The need for an esoteric significance
(of Kanthar Anubhuthi)
By N.V. Karthikeyan
Why should we at all seek to find an esoteric significance in the Kanthar Anubhuthi? Is it not enough if we study the verses as independent ones in their imports and not try to link the ideas from one to another? Such may be the doubts in the minds of many. Well, such a study would have been enough, but for the purpose of the work? Now, what is the purpose of the Kanthar Anubhuthi?
It is, therefore, beyond doubt and dispute that Arunagirinathar gave the work, "Kanthar Anubhuthi," after attaining Anubhuthi (god-experience). And how can such a work contain verses which are of a curious nature? Being a work given after the attainment of God-Experience, can Arunagirinathar sigh, weep and lament over his helplessness in matters of sex, etc., as expressed in the following verses:
-"I am still caught up in the meshes of woman and family" (verse 4);
While he thus weeps before the Lord in Kanthar Anubhuthi, in his other work, Kanthar Alangaaram, which is regarded as given earlier, Arunagirinathar emphatically declares that he has, once and forever, crossed over his ocean of sexual lust, that he has overcome death, etc. Now when such is the fact, how are we to account for verses 4, 5, 10, etc.? Or, can we say that what Thayumanavar said of Arunagirinathar and the Kanthar Anubhuthi is untrue? When we ponder over this deeply and in an unbiased manner, we are driven to the necessity of accepting the fact that though Arunagirinathar depicts himself in these conditions, they cannot evidently refer to himself but to someone else in whose condition he places himself the condition of a seeker after Truth or a Sadhaka. This gives a clue as to the purpose of the work, viz., to guide seekers attain that blissful experience which he himself was fortunate to enjoy. And we also know that it is an accepted fact that Saint Arunagirinathar, because of his compassion, gave the work to the world in order that everyone of us might enjoy the bliss of Anubhuthi.
Thus, it is amply clear that the work is given primarily from a Sadhaka's view-point to help him attain God-Experience. Hence, it should, apart from revealing the Saint's own experiences, also contain instructions to guide an ordinary seeker to that attainment. Now, this latter may be in two ways:
1. Either each and every verse, by itself and independently, gives a complete instruction on the attainment of Anubhuthi, or each and every verse reveals the different aspects of the Saint's God-Experience, which would help seekers in their attainment. If all the verses fulfill this condition, the work may be regarded as a "collection of verses dealing on Anubhuthi," each revealing a different technique for the attainment of Divine Experience;
2. The work, as a whole, forms an exposition of the path to Anubhuthi.
A study of the work would, however, disclose that the verses are of a variegated nature, and that each and every verse cannot be said to give, by itself and independently, a complete instruction on Anubhuthi or an aspect of the Saint's experience, though certain verses do fulfill this. We would, therefore, be left with the second alternative, i.e., to regard the work as a whole as a treatise on Anubhuthi.
Now, a treatise is a systematic exposition of a subject and it should, therefore, have a clear link of ideas from verse to verse, leading one, step-by-step, to the pinnacle of attainment. However, no such link which may be said to provide the needed guidance to seekers seems to obtain on the very surface of the verses; and that, if it is not apparently visible, it should be mystically hidden, is but natural. We should, therefore, strongly feel that there should be an esoteric meaning behind the verses, in addition to their independent import, so as to lead the seeker stage-by-stage till the attainment of the grand goal of God-Experience.
With the above background, let us examine the different views held about this work.
It is the opinion of certain commentators that the "Kanthar Anubhuthi" is a collection of verses which were sung by Saint Arunagirinathar independently and at different times in accordance with the prevailing moods of his mind religious and spiritual exaltation of mind, disturbed condition of mind while in the process of Sadhana, prayerful moods to invoke God's grace to overcome weaknesses and obstacles, etc. It has been so held because the esoteric imports of the verses appear to be so unconnected from one another and express various moods that there can be no link whatsoever possible between them. Though it may be true that the verses do appear as unrelated to one another, this view is unacceptable; because, if the work is considered as merely a collection of unconnected verses, how is it going to fulfill its purpose of guiding others in attaining God-Experience? If it be argued that even as a mere collection, the work can help one attain God, we can as well say that any work can do it. What, then, is the speciality of this work? And, if there is nothing special and intrinsic in it, how can we, with the same breath, say that the "Kanthar Anubhuthi" is a unique work, almost without an equal to it on the subject? There must be something in it to deserve its claim. Hence, we cannot but strongly feel that the work, even if it be a collection, has to be meaningful, thoughtful, and purposeful and not a haphazard or at random collection without any coherence of thought. This should specially be so, as the work is an original one, that is the "Kanthar Anubuthi" is the Saint's own composition the title of the work, the arrangement of the order of the verses, etc., were Arunagirinathar's own and not done by someone else either during or after his lifetime.
