Simple Guide to SrivaishNavam - apachArams to avoid

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chANdili - garuda incident (When garudAzhwAr thinks about chANdili residing in a secluded place instead of a holy place, his wings burn down at once)

In this article we will understand the different types of apachArams (offences or misdeeds) that SrIvaishNavas should avoid.

For SrIvaishNavas, SAsthram is the foundation - we depend on SAsthram for every action we do. SAsthram means that which instructs us on what to do (vidhi) and what not to do (nishEdham). Primarily SAsthram instructs us to perform our nithya karmas (daily activities) and namiththika karmas (periodic/specific activities) and restrain from theft, attachment towards others' properties, violence, etc. Our pUrvAchAryas took the essence from the SAsthram and consolidated them for us.

In SrIvachana bhUshaNa dhivya SAsthram, in sUthrams 300 to 307, piLLai lOKAchAryar explains that a SrIvaishNava must be asakthan (incapable to do) in the following 4 matters:

  • akruthya karaNam - not indulging in what is rejected in SAsthram
  • bhagavath apachAram - apachArams in emperumAn's vishayam
  • bhAgavatha apachAram - apachArams in bhAgavatha vishyam (devotees)
  • asahya apachAram - apachArams in bhagavath/bhAgavatha vishayam which happen without any reason
Let us see one by one in detail:

akruthya karaNam
SAsthram in general asks us to refrain from the following items:
  • para himsai - giving trouble to any living being. even hurting a plant or small ant unnecessarily is not accepted in SAsthram. 
  • para sthOtram - our speech ability is provided by emperumAn to praise him and his adiyArs (devotees). It should never be used to praise avaishNavas.
  • para dhAra parigraham - we should never think about others' wives with any wrong intentions.
  • para dhravya apahAram - we should never take someone else's property directly or indirectly unless the owner gives it to us willingly.
  • asathya kathanam - speaking what is opposite to reality/truth and what is not helping any living being.
  • apakshya pakshaNam - eating food stuffs which has 3 types of dhOsham (defects) viz jAthi (by nature), ASraya (due to ownership/association) or nimiththa (specific reasons) - see AhAra niyamam ( for detailed discussion on this topic.
  • many other such restrictions given by manu smruthi, etc.
It is important for a SrIvaishNava to first follow the sAmAnya SAsthra vidhi and avoid the nishEdha vishayams.

bhagavath apachAram

piLLai lOKAchAryar continues to explain the next nishEdha vishayam - bhagavath apachAram. He explains this in great detail and mAmunigaL gives wonderful commentary for these. The following are listed as bhagavath apachAram:
  • To consider emperumAn at the same level as dhEvathAntharams (other dhEvathAs) - for a SrIvaishNava it is paramount to understand that emperumAn is sarvESvaran, one who is the lord of every one (including brahmA, Siva, indhra, varuNa, agni, etc) and he is the antharyAmi (one being inside everyone to control their acts). There is no one equal to him or higher than him. With that understanding, we should fully abstain from indulging in any relationship with dhEvathAntharams.
  • To consider avathArams such as SrI rAma, krishNa, etc as normal or (even super) humans. One should understand that emperumAn appears in this samsAram (material realm) with all his qualities as in paramapadham (spiritual realm). As part of his leelA, he enters into garbham (womb) of a woman, being born on a particular day, goes through difficulties like vanavAsam (dwelling in forest), etc - but he is not bound by karma at all - instead all of these happen out of his ichchA (desire) to help jIvAthmAs who are suffering in samsAram. So, just because of these difficulties he takes up on himself, we should never think that he is also like other humans.
  • To disrespect the varNaSrama limits - One should strictly follow varNa and ASrama rules and regulations. Because emperumAn says "Sruthi smruthir mama Eva AgyA … AgyA chEdhi mama dhrOhi, madh bhakthOpi na vaishNava:" - He says that Sruthi and smruthi are his orders and those who do not follow them are his dhrOhis (traitors) and even if he is a bhaktha he will not be considered a vaishNava. In this particular case, mAmunigaL explains, fourth varNa SrIvaishNavas using vaidhIka manthrams during thiruvArAdhanam, sanyAsis eating beetle nuts are some of the acts which are not allowed by SAsthram.
  • To value the archA vigraham (deity) based on the raw materials which are used to making it - we should understand that emperumAn out of pure love for his bhakthas, takes up the form which they desire. If we say that this is a golden vigraham and hence it is great or this is a stone vigraham or just a picture and hence it is not good, it is bhagavath apachAram. This is explained in SAsthram as questioning the purity of one's own mother. 
  • To consider the jIvAthmA as independent - our svAthanthriya budhdhi (independent will ignoring bhagavAn's will) is the main cause for all kinds of sins and this is explained as the biggest theft in SAsthram. We should understand that jIvAthmA is only subservient to emperumAn and act according to that.
  • To steal bhagvath dhravyam (things that belong to emperumAn). This includes stealing emperumAn's properties like his bhOgam (food), thiruvAbharanam (ornaments), vasthram (clothes), etc. Also stealing immovable properties like his land, etc., can be included here which are quite common these days.
  • To help those who do the above acts of stealing.
  • To accept those stolen properties from those who steal or help others to steal emperumAn's properties. Even accepting with the thought of "well, we did not wan’t those, but they are giving it, so why not accept it" is not favourable to emperumAn.
  • many other such behaviours that are condemned in SAsthram.

