Adi Shankaracharya: Contributions and Influences on Sanatana Dharma and Indian Culture

Adi Shankaracharya, one of the most important philosophers and religious leaders in Indian history and the Hindu Sanatan religion, is widely revered as a religious reformer, the formulator and codifier of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, the non-dualistic system based upon the Upanishads. He was born in a very poor brahmin family in the year 788 A.D. in a village named Kaladi, six miles to the east of Alwaye, Kerala. “He was a Nambudiri Brahmin. Rajasekhara, a rich landlord, built a Siva temple in Kaladi and formed an Agrahara for brahmins who were in the service of the temple. Vidyadhiraja was doing Puja (worship) in the temple. He had only a son named Sivaguru. Sivaguru studied the Shastras and married at the proper age. He had no child. He and his wife Aryamba prayed to Lord Siva to bless them with a son. A son was born to them in the vasanta ritu or the spring season at noon, in the auspicious Abhijit Muhurtai and under the constellation Ardhra (nakshatra). This son was Shankara.” 1 “It is said that his mother Aryamba had a vision that Lord Shiva himself told her that he would incarnate in the form of her first-born child. Right from childhood he showed a penchant towards spiritual knowledge.He could easily recite the Puranas and the Epics and mastered the Vedas during his early years in Gurukul. Adi Shankara's teachings were thoroughly adopted by his disciples later on.”2 Historically, there are conflicting views about the exact date of birth of Adi Shankara. “Theosophy teaches that he was born 2,500 years ago, specifically in 510 B.C., only ‘51 years and 2 months’ after the death of the Buddha. As will be seen from the quotes which follow, Theosophist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and the Masters maintain that Shankaracharya was in a certain mysterious sense the first reincarnation of Gautama Buddha after that lifetime."  Jayendra Saraswati, head of the Kancheepuram Mutt in Tamil Nadu, also said the Kanchi Mutt and four other hermitages at Dwarka, Sringeri, Puri and Badri insist that Adi Shankara was born in 509 BC and not 788 AD. “He elaborated on two major evidences supporting the pre-Christian era theory — one that all the four mutts have had more than 70 pontiffs and, second, a scientific carbon dating of the river Kaladi in Kerala proved that it flowed just around 2,500 years ago.”

Shankara is the foremost among the master-minds and the giant souls which Mother India has produced. He was the expounder of the Advaita philosophy. Shankara was a giant metaphysician, a practical philosopher, an infallible logician, a dynamic personality and a  stupendous moral and spiritual force. His grasping and elucidating powers knew no bounds.He was a fully developed Yogi, Jnani and Bhakta. He was a Karma Yogi of no mean order. He was a powerful magnet. His contributions are enormous for the India.

Philosophical & Literary Contribution

The advent of Adi Shankara is a landmark event in the history of Indian philosophy and religion and in the personal spiritual evolution of every individual. His teachings reveal the truth of the Supreme Brahman to the sincere seeker. His contribution is beyond imagination; a few of these contributions in the form of commentaries which are treasures to Hindu Sanatana belief. These are Vivekachudamani, Atma Bodha, Aparoksh anubhuti, Ananda Lahari, Atma-Anatma Vivek, Drig-Drishya Vivekaand Upadesa Sahasri. “More than 300 works—commentative, expository, and poetical—written in the Sanskrit language, are attributed to him. Most of them, however, cannot be regarded as authentic. His masterpiece is the Brahma-sutra-bhashya, the commentary on the Brahma-sutra, which is a fundamental text of the Vedanta school. The commentaries on the principal Upanishads that are attributed to Shankara are certainly all genuine, with the possible exception of the commentary on the Shvetashvatara Upanishad.ii The commentary on the Mandukya-karika was also composed by Shankara himself.   It is very probable that he is the author of the Yoga-sutra-bhashya- vivarana, the exposition of Vyasa’s commentary on the Yoga-sutra, a fundamental text of the Yoga school. The Upadeshasahasri, which is a good introduction to Shankara’s philosophy, is the only noncommentative work that is certainly authentic.”6 Sri R. Krishnamurthy wrote in an article in The Hindu that “Adi Shankara sought to relieve mankind from all the miseries that affect one and all. There are three kinds of miseries that human beings have to suffer in this world. In spiritual parlance these are described as Adyatmika, Adi Daivika and Adi Bhoutika. Adyatmika refers to the relation between the individual self and the Supreme Self. It is based on the truth that the individual self is a manifestation of the Supreme spirit. Adi Daivika refers to the miseries caused by fate and Adi Bhoutika to those sorrows caused by the material world and body. Adi Shankara’s effort is a cut above for; this acharya destroyed the Rakshasa Avidya that is the root cause of all sorrows. Removal of ignorance results in self realisation which is the ultimate goal of the Jiva.”7 H.P.  Blavatsky said about his contribution “The followers of one of the greatest minds that ever appeared on Earth, the Adwaita Vedantins are called Atheists, because they regard all save Parabrahm, the secondless, or Absolute Reality – as an illusion. Yet the wisest initiates came from their ranks, as also the greatest yogis.”8 Even though he lived a very short life and renounced his body at thirty-two years, his impact on India and on Hindu Sanatana Dharma is extremely striking. He re-introduced a finer form of Vedic thought. His traditions and teachings form the basis of the Smartis and have influenced Sant and Mutt lineages.