Modern Vaishnavism has originated and evolved from the devotion oriented Narayaniya religion which has been referred to as Pancharatna, Satvat or Bhagwat in the great epic Mahabharata. How did one religion assume so many names? Lokmanya Tilak, the author of Geeta Rahasya, has said: "The religion which was propogated or perpetrated by Lord Krishna was known as Narayaniya or Pancharatna earlier and later because the Satvat sect adopted and followed it assumed the name Satvat. Later on, people started believing in the fact that Nar-Narayana were none other than Arjuna and Sri Krishna themselves. Hence, it got labelled also as 'Bhagwat religion.' It seems from the commentaries written by Sri Ramanuja on the Vedic Sutras that these three names are in fact synonymous. The Agams(texts) gave preference to the word 'Pancharatna' that is why the famous 108 Agams(Vaishnava) have also been referred to as Pancharatna Agams.
It is difficult to explain how Narayaniya religion assumed the name as Pancharatna. The explanation is given in the following manner-The principle or ideology that proves the other 5 scriptures i.e. Shaiva, Yoga, Sankhya, Baudha and Arhat to be false and untrue and known as Pancharatna. Or it is also possible that, according to the Vyuka Siddhanta Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Anirudha and Brahma- these 5 elements together are known as Pancharatna. It can be seen that these are all hypothetical situations. One can also come across some matter related to the emergence of Narayaniya dharma in the Narayaniyopakhyan of the Mahabharata. It states that, 2 Maharishis by the name of Nar and Narayana basically started the Narayaniya or Bhagwata dharma and on their advice, Narad Muni went to Shweta Dweep where the Lord Himself gave him the sermons of this dharma initially.
So one can say that although Bhakti(devotion) oriented dharma had already originated and flourished in India right from the times of Rigveda, Lord Krishna and Arjuna, as Narayana and Nar, helped this dharma in its propogation and perpetuation. As a result, when Avatarvaad(Incarnationism) evolved, this dharma was all the more reinforced and the Pancharatna assumed a permanent fabric.
THE EVOLUTION OF NATURE ACCORDING TO THE VAISHNAVA TEXTS
There seems to be little difference between the ancient school of thought and the Padma Samhita and Laxmi Tantra with relation to the evolution of nature. According to Padma Samhita etc., nature evolved as a desire of the Purushatatva Narayana. But according to the ancient school of thought, the desire of creation of Narayana assumes the form of Shakti and the universe is evolved out of independent process of this Shakti.
It is cognizable that the new and the old Agams differ on the concept of the purpose of the evolutions of nature or universe. The ancient Agams believe that as a desire of God, the universe evolved in the form of Lilas i.e. its divine play. But according to Vishishtadwaita and Dwaitavada etc., God created this universe by taking pity on his devotees in order to free or liberate them. Both these theories have emerged intermittently on the significance assumed by Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakti(devotion). One pacifies the curiosity of the scholar and the other respects the devotion of the devotee. The Vedanta accepts and reconciles to the first theory.
It is said in the Rigveda that - Firstly, Kama(desire) took birth and it was like a seed in the mind. Scholars have tried to demarcate the Sat(Good) and the Asat (Bad) on the basis of their inner vision and also to understand their relation. The Taiteriya Brahman states that, although it was Asat (bad or material), it expressed a desire to become (good or spiritual) Sat. One can come across a number of similar statements in the Upanishads. According to the Vedanta Sutra, the universe was not created for any specific purpose but it is the divine play of Brahma.