Moreover, the treatise cannot be said to contain verses which were sung by the Saint before attaining Anubhuthi as it would contradict Saint Thayumanavar's declaration of it.
Another view held, which is a little bit amusing, is that the Arunagirinathar-parrot perched on a papal tree somewhere near Thiruvannamalai, wrote the poems on the papal leaves and dropped them. Those leaves were collected and that collection is Kanthar Anubhuthi. Hence, the verses are jumbled and no sequence of thought is to be found in the work. Though, as an imagination of some fertile brain, this view is praiseworthy, it appears to be far from truth ad does not stand even to simple reason. If the parrot can write the verses on leaves with its beak and keep them till their completion, it could have very well brought them down and kept the leaves in tact. Again, when the scattered leaves are collected if the Kaappu verse and first verse (contains a Mantra in the first line because of which the work is extolled) can be in order, why not the other verses? And, above all, if we can believe and accept that the parrot wrote the verses, would it not be more reasonable and can we not be charitable enough to accept that the numbering of the verses was also done by the parrot?
It has been held by certain others that the "Kanthar Anubhuthi" is a work of "praise-songs" (stothras) and that such works do not, like the Sastras, have a subject or theme to deal with or give instruction upon in a systematic way. Well, this view also seems to be right from its own standpoint, because most of the verses (but not all) are in the form of praise and prayer. But then it falls short of "the purpose," for reasons already stated. If it is to fulfill its purpose of helping others in attaining God-Experience, it cannot be said to comprise of mere praise-songs; because there are a number of such praise-song works, but they are not regarded as works on the attainment of Anubhuthi and are not accorded an equal status with the "Kanthar Anubhuthi." The "Kanthar Anubhuthi" is regarded as unparalleled on the subject. What, then, entitles this work to such an exalted position, if not something intrinsic in it? Moreover, the "Kanthar Anubhuthi" is regarded as a Mantra-Sastra and not a Stothra.
All these views are the outcome of the single factor, viz., our inability to see any concatenation of ideas in the verses of the "Kanthar Anubhuthi," which has even led certain people to go to such extremes as to suggest that the order of the verses needs a rearrangement, though they find it difficult, nay, impossible, to do it in a satisfactory manner in whatever way they rearrange. The fact is that it is already in order, because it is a divine gift. What rearrangement can be made in that which is in order? As the treatise as come down to us for over five centuries accepted and unaltered by great souls like Thayumanavar and others who have extolled it, it would be unwise on anyone's part to suggest or to try to rearrange the verses, even for study's sake. It would be wiser to accept our inability to see a logical sequence of ideas in the verses, or even try to seek a remote and far-fetched link, than to meddle with the work.
Yet some others are of the opinion that the Saint had for long cherished a pious wish to offer a "poem garland" to the Lord, as expressed in his Thiruppugal, "Aasaikoor Bhaktanen…", and that the "Kanthar Anubhuthi" is a composition in fulfillment of this wish of his. This appears to be a more satisfactory one.
Now, let us see what that wish is, which Arunagirinathar expressed in the above Thiruppugal song. A free translation of it would read thus:
"I am a devotee with a (peculiar) desire to offer a garland to the Lord. What kind of garland? A garland of poems having the flower of the mind-lotus, being penetrated by the thread of love, artistically composed by the tongue, wafting its wisdom-fragrance, shining in all its glory, and the bee of the intellects of the taintless ones (Sadhus) rejoicing in it such a 'Maatrukaa Pushpa Maalai (poem-garland)' shall I be blessed to offer at Your coral-like Feet?"
"Maatrukaa Pushpa Maalai" is a treatise of verses with the 51 letters of the Sanskrit language from 'A' to 'Ksha.' It is also called "Akshara Maalai" (garland of letters); Akshara meaning 'letter.' "Maatrukaa Pushpa Maalai" is also said to mean a treatise of 51 verses because of the mere correspondence in number.
The essential points of the above Thiruppugal are these:
-It is a garland of poems having for its flower the mind-lotus and it is to be offered at the Feet of the Lord.
The garland is to be offered at the feet. Therefore, the purpose of it is not to adorn the Lord or glorify Him, for, if that were its purpose, it would be offered on His shoulders and chest. As it is to be offered at the Lord's Feet, its purpose is specific and clear to offer the Jiva in God. This is the essential point of the Thiruppugal.
By whom is it to be offered? By one who is a devotee (Bhaktan) and that too by one who has a great aspiration to attain the Lord (aasaikoor bhaktan). 'Aasai' here is not desire in the worldly sense; it is the desire or aspiration for attaining God because it is of a devotee, and what else could the desire of a true devotee be than a longing to attain the Feet of the Lord? It is the spiritual aspiration of man for communion with God, of the soul to merge in Brahman.
The garland is to be penetrated by a thread the thread of Bakthi (love/devotion). The thread is invisible but is essential for the garland. So is devotion to God in the life of an aspirant, which keeps the various aspects of his being tethered to God. It is to be artistically/beautifully knit. Where? In the tongue. How? By a devout singing of it.
