Once, Yadava Prakasha started to interpret famous Upanishad passages – “sarvam kalau idam brahma” and “tajjalan.” Being a staunch follower of advaita philosophy, he started to interpret the text by their literal meaning. Interpreting the first passage, he said everything here is Brahman and there is no doubt. Whoever sees anything other than Brahman is seeing it due to erroneous conception. The second passage tajjalan also substantiates that conclusion by saying that is water. Yadava Prakasha quoted many advaitic scholars to substantiate his philosophical conclusions. Yadava Prakasha’s exposition was such that everyone in the gathering except Ramanuja was impressed.
Ramanuja approached Yadava Prakasha after he finished his discourse and said, “Sir both the passages do not deny the existence of the living beings and prakriti (material nature) while declaring Brahman to be omnipresent. The phrase “neha nasti kinchana” that you used to substantiate your philosophy does not say Brahman is without any qualities but declares that He is not tainted by the qualities of material nature. Though water pervades the entire ocean, the fish and plants live in water. When someone says all this is water by pointing at the ocean he does not deny the existence of the fish and plants. Moreover, fish and plants cannot be called as water as they have names and forms. Similarly, we live in Brahman, who is all pervading. Therefore, the perception of individual souls and material nature is not based on erroneous conception.”
Being an ardent follower of advaita, Yadava Prakasha was not willing to listen to Ramanuja’s interpretation as it was against the philosophy propounded by him and his preceptors. Yadava Prakasha became annoyed and said, “Sir, you seem to be more qualified than me and all the great preceptors who preceded me as all of them have interpreted the scriptures as I have done today. If you are not willing to accept my interpretation of the scriptures, please do not come here. You start your own school and interpret the scriptures as you like.”
Ramanuja was fed up of Yadava Prakasha’s tantrums and he decided to study the scriptures by himself. Ramanuja started giving discourses on scriptures and people started to gather around him. The news of Ramanuja parting ways with Yadava Prakasha reached Kanchipurna and he became very happy. Kanchipurna hastened towards Ramanuja’s house to see him. Ramanuja, who was giving a discourse on the scriptures, rose from his seat as soon as he saw Kanchipurna and fell at his feet seeking his blessings. Ramanuja requested Kanchipurna to accept him as a disciple. Being a very humble person from a shudra caste, Kanchipurna said, “You are a high class Brahmana and a great scholar. How can an ordinary ignorant shudra like me take you for a disciple? By the mercy of Lord Varadaraja I am able to serve Him and I don’t know anything else. Please don’t humiliate me by falling at my feet or requesting me to accept you as my disciple.”
With folded hands Ramanuja said, “Sir what is the use of learning when it is not used or practiced? Many so called scholars learn and memorize the scriptures thoroughly and carry the knowledge in their heads without applying or practicing it like the ignorant donkeys that carry sandalwood on their backs. The study of scriptures should lead to loving service to the Supreme Lord with the purpose of attaining His mercy. By the mercy of the Lord you are already in His service and are very dear to Him. Please don’t deny me the shade of your lotus feet just because I am a Brahmana.”
Kanchipurna became very happy and said, “I am blessed to see unflinching devotion to the Lord in you. Lord Varadaraja will definitely fulfill your desire for taking shelter under a bonafide guru. Till then please fetch water early in the morning for the Lord’s ablutions every day.” Ramanuja followed Kanchipurna’s advice without uttering a word.
Let us know more about Ramanuja in the next post.