NyAsa Vimshati of Swami Desikan

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July 27, 1998


There are 20 (vimśati) Sloka-s on nyâsa in this stotra (excluding two Sloka-s in the end which deal with the phala Sruti), and this is the basis for the name. After going through the meanings of the Sloka-s in nyâsa vimśati, I felt that it would have been more appropriate to call it prapatti-rakshâ, similar to the pâñcarâtra-rakshâ of svâmi deśikan. After giving a description of how an âcârya should be chosen, how he should be respected, how a Sishya should behave, etc., svâmi deśikan takes up the different arguments that have been advanced by opponents of prapatti as a mokshopâya, and answers these questions through nyâsa vimśati.

Of the 28 stotra-s in samskṛt that we have from svâmi deśikan, nyâsa vimśati is the only one for which he himself has written a vyâkhyâna in prose as well. This shows the importance he attached to the content of this stotra.

In this storam, svâmi deśikan gives the qualities of an âcârya, the attributes of a Sishya, the help rendered by an âcârya, the observances that should be followed by a Sishya on a daily basis, the qualifications for bhakti and prapatti, the greatness of prapatti, the prâyaścitta-s for transgressing the requirements of the anga-s of prapatti, etc.

I considered different formats for presenting the material below - in the form of questions and answers, a high level summary which omits details, and a very detailed write-up which covers everything that is conveyed to us. The last one would have been the most preferable, but because of the length I am compromising.


âcârya lakshaṇa - âcârya should be treated as bhagavân

One who is interested in surrendering himself to the Lord should seek a qualified âcârya. A qualified âcârya is an absolute and integral part of śaraṇâgati, because getting a detailed understanding of the principle of prapatti is an essential prerequisite for śaraṇâgati, and this cannot be attained without the help of the âcârya. The âcârya should be held and worshipped in the same position as bhagavân by the Sishya, because there is no way to repay the knowledge that the âcârya imparts to the Sishya (Slokam 2). svâmi deśikan has described 14 qualities of an âcârya (âcârya lakshṇam) in Slokam 1, and 8 reasons why an âcârya and bhagavân hold the same position for a Sishya in Slokam 2.

Proper Instruction from A Qualified âcârya Absolutely Essential

Not everyone in the ocean of samsâra comes forth with a desire for moksha. This desire arises only in a few (kasyacit) who have had the good fortune to get the upadeśa as described in previous Sloka-s. In turn, it is only when a person has led a life of virtue (puṇya) that the desire to seek an âcârya, the desire for moksha, and the opportunity to even get the upadeśa from a qualified âcârya, will arise. This condition itself arises only occasionally (kvâpi kâle). SrI D. râmasvâmi aiyengâr refers us to the nitâ - बहूनां जन्मनाम् अन्ते ज~नावान् मां प्रपद्यते (Slokam 5).

One may think that it is much easier to just chant the prapatti mantra once, and not have an âcârya etc. However, this is not what prapatti is all about. It is important to have the guidance of an âcârya who alone can sow the seed of prapatti in the Sishya’s mind at an opportune time as prescribed in the SAstra-s. This alone will lead to the long-lasting interest and ability to follow the anga-s of prapatti including mahâ-viśvâsam, and lead ultimately to moksha (Slokam 8).

Sishya lakshaṇam

A person who wishes to learn and be instructed by an âcârya should be a sincere Sishya with certain qualifications such as sincere interest in learning, trust in SAstra-s, control of indriya-s, etc. svâmi deśikan has outlined 15 Sishya lakshaṇa-s in Slokam 3.

The Most Important Instruction The âcârya Should Impart

The most important instruction that the âcârya should give to the Sishsya, which in turn should be meditated upon by the Sishya constantly, is that

  1. bhagavân śrîman nârâyaṇa is the sole owner and controller of everything moving and non-moving,
  2. He is the only objective for all of us in life to attain and there is none other,
  3. He is the only means to attain this objective, and so the Sishya should learn never to deviate from the words of the SAstra-s which are His word.

This is the essence of the rahasya-traya-s (Slokam 4).

