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Adi Sankaracharya
(788-820 A.D.)

Jagatguru Adi Sankaracharya is undisputably the greatest philosopher that India, or the world, has ever produced. He
is unique in the history of the world as he combined in himself the attributes of a philosopher, a devotee, a mystic, a
poet and a religious reformer. Though he lived twelve hundred years ago, India and the world feels the impact of the
life and work of this spiritual genius even today. Sankaracharya was born during the 8 th century. By those times,
Buddhism was widely spread in the country, but in a very much changed form from that of the pure and simple ethical
teachings of the Master; Jainism also had its influence and a wide following. Both the religions, as per common
comprehension, i.e. as per lay mens understanding, were bereft of the concept of God, with the result that atheism
was becoming vogue and the general creed of the people. Hinduism itself was broken up into numberless sects and
denominations, each opposed to and intolerant of the other. The religious coherence in the land was lost and,
besides, many unwholesome excrescences such as the vows of the Saivas and the vamachara of the Saktas,
Ganapatyas, Sauras and Bhagawatas which crept in, were corrupting the purity and spirit of religion. What the times
needed was an integration of all thought so as to stop the waning of the eternal principles of Dharma, to arrest the
religious decadence, disharmony, and discord mounting up among the various sects of the Hindus, and bringing
about a moral, religious and spiritual harmony, integration and renaissance in the land. Such a mighty and
stupendous task only God could do.... and Sankara came, undertook it and accomplished it too. During the brief span
of 32 years of life, Sankara established firmly the Advaita Vedanta philosophy as the essential unifying basis of the
Hindu religion. He brought about religious harmony, spiritual coherence and moral regeneration of the country.

Jagatguru Adi Sankaracharyas Life Profile

Sankaracharya was born towards the end of the eighth century A.D., at Kaladi, a village in Central Kerala. He was the
only son of a devout Nambudiri Brahmin couple, Sivaguru and Aryamba. It is believed that he was born as a result of
their long prayers to Lord Siva of the famous Vrishabhachaleswara temple at Trichur. He was an infant prodigy and
completed his Vedic studies by the age of eight. His father died when was still young and it was his mother who
brought him up with loving care as he was her only source of consolation and support now. The boy exhibited ascetic
tendencies and mother felt very upset. Yet, the divine mission for which that great genius had been born had to be
fulfilled, and so something of miracle had to happen to set Sankara free from worldly ties. So once when the son was
bathing in the nearby Purna river, while the mother was standing on the bank, a crocodile caught hold of the boys leg
and was dragging him into deeper waters.
When death was (seemingly) near, Sankara asked permission of the mother to enter the last ashrama of Sanyasa,
which every Hindu was supposed to enter before his death. Formal renunciation at such a critical situation, ApatSanyasa, was a common practice. Very reluctantly, Aryamba gave her consent and lo, mysteriously the crocodile let
go the boy ! Emerging from the river, the bala-sanyasin decided to become a wandering monk and soon left his
village after consoling and assuring his mother that he would be at her side during her last days and even perform
her funeral rites. Thus, Sankara set forth on his divine mission at the very young age of eight, when most of the boys
would not have even left their toy-trinkets. After leaving Kaladi, the young sanyasin-scholar wandered through South
India and ultimately reached the banks of Narmada in search of a Guru. There, he met Govinda Bhagavatpada, a
prominent disciple of the great Gaudapada of Mandukya Karika reputation. Govindapada welcomingly accecpted this
boy-sanyasin as his disciple and initiated him into the intricacies of Vedanta. After about seven years, when Sankara
had completed his Vedantic studies and Sadhana, his guru told him to proceed to Kasi, the ancient city of learing and
spirituality, and spread the message of Advaita Vedanta from there by writing commentaries on the Brahma Sutras,
the Upnishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
As instructed, he proceeded to Kasi and there, within a short time, established himself as the
greatest champion of Vedanta philosophy. He won many debates; and disciples came to him in
large numbers. Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Totaka were the chief among them. Thus, by the age
of sixteen, Sankara had established himself as a great philosopher in the city of Varanasi, then the
very heart of the intellectual and spiritual movements in India. Shankara has also composed many
Bhakti Hymns
After establishing himself at Kasi as the invincible champion of Vedanta philosophy, Sankara started on tour of this
vast country for a Dig-Vijaya or spiritual conquest, under specific instruction from sage Veda Vyasa who blessed him
with a vision while Sankara was writing the Brahma Sutra Bhashya. Wherever he went, he won over eminent leaders
of the other existing systems of philosophy and firmly established Advaita Vedanta. None could stand against his vast
erudition, dialectical skill and spiritual insight. Amongst these debates, the one which was of great importance was his
encounter with Mandana Misra, the great disciple of Kumarila Bhatta, a staunch protagonist of ritualism. The Karma
Kanda portion of the Vedas had much hold on Hindu religion at that time and this was largely due to the philosopherleaders and religious authorities like Kumarila Bhatta and Mandan Misra. In order to establish the truths of *Jnana
Kanda*, Sankaracharya had to defeat and win over these two intellectuals. Due to unavoidable circumstances,
Kumarila Bhatta could not undertake a debate with Sankaracharya and directed the Vedantin to meet his disciple
Mandan Misra. The debate with Mandan Misra took place with Ubhaya Bharati, scholarly wife of Mandana Misra,
acting as the Judge. After many days of discussion, Mandana Misra accepted defeat.