The scent of wisdom should emanate from the garland, and also it should shine with different colours. While the color attracts the eyes, the scent captivates one through the nose. The eye and the nose stand for all the senses. Further, the garland is to be laden with high spiritual truths on which the bees of the intellects of the faultless ones can contemplate, meditate and rejoice.
All this description is to indicate that while one's tongue recites the verses, there should surge forth pure devotion in the heart, the senses should be kept captivated by them, the intellect should contemplate on the wisdom contained in them which is the essence of the life of a Sadhaka to effect an inner sublimation and transformation of all faculties of the Sadhaka and be absorbed in God.
Thus, is (the garland of) the Jiva the Jiva in all its aspects i.e., the aspiration, the mind, devotion (heart), the senses (tongue, eyes, nose, etc.), the purified intellect and wisdom to be offered at the Feet of the Lord.
This view, viz., that the Kanthar Anubhuthi is the "Maatrukaa Pushpa Maalai" which Arunagirinathar aspired to offer to Lord Skanda, appears to be a better one and also correct, because the Kanthar Anubhuthi is a work of 51 verse and also Arunagirinathar himself refers to it in the Kaappu verse as, "senchor punai maalai" meaning "a garland knit of the beautiful words (of Tamil)." Most probably, Arunagirinathar by this succinct phrase means the "Maatrukaa Pushpa Maalai" and all that he has said about it in the above Thiruppugal. And we have seen the essential points of it, viz., that it is for the purpose of offering the seeking soul, which is full of devotion to person, and he would like to practice some Sadhana to have God-Experience, but would be at a loss to know what to do. Arunagirinathar, therefore, thought that a treatise on the attainment of God-Experience (Anubhuthi) would be a help to such seekers and Kanthar Anubhuthi is the outcome.
Thus, we may regard the Kanthar Anubhuthi as the crowning glory of Saint Arunagirinathar's works, though each other work of his has a purpose, speciality and charm of its own. All the works of Arunagirinathar put together may be regarded as the "Arunagirinathar-Veda" of which the Kanthar Anubhuthi would form the "Anubhuthi-Upanishad." It is the culminating and the wisdom-portion of his works. The 51 verses of the Kanthar Anubhuthi are verily 51 Mantras, like the Upanishadic Mantras so concise, pithy, and brevity-filled with many secret clues to higher meditation and experience. We can say without the least hesitation that the treatise fulfills the purpose of an Upanishad remarkably. Truly, it is a Mantra-Sastra.
Now why should the instructions be esoteric? Why should the Saint not have explicitly given it in the verses may be a doubt. This is the general practice by Saints and it is done with a reason of course. Spiritual truths are kept as secrets because if they are given to unprepared minds, they are liable to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. They are always kept hidden; they have to be obtained with great effort and it demands certain prerequisites. As the work is liable to go into the hands of any and everyone, the esoteric meanings are hidden far beyond the ordinary reach. And here is the need for the poems to be in prayer or praise form, and in the first person.
When a devotee or seeker, though initially unprepared, goes on with Svadhyaya or devout faithful recitation of the verses, they, being in the first person and the wordings so powerful and calculated are capable of raising his mind gradually and inducing the necessary Bhava (inner feeling) in the seeker so as to get attuned to the feeling with which the Saint sang the verses or which he intends to convey through the particular verse. When we recite the verses, it is as if the Saint himself is reciting them through us. We get attuned to his mind and the needed feeling is bound to be evoked in us. Thus, the inner secrets get revealed from within, in course of time. They are not supposed to be openly said in the verses, nor can they be understood even if said; they are to be "revealed." Hard-earned wealth is valued and preserved so is wisdom.
Now a word about the esoteric significance in the verses which is not easily obtainable from them. In a few groups of verses, the continuity of ideas is apparent, and can be seen almost on the surface. In fact, it is this that made me feel that there should be such a link of ideas in the other verses, i.e., in the work as a whole, and that if it is not apparent, it should be secretly hidden. In some it is lodged in a line or phrase of the verse; in some the meaning is implied in a word; and in some it lies far beneath, as the very spirit underlying the verse as a whole and gets revealed only as one goes on with the repetition of the verse over and over again. Thus, is the need for Svadhyaya (daily regular and systematic chanting of the verses) with love and surrender to God, when more truths than what is written in any book, including this one, are revealed in the heart of the seeker. This is the case not only with the Kanthar Anubhuthi but every work of this category.
This esoteric significance, which is mostly based on what has been revealed to me by the Lord in the course of my daily Parayanam, I offer unto men of learning, wisdom, and experience, in whose hearts Lord Guhan especially resides, for their research and acceptance of what is worthwhile in it and to ignore the shortcomings in it, which are due to my limitations.
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.