance of Sankara’s Advaita.  It is with this background that he enunciated the unique and hitherto unconceived of principles of one Caste.  One Religion and One God for all mankind. 


          Pure Advaita is above religion.  It deals with


          Pure Advaita is above religion.  It deals with the realm of spirituality.  Adi Sankara expounded Advaita rising over the conflicting and mutually exclusive creeds of the Hindu religion.  The 4 Mahavakyas, Aham Brahmasmi, Tat Twam Asi, Prajanam Brahma and Ayam Atma Brahma, capsulise the end point of not only the hindu faith but also the teachings of Christ that His Father and he were one’ of the “Soonya” darshan of the Buddha, and of the “HU” conspect of Islam.  The 4 major faiths are expositions of the Rishis and Prophets of each of these darshans, of this one Truth. 


          These expositions necessarily have to be different, based as they are on historical geographical and socio-logical levels of mankind to whom they were revealed through prophecy.  To deny this one and one only omni-present, omni-potent and omniscient infinity would be to deny the essence of any of the great religions. Sri Gurudev was in effect proclaiming this great truth when he said that there was only one God and could be only one caste and one religion for mankind. 


          If the darshana of Sri.Narayana Gurudev is viewed in this light, we can easily understand his insistence on the equality of all religions and their basic unity.  Adi Shankara’s Advaita was not able to shake off the mysticism of Maya.  The concept that the world was illusory and Brahma alone was Sat gave rise to the dangerous tendency to withdraw totally from the world and its so-called illusoriness and to retreat deep within oneself, to fine the Truth.  While this might suit the individual sadhak and perhaps even aid his search for truth, as a philosophy it had the unfortunate effect of creating a false sense of detachment from the realities of every day life.  Abject poverty and misery thus became acceptable, viewed falsely in the light of this pseudo detachment supposedly preached by our religion. 


          Gurudev, sensing this danger strongly recommended active and intense involvement in the realities of every day life.  He taught that emancipation from poverty ignorance and misery lay through hard and industrious creative activity.   Gurudev’s emphasis was on education to equip a person with the necessary skills to face every day situations, and to unite together in joint result oriented action to achieve the objects of society.  This constituted one of the major steps ever expounded by any prophet or Rishi or Saint within the frame work of Sanathana Dharma.  Perhaps no one had espoused joint and collective activity as the means of searching for the Truth in the Hindu religion.  The group bhajans of the Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Organizations and the Mata Amruthanandamayi Math appeared to be the logical extension of Gurudev’s insistence on collective prayer and collective activity in the field of religion. 


          It was Sri Narayana Gurudev who perfected Sankara’s Advaita and made it a living creed by bringing it into every day life for the common man.  Sri Narayana Guru removed some of the angularities of Shankara’s exposition of Advaita and with the simplicity that only the truly great are capable of he crowned his teachings with the “Kannadiprathishta”, an act which even Adi Shankara did not perform.  The essence of the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagawad Gita and the Brahma Suthras were embodied in this simple act of installing a mirror in the Sri Kovil of a Temple where the devotee saw his own image as the ultimate object of his worship. 

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