The condition of the debate was that he who would be defeated would become the others disciple and take up the
victors way of life. Thus, Mandana Misra became a Sanyasi and was given the name Sureswara. This victory gave a
new impetus to Sankaras spiritual conquest. Sri Sankara and his disciples travelled all over the land refuting false
doctrines and purifying objectionable practices which were in vogue in the name of religion. He also established
Maths in four places; in Sringeri in th south; Badri in the north, Dwaraka in the west and Jagannath Puri in the east.
He chose these places of beauty of their natural environments amidst snow-clad mountains, forests and rivers or on
the shores of the ocean, places where heaven and earth meet and transport mans thoughts to sublime heights. He
placed Sri Sureswaracharya at the head of the Math in Sringeri, Sri Padmapada in Dwaraka, Sri Totaka in Badri and
Sri Hastamalaka in Puri. The establishing of these Mathas indicate Sri Sankaras realization of the physical and
spiritual unity of India. He wrote in Sanskrit, the lingua franca of cultured India of those times, which alone could
appeal to all the intellectuals all over the land.
After a pretty long stay in Sringeri, he hastened to the bed-side of his dying mother in his ancestral home at Kaladi
and sped her soul to the immortal realms of light to the strains of mellifluous hymns in praise of Siva and Vishnu.
Undeterred by the opposition of his pharsaical (religious formalist) kinsmen, he cremated his mothers body on the
river bank behind the house and the spot had since become hallowed as a place of pilgrimage.
He visited all the sacred shrines of the land around which have gathered the cultural traditions of the people, purifying
the forms of worship and establishing the Sri Chakaras in many of them such as Kamakshi temple of Kanchi, Nara
Narayana temple of Badri and Guhyesvari temple in Nepal, etc.
This best of peripatetic teachers (Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya) crowned his triumphal tours by vanquishing the
great scholars of Kashmir, and ascended the sarvajnapitha as the symbol of recognition by the world of his
scholarship and undisputed mastery in all the (then known) branches of learning.
During his last visit to Nepal, he had a vision of Sri Dattatreya and from there he went to Kedarnath at which place, at
the age of thirty two, he said to have disappeared from his mortal existence. A spot not far from the shrine of
Kedarnath is said to be the place of his disappearance. (One version, however, is that he merged in Mother
Kamakshi at the Holy Kanchi, thus ending his earthly career).
Sankara made the edifice of Hindu religion strong by his rational and scientific exposition of the Upanishadic
philosophy so that Sanatana Dharma could face all the challenges during the vicissitudes of history till modern times.
His contribution to Indian philosophy is so great and lasting that all the later philosophers have only tried to refute him
or to elucidate his ideas. In foreign countries, Indian philosophy has always come to be identified with Sankaras
Advaita. Sankara symbolizes the great Rishi-culture whose greatest exponent he was. The message of Sankara is
a message of hope and optimism. He says that man is not a finality, a finished product; he has divine potentiality in
him which is to be discovered through self-conscious evolution. The kingdom of peace, fullness and joy are within
each one of us, says Advaita. We will have to realise it. As his very name suggests (Sam karoti iti Sankara He who
blesses is Sankara). Sankaracharya was one of the greatest benefactors of mankind because he expounded the
Advaita Vedanta philosophy which is the essence of Vedas and which is a pathway to Bliss and Immortality.
Note : This article has been compiled from Sri Satya Sai Pre Sevadal Course Material.
Shri Adi Shankaracharya or the first Shankara with his remarkable reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures, especially on
Upanishads or Vedanta, had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism at a time when chaos, superstition and
bigotry was rampant. Shankara advocated the greatness of the Vedas and was the most famous Advaita philosopher
who restored the Vedic Dharma and Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity and glory.
Shri Adi Shankaracharya, known as Bhagavatpada Acharya (the guru at the feet of Lord), apart from refurbishing the
scriptures, cleansed the Vedic religious practices of ritualistic excesses and ushered in the core teaching of Vedanta,
which is Advaita or non-dualism for the mankind. Shankara restructured various forms of desultory religious practices
into acceptable norms and stressed on the ways of worship as laid down in the Vedas.
Shankaras Childhood
Shankara was born in a Brahmin family circa 788 AD in a village named Kaladi on the banks of the river Purna (now
Periyar) in the Southern Indian coastal state Kerala. His parents, Sivaguru and Aryamba, had been childless for a
long time and the birth of Shankara was a joyous and blessed occasion for the couple. Legend has it that Aryamba
had a vision of Lord Shiva and promised her that he would incarnate in the form of her first-born child.
Shankara was a prodigious child and was hailed as Eka-Sruti-Dara, one who can retain anything that has been read
just once. Shankara mastered all the Vedas and the six Vedangas from the local gurukul and recited extensively from
the epics and Puranas. Shankara also studied the philosophies of diverse sects and was a storehouse of
philosophical knowledge.
Philosophy of Adi Shankara
Shankara spread the tenets of Advaita Vedanta, the supreme philosophy of monism to the four corners of India with
his digvijaya (the conquest of the quarters). The quintessence of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) is to reiterate the