Pancharatna accrues the purpose of creation of universe to Parinaamvaad (Resultism) and not to Aarambhavaad (Originism). According to Resultism, the root cause is that everything has to undergo metamorphosis and assume new forms, because of which it loses its speciality. This has also been referred to as Satkaryavaad. Accordingly, this entire universe is the never ending divine play of Vasusdeva or Narayana and during Pralay Kala (final annihilation), the entire universe ends up sleeping in the womb of the Narayani Shakti. The Vedanta Sutra exactly speaks of this concept and reconcile to this theory of evolution. The Resultism of Pancharatna also is of specific type. Although it believes in the concept that expansion occurs because of change or metamorphosis, but it does not reconcile to the idea that the soul fuses with the independent Prakriti Purush (cosmic soul) and undergoes metamorphosis with the purpose of liberation. In Pancharatra philosophy, the form of Narayana itself is the manifestation of 'Prakriti' (Universe) and 'Vikriti' (change or metamorphosis). Therefore, there is not much scope for duality and differences.
THE VAISHNAV SECTS
The source of Vaishnavism is Lord Narayana himself. There are 4 Important sects of Vaishnavism -
The founder of Shri Sampradaya is Shri Ramanujanacharya; founder of Brahma Sampradaya is Madhavacharya; founder of Rudra Sampradya is Shri Vishnuswami and founder of Samak Sampradya is Shri Nimbakacharya. The oldest one is Shri Sampradaya. The followers of this sect are known as Sri Vaishnavas. These followers believe that Lord Narayana gave this knowledge first to Goddess Laxmi who in turn gave this knowledge to 'Vishwarakshan'. Evidently, this knowledge descended in the form of inheritance and Shri Ramanuja acquired this knowledge as a legacy of his ancestors.
THE NATURE OF VAISHNAVISM
The ancient name of Vaishnavism was Satvat dharma. The basic aim of this dharma is -
|| TADVISHNOHO PARAMAM PADMA SADA PASHYANTI SURYAHA DIVEEVA CHAKSHURATATMAM ||
The endless search for Sri Vishnu is known as Vaishnavism. Vaishnavism sees the divinity of God in each and every creature and prostrates before all by their humbleness, serves all and thinks for the good of all. There are many branches and sub-branches of Vaishnavism. The texts such as Vedas, Upanishads, Narad Pancharatna, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Purana, Tantra and many other texts speak of the antiquity of Vaishnavism. The Srimad Bhagwad is known as the 'Samhita' of the Paramhansas. In the 11th chapter of this Samhita, the following characteristics of Vaishnavism are demarcated.
SARVABHOOTESHU YAHA PASHYEDA BHAGWATBHAVA ATMANAHA BHOOTANI BHAEVATYATMANYESHA BHAGWATOTAMAHA ||
He, who sees the element of divinity of God in all creatures and who desires to see all the creatures and beings fusing into this divine Atmaswarupa is a noble Vaishnava. He who does not differentiate and does not discriminate as 'mine' and 'yours' and sees the reflection of God in all creatures, who does not become perplexed because of any incident or resolution and stays calm, is a great devotee of God. He who always contemplates and surrenders himself to the feet of God and does not get perplexed by anything is a noble Vaishnava. He who always contemplates on Shri Hari and dose not think about anything, anywhere, anytime is the greatest devotee of God.
Listening to the greatness of God and having affection towards one another and to stay contended all throughout and detaching oneself from material life by renouncing all allurements comprise the schedule of the Vaishnav devotees. Reciting the holy name of the Lord with devotion and singing his praises, the devotee feels engrossed and absorbed in the love towards the Lord. In this state, the heart is full of divine love and affection. Sometimes, the devotee starts crying and repents over wasting a lot of time in momentary and futile enjoyment. Sometimes, he seeks the company of his fellow devotees and starts contemplating on how can one attain God and also discusses the divine play of Lord and feels happy. Moreover, he develops patience, commitment and total eternal happiness within.
Those who acquire knowledge from the Bhagwatism attain Paramabhakti very quickly and cross the ocean of life very easily and effortlessly. Infact, Vaishnavism considers the entire universe and all the creatures living in it as reflections of divinity. The greatness and the characteristics of the devotees mentioned in Bhagwad Gita and Srimad Bhagwat are useful to each and every devotee.
