Sankara – His Life and Philosophy
On the occasion of the Jayanti of Adi Shankaracharya on 8th May, 2011, Swami Paramananda Bharatiji has delivered a lecture in New Delhi that is organized by Indian Council for Philosophical Research and Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. Hereunder is the gist of his lecture:
This entire universe consists of two categories: Kshetra and Kshetragna – the inanimate and animate. Kshetragna is Jiva. All his activities have the single purpose of getting happiness and avoiding grief. He does not always succeed. On the other hand, he gets inescapably enmeshed in the web created by himself. Shastra says that his basic error is that he considers himself to be the body and searches for happiness outside him, even though, in fact, he is actually bliss himself. That he does not know this is his Avidya and mistaking the body for himself is his Adhyasa. “How I am not the body?” In deep sleep (sushupti) you have no connection with the body etc. and you enjoy your own natural bliss. “If it is natural, why do I miss it while awake?” It is because you commit the mistake of considering yourself as the body. “Why do I commit this mistake?” It is because, you do not know who you are when you are totally free from the body etc. “Then who am I?” You are Brahman. “What is Brahman?” It is the material cause of this whole universe including your body. “How do I understand that I am Brahman?” Brahman is Satyam – Unchanging; Jnanam – That stuff which takes the forms of various knowledge like ‘this is a pot’ etc. while remaining unchanging in itself: and Anantam – Unlimited in every sense of the word. The universe is Asatyam – Changing; Jadam – Inert; and Santam – Limited unlike Brahman, though it is not itself bereft of Brahman. The very nature of Brahman is Ananadam – Bliss. It is one and only one because it is Jnanam.
“You mean to say that I am this Brahman?” Yes. “How?” You are yourself Satyam, Jnanam and Anantam in deep sleep. “Then why do I miss this bliss while awake?” Because you wrongly think (adhyasa) you are the body. “Do you mean to say that I will never miss it if I avoid this mistake?” Exactly. This is called self-realization. “How does it come about?” To begin with one should give up Asuri-gunas and cultivate Daivi-gunas. He should desire worldly desires only within the ambit of Dharma. Later on he should give up worldly desires and do only Nishkama-karma with Bhakti. This purifies the mind. Then Shastra-sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana done with Bhakti ultimately leads to self-realization. This effort could well extend to over several life spans.
Shankara based his philosophy exclusively on the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagawad-gita. His commentaries on these three are a personified perfection with crystal clarity. As a lad of seven years he overheard his mother’s conversations with some scholars that his life span is limited to eight years. He prayed his mother to let him take Sanyasa. Her permission was given in a strange circumstance. He met his guru Govinda Bhagavatpada in Omkareshwara, and learnt Yoga, Upasana and Vedanta from him. Sitting in Badarikashrama he wrote Prasthana-traya-bhashya and taught these to the competent disciples. He later had a debate with Mandana Mishra who became his disciple. Visited his birthplace Kaladi to see his mother in her last days. Established four Mathas in the four corners of the country representing four Vedas. Renovated temples in various places, Pujaris from Karnataka were sent to Pashupatinath and from Kerala to Badarinath. His four disciples, Hastamalaka from West, Suresvara from north, Padmapada from east coast and Totakacharya from Kerala west were sent as Mathadhipatis respectively to Puri in the east, Shringeri in the south, Dwaraka in the west and to Badarinath in the north. The country reverberated with Vedaghosha. To the common people he taught stotras of Vishnu, Shiva, Amba etc. and fixed them firmly in the path of Dharma. By the age of 32 he left for solitude to a cave in Kedarnath, where he must have cast off his body. But his spirit survived which has given society the strength to withstand 1000 years of harassment by the religious and philosophical opposition. It is expected that Shankara will reappear in the renaissance of Sanatana Dharma in the near future.