truth of reality of ones essential divine identity and to reject ones thought of being a finite human being with a name
and form subject to earthly changes.

According to the Advaita maxim, the True Self is Brahman (Divine Creator). Brahman is the I of Who Am I? The
Advaita doctrine propagated by Shankara views that the bodies are manifold but the separate bodies have the one
Divine in them.
The phenomenal world of beings and non-beings is not apart from the Brahman but ultimately become one with
Brahman. The crux of Advaita is that Brahman alone is real, and the phenomenal world is unreal or an illusion.
Through intense practice of the concept of Advaita, ego and ideas of duality can be removed from the mind of man.
The comprehensive philosophy of Shankara is inimitable for the fact that the doctrine of Advaita includes both worldly
and transcendental experience.
Shankara while stressing the sole reality of Brahman, did not undermine the phenomenal world or the multiplicity of
Gods in the scriptures.
Shankaras philosophy is based on three levels of reality, viz., paramarthika satta (Brahman), vyavaharika satta
(empirical world of beings and non-beings) and pratibhashika satta (reality).
Shankaras theology maintains that seeing the self where there is no self causes spiritual ignorance or avidya. One
should learn to distinguish knowledge (jnana) from avidya to realize the True Self or Brahman. He taught the rules of
bhakti, yoga and karma to enlighten the intellect and purify the heart as Advaita is the awareness of the Divine.
Shankara developed his philosophy through commentaries on the various scriptures. It is believed that the revered
saint completed these works before the age of sixteen. His major works fall into three distinct categories commentaries on the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
Shankaracharya's Seminal Works
The most important of Shankaracharya's works are his commentaries on the Brahmasutras - Brahmasutrabhashya considered the core of Shankara's perspective on Advaita, and Bhaja Govindam written in praise of Govinda or Lord
Krishna - a Sanskrit devotional poem that forms the center of the Bhakti movement and also epitomizes his Advaita
Vedanta philosophy.
Read a review of 'Bhaja Govindam'
Shankaracharya's Monastic Centers
Shri Shankaracharya established four 'mutts' or monastic centers in four corners of India and put his four main
disciples to head them and serve the spiritual needs of the ascetic community within the Vedantic tradition. He
classified the wandering mendicants into 10 main groups to consolidate their spiritual strength.
Each mutt was assigned one Veda. The mutts are Jyothir Mutt at Badrinath in northern India with Atharva Veda;
Sarada Mutt at Sringeri in southern India with Yajur Veda; Govardhan Mutt at Jaganath Puri in eastern India with Rig
Veda and Kalika Mutt at Dwarka in western India with Sama Veda.
It is believed that Shankara attained heavenly abode in Kedarnath and was only 32 years old when he died.
Sri Adi Shankaracharya's Bhaja Govindam by Chandrika (Vakils, Feffer, & Simons) is one enlightening book. Actually
it is two books in one-the life of Adi Shankara, and then his poem, Bhaja Govindam, or 'Follow Your Heart.'
The Story of Adi Shankaracharya
Adi Shankaracharya (788-820) or the first Shankara reinterpreted the Hindu scriptures, such as the Vedas and the
Upanishads, and brought to the masses, and was also known as the most prominent Advaita philosopher of all times.
Book Review by Swami Sadashiva Tirtha

