PIḶḶAI LOKĀCĀRYA (1264–1369) was an early formulater of Teṅkalai theology for Śrī Vaiṣṇava Hindus of South India. Born in the sixth generation of disciples of Ramanuja, and from a family learned in Sanskrit and Tamil, he lived his long life in the temple complex of Śrī Raṅgam. His father was known simply as Vaṭakku Tiruvīti Piḷḷai, "the Piḷḷai of North Street," and his mother was Śrī Raṅga Nācciyār. The couple was childless until, tradition says, Piḷḷai's gurū, Nampiḷḷai, ordered him to give up his ascetic chastity. When subsequently a son was born, the couple named him Lokācārya ("teacher of the world") after one of Nampiḷḷai 's own titles. Piḷḷai Lokācārya himself never married, but rather devoted himself to the service of Nārāyaṇa in his iconic forms and to teaching. In 1309, when northern Muslims raided the temple, tradition relates that he walled in the immovable icons and escaped with the movable ones to a distant village, sustaining their worship until they could be safely returned.
Teaching shaped his scholarship from an early age. Whereas his father recorded Nampiḷḷai's comments on Nammāḻvār's Tiruvāymoḻi in the Bhagavat Viṣayam, and his younger brother, the ascetic Aḻakiya Māṇavāḷa Perumāḷ Nāyaṉār, one of his own disciples, likewise composed an important commentary on Nammāḻvār's poems, the Ācārya Hṛdayam (The heart of the teacher), Piḷḷai Lokācārya produced theological textbooks such as the Aṣṭadaśa Rahasyam (Eighteen Secrets), a compendium of succinct treatises that systematically explain the esoteric teachings Śrī Vaiṣṇavas receive from their gurūs. The work is written in the Śrī Vaiṣṇava brahman dialect, Maṇipravāḷam, and is addressed to "women and ignorant men," to free them from their painful bondage to the world and to deliver them into the joyful service of Nārāyaṇa. After the sect had divided into two schools, the Teṅkalai and the Vaṭakalai, the Aṣṭadaśa Rahasyam served the Teṅkalais through commentaries by the school's paramount theologian, Māṇavāḻa Māmuṉikaḷ (1370–1443).
Of the eighteen treatises, three have been highly significant for Śrī Vaiṣṇavas: Mumukṣuppaṭi (The means for those who desire freedom), Tattvatrayam (The three realities), and Śrī Vacana Bhūṣanam (The auspicious ornament of instruction). Piḷḷai Lokācārya teaches Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta but stresses one aspect—that of God's grace and the relative helplessness of embodied souls to emancipate themselves. As various scriptures reveal, Nārāyaṇa's consort, Śrī, or Lakṣmī, is the mediating agent between the majestic Lord and the numberless souls entangled in self-created bondage. She is compassionate toward all sentient beings and perfectly subservient to her Lord. Being totally dependent, she thus is able to influence him on behalf of those souls whom she touches with her grace. Surrender to the Goddess is all that is required for emancipation.
Piḷḷai Lokācārya thus teaches that the devotee—whether male or female of any caste whatever—who cannot fulfill the scriptural requirements of ritual, wisdom, and devotion can nevertheless attain the Lord, either through the grace that enables the devotee to give up this world out of impatient longing for God, or through such absolute trust in Nārāyaṇa and Śrī that he relinquishes the burden of his salvation to them. Furthermore, even the devotee who cannot surrender to God can still surrender to a gurū. Regarding the refugee as helpless, the properly qualified gurū, by virtue of his own wisdom and Śrī's activity within him, can assume his disciple's burden. Any ritual and devotional acts performed after surrender to God or gurū are to derive from the refugee's desire to please God and as a witness to his neighbor, not from his desire for merit. A contemporary of Piḷḷai Lokācārya, Vedānta Deśika (1268–1369) of the rival Vaṭakalai school, took issue and taught that in addition to Śrī's activity, ritual and devotional efforts, too, are important for emancipation.
A good exposition of Śrī Vacana Bhūṣanam by a modern Hindu gurū is Sree Srivachana Bhushanam by Sri Pallai Lokacharya: An English Glossary by Sri Satyamurthi Swami (Gwalior, India, 1972). The differences between Piḷḷai Lokācārya and Vedānta Deśika are discussed succinctly in Srimad Rahasyatrayasara of Sri Vedantadesika, translated with introduction and notes by M. R. Rajagopala Aiyangar (Kumbakonam, India, 1956). John B. Carman provides an excellent discussion of the concept of surrender and its relation to Rāmānuja's thought in chapter 17 of The Theology of Rāmānuja: An Essay in Interreligious Understanding (New Haven, 1974). The most recent discussion of Piḷḷai Lokācārya in the history of Tamil literature is given in Tamil by M. Aruṇācalam in Tamiḻ ilakkiya varalāṛu, 6 vols. (Tiruciṛṛampalam, India, 1969–1972).
D. Dennis Hudson (1987)
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