Artha Panchakam – Introduction

Pillai Lokacharya is a star of the first magnitude in the galaxy of Sri-Vaisnava Divines, and his writings on philosophy and religion are considered to be precious gems of the first water. The sacred literature that flowed from his pen is the outcome of a long anterior religious and philosophic history of Sri-Vaisnavism, stretching down ageless from Narayana through Sri, and thence through the archaic azhvars and the mediaeval acharyas. The style adopted for this literature is what is known as Mani-pravala, or literature produced in the Dravida tongue (Tamil) happily blended with Sanskrit, so as to place philosophy and religion within the reach of the masses.

The Artha Panchaka, written in the thirteenth century A.D. by the celebrated Pillai Lokacharya, is quite the most important summary of the modern Bhagavata doctrine of Southern India that we possess. It forms one of the 18 Rahasyas or Secret doctrines bequeathed to us by Lokacharya and deals with five supreme truths or principles that each liberation-seeking soul needs to comprehend.

The doctrine of irresistible grace (nirhetuka kripa) taught by Pillai Lokacarya demands a corresponding attitude on the part of the believer. This is known as prapatti, or self-surrender. It is a stage beyond bhakti, which (like an infant monkey clinging to its mother) connotes active love and devotion, while prapatti (like the self-surrender of a kitten carried by its mother) is entirely passive. Prapatti, carried to its logical conclusions, entails the further doctrine that devotion and reverence are due to the mediator (acharya), who puts the postulant on the right way, and presents him to God as a soul to be saved. It will therefore be noticed that the Artha-Panchakam lays great stress on prapatti and Acharya Abhimana, while the text books of the Vadakalais, including all those of Northern India, insist on the active participation of the soul in working out its salvation, with the loving co-operation of a merciful and gracious God.

The soul, which is whirled in the vortex of evolution; in other words, entangled in the wheel of births and deaths, or subjected to the vicissitudes of bodily existence, or trammelled in the meshes of matter, – if it would escape from this vortex, i.e. gain deliverance from these vicissitudes, should obtain a knowledge of the Five Truths, or Principles, and, shaping his conduct ensuant on such knowledge, secure salvation.

The Five Truths or Principles are those of –

  1. Sva Svarupa – Own Self or Soul;
  2. Para Svarupa – Higher Self or God;
  3. Purushartha Svarupa – Goal or End;
  4. Upaya Svarupa – Means; and
  5. Virodhi Svarupa – the “Anti” or opposite to these, which may be called “agnosis”, “nescience”, “sin” and so forth according to context

We will look at each of these principles in greater detail in the forthcoming posts.

Article Credits: “The Artha Pancaka of Pillai Lokacharya” by Alkondavilli Govindacarya Swamin,  Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, 1910

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