A Four-Part Article On Shankaracharya
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Greatnes Of Shankara’S Life And Teachings

In our Holy land, Bharath, persons in the Government, Advaitic Sannyasins,devotees and people interested in the Shastras have been celebrating , since the start of the current year, the twelfth centenary of the advent of Bhagavatpada, the preceptor. Historically, 1200-1300 years have passed since Bhagavatpada was born. If, following deliberation as on other issues, a consensus had arisen about the year of Bhagavatpada’s advent, be it 1200 years ago or earlier or later, there would have been no occasion for dispute. Historians have so far not determined the year of Buddha’s Nirvana with exactitude and certainty.  Yet, in 1956, the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s Nirvana was commemorated in various parts of the globe.  Research has not established that Jesus Christ was born precisely in 1 A.D. on December 25.  Nevertheless, the world over, Christmas is observed on December 25 and the Christian era commences from 1 A.D.  Thus, there are precedents for the anniversaries of events relating to personages being celebrated even in the absence of historical definiteness about the dates of those occurrences. So, the mere reason that 788 A.D. may actually not be the year of Bhagavatpada’s advent cannot debar or render censurable the current twelfth birth centenary celebrations.

However, be that as it may, it is intensely gratifying that the twelfth birth centenary of that holy one is being celebrated. The present celebrations provide us a special opportunity to think of and express our gratitude to Bhagavatpada, who has done so very much good to all.

What was the state of affairs in India when Bhagavatpada incarnated? What was the attitude that had developed in the minds of the people? There was discord on metaphysical and Dharmic matters; each deemed his view to be paramount. Bhagavatpada, however, emphasized a sameness in all.

On the greatness of Bhagavatpada, a great scholar has said this:

KaNadhaya-dhiyA kArAgArAd-apetamanAtmanaH
Kapila-muninA nirNiktAtmAnamanchtia-vigraham |
NigamashirasA svArAjye sve chirAdabhishechitam
Jayati samavan devam dAsyAd Gururmama taantrikAt ||
( Source: SiddhAnta-siddhAnjanam Part 2 end)

The overall meaning of this verse is: Sage KaNAda freed the Atma from the prison of the body by negating the charvaka view that the body alone is the Self. Then Sage Kapila established the Pure nature of the Atman. The Vedanta (the Upanishads), proclaims the Atma as the Self-effulgent, Free entity. Holding this view, our Acharya, Shankara, has been protecting the Atma from the idea of a servant as held by the Tantrikas. Glory to Sri Shankara who successfully anointed the Atman as the unopposed Sovereign.

In the time of Bhagavatpada, there were several creeds. There were the Vaishnavites, the Shaaktas, the Shaivas, the Bhairavas and the Kaapaalikas. Apart form these, there were the Charvakas who had the enjoyment of worldly pleasures as their sole aim in life. Their thinking was that there is only this world that is experienced and none other that is attained after death. They denied the existence of the hereafter, the existence of Gods and rejected the authority of the Veda, Smritis, Itihasas and the Puranas. They felt, “We should enjoy ourselves to the maximum extent possible. If we are wealthy, we can have much. Therefore, wealth is very important in life and should be sought. Even if we are not too well off, we can enjoy ourselves by procuring things using the money obtained from others. If we go and steal, we might get caught and land in severe trouble. People will not give us things on their own. So, let us borrow money and then use it to buy things for ourselves. Alternatively, we can borrow things too. So long as we keep postponing the repayment, we can manage. Later on, we may get into some trouble with the creditors but we can do something or the other to evade them. In any case, once death overtakes us, there is no problem, for, after death, there is nothing, no virtue or vice. There is not going to be a future birth. This was the thinking of the Charvakas, which was in keeping with their mental tendencies.

Apart from these, there were those who accepted life after death and held that liberation consisted in dwelling in Vaikuntha. Another group averred that abiding in Kailasa was liberation. There was a set that postulated the existence of an individual soul but said that liberation comprised in eternal ascent and not in dwelling in any world, such as Kailasa. Yet another group opined that liberation is a state of total void. Each of the several groups held that only its own view was correct.

It was in this prevailing atmosphere that Bhagavatpada incarnated among the people. Reform is best effected by keeping in mind the ways of the world. Bhagavatpada graced people engaged in austerities, Yogis, seekers of knowledge and those desirous of liberation. But he did not stop with that. He realised that he had the responsibility to set an example for the people by his life. Rama has made such a great impact on us by His having led a life totally wedded to righteousness, Dharma. As with the life of Rama, that of Bhagavatpada serves as an ideal for mankind. The Veda enjoins, ‘Maatrudevo bhava’ (Venerate the mother as a god.)

A mother puts up with so much of difficulty in begetting and raising a child. She bestows all her love on her offspring. Thus, a person is deeply indebted to his mother. If he does not conduct himself properly towards her, he is guilty of the unpardonable sin of ingratitude. Bhagavatpada implemented the Vedic injunction that one should venerate the mother as a god in letter and spirit.

Bhagavatpada’s father Shivaguru passed away before he could perform his divine son’s Upanayanam. His mother Aryamba, arranged her son’s thread ceremony to be performed by a relative, after the impurity period was over. Bhagavatpada was then five years of age. He left for the house of a preceptor, as is enjoined in the scriptures and very quickly learned the scriptures there. He completed his studies and returned from his teacher’s home in his seventh year. Thereafter, he served his mother with great sincerity.

One day, as Aryamba was going to the river for a bath, she was unable to withstand the heat of the scorching sun and fainted. Finding that his mother did not return on time, Bhagavatpada searched for her. On seeing her unconscious, he revived her by sprinkling water on her and brought her home.

The river was at some distance from his house. Out of love for Aryamba, Bhagavatpada felt that she should not have to endure the strain of covering that distance every day. So, he went to the river and prayed to it, treating it as God. He beseeched the river to change course and flow near his home. Could the divine boy’s sincere prayer go unanswered? The next morning, Aryamba found that she just had to step out of her souse to bathe in the flowing waters.

Though Bhagavatpada attended to all the needs of his mother without any laxity, in his heart of hearts, he desired to renounce the world. He was dispassionate to the core. One day, some sages came to his house. In response to his mother’s query, a sage predicted that Bhagavatpada would have only a short life. This made Aryamba feel upset. However, Bhagavatpada gradually consoled her and took this opportunity to point out that parting in a family was inevitable and added that there is not even an iota of pleasure in worldly life.

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