Only he can be called a true Vaishnav who surrenders himself and serves the Lord with mind, heart and soul. They do not renounce action, on the contrary, they assume that all the actions performed, all the thoughts that come to our mind are only for the supreme God. Staying in the company of such devotees and listening to their philosophy is useful and blissful for one and all.
THE SUPREME LORD- SRI VISHNU
According to the ancient scriptures and the theories propounded in them, the supreme soul or God is devoid of form and name. The countless names that one comes across in the Vedas etc., are names that have been bestowed by great devotees upon God but are not primary as considered earlier.
According to the atheists' point of view, Brahma, Ishwar, Parmatma etc. are synonymous to each other. But in the philosophical contexts, 'Brahma' is considered as special term having some technical significance. Paramatma which denotes Brahma, fuses with Prakriti(nature) and assumes the name Ishwara. He assumes all the 3 colors of Prakriti i.e. Sat, Raja and Tamo guna and because of their duties of creation, preservation and annihilation, they have assumed the names of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh.
Srimad Bhagwat states -
SATVAM RAJASTAM ETI PRAKRUTERGUNASTAIRYUKTAHA PARAHA PURUSHA EHASYA GHATTE |
STITHIYADAYE HARI VIRANCHARETI SANGYAM SHREYAANSI KHALU SATVATNUONENAM SYUHU ||
( Bhagwat 1/2/ 23).
The natural merits are Satva, Raja and Tama. Because of this, God comprises of all these 3 merits and this leads to creation, preservation and destruction of the universe. The Lord Vishnu has more of Satva guna and humans shall definitely benefit by praying to Lord Vishnu. The Sri Sampradaya has meticulously studied all these concepts and has proved that the real name of God is Narayana. Narayana is evolved out of 2 elements(1) Nar and (2) Ayan.
NAR NAYE NARANJATAHA NARAHA NARESHU AYAMAM YASYA SA NARAYANAHA ||
One who is spread over and is self existent in this Panchmahabhootak universe, that supreme God, who is beyond form and formlessness, is known as Narayana. The supreme God is the root cause of this world. That supreme God is also known as Brahma. Upanishads and other texts which describe the supreme soul as Akshar, Shiva Shambhu, Parabrahma, 'Parajyoti' or 'Paramatma' is itself Narayana. Because Narayana is omnipresent and all pervasive, He is also referred to as Vishnu.
The word Vishnu is evolved from 'VILRA VYAPTAYO'|
According to the Vedas and other scriptures, the meaning of Vishnu is supreme soul, incomprehensible, supreme Brahma which is intangible and formless. One cannot explain the greatness of Vishnu because He is beyond all words and adjectives. Even the Vedas speak of Brahma as 'Neti, Neti, Neti' which means "Neither this, nor that and not even beyond that".
VISHNORU KAM VIRYANI PRAVOCHAM YAHA PARTHIVANI VIMAMERAJANSI YO ASKAMAYA DUTTARAM SADHASTHAM VICHAKRAMANASTREDHORUGAYAHA ||
Who can, after all, explain or narrate the greatness of all pervasive Lord Vishnu. He along with his Yogamaya Shakti, Prakriti(nature) has created the universe and it is He who created the Vaikuntha or Vishnupada, Paramapada or Moksha which is not just great and beyond imagination but all blissful. The greatness of Lord Vishnu is limitless.
All the 3 Vedas explain the greatness of the Lord in similar ways. Before the evolution of nature, the Satvamaya Lord Vishnu was beyond form and merits. This invincible supreme soul is known as Parabrahma. After the annihilation, the same form of Vishnu shall exist and Vishnu is also present in the same form in the present time. The Rigveda states that -
The universe is the result of the divine play of Lord Vishnu, which is elusive and changing constantly. The divine play is like a source of entertainment to Lord Vishnu. That is why, the divine play is incessant and constantly subject to cognizable changes. Because of this inconsistency, the universe is not constant but Asat (temporary). The universe is the result of the resolution of Lord Vishnu. He, because of His divine and celestial form, enlightens one and all.