His life at glance
Sankaracharya(788-820 A.D.) was bornin a family of Nambudiribrahman sect in a village called Kaladi in the State of Kerala. His parents were pious couple having deep religious culture. His father was a priest in a Shiva temple. In the times of Sankaracharya, there was no powerful king in south India; and this period noticed the rise of bhakti movement. Brahmans were the dominating group of people through their behaviour and divinely oriented life. He received necessary training in Vedic recital and study. He also attained proficiency in languages in his early age. His father died when he was only 7 years old. He exhibited extraordinary intelligence in his boyhood, mastering all the then-current theologies and philosophies by the age of 17. A number of miracles are associated with his life. One of which is as follows:
According to the divine wish,Sankaracharya had to become a religious teacher, Sannyasin; but his mother was not interested in it. One day it is said that a miracle happened: When he was taking bath in a nearby river, a crocodile caught hold of his leg and dragged him; his mother saw and cried. Then he asked his mother to give permission to take Sannyasin, so that the crocodile might leave him according to the divine wish. At this crucial hour his mother agreed, and he was released from the jaws of the crocodile dramatically. Thus he had become a Sannyasinto take up his chosen divine mission.
His mission was not to bring quarrel among various theological systems but to see that a sprit of unity prevails. He interpreted the theology of Upanisads and preached it for the benefit of humanity, as people are misguided with false doctrines. He travelled whole India. In his journey, it is said that he met many people including Govinda, and Gaudapada (who wrote verse commentaries on the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutra in Benaras).
He was the greatest exponent of the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. The existence of Vedic Dharma in India is due to him. The forces opposed to Vedic religion were more numerous and powerful at the time of Sankaracharya than they are today. Still single-handed, within a very short time, he overpowered them all and restored the Vedic Dharma and Advaita Vedanta. He occupies a very important position in the history of Indian philosophy. He laid the foundation of the propagation of Vedanta before the beginning of middle ages; and it was nourished by Ramakrishna Mission and Swami Vivekananda in the modern period. In order to preach the message of Advaita Vedanta, he established missionary centres (monasteries) in the four centres-Badarinath in Himalayas, Dvaraka in Gujarat, Puri in Orissa and Srngeri in Mysore. There are his great commentaries on three source books of Vedanta-the Vedanta Sutras, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
Hinduism is a religion of many cults and different deities. At different places in India, various gods are worshipped according to the nature of the people. The form of worship also differs from one place to the other place. There are contradictions apparently but there is fundamental belief that the God, they worship is an incarnation, avatara of the Supreme Being, Brahman. The claim of Sankaracharya is that though Hinduism consists of several cults there should not be any conflict among them. He established a harmonious relation among various cults and therefore, he was called the establisher of the six faiths, sanmata-sthapak-acarya.
Highlights of his teachings
His teachings or the doctrine of AdvaitaVendantacan be summed up in a half a verse: "Brahma Satyam JaganMithyaJivoBrahmaiva Na Aprab (Brahman or the Absolute is alone real; this world is unreal; and the Jiva or the individual soul is non-different from Brahman)".Core teachings that arise from his works are:
- You are not your thoughts. You are the awareness behind the thoughts. Thoughts are often negative and painful, yearning for or fearing something in the future, complaining about something in the present or fearing a matter from the past. However, the thoughts are not you; they are a construct of the ego. Awareness of your thoughts without being caught up in them is the first step to freedom.
- Only the present moment exists. That is where life is (indeed it is the only place life can truly be found). Becoming aware of 'now' has the added benefit that it will draw your attention away from your (negative) thoughts. Use mindfulness techniques to fully appreciate your surroundings and everything you are experiencing. Look and listen intently. Give full attention to the smallest details.
- Accept the present moment. It is resistance to the present moment that creates most of the difficulties in your life. However, acceptance does not mean that you cannot take action to rectify the situation you are in. What is important is to drop resistance so that you let the moment be, and that any action arises from deeper awareness rather than from resistance. The vast majority of pain in a person's life comes from resistance to what is.
- Observe the pain-body. Years of conditioned thought patterns, individually and collectively, have resulted in habitual emotional reactions with an apparent personality of their own. During 'pain-body attacks' we become completely identified with this 'pain identity' and respond from its agenda-which is to create more pain for ourselves and others. Observing the pain-body is awareness itself arising-as it allows humans to separate from this unconscious identification with pain.
- Everything that exists has Being, has God essence, has some degree of consciousness. Even a stone has a rudimentary consciousness; otherwise it would not be, and its atoms and molecules would disperse. Everything is alive. The sun, the earth, plants, animals, humans-all are expressions of consciousness in varying degrees, conscious manifesting as form. The world arises when consciousness takes on shapes and forms, thought forms and material forms. The ancient seers of India saw the world as lila, a kind of game that God is playing. You do not truly know that until you realize your own God-essence as pure consciousness. When we talk about watching the mind we are personalizing an event that is truly of cosmic significance: through you, consciousness is awakening out of the dream of identification with form and withdrawing from form. This foreshadows, but is already part of, an event that is probably still in the distant future as far as chronological time is concerned. That event is called-the end of the world. When consciousness frees itself from its identification with physical and mental forms, it becomes what may be called pure or enlightened consciousness or presence.
- Swami Nikhilananda (2003). VIVEKANANDA: A Biography. Fourteenth Impression. Kolkata, India.
- Swami Tejasananda (2003). A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda.Nineteenth Impression, Kolkata, India.