Bhakti and Prapatti Are Two Independent Means for Moksha

bhakti and prapatti are two distinct methods for attaining moksham, each with its own qualifications, requirements, effort, etc. Those that hold that they are identical may be misled by thinking that because the final outcome of both is same viz. moksha, the means are also equal in all respects (Slokam 5). In fact, prapatti happens to be both an anga of bhakti yoga as well an independent means for attaining moksha. The fact that prapatti is an altogether independent means for attaining moksha can be seen on the basis of several points. The pre-requisites (Anga-s) for bhakti yoga include strict observance of varṇâśrama dharma-s, whereas for prapatti the anga-s are ânukūlya samkalpa, kârpaṇya, mahâ viśvâsa, etc. The effort needed is different for the two, the time it takes to attain moksha through bhakti yoga and prapatti yoga are different, and there are other differences as well. (Slokam 10).

Prapatti - Supported By Sruti-s as The Greatest tapas, and Within Everyone’s Reach

svâmi deśikan gives examples from the Sruti-s supporting that prapatti is considered the greatest of all tapas, one who has done prapatti is considered to be one who has done a good yâga, prapatti is a well-kept secret among deva-s, etc. At the same time, it is the means available to everyone without distinction of varṇa etc. The view that it is not suited for those who cannot chant vedic mantra-s is not correct, since Agamic (tantric) procedures are available to the latter (Sloka 9).

Several instances of śaraṇâgati being an accepted method to achieve one’s desired objective even in ordinary life are known in the smṛti-s. Examples of sugrîva, vibhîshaṇa, kâkâsura, etc. are known to everyone. There is nothing in the SAstra-s against śaraṇâgati being an effective and accepted method to achieve the objective that one is unable to achieve by one’s own efforts. Given this, there is no basis for doubting that surrender to emperumân who is the Ocean of Mercy and the Ultimate in Sakti etc., can have any other end except fruition. This has been established by pūrvâcârya-s unequivocally in their works (Slokam 6).

Importance of mahâ-viśvâsam

svâmi deśikan emphasizes that it is not just viśvâsam - ordinary trust - that is a requisite for nyâsa; it is mahâ-viśvâsam that is needed - utmost confidence, unshakable, beyond an iota of doubt, that He and He alone will protect us. This the most important of the anga-s of prapatti. It is natural for one to question whether it can really be true that we do this relatively effortless surrender, and in return bhagavân gives us the ultimate that anyone can ever ask for, viz. relief from the cycle of birth and re-birth, moksha. But mahâ-viśvâsam will come only as a result of the upadeśa of an âcârya at the appropriate time and circumstance. This is why a proper âcârya is absolutely essential for prapatti (Slokam 7).

Responses to Issues Raised Relating to prapatti

  • It is said that just chanting the prapatti mantra is not sufficient, but prapatti is necessary and the mantra properly instructed by an âcârya will lead a Sishya to develop the proper attitude to prapatti. Then one can argue that performing prapatti may not itself lead to moksha, but instead only cultivate one’s interest in bhakti, which alone will lead to moksha. svâmi deśikan points out that this argument is not valid, and that prapatti is the direct means for moksha.

    In his vyâkhyâna to this stotra, svâmi deśikan has given several examples from Sruti-s. तस्मात् न्यासम् एषां तपसाम् अतिरिक्तं आहुः - nyâsa is superior to tapas of other kinds - taittirîya upanishad. समित् साधनकाधीनां यज~नानां न्यासम् आत्मनः | नमसा यो’करोद् देवे स स्वध्वर इतीरितः - ahirbudhnya samhitâ - Among those that perform yâga, those who perform self-surrender are considered to have performed a good yâga. In taittirîya upanishad we have एतद्वै महोपनिषदं देवानां गुह्यम् - nyâsa is a top secret among deva-s.
  • One may raise the doubt immediately that if nyâsa mantra is so much a secret between deva-s, is supported by the Sruti-s etc., then may be those who cannot chant the vedic mantra-s are not qualified for prapatti. For instance, it is said that one chants the praṇava manta while surrendering - om iti âtmânam yu~ñjîta. svâmi deśikan points out that for those who cannot chant the vedic mantra-s, Agama provides for the means to perform prapatti. In other words, instead of the mantric procedures, they use the tantric procedures. When the veda declares - satyam vada, dharmam cara etc., it does not mean that these actions are the proprietary domains of only those who can chant veda-s. The Lord is a sarva-loka-śaraṇyan, not just only for those who can chant the veda-s etc., He is a friend of anyone who surrenders - sarvasya śaraṇam suhṛt.

