Adi Shankara Bhagavadpadha, the great Hindu pontiff is matchless for his deep philosophical renderings and the advocacy of Advaita philosophy. He is one of those few global religious leaders whom the entire world adores and venerates for their preaching, teachings and religious messages.
The uniqueness of AdiShankara is explicit in the fact that he embarked on the mission of spreading the essence of Hinduism in an era when our religion was declining without a strong leader to propagate its supremacy. He was standing on a Hindu pedestal when Buddhism and Jainism were having an upper hand over Hinduism. He reinforced the doctrines of Hinduism and revived the spirit of our religion.
Adi Shankara made a tour around our country with a mission to spread the connotations of our religious scriptures and Advaita philosophy. He was successful in his attempt. His Advaita philosophy signifies the undercurrent of the Hindu belief that atman and paramatman are one and the same and there is no division between them. We (the atman) return to the abode of Paramatman after our stay on earth.
Adi Shankara was born in Kaladi, a village in Kerala in the 8THcentury A.D. His father Sivaguru died early and he was brought up by his mother Aryambal.
From his childhood, Shankara was interested in sanyasa dharma though he was not allowed by his mother to take sanyasa. At the age of eight, when he was bathing in a river, he was caught by a crocodile. He called his mother and pleaded with her to allow him to become a sanyasi since he would be eaten by the crocodile and wanted to die as a sanyasi.
Aryambal could not help allowing Shankara to enter sanyasramam and from that time his religious adventures started. In his search for a proper guru to quench his thirst for accumulating religious knowledge, he came across Govinda Bhagavadpada in the North Central region of India. He studied Vedas, Brahmasutra and Upanishads with his Guru and wrote commentaries on all these Vedanta books.
Shankara debated with many of the thinkers and philosophers belonging to Mimamsa school of thought (a school that is focused on ritualistic religion). He showcased his excellence and clarity in ideas with his debating quality that everyone had to succumb to his scholarship and Advaita tattva. Having travelled around all parts of India, Shankara ascended the Saarvajana peetham in Kashmir and disappeared in the Himalayan regions at the age of 32.
We have already come across the story of Shankara being caught by a crocodile at the age of eight while bathing in a river. On his request, his mother allowed him to become a sanyasi so that he could die as a sanyasi in the hands of the crocodile. To one’s surprise, the power of his mantras let the crocodile release its grip on him and he started his life as a sanyasi at the age of eight.
When Shankara was asking for bhiksha in the roads of Varanasi, he was given a dry amla (gooseberry) by an old lady who did not have anything else to offer. In appreciation of her selfless offer, AdiShankara prayed to Goddess Lakshmi to fill the house of the old lady with gold and that happened like a miracle. Gold coins poured from the roof of the house of the lady as blessed byGoddess Lakshmi. The stotram sung on this occasion is known as Kanakadhara strotram.
When his mother was dying, Shankara knew it and came to the spot to perpetrate her last rituals. He was abandoned by the Brahmins there since he was a sanyasi. And also, they did not come forward to light her pyre. With his power and mantra, Shankara lighted the pyre and did the last rituals of his mother.
Shankara’s debate with Mandana Misra is a very famous incident in his life. Mandana Misra was a religious leader and philosopher belonging to Mimamsa school of philosophy. His knowledge was remarkable and impeccable and he had gathered tons of experience with his age. When Shankara approached him for a debate, he did not accept immediately since Shankara was young and he was old with experience and knowledge. So, he advised Shankara to choose the judge for them and Shankara chose Bharathi, wife of Mandana Misra.
The debate went on for 6 months. Despite his knowledge and logic, Mandana Misra was not able to reach the heights of spiritual experience Shankara had experienced and thus accepted defeat. But, Bharathi wanted Shankara to defeat her on the grounds that he should also defeat the wife of the debater. The challenge was accepted by Shankara. Knowing that he was an austere celibate, she harped upon conjugal relationships which could not be answered by Shankara. She gave time to Shankara to learn these aspects and come back which he did by transcending into the body of a dying king. Now, he was ready to answer the questions of Bharathi and thus won over MandanaMisra.
Advaita philosophy propounded by Adi Shankara explains the unity of jeevathman and paramathman and the oneness between them
“Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya JivoBrahmaiva Na Aparah
In order to establish this philosophy and revive Hinduism on the lines of Advaita vedanta, Shankaracharya established four matts with his disciples as heads for them in the four directions of India-
Govardhana Matt in Puri,
Jyothi Matt near Badrinath,
Saradha Matt in Dwarka and
Sringeri Matt in Karnataka.
Among his disciples, four namely Padmapada, Hastamalaka, Tottaka, Sureshwara are famous for their writings.
He also showed the importance of monastic life when the people belonging to Mimamsa school ridiculed monastic life. He established Dashanamisanyasin dharma.
Adi Shankara unified the Shanmata tradition of worship. Shankara stressed on the importance of the Vedas in his teachings. He advised people to concentrate on the inner self and draw a distinction between what is right and what is wrong.
The universe is permeated by Brahman - the Absolute Self. It is the only real thing, omnipresent, omnipotent and ever pervading.
The individual soul is part of this Absolute Self. It is non-different from Brahman.
Since samsara or Maya is illusory and hinders Jeevathman from realizing its real nature, Gnana is essential to realize one’s true self. Gnana yoga is the way to reach that Absolute Self.
Shankara preached the essence of Bhakti, Karma and Yoga to realize the Divine Self in us and reach unto It.
Shankara’s masterpiece is his Bhashyam on Brahma Sutra. The important commentaries are on Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, commentary on MandukyaKarika (work of Gaudapada, the guru of Govind Bhagavadpada).
Viveka Chudamani, AtmaBodha, Nirvana Shatakam, Bhaja Govindam, Kanaka Dhara stotram, SoundaryaLahari, SivanandaLahari, Tattva Bodha and Panchikaranamare a few that speak up the glory of this great saint.
Adi Shankara's style is lucid and his approach is real and psychological. His ideas go in line with Mahayana Buddhism.
Shankara Jayanti Celebrations, 2017
The birth anniversary of Adi Shankara is celebrated every year on the Panchami thithi of Shukla paksha in the month of Vaisakha (April-May). The disciples of Bhagavadpada deem it their privilege to celebrate and venerate this great Seer with bhajans and Adi Shankara ashtothram in all cities where Shankara matts are established. A procession with the portrait of this immaculate Guru followed by bhajans and recitals of Adi Shankara namas is a sight not be missed by any ardent devotee of Adi Shankara.
Hinduism has gained a rebirth in the preaching and teaching of Adi Shankara that every true Hindu has the responsibility to salute at His feet and remember his sayings so as to let the Sanatana Dharma live forever.