Sunday, December 25, 2011
Honey-bees from all directions seek the ambrosial nectar in the lotus which grows in the sacred lake, the Manasasaras. Like those bees, devout and disciplined seekers of wisdom draw inspiration and instruction from the Bhashyas that came out of the lotus lips of the supreme Teacher, Sri Sankara before whom I bow my head in humble obeisance.
Salutations with body, mind and speech to the glorious Sun that is Sri Sankara struck back by the lustre of whose knowledge the splendour of the solar orb became dim like the moon, and the effulgent renown of whose disciples enveloped all the countries from the Far East to the Far West and dispelled the darkness of ignorance from every region.
The sunlight of Sri Sankara's intellect has completely expelled from the recesses of my heart the darkness of ignorance which is the cause of ceaseless swinging between birth and death. Bands of disciples adorned with the excellences of Vedic lore, self-control and humility and taking refuge in His Holy Feet are immediately liberated from samsara. I shall be tenedering my obeisance to that pre-eminent ascetic till the end of my life.
I bow to Sri Sankara whose holy feet are worshipped and by contact with whose exposition the besmirched dirt of faulty interpretation of the Veda by perverted reasoning was completely removed and the name, Nitya Saraswati of the Veda has its true meaning restored.
Sri Appayya Dikshita
The relative Path of attaining the fruit of contacting the personal forms of God by leading the souls to the respective celestial regions is shown by the different Upanishadic Upasanas (contemplations) and expounded by the various Bhashyas. But, like a river flowing into the ocean and becoming an indivisible part of it, that Path finds its Goal in the ocean of (Advaitic) bliss, the greatest fruit of human aspirations and the sanctuary of Shastra (the Veda), which have been unveiled by Acharya Pada.
Hails the auspicious word (the Bhashya) flowing from the lotus face of Bhagavat-Pada explaining the Brahman bereft of all duality, destroying every possibility of rebirth taking a thousand different arms of expositions due to the contact of various Acharyas anterior to me, as the celestial river (Ganga) issuing from the feet of Vishnu assumes different shapes and colours by flowing through different types of land and helps mortals to avoid rebirth.
A cambodian Inscription
[An inscription in an ancient temple known as Bhadreswaram in the forests of Cambodia refers to one Sivasoma who was the teacher of king Indravarman. About the teacher Sivasoma, it says. "By whom were learnt all the Sastras from Bhagavan Sankara whose lotus feet were swarmed by the bees of the bowing heads of all learned men without exception."]
GREAT MINDS ON THE GREAT MASTER
I have neither the time nor the inclination to describe to you the hideousness that came in the wake of Buddhism. The most hideous ceremonies, the most horrible, the most obscene books that human hands ever worte or the human brain ever conceived, the most bestial forms that ever passed under the name of religion, have all been the creation of degraded Buddhism.
But India has to live, and the spirit of the Lord descended again. He who declared "I will come whenever virtue subsides", came again, and this time the manifestation was in the South, and up rose the young Brahmin of whom it has been declared that at the age of sixteen he had completed all his writings; the marvellous boy Sankaracharya. The writings of this boy of sixteen are the wonders of the modern world, and so was the boy. He wanted to bring back the Indian world to its pristine purity, but think of the amount of the task before him... The Tartars and the Baluchis and all the hideous races of mankind came to India and became Buddhists, and assimilated with us, and brought their national customs and the whole of our national life became a huge stage of the most horrible and the most bestial customs. That was the inheritance which that boy got from the Buddhists, and from that time to this day his whole work in India is a re-conquest of this Buddhistic degradation by the Vedanta. It is still going on, it is not yet finished. Sankara came as a great philosopher and showed that the real essence of Buddhism and that of the Vedanta are not very different, but that the disciples did not understand the Master and have degraded themselves, denied the existence of the soul and of God and have become atheists. That was what Shankara showed and all the Buddhists began to come back to the old religion.
The greatest teacher of the Vedanta philosophy was Shankaracharya. By solid reasoning he extracted from the Vedas the truths of Vedanta, and on them built up the wonderful system of Jnana that is taught in his commentaries. He unified all the conflicting descriptions of Brahman and showed that there is only one infinite Reality. He showed too that as man can only travel slowly on the upward road, all the varied presentations are needed to suit his varying capacity. We find something akin to this in the teachings of Jesus, which he evidently adapted to the different abilities of his hearers. First he taught them of a Father in heaven and to pray to him. Next he rose a step higher and told them, "I am the vine, you are the branches", and lastly he gave them the highest truth: "I and my Father are one," and "The kingdom of Heaven is within You" Shankara taught that three things were the great gifts of God: (1) human body (2) thirst after God and (3) a teacher who can show up the light. When these three great gifts are ours, we may know that our redemption is at hand. Only knowledge can free and save us but with knowledge must go virtue.
Books cannot teach God, but they can destroy ignorance; their action is negative. To hold to the books and at the same time open the way to freedom is Shankara's great achievement.
Shankaracharya had caught the rhythm of the Vedas, the national cadence. Indeed I always imagine that he had some vision such as mine when he was young and recovered the ancient music that way. Anyway, his whole life's work is nothing but that, the throbbing of the beauty of the Vedas and the Upanishads.
Sister Nivedita (Margaret Noble)
"Whenever the dharma decays, and when that which is not dharma prevails, then I manifest myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the evil, for the firm establishment of the national righteousness I am born again and again." So says, the Bhagavat Gita and never was any prophecy more conclusively vindicated than this, by the appearance of the Sankaracharya.....
This wonderful boy-for he died at the age of thirty two had already completed a great mission when most men were still dreaming of the future. The characteristic product of oriental culture is always a commentary (on the earlier Scriptures). By this form of literature the future is knit firmly to the past, and though the dynamic power of the connecting idea may be obscure to the foreigner, it is clearly and accurately conveyed to the Eastern mind. By writing a new commentary on a given sutra, the man of genius has it in his power to re-adjust the relationship between a given question and the old answer. Hence it is not surprising to find that the masterpiece of Sankaracharya's life was a commentary on the Vedanta Sutras.
The whole of the national genius awoke once more in Sankaracharya. Amidst all the brilliance and luxury of the age, in spite of the rich and florid taste of the Puranic period, his soul caught the mystic whisper of the ancient rhythm of the Vedic chants, and the dynamic power of the faith to lead the soul to super-consciousness, became for him the secret of every phase of Hinduism. He was on fire with the love of the Vedas. His own poems have something of their classical beauty and comprehensive sentences of the Upanishads, to which he has contributed links and rivets.
Sankaracharya wandered, during his short life, from his birthplace in the South as far as the Himalayas, and everything that he came across in his travels related itself to the one focus and centre in his mind. He accepted each worship, even that which he was at first adverse. But always he found that the great mood of One-without-a-second was not only the Vedic, but also the Puranic goal.
This is the doctrine that he expresses in his twelve epoch-making commentaries especially in his crowning work, the commentary on Vedanta Sutras. And this idea, known as the Advaita Philosophy constitutes,for the rest of the Hindu period, the actual unity of India.
Western people can hardly imagine a personality such as that of Sankaracharya. In the course of so few years to have nominated the founders of no less than ten great religious orders, of which four have fully retained their prestige to the present day; to have acquired such a mass of Sanskrit learning as to create a distinct philosophy, and impress himself on the scholarly imagination of India a pre-eminence that twelve hundred years have not sufficed to shake; to have written poems whose grandeur makes them unmistakable, even to the foreign and unlearned ear; and at the same time to have lived with his disciples in all the radiant joy and simple pathos of the saints-this is greatness that we may appreciate, but cannot understand...
The work of Sankaracharya was the relinking of popular practice to the theory of Brahman, the stern infusion of mythological fancies with the doctrine of the Upanishads. He took up and defined the current catchwords-maya, karma, reincarnation, and others-and left the terminology of Hinduism what it is today.
His complete appropriation by this nation only shows that he is in perfect unison with its thought and aspiration.
(The) proclamation (of Buddha) was not made primarily for India. It was given in India, because India is the place whence the great religious revelations, go forth by the will of the Supreme. Therefore was He born in India, but His law was specially meant for nations beyond the bounds of Aryavarta, that they might learn a pure morality, a noble ethic disjoined-because of the darkness of the age-from all the complicated teachings which we find in connection with the subtle, metaphysical Hindu Faith.
Hence you find in the teaching of the Lord Buddha two great divisions; one, a philosophy meant for the learned, then an ethic disjoined from the philosophy so far as the masses are concerned, noble and pure and great, yet easy to be grasped. For the Lord knew that we were going into an age of deeper and deeper materialism, that the nations were going to arise, that India for a time was going to sink down for other nations to rise above her in the scale of nations. Hence was it necessary to give a teaching of morality-fitted for a more materialistic age, so that even if nations would not believe in the gods they might still practise morality and obey the teachings of the Lord. In order also that this law might not suffer loss, in order that India itself might not lose its subtle metaphysical teachings and the widespread belief among all classes of people in the existence of the God, and their part in the affairs of men, the work of the great Lord Buddha was done. He left morality built upon a basis that could not be shaken by any change of faith, and having done His work, passed away. Then was sent another Great One, Sri Shankaracharya, in order that by His teaching He might give the Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy which would do intellectually what morally the Buddha had done, which intellectually would guard spirituality and allow a materialistic age to break its teeth on the hard knot of a flawless philosophy. Thus in India metaphysical religion triumphed, while the teaching of the Blessed One passed from the Indian soil, to do its noble work in lands other than the land of Aryavarta, which must keep unshaken its belief in gods, and where highest and lowest alike must bow before their power. That is the real truth about this much disputed question as to the teaching of the ninth Avatara (Buddha), the fact was that His teaching was not meant for His birthplace, but was meant for other younger nations that were rising up around, who did not follow the Vedas, but who yet needed instruction in the path of righteousness; not to mislead them but to guide them, was His teaching given. But, as I say, and as I repeat, what in it might have done harm in India had it been left alone was prevented by the coming of the great Teacher of Advaita. You must remember that His name has been worn by man after man, through century after century; but Shri Shankaracharya on whom was the power of Mahadeva descended was born but a few years after the passing away of the Buddha, as the records of the Dwaraka Math show plainly-taking date after date backward until they bring His birth within sixty or seventy years of the passing away of Buddha.
Paul Deussen (Kiel, Germany)
This system of Vedanta as founded on the Upanishads and Vedanta Sutras and accompanied by Sankara's commentaries on them-equal in rank to Plato and Kant-is one of the most valuable products of the genius of mankind in his researches of the eternal truth.... The conclusion is that the Jeeva being neither a part nor a different thing, nor a variation of the Brahman must be the Paramatman, fully and totally himself, A conclusion equally held by the Vedanta by Sankara, by the platonic Plotinus and the Kantian Schopenhauer. But Sankara in his conclusion, goes, peprhaps more fully than any of them.
What shall we say then of Master Sankara? Is he not the guardian of the sacred waters, who by his commentaries has hemmed about against all impurities of time's jealousy, first the mountain-tarns of the Upanishads, then the serene forest-lake of the Bhagavad Gita and last the deep reservoir of the Sutras,adding from the generous riches of his wisdom, lively fountains and lakelets of his own, the crest-jewel, the Awakening and Discernment.
Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon)
Others have written commentaries and books on Vedanta Sutras and the Upanishads, but there is none who is venerated as Sankara is all over the sacred land.It may be noted that even a Roman Catholic Missionary has discovered the harmony of the Vedanta with Christian Philosophy (Vedanta Vindicated by Rev J.F. Pessein), and has so far as his dogmas have permitted him, accepted Sankara's exposition.
The Hindu does not worship many Gods. What he does is that he has the same respect for the faith of others as he has for his own. (Post-script to the introduction to Prapanchasaara, Vol. XVIII of the Tantrik Texts, edited by Aruthur Avalon).
"Great credit is due to Sankara and his school for having fought strenuously against the upholders of self-existence of the material world and brought the whole universe under the sway of God to whom it owes not only its organisation but also its very being. Sankara understood that the independent existence of another being would imply limitation of God." (Vedanta Vindicated by J.F.Pessein).
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, First President of India.
The name of Sankara is a name to conjure with, not only in India, but in other parts of the world. We all admire the wonderful way in which, within a short span of 32 years, he managed not only to study almost all philosophy, but also write a tremendous lot and tour all over the country from Cape Comorin right upto Himalayas.
I have mentioned in this letter the names of some kings and dynasties who lived their brief life of glory and then disappeared and were forgotten. But a more remarkable man arose in the south, destined to play a more vital part in India's life than all the kings and emperors. This young man was known as Shankaracharya. Probably he was bron about the end of the eighth century. He seems to have been a person of amazing genius. He set about reviving Hinduism. He fought against Buddhism - fought with his intellect and arguments.
Sankaracharya's record is a remarkable one. Buddhism, which had been driven south from the north, now almost disappears, from India. Hinduism becomes stirred up intellectually by Shankara's books and commentaries and argument. Not only does he become the great leader of the Brahman class, but he seems to catch imagination of the masses. It is an unusual thing for a man to become a great leader chiefly because of his powerful intellect, and for such a person to impress himself on millions of people and on history. Great soldiers and conquerors seem to stand out in history. They become popular or are hatred, and sometimes they mould history. Great religious leaders have moved millions and fired with enthusiasm, but always this has been on the basis of faith. The emotions have been appealed to have been touched.
It is difficult for an appeal to the mind and to the intellect to go far. Most people unfortunately do not think: they feel and act according to their feelings. Yet Shankara's appeal was to the mind and intellect and to reason. It was not just the repetition of a dogma contained in an old book. Whether his argument was right or wrong is immaterial for the moment. What is interesting is his intellectual approach to religious problems, and even more so to the success he gained inspite of this method of approach.
The Vedanta system arising out of the Upanishads, developed and took many shapes and forms, but was always based on the foundation of the early Vedanta. Shankara (or Shankaracharya), built a system which is called the Advaita Vedanta or non-dualist Vedanta. It is this philosophy which represents the dominating philosophic outlook of Hinduism to-day.
How the Absolute Soul, the Atman, pervades everything, how the one appears as the many, and yet retains its wholeness, for the Absolute is indivisible, all these cannot be accounted for by the process of logical reasoning, for our minds are limited by the finite world. Finite individuals cannot ima- gine the infinite without limiting it; they can only form limited and objective conception of it. Yet even these finite forms and concepts rest ultimately in the Infinite and Absolute. Hence the form of religion becomes a relative affair and each individual has liberty to form such conceptions as he is capable of.
Shankara accepted the Brahminical organization of social life on the caste basis, as representing the collective experience and wisdom of the race. But he held that any person belonging to any caste could attain the highest knowledge.
There is about Shankara's attitude and philo- sophy a sense of world-negation and withdrawal from the normal activities of the world in search of that freedom of the self which was to him the final goal for every person. There is also a continual insistence on self-sacrifice and detachment.
And yet Shankara was a man of amazing energy and vast activity. He was no escapist retiring into his shell or into a corner of the forest, seeking his own individual perfection and oblivious of what happened to others. Born in Malabar in the far south of India, meeting innumerable people, arguing debating, reasoning, convicing, and filling them with a part of his own passing and tremendous vitality, he was evidently a man who was intensely conscious of his mission, a man who looked upon the whole of India from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas as his field of action and as something that held together culturally and was infused by the same spirit, though this might take many external forms. He strove hard to synthesize the diverse currents that were troubling the mind of the India of his day and to build a unity of outlook out of that diversity. In a brief life of thirty-two years he did the work of as many long lives and left such an impress of his powerful mind and rich personality on India that it is very evident today. He was a curious mixture of a philosopher and scholar, an agnostic and a mystic, a poet and a saint, and, in addition to all this, a practical reformer and an able organizer...
There is a significance about (the) long journeys of Shankara throught out this vast land at a time when travel was difficult and the means of transport very slow and primitive. It would seem that Shankara wanted to add to the sense of national unity and common consciousness. He functioned on the intellectual, philosophical and religious planes and tried to bring about a greater unity of thought all over the country. He functioned also on the popular plane in many ways, destroying many a dogma and opening the door of his philosophic sanctuary to everyone who was capable of entering it.
Sri Sankara crossed the ocean of Maya as easily as one steps over a small irrigation channel in the field. He wrote a number of Vedantic works for imparting the knowledge of the Self. He composed a number of hymns to foster the sense of devotion in the hearts of men and this I consider to be his greatest service... If Sri Adi Sankara himself, who drank the ocean of knowledge as easily as one sips water from the palm of one's hand, sang hymns to develop devotion, it is enough to show that knowledge and devotion are one. No other testimony is needed. Sri Sankara has packed into the "Bhaja Govindam" song the substance of all the Vedantic works that he wrote and he has set the truth of the union of devotion and knowledge to melodious music which delights the ear... Goddess of learning Herself speaks through Sankara. He spoke about what he thoroughly knew... Sri Sankara's teaching is not only for the Sanyaasins who have renounced the world. He sings also for the ordinary men who eke out their livelihood with the labour of their hands...Sri Sankara speaks from experience...Sri Sankara says that by no other means can one find the bliss that one can find through renunciation. You must accept this as true when one so great as Sankara declares it. He has experienced the bliss of renunciation and preaches it to others. The great Acharya who had attained the highest wisdom has blended devotion, wisdom and austerities.
Dr. Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar
Sri Shankaracharya was almost unique in the history of thought. He combined in himself the attributes of a poet, a logician, a devotee and a mystic as well as being the architect of the monistic system of philosophy that bears his name. He was an inspired poet whose appeal was, in turn, to every human feeling and sentiment. His descriptions of nature and his appraisal of human and divine personality reached the summit of art, and his command over the navarasas (nine kinds of poetic flavour or sentiments) was superb.
At the same time, In his commentaries on the Prasthanatraya ( the three bases of Vedanta, viz., the Upanishadas, Brahma-sutras and the Gita), he displayed a rare faculty or relentlessly logical and concatenated argument and refutation, and such subtlety of reasoning as has been rarely surpassed in the philosophical writings of the world. He vindicated and firmly established the Advaita philosophy which has been described as one of the supreme achievements of Hinduism.
Sankara was simultaneously the author of some of the sweetest lyrics like Saundaryalahari, which are devoted to the description of the personal God head in several manifestations....
In the Vivekachudamani Shankara says: "Deliverance is not achieved by repeating the word 'Brahman' but by directly experiencing Brahman."
Having proceeded so far, Shankara thereafter expounds the view that the nirakara (formless) Absolute becomes akaravat or embodied for the individual worshipper as a personal saguna God which is but a form in which the Absolute can be comprehended by the finite mind.
The religion of a personal God is not a mere dogma but is a product of realization and experience. As the end religion is sakshatkara, what is termed bhakti is a striving for this sakshatkara or realization by means of a personal God or a symbol, Pratika, which may be an image, a painting or an object in nature. It will thus be seen that Shankara does not exclude or expel the framework of the external world. This is an aspect which is not always understood by those who deal with the Vedanta system.
It may be observed that similar conception (about the oneness of the individual soul and the Absolute) and thought have occurred to men and women in many other countries and in other ages. St. Catherine of Genoa exclaims, "My 'me' is God, nor do I recognize any other 'me' except God Himself"; and the Sufi saint, Bayazid stated, "I went from God to God, until they cried from 'me' in 'me', 'Oh thou l'." When someone knocked at the saint's door and asked " Is Bayazid here?" his answer was "Is anybody here except God?"
In that remarkable compilation of Aldous Huxley entitled The Perennial Philosophy occurs the following passage: "That are thou. Behold but one in all things, God within a God without. There is a way to reality in and through the world, and there is a way to reality in and through the soul. But the best way is that which leads to the Divine ground simultaneously in the perceiver and in that which is perceived."
That inspired medieval philosopher, Ruysbroeck, has stated: "The image of God is found essentially and personally in all makind. In this way we are all one, intimately united in our external image which is the image of God and the source in us of all our life."
Perhaps, however, one of the truest successors of Shankara was Spinoza. According to him the totality of all existing things is God. God, according to him, is not a cause outside of things, which passes over into things and works upon things from without. He is immanent, dwelling within, working from within, penetrating and impregnating all things. In this short treatise, Spinoza utters the truth as manifested to him: "Nature consists of infinite attributes. To its essence pertains existence so that outside it there is no other essence or existence. It thus coincides exactly with the essence of God."
What may be called the Shankara system has thus pervaded and influenced not only all aspects of Indian thought but has had significant repercussions amongst medieval Christian saints, Sufi divines, and more recent thinkers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. There is, furthermore, a growing body of scientific thinkers, who, confronted by the phenomena and development of nuclear, atomic and cosmic theories, feel irresistibly drawn to Shankara's enunciations as the most legitimate and satisfactory explanation of the universe, physical, psychological and para-psychological.
The special glory of Shankara is that over and above being the protagonist of the monistic approach, he is the author of innumerable stotras (hymns) as already stated. The jnana of Shankara is not a cold study of books but a warm-hearted striving to realize the truth, which when turned towards a personal deity, becomes bhakti. Shankara is as insistent as Buddha on the supreme importance of ethics as one of the fundamentals of spiritual life. But his outlook on Karma, on temple worship and on domestic ceremonial is synthetic and harmonious, and not at all destructive. (Vedanta for East and West I VIII-6)
It may be admitted that if the impossible task of reconciling the contradictions of the Upanishads and rendering them into a harmonious and consistent whole is to be attempted at all, Sankara's system is about the only one that could do it.
The word 'Vedanta' meant originally the end of the Vedas, that is; the Upanishads. Today India applies it to that system of philosophy which sought to give logical structure and support to the essential doctrine of the Upanishads, the organ-point that sounds throughout Indian thought-that God (Brahman) and the soul (Atman) are one. The oldest known form of this widely accepted of all Hindu philosophies is the Brahma- sutra of Badarayana (c.200 B.C.)- in 555 aphorisms, of which the first announces the purpose of all: Now, then a desire to know Brahman. Almost a thousand years later, Gaudapada taught the esoteric doctrine of the system of Govinda, who taught it to Sankara, who composed the most famous of Vedanta commentaries, and made himself the greatest of Indian philosophers.
