Shankara travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He is reputed to have founded four mathas "monasteries" , which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organizer of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmata tradition of worship. His works in Sanskrit concern themselves with establishing the doctrine of advaita nondualism. He also established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism.
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Shankara travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He is reputed to have founded four mathas "monasteries" , which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist.
Adi Shankara is believed to be the organizer of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmata tradition of worship. His works in Sanskrit concern themselves with establishing the doctrine of advaita nondualism.
He also established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. Shankara represented his works as elaborating on ideas found in the Upanishads, and he wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon Brahma Sutra, principal upanishads and Bhagavad Gita in support of his thesis. The main opponent in his work is the Mimamsa school of thought, though he also offers arguments against the views of some other schools like Samkhya and certain schools of Buddhism.
According to lore, it was after his parents, who had been childless for many years, prayed at the Vadakkunnathan temple, Thrissur that Sankara was born under the star Thiruvathira. His father died while Shankara was very young.
As a child, Shankara showed remarkable scholarship, mastering the four Vedas by the age of eight. Sannyasa At the tender age of 7, Shankara was inclined towards sannyasa, but it was only after much persuasion that his mother finally gave her consent. He only received her consent in a very interesting manner.
While bathing in the river Poorna one day, a crocodile caught hold of his leg. Shankara appealed to his mother, who had arrived at Poorna, asking for permission to become a sanyasi. His mother finally gave consent, only to have the crocodile let go of young Shankara. A crocodile had never been found in Poorna ever or since Shankara then left Kerala and travelled towards North India in search of a guru.
Govinda Bhagavatapada was impressed and took Shankara as his disciple. The guru instructed Shankara to write a commentary on the Brahma Sutras and propagate the Advaita philosophy. Shankara travelled to Kashