Sri. Adi Sankaracharya

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Sri. Bhagavatpada Shankaracharya, also known as Adi Sankara or Sankara Bhagavatpada was one of the greatest Indian philosopher and theologian who lived in early 8th century. He is consolidated as the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta and credited mainly for unifying and establishing the main thought in current Hinduism. His works discuss the unity of the atman (Self) and Nirguna brahman (Brahman without attributes). His wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon for Brahma Sutras, 10 Upanishads (Currently known as Principal Upanishads) and Bhagavad Gita in support of his thesis. His works elaborate on ideas found in the Upanishads. Shankara's publications criticised the ritually-oriented Mimamsa school of Indian philosophy. He also explained the key difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, stating that Hinduism asserts "Atman (Soul, Self) exists", while Buddhism asserts that there is "no Soul, no Self”. Shankara travelled across the India to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. He is reputed to have founded four mathas ("monasteries"), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organiser of the Dashanami monastic order and unified the Shanmata tradition of worship. With a small lifespan of 33 years he done great jobs.

There are at least 14 different known biographies available on Adi Shankara's life. All were written many centuries to thousand years after Sankara's death in Sanskrit and non-Sanskrit languages. Each biographies are filled with legends and fiction, often mutually contradictory. One of the most cited Shankara hagiography by ‘Anandagiri’ includes stories and legends about historically different people, but all bearing the same name of Sri. Sankaracarya or also referred to as Shankara but, likely meaning more ancient scholars with names such as Vidya Sankara, Sankara Misra and Sankara Nanda. Some biographies are probably forgeries by those who sought to create a historical basis for their rituals or theories. The major biographies known are namely:

  • Sankara Vijaya (Too many text on same name.)

  • Guru Vijaya

  • Sankarabhyudaya

  • Shankaracarya Carita

  • Brhat Sankara Vijaya (by Citsukha, oldest but only available in excerpts)

  • Sankara Digvijaya (by Vidyaranya, most cited)

  • Sankara Vijaya (by Anandagiri, most cited)

  • Madhaviya Sankara Vijayam (by Madhava, 14th century)

  • Cidvilasiya Sankara Vijayam (of Cidvilasa, 15th - 17th century)

  • Keraliya Sankara Vijayam (of the Kerala region, extant from 17th century)

Shankaracharya born in a simple brahmin family at ‘Kaladi’ is a village located east of Periyar river, currently in the Ernakulam district of Kerala, India. He was named as Sankara because his mother ‘Aryamba’ was a true worshiper of Lord Shiva and considered his child as boon of her god. Right from childhood little sankara showed interest towards spiritual knowledge. His father died while he was very young, so his ‘Upanayana’ (initiation into student life) had to be delayed due to his father death, and was then performed by his mother. He easily studied Puranas, Itihasas and Vedas during his early years in Gurukul. Right from childhood, Shankaracharya was interested in ‘Sanyasa’ and wanted to lead a meaningful life detached from the worldly pleasures but, his mother disapproved first and she approved afterwards. Shankaracharya began his life as an ascetic at age of eighth. He leave his home and proceeded towards north central state of India in search of a Guru (Master). One fine day on the banks of River ‘Narmada’ he met a man named ‘Govinda Bhagavatpada’. Since Shankaracharya was much learned about the Vedas and Puranas, Govinda Bhagavatpada agreed to be his Guru for attaining spiritual knowledge. Under his tutelage, Shankaracharya gained expertise in different forms of Yoga that included Hatha yoga, Raja yoga and Jnana yoga. it was from his guru Govinda Bhagavatpada, Shankara studied Gaudapada Karika, as Govinda Bhagavatpada was himself taught by Gaudapada. He then received the knowledge of Brahma from Brahma Sutra. Thereafter he was known as Shankaracharya whose sole purpose of life was to spread the teachings of Brahma Sutras all over the world. Most meeting with scholars of the Mimamsa school namely Kumarila and Prabhakara, as well as Mandana and various Buddhists, in Shastrarth (an Indian tradition of public philosophical debates attended by large number of people, sometimes with royalty). Thereafter, the biographies about Shankara vary significantly. Different and widely inconsistent accounts of his life include diverse journeys, pilgrimages, public debates, installation of yantras and lingas, as well as the founding of monastic centers in north, east, west and south India. While the details and chronology vary, most biographies mention Adi Shankara traveling widely within India, Gujarat to Bengal, and participating in public philosophical debates with different orthodox schools, as well as heterodox traditions such as Buddhists, Jains, Arhats, Sugatas, and Carvakas. During his tours, he is credited with visiting and starting several Matha (monasteries). Adi Shankara had a number of disciple scholars during his travels. Though he died young, he left an invaluable treasure of spiritual knowledge for future generations.