    svâmi deśikan thus establishes that prapatti is for everyone, not for only those who are born in a certain class or varṇa etc. SrI D. râmasvâmi aiyengâr remarks that this one Sloka alone can justify svâmi deśikan being called தஞ்ஜப் பர கதியைத் தந்து அருள்வோன் .
  • SrI râmânuja has given the vyâkhyâna of the carama Sloka (gîtâ 16–66) where he points that prapatti is an anga of bhakti. Based on this, some argue that prapatti is only an anga of bhakti, and is not an independent means for moksha. svâmi deśikan points out that SrI râmânuja has also clearly indicated that prapatti is a direct means for moksha in his gadya-traya-s. Thus prapatti happens to be both an anga for bhakti yoga and an independent means for attaining moksha. The fact that bhakti and prapatti are entirely independent means for moksha is also clear from several other aspects. For instance, observing the varṇâśrama dharma-s is an essential pre-requisite for bhakti yoga. For prapatti the five angas required are ânukūlya samkalpa, kârpaṇya, mahâ viśvâsa etc. (Slokam 10).
  • There are some who argue that prapatti is not an independent means for moksha because there is expectation of the five anga-s (viz. Atma-nikshepaṇa etc.). This is not a valid argument. It is common sense that when we want to entrust something to someone’s custody, we make a formal request, we trust that the person will protect it for us, etc. This just as valid when we entrust our âtmâ to bhagavân and seek His protection. These anga-s are also laid down clearly in the SAstra-s. When it is said that for prapatti nothing else is needed, what this means is that no other anga such as any karma yoga or varṇâśrama dharma is needed for prapatti, unlike in the case of bhakti yoga.
  • Some advance the argument that there are six parts to śâraṇâgati, including ânukūlya-samkalpam, etc., and that it is incorrect to say that śaraṇâgati is the principal part (angi). This again is based on misperception. Bhakti yoga, which is well accepted as ashṭânga yoga (yoga consisting of 8 anga-s), really consists of seven anga-s, plus the principal part called samâdhi which is bhakti yoga fulfilled. No one thinks of the seven anga-s only as bhakti yoga. So also, ânukūlya samkalpam etc. are the anga-s of prapatti, and the principal part is śaraṇâgati itself (Slokam 11).
  • Contrary to some views, all five anga-s of prapatti are absolutely necessary at the time of prapatti. Otherwise, prapatti will not be effective. However, any violation of any anga of prapatti after prapatti is performed will not negate the prapatti once performed, though it will inevitably lead to bhagavân’s unhappiness. Thus, some prâyaścitta needs to be performed e.g., prâyaścitta prapatti. Once prapatti is performed with the observance of the five anga-s, its effect will never be negated by any other act whatsoever after the prapatti.
  • Five anga-s have been defined for prapatti. However, some people have expressed the opinion that not all these anga-s are necessary, and that it is sufficient if a person fuflfils some of these, and prapatti will be successful.

    SrI deśikan points out that all five anga-s are absolutely necessary for performing prapatti itself, but once the prapatti has been performed by observing all the five anga-s, the effect of the prapatti once performed will never be voided if the person does not continue to observe all the anga-s. However, if the prapanna does not continue to observe all the five anga-s after prapatti, this will certainly be displeasing to bhagavân, and it will be necessary to perform some kind of prâyaścitta as a remedy. It is to be clearly borne in mind that for performing prapatti itself, all five anga-s are absolutely essential.
  • Some say that once prapatti has been performed, another prapatti should not be done by the same person, and the first prapatti will be voided just as in the case of brahmâstra.

    svâmi deśikan points out that this true only if the second prapatti is done for the same purpose as the first one. But it is perfectly acceptable to do a second prapatti for a totally different purpose than the first one. For example, as a prâyaścitta to the sins committed after the first prapatti, it is perfectly acceptable, indeed necessary, to do some kind of prâyaścitta, e.g., a prâyascitta prapatti.
  • There is a view that prapatti just consists of mahâviśvâsam, another view that gopṛtva varaṇam (the deliberate choice of śrîman nârâyaṇa as the sole protector) is itself prapatti, a third view that prapatti has only two or three anga-s, etc. Thus there are conflicting statements on what prapatti really is.

