Kanthar Anubhuthi - Verse 19
By Sri Arunagirinathar
Poverty the sinner
The apparent meaning of this verse is clear. If poverty takes possession of a man, naturally he loses his bodily beauty for want of sufficient food and other day-to-day needs. The going away of his wealth is, of course, evident, because what is poverty otherwise? Due to misery arising out of poverty, one's mental state is always disturbed and he loses his peace of mind; his good qualities such as charitable nature, serviceability, etc., find no opportunity for expression. Under stress of poverty, one may even do acts unbecoming of his high lineage and against his family prestige. Therefore, poverty is a sinner that nullifies all that is good in a person physical, mental, and spiritual.
Different types of poverty: Material, Moral, and Spiritual
But, the real poverty is moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Moral poverty eats away one's bodily beauty and wealth due to too much sense-indulgence. He is afflicted by terrible diseases which drain away his health and wealth. A morally weak man cannot be strong in mind. His power of will is weak and his mind feeble; his good qualities take leave of him. His inordinate desire for sense gratification impels him to do acts unbecoming of his high birth and family prestige.
Spiritual poverty is still worse. It is Avidya (ignorance) and all that it implies. If a person has no good qualities, such as devotion to God, love for fellow-beings, kindness, regard for the higher values of life, etc., he is worse than both a pauper and a morally poor person. A person bereft of any spiritual wealth such as Viveka (discrimination between the real and unreal), Vairagya (distaste for unreal, perishable things of the world), faith in and yearning for God is the real pauper. He may appear to be healthy, beautiful, wealthy, and smiling outwardly, but in the eyes of God, he is a fallen man. God's assessment of man is quite different from our way of assessing. He looks to our inner purity, inner Bhava (attitude), and not to external appearances and showy acts. In spite of all one's outward health, wealth, pleasing manners, high birth, etc., if one is lacking in spiritual wealth, he is to be considered as really a poor man, an ignorant person.
Spiritual poverty (worst) > moral (worser) > material poverty (worse)
Material poverty is bad, but moral poverty is worse and spiritual poverty is indeed the worst. Material poverty can be removed by one's effort or by the offering of rich treasures by others. Comparatively, it is easier to overcome material poverty. Moral poverty is difficult to overcome. Great effort is necessary. It is almost a Herculean task for a moral weakling to become ethically strong. Yet, one can achieve it by determine effort. But spiritual poverty is almost impossible to remove. We have all been suffering from this since ages. We are born and we die due to this. Avidya (ignorance) is the original sin that has taken possession of us, God knows since when! Forgetting our universal nature, limiting ourselves to a particular body, taking this fleeting world as real, loving, or hating certain things, we act deludedly seeking the pleasures of senses, and suffering endlessly. What can be worse than this? This is the real poverty not to know who we are, what is good for us and how to seek it. This spiritual poverty can be removed only by the Lord, who is an embodiment of knowledge, which is represented by the sharp Vel. As the Vel pierced through the Asura, the Vel of wisdom has to destroy this Asura of ignorance in us. Only then there is salvation for us. Hence, Arunagirinathar prays for freedom from poverty poverty of every kind to be free from penury so that one may do acts of charity and develop virtues, to be free from moral weaknesses so that one may devote oneself whole-heartedly to God, and to be free from spiritual poverty or ignorance so that one may rest forever and ever in God. In removing the spiritual poverty, other persons cannot be of any help, as with material poverty; even determined self-effort cannot help much, as with moral poverty; the only way is grace of Guru or God. Hence, the prayer to the Lord, the king of the sharp-Vel.
Murugan King of the sharp-Vel & relation to poverty
Very significantly, Arunagirinathar addresses the Lord in this verse as "King with the sharp Vel." Only a king can annul the material poverty of any person, because the whole wealth of the nation belongs to him, that is, his resources are inexhaustible. Even a rich man cannot do it, his resources being limited. The Lord is the spiritual King King of virtues, and He alone can give the needed moral strength to fight the inner weaknesses. He is also the Lord with the sharp Vel, which represents wisdom supreme, which can destroy one's ignorance. The Lord is an embodiment of all divine virtues (Daivi Sampatti) and He bestows on His devotees faith, Viveka, Vairagya, longing for liberation and finally, as the Lord of Wisdom, the wealth of all wealth Brahma Jnana.