Adi Shankaracharya whole-heartedly believed in the concept of the Vedas, but at the same time advocated against the rituals and religious practices that were over exaggerated. On a closer introspection of the life history of Sri Sankaracharya, we find that he also started the monastic order known as Dashanami and the Shanmata convention of worship. Adi Sankaracharya believed in the philosophy of "nondualism". He believed in the fact that every individual has a divine existence, which can be identified with the Supreme cosmic power. Though bodies are diverse, the soul is one. The moment someone believes that the concept of life is finite; they are discarding an entirely higher and different dimension of life and knowledge. Self-realization is the key to attain Moksha and connect with God.Most also mention a meeting with scholars of the Mimamsa school of Hinduism namely Kumarila and Prabhakara, as well as Mandana and various Buddhists, in Shastrarth (an Indian tradition of public philosophical debates attended by large number of people, sometimes with royalty).

Portions about Sankaracharya principles are incomplete. Since Sankaracharya principles are much related with Advaita Vedanta, portions will be updated in concurrent with page about advaita Vedanta.

Adi Shankara's works are considered as the foundation of Advaita Vedanta and modern Indian philosophy were main current thought derived. Over 300 texts are attributed to his name, including Bhaṣya (Commentaries), Prakaraṇa grantha (original philosophical expositions) and Stotra (Rhymes). However, most of these are not authentic works of Adi Shankara and are likely to be works of his admirers or scholars whose name was also Shankaracharya.

  • Bhashya : Sankara bhashya may understand as commentary or exposition on principal, primary or secondary texts of Indian tradition that explains the structure and scale for understanding. All below mentioned list of bashyams are considered as Sankara’s authentic work by scholars.

    1. Brahma Sutra Bhashya : Shankara’s masterpiece of commentary is the Brahma Sutra Bhasya, which considered as fundamental text of the Advaita Vedanta and one of his authentic work. He started combination by following command from his guru (master) Govinda Bhagavatpada and now one of the survived text in current time. However, he is not considered one who write bhashya on brahma sutra first, because in his commentary, he also mentions older commentaries like those of Dravida, Bharti Prapancha and others which are either lost or yet to be found.

    2. Upanishads Bhashya : His commentaries on 10 Upanishads also made as a fundamental text of Advaita Vedanta and modern Indian philosophy, afterward known as Mukhya (principal) Upanishads. All Upanishad bhashyam are included as Sankara's authentic work. The list as follows:

      1. Isavasy Upanishad (Shukla Yajurveda)

      2. Kena Upanishad (Samaveda)

      3. Katha Upanishad (Krishna Yajurveda)

      4. Prasna Upanishad (Atharvaveda)

      5. Mundaka Upanishad (Atharvaveda)

      6. Mandukya Upanishad (Atharvaveda, Actually a commentary on Mandukya-Karikas by Gaudapada)

      7. Taittiriya Upanishad (Krishna Yajurveda)

      8. Aitareya Upanishad (Rigveda)

      9. Chandogya Upanishad (Samaveda)

      10. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Shukla Yajurveda)

    3. Bhagavad gita Bashay : Shankara include commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita as part of his Prasthana Trayi, Three main canonical texts of Indian philosophy, especially of Advaita Vedanta.

  • Prakarana grantha : Adi Shankara wrote the following treatises

    1. Vivekacudamani (Crest-Jewel of Wisdom)

    2. Upadesasahasri (A thousand teachings)

    3. Satasloki

    4. Dasasloki

    5. Ekasloki

    6. Pancikarana

    7. Atma Bodha

    8. Aparoksanubhuti

    9. Sadhana Pancakam

    10. Nirvana Satkam

    11. Manisa Pancakam

    12. Yati Pancakam

    13. Vakyasudha

    14. Tattva Bodha

    15. Vakya Vrtti

    16. Siddhanta Tattva Vindu

    17. Nirguna Manasa Puja

    18. Prasnottara Ratna Malika (The Gem-Garland of Questions and Answers, Satasloki)

    19. Prabodhasudhakara

    20. Svatma Prakasika

  • Vivarana : Adi. Sankara also compiled Vivarana (Tertiary notes, Commentaries on bhashya) that are accepted as authentic works.

