Pancaratra and the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Part 6


Lord Vishnu
Thanjavur, c. 1830

Feb 26, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation the Pancaratra and the Ahirbudhnya Samhita.

Contents of the Ahirbudhnya Samhita (Continued)

Chapter 13 is a review of the objects of life. The only thing "which is always and everywhere the summum bonam (hitam atyantam) of men" is, of course, "the absolute discontinuance of the succession of sorrows, and the eternal happiness implied in it" (sl. 9), which is tantamount to the attainment of one's real nature, that is, the nature of God (bhagavanmayata, bhagavatta) (sl. 11). The two ways (sadhana) leading to it are sacred knowledge (jnana) and religion (dharma), of which the latter is the stepping-stone to the former.

There are two kinds of sacred knowledge, to wit the direct (saksat- karamaya) and the indirect (paroksa) knowledge of God. Of these, again, the latter is the cause of the former. Religion is also twofold in that it is either ( 1 ) mediate (vyavadhanavat) worship, that is worship of some representative of God such as the god Brahman, or (2) the immediate worship (saksad-aradhana) of Him whose manifestation (vibhuti) all those gods are. Pancaratra worship is of the second kind, Vedic and Pashupata worship of the first.

Study of the Samkhya results in indirect, of the Vedanta in direct knowledge of God, while Yoga practice also leads finally to direct knowledge. The two mundane objects are wealth (artha) and love (kama). These and religion are characterized by mutual interdependence in that each of them may become the means for attaining one or both of the other two. However, neither wealth nor love but only religion is an unfailing instrument, while Liberation (moksa) is never a means for accomplishing anything (sadhana) but only a thing to be accomplished (sadhya). For the attainment of any of the four objects both internal and external means must be employed. In the case of love, for instance, these are: (1) the sincere resolve [fulfill one's duties as a householder], and (2) the ceremony of marriage.

Chapter 14 treats of Bondage and Liberation. The soul belongs to the Bhuti Shakti, being that portion of hers which, owing to Time, passes from birth to rebirth until, having entered the "path of the Shastra", it is at last "reborn in its own (natural) form" (svenabhijayate, sc.; rupena), that is, liberated. The reason and object of this samsara is shrouded in mystery: it is the "play" of God, though God as the perfect one can have no desire for playing. But how the play begins and how it ends, that, indeed, may be said. The Will of God called Sudarshana, though of innumerable forms, manifests in five principal ways, to wit, the Shaktis called Creation, Preservation, and Destruction [of the universe], and Obstruction (nigraha) or Obscuration (tirodhana) and Furtherance (anugraha, favouring) [of the soul].

At the beginning God "obstructs'' the souls by "obscuring" or "contracting" their form (akara), power (aisrarya), and knowledge (vijana), the result being the three Taints (mala) or Fetters (bandha) of the soul, to wit (1) atomicity (anutva), (2) impotence (akincitkarata, kincit-karata), and (3) ignorance (ajnatva, kincijjnatva). These are, of course, the counterpart of three perfections which the soul in her natural condition has in common with the Lord, namely omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience.

It is owing to the three Taints, according to our chapter, as also to the passions arising from the contact with Matter, that the soul finally treads the path of action and so produces Vasanas (Germ-impressions) leading to new births; and it is the Karman so produced which (like the seed producing a tree, and the tree producing seeds, etc.) ultimately necessitates a new Creation, and so establishes the Creative, Preservative, and Destructive Shaktis of the Lord. This is called the "transmission of obscuration" (tirodhana-parampara sl. 25) of the Nigraha Shakti. It comes about with the assistance of the two parts of Bhuti called Time and [Maya-] Shakti (sl. 26). It has no beginning, but it may have an end, so far as the individual is concerned, by the breaking in of the Power of Furtherance or the divine grace (anugrahasakti-pata), resembling a "shower of compassion" coming down upon him who has been "beheld by God" (Visnu-samiksita).

Samudramanthana – Churning of the Milk Ocean
Thanjavur, c. 1830

It is impossible to determine when and how the "sublime mercy of Visnu" breaks in. But no sooner has it happened than both the Karmans (good and bad) become "silent". For, with regard to a soul seized by the grace of God, they are as powerless, and, consequently, as indifferent, as robbers are towards a traveller guarded by a strong retinue. The breaking in of grace causes the soul to discern its goal (Liberation) and to strive after it by means of the recognized systems (Samkhya, Yoga, etc,), singly or conjointly.

The Nigraha Shakti has the following synonyms (sl. 17): Illusion, Ignorance, Great Delusion, Great Gloom, Darkness, Bondage, and Knot of the Heart.

Chapter 15 takes up the question as to who is entitled to the several objects of life (purusartha). The answer deals first with the five systems (siddhanta) only. Of these the Sattvata or Pancaratra alone is destined for the Manus and their pure descendants. Those "illustrious" first men called Siddhas (perfect ones) live a hundred years each in absolute purity, observing the rules of caste and periods-of-life (asramas), and then obtain Liberation. Those, on the other hand, who have sprung "from the mouth, etc., of Brahman" are primarily entitled to the four lower systems only, though they can "ascend" to the "Sittvata statute" if they embrace the Pashupata, etc., they have to give up the Vedic rites which are compatible with the Yoga only.

Then follows the discussion of the castes and the periods-of-life (sl. 26 b fll.) the conception of which is, on the whole, the orthodox one. For a Shudra it is more meritorious to serve a Brahmana than a man of either of the other castes (33). Non-hurting (a-himsa), truthfulness, forgiveness, and conjugal loyalty are obligatory virtues for all castes.

The Sannyasa Asrama is for the Brahmana but may exceptionally be embraced by the Ksatriya also; the Ksatriya and the Vaisya are entitled to the first three Asramas. The second birth is the investment with the sacred thread, the third the initiation into the Pancaratra. When Brahmacarya is completed, the student may stay with the teacher as a Naisthika, or he may enter any of the other Asramas. The Grhastha as well as the Vanaprastha will reach the heaven of Brahman by strictly observing their respective duties; while, by acquiring, at the same time, the highest knowledge, they will be liberated.

Unless he be one of the latter class (a Jnanin or Knower), the Vanaprastha will end his life by means of the Great Departure (maha-prasthana) [or some other lawful kind of religious suicide] (59). In the long description of the Sannyasin there is nothing extraordinary except perhaps that his end is compared, just as the Buddhist Nirvana, with the going out of a lamp.


Introduction to the Pancaratra and the Ahirbudhnya Samhita by F. Otto Schrader, Madras, 1916


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