Scholars win accolades, and scholarship is rewarded with recognition from all quarters. But a scholar, who is steeped in bhakti, is not impressed by titles or by the promise of wealth.
The Vaishnavite Acharya Vedanta Desika was a genius with mastery over many subjects. Had he so wished, he could have earned a great deal of wealth. But to him, wealth had no appeal or charm. The attractions of wealth seemed of no significance to him, when compared to service to Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram.
Vedanta Desika lived a life of austerity. His childhood friend was advisor to the Vijayanagar King. He was unhappy about Desika’s state of poverty. He sent word to Desika asking him to come to the Vijayanagar Court so that he could receive rewards from the king. But Desika wrote back that he did not care for wealth. But his friend was not going to give up so easily. So he tried a second time. Desika spurned the offer the second time too, and through his Vairagya Panchakam, he gave his reasons for turning down the offer.
In this set of verses, Desika shows his contempt for the practice of praising those in power, in order to gain wealth. To him the only true wealth was Lord Varadaraja, said Akkarakkani Srinidhi, in a discourse. Desika observes that even those who should know better are swayed by the lure of wealth. But what is the use of this wealth? And why do we need so much of it? To satisfy our hunger, will not a few grains suffice? To quench our thirst, will not a handful of water do? Can we not use a simple loin cloth to preserve our modesty? When the needs of life can be met so simply, why should anyone praise kings and rulers and seek something from them? After all they rule over just a small portion of this vast earth. But is not the Lord the Master of the Universe?
Desika says that there is a certain wealth that is most desirable. That is the wealth that guided Arjuna during the Kurukshetra war, and which protected the cowherds and their families from the wrath of Indra, by lifting up the Govardhana hill when Indra caused torrential rains. Thus Desika points out to us that the only lasting wealth is the Lord’s love.