In his short life of thirty-two years Sankara achieved that union of sage and saint, of wisdom and kindliness, which characterizes the loftiest type of man produced in India. Born among the studious Nambudiri Brahmans of Malabar, he rejected the luxuries of the world, and while still a youth became a Sannyasi, worshipping unpretentiously the gods of the Hindu pantheon, and yet mystically absorbed in the vision of all-embracing Brahman. It seemed to him that the profoundest religion and the profoundest philosophy were those of the Upanishads. He could pardon the polytheism of the people, but not the atheism of Sankhya, or the agnosticism of Buddha. Arriving in the north as a delegate of the south, he won such popularity at the assemblies of Benaras that it crowned him with its highest honour, and sent him forth, with a retinue of disciples, to champion Brahmanism in all the debating halls of India. At Banaras, probably, he wrote his famous commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, and Brahma Sutras in which he attacked with theological ardour and scholastic subtlety all the heretics of India, and restored Brahmanism to the position of intellectual leadership from which Buddha and Kapila had deposed it.
There is much metaphysical wind in these discourses, and arid deserts of textual exposition; but they may be forgiven in a man who at the age of thirty could be at once the Aquinas and the Kant of India. Like Aquinas, Sankara accepts the full authority of his country's Scriptures as a divine revelation, and then sallies forth to find proofs in experience and reason for all scriptural teachings. Unlike Aquinas, however, he does not believe that reason can suffice for such a task. On the contrary he wonders 'Have we not exaggerated the power and role, the clarity and reliability of reason?' Jaimini was right: reason is a lawyer, and will prove anything we wish. For every argument it can find an equal and opposite argument, and its upshot is a skepticism that weakens all force of character and undermines all values of life. It is not logic that we need, says Sankara, it is insight, the faculty (akin to art) of grasping at once the essential out of the irrelevant, the eternal out of the temporal, the whole out of the part. This is the first pre-requisite to philosophy. The second is a willingness, to observe, inquire and think for understanding's sake not for the sage of invention, wealth or power; it is a withdrawal of the spirit from all the excitement, bias and fruits of action. Thirdly, the philosopher must acquire self-restraint, patience and tranquility. He must learn to live above physical temptation or material concerns. Finally, there must burn, deeper his soul, the desire for a blissful absorption in the Brahman of complete understanding and infinite unity. In a word, the student needs not the logic or reason so much as a cleansing and deepening discipline of the Soul. This, perhaps, has been the secret of all profound education.
Sankara establishes the source of his philosophy at a remote and subtle point never quite clearly visioned again until a thousand years later. Immaunel Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason. How, he asks, is knowledge possible? Apparently, all our knowledge comes from the senses, and reveals not the external itself, but our sensory adaptation-perhaps transformation of that reality. By sense, then, we can never quite know the "real"; we can know it only in the garb of space, time and cause which may be a web created by our organs of sense and understanding, designed or evolved to catch and hold that fluent and elusive reality whose existence we can surmise, but whose character we never objectively describe; our way of perceiving will forever be inextricable mingled with the thing perceived.
This is not the airy subjectivism of the solipsist who thinks that he can destroy the world by going to sleep. The world exists, but it is Maya-not delusion, but phenomenon, an appearance created partly by our thought. Our incapacity to perceive things except through the film of space and time, or to think of them except in terms of cause and change, is an innate limitation, an ajnana or ignorance whence we see a multiplicity of objects and a flux of change. In truth there is only one Being, and change is 'a mere name' for the superficial fluctuations of forms. Behind the Maya or Veil of change and things, to be reached not by sensation or intellect but only by the insight and intuition of the trained spirits, is the one universal reality, Brahman.
This natural obscuration of sense and intellect by the organs and forms of sensation and understanding bars us likewise from perceiving the one unchanging soul that stands beneath all individual souls and minds. Our separate selves, visible to perception and thought, are as unreal as the phantasmagoria of space and time; individual differences and distinct personalities are bound up with body and matter. They belong to the kaleidoscopic world of change; and these merely phenomenal selves will pass away with the material conditions of which they are a part. But the underlying life which we feel in ourselves when we forget space and time, cause and change, is the very essence and reality of that Atman which we share with all selves and things and which, undivided and omnipresent, is identical with Brahman, God.
But what is God? Just as there are two selves-the ego and Atman and two worlds-the phenomenal and nominal-so there are two deities; an Ishvara or Creator worshipped by the people through the patterns of space, cause, time and change, and a Brahman or Pure Being worshipped by that philosophical piety which seeks and finds, behind all spare things and selves, one universal reality, unchanging amid all changes, indivisible amid all divisions, eternal despite all vicissitudes of form, all birth and death. Polytheism, even theism, belongs to the world of Maya and Avidya; they are forms of worship that correspond to the forms of perception and thought. They are as necessary to our moral life as space, time and cause are necessary to our intellectual life, but they have no absolute validity or objective truth.
To Sankara the existence of God is no problem for he defines God as existence and identifies all real being with God. But regarding God as creator or redeemer. There may, he thinks, be some question. Such a deity, says Sankara, cannot be proved by reason; he can only be postulated as a practical necessity, offering peace to our limited intellects, and encouragement to our fragile morality.
The philosopher, though he may worship in every temple and bow to every God, will pass beyond these forgivable forms of popular faith. Feeling the illusoriness of plurality, and the monistic unity of all things, he will adore, as the Supreme Being, Being itself indescribable, limitless, spaceless, timeless, causeless, changeless Being, the source and substance of all reality. We may apply the adjectives "conscious" intelligent, even "happy" to Brahman, since Brahman includes all selves and these may have such qualities. All other adjectives would be applicable to Brahman equally, since it includes all qualities of all things' essentially though Brahman is neuter, raised above personality and gender, beyond good and evil above all moral distinctions, all deference and attributes, all desires and ends. Brahman is the cause and effect, the timeless and secret essence of the world.
The goal of philosophy is to find that secret, and to lose the seeker in the secret found. To be one with God means, for Sankara, to rise above-or to sink beneath-the separateness and brevity of the self, with all its narrow purposes and interests, to become unconscious of all parts, divisions, things, to be placidly at one, in a desireless Nirvana, with that great ocean of Being in which there are no warring purposes, no competing selves, no parts, no space, and no time. To find this blissful peace (Ananda) a man must renounce not merely the world but himself; he must look upon suffering and death as Maya, surface incidents of body and matter, time and chance, and he must not think of his own personal qualities and fate. A single moment of self-interest or pride can destroy all his liberation. Good works cannot give a man salvation, for good works have no validity or meaning except in the world of space and time. Only the knowledge of the saintly seer can bring that salvation which is the recognition of the identity of self and the universe, Atman and Brahman, soul and God, and the absorption of the part in the whole. Only when this absorption is complete does the wheel of reincarnation stop; for then it is seen that the separate self and personality, to which reincarnation comes, is an illusion. It is Ishvara, the Maya-God, that gives rebirth to the self in punishment and reward; but "when the identity" of Atman and Brahman "has become known, then," says Sankara, " the soul's existence as wanderer and Brahman's existence as creator" (i.e., as Ishvara) "have vanished away." Ishvara and Karma, like things and selves, belong to the esoteric doctrine of Vedanta as adapted to the needs of common man; in the esoteric or secret doctrine, soul and Brahman are one, never wandering, never dying, never changed.
It was thoughtful of Sankara to confine his esoteric doctrine to philosophers; for, as Voltaire believed, as only a society of philosophers could survive without laws, so only a society of supermen could live beyond good and evil. Critics have complained that if good and evil are Maya, part of the unreal world, then all moral distinctions fall away, and devils are as good as saints. But these moral distinctions, Sankara cleverly replies, are all within the world of space and time, and are binding for those who live in the world. They are not binding upon the soul that has united itself with Brahman. Such a soul, by definition, does not move in the sphere of desire and (self-considering) action. Whoever consciously injures another lives on the plane of Maya, and is subject to its distinctions, its morals and its laws. Only the philosopher is free, only wisdom is liberty.
It was a subtle and profound philosophy to be written by a man in his twenties. Sankara not only elaborated it in teaching and defended it successfully in debate, but he expressed snatches of it in some of the most sensitive religious poetry of India.
Ten religious orders were founded in his name, and many disciples accepted and developed his philosophy. One of them, some say Sankara himself, wrote for the people a popular exposition of the Vedanta-the Mohamudgara, or "Hammer against Folly"- in which the essentials of the system were summed up with clarity and force.
"Fool! Give up thy thirst for wealth, banish all desires from thy heart. Let thy mind be satisfied with what is gained by thy Karma... Do not be proud of wealth, of friends, or of youth; time takes all away in a moment. Leaving quickly all this, which is full of illusion, enter into the place of Brahman... Life is tremulous, enter into the place of Brahman... Life is tremulous, like a water-drop on a lotus-leaf... Time is plying, life is waning-yet the breath of hope never ceases. The body is wrinkled, the hair grey, the mouth has become toothless, the stick in the hand shakes, yet man leaves not the anchor of hope... Preserve equanimity always... In thee, in me and in others there dwells the Vishnu alone; it is useless to be angry with any body, or impatient. See every self in Self, and give up thought of difference."
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada - Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Mahaswamigal on the birth anniversary of Sri Adi Sankara
It was by His avatara that the Vedas and the Works of the Rishis were rehabilitated. It was only by their rehabilitation that the observance of the holy Sri Ramanavami, Sri Narasimha Jayanti, Sri Krishna jayanti, Uttarayana Sankranthi and Sivaratri and other holy days was revived. The avatara of Sri Sankara made the remembrance and celebration of other Jayantis possible. Sri Sankara jayanti comes off every year on the 15th day of the Maadhavi month in the Vasanta Ritu. Like the pure white jasmine, which is also called Vasanti and Maadhavi, may the Vasanta madhava jayanti fill our spiritual perception with its own rich fragrance.
Who is Sri Sankara? He is lokasankarah; he makes for the welfare of the whole world. He is Siva Himself. Sivam means auspiciousness or what is propitious.
What does `Sam'' mean in the name 'Sankara'? It means sukham, bliss or aananda. The Brihadaaranyakopanishad speaks of it as 'Priyam', that which is dear. Ordinarily, the people of the world do not know where that sam, priyam or aanandam can be found. Hence they are afflicted with worldly sorrows. Sri Bhagavatpada was filled with compassion at the sight of world thus afflicted. He desired that men should enjoy the unlimited bliss of self-realisation What is that bliss by realising which Sri Sankara Himself left misery far behind? Sri Sankara says: "One's own self is Sukam or bliss. One's own self is all. One's own self is Brahman. Brahman alone is all that we perceive. Everything is the effect of Brahman. The cause itself is the effect. The effect is non-different from the cause. Everything is Sam or bliss. Let this Sam or bliss be enjoyed, in all our experiences. Let it be enjoyed as one's own inner self or Atman."
In the world Everything external to the self is dear for the reason that it is related to the self. The self alone is ultimately dear to everyone. Realisation of the self as non-different from Brahman is Supreme Bliss.
Sri Sankara taught that Paramaatman is one, tat everything is Brahaman and that all is one. What the veda taught is also what Sri Sankara taught. Sri Sankara said that as all is Brahman there is nothing apart from Brahman materialists hold that the world alone is real and the Brahaman does not exist. The Nyaaya logicians and other dualists said that the world and Brahman are both real. The Buddhists denied both the world and no reality in its own right apart from Brahman is the teaching of Sri Sankara.
Even in Buddhistic days, the systems anterior to it did not cease to exist. Chaarvaaka philosophy could not displace the systems of thought before its time. But on the emergence of Sri Sankara's philosophy, all earlier systems lost their appeal like stars losing their light on the rising of the Sun. Need it be said the partial light becomes dimmed before the Supreme and limitless effulgence of Universal Light? The methods of Bhakti, Upaasana and ethical virtues, and the conflicting paths of Tantra, Aachaara, Yoga and Samadhi, all these get absorbed in the indivisible Bliss of the non-dual Atman just as river flowing east, south, west and north get merged in one ocean. That Supreme Bliss is the goal of all these paths.
The teaching of the Bhagavatpada, as well as the teachings of other Aachaaryas, which, following the Vedas, are intended for the purification and elevation of one's Atman, prescribes that the Dharmas mentioned in the vedas should be practised by men in accordance with their respective Varnas and Ashramas. The Varnashrama Dharmas have been ordained by Sastras, not merely to foster among men an attitude of mutual helpfulness or only to promote the general cooperative material well-being of society. They have been prescribed for self-purification which they effect by developing peace, an essential means to liberation, and which cannot be otherwise experience.
The four means to Moksha, viz. Vairagya and others, accrue to a person by observance of his own Varnashrama Dharmas; and their dedication to Sri Hari. In the view, Sri Sankara closely follows the Gita where it is said:
tasmaat saastram pramaanam te kaaryaakaaryavyavasthitau
Therefore in the determination of what should or should not be done, Sastras are your mentor and guide. The word 'tasmaat' meaning, 'therefor', which occurs in this sloka, refers to a reason in the Sastraic determination of what should or should not be done. What is the reason? It is set out in the immediately preceding slokas of the Gita in that very context. In these slokas Sri Krishna says:
The gateway to hell which makes for self-destruction is three-fold, namely, desire, anger and avarice. Hence these three ought to be given up. One released from these three gates of darkness practices what makes for his elevation and then attains the supreme goal. But, if one violates the sastraic injunction and acts according to one's will and pleasure, one does not attain self-realisation. He can neither be happy nor reach the supreme goal."
After these verses occurs the verse beginning with 'tasmaat saastram pramaanam te'. Thus Sri Sankara follows the Gita when He declares that the observance of Varnashrama Dharma leads to self-purification and elevation of the Atman.
Expounding his Bashyas and the truths enshrined in the Upanishads, in a language which is profoundly sublime and yet transparently simple, the ascetic that was Sri Sankara traversed the whole of the Bharata Bhoomi on foot, from Rameswaram in the South to the Himalayas in the North. Rivers and sacred spots, villages and towns and temples have all been sanctified by him, and their spirituality augmented by his yantras and mantras and the invocations he made. Generally speaking, there is no holy spot in India, whose sanctity has not been heightened by his association. Even now, in every part of the country, people speak with pride that the temple in their place had been satisfied by Sri Sankaracharya and made famous by the Yantra he established. In all regions, where Vedic studies were prevalent, there is no spot where Sri Sankara's Bhashyas have not been studied with devotion by those who sought liberation, following the Guru-sishya sampradaya. Even now, Sri Sankara's Bhashyas are learnt in every place where Vedic studies are in vogue.
The growth of modern science is said to be responsible for the increase of lethal weapons calculated to destroy all life and too be pregnant with infinite danger to the world. Yet, from another angle, on calm and careful reflection, it will be clear that the growth of science shows the way for the promotion of peace among men. Fifty years ago, physicists held the view that matter was made of number of distinct elements and they held the theory of absolute difference among things. Now however, denying the distinctiveness of individual elements of matter and mutual difference between what is with form and mutual difference between what is with form and what is without form, they proclaim that they are all evolutes of one Energy. Thus it will be clear to all thinkers that modern scientists are giving up the theory of difference and are gradually getting oriented to the philosophy of non-difference. Especially great savants like Einstein, Sri James Jeans and Eddington have come very near the doctrine of Advaita taught by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada. Declaring that he phenomenal world of perception is not ultimately true, but only relatively real, they have come in effect to reject difference itself. the scientific thought of the present day progressively approximates to and supports the conclusion of Sri Sankara in the repudiation of the world of difference. This modern view will prepare the way for inculcating a sense of peace in the world. With the obliteration, through proper insight of sense of difference among the citizens of the world, among leaders of men, and among administrators, the wise, the brave and the thoughtful ones will no longer feel that others are different from themselves. They will realise their oneness even with the men of enemy countries. Themselves afflicted by the afflictions of the people of those lands, they will prove to be the foundation for raising the edifice of world peace.
On his holy day of anniversary of Sri Sankara's birth, may the truth, Advaita or non-difference to which modern scientific thinkers are getting attuned, a Truth which has been proclaimed by eternal Sruti, and which has been rendered radiant by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada be broadcast to all the world by thinkers and wise men, each in his measure, with earnestness and fervor. Many the malady of absence of peace which afflicts all mankind be cured by the life-giving nectar of the realisation of non-difference. May 'Sam' in the name of Sankara, i.e., peace, reign everywhere.
The genius of Bhagavatpada
Saastram saareera meemaamsaa
Devastu paramesvarah !
Santu janmani janmani
Every one of us is anxious that he should not be born again, that he should not have another janma. All Saastras have been propounded to show the way to get rid of future births. They teach us how to bring about the cessation of the alternations of birth and deaths, Sankara says: punarapi jananam punarapi maranam. But the sloka I have quoted seems to contradict this universal desire to annul all future births. On the other hand, it seems to contain a prayer for any number of janmas in the future. But, the prayer also contains three conditions. it says, "if, in every future birth the sheet anchor of my faith and understanding is the Saarera Meemaamsa, is my study, if the God I worship is Paramesvara Himself, if the Guru who will be my refuge is Sri Sankaracharya, it does not matter how many janmas I am to take. May these three be granted to me in life after life." This is the prayer of one among the crores of sishyas (disciples) of our Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada.
In a similar manner, Sri Sankara himself says in the Sivanandalahari Stotra:
Naratvamdevatvam nagavanamrigatvam masakataa,
pasutvam keetatvam bhavatu vihagatvaadi jananam
Sadaa tvat-paadaabja smarana paramaananda laharee
vihaaraasaktam chet hridayamiha kim tena vapushaa
"Let me be born as a men, as a god, as a
bird, as a monkey which jumps from tree to tree, as
a mosquito, or even as a worm. I do not decline any
janma if only it is given to me to enjoy the bliss
of contemplating the Lotus Feet of Sri Paramesvara.
What does it matter which form the body takes?(Kim tena vapushaa?)
The heart must be pure and directed to God, thought the body be ugly or even despicable. A handsome body concealing a heart devoid of devotion will only degrade human nature instead of elevating it. In fact, good men dread the prospect of another life(punar janmam), only because they are afraid their heart should be fouled by the enticement of the world.
God is the ocean of mercy. He loves us all. Devotion to Him is the sure way to our salvation. The Guru shows Him to us and instructs us in the Saastras that speak about Him. The Guru is most literally our friend, philosopher and guide in the fullest sense of that expression. In the sloka quoted at the beginning, the sishya prays that the Guru for him should always be Bhagavatpada Sri Sankara. True, many others had also been called "Aachaaryas", like Bhishma and Drona. We have also Sayanacharya, Udayanacharya, Bhaskaracharya and many others. In fact the propounder of every Saastra went by the name of Acharya. Regarding the qualifications of an Acharya, it has been laid down that he one who teaches the meanings of the Saastras, puts them into practice himself, and establishes others in those achaaras.
Aachinoti ca saastraathaan
Svayam aacharate yasmaat
Tasmaad aachaarya uchyate.
In respect of others like Drona, Bhishma, and Charaka, the suffix "Acharya" has to be specially added to their names. But when the word "Acharya" is by itself used, it denotes only Sri Bhagavatpada Sankara.
According to tradition, our Bharatadesa was originally dived into 56 kingdoms. (the Bhagavata Purana speaks of the Saptadveepas and of the vedas having been current in all of them. We have references to Mitra and Varuna in literature of Mesopatomia and Scandinavia). Our Acharya traversed on foot all the 56 kingdoms of Bharatadesa and established the Advaita Tatva as the final truth of Vedanta. Prior to him, the Saankhyas propounded the theory of plurality of atmas and denied a Paramatman. The Meemaamsakas, on the other hand, affirmed the superiority of observing Vedic rituals (vedokta karmaanushtaana) over jnana as the means to moksha. The Buddhas said that there was no sayyavastu and promulgated the Soonya Vaada. The Jains advanced the Sapta-bhangi-naya and adopted a shifting criterion of truth. Thus, there were as many as 72 schools of thought. when the Aachaarya appeared on the scene, many of them were in conflict with one another. it was in this predicament that the Eesaana of Sarva Vidyaas took human form as the son of pious Sivabhakta, Sivaguru by name, and his devoted wife, Aaryamba. Before that event, both Sivaguru and Aaryamba, who were yearning for a child, had an identical dream in which they were asked if they wanted a number of long lived but stupid sons or one learned child, who will, however, be short-lived. Not able to decide between the two choices, they said that they would abide by the will of God Himself. Accordingly, Sankara was born, destined to die in his eighth year. When he was eight years old, he confronted his mother-his father having predeceased her-with the dilemma of either agreeing to see him die devoured by a crocodile in the river near their home or consenting to his renouncing the world by embracing the sannyasa asrama. The first occasion, in the dream, was a dilemma realizing to the birth of her child, while this one was a dilemma realizing to his death. Now too, knowing not how to decide, she left the choice to her son, to do as he thought best, and the result was that the child Sankara became the Acharya Sankara.
A person acquires a new lease of life similar to the old, upon his adapting the Sanyaasa Aasrama in the prescribed manner. And so, our Acharya, who was "born again" as a Sanyaasi, got a repetition of the eight years of life originally allotted to him. In the second lease of life, he sought a guru on the bank of the Narmada, Govinda Bhagavatpada by name. after completing his novitiate under him, Sri Sankara went to Kasi where he wrote the Bhashyas, Prakaranagranthas and the stotras. All the scholars of Bharatadesa, who came to stay in Kasi in their pilgrimage to that holy city, listened to the Bhashyas which they carried to their respective regions on their return. To give the seal of approval to Sankara's exposition of Brahma Sutra, Sage Vyasa, the author of the Sutras himself appeared as an ordinary, old man of ugly appearance, and invited Sri Sankara to a debate, which went on without intermission, for days together, neither disputant getting the better of the other. Amazed at this, Sri Sankara's disciple Padmapada discerned by divine vision (jnana drishti) that the old man was none other than Vyasa himself and exclaimed:
Sankaras sankarassakhshaat vyaso naraayano harih ! tayoh vivaaade sampraapte kinkarah kim karomyaham !!