    svâmi deśikan points out that these are just part of the effort to highlight the greatness of the respective anga-s at a given time. None of these views deny that there are five anga-s to prapatti.
  • Some argue that ânukūlya samkalpam is the DETERMINATION to do only what is pleasing to bhagavân. If this is an anga for prapatti, what happens to the actual execution of this determination? Should this not be an anga of prapatti?

    svâmi deśikan’s response is that SAstra-s prescribe ânukūlya samkalpam as an anga of prapatti. This determination helps to ensure that we do not do anything contrary to this when we do prapatti. But it is unwarranted to imagine another anga (viz. acting according to the ânukūlya samkalpam) as our own creation. The sheer determination is the anga.
  • There is a view that any act that is sinful or any act that is done with a clear benefit to self in mind will destroy the effect of prapatti.

    Responding to this, svâmi deśikan points out that as long as all the a~nga-s are observed at the time of performing prapatti, nothing will take away the effect of this prapatti. A person who has performed prapatti is expected to be in a state where he will not commit any sin, and will not do any act for his self-benefit. But if he does, the effect of the prapatti that has already been done will in no way be compromised. As stated earlier, if he happens to perform anything that is not normal for his status as a prapanna, surely bhagavân will be displeased, and prâyaścitta prapatti as laid down in the SAstra-s needs to be done. This prapatti is not done for the same purpose for which the first prapatti was done.
  • In response to the question on what the real nature of prapatti or śaraṇâgati is, SrI deśikan points out that there are two important aspects of śaraṇâgati that are both simultaneously important for the act to be called śaraṇâgati. These are: a) a request for protection, and b) entrustment. Neither by itself independently is śaraṇâgati. Thus, if one goes and seeks another’s help in protecting something that belongs to him, it is not called śaraṇâgati. Or, if one pays someone else to take care of something for him and entrusts the full responsibility for its safe-keeping, this does not become śaraṇâgati. The word śaraṇa also means “house”, and Agati means “to come”, and someone coming to someone else’s house can be considered “śanaṇâgati” in this sense, but it is not nyâsa. It is only when one prays to bhagavân for His protection AND completely entrusts the responsibility for everything to bhagavân that śaraṇâgati comes into existence (Slokam 13).
  • SrI deśikan then addresses the question of whether all of one’s belongings (including wife, son etc.)., should be included in prapatti because the recognition of bhagavân as the sole Owner of all our belongings including our body, soul, wealth, wife, son, etc., and the realization that these are all meant for His service only, is a vital part of all stages of prapatti. It is true that the recognition is an anga of prapatti. This recognition is in the form of knowledge when one learns the tattva behind prapatti, it is a necessary mental state for performing prapatti, and it is a natural part of the state of mind when continuing to perform kaimkaryam to bhagavân after prapatti. However, the main action of prapatti itself, which involves surrendering the responsibility for one’s protection to Him, need not include all of one’s belongings (such as wife, son, etc.). SrI D. râmasvâmi aiyengâr nicely summarizes this concept thus: “Though in svarūpa samarpaṇa everything is included, in bhara and phala samarpaṇa only what is desired will form part” (Slokam 14).
  • Some tend to interpret the words “sarva dharmân parityajya” in the carama Sloka to mean that varṇâśrama dharma-s such as sandhyâvandana, lighting a lamp in bhagavân’s sannidhi, decorating the Lord with a garland, etc. should all be discontinued as part of prapatti. svâmi deśikan points out that there are many straightforward interpretations for “sarva dharmân parityajya” that are consistent with SAstra-s, and there is no need to create interpretations like “Stop speaking truth”, “stop practicing dharma”, etc., which are also part of this poor interpretation of “sarva dharmân parityajya - give up all dharma-s”. svâmi deśikan includes six different interpretations in this stotra that are the right ways to interpret this injunction. One of these as an example is: “Realizing one’s inability to follow other means such as bhakti yoga, give up these paths and follow the prapatti mârga”. So nothing in sarva dharmân parityajya says that varṇâśrama dharmam should be given up (Slokam 15).
  • In the carama Sloka, Lord kṛshṇa uses the words माम् एकं शरणं व्रज . Some people interpret the word “ekam” here to mean that He is the upâya and nothing else is the upâya, and then argue that prapatti cannot be the upâya for moksha, since He is the sole upâya by His own word. The important thing here is to understand correctly the meaning of “ekam” in the carama Sloka. It is important to remember that statements that prapatti is an upâya for moksha are also based on pramâṇa-s, just as the statement that bhagavân is the only upâya is based on pramâṇa.

    svâmi deśikan then gives six interpretations of “ekam” in the carama Sloka, and points out that there is no conflict between the carama Sloka saying that bhagavân is the sole upâya for moksha, and the statement that prapatti is an upâya for moksha. This is explained nicely by pointing out that bhagavân is the siddha upâya, and prapatti is the sâdhya upâya (Slokam 16). This is explained further below.

    upâya refers to the actions that one can take to achieve one’s desired objective. This is of two kinds. siddha upâya is the means that already exists without our having to do anything. sâdhya upâya is the means for which we have to put in our effort, or can put in our effort. For one who wants to attain moksha through prapatti, bhagavân is the means that already exists. He bestows moksha to the cetana because of His immense dayâ, together with periya pirâṭṭi’s pleading our case. As a matter of fact, bhagavân is the only upâya for moksha. However, we have immensely displeased Him through our constant violations of SAstra-s and other sins that we have committed both knowingly and unknowingly. In order to remove this displeasure of His, we have the sâdhya upâya, which is in our control. prapatti and bhakti are the two sâdhya upâya-s that are in our control and that are open to us in order for the siddha upâya to take effect in our case. This is the role of the siddha-upâya in the attainment of moksha through the sâdhya upâya, which is the one and only real upâya for moksha.

anga-s of prapatti

The five a~nga-s of prapatti which have been referred to several times before are summarized once more in Slokam 18:

  1. The realization and thought that I am incapable of following any other upâya other than śaraṇâgati (kârpaṇya)
  2. I will not indulge in any act that is counter to your tiru -uḷḷam (prâtikūlya varjanam)
  3. I will devote my life only in kaimkaryam that will be pleasing to You (ânukūlya samkalpam)
  4. I have full and absolute confidence that You will definitely protect me and no one else can protect me (mahâ viśvâsam)
  5. I pray to you to be the upâya or means to protect me. (goptṛtva varaṇam)

I surrender (śaraṇâgati) my self, and the responsibility to protect me, to You.

This surrender, directed to attain moksha, should be done only once for this purpose, and (by the very nature of mahâ viśvâsa) should not be repeated ever again for this same purpose. Unlike bhakti yoga, which needs to be observed over a period of time for it to bear fruit, prapatti for moksha should be done only once.

Life of a prapanna (i.e., after prapatti has been done)

In Slokam 19, svâmi deśikan deals with the life of a prapanna after the prapatti has been done.

  1. No karma or act should be undertaken that has the objective of attaining anything for one’s own benefit.
  2. No action should be undertaken that is a violation of the SAstra-s (those that will lead to accruing more sins).
  3. nitya-naimittika karma-s such as sandhyâvandana, śrâddha, etc., which do not fall in either category (kâmya karma-s or those forbidden by the SAstra-s), and which are in the balance between the above two categories, should continue to be performed.
  4. For any sins that are accrued in spite of the above conduct, prâyaścitta-s as prescribed in the SAstra-s should definitely be performed. If the prescribed prâyaścitta-s cannot be performed, the prâyaścitta prapatti should definitely be performed (i.e., prapatti performed not with the objective of moksha - since this has already been done once and should not be repeated, but with the objective of prâyaścitta for the sins accrued subsequent to the performance of prapatti).
  5. For one who has done prapatti, the RNa-s or obligations of the three kinds - viz. to deva-s, sages, and pitṛ-s - have been fulfilled by prapatti itself. Ordinarily, the obligations to deva-s is removed through performance of yâga-s, that to sages by learning veda-s, and the one to pitṛ-s by begetting progeny who can perform the obligations like śrâddha etc. But for a prapanna, the performance of prapatti (a great tapas by itself as was mentioned earlier) and observing the way of life prescribed for a prapanna (living a life consistent with SAstra-s, nishkâmya karma, bhagavad kaimkaryam as the sole objective of all action etc.), already take care of these three kinds of obligations, and nothing further is required to be done.
  6. A prapanna should accept the pleasures and pains that are a part of life in this world with equal disposition, and should look at these as the fulfillment of the results of his karma, so that he is free to do kaimkaryam to Him which will not result in any additional accumulation of fruits.
  7. The prapanna should not indulge in any actions or prayers with the desire for any benefit. He should pray only for the continued growth of his bhakti and j~nâna, and his prayers should only be directed to bhagavân, His retinue of nitya-sūri-s such as vishvaksena, garuḍa, ananta, etc., and to âcârya-s such as âḻvârs, nâthamuni, yâmuna muni, etc. His prayers can include the well-being of sâdhu-s that are devoted to His kaimkaryam, prosperity of materials such as the flowers and sandalwood that are useful for His kaimkaryam, etc. The key is that he should not seek or pray for something that is not related to or does not contribute to kaimkaryam to bhagavân.

