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Vallabha is regarded as an acharya (embodiment of a divine personality) and guru within the Vaishnava traditions. Within Indian philosophy, he is known as the writer of sixteen stotras (tracts) and produced several commentaries on the Bhagavata Purana, which described the many lilas (pastimes) of the avatar, Krishna. Vallabha Acharya occupies a unique place in Indian culture as a scholar, a philosopher, and devotional (bhakti) preacher. He is especially known as a lover and a propagator of Bhagavata Dharma.
Vallabha’s view is now known as Shuddhadvaita (Pure non-Dualism) and his school is known as Rudrasampradāya or Pushtimarg. Vallabha offered a theistic interpretation of the Vedanta in which Brahman and the universe are one and the same, and the universe is a natural emanation from God that does not involve any notion of change. Through His will Brahman manifests Himself as matter and as souls, revealing his nature of Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss in varying proportions. Souls and matter are real manifestations of Brahman, not illusions. According to Vallabha, bhakti, a firm and all-surpassing affection (sneha) for God, with a full sense of His greatness, is the only means of salvation.
Vallabha was a Telugu Brahmin of South India, born in Champaran near Raipur in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh.
The ancestors of Vallabha acharya lived in Andhra Pradesh. According to devotional accounts, Sri Thakorji (Krishna) announced to Yagnanarayana that He would take birth in his family after completion of one hundred Somayagnas (fire sacrifices). When Laxmana Bhatta, his descendant, completed one hundred yagnas, Vallabhacharya was born in 1479 C.E. (V.S. 1535), on the 11th day of the dark half of lunar month of chaitra at Champaranya. The name of his mother was Yallamma garu. Because his mother had suffered from terror and the physical strain of a flight from danger, her infant was born two months prematurely. As the baby did not show signs of life, the parents placed it under a tree wrapped in a piece of cloth. It is believed that Krishna appeared in a dream before the parents of Vallabhacharya and signified that He had taken His birth as the child. The blessed mother extended her arms into the fire unscathed; she received from the fire the divine babe, joyfully to her bosom. The child was named Vallabha, because he was very dear to his parents.
Vallabha’s education commenced at the age of seven with the study of four Vedas. He acquired mastery over the books expounding the six systems of Indian philosophy. He also learned philosophical systems of Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, and Nimbarka, along with the Buddhist and Jain schools. He was able to recite the hundred mantras, not only from beginning to end but also in reverse order. At Vyankateshwar and Lakshmana Balaji, he made a strong impression on the public as an embodiment of knowledge, and was acclaimed as Bala Saraswati.
At Vijayanagara, an empire in South India with sovereignty over many states, whose rulers were champions of Hinduism, a summit was held between the Vaishnavaites of Madhva and Shankarites to debate the philosophical question of whether God is dualistic or non-dualistic. Vallabhacharyaji felt a divine call to participate in the discussion. Vallabhacharyaji, who had earned the epithet of Bala Saraswati, was given an opportunity to discuss the question. The discussion continued for twenty-seven days in the conference hall. Finally, the Vaishnavas were declared the victors and held a great celebration at Vijaynagara. Vallabhara was honored by the kanakabhisheka ceremony, in which the title of Acharya and world preceptor was conferred on him. He was given vessels of gold weighing a hundred maunds, which he distributed among the poor brahmins and the learned, keeping only seven gold mohurs. They were used for preparing the ornaments of their Lord Govardhananatha.
Vallabhacharya performed three pilgrimages of India, barefooted, and clad a simple white dhoti and a white covering (uparano) over his torso. His body appeared as that of a magnificently bright celibate. He gave discourses on Bhagavata and explained the subtle meanings of the Puranic text at eighty-four locations which are still visited by thousands of Hindu pilgrims and are referred to as "Chaurasi Bethak." For four months in each year he resided in Vraja.
In the Hindu religion, an acharya (आचार्य) is a Divine personality (महापुरुश) who is believed to have descended (अवतार) to teach and establish bhakti in the world and write on the philosophy (िसद्धांत) of devotion to God (भगवान्). An acharya is a leader of spiritual preceptors, who has written his personal commentary on the Brahmasutra, Bhagavad Gita, and Upanishads. Vallabhacharya was designated the fourth Acharyaji, following Shankarcharya, Ramanujacharya, and Madhvacharya, and was then addressed as “Shri Vallabhacharya.”
It is believed that when Vallabhacharya entered Gokul, he reflected how to restore people to the right path of devotion. He meditated on Krishna, who appeared to him in a vision in the form of Shrinathji, and is said to have heard the BrahmaSambandha mantra, a mantra of self-dedication or consecration of the self to Krishna. Early the next morning, Vallabha Acharya related this experience to his worthiest and most beloved disciple, asking “Damala, did you hear any voice last night?” Damodaradasa replied that he had not. Vallabha became the first vaishnava, preaching a message of devotion to God and God’s grace called Pushti—Marga. He performed an initiation ceremony, or religious rite, in which he conferred on the people the "NamaNivedana," or "Brahma Sambandha," mantra. Thousands became his disciples but eighty-four devoted servants are particularly famous, and their story is known as the Story of 84 Vaishnavas.