"Sankaracharya is Bhagavan Sankara Himself. Vyasa is Hari, the Supreme Narayana. When these two are engaged in debate, what can I, humble attendant, do?"
Vyasa was so pleased with the exposition of his Brahma Sutra by our Acharya that he declared that Sankara's teaching was the Vedanta tatva. Giving him another lease of life for sixteen more years, Vyasa desired our Acharya to travel through out the whole of Bharatadesa and establish the truth of Advaita Vedanta. Our Acharya said that his mission has been accomplished when he laid his Bhashya at the feet of the sage. But he was told that though scholars who had gathered in Kasi had carried the text of the Bhashya to their homelands the Acharya should go to those places to give darshan to the people living there. Thus it was that the Acharya traveled throughout our country and, in diverse places, he found a number of shrines at which he established the worship of Sri Chakra, dedicated to the Goddess Uma, who is the embodiment of the Brahmavidya, spoken of in the kenopanishad.
It is worthy of note that Buddhism, Jainism, the Saankhya, and the Meemaamsa systems of thought were prevalent and popular, in each case, the philosophies that were propounded prior to it, were still current. But after the advent of Acharya, all the earlier systems lost their hold on the minds of the people and Advaita Vedanta, taught in the mahaavaakyaas of the Upanishads, gained universal acceptance. Other schools of Vedanta that arose and are prevalent in particular parts of our country are only small deviations of Advaita. To Sri Sankara belongs the distinction of having liquidated all other anterior systems, vaidika and advaidika alike. So conclusively convincing was the was the Advaita tatva, which he established as paramataatparya the supreme import of the Upanishads, that other thinkers willing gave up their differing views, and acquiesced in it, wholeheartedly. Great philosophers of foreign countries too were attracted to it in such a measure that they expressed their undisguised admiration of its sublimity. at the hands of our Achaarya's successors, Admiration of its sublimity. At the hands of our Achaarya's successors, Advaita Vedanta acquired an added brilliance, as it was sharpened on the grinding stone of dialectical controversies with critics belonging to other schools of Vadanta. Swami Vivekananda proclaimed "Let the lion of Vedanta roar", and carried the message of Advaita which he declared as" the most scientific philosophy" to America and Europe. Thus our Achaarya's matam became Sarva sammatam (accepted by all). The matam, however, was not a theory which he advanced on his own; it was the Supreme Truth of Upanishads he expounded. it was Aupanishadam matam.
It is remarkable that our Acharya established the Upanishadic truth of Advaita within the brief period when he was in his teens. his span of life was very short compared to that of Sri Sayanacharya, who, treading the path of Sri Sankara, wrote his monumental Bhashyas on all the Vedas, and also that of many other posterior Acharya who promulgated one or the other of the six paths of devotion proclaimed by our Acharya in the form of Shanmatam, and thereby earning the distinction of being "Shanmatasthaapanacharya".
Siva, Vishnu, Devi and other manifestations of the Supreme are worshipped by us, Hindus, every day. The vratas relating to the worship of these manifestation survive in our midst today only because of our Acharya. For, if he had not been born, Buddhism, Jainism, the Saankhya and Meemaamsa would still be flourishing in our land, and all of them together would have expelled God from the hearts and minds of our people. If today, we celebrate Sri Rama Navami, Janmashtami, Sivaratri, Durga Puja and other festivals connected with the different manifestations of the Supreme, Sri Sankara alone has made it possible. It is to remind ourselves of the irredeemable debt that we owe to our Acharya and to express our gratitude to him for his service to our religions that we a celebrate Sri Sankara Jayanti.
BHAGAVATPADA'S SERVICE TO HINDUISM
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada taught us the truth that all the deities we hereditarily worship are but the manifestations of the One supreme Paramaatma. He established the worship of the moorthies of Siva, Vishnu, Ambika, Surya, Vinayaka and Subrahmanya all sanctified in the Vedas, and each having a specific Gayatri Mantra. If worshipped with devotion. all of them will enable us to attain the paramaatma, proclaimed by the Vedas as Sat Purusha, or Brahman. In that way he established the practical interpretation of the Gita teaching.
Yo yo yaam Yaam tanum bhaktah
sraddhaya architum icchati;
Tasya tasyaachalaam shraddhaam
Taam eva vidadhaamyaham
and came to be known as Shanmatasthaa-panaacharya. He traveled in all the 56 kingdoms of this country, where the Vedas were prevalent, and proclaimed the Advaitic principle of Oneness of God. Like the same God who is within us and within everything we perceive, the seer, the seen and the seeing (drashta, drisyam and drishti) are all aspects of the same paramaatma.
In darkness, a rope is mistaken for a snake. But when examined with a light, we will find that the supposed snake is only a rope. The superimposed snake disappears, when disappears, when light (knowledge) is thrown on it. Even for an illusion, there must be a basis in reality. the bases in the above example being the rope. All illusion will be superimposed on truth, and conversely what remains after the illusion is dispelled is the truth. When a person wakes up from a dream, everything seen and felt in the dream disappears, and what remains is only the dreamer. It means that we project ourselves into the objects of our dream. When the dream passes away on the dawn of awakening, we realise that there is nothing outside us. Similarly, the reflection in a mirror has no substantiality, but is only an appearance of what already exists. When we realise, with the aid of jnana, that God is the only ultimate Truth and everything else is illusion, anger, desire, hatred, pain, grief and other emotions will not affect us. We begin to dwell in the fullness of Supreme Bliss. This idea is clearly brought out by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada in the first verse of his Sri Dakshinamurti Ashtaam.
Visvam darpana drisyamaana nagaree tulyam nijaantargatam,
Pasyannatmani maayayaa bahirivodbhootam yathaa nidrayaa;
Yah saakshaatkurute prabodhasamaye svaatmaana-mevaadvayam,
Tasmai sreegurumoortaye nama idam Sree Dakshinaa-moortaye.
The last verse in this Ashtakam is :
Bhoorambhamsyanolo anilombaramaharnaatho himaamsu:pumaan,
Ityaabhaati charaacharaatmakam idam yasyaiva moortyashtakam!
Naanyat kincanavaidyate vimrusataam yasmaat parasmaad vibho
Tasmai Sree gurumoortaye nama idam Sree Dakshinaa-moortaye!!
The verse points out that earth, water, fire, air, ether, Sun, moon, and purusha are all one. Paramesvara bears the name of Ashtamurti and it is He who appears in the eight forms enumerated above. Therefore, when we turn our thoughts inward and make some research, we arrive at the realisation that Paramatma is the Ultimate Truth. We cease to covet anything. But this does not imply inaction; on the other hand, for the welfare of the word (lodasamgraha), each of us has to perform the duty assigned to him. when we do so with the Advaitic consciousness of oneness of God we shall be able to perform our duties, freed from every attachment. The Acharya made his appearance in the world to teach us this great truth and has, thereby, rendered an invaluable service to humanity. By paying homage to this great religious and spiritual preceptor, who reoriented philosophic thought to its Upanishadic traditions and whose achievements within a short span of life is unparalleled in history, we shall earn his grace which will guide us along the path of God-realisation. It is due to Sri Bhagavatpada and his compositions in praise of the different manifestations of God that a new life has come to be breathed into temple worship and the festivals associated with temples. Had it not been for him the observance of such festivals like Janmashtami, Vinayaka Chaturthi, Sri Rama Navami and Sivaratri in our homes would have ceased owing to the spread of atheism. Our elders, who profited from the teachings of Bhagavatpada, adhered to the various religious observances. It is their abundant faith that is responsible for the continuance of these observance even today, in spite of the neglect of succeeding generations.
By his upadesa, Sri Adi Sankara became a Jagadguru (world teacher) in the fullest meaning of that expression. We are proud to call ourselves his followers and to pay homage to him. But there is one drawback in us, and that is, we do not live up to the advice tendered by him. Each one of us is enjoined to perform the daily anushtanaas prescribed for him, to worship the deity hereditarily worshipped, and to meditate on the mantra given to him by a guru. But unfortunately, in these days, we thin of God only when faced with some calamity, and begin to do this pooja or that. Of what avail are these special poojas and rituals, if we have not built up our spiritual life on the bases of the anushtaanaas, enjoined upon us? In fact these special rituals to ward off a threatened calamity may not become necessary at all if we had been strictly adhering to our anushtaanaas, which are the means by which man can acquire the fund of divine grace without which not an atom will move in this universe. In the absence of this basic requirement, whatever else we do later on, will not bear fruit.
My stay in Madras will have produced some result if at least those who claimed allegiance to the Math observed the sastraic way of life and perform the basic anushtaanaas and, in that way, recapture the spiritual glory that once was ours. Otherwise, I will be in the same predicament as the commander of an undisciplined army. Spiritual discipline is as rigorous as military discipline. If we really want to fulfill the purpose of life, we must subject ourselves to that discipline. Then we need fear none. Purity in our life will command for us the respect and regard of the rest of the world.
The Tamil month of ‘Margazhi’ has traditionally been marked by devotional music and prayer, a time to invoke the Almighty through music and songs; it is a period when temple corridors to drawing rooms come alive with the chanting of mantras and rich devotional music right from dawn. So it was in the fitness of things that the Vision Research Foundation made an auspicious and melodious beginning to its fund raising efforts on the first day of Margazhi with an enthralling violin concert by Maestro Shri TN.Krishnan accompanied by Shri Sriram Krishnan and Srimathi Viji Krishnan. The music and dinner program organized to create awareness on its activities and raise funds for the Vision Research Foundation’s corpus fund was held on the 17th of December, 2011 at the Mauve&Lilac room at the Raintree Hotel.
The Lion’s club and Sankara Nethralaya have been, to quote Lion Shri GV.Raman’s words ‘Partners in conquering blindness’.
The awardees being felicitated were Dr S.Bhaskaran, Chairman, Sankara Nethralaya who was honoured with a ‘Life time Achievement’ award and Dr TS.Surendran, Vice-Chairman, Sankara Nethralaya honoured with the ‘Best Doctor” for year 2011 – 2012 by the prestigious Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University.
‘If children are the eyes of the nation, what greater responsibility do we have than ensuring the well-being of their eyes’ seemed to be the underlying theme of the IXth Nagamani Dharmapuri Endowment Lecture at the Sri VD Swami Auditorium on 22nd December, 2011.
The Vision Research Foundation’s long time dream and objective of creating its own corpus fund to the tune of rupees 200 crores to support its broad spectrum, India centric research got off to a head start on the 10th of December. It was on this day exactly a century ago that Shri S.Krishnamurthy Rao who rose to be the Professor of Mathematics at the Swami Vivekananda College, Madras was born.
The donation of rupees 10 lakhs was handed over to Dr SS.Badrinath, Chairman Emeritus, Sankara Nethralaya on the 10th of December 2011. This significant amount would contribute towards the creation of the corpus fund for the VRF to support its research endeavors ranging from basic research to more advanced areas like stem cell and Nanobiotechnology research.
The first darshan took place when Maha Periaval and Pudu Periaval were camping at Satara. One day, in the evening, the Dipa-namaskaram (prostrations unto the light) was being performed. An elephant was fanning with a caamaram. As the place where the elephant was standing was a slope its hind feet slipped. it gave a trumpet. Quite alarmed. I took to my heels.
