Artha Panchakam

The Artha Panchaka, written in the thirteenth century A.D. by the celebrated Pillai Lokacharya, represents the essence of the Srivaishnava Sampradhaya. It forms one of the 18 Rahasyas or Secret doctrines bequeathed to us by the author and deals with five supreme truths or principles that each liberation-seeking soul needs to comprehend. The jivatma, which is trapped in the cycle of births and deaths, or subjected to the miseries of bondage, should obtain knowledge of the Five Truths, or Principles. After having comprehended these truths, he has to shape his conduct according to this knowledge to secure salvation. The Five Truths are those of (i) Sva Svarupa (Own Self or Soul), (ii) Para Svarupa (Higher Self or God), Purushartha Svarupa (Goal or End), Upaya Svarupa (Means) and Virodhi Svarupa – the impediments to realising the truths mentioned above. Even though the desire for liberation (moksa) would have taken root in the individual with the knowledge of these truths, he still has to live in this world in the midst of the worldly. This work also deals with the code of conduct for such a jivatma till release is obtained so that worldliness may not again besiege him.

It is to be noted that the Artha Panchaka is primarily a sampradhaya work, which, while being informative, does not support its claims with evidence from the scriptures. Lokacharya however establishes the scriptural basis of these Five Truths in a separate work titled Tattva Sekharam.

The contributions of Artha Panchaka to Srivaishnavism can be subsumed under five topical heads discussed in detail below:

1. Sva Svarupa

In this section, Lokacharya presents the categorization of the individual soul according to the Ramanuja school of thought. He categorizes the individual soul into five types and each of the categories is explained in detail below:

(i) The Nitya, or the ever-free, represents those jivatmas who are never subject to the cycles of birth and death and who have never known conditioned existence. They are in a permanent state of bliss and their wills are in perfect conformity with the will of the Supreme Lord. They are endowed with the privilege to perform some advisory functions at the Supreme Lord’s abode (Srivaikunta) and have the powers (endowed by the Paramatma) to participate in His schemes of the cosmos. They remain permanently to His side; accompany Him in His various incarnations and perform eternal service unto His feet. Some of the prominent nityas include Ananta, Garuda, Visvaksena, Subhadra etc.

(ii) The Mukta, or the Freed, represents those jivatmas who, by the grace of the Lord have been delivered from bondage, never to return to material existence. They experience divine joy and sing paeans of praise to the Lord in Srivaikunta.

(iii) The Baddha, or the Bound represents those jivatmas still steeped in bondage, identifying their souls with their physical body. In the absence of the knowledge of their indwelling spirit they are bound by ignorance (ajnana), misapprehension (anyata jnana) and reversed apprehension (viparita jnana). They perceive the pleasure experienced by engaging their senses as the be-all and end-all of their existence. To secure sensual pleasures, they become slaves to worldly, inflict cruelty on creatures, try to seize others’ wives and property, and thereby lead a mundane existence.

(iv) The Kevala, the Isolate or the Aloof refers to those souls stranded in solitude in a state past redemption. While they aspire to escape from the clutches of bondage, they seek retirement into their own solitary selves. They manage to discern that the soul is an entity distinct from the body, and that the body is the seat of all miseries. Owing to the intensity of suffering endured by them in bondage, they find a haven of refuge in the trivial enjoyment of their own soul-isolation. They remain satisfied in this very state, oblivious to the infinite pleasure that can be derived knowing Him as the supreme entity, experiencing His auspicious attributes and performing service at His feet.

(v) The Mumukshu, or would-be-free, represents the jivatmas that have a longing desire for salvation (i.e. reaching the abode of the Supreme Lord). They are further divided into two classes, viz. the Upasakas, or the Strivers, and the Prapannas, or the Resigned. The Upasakas exercise their independence and resort to self-effort as a means to seek salvation. The Prapannas, on the other hand, leave the same to the Lord’s care. While the former thinks of salvation as his concern, latter thinks of it as the concern of the Supreme Lord.

