Adi Shankaracharya

Article by P. G. Shukla in the Indian Express Newsline, Soul Search column, 7th. May 2001. Re-Edited.

Approximately 1350 years ago, Adi Shankaracharya was born at Kalti in the Kerala province, to a cultured Brahmin family. He studied the four Vedas at the age of eight, all the shastras at the age of twelve, and had written commentaries on the major Upanishads, the Bhagwat Gita and the Brahma-sutras at the age of sixteen.

He travelled by foot throught the length and breadth of India, initiated disciples, organised a revival of Hindu religious devotion and knowledge in the best manner possible and departed towards the sacred mountain Kailash in Tibet, the abode of the god Shiva, and did not return afterwards. But before this, he established four central monasteries, or Mutts, and installed four of his students in them.

During the time, India was dominated by the ideological schools of Yantra, Tantra, Mantra, Gorakhnath, and Matsyendranath. People lost their way, facing great difficulties and troubles. At such a crucial time, Shankaracharya came and re-established the Sanatana Dharma (Orthodox Faith) as the Hindu Dharma is called, in the proper order with the help of the Upanishads (Treatises on Hindu Philosophy).

Shankaracharya's revived Hinduism is called the Advaita (Non-Dualistic, i.e. Monistic) system1. He did not establish any new religion, doctrine, dogma or sampradaya (sect) but brought back Hindu Dharma in its best form. He brought cultural and religious unity to India and united the whole of India. He removed the superstitions of the people and diverted the mind towards knowledge.

Ashta VArshe Chaturvedi Dwadashe Sarva Shastra Vit Shodashe Kritavan Bhashyam Dwatrimshat Muni Rabhyagaat. He was the greatest poet, a tantric, logician, mystic, dialectician, theologian, architect of monistic philosophy, argumentator, preacher, teacher, philospeher, idealist, psychologist, etc.

This forms a unique feature of Shankaracharya representing the current practices of his religion, flourishing even today. Shankaracharya is considered the first Acharya (Preceptor or Teacher) because he has writen commentaries on the major Upanishads, Bhagwat Gita, and the Brahmasutras.

AFterwards, Ramanuja, Vallabh and Madhava became Acharyas. So the credit of being the first Acharya goes to Shankaracharya. He followed the Nirgun Brahman (Formless or Nirgun Supreme Soul) and Jnana Marga (Path of Knowledge) and established that salvation can be reached through knowledge. For instance, Amritam to Vidya and without knowledge there is no moksha.

He travelled by foot through India and studied the minds of the people. He came to the conclusion that all the people believed in five gods, i.e. Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Surya and Shakti. So he advised all his devotees to select their favouritie god and concentrate on his worship and believe in the other four gods. People liked his idea so he evolved a new formula namely Panchayatam Puja.

Thus he united the whole of India religiously and culturally. He preached that every soul can realise that it can attain the knowledge of Brahman and can get salvation. If the soul conquers the five sense organs, Maya (Illusion), Avidya (Ignorance) and Ego, then the soul becomes Brahman (the Supreme Soul, the Advait 'God'). Such a soul does not return to earth. He composed strotras (hymns) for less educated people and these stotras are marvellous. For instance, Chidanand Rupah Shivoham, recited three times.

Thus we pray to Shiva and Shankaracharya to remove corruption and dishonesty from society. Only then can peace be realised, he preached. His words hold good even today.

Advaitism: Non-Dualism or Monism teaches that the souls are fragments of the Divine Substance, that they possess divinity, but do not perceive this truth because of being clothed in the flesh, and deceived or deluded that they are distinct, separate entities. This delusion takes two forms: illusion (Maya) and Ignorance (Avidya). The Supreme Deity in this system is called variously the Brahma-Atma, the Param-Atma (Supreme Soul) or more often Brahmaan. The souls which do not escape this illusion are condemned to be born again and again, until they achieve the realisation of this truth, when they are re-merged into the Brahmaan. This is salvation (moksha).
Article by P. G. Shukla in the Indian Express Newsline, Soul Search column, 7th. May 2001. Re-Edited.
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