On another day, Sri Mahaswamigal was sitting in a corner and Sri Pudu Periaval was delivering a religious discourse. Suddenly he stopped it in the middle and ran. I could not understand why. Only when some one told me after a few minutes that Pudu Periaval did so only at the behest of the Maha Swamigal, I knew the reason. Then I was very much surprised.
I used to observe at close quarters the Chandramouleeswara pooja performed by Sri Periyaval. A boy was doing the service like breaking the coconuts to be offered to the Lord and filling lamps with ghee. I would watch closely this boy's chores.
Later on, one occasion, I had the darshan of Sri Mahaswamigal in Gulbarga. I wondered at the fastness of his walk even at that advanced age. I went by a horse-cart to Brahmapur Panpur from Gulbarga. There is a Patalesvara Lingam in a temple there. I was asked to recite the Rigvedamandaram for two days at the time of the pooja. I did so. I was also directed to recite the Totakashtakam. one day, some people came to place before Sri Periaval with proposals regarding the temple renovation and Kumbabhishekam of Sri Jalakanteswara at Velur.
During that period, I used to observe keenly the observances and the Dandatarpanam of Sri Periaval. I thought that He was chanting some Mantras. It was a mystery to me when I saw Him meditating with closed eyes for an hour. The presents to those who chanted the Vedas were invariably in rupee coins. Even that was strange to me.
One day, an aged person approached me to say that Sri Periaval wanted me. He was staying in a place a furlong away. I went there. A book was handed over to me. It was Taittiriya Mantra-Kosam. Sri Periaval ordered me to sit down. Then Sri Periaval was turning some of the pages of the book. After some moments, He asked me to read the last line on a page on the left side of the book. Then he commanded me to read five times the lines there of the mantram beginning with "Sriyejatam" and ending with "Ya evam veda". I did accordingly. Then he asked me to locate the part in the book, wherein, the portion ending with "Samita mita mitatran." When I gave the correct answer, he asked for the texts of Rigveda and aitareya Brahmanam. The texts were not brought. Then I told Him, " I remember to have read Vidyaranya Bhasyam. A person in Tandalam had the text in Telugu and I learnt from him whenever possible."
Several minutes passed. Then He asked "In the Mantram which type is the correct reading "Vashatkrtyam Santatyam," or "Vashatkrtyai santatyai". I answered that the second reading is the correct one. He then instructed me to study Tatvasastra (philosophy) and also learn to read and write Telugu language well.
On one day, Sri Periaval was sitting in a narrow spot by the Patalesvara temple. There were 13 vedic students present to take examination in the Rig Veda. He sent for me and I went there. He took a book and handed it over to me to write a mantra on the last cover of the book. Not knowing which mantra I should write, I stood puzzled. Often Sri Periaval told me to chant the Diparadanai mantram and to repeat it many times. He was keenly listening to my recitation of the mantram and asked me in this manner to chant and write the mantram Sri Pudu Periaval had not told Sri Periaval anything about me. Only after I was ordained into the Turiyasramam, the significance of this episode was clear to me.
One day, in may 1983 I was taken to the presence of Sri Periaval. He was camping in Mahboobnagar in a cotton mill. The day on which I was to enter Sannyasa Ashramam was nearing. Some persons who knew the purpose of my being there on that day, took me with all honours to Periaval. At the moment Sri Periaval was talking to some persons around Him about Polagam Sundara Sastrigal, as a reputed authority on Dharmasastra and about the dwindling number of such great authorities today. He was then apprised of my being there for His darsanam. I had the compelling need to go to Hyderabad and from there to Tirupati. Hence, thinking that I had obtained the grace of Sri Periaval by His mere look, I first stood there looking at Him. Sri Acharya I was also steadily looking at me. Then I started.
I learnt later that Sri Periaval had told a devotee that he would see three Acharya Swamigals together.
Our Paramacharyal is the very embodiment of Truth. His prodigious memory is a matter of great wonder for all. Sternly determined as He is to do good to people, He feels profound joy in seeing and helping those who hate him. He is comparable to dam which contains wild floods within control. He saves the social order and harmony. His discernment is astute. He is ever studious. He shows in his conduct what he asks others to do.
It is said that Guru(preceptor) is greater than God, devotion to preceptor is more meritorious than that to God. If we ask why, the answer is that God has not been seen by any one, But the preceptor is present here and now before us. If a Preceptor who is immaculate and pure, full of wisdom and steadiness of vision completely free from weakness, were available to us, the mental peace in search of which we pray to God is at our reach by devotion to the preceptor. Hence it is declared
"Gurur - Brahma
Gurur - Vishnuh
Guru -devo Maheswarah
Gurur - sakshat Param Brahma
Tasmai Sri Gurave namah
The Preceptor is Brahma, Vishnu, is the God Maheswara, is verily Brahma itself. Salutation to such a Preceptor
In this verse it is to be noted that total identity between the Preceptor and Brahman reality is declared. Incidentally, since in this verse both Siva and Vishnu are clubbed together, if we prostrate before the preceptor uttering this verse we will get the sense of the identity of Siva and Vishnu.
God performs the works like creating and protecting the world. But the preceptor does not have these responsibilities. God has an 'office' while the Preceptor does not have one. is much easier to get things done by the grace of the preceptor than by the officer God whom we will have to disturb.
Whatever great and auspicious qualities God possesses, the Preceptor also has, namely, blem-ishless purity, truth, devoid of deceit or dissimulation, complete control of the senses, infinite compassion and wisdom. The only difference is that we are able to see the Preceptor by our eyes, while God is invisible. Hence if we begin to develop devotion to the preceptor clinging to his holy feet we will gain with ease all the benefits that we expect from God with effort. That is why our elders said that devotion to Preceptor is superior in its effects than that to God.
However we should not forget to practice devotion to god, because we are led to the presence and proximity of the Preceptor only by God. if the grace of God were not operating, how could one get near the Preceptor at all?
Acharya Sankara has stated in the beginning of the Vivekacudamani that three things are hard to obtain without God's Grace. They are(1) birth as a human being, (2) desire to know the truth and to get liberated and (3) the attainment of holy Preceptor.
"Durlabham trayameva etat devanugraha - hetukam
For all people at all ages, the Preceptor is one only. He is Dakshinamurthy.
"Sa purvesham api guruh
How could true knowledge have been transmitted to one Preceptor except through Preceptor of that Preceptor except through Preceptor of that Preceptor and so on? If we thus trace the line or Preceptor backwards, God Himself ultimately will become the First preceptor to his first disciple. That is why we are told not to forget God.
Sometimes this matter is stated in a different way. If instead of speaking of God and Preceptor as two different persons, if we treat them as one and the same and assume that God has appeared in the form of a Preceptor, we need not practice two-fold devotion separately as devotion to the Preceptor. we can consider God Himself as the preceptor and surrender to Him totally. He will save us by His grace through the preceptor in human form who after all is only His manifestation. hence we are taught even at the very outset that the preceptor is the basis of trinity of God viz. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.
"Gurur - Brahma
Gurur - Vishnuh
Gurur - Devo Maheswarah
Gururs - Sakshat Param Brahma
Tasmai Sri Gurave namah
The meaning of the above verse is used sometimes to be explained more tastefully with reference to Sage Vyasa who is the most important of all the teachers of the Brahma-vidya.
"acatur-vadano brahmaa, dvibaahur-aparo-harih;
Aphaalalocanah sambhuh, bhagavaan baadaraayanah."
'Baadaraayana' is another name of Vyasa. He is Brahmaa without four faces. He is Vishnu with only two hands; He is Siva without the eye on the forehead. Such is the greatness of Vyasa-Baadadraayana.
There is no one greater than the preceptor. We should have full faith in him. It should be genuine faith. if we have faith that God himself has appeared in the preceptor's form, then even God is not necessary. This faith and the devotion that we nourish towards Him, will of themselves redeem us.
For the Vaishnava, devotion to Preceptor is the most important and primary.
If we commit and offence against God, there is no need to seeking pardon from God himself. It is enough if the Preceptor pardoned us. God's anger will at once be appeased. On the contrary, if one offends the preceptor, and seeks pardon from God, nothing would happen. God himself would tell him that He is helpless in the matter. he will ask us to get the pardon from the preceptor alone.
The Preceptor can intercede on behalf of the disciple and recommend to God to pardon the sinner. God will never disregard this recommendation. If, on the contrary, the preceptor is sinned against there could be none to protect the sinner. There is a verse which tells us this.
"Gurur-pitaa, gurur-maataa, guru-daivam, guru-gatih,
Sive-rysgte gurustraataa, gurur rushte na kascana.
That is why the scriptures enjoin the devotion to the preceptor. If a Preceptor, perfect in all respects is not available, one has to take to some Preceptor as a spiritual guide even though he is of a grade less and practice devotion to him and through him to God.
No benefit accrues to God or Guru by our devotion to them. The great benefit is only ours. What is that?
We have impurities and are fickle-minded. We are not able to fix the mind in one point even for a second. Only when we set our thought on one who is ever pure, is full of wisdom, is constant and inflexible like a dried wood, that state of immutability will be won by us also. We will become the same as He. The object of our thought need not necessarily be God. It may be any object or any person whom we consider to be possessed of such spiritual qualities as those of a Preceptor. We will become one with Him. Only when the mind stops to wander, self will shine forth. That is, we will know our true nature of bliss. Devotion to Guru or God is indispensable for the restraint of the mind.
In the Chandogya Upanishad itself it is declared that only by the grace of the Guru true knowledge is possible. It says "aacaaryavaan purusho veda" (only one who has a Preceptor, gains true knowledge).
It puts the idea in the form of short story.
A man belonging to Gandhara (now known as Kandahar) was kidnapped by some dacoits and was abandoned blindfold in a forest. what will be his predicament? How could he return to his country not knowing where he was?
Similar is the case with us. Maya, the deluding power, has left us blindfold in the world. In the above story, some wayfarer happens to come on the way in the forest. He removes the blind and instructs him on the way back to Gandhara. The poor man follows the instructions and reaches his place.
Similarly, we are now blinded by ignorance and can, following the instruction of the Preceptor, get our ignorance removed and attain release. This is the parable in the Chandogya Upanishad.
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, renowned as the world teacher (Jagadguru), sings the praise of the Guru everywhere. He asked "What if one has all the glories? What is the use of it all if his mind is not bound to the lotus feet of the Preceptor?" He asks "what if?" not once, but repeatedly. In the poem Gurdvashtakam (consisting of eight verses), he asks as a refrain at the end of every line "What if" in all the 32 lines.
And also in the teaching just on the eve of his casting off the mortal coils he commands;
"Take to a Preceptor who is a savant and is pure. Then do service at his holy feet every day. Seek the instruction on Brahman, symbolised in the single syllable Om! Listen to the Mahavaakyas of Upanishads!"
"Sad-vidvan upasrpyatam pratidinam
tatpadukaa sevyatam brahmaika akasaram
arthyatam srutisriri-vaakyam samaakarnyataam."
There is no parallel to the Guru. He may be compared a philosopher's stone which turns the base metal into gold. But even this comparison is not Quite correct because the philosopher's stone turns base metal only into gold. it does not transform that metal into another philosopher's stone. But the Preceptor turns even the dullard into a wise sage like him.
