Adi Shankaracharya was a saint, philosopher, mystic and a yogi-all rolled into one-who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedant. His works in Sanskrit discuss the unity of Atma and Nirgun Brahma without attributes. He wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon ( Brahmasutra, 12 Principal Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita ) in support of his thesis. He also explained the key difference between Hinduism and Buddhism stating that Hinduism asserts that Atma ( soul ) exists while Buddhism believes that there is ‘ no soul, no self ‘. Hinduism asserts that the Invisible Supreme spirit or Brahma is a complete, whole and infinite ( as mentioned in the Peace Mantra cited in the conclusion of this blog ), whereas Buddhism believes that the creation has come out of Void ( Shunya ) and that there is no God.
Shankaracharya established the importance of monastc life as sanctioned in the Upanishas and Brahmasutras in the time when the Mimansa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. He founded four mathas ( monasteries )which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedant of which he is known as the greates votary.
Shankarachya was born in the state of Kerala in a village named Kaladi in 788 CE and died at the age of 32 years in 820 CE. He was born to Nambudiri Brahmin parents. His father died while he was very young. He was attracted to the life of sanyas from early childhood. It seems to be the effect of the Karmas of his past life. As stated in the Gita (6.43) that a yogi who could not accomplish his spiritual journey in his previous birth, he automatically regains in the present birth the spiritual insight of the previous birth and through that he strives, harder than ever, for perfection.( the case of our Om Swami ji appears similar. He had signs of spiritual inkling right from early childhood. When the spiritual spark overwhelmed him, he gave up his bilion dollar business and took to sanyas ). His mother was initially against his vow of sanyas. Shankaracharya showed his yogic power by dramatising that a crocodile, which had held his legs while swimming in a river, would not let him off unless his mother relented to allow him to take sanyas. The mother reluctantly allowed him on the condition that he would come home to perform her last funeral ceremony. Shankaracharya agreed to this condition even though a sanyasi is not supposed to undertake such ceremony. Fast forward… Despite strong opposition ( on the ground that a sanyasi is supposed to sever his mundane relationships ), he kept his word, interrupted his itinerary when he got the message of the death of his mother and burned the hut where his mother had died.
Shankaracharya left his home at the early age of 8 years to seek deeksha ( initiation ) from Govinda Bhagavadpad along the river Narmada in Omkeshwar in Madhya Pradesh. When he approached him , the saint asked him as to who he is and why he has come to him. Shankarachaya replied that he has precisely come to know from him as to who he is and what his real Self is. Pleased with this answer, he was given deeksha.
After completion of his deeksha, he travelled north to Varanasi and had shastrarth (spiritual debate ) with scholars of Mimansa school namely Kumaril Bhatt and Prabhakar and defeated them in debate. He had another round of debate with a renowned Vedic scholar named Mandan Misra and defeated him also but his wife Bharati intervened to add a caveat that Shankar’s ( short , for Shankaracharya ) victory was not complete until he defeated her also in the debate. She posed some intriguing questions about sexual relations between man and woman.. Shankar was foxed about the question and stated that since he was a bramachari ( celebate ) he had no sexual experience and sought one year time to answer her questions. Bharati agreed to this proposition. It is believed that Shankar asked his disciples to protect his body till his return and entered the body of a prince who had died prematurely of snake bite , Shankar had sexual relations with his young wife.
After learning the nuances of sex, he returned to his body and commenced debate with Bharati and defeated her also in the debate. This incident , if true, showed that Shankar had miraculous powers.
Another instance of his yogic power is that he travelled widely within India and participated in philosophical religous debates wth different orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy as welll as well as heterodox doctrines such as Buddhists, Jains, Arhats, Saugats and Charvaks. During his tours , he is credited with starting several Mathas (monasteries ) in Jyotirmath in the North, Dwarka in the West, Sringeri in the South and Puri in the East.
Over 300 texts are attributed to him including commentaries ( Bhasyas) , original philosophical expositions and stotras. His commentaries on 12 Principal Upanishads like Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, Aiterya, Tattiriya, Kena, Isha, Katha, Mundaka, Prashna , Mandukya , Shveshvatara and Ishavasya Upanishads are considered authentic. Other authentic works of Shankaracharya include commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga sutra , Bhajgovindam Sutras, philosophical treatise like Vivek Chudamani etc. We may even call him modern Maharishi Ved Vyas. The latter had composed Mahabharat including the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavad Puran whereas Shankaracharya produced copious literature in his short span of life. I wonder whether a person equally talented could humanly produce such a vast wealth of literature in his whle life time. It seems Shankaracharya was not only endowed with yogic powers but divine powers as well.
Adi Shankaracharya travelled to all corners of India , including Badrika Ashram( where the Chief Priest is always a Nambudari brahmin from Kerala) and Srinagar in Kashmir (establishing Shankaracharya temple which exists today also ) when the country was forested with wild beasts prowling around, there were no metalled roads, no mode of motorable transport , it is a great wonder how he could manage to reach so many places on foot . It will not be far fetched to say that he possessed yogic powers to reach distant places at will.
Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have died at the age of 32 years at Kedarnath in Uttarakhand. He was last seen by his disciples behind the Kedarnath Temple walking into Himalayas until he was not traced….
THE PEACE MANTRA :
I have often observd that our Swami ji recites the peace mantra , at the beginning or end of his discourse. I was curious to know the source of the mantra. While going through the excerpts of ISAVASYA UPANISHAD i discovered this mantra , which reads as:
Om Purnamadah Purnamidam Purnat purnamudachyate Purnasya purnamadaya purnamevavashisyate. OM-Shantih- OM Shantih-OM shantih
Literal translation : Om. That is whole. This is whole. From the whole, the whole comes into existence. From the whole , when the whole is taken away, that which remains is again the whole.
Liberal translation : That invisibe Supreme spirit or God is a complete whole, the visible and the visibly proved world is also a complete whole because it came into existence out of the Supreme God or Brahma who is a complete whole. Since there can not be two complete wholes, after the merger of the wholeness of the visible world into the Supreme whole, only the Supreme whole , the Brahma remains. OM Shantih.