bhAgavatha apachAram

Primarily, it is explained that just considering another SrIvaishNava equal to oneself is a bhAgavatha apachAram - we should always consider ourselves lower than other SrIvaishNavas. In this section, piLLai lOKAchAryar very briefly explains that "bhAgavatha apachAram is that enmity which is developed in us against SrIvaishNavas, out of desire towards wealth and lust". But detailed explanation of bhAgavatha apachAram is discussed in SrIvachana bhUshaNam sUthrams 190 to 207. Let us see the essence of those sUthrams.

First we need to have some context on bhAgavatha apachAram:
  • Those who have SrIvaishNava vEsham (dress, Urdhva puNdram, etc) but engage in bhAgavatha apachAram are like clothes which are folded nicely but burnt internally. When a strong wind blows, the cloth will fly into pieces.
  • We also have to understand that emperumAn's avathArams like varAha, naraismha, rAma, krishna, etc and his acts in those avathArams are mainly due to him unable to bear such apachArams done by hiraNya, rAvana, etc., towards his own bhakthas. It is because of anguish in seeing the suffering of his bhakthas, he takes up these avathArams in samsAram. We can easily understand this from his own words on his avathAra rahasyam in the fourth chapter of bhagavath gIthA in the slOkams – “yadhA yadhA...”, “parithrANAya sAdhuaNam…”, “bhahUni mE vyathIthAni…”, “ajOpi sann…” and “janma karma cha mE dhivyam…”. In their githA bhAshyam and thAthparya chandrikai, emperumAnAr and vedhAnthAchAryar have explained these slOkams in great detail.
There are also several types of bhAgavatha apachAram - discriminating/disrespecting a SrIvaishNava based on his/her birth, knowledge, acts, food, relatives, place of living, etc.

Out of these, discriminating/disrespecting based on a SrIvaishNava's birth is the cruelest one. This is considered to be even worse than valuing the archA vigraham (deity) of emperumAn based on the raw material it is made of (it is already explained that this is similar to questioning the purity of one’s own mother).

The fact that we disrespect another SrIvaishNava based on any of the above is in itself sufficient to cause bhAgavatha apachAram. Our pUrvAchAryas have maintained such strict standards while dealing with other SrIvaishNavas. They were cautious all the time. For example, even an AchArya will treat his Sishya with utmost respect - that is the level of dignity they were maintaining. What we see today to some extent is total degradation - even the Sishya is not giving respect to his/her own AchArya and saying things like "well, he is not so knowledgable.", "but he is also after money, how can I respect him?", etc. It is best for the Sishya to respect their AchArya and let emperumAn guide the AchArya in his spiritual pursuit.

