The Light of Embar

There is a story in the life of the great Śrīvaiṣṇava saint, Bhagavad Rāmānuja. He had a younger cousin by name Govinda Perumāḷ. Govinda Perumāḷ was married while Śrī Rāmānuja was an ascetic.

Though Govinda was married, he never behaved like a normal householder. His mother was upset about this difference in behavior. She complained to Śrī Rāmānuja about his cousin’s behavior.

Śrī Rāmānuja knew of his cousin but to demonstrate his holy state, he called him before all and said, ‘Govinda! At the time of darkness, enjoy pleasure by mingling with your wife.’ Everyone present was shocked. Here is an ascetic advising his disciple to have pleasure with his wife in darkness! But, Govinda quietly accepted the instruction and left.

The next day, Śrī Rāmānuja summoned his cousin in front of all and asked, ‘Govinda, did you enjoy pleasure with your wife yesterday?’ Govinda replied, ‘No, Master.’

Śrī Rāmānuja feigned surprise and asked, ‘Why Govinda? Why did you lose the time of darkness? What a waste!’

Govinda replied, ‘I did not miss it, Master. I kept waiting for the time of darkness when I can exploit pleasure from the flesh of another human, but it never arrived.’

Now, everyone gathered there was utterly confused as to what was going on between the two cousins.  Did not night fall? Was there not darkness? Why is the ascetic so intent on this issue and why is his cousin replying as if night did not fall?

Śrī Rāmānuja looked at his cousin, his eyes gleaming with admiration. Almost reverentially, he asked his cousin, ‘Govinda! Would you mind explaining your last remark?’

Govinda replied, ‘When the Supreme Self shines forth in the heart and fills it with light, where is the scope for mundane business, Master? Where is darkness when His light, that is brighter than a thousand suns shining together, illuminates? Where is the pettiness of the individual soul that in its darkness seeks pleasure from the flesh of another person? I kept waiting for that time of darkness when I would descend to that pettiness and seek pleasure with a mind raging with desire. But, that hour did not arrive. The light that was shining within did not let up. Hence, O Master, I am incapable of behaving like a normal householder.’

Śrī Rāmānuja is said to have enacted this episode only to reveal this message to his disciples. Govinda went on to become a great master himself and was called Embār with the idea that he was just like Śrī Rāmānuja.

Some people copy only the external signs and behave with a clueless detachment. They try to control their senses and commit violence upon their bodies and minds. This is not the intent of this episode.

This is a message of Vedānta that we encounter in several places. The Puruṣa Sūkta reveals this first showing that the Supreme Self, Brahman is always manifest along with the soul-self, jīva.

The Lord of all creatures keeps walking into wombs.

Being birthless, He is born several times. 

Only the enlightened recognize His birth.

There is no use searching for God in a hundred external places if one cannot see the God within, if one cannot find the Supreme Self within oneself. In mystic experiences, this is seen as the greatest grace of God, to be born with us and to stay within us.

The Muṇḍaka Upaniṣat says

dvā suparṇa sayujā sakhāya samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte |
tayor-anyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvatty-anaśnannanyo abhicākaśīti ||

There are two birds which are together and are good friends. They climb on to the same tree. Of the two, one eats the delicious fruit; the other looks on without eating. 

The two birds are the soul-self and the Supreme Self – jīvātmā and paramātmā. The body is the tree. The soul-self enjoys and suffers all experiences of this body. The Supreme Self only watches, bearing witness.

The light of the Supreme Self is in all of us. The darkness of our existence would vanish if we are aligned with the witnessing Supreme Self, our friend who is with us.

The lady saint, Āṇḍāḷ realized the message of the Brahman’s appearance as Kṛṣṇa among the common-folk.  She saw the message as God being always with us. She says, We have the great good of having You born with us. Unblemished Lord! This bond can never be broken. 

Yes, He is born with us, with each one of us and lives in our hearts. He is not to found afar but within oneself. The last set of hymns in  Āṇḍāḷ’s Nācchiyār Tirumozi go like this:

Have you seen Kṛṣṇa who is such and such? 

Yes, we have. We have seen Him in Bṛndāvana. 

Bṛndāvana is our own hearts, our own self.

In Gītāñjali, Rabindranath Tagore writes,

Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever.

This is the same message conveyed through the scripture, the legends, the experience of mystics and the saints.

Our Light is within us. Let it shine!


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