In using the epithets "sinner" (Paavi) and "if manifest" (Velippadin) to "poverty), Arunagirinathar seems to mean Avidya (ignorance or spiritual poverty) more than mere material poverty:
1. Avidya, as we know, is termed as "the original sin" and it is personified as sinner
Now, what is the manifestation of Avidya? We are, all of us, the products of Avidya. It is in everyone of us. But, we seem to be all right so long as we do not touch it. We are too busy and engrossed with the world outside that we never go to that level of our being as to touch Avidya, which lies in the Anandamaya Kosha. But in the case of the seeker of a certain amount of advancement in his practice, who has turned away from the outer world and seeks to meditate on the Self within (as mentioned in the previous verse), ignorance which was there within, in tact and undisturbed uptil now, tries to hiss at him. It tries to manifest itself as various negative forces and impede his progress, squandering his spiritual wealth of discrimination, dispassion, etc.
Avidya (ignorance) is like a sleeping cobra
Serious spiritual Sadhana is like touching a sleeping cobra, whose presence is not otherwise felt, when it hisses at us. One may then think: why awaken it at all? Why not allow it sleep? Well! It may look all right, but it is necessary; because that it is sleeping is no freedom from its danger. So long as it is there, the danger is immanent, and it has to be faced sometime or the other. Until it is killed, we cannot be free from the impending danger. So is the case with Avidya. So long as it is there, we are bound to this mortal existence. To attain Anubhuthi, Avidya has to be removed by necessary Sadhana, sooner or later. One cannot help it.
In spite of the fact that the singing of the glories of the Lord is so consoling to the heart, destroys one's delusion and fixes one's mind in Reality, yet it is a wonder that man finds it difficult to practice the Divine Name. Why? Arunagirinathar traces the cause of this three-fold poverty. A pauper cannot easily give his mind to God because his attention is constantly drawn to the very maintenance of the body itself. A moral weakling also cannot devote his mind to God, since it is ever immersed in sense-pleasures. A spiritual bankrupt, though materially well-off and morally sound, does not have the needed understanding to seek God. He is still satisfied with the phenomenal world and knows not the higher life. Though he is free from material wants and is peaceful in mind on account of his moral integrity, he cannot avoid the pains and miseries of Samsara (transmigratory life), such as ailments, bereavement, old age, death, etc.
Poverty leads to suffering (explained)
The cause of man's suffering is poverty in the material world, moral weakness in the inner world, and spiritual ignorance in the realm of the soul. Removal of the spiritual poverty (ignorance) alone can make man really happy. It is to rest in God's omnipresence.
Poverty with respect to Arunagirinathar's Life
Arunagirinathar, in his earlier days, had suffered terribly from poverty, both of wealth and morality (and of course everyone is afflicted with spiritual poverty). He was a moral wreck, ruined by sex-indulgence so much so that he lost all his wealth and became penniless and also affected by venereal diseases. He, therefore, knew the cruel nature of poverty and so he refers to it as a sinner. He had horribly suffered from poverty. It was his personal experience. Who helped him? The Lord with the sharp Vel appeared to him as a Guru and saved him not only from material want and moral weaknesses, but also from the spiritual poverty of ignorance of the Atman by bestowing on him wisdom supreme. He became a spiritual stalwart, who could administer to the spiritual aspirants the medicine for their disease, too. No more could sex have any appeal to him, nor was the bodily need left unattended to. Such is the grace of Lord Velayudha, the Lord with the sharp Vel, who saves all those that resort to Him.
True concise summary of verse 19
"O Lord," says Arunagirinathar, "if poverty afflicts a person, these six good qualities desert him." In this is an implied appeal to the Lord to shower His grace on the one that repeats this verse so that poverty may not afflict him. This verse is a powerful prayer for the removal of the three fold poverty.
Instruction for the devout Sadhaka
[But this inner meditation on the Self (verse 18) is not an easy joke, and no amount of self-effort will be of any avail. It requires a Guru's initiation, because meditation proper presupposes certain inner transformation which is brought about in the act of initiation by a competent Guru.
In verse 16, we have seen that Arunagirinathar traced Aviveka (non-discrimination) as the cause, for all practical purposes, of desires. Now, Aviveka having been removed with the dawn of Viveka (verse 17) and when meditation is attempted at (verse 18), the cause of Aviveka, viz., Avidya (ignorance) manifests itself. Just as in a war, the lower officers take the lead first and only finally the general makes his appearance, so is the case in this inner warfare, too.
If Nama and Rupa are obstacles for union with Satchidananda in objects, Avidya and its effects are the obstacles in communion with it within. The seeker, when he attempts meditation, realizes this. Avidya in tits variegated form manifests itself and impedes his effort at meditation and so the seeker feels the need for initiation from his Guru, which is echoed in the bewildered cry of his in the verse. It is also to be implied that he beseeches his Guru for necessary initiation.]
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.