Over the years, I have read numerous biographies of Adi Shankara, yet this version brought two gifts. First, the story
somehow was more alive, I felt like the story was unfolding as I read it, and also, I could feel the author's deep
devotional love for Shankara. The second gift was a series of new titbits about his life, as well as elaborations on
stories I had already known. In short, the author succeeded in making me feel like I truly knew Shankara personally.

From the miracle how he was saved from the alligator's jaws of death, to leaving home at the age of 8 to find his
spiritual master, to walking the length and breadth of India and converting people away from black magic to the belief
in one god, and setting up a structure that would sustain Hinduism through present times ... all by the age of 32 - the
stories are wonderful and inspiring.
Perhaps best of all, the author explains many profound, and often confusing or dry explanations of Shankara's
spiritual teachings in a very heart-rendering and clear manner, that I feel anyone could understand and apply the
insights into their daily lives.
As the biography comes to an end, Chandrika transitions to the poem by offering a short overview of all of Shankara's
writings. And then goes on to translate and comment on the poem this book is named after - Bhaja Govindam.
There are two wonderful aspects to the poem that touched my heart. First, her translations of each verse (sloka) are
clear, alive and meaningful. Simply reading the original verses was a treat in itself, feeling the bhakti or devotional
wisdom coming from Shankara. And each verse was made to rhyme in English, which is quite a task in itself.
The treat continues as Chandrika's commentary for each verse expounds and explains by using one or more story for
each verse. Storytelling is about the best way I know to reach a person's heart and teach a whole-hearted message.
And this the author has done brilliantly.
Amazing Verses
Bhaja Govindam is replete with amazing verses. Let me quote one of my favourite slokas from the book (Verse 2):
"Fool! The thirst for wealth is never quenched Quench instead your desire for contentment!
Learn to be joyous, to be totally satisfied With the fruit that your work will always provide!"
Great Stories
Here is a portion of one of the stories Chandrika retells in her book:
When Buddha returned from the forest after attaining enlightenment, a King who was a friend of Buddha's father, who
was a king too, tried to entice Buddha to accepting the throne as the new king. He said, 'I have all that any man could
desire. Wealth, women, wine, and power." Buddha smiled gently and softly asked, "Your majesty, do you have
These stories come to life as they can be applied to modern times, as we see a trend to seek excessive materialism
and ignoring the spiritual component of life.
Memorable Parables
This book is full of parables, and here is one (Verse 13) I am paraphrasing below:
The king could not find peace. His minister's solution was to find a man in peace and wear his shirt and he would find
peace. They found a sadhu (hermit) under a tree - carefree and whistling. The king asked how he can remain in
peace, to which the saint replied, "Because I know the One who provides for the tiniest of creatures will not neglect
me. I rest in that faith with joy." I desire nothing because I have the sky as my roof, the world as a home, animals and
birds as friends. Who is richer than me? The king found his man of peace and asked for the saint's shirt. "Your
majesty, I have no shirt."
It is a book both you and your children will understand and enjoy.