2. Para Svarupa

In this section, Lokacharya presents the Supreme Truth (Isvara Tattva) according to the Ramanuja school of Vedanta. He subsumes the Supreme Truth into five categories as detailed below:

(i) The Para-Form of the Supreme Lord, called Paravasudeva, is the eternal transcendent world, where the Supreme Lord, in His cosmic manifestation, dwells with His consorts, the Nityas and the Muktas.

(ii) The Vyuha-Form represents His manifestation as Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Sankarsana, performing the functions of creation, sustenance and dissolution of the material world.

(iii) The Vibhava-Form consists of His incarnations or avataras such as Rama, Krishna, etc.

(iv) The Antaryami-Form falls into two classes. The first represents His all-pervading Spirit, being the Inner Controller of all Souls, and forming the very basis of their existence (svarupa vyapti). The second represents His beatific presence, in the union with His consort, enshrined in the heart of the jivatma, monitoring the predilections and cessation of all processes of the soul’s existence (guna vyapti).

5. The Archa-Form represents the iconic (vigraha) manifestations of the Supreme Lord in various temples (divya desas), households and at all places and at all times desired. Here, the Supreme Lord accommodates the tastes of His protégés by assuming a form the worshippers desire to have of Him and having a name which the worshippers may choose and desire to call Him by. Although He is omniscient, all-powerful, and all-sufficient, He might come across as lacking knowledge, powerless and seemingly needy in this iconic manifestation.

3. Purushartha Svarupa

In this section, Lokacharya explains the Purushartha or the Goal Principle according to the Ramanuja school of thought. He divides this principle into five categories, which are detailed below:

(i) Dharma or Duty is good works done for the sake of all sentient creatures as to sustain the moral unity of the universe. It represents the cohesive force inherent in righteous works that binds together all existence into a harmonious whole.

(ii) Artha, or Wealth, represents money, food grains, and such other possessions acquired in strict conformity with the rules of caste (varna) and stage of life (asrama) and using them in the service of the demigods (Devas), commemorating deceased elders of the family (Pitrus), and all creatures generally, with due regard to place, time, and appropriateness.

(iii) Kama, or Enjoyment, is of two kinds: amushmika (celestial) or aihika (mundane). The joys of this world, derived by engaging the senses of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell constitute the mundane. They include the acquisition of cattle, house, land, perfumes, flowers, and all such luxuries. The joys of the other world include a dwelling in a place like heaven (svarga), bereft of experiences such as hunger, thirst, grief, passion, age, and death. It also includes the experiencing the taste of divine nectar (amrita) and engaging in sensual pleasures with celestial nymphs like Apsaras.

(iv) Atmanubhava, or Soul-bliss, is a state of release from bondage. It includes a release from the cycles of birth and death and cessation of sorrow. Called Kaivalya Moksa, this condition represents isolation, a purely psychic state, but with no knowledge of the Divine.

(v) Bhagavad-anubhava, or God-bliss, represents true salvation. It involves the cessation of the recurring cycles of physical life and is followed by eternal Bliss experienced in the company of the Supreme Lord, His consorts Bhudevi, Niladevi and the Nityas. This state involves giving up the physical body, and with it, the remission of all the effects of good and bad deeds done. Having left behind the physical nature (lila vibhuti), the soul enters the kingdom of Paravasudeva (Srivaikunta) via the susumna nadi and the archiradi path. The soul then joins the celestial hosts in an incessant procession, sings paeans about the Lord and engages eternally in His service (kaimkarya or parama purushartha).