The Importance of Observing varṇâśrama dharma-s Even Though Not An anga of prapatti (Slokam 20)

kaimkaryam can be classified into two major categories:

  1. Those that are ordained to be done by a person who is physically fit to observe them. These include snânam, sandhyâ, bhagavad-ârâdhanam, srâddham, tarpaṇam, etc. It is to be noted that even though these are not anga-s for prapatti, these varṇâśrama dharma-s should never be given up.
  2. Those that are not ordained to be done, but which are directed to bhagavân and will only please Him if done. These are called anu~jñâ kaimkarya-s. This includes acts like offering flowers, sandalwood etc. to Him, doing pradakshiṇam, performing utsavam for bhagavân, etc. These can be done as one’s abilities permit and as one’s interests allow.

Humans have two kinds of karma-s. One is called samcita karma - these are the effects of karma-s or actions that have not yet borne fruit, and so can be expiated by our current actions such as penance, yâga, etc. The other group is called prârabdha karma-s - those that are already bearing fruit and being enjoyed by us now (e.g., our sex, our parentage, etc.), and those karma-s or actions that we are committing now, which will bear fruit in future births. Performance of prapatti, which is the best of yâga-s (Slokam 9), clears the prapanna completely of samcita karma-s. Prapatti also clears the effects of prârabdha karma-s that normally will bear fruit in future births for actions performed in this birth. Thus, the prapanna is left with the effects of prârabdha karma-s which he is already enjoying in this birth. The prapanna enjoys these during this lifetime, and at the end of this, is left with no more effects of karma to enjoy, and reaches śrîvaikuṇṭham at the end of this life.


svâmi deśikan concludes the stotra with a gist of how he was led to prapatti, and how he lives his life as a prapanna after performing prapatti. This concluding Slokam is included as part of the nitya-anusandhânam at the end of the nyâsa daśakam which is recited during the nitya bhagavad-ârâdhanam.

संसारावर्त वेग प्रशमन शुभ-दृक् देशिक प्रेक्षितो’हं
संत्यक्तो’न्यैरुपायैर-अनुचित चरितेष्वद्य शान्ताभिसब्षिः |
निश-शङ्खः तत्वत-दृष्त्या निरवधिक दयं प्रार्थ्य सम्रक्षकं
त्वां न्य्स्य तत-पाद पद्मे वरद निज-भरं निर-भरो निर-भयो’स्मि  ||

I chose a good âcârya who could instruct me on how to get out of the whirl of samsâra, and had his divya kaṭâksha. Because of the âcârya’s teachings, I obtained the knowledge that could help me analyze and understand the difficulty of bhakti yoga and the realization that prapatti is the only recourse open to me, which I could perform easily, and attain the desired moksham by performing it once and only once. I learned the facts about prapatti and so had no doubt whatsoever about its efficacy. I sought refuge of peraruḷâḷan with pirâṭṭi as the sole refuge who could protect me. I surrendered all responsibility for my protection at the feet of peraruḷâḷan and performed prapatti at His feet. Since I am now living the life of a prapanna, I feel completely relieved of all responsibility for my self from that point. Since all my acts from that point on have been directed to only kaimkaryam for bhagavân, there is nothing more to fear about any accumulation of karma. So I continue to lead a life of nishkâmya kaimkaryam to bhagavân while spending the rest of my life in this world, and deriving infinite happiness from it.

—dâsan kṛshṇamâcâryan