Learning any skill is contingent upon us finding a guide who is capable of taking us under their wings, and inspiring us to find the truth we seek. In the world of spirituality where lesson that are learned are not physical but metaphysical, not tangible but intangible, the role of the guide becomes even more significant. In the spiritual path, a disciple is often times unaware of what he wants, and is therefore incapable of achieving his end without the grace of an able guide. Traditionally, two terms are attached to such a guide – ‘Guru’ and ‘Ācārya’. Tradition defines the two as follows –
The Letter ‘gu’ denotes darkness of ignorance, and the letter ‘ru’, its defier. He who stall the march of ignorance is called a ‘Guru’.
आचिनोति हि शास्त्राणि आचारे स्तापयत्यपि।
स्वयमाचरते यस्मातमाचार्यं प्रचक्षते॥
ācinoti hi śāstrāṇi ācāre stāpayatyapi|
svayamācarate yasmātamācāryaṁ pracakṣate||
An Ācārya is one who incessantly engages with the scriptures, ever lives by the dictates of the scriptures, and inspires the disciple to live by them as well.
Rāmānujācārya was one such exemplary Ācārya. In Uraiyūr, a town neighboring the sacred kṣetra of Śrīraṅgam, lived a wrestler named Dhanurdāsar. He was a wrestler in the King’s court and was married to the lovely Ponnāciyār. His immense might, wealth and glory notwithstanding, he was enslaved by the loveliness of his wife. One day, he accompanied his wife to Śrīraṅgam. With one hand he held aloft a parasol to protect his wife from the scorching sun, and with the other, he spread out a carpet for the delicate feet of his wife to tread on. Swami Rāmājunan happened to notice this, as he proceeded along the road along with his disciples. He was taken aback that a man would be so enamoured with a woman. He chuckled aloud for Dhanurdāsar to hear.
Dhanurdāsar was oblivious to the reaction of the world around. His eyes were peeled to the darting eyes of his gorgeous wife. Swami Rāmānuja was moved to compassion. The Yatirāja (king amongst ascetics) approached Dhanurdāsar of his own accord and asked him, “you are a mighty wrestler, well-renowned and wealthy. Why do you enslave yourself thus, dear man?” Dhanurdāsar responded, “of what use is my might, revered sire? I have nothing in my arsenal that can match the might of my wife’s arching brows and the sharp shafts of her darting eyes! In reality, there is nothing upon this earth that can rival her dancing eyes.” Swami Rāmānujan recognized just how firmly the shackles of materialism bound Dhanurdāsar. He smiled indulgently and said, “what if I were to show you a pair of eyes that far exceed in loveliness, the eyes of your wife?” Without a second thought Dhanurdāsar said, “that is impossible”. Swami Rāmānujan responded, “what if I did?” An intrigued Dhanurdāsar responded, “I shall concede defeat in that case, and surrender to you as your slave.”
Swami Rāmānujan lead Dhanurdāsar straight to the sanctum sanctorum of Śrīraṅganātha. He stood Dhanurdāsar before the Lord and said to him, “behold, Dhanurdāsa, at the pair of lotus-eyes that is unparalleled in its excellence”. The Ācārya had not only recognized what Dhanurdāsar needed, but was willing to go the extra mile in reaching Dhanurdāsar to the destination he did not even know existed. Moreover, he blessed Dhanurdāsa with the vision required to behold the loveliness that was the eyes of the Supreme Lord. Dhanurdāsa’s eyes were now able to grasp the ethereal beauty of the Lord. He stood transfixed in what he beheld before him. As promised, he conceded defeat and surrendered at the lotus-feet of Swami Rāmānujan. Ponnāciyār too recognized the worth of such an Ācārya and surrendered along with her husband. The grateful couple renounced all their wealth and belongings, and moved to Śrīraṅgam so that they may serve the compassionate Ācārya, who has blessed them with the vision to differentiate the eternal truth from fleeting samsāra (materialism). Dhanurdāsar served Swami Rāmānujan with such care that he did not sleep on many occasions. He became Pillai-Uraṅgā-Villidāsar (he who did not sleep) from then. The grace of the Ācārya had transformed him from one who was deep asleep with ignorance to one who was ever wakeful to the Supreme Truth.
गुरौ न प्राप्यते यत्तन्नान्यत्रापि हि लभ्यते।
गुरुप्रसादात्सर्वं तु प्राप्नोत्येव न संशयः॥
gurau na prāpyate yattannānyatrāpi hi labhyate|
guruprasādātsarvaṁ tu prāpnotyeva na saṁśayaḥ||
That which is not found in the Guru, is found nowhere else. One can achieve everything by the grace of the Guru is beyond a shred of doubt.