When we look at the line of the Preceptors one by one, and our Paramacharya, the doubt deepens whether there could be any one comparable to him. We should contemplate on the Paramacharya not merely as a God walking amidst us but the Supreme non-dual Brahman who is beyond all difference and determinations.
Among the renowned personalities celebrated in the hagiographies of the world, by far the most distinguished for all time is Sri Sankara, reverently referred to as Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, or simply as the Bhagavatpada. Whether considered, as tradition and the Puranas would have it, as an incarnation of Lord Siva Himself or only looked upon as a surpassing human being, either way, he is pre-eminent among the prophets and religious leaders of all times. His achievements during the little over three decades of his earthly life constitute a marvel of uncommon rate.
He was an intellectual prodigy who attained a phenomenal mastery over the scriptures even when he was less than eight years of age. Using the Sanskrit language with a felicitous clarity all his own, he wrote elaborate commentaries on the tripod of Hindu religion and philosophy evincing a dialectical skill which even to this day is the despair and envy of his adversaries. The original treatises that he produced on Advaita Vedanta ranging from a single verse to a thousand for all grades of mental comprehension live even today as fresh as ever, in the thoughts and tongues of men. His triumphal digvijaya to all parts of our land more than once had a double purpose, to vindicate the truths of Advaita Vedanta against the onslaughts of its disputants and to purify our religious theories and practices out of the accretions that had gathered round them by the lapse of time and the inroads of perverted minds. Mere sacerdotalism which went by the letter ignoring the spirit and the corruption of designing people had for long fouled the clear springs of our pristine religion, resulting in the adoption of ways of worship which were neither civilised nor moral. All this had happened before Sri Sankara came on the scene. He accomplished the stupendous task of ridding our religion of its unfortunate excrescence and raised it to a pedestal of worshipful dignity. Buddhism, the rebel child of the Vedic religion and philosophy, denied God and the soul, laid the axe at the very roots of Vedic thought and posed a great danger to its very survival. This onslaught was stemmed betimes, compelling Buddhism to seek refuge in other lands. While the credit for this should go primarily to the Mimamsaka, Kumarila Bhatta, it was because of Sri Sankara's dialectical skill and irrefutable arguments that it ceased to have sway over the minds of the inheritors of Vedic religion.
Having thus enthroned our ancient religion and philosophy in the hearts and minds of his countrymen, Sri Sankara established in several parts of the country guardians of his teachings to preserve and propagate it to countless generations of the future. While these should have been numerous when he established them, five stand to this day as pontificates bearing his name, and function at Kanchi, Sringeri, Puri, Dwaraka and Badri, covering the whole of Bharata Varsha. There is not in legend or in history a life like Sri Sankara's so short in years and yet so packed with achievements in the realm of the spirit and whose glory extends beyond the bounds of space and time. No wonder that even today, much as protagonists of other schools may regret and protest, Vedanta is identified with Advaita which Sri Sankara drew out of the Upanishads, distilled out of the Bhagavad Gita and described in his commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, and that this school of Vedanta has compelled the conviction and obtained the assent of the thinking minds of the West.
It is unfortunate that no biography of Sri Sankara was written by his contemporaries. For details about his life, we have to depend on Sankara Vijayas composed at different times long after he lived. They do not agree in all particulars about his life. The traditional date of Sri Sankara varies from that assigned to him by modern historians. While the latter fix him as having lived from 788 to 820 A.D., the tradition determined by the pontifical succession in the celebrated Pithas that he established take him to a time long before the Christian era. Be that as it may, we may glean from the different biographies extant today a generally accepted account of his life and work.
It is agreed on all hands that Sri Sankara belonged to a Nambudiri Brahmana family of Kerala in the hamlet of Kaladi situated on the banks of the Churna river. His father was a pious wealthy person called Sivaguru and his mother was Aryamba. Not blessed with a son for a long time, the devout pair went to worship Lord Siva in the nearby celebrated temple at Trichur. The story goes that, pleased by their devotion, the God appeared before them in a dream and asked them to choose between a number of long-lived sons who would remain ignorant and stupid and one who would live for eight years only, but would be possessed of phenomenal intellectual gifts. Sivaguru and his wife had no hesitation in choosing the latter. According to the legend, it was conveyed to them that Lord Siva Himself would condescend to be born to them.
In fullness of time, Aryamba bore a child carrying such divine marks on its person that those who beheld it proclaimed it an incarnation of Lord Siva Himself. It was given the significant name of Sankara, calculating by the season, the day and time of its birth and also as if to predict the great service the child was destined to render to the world. (Sam Karoti iti Sankarah: 'Sankara' is one who does good). As ill-luck would have it, Sivaguru passed away before the child was five years old and it was then brought up with care and affection by his mother. With the assistance of her kinsmen, Aryamba got the upanayanam ceremony performed for her precocious boy who then mastered all the Vedas and Sastras which seemed to wait on his lips, eager to be uttered by him for their own sanctification.
The eight years of the boy's allotted life were drawing to a close. The fateful day dawned. On that day it happened that Aryamba and Sri Sankara went to the Churna river to bathe. The mother finished her ablutions and was resting on the bank of the river. Suddenly she heard a cry of distress from her son telling her that a terrific crocodile had got his leg in its mouth and was dragging him down. The agony of the mother was indescribable.
Then Sri Sankara told her that he could free himself from the grip of the monster if, then and there, he assumed the Sannyasa asrama bringing about thereby the 'death' of his former condition and the start of a new life. Else, the crocodile would devour him and that would be the end of his physical life. 'Choose' said he, 'this instant; for there is no time to lose. Shall I pass away devoured by the crocodile or shall I live converting myself into a sannyasin?' Aryamba was in a dilemma; but her maternal instinct made her consent to Sri Sankara to live as a sannyasin if thereby she could keep him alive. Then and there, standing in the water, the boy Sankara uttered the incantation which automatically admitted him into the holy order of mendicant sannyasins. And, for a wonder, the crocodile loosened its grip and disappeared from water to appear again on the sky, so the story goes, as a celestial Gandharva released from his erstwhile curse by which he was condemned to be an aquatic monster. Thus Sri Sankara 'died' as a Brahmachari at the ordained age of eight and obtained a further lease of another eight years.
Upon Aryamba quite innocently bidding her son accompany her home, Sri Sankara reminded her that he had become a sannyasin, that he had betaken to an itinerant life and must take leave of her. The mother was anguished at this, grieving as to who could take care of her son. She wailed in disappointment that it was not given to her to see her son grow up, marry and raise a progeny for the continuation of his line. Sri Sankara consoled her by saying: 'Mother dear! Do not grieve. The whole world will be my home hereafter. All those who will initiate me into the sacred lore will be my fathers. All women who give me bhiksha (alms) will be my mothers. The peace that shall be mine by the realisation of the Atman will be my consort. All my disciples will be my sons.' He however promised to be at her bedside in her last moments and speed her way to heaven by his presence. Aryamba then gave him unwilling leave to depart. Sri Sankara traveled on foot from Kaladi to the Narmada banks visiting many a sacred spot on the way. There, in a place called Omkar Mandhata on the bank of river Narmada which from then on is called Sankara Ganga, he met Govinda Bhagavatpada who formally admitted him into the sannyasin order according to the prescribed rituals and imparted the Brahma Vidya to him. After serving his guru, for some time, obeying his command. Sri Sankara went to Kasi (Varanasi) and engaged himself in writing commentaries on the tripod of Hindu philosophy, namely, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. At this time an interesting incident happened in the life of Sri Sankara. One morning, he was returning to his monastery after a bath in the Ganga. Leading four dogs an outcaste, who should not approach him, came along.
He was bidden by Sri Sankara to go away from his path. Upon this, the outcaste queried him as to what he bade to go away; if it was the outcaste's body or his Atman. If it was the former, he said, it was compacted of the same five elements as Sri Sankara's own body and was not different. So it need not go away. If it was the Atman, then according to the Advaita that Sri Sankara taught, the Atman of all persons, brahmana or outcaste, was one only and, being identical and all-pervasive, it cannot move away. Sri Sankara immediately understood that his questioner was no ordinary outcaste, but a realised soul and broke forth into a pentad of verses acclaiming the outcaste's greatness. Sri Sankara said in the verse that he deemed a person of such spiritual realisation to be his Guru, be he an outcaste or a brahmana. According to the legend, it was Lord Siva Himself who appeared as this outcaste. The dogs were the four vedas. The outcaste and his retinue vanished and Lord Siva appeared and blessed Sri Sankara exhorting him to finish writing his commentaries.
Another incident occurred some time later. While Sri Sankara was instructing his disciples in his Vedantic commentaries, an aged brahmana appeared before him with a request that he would be pleased to resolve some of his doubts. A vigorous discussion followed between the Master and the brahmana who disputed for a number of days with elaborate arguments Sri Sankara's interpretation of one of the tersest of the Brahma Sutras. This went on for eight days, each side vindicating its stand and there was no prospect of its conclusion. At this time, one of Sri Sankara's disciples, Padmapada by name, wondered who the doughty debater was. In an intuitive flash it struck him that he must be the great Bhagavan Vyasa, the author of the Brahma Sutras. He exclaimed: 'Sankara is Siva and Vyasa is Narayana Himself. When these gods themselves dispute, what can a mere mortal like me do?' Sri Sankara then realised who his disputant was. Prostrating before him he begged to be blessed. Sage Vyasa there upon lauded the fidelity of Sankara's commentaries and gave them the imprimatur of his approval. Now the extended eight years of Sri Sankara's life were about to be over. Adding another sixteen years to the span of his life, Vyasa bade him propagate the Advaita Sastra in the far reaches of India.
Then began the triumphant digvijaya of Sri Sankara. The first opponent of Advaita which is the philosophy of the Upanishads (known as the Uttaramimamsa) was the Purvamimamsaka who believed in the primacy and the immediacy of the Vedic Karmic rituals as the means to Moksha. One of the staunchest protagonists of this school was Kumarila Bhatta who lay on the banks of the Ganga at Prayag (modern Allahabad) at the point of death, having immolated himself by fire for the sin of gurudroha (being a traitor to one's Guru), which he acquired by furtively learning the tenets of Buddhism from a Buddhist savant in order to controvert them later. Kumarila, according to the legend, was an incarnation of Kumara, son of Lord Siva. He told Sri Sankara of his predicament which disabled him from debating with him. He bade him go to his own disciple, Mandana Misra living in Mahishmati, saying that he (Mandana) was a more uncompromising ritualist than himself.