    1. Yoga Sutras (Veda Vyasa bhasya)

    2. Apastamba Dharma sutras (Adhyatma patala bhasya)

  • Upadesasahasri : Upadesa Sahasri ("a thousand teachings").is considered Shankara's most important authentic non-commentarial work describe of the "method and means" of Self-knowledge and moksha. This work is part of Prakaraṇa grantha. Upadesasahasri divided into two parts – one is in metric verse and another is in prose. There are 19 prakarana (chapters) in Padabandha (Verse). The manuscript of this work indicates that the two parts (prose and verse) were regarded as independent works and studied or commented upon separately. Manuscript also suggests the possibility that any single chapter could be studied differently – apart from the rest. This means one may start reading this work anywhere.

  • Stotra : Adi Shankara credited for number of Stotras (hymns) on Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha and Subrahmanya which are in Advaitic and reach for unified universal view of Vedanta. They are also set in a way to transfer the ultimate message of ‘Advaita Vedanta’ in a simple form. However, The authenticity of some Stotras are still doubtful. Here are some major mentionings:

    1. Ganesha Pancharatnam.

    2. Annapurnashtakam.

    3. Kalabhairavashtakam.

    4. Dakshinamurthy Stotram (Authentic)

    5. Krishnashtakam.

    6. Bhaja Govindam. (Mohamudgara, Shri Charpata Panjarika Stotram)(Authentic)

    7. Sivanandalahari. (Authentic)

    8. Saundaryalahari.

    9. Sri Laksminrsimha Karavalamba Stotram.

    10. Sarada Bhujangam.

    11. Kanakadhara Stotram.

    12. Bhavani Astakam.

    13. Siva Manasa Poja.

    14. Pandurangashtakam.

    15. Subramanya Bhujangam.

    16. Kashi Panchakam.

    17. Suvarnamala.

    18. Mahishasura Mardini Stotram.

    19. Visnu-satpadi. (Authentic)

    20. Harimide. (Authentic)

    21. Dasa shloki. (Authentic)

    22. Krishna staka. (Authentic)

(Declaration : These are some of the common myths and stories said widely and believed about Adi. sankaracharya. Any mentioning below shall not be considered as part of our subject or syllabus. Each of them are mentioned just for information sakes.)

Belief about name ‘Kaladi’ : One day ‘Aryamba’, the widowed mother of Shankara, fell unconsciously. because of walking 3 kilometers for her daily bath in the Periyar river, early known as Purna river. Feeling helpless, little Sankara prayed to Lord Krishna. The tears of the child moved Krishna, who blessed him thus: "The river will flow where your little feet marks (“kaladi vari nadi gathiyakum”). The Purna river took its new course in the place marked by the little boy's feet. That place came to be called Kalady. The Purna river began flowing through Shankara's home garden. Shankara then installed Krishna into the present temple, and marked the occasion by reciting his famous ‘Achyutashtakam’. Thus "Kalady" signifies the love of an innocent child for his beloved mother and the blessings of Krishna.

Story of Sannyasa : Sankara was a different boy early from his younger age. He was not like other children. Young sankara like to become a sanyasi, need to know “meaning of life” and to work for social welfare. But his mother ‘Aryamba’ was supportive to his decision because, sankara was her only child. She had no other than her child and sankara is too young to become a sanyasi. Sannyasa were considered as ‘last ashram’ that should attain at last stage of life after completing all his responsibilities and commitments. At age of eight, once, while taking a bath in ‘Purna River’, young shankara was attacked by a crocodile. Though his mother wanted to rescue him, she could not and was helpless. Seeing the haplessness of his mother, sankara asked her permission for letting him renounce the world. She was left with no choice but to agree. As soon as sankara recited the sannyasa mantra, the crocodile left him.

Please note : Some potions like Dashanami Sampradaya of monasticism, Sankara's Disciples and Monasteries are not included now. This portions will be updated soon.

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