Shankara--The First Guru of Kali Yuga

By Sri Swami Madhavananda

Whereas the generality of Avataras is for the purpose of re-establishment of Dharma through and by means of the destruction of the wicked and the protection of the righteous and whereas this sort of Avataras take place several times in each Yuga according to the needs of humanity, yet there is another, a special kind of Avatara described in our scriptures as coming into being sometimes after the commencement of each Yuga, not for the destruction of this or that individual monster or set of monsters and so on, but as the first Jnana Guru for the Yuga; viz., for the sole purpose of giving spiritual, psychic and ethical illumination to the lives of that Yuga and setting before them the path, which will take them to their goal of happiness here, salvation hereafter, ultimate emancipation from all bondage and consequent eventual Realization of their oneness with God.


Thus we are told that, in the first Yuga known in our scriptures as Satya Yuga or Krita Yuga, the natural tendency of the great mass of sentient beings was (with of course the usual and invariable exception to the rule), one which impelled them to become ‘Krita Krityas’, viz., to fully and correctly perform the duties enjoined on them by the Shastras in respect of Karmas (actions), Upasana (Devotion and worship) and Jnana (spiritual knowledge) in due and full accordance with the different Adhikaras which were theirs by virtue of their Varnas, Ashramas and so forth.

Hence the name Krita Yuga may be explained in terms of saying: ‘Krita Krityanaam Yugam Krita Yugam.’ For the various aspirants of those days on the ladder of spirituality used to perform all their respective functions in the three Kandas fully and correctly, and were therefore Krita Krityas (persons who had discharged all their duties). From this it naturally follows that in as much as the performance of Svadharma is the path of Chitta Shuddhi (purification of heart) as laid down in the scriptures, in Sri Krishna’s words in the eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita:

Yajnadanatapahkarma na tyajyam karyameva tat,
Yajno danam tapaschaiva pavanani maneeshinam.

(Yajnas, Charities, Penances and other Karmas are purifiers of the heart; therefore they should not be neglected but should necessarily be performed) and so on, it is consequently obvious that persons of the type described must naturally be pure in heart.

And such, we find, was actually the case in respect of the great mass of the Jivas in the Krita Yuga. This type of Jivas is symbolised and illustrated before the world in the personalities and through the examples of Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata and others.

In the next place, we note the Scriptures telling us that Chittashuddhi (purity of heart) is the direct and immediate means for the attainment of Jnana (Divine illumination); and we similarly find Lord Jesus Christ saying: "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." From this it follows that Sanaka and others of the Krita Yuga typify and represent the great order of the highly evolved souls who have become Krita Krityas, achieved Chittashuddhi and become Adhikaris for Atma Jnana (spiritual wisdom).

We, therefore, find that they are not called upon to undergo an elaborate process of instruction and training of questioning and their answers, of discussing things and having them expounded and so forth. They go forward by a stroke of inspiration to the Adi Jagadguru of Krita Yuga, namely Bhagavan Dakshinamurti with various questions in their hearts for which they seek answers. But lo! and behold! They are astonished and gratified at the experience that when they actually go and sit before Him, they find all their questions automatically answered within their own hearts and there is nothing further for them to ask Him and receive instruction and be enlightened.

It needs no elaborate and detailed exposition in optical physics to expound this fact of everyday experience, namely that if and when a mirror is not clean and pure or is a refractor, it does not produce correct reflections but only distorted images of the things before it, but if and when a mirror is absolutely pure and accurate, it immediately and correctly reflects everything before it.

Exactly similar is the case with regard to the purity of the human heart and the lack of it. In other words if and when a heart is Sattvic but is of a Rajasic or a Tamasic character, it comes under the operation of the Law of Nature explained by Lord Sri Krishna in the Gita with the words: Sarvarthanvipareethamscha (It distorts all things and receives absolutely erroneous impression about them). But if and when a heart is absolutely pure, it acts as a correct reflecting mirror and automatically receives into itself a wholly right and accurate impression about the nature of God, the individual soul and the Universe. In short, it receives Divine Illumination.

Thus, when Sanaka and other disciples of Dakshinamurti merely go and sit before Him, their pure and untarnished hearts naturally play the part of good reflectors and automatically receive and reflect within themselves all the Jnana (Spiritual Light) enshrined within the heart and head of the Lord, who is sitting in utter silence before them. This is why our Scriptures say: He, the eternally youthful one, sits in silence, and, by His very silence, explains everything to them; and all doubts and questions vanish from their hearts. By His eloquent silence, He brings into their hearts the requisite Soul-illumination for which they have come to Him and so on. ("Gurosthu mounam vyakhyanam shisyasthu chinnasamsaya.)"

Bhagavan Dakshinamurti is therefore the first Jnana Guru of the Golden age viz. Satya Yuga, wherein the Jijnasu (the seeker after truth) has, (by his previous performance of Svadharma and his penances) destroyed all the impurities within his heart and thus goes before the Master with no obstacles (on his own side) on the path of Divine Knowledge. And the successive Jnana Gurus who follow Him in later ages of the same Krita Yuga and come from time to time in response to the needs and exigencies of the actual situation before them, merely carry on Bhagavan Dakshinamurti’s work of enlightening the world on more or less the same lines as have been explained.