Sri Sankara hastened to Mandana's place. On arriving at the city, he was at a loss to discover Mandana's house. He enquired of a woman who was passing by and was told that in the verandah of a house two parrots would be chirping between themselves whether the Vedas were true in their own right or if their truth was derived. That, she said, was Mandana's house. Arriving there, Sri Sankara found the door closed against intruders as a sraddha ceremony was being then performed by Mandana. The story is that Sri Sankara let himself in by his yogic powers. Parrying the abuses of the householder who was wroth at a sannyasin interposing himself in a sraddha ceremony, Sri Sankara said that he did not come there for anna bhiksha (alms of food) but made him agree to a vada bhiksha, (alms of knowledge) after the sraddha ceremony was over. The disputants agreed that Mandana's wife Sarasavani who was said to be an incarnation of the Goddess Sarasvati, (Mandana being Brahma himself), should act as umpire to the debate. The wager was that if either was defeated, he should adopt the asrama of the other, that is, either Sri Sankara should become a householder or Mandana should take to monastic discipline. Leaving them to debate between themselves, Sarasavani went to attend to her domestic chores. Before doing so, she adorned each disputant with a garland of flowers saying that the person whose garland showed signs of fading must be considered to have been defeated.
The debate went on for a number of days. At the conclusion of the sessions on a particular day, Sarasavani invited both of them together for bhiksha signifying that her lord Mandana had become eligible for alms as only a monk is, in other words, that he had been defeated and should, according to the wager, become a sannyasin. This he did, adopting the name Suresvara and thence forward accepted the supremacy of Advaita. He became one of the foremost disciples of Sri Sankara who had earlier, when he was in Kasi acquired a disciple in the person of Sanandana. This disciple came to be known as Padmapada because the river Ganga caused lotuses (padma) to bloom at every step of his foot (pada) to give support to him, when once in his ecstatic devotion to Sri Sankara, he walked right on the stream to fulfil a command of the master on the other bank.
Sri Sankara then traveled to Badri on the Himalayas where His guru Govinda and His guru's guru Gaudapada were living in the enjoyment of nirvikalpa samadhi. He made them revert to world conscious-ness by singing the famous Dakshinamurti Stotra. He received their blessings and went to Kailas. According to the story he was affectionately received by his Great Original, Lord Paramesvara who blessed him with five Siva Sphatika Lingas, the oval emblems of Siva made of transparent crystals and a transcript of Soundaryalahari, a century of hymns in praise of the Divine Mother. As ill-luck would have it, he lost the later fifty nine of these verses which he subsequently replaced by his own composition. The five lingas given by Siva were known as Mokshalinga, Varalinga, Bhogalinga, Muktilinga and Yogalinga. Sri Sankara then returned to Kedara where he installed the Muktilinga and established one of his pontificates, in the nearby Badri, which is called the Jyotish Pitha. Proceeding thence to Nepal, he vanquished the Buddhists who denied the soul and God. He installed the Varalinga at Nilakanta Kshethra which is even now in worship at Nepal.
Wending his steps southward the Bhagavatpada went to Dwaraka in the Western corner of India, sacred to the memory of Sri Krishna. He established the Kalika Pitha there and also a pontificate. Crossing the country travelling eastward, he came to Puri where he founded the Vimala Pitha after worshipping Lord Jagannatha. Thence he went to Srisailam in the Andhra Pradesh where he composed the famous hymn Sivanandalahari and installed a Srichakra in front of the shrine of the presiding goddess Sri Bhramarambika. It was at this time that Sri Sankara vanquished the Kapalikas and put down the homicidal practice to which they were addicted to in their religious worship.
It was at this time that Sri Sankara's supreme spirit of self-sacrifice and his boundless compassion towards even an enemy with murderous intent was evidenced. (The sage of Kanchi used to narrate the incident with his deep feeling of Guru Bhakthi). The chief of the Kapalikas wanted to do away with Sri Sankara. But he knew that such a divine person could not be done away with unless he himself gave his consent for that. The Kapalika, in addition, also knew the loving heart of Sri Sankara and his self-sacrificing nature. So he made bold to request Sri Sankara himself to give permission to behead him! He further said that he would offer the head to his god Kapali, the dreadful form of Siva, and by this offer of the head of a true monk he would reach the heaven of Kapali.
Without a moment's hesitation Sri Sankara gave his hearty approval for the atrocious request! He said, "Till now I had been thinking that the human body alone is incapable of being of service to fellow beings. The hide of the sheep serves as blanket, that of the cow for making musical instruments. The nerves of many animals find use as strings. So on and so forth. But the human body, once dead is just burnt or buried, without being of any use to anybody. I have been thinking so till now. But now, dear man, you say that my head would serve to confer Kalpali's heaven itself on you. I am glad to be utilised thus. If you are sure that I am a true monk do quickly chop off my head before my disciples turn up".
Unmoved by even such an exalted expression of love the Kapalika aimed his sword on Sri Sankara. But before it could touch the neck of Sri Sankara, the Kapalika himself fell dead due to the outburst of the wrath of the Almighty Vishnu in the Man-lion form of Narasimha.
Traversing thence to the Western Ghats, Sri Sankara worshipped Sri Mukambika. There he discovered the dumb prodigy who, on being cured of his defect, became his disciple and attained the name Hastamalaka. Another of the disciples was one Giri by name, generally considered to be backward by his fellow-disciples. Receiving a special mark of grace from Sri Sankara, he broke forth into a soul-stirring hymn of eight verses in praise of his guru, celebrated as the Totakashtaka, himself getting the sannyasa name of Totakacharya.
Resuming his travel, Sri Sankara went to Karnataka and reached Sringagiri (Sringeri). Here he erected a shrine to Sri Sarada, established another pontificate known as the Sarada Pitha and installed there the Bhogalinga from among those that he had brought from Kailas.
Meanwhile, Sri Sankara's mother was on the point of death. True to his promise to her, Sankara hastened to her bedside and invoked the grace of Vishnu to take her to Vaikuntha. As a sannyasin should not engage in any kind of ritual, his kinsmen refused to permit him to perform the lady's obsequies himself. Upon his insisting that the duty to one's mother overrode all rules and that he would himself perform his mother's cremation, they all to a man, withheld their co-operation. Sri Sankara carried the dead body to the backyard of his house unaided by anybody and lighted the funeral pyre by invoking his spiritual prowess. Sri Sankara went thence to Tirupati where he established the Dhanakarshana Yantra which, to this day, draws vast sums of wealth from pious devotees. Reaching Jambukeswaram in modern Tiruchirapalli, he tempered the ferocity of Akhilandeswari, the presiding Goddess by installing a shrine to Sri Vighneswara in front of Her, and fixing on the ears of Her person two rings known as Tatankas in the mystically designed Srichakra pattern. He then went to the land's end in Rameswaram to worship Lord Ramanatha in the Linga that he celebrated in his Dvadasalingstotra. in praise of the Lingas installed in the twelve (dvadasa) foremost temples of Siva. Returning, he visited Chidambaram and left the Mokshalinga, another of those he got in Kailas, to be worshipped there.
Travelling through the length and breadth of the country over, Sri Sankara ultimately reached Kancheepuram near Madras. Kanchi is known as one of the seven Mokshapuris of our sacred land (places which confer Liberation) and has had, through the ages, a memorable political, literary, cultural and religious history. Scholars and saints of all denominations and sects have either visited it in their time or taken permanent residence there. It has been the venue of philosophical disputations of all schools of thought. No religious leader considered his mission fulfilled or his victory complete unless he vanquished rivals of other faiths in that famous city. As its name signifies, Kanchi is the waistline of the earth and its central spot. It was but appropriate that Sri Sankara also should go to this place to proclaim the Advaita Vedanta vindicating it against other schools of religion and philosophy. Acclaimed by everyone as the supreme master of all that is to know, Sri Sankara ascended before a large assembly the throne of omniscience known as the Sarvajna Pitha at Kanchi.
He then mitigated the ugrakala, the fierce aspect of the Goddess Kamakshi drawing it into a Srichakra which he placed in front of Her and consecrated it. After renovating the temple to Lord Vishnu in the person of Sri Varadaraja, he asked the reigning king of Kanchi to fashion the city in the form of a Srichakra giving the central place to the shrine of Sri Kamakshi.
A few things are noteworthy in this connection. Kanchi is famous for its numerous temples in honour of Vishnu and Siva. But the main tower of all of them, howsoever distant they may be from the temple of Sri Kamakshi, face it without exception. The processional idols of all these shrines are taken round this Kamakshi temple when their annual festivals are celebrated. In none of the Siva temples of Kanchi is there a shrine for Siva's Consort, that of Kamakshi doing service for all of them. The city is famous as the place where Brahma himself performed a yajna attended by all the celestials.
No wonder that Sri Sankara chose Kanchi to establish the pontificate known as the Kamakoti Pitha there. Of the five Lingas which he got from Kailas, he reserved the Yogalinga for worship by himself here in the Kamakoti Pitha. Entrusting the four chief maths that he had established in the important religious centers of the country in-charge of each of his four eminent disciples, Sankara chose the fifth that he established in Kanchi known as the Saradamatha, for his own stay and ministration. These five maths function to this day as bastions of our ancient Sanatana Dharma in general and of Advaita Vedanta in particular. They have had since Sri Sankara's time a long and illustrious line of pontifical successors who bear his hallowed name and continue to discharge the great mission that he entrusted to them. The Math associated with the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham has a special significance by reason of its being the place where Sri Sankara spent his last days and finally shed his mortal body merging into the beautitude of Brahmanubhava.
The text of the Srimukhas (pontifical epistles) granted by the Jagadgurus of the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha since time immemorial refers to Sri Sankara as Nikila-Pashanda-Kantakotgha patanena visadi- krta-Veda-Vedanta-Marga-Shanmatha-Pratishthapa-kacharyah: i.e. describes him as 'one who swept off the thorns that encumbered the various forms of worship of the six manifestations of God'. Worship of these deities had waned in our land due to the inroads of Buddhism and Jainism. It was Sri Sankara who rescued them from oblivion and rid some of them of their unholy encrustations. Particular mention may be made of the vamachara practices in the Sakta religion and the abhorrent rituals of the Kapalikas. Hence Sri Sankara is gratefully spoken of as Shanmathapratishtapakacharya, which means, not one who established the six forms of worship for the first time but one who revived and gave strength and stability to the existing ones. Nor were they to Sri Sankara six different, and much less, opposed forms. They are six alternative ways in which the same Supreme God is worshipped according to the preference of the worshipper. Each chooses his Ishta devata among them, determined by his family tradition (kulachara) and his inclination (ruchi), and accommodates the rest also in a subsidiary way in his pattern of worship. Thus Sri Sankara was a great integrator within the fold of the Vedic religion and he brought about intra religious amity among all those who professed the Hindu faith.
Such was the life and work of the illustrious Sankaracharya who packed within a brief period of thirty-two years a series of achievements which are unequalled both in their content and their variety. Judged by any test, as a writer, as a poet, as a thinker and debater, as a prophet and mystic, as a religious organiser, and by any aspect of his diversified personality Sri Sankara is unique among the great men of the world. He holds a pre-eminent position among the Master Minds that have shaped the thoughts and actions alike of their contemporaries and of posterity. Above all, the Advaita Vedanta that he expounded to such artistic perfection is the one and only philosophy that will effectively make for personal liberation from the shackles of life on the one hand, and for universal amity and peace liquidating social and national rivalries on the other. The Vedanta associated with his name belongs not to one section of the Hindus only. It is the philosophy of the entire humanity and deserves to be carefully studied and scrupulously practised by men in every part of the globe. Most truly, Sri Sankara is referred to with love and devotion as Lokasankara, the most brilliant among the benefactors of mankind for all time and in all times.