“Thereafter the elder brother of Lakshmana consoled Sugriva, who had been driven away for the sake of his wife through his brother Vali, he of excellent splendor.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.34)
tam tataḥ sāntvayāmāsa sugrīvam lakṣmaṇa āgrajaḥ |
strī hetoḥ vālinā bhrātrā nirastam uru tejasā ||
The Sanskrit word acharya means “one who leads by example.” It is a not too uncommon surname for people native to the land known as India, but the title is there due to the lineage tracing to some spiritual leader in times past. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that what a great man does, others follow. Whatever example he sets becomes the standard.
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas
tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
The living entity is born into delusion. They are overcome by the prakriti that surrounds them. They are purusha, or spirit, while not understanding that the covering matter is merely temporary. The living entity is a superior kind of prakriti in relation to the original person and enjoyer, the Supreme Lord. He is the best spirit, or Purushottoma.
The association of the acharya is necessary for breaking free from the delusion. But what makes a bona fide leader? How do we tell? A person can be a great thief and thus set the example for others. Even statesmen are lauded today for their expert ability at bending the truth. If they can survive a scandal in office for which they are actually culpable, then it is a sign of expertise.
catvaras te kalau bhavya
hy utkale purusottama
"Any mantra that does not come in disciplic succession is considered to be fruitless. Therefore, four divine individuals will appear in the age of Kali to found disciplic schools. The founders of these four Vaishnava sampradayas are Lakshmi or Shri, Brahma, Rudra and Sanaka Rishi, and the acharyas of the Kali Age who follow their lines will appear in the holy city of Purushottama in Orissa." (Padma Purana)
A Vedic text known as the Padma Purana sheds some light. It reveals that in the present age of darkness and hypocrisy, there are four traditions of spiritual teachers that are bona fide. Each tradition traces its lineage back to a great devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Moreover, in this present age each lineage has an acharya associated with it, a person who leads by example in reviving the original culture of love and devotion to the Supreme Lord.
One of those acharyas is Ramanuja. He appeared on this earth many centuries ago, and his spiritual lineage traces back to Lakshmi Devi, who is the goddess of fortune. Another name for Lakshmi is Shri, and so Ramanuja is part of the Shri Sampradaya. A sampradaya is a specific chain of disciplic succession, which features one acharya setting the example, paving the way for future acharyas. It is said that Ramanuja is an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga. Both Anantadeva and Lakshmi are associated with the Supreme Lord in His form of Narayana. God is one, but He appears in different ways to carry out different functions. The innumerable living entities may be attracted to a specific form due to the qualities shown, but they are all worshiping the same God. Even the atheists are attracted; they are merely worshiping the separated energy known as the material nature.
Worship of the real thing is the proper path for the living entity. That is their constitutional position. We can think of it like driving on the correct side of the road. We have the freedom to drive on the wrong side, but that is dangerous. We may get away with it temporarily, but continuing on that path will lead to destruction. In a similar manner, to stay under the shelter of the material energy is to remain in the cycle of birth and death in a temporary and miserable land.
The name Ramanuja means “younger brother of Rama.” In this way Ramanuja is identical to Lakshmana, who is referenced in the above quoted verse from the Ramayana. The speaker here is Shri Hanuman, and he mentions Lakshmana intentionally. To be addressed in relation to Rama is a high compliment. Though today adherence to traditions from times past is rare, in the original sense the word anuja means “a follower.” The elder brother is the leader in the generation of siblings. The younger brothers honor and follow.
Lakshmana is the ideal younger brother to the Supreme Lord’s incarnation of Shri Rama. Thus the use of the word Ramanuja is complimentary both to the elder and younger brothers. Rama has two other brothers who can be addressed with the same name. Bharata and Shatrughna also follow Rama out of love.
Hanuman here mentions Lakshmana as a way to reference Shri Rama. The situation is reversed. Rama is addressed as Lakshmana-agraja. This means the elder brother of Lakshmana. This is another way to praise the Supreme Lord. He has innumerable names, as His glories are too great to count. What is commonly known as Hinduism today is actually sanatana-dharma. The earliest recorded works that can be called the source of sanatana-dharma are the Vedas. Think of people singing praises constantly. Then take those people and transform them into book form. That is one way to understand the Vedas.
Rama is the elder brother of the invincible Lakshmana. Rama leads the one who is ready to follow in any situation. Lakshmana has only one interest: serving the Supreme Lord. Hanuman is speaking to Sita Devi, telling her about how he came to meet her husband Rama. Hanuman arranged a meeting between Rama and Sugriva, the Vanara-leader in Kishkindha. Sugriva had a brother named Vali, but the relationship wasn’t the same. They were at war with one another.
Rama is so great that He has the wonderful Lakshmana following Him. He has the devoted Sita as a wife. He has the fearless, courageous, intelligent, and compassionate Hanuman to carry out missions for Him. In this way there are many sides to the Supreme Lord. He can be addressed through His devotees, and He takes great pleasure in hearing such names. Thus there are many ways to please Him as well, meaning that life in the material realm shouldn’t have to continue any longer.
Ramanuja meaning Lakshmana a junior,
Following Rama, agraja the senior.
Shri Hanuman addressing in this way,
With praise to both brothers to say.
Lakshmana invincible, mighty and brave,
For the pleasure of God his efforts to save.
Hanuman, Sita and Bharata also related,
Rama’s glories through so many names stated.