The results of bhAgavatha apachAram are also explained in detail here.
  • thrisangu's example is explained here - He insisted to his AchArya (vaSishta maharishi) and subsequently vaSishta's sons to make him go to svargam with the existing body. Since they refused to do that he got angry and seeing that vaSishta's sons cursed him to become a chandALa (dog-eater). The same yagyOpavItham which establishes his brahma gyAnam, became the belt which chandALas wear. Likewise if SrIvaishNavas commit apachArams, being in a such high position (being a SrIvaishNava) any pApams/mistakes that they do will have the most severe punishment according to SAsthram - since they are expected to be very pure. Just like if the Prime Minister of the country is involved in some corruption - every one thinks so low of him, but if a common man is involved in corruption no one will care about that.
  • thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr said "thamargaLil thalaivarAya chAthi aNthanNargaLElum" ("தமர்களில் தலைவராய சாதி அந்தணர்களேலும்") - even if a person is born in brAhmaNa family, had brahmOpadhEsam (instructing of gAyathri japam) and fully qualified himself in vEdham, if he commits an apachAram to a SrIvaishNava (who just understands the sambandham between emperumAn and himself but may not have any other gyAnam and anushtAnam), this brAhmana will become like a chandALa immediately. We should not think that even after doing so many apachArams to SrIvaishNavas we do not see anyone change their forms - the change need not be physical.
  • Even when garudan thought about chANdili (who is emperumAn's bhakthai) that, why she is living in a secluded place instead of a dhivya dhEsam, he immediately lost his wings.
  • When piLLaippiLLai AzhwAn continuously commits bhAgavatha apachAram, kUraththAzhwan corrects him in many ways highlighting the importance of avoiding such apachArams.

Finally, we should understand a very important point. As we understand/believe that, "we get mOksham purely by our relationship to our AchArya irrespective of our gyAnam and anushtAnam", the same way "we will fall down to the bottom of samsAram purely by our apachAram to a SrIvaishNava irrespective of our gyAnam and anushtAnam".

asahya apachAram

asahya means without any reason. These are the apachArams we commit towards emperumAn, AchArya or SrIvaishNavas without any specific reason.

  • In bhagavath vishyam - hiraNyakaSipu just did not want to hear about emperumAn - even though emperumAn did not do anything particularly against him. 
  • In AchArya vishayam - not following his instructions, explaining the knowledge he taught to unqualified persons in expectation of wealth, fame, etc
  • In bhAgavatha vishayam - having jealosy towards other SrIvaishNavas, etc.
It is explained that each of these apachArams (in order) are more cruel than the one before. That is, bhagavath apachAram is crueler than akruthya karaNam (indulging in prohibited activities), bhAgavatha apachAram is crueler than bhagavath apachAram and asahya apachAram is crueler than bhAgavatha apachAram.

Our pUrvAchAryas were very respectful to SAsthram and were very fearful of commiting any apachAram. Every AchArya in our guruparamparai (as we can see from their history), towards the end of their life in this samsAram, will gather all their Sishyas and other SrIvaishNavas and ask for their forgiveness even though they did not commit any apachAram at all. Such was their humility.

For us also, it is important to understand this clearly, and try to apply in our lives. gyAnam (knowledge) exemplifies when it leads to anushtAnam (practice) - if that does not happen that gyAnam can simply be the called agyAnam (ignorance).

We should also understand clearly that this does not mean that SrIvaishNavas did not share their knowledge in SAsthram to other SrIvaishNavas fearing that it will cause bhAgavatha apachAram. If that were the case, we would not have so many granthams by our pUrvAchAryas and even contemporary AchAryas in our sampradhAyam explaining how we should live. The goal of these granthams is to educate us to develop these good qualities by reading them.

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

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