In July 2015 in Nice, Sri T.K. Sribhashyam kindly agreed to answer a series of questions from Stephen Brandon based on his reading of the series of books on Indian philosophy and practice written by Sribhashyam and his sister Alamelu. This is part two of the interview.
2) In your books, you say that your mother represented a living philosophy to your family. Could you share something about your mother’s life and her influence on you.
I was very talkative and very inquisitive; I used to ask her many questions. She was very responsive to my enquiries. In the evenings, we would sit in the garden outside our house and talk, and we would often talk about how she lived with my father, how their life was when they were young, their trips, etc. That is how I learnt a lot about my father’s teaching, his discourses, his participation in philosophical debates, his way of living and my mother’s way of living also, and how she accepted his way of life. Financially, they were not very rich; my father was not much interested in earning money, but they had a wealth of knowledge.
I have great respect for my mother because I owe her a lot in understanding what my father was teaching. As I lived with my father I never found him different from what he was teaching, this is something I admired in him compared to some Yoga Masters who preach something and live differently. My father lived what he taught. As his wife, my mother followed his teachings. The reason why I call her also as a great philosopher is because she taught us to live following his principles by simply showing herself as an example.
During his lessons on the Vedanta or the Bhagavad Githa, my father would advise me to keep in mind that my mother applied in her life what he taught to us.
In all my life, I found my mother a very good example to my father’s teaching. But she is not in the forefront and that is why I am very particular that I always have a word for her because it is Indian nature, the lady member of the family is always in the shadow. In my parents’ life, I never found her in the shadow because he would never do anything without his wife’s, advice.
What is the good of all this learning if we do not know how to apply it? I find that in my own house, I had someone who applied it. And it’s for me to seize this opportunity. That is why I always give importance to my Mother.
3) At the beginning of each book is the genealogy of your ancestors. Could you explain about your family tradition and the connection with Ramanuja?
Since the main theme of the three books is devotion, I wanted to pay respects to our ancestors. One of the ways for such an homage is to invoke their names.
In Hindu tradition, we pay respects to two types of elders: our blood-related ancestors (we call pitṛ) and our elderly spiritual masters (we call pūrvācāryā, meaning ancient masters). During our ancestor worships, we invoke only three generations of ancestors, but before any philosophical or spiritual studies, we invoke a larger number of masters, often in an ascending order. According to the maṭha (hermitage) we belong to, we invoke Rāmānuja, Śaṅkara, Madhva, Vallabha, Tīrthankara, etc., and their principal disciples.
We also invoke three impersonal gurus:
asmat gurubhyo namah,
asmat parama gurubhyo namaha
asmat sarva gurubhyo namaha.
Translated freely these three mantras mean: I prostrate to my teacher, I prostrate to the great teacher, and I prostrate to Teacher of teachers. We consider the third one as God. In Yoga Sutra, Patañjali considers Īśvara as the Primal Teacher.
In our books, the genealogy of our ancestors is long because some of them were great spiritual teachers (both on the paternal as well as on the maternal side).
Any study without invoking our ancient masters is considered sterile.
We are followers of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. Sri Rāmānuja is the first master of this school of Vedānta. Some of our ancestors who were philosophical masters were committed to transmitting his principles of philosophy and life regulations. My father maintained the same line of transmission. I do my best to propagate this tradition. As such, Sri Rāmānuja is our prime Guru. Yet, God is the Teacher of all teachers.