An Exegesis of Dvaya Mantra

November 24, 2022 [dharma] #vaishnavism #vedanta-desika

While looking into understanding the Dvaya Mantra, meditation on which is regarded by the eleventh century theologian Ramanuja as one of the duties of a Vaishnava, I came across this wonderful paper by Fancis X Clooney. Clooney explores the significance of the Dvaya Mantra in the Srivaishnava tradition and the exegesis of the mantra by the thirteenth century polymath Vedanta Desika.

The Dvaya Mantra can suprise one by its apparent simplicity. There are two statements or clauses, and at first glance they seem to be saying the same thing:

srimannarayanacaranau saranam prapadye
srimate narayanaya namah

I approach for refuge the feet of Narayana with Sri;
Praise to Narayana with Sri!

There is more to it than simple reaffirmation of faith, however. The Srivaishnava community regards it as a summarization of the tradition:

Concern for the meaning of dvayam is a concern for the double content communicated in the mantra: the means is also the goal, and the lord is the means to the lord as the goal. This is in a way the essential teaching of the Srivaisnava tradition as a living transmission of truths from one generation to the next.

The mantra offers itself to multiple meanings, and deconstructing it reveals significant theological claims, which in turn involves taking seriously the mantra's elegant complexity. Francis X Clooney, via Vedanta Desika, breaks it down in the following manner:

Dvaya Mantra, First Clause

Dvaya Mantra, Second Clause

As an example of the involved exegesis undertaken by early second millennium theologians, this is one of the readings Vedanta Desika offers for the namah in the second clause:

This word "namah" indicates the ending of all obstacles in the form of ignorance and karma and the tendencies based on them, such as desire and attachment to matter. But in accord with the scripture regarding the analysis of namah, some say that the primary intention [of the second clause] is to weed out the notion of being an agent for one's own purposes and while depending on oneself or being an enjoyer for one's own sake while depending on oneself. Such goals suffer by comparison with the result that is perfect service, in accord with the maxim about "experiencing another result

The Dvaya Mantra is regarded as one of the rahasyas. Why is it a secret when Vedanta Desika seems to have written a treatise on it, and other members of the Srivaishna community similarly seem to have written commentaries on it? Francis Clooney holds thus:

The mantra is rahasya because, as it is uttered, reflected upon, and understood, it forces upon the reader truths not immediately accessible to uncommitted observers. It demands a surrender to God that would not ordinarily be considered accessible or practicable. Rahasya is tantamount to the truth that becomes available to and powerful for those who take to heart wisdom transmitted from generation to generation by acaryas, encoded in the mantra as properly read in accord with the tradition. This rahasya is the "mystery of God" in a deeper and richer sense, evocative of the sacred realm wherein intelligent and attentive human beings are transformed, irreversibly, blissfully. On this basis we can say that the Rahasyatrayasaram is not merely about the Dvaya Mantra; it is rather part of the life of the Dvaya Mantra. To read the Rahasyatrayasaram is to share in that vitality.

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