Monday, January 31, 2011

Sri Adi Shankaracharya – Biography

Adi Shankara was born to a pious Brahmin couple Sivaguru and Aryaamba in the year 788
AD in a village named Kaladi in Kerala. He exhibited extraordinary intelligence from childhood
and mastered all branches of traditional learning by sixteen. He was initiated into Sannyasa by
Sri Govindapada Acharya at Badrinath. At his guru’s bidding he travelled the length and breadth
of the country and brought to light the ancient Vedic Dharma that had been overshadowed for
some centuries under the influence of degenerated Buddhism. At Kashi he vanquished many a
great scholar and philosopher in hair splitting philosophical debates and arguments and
established the supremacy of Advaita Vedanta. He had to defeat propounders of near about 72
schools of philosophy before establishing the superiority of Vedic Dharma. He is considered to
be great exponent of Monism or Advaita Vedanta. At Mahishmati he defeated Mandana Misra, a
firm adherent of Karma Mimamsa and won him over his side. The great scholar after having
been defeated by Sri Sankara became his disciple and got initiated into Sannyasa assuming the
name Sureswara Acharya. At Varanasi, Sri Shankara wrote his celebrated commentaries on
Bhagawad Gita, the Brahma sutras and the Upanishads. He organized all sannyasins into ten
sampradayas known as ‘Dasanamis’. He established four Maths in the four corners of Aryavarta
viz,. Joshimath in the North (Uttaranchal), Puri in the East, Dwaraka in the West and Sringeri in
the South and made his four disciples Totakacharya, Padmapada, Hastamalaka and
Sureshwaracharya as the in-charge of them respectively. Towards the end of his life Sri Shankara
proceeded to Kashmir to the temple of Mother Sharada. Here it was a precondition to defeat
resident scholars to get entry into the temple. Shankara successfully defeated the scholars and
entered the sanctum sanctorum. From here he is said to have travelled to Nepal and thence to
Kedarnath where he is believed to have gone into a cave and disappeared. The philosopher par
excellence was just 32 when he left this world in 820 AD.
Shankara’s commentaries on the Prasthanatraya viz,. the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and
the Bhagawad Gita are the most popular among all the commentaries that have ever been written
on these basic texts of Sanatana Dharma. Shankara had written many original Vedantic texts
elucidating the Advaita Philosophy in a lucid way. Viveka Chudamani, Aparokshanubhuti, Drik-
Drishya Viveka, Upadesha Sahasri, Atma Bodha, and Atma-Anatma Viveka are some of
Shankara’s works that reflect the great Acharya’s genius and infallible logic.
According to Shankara the ultimate reality has no name and form. The objective world
has no independent existence. Only Brahman exists. The nature of Brahman or Atman or Soul is
Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. On account of Maya or ignorance the one indivisible Self
appears to be finite and limited. When ignorance is destroyed the Self shines in its own
resplendent glory. The phenomenal universe of names and forms is falsely superimposed upon
Brahman on account of ignorance of the perceiver just as a snake is superimposed on the rope.
The snake, seen by mistake, is in reality the rope itself. In the same way names and forms as
other than Brahman exist only in the mind of ignorant person. When the illusion or the ignorance
is destroyed everything becomes Brahman. The gist of Shankara’s Philosophy has been
conveyed through a single verse;
Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya
Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Aparah
Brahman(Consciousness/Atman/God) alone is real, this world is unreal; the Jiva is no other
than Brahman.
- An Extract from ‘Sant Darshan’ – Ramakrishna Math Publication

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