Adi Shankara and his self-reality check enlighten a troubled world

Knowledge should transform itself into Bhakti: Adi Shankara (YouTube Grab)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, January 14, 2023

Makar Sankranti, denoting the transition of Sun from Dhanu (Sagittarius) to Makar (Capricorn) was observed tomorrow (Sunday, January 15, 2023).

Hindus worship Sun God for sustaining soil fertility, and Lord Sani (Saturn) the ruler of Makar. Shaivites and Vaishnavites worship respectively Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.

Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have been born as a boon given by Lord Shiva to his parents and the name Shankara is associated with the Lord.

Hindus around the world and people with an ear for music will be moved by ‘Bhaja Govindam’ song rendered by Bharata Ratna, the late Dr M S Subbulakshmi.

More so, those who understand the meaning of the lyrics written by Adi Shankaracharya during his visit to Kashi (Benares) where he saw an old man learning grammar instead of turning to God at that age. This story carries a video of the song in its Web Edition.

Unison of Jnana and Bhakti

In a forward to the Song, Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari, my mentor and the first and the last Governor-General of Independent India, said that Adi Shankaracharya wrote a number of Vedantic works for imparting knowledge of the Self and the Universal Spirit.

“He also composed a number of hymns to foster Bhakti in the hearts of men (and women). One of these hymns is the famous Bhaja Govindam. The way of devotion is not different from the way of knowledge of Jnana. When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the mind, it becomes wisdom. When wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action, it becomes Bhakti. Knowledge, when it becomes fully mature is Bhakti. If it does not get transformed into Bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel. To believe that Jnana and Bhakti, knowledge and devotion are different from each other, is ignorance. If Adi Shankara himself, who drank the ocean of Jnana as easily as one sip water from the palm of one’s hand, sand in the later years, hymns to develop devotion, it is enough to show that Jnana and Bhakti are the same. Sri Shankara has packed into the Bhaja Govindam song the substance of all Vedanta and set the oneness of Jnana and Bhakti into melodious music.”

The Adi Shankara Keerthi Sthambha and Matt in Kalady Kerala (Wiki Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Advaita Vedanta

Adi Shankara was an Indian philosopher and theologian who expounded the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He renounced worldly pleasures at a very young age and amalgamated the ideologies of ancient ‘Advaita Vedanta’ and explained the basic ideas of Upanishads. He advocated the oldest concept of Hinduism which explains the unification of the soul (atman) with the Supreme Soul (Nirguna Brahman).

Though he is best known for popularising ‘Advaita Vedanta,’ one of Shankaracharya’s most important works is his efforts to synthesise the six sub-sects, known as ‘Shanmata,’ which translates to ‘six religions,’ the worship of six Supreme Deities.

Shankaracharya explained the existence of one Supreme Being (Brahman) and that the six Supreme Deities are a part of one Divine Power. He also founded ‘Dashanami Sampradaya,’ which talks about leading a monastic life.

While he was a firm believer in ancient Hinduism, he condemned the ‘Mimamsa School of Hinduism’ which was purely based on ritual practices. Throughout the course of his journey, Shankaracharya discussed his ideas with various other philosophers and fine-tuned his own teachings from time to time. Shankaracharya founded four monasteries (mutts) that continue to spread his teachings.

Sharada Peetham, Karnataka (Yajur Veda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Adi Shankaracharya

Shankara, as he was known before becoming a great teacher, was born in a poor Brahmin family at Kaladi in present-day Kerala, His parents, Sivaguru and Aryamba, offered their prayers to Lord Shiva, requesting the Deity to bless them with a child.

According to one belief, Aryamba had a dream in which Lord Shiva promised her that he would be born as her child. Hence, many consider Shankara as a reincarnation of Shiva. She taught him the Vedas and Upanishads.

Shankara astounded many with his knowledge and intelligence.

He started writing his own analysis of the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita at a young age. From his childhood, he was keen on becoming a monk, although his mother objected. Once he accompanied her to a nearby river and took a plunge. Suddenly, a crocodile appeared from beneath the river and caught his leg. Shankara cried out to his mother, but she was helpless. Shankara urged her to allow him to die as a monk.

As soon as Aryamba consented, the crocodile spared Shankara’s life and was unharmed.

According to ancient scripts, Shankara walked at least 2000 km before meeting his Guru, Govinda Bhagavatpada under whose guidance studied ‘Gaudapadiya Karika,’ ‘Brahmasutra,’ Vedas, and Upanishads. Shankara was able to master almost all these in a short time.

Govardhana Matt, Odisha (Rig Veda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He started writing commentaries on major religious scripts.

He travelled across India, propagating ‘Advaita Vedanta’ and ‘Dashanami Sampradaya.’

His teachings were challenged by many philosophers and thinkers but he not only convinced them but also accepted them as his disciples.

Shankara came to be known as Shankaracharya among his disciples.

At the age of 32, Adi Shankaracharya retired to the Himalayas and is believed to have entered a cave near Kedarnath. He was never seen again and the cave is considered his final resting place.

Dwaraka Pitha, Gujarat (Sama Veda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Four Shankaracharyas  

Although Adi Shankaracharya had many disciplines, four of them achieved greatness and are revered as his main disciples. They were entrusted with the responsibility of heading the four monasteries (matts) founded by Shankaracharya.

The four Primary Disciples were Sri Sureshwaracharya, Sri Hastamalakacharya, Sri Padmapadacharya and Sri Totakacharya. They were sent to the four corners of India- South, East, West and North to establish matts and promote the four Vedas.

The four matts are in South (Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetam located in Sringeri, Karnataka State devoted to Yajur Veda), East (Purvamnaya Sri Govardhana Peetham located in Puri, Odisha State promoting Rig Veda), West (Paschimamnaya Sri Kalika Peetha located in Dwaraka in Gujarat State teaching Samaveda) and North (Uttaramnaya Sri Jyotir Peetham located near Badrinath in Uttarakhand State, devoted to Atharva Veda).

Jyotir Matt, Uttarakhand ( Atharva Veda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adi Shankaracharya has unparalleled status in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta.

Hagiographies from the 14th to 17th centuries portray him as a victor who travelled all over India to help restore the study of the Vedas.

According to Frank Whaling, Emeritus Professor of Edinburgh University in Religious Studies and Founder of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association (who died on 26 November 2022), Hindus of the Advaita persuasion (and others) have seen in Sankara as a master who restored the Hindu dharma against the attacks of the Buddhists (and Jains) and in the process helped to drive Buddhism out of India.

His teaching and tradition are central to Smartism and have influenced Sant Mat lineages. Tradition portrays him as the master who reconciled the various sects including Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism with the introduction of the Panchayatana, simultaneous worship of five Deities – Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Devi and Surya.

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