The doctrine of SaraNAgathi constitutes the most important subject of Sri VaishNavA religion. The concept of SaraNAgathi in the sense of seeking God or some other higher being as the sole refuge is universally accepted in all religions. All Other religions except Sri VaishNavA religion do not admit SaraNAgathi as a direct means (upAyA) to MOkshA or the liberation of the soul from bondage. In this context, the Upanishads mention explicitly gn~AnA in the sense of intutive knowledge of Brahman or the vision of God is the direct means to attain the supreme goal (parama - purushArtham). Thus says the TaittirIya Upanishad: "Brahmavid ApnOti param" (The knower of Brahman attains Brahman). The SvEtasvatAra Upanishad comments more specifically: "Having known Him, the Parama-Purushan, an individual transgresses human bondage and there are no other means to attain Him. The Upanishads also enjoin nididhyAsanA, also known as UpAsanA, and Bhakthi YOgA or unceasing meditation on God as the direct means for the attainment of the supreme goal. Thus says the BrahadAraNyaka Upanishad: "Verily, the Self (Brahman) is to be seen,to be heard,to be reflected on and to be meditated upon ". The terms (seen, heard, reflected on, meditated upon) are all synonymous as explained by Sri RamAnujA in his Sri BhAshyA. The Upanishads thus appear to teach that direct sAdhanA or means to attain God is UpAsanA or Bhakthi YOgA.
Against this general background provided by the Upanishadic teachings, the question arises whether SaraNAgathi also known as Prapatthi or total surrender of one self to God as the sole refuge could serve as the direct means for MOkshAm. Right from the time of AlvArs, all the VaishNava AchAryAs have accepted it as an alternative direct means to MOkshAm (SAkshAth mokshOpAyam). Questions have been raised as to the justification of SaraNAgathi as a direct means to MOkshA from the standpoint of VedAntha sUthrAs, since this practise appears to be a non-vedic practise without the support of scriptural texts accepted by the orthodox tradition. The objection to SaraNAgathi from these quarters is that it is a contentional dogma accepted on faith only. This is an objection raised by the followers of other schools of VedAnthA need to be answered in order to understand the significance and importance of SaraNAgathi as a direct means to MOkshA.This article is devoted to address these issues raised by the other schools of VedAnthA.
Prapatthi is a Vedic doctrine which is fully sanctioned not only by the scriptural texts Sruti, which includes VedAs and Upanishads, but also by Smruthi texts, which include the IthihAsAs, PurANAs and the AgamAs. As will be explained later, the VaishNava AchAryAs have advocated Prapatthi as an alternative means for MOkshA intended for two different categories of individuals with different capacities and conditions of eligibilities (adhikAri-bhEda).
According to VisishtAdvaita VedAnthA, Bhakthi yOgA and Prapatthi yOgA are the two important sAdhanAs (means) for achieving the Supreme Spiritual goal (parama - purushArthA). While the Upanishads have laid more emphasis on UpAsanA, which is the same as Bhakthi yOgA, the VaishNavA treatises have accorded greater prominence to Prapatthi. Both have been sanctioned by the Sruti and Smruti texts and they have been advocated as meeting the needs of distinctly different categories of adhikAries with different capabilities and conditions of eligibility. Bhakthi YOgA is a rigorous sAdhanA and is thus restricted to certain class of individuals.On the other hand, Prapatthi is recommended as an easier to practise path intended for all without any restrictions of caste, creed and status of individuals.In view of this, the VaishNava AchAryAs right from the time of NAthamuni have given preference to Prapatthi and advocated it as the easier means to MOkshA. Prapatthi has, therefore assumed significance in VaishNavism.
The term Prapatthi is derived from the root words Pra-Pad; Pad means to move on and Pra implies in the best manner. In the context of the UpAya, the term implies total self-surrender to God as the sole refuge. A more appropriate Sanskrit term for Prapatthi is Athma-nikshEpA or BharAnyAsA, that is to place the burden of protection of the Self in the care of the God.It is also known as SaraNAgathi or seeking God as the sole refuge.We shall explain later the nature of Prapatthi, its various components, the method of observance and its other important features.For now , we shall focus on how this doctrine is rooted in the VedAs, Upanishads and the post-Vedic treatises.
Prapatthi as a doctrine is a very ancient one with its deep roots in the vEdAs. There are numerous statements in the Rg vEdA referring to the basic principle of SaraNAgathi., viz., that an individual pleading his inability to achieve a desired object seeks with fervent prayer the help of a divine power. The Vedic seers were fully conscious of the fact that none other than the Divine Being is capable of protecting man from the ocean of bondage (na hi tvadanyah puruhUta kasccana: Rg vedam VIII.66.13). God is regarded as a dear friend and near relative of all human beings (tvam jAmir janAnAm agnE mithrO asi priyah, sakhA sakhibhya Idyah..Rg Vedam I.75.4). He is compared to the non-leaky boat that can safely take persons from one shore to the other, through the turbulent waters of life (dhaivIm nAvam svaraithrAm anAgasam asravanthIm a ruhEma svastayE : Rg Vedam X.63.10). The Vedic seers have, therefore, sought in all their prayers the grace of God for achieving their desired objectives.
We shall cite one important hymn of the Rg VedA, which is also reiterated in the IsAvAsyOpanishad that contains the reference to SaraNAgathi. This hymn addressed to Agni reads: "agnE naya supathArAye asmAn visvAni deva vayunAni vidvAn; yuyodhy-asmaj-jhurANameno bhUishtAm te nama ukthim vidhema" (Rg Vedam: I.189.1). This rk means: "O Agni! lead us along the auspicious path to prosperity, O God, who knowest the means of attainment, remove all the obstacles coming in our way; we shall offer unto Thee salutation with the expression of namah". According to the intrepretation of Swami Desikan, Agni in the hymn refers to the Supreme Being as its antharAthmA and the word "namah" signifies the act of self-surrender to God. Another hymn states explicitly that the person, who offers prayer with the expression of "namah" (implying self-surrender) is to be regarded as one, who has performed a good sacrifice (sOdhvarah) almost equal to the formal sacrifice done in the consecrated fire by offering the faggots (samith) along with the recitation of the mantrAs (yah samidha ya Ahuti yo vedena dadAsa marto agnayE;yo namasA svadhvarah..Rg Vedam VIII.19.5). The interpretaion of this hymn in favor of self-surrender (Athma-nyAsa) is upheld by the Ahirbhudhnya SamhitA XXXVII.37 (samit sAdhanAkAdinAm)
The Upanishads have given expression in clearer terms to Prapatthi as an upAyam for MOkshA.Thus, the SvEtAsvatara Upanishad says: "I as an aspirant of MOkshA seek refuge in that effulgent God, who crates BrahmA first and who verily delivers to him the VedAs, etc (yO brahmaNAnam vidadhAti pUrvam-- -- mumukshur-vai saraNam-aham prapdhyE)". The Taittiriya NArayaNa Upanishad extolls nyAsA (Prapatthi) and enjoins that the Self is to be surrenderd to Brahman with the praNava manthram (tasmAn-nyAsamEshAm tapasAm Atiritam-Ahuh....brahmaNE tvA mahasa Om-iti-AtmAnam yunjita: TN Up -147.8). The Kathavalli Sruthi, which is not extant but frequently referred to by Swami Desikan and other VaishNavite AchAryAs, contains the rahaya manthram known as dhvayam, which enunciates the essence of SaraNAgathi. Thus, there is full Vedic support for the doctrine of SaraNAgathi.
Credits: S.M.Srinivasa Chari