4. Upaya Svarupa

In this section, Lokacharya discusses the interconnectivity between various Means to salvation, a view held by the Ramanuja school of Vedanta. The author indicates the progression through which one Means transmogrifies into the next when attained perfection. Being a work targeted primarily to inform the Srivaishnava community, the author also includes Prapatti and Acharya Abhimana as alternative Means to salvation. The finer points of this topic are captured in the following discussion under five heads:

(i) Karma, or Duty represent a collective set of activities that discipline the body and helps kill sin. The performance of such duties is called Karma-yoga. It consists of sacrifice (yajna), charity (dana), austerities (tapas), meditation (dhyana), prayers (sandhya-vandana), the five great sacrifices (panca-mahayajna), fire-sacrifice (agnihotra), holy pilgrimage (tirtha-yatra), holy residence (punya kshetra-vasa), expiatory and purificatory rites (krcchra, and chandrayana), holy river -bathings (punya-nadi-snana), vows (vrata), the quarterly sessions (chaturmasya), living on fruits and roots (phala-mula-’sana), study of holy works (sastrabhyasa), holy feeding (samaradhana), silent holy repetitions (japa), oblations to ancestors (tarpana), etc. When the sense and action organs are constantly indulged in the abovementioned occupations, they are prevented from engaging in the contemplation of worldly contacts. The consciousness flowing out through the senses to worldly objects, when prevented from sensuous experiences, becomes free to be engaged otherwise, and these are afforded in the soul itself. This process of engaging the consciousness in the soul involves the eightfold stages of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhyana, dhrana and Samadhi, collectively called ‘yoga’. This karma-yoga described earlier in this section is auxiliary to jnana-yoga, and is the chief means of acquiring material prosperity (aisvarya), i.e. artha and kama.

2. Jnana represents the Highest Knowledge. The acquisition of this Divine Knowledge is called Jnana-yoga. The Karma-yoga discussed above produces knowledge, the object of which is the Supreme Lord, conceived as occupying the Orbit of the Sun, the Lotus of the Heart, or an Idol in a place of worship,  bearing the Discus and the Conch, attired in radiant robes, bedecked with shining jewellery, in Divine Union with Sri, and so forth. By conceiving God in these contours of bewitching beauty, man gets to realize the Divine Spirit in actual presence and his attention gets constrained by becoming this object of contemplation. Such Consciousness, gets moulded into that blessed shape, and, when trained this way, is relieved of all distraction from various mundane objects. This practice of Divine Meditation lasts for a brief duration during the start and can be extended by practice into longer and longer periods, and in the end to render enduring. This Jnana-yaga, which is considered to be an auxiliary to Bhakti-yoga, is the chief means of soul-realization (Kaivalya Moksha).

3. Bhakti is Love. Bhakti-yoga represents the practice of Loving Faith towards the Supreme Lord. The consciousness, when persistently fixed on an idolized Object as described under Jnana-yoga, metamorphoses into a loving experience called Bhakti. The practice of this loving experience of loving faith is Bhakti-yoga. When this practice of loving faith is carried out steadily, it increases in intensity and turns rapturous and bewitching. In this state called Para Bhakti, the intellect becomes fused with the heart and the purely mental becomes united with the emotional.

4. Prapatti represents the path of loving surrender or resigned trust in God. The practising of this is Nyasa-yoga or Prapatti-yoga. Prapatti is the means of unreservedly placing oneself in the Hands of the Supreme Lord and ridding oneself of securing salvation by self-effort. It is the attitude of mind entirely resigned to His will. This is real renunciation (sanyasa).

The practice of Bhakti-yoga, supported by Karma-yoga and Jnana-yoga taxes the strength and capacity of the jivatmas. Moreover, Bhakti-yoga can be resorted to by people belonging to a particular caste and creed. As a Means, Bhakti is incompatible with the essential nature of the soul as it recommends self-effort. On the other hand, the path of prapatti is accessible to all, irrespective of caste, colour, or creed. While other Means are circumscribed by a variety of conditions, prapatti is instantaneously authorized by Him and bears immediate fruit. For such a prapanna, the series of acts pursued after prapatti no longer represent Means to secure an End, but acquire the character of being ends in themselves. Such actions, performed as ends in themselves, classify as service done to the Supreme and hence are devoid of any ultra-motive. Thus, prapatti alone is reflective of the true relation between soul and God, and hence the most befitting Means to be resorted to by a jivatma.

5. Acharyabhimana is of two types. It can be considered as a voluntary resort of a prapanna to resort a Mediator or a resort by the Mediator, exercising his volition to save the supplicant. This Means of Salvation possesses the virtue of being within the nearest reach of mankind when compared to the others discussed above. Although prapatti describes God as the object for resort, He is so beyond the reach of mankind’s senses, minds, and hearts, that makes Him less accessible to jivatmas. By being tangibly present in the midst of mankind, the preceptor, as a Mediator, bridges this gap and therefore becomes accessible and within reach. In this case, one’s preceptor is considered to be the Supreme Lord Himself, who has assumed a mortal form out of His sheer compassion for His subjects and to bless them with salvation. This resort to a Mediator can constitute both an independent Means as well as an auxiliary Means to the other Means discussed above.

5. Virodhi Svarupa

Having listed down the nature of the Soul, the Super Soul, the Means and the Goal to be achieved, Lokacharya dedicates this final section to documenting the various impediments that prevent a soul from realizing the knowledge gained above. Specifically, Lokacharya discusses the hindrances to practising a particular means of salvation and the hostilities to the ultimate goal of life, i.e. kaimkarya. This discussion is carried out in the following paragraphs.

Svarupa-virodhi or the impediments to Soul-Knowledge stems from the soul identifying itself or its nature with the physical body. When this ignorance is alleviated, the soul recognizes it servitude (Sesatva) but to deities other than the One God. When this error has disappeared, the soul may yet falsely think that it possesses independence and may not realize its complete dependence on the Supreme Lord for sustenance.

Paratva-virodhi represents the misinformation that lesser Gods possess the character of the Supreme, or the mistaking of demi gods for the Supreme Lord. This can also include considering the minor deities to be of equal status with God or assigning these deities with power that can only belong to the Supreme. Lokacharya further includes two common errors under this category: (i) doubting the Supreme Lord to be human in His incarnations as Rama, Krishna, etc. and (ii) thinking that the God, in His iconic manifestation, is inert and powerless.

Purusartha-virodhi represents the hostilities to the Ultimate Aim, i.e. serving the Lotus Feet of the Supreme Lord. Impediments to this Ultimate Aim include (i) the desire and pursuit of fruits or ends other than that of God Himself; and (ii) the idea of deriving self-gratification (and not pursuing it as an End in itself) in the doing of Divine Service.

Upaya-virodhi represents the hindrances to the pursuit of the true Means. A first hindrance is the notion that other means (discussed under Upaya-svarupa) possess an equal, if not more, merit when compared the one (prapatti) which requires that these alternatives be discarded, or at least looked down upon as secondary or unimportant. A second hindrance refers to doubts surrounding the efficacy of prapatti considering the simple and light nature of its description. A third hindrance arises from prapannas (salvation-seekers following Prapatti as the Means) doubting the efficacy of prapatti considering how disproportionate the fruit is (salvation) to the effort invested. A fourth hindrance arises from fear that forces one to give up the pursuit of a Means on the grounds that the difficulties in pursuing it are insurmountable.

Prapti-virodhi, represents the impediments to the Ultimate End or Ideal of Life. A major impediment to achieving the Ultimate End is the prarabdha karma resulting from misgivings of the previous births. A further two common impediments that prevent one from achieving this Ultimate End is sinning against God (bhagavad apachara) and sinning against the Godly (bhagavata apachara). Lokacharya further lists down three impediments: (i) those arising from food consumed (anna dosha), (ii) those arising from wrong company (sahavasa dosha) and (iii) those arising from self-love (abhimana) as ultimately affect one’s progress.

[1] ‘The Artha Pancaka of Pillai Lokacharya’ by Alkondavilli Govindacharya Swamin, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1910.
[2] ‘The Ashtadasa Rahasyas of Pillai Lokacharya’ by Puttur Krishnaswami Iyengar, Puthur Agraharam, Trichy, 1987.
[3] ‘Artha Pancaka with the Manipravala Commentary of Pillailokam Jeeyar’, Srivaishnavasri Press, Srirangam.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.