Vallabhacharyaji strictly adhered to three rules:
Initially he vowed to remain a life-long celibate but the guru Vitthalanatha of Pandharipur commanded him to marry and live the life of householder. He married a woman named Mahakanya and had two sons: Gopinatha and Vitthalanatha (also known as Shri Gusainji).
In 1530 C.E., Shrinathji commanded Vallabhacharya to leave the worldly life and to approach Him. Shrinathji had commanded him twice previously to abandon worldly life, at Madhuvamji and Gangasagarji. He accepted the third and final command, and reached Kasi, where he lived in a Parna Kutira (a cottage of leaves) on the Hanuman ghat (mountain) for about a week. He spent his last days in contemplation of Vishnu and suffered agonies of separation from Him. The members of his family assembled near him for his last darshan (experience of the divine). He wrote three-and-a-half verses on the sand; then Krishna manifested visually on the spot and wrote a verse and a half. This text is known as ShikshaSloki.
On the day of Rath Yatra (a festival that is celebrated on the second or third day of the bright side of the lunar month of Ashadha), Vallabhachrya entered into the waters of the Ganges. A brilliant flame in the form of God arose from the water, ascended to heaven and was lost in the firmament. This divine brilliant flame lived in the sky for three hours and it finally entered the cave of Giriraj mountain near Dandavati Shila. This episode is known as AsurVyamohLila, and is an illustration of the way in which embodiments of the divine give up their lives at will, and reach the region of permanent abode of the Divine.
Vallabha is regarded as an acharya (embodiment of a divine personality) and guru within the Vaishnava traditions. Within Indian Philosophy he is known as the writer of sixteen "stotras" (tracts) and produced several commentaries on the Bhagavata Purana, which describes the many lilas (pastimes) of the avatar, Krishna. Vallabha Acharya occupies a unique place in Indian culture as a scholar, a philosopher and devotional (bhakti) preacher. He is especially known as a propagator of Bhagavata Dharma.
Tradition says that Vallabha developed the views of Vişņusvāmin, who belonged to the thirteenth century. His view is now known as Shuddhadvaita (Pure non-Dualism, as distinct from Samkara’s Kevalādvaita). His school is also known as Rudrasampradāya or Pushtimarg (“Pusti” means the grace of God, which dawns through devotion and is the cause of liberation). Vallabha accepted the authority not only of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahmasutra but of the Bhagavata Purana. He wrote a commentary on the Brahmasutra called Aņubhāsya, a commentary on the Bhāgavata called Bhāgavata-tikāsubhodini, and Siddhāntarahasya. His son, Vitthalanatha, wrote Vidvanmandana.
Vallabha offered a theistic interpretation of the Vedanta which differs from the interpretations of Samkara and Ramanuja. He declared that the whole world is real and is subtly Brahman. Brahman is the independent reality, and is personified as Krishna when he is endowed with the qualities of wisdom and (jnana) and action (kriya). The essence of Brahman is Existence (sat), Knowledge (chit) and Bliss (ananda). Souls and matter are real manifestations of Brahman, they are his parts. Brahman is the abode of all good quality and even the seemingly contradictory qualities; He is the smallest and the greatest, the one and the many. Through His will He manifests Himself as matter and as souls, revealing his nature of Existence, Knowledge and Bliss in varying proportions. Avidya (ignorance, absence of knowledge) is His power, by which He manifests as many. The manifestation is not an illusion, but is a real manifestation. Neither does it involve a transformation (parinama); the universe is a natural emanation from God and does not involve any notion of change. Substance and its attributes, cause and effect are one and the same. The substance really appears as its attributes, and the cause appears as its effects. Brahman is the material cause (samavayi-karana) of the universe and also its efficient cause, agent (karta) and enjoyer (bhokta).
Vallabha views God as the whole and the individual as part, but since the individual is of identical essence with God, there is no real difference between the two. All things are Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss, in varying proportions. In animal and human souls, the quality of Bliss (ananda) is suppressed; in matter both Knowledge and Bliss are suppressed, leaving only the quality of existence. Vallabha distinguishes three kinds of jivas or human souls: Pure (suddha) souls whose lordly qualities are not obscured by ignorance (avidya); mundane (samsarin) souls who, caught up in ignorance, experience the cycles of birth and death, and liberated (mukta) souls who are freed from the bondage of samsara (birth and death) through insight. When a soul is liberated, it recovers its suppressed qualities (bliss) and becomes one with God.
Vallabha distinguishes between jagat or prapancha, the real manifestation of God; and samsara, the cycle of births and deaths. Samsara is imagined by the soul, which suffers from five-fold ignorance: Ignorance of the real nature of the soul; and false identification with the body, with the senses, with the vital breaths, and with the internal organs. With the dawn of knowledge, ignorance vanishes, and with it, samsara.
According to Vallabha, bhakti, a firm and all-surpassing affection (sneha) for God, with a full sense of His greatness, is the only means of salvation. Bhakti means an attachment to God which presupposes detachment from everything else. It is not knowledge, or worship, but affection and loving service of God. The feeling of oneness with God is not its culmination; the feeling of affection is gained through the grace of God, which is attracted by purity of heart. In other Vedantic schools, bhakti is attained through making effort to destroy individual sin. In Pusti-marga, bhakti is attained simply by the grace of God, which automatically destroys sin. God, pleased by the devotion takes the devotee within Himself, or brings him near to enjoy the sweetness of his service.
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