A child, when it is born, depends entirely on its mother for everything it needs. But, as it grows, it develops the faculty of observation. The father and finally the teacher step in, directing the child to understand its surroundings better. There are several teachers in one's life from the elementary school onwards. But, the one who imparts true knowledge as to who we are, what is the meaning of life and where do we go from here etc.- is considered the most important.
In Sanskrit, these teachers are known by the terms 'Guru' and 'Acharya'. The word 'Guru' means the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance and sheds light on the path of good conduct. The word 'Acharya' means one who has understood our Saastras (Holy Scriptures) well, conducts himself strictly according to the injunctions contained therein and guides others to follow his own example. That is why Acharya is considered greater than all the rest.
Without initiation and instruction by an Acharya, it is not possible for one to gain knowledge of the ultimate reality. One who approaches a good Acharya becomes capable of distinguishing good and bad in any given situation and adopts good ones and achieves a bright future spiritually.
The Vedas declare that a person initiated by an Acharya understands truth 'as it is' and therefore, the Acharya should be respected like God Himself. The Upanishads like Mundaka, Svetaswatara, Thaithiriya, etc. which are called 'Vedantha' (the ultimate end of Vedas) confirm that the Acharya not only shows the path of knowledge and fills one with faith by setting an example but also initiates the procedure, plans for our progress, imparts us the necessary techniques, corrects us whenever we go wrong and leads us to the ultimate goal surely and safely.
Swami Desika says that in this form, we can see God and talk to Him and therefore there is no God greater than Acharya. The Acharya not only dispels the darkness of our ignorance but also removes all our sins. He makes us equal to himself. He endows us with a divine vision. "He gives us 'Vidya Janmam' and thus puts an end to the cycle of births and deaths" says Swami Desika. A true Acharya is one who imparts such knowledge out of infinite compassion without expecting any pecuniary or other compensation and teaches without any reservations. It will be impossible to repay our debt of gratitude to such an Acharya.
The very first Acharya in our tradition is (Sathsampradaaya) is Bhagavaan Sriman Narayana Himself. In the beginning, Narayana in His form as Hayagriva (Horse faced) taught the Vedas to His son, the four-faced Brahma and the teachings thus came down in what is known as 'Guru-Sishya Parampara' (Preceptor-Disciple lineage).
In our tradition, whenever we offer our obeisance to our immediate or Prakrutam (current) Acharyas (Acharya Vandanam), we are advised to meditate on the entire Acharya Parampara (the lineage of asmadh Acharyas). This can be done in the ascending order right up to the Prathama Acharya (the first preceptor, who is Sriman Narayana Himself, as already mentioned) or the descending order from Sriman Narayana up to our Prakrutham Acharya (both orders are in vogue). It is said that there is nothing more satisfying to our Prakrutham Acharyas than glorifying their predecessors (Praachaaryas). This lineage can be terms as Acharya Vamsa Vruksham (Lineage Tree of Preceptors).
In this series, we attempt a sneak preview into the lineage of our preceptors — from the Divya Dhampathis, through Bhagavath Ramanuja, up to Swami Vedantha Desika — their life and works by way of aid for our remembering them and offering our obeisance.
Anbil Ramaswamy being honoured
Next in series: On February 15, 2009.
Sri Ranga Sri (SRS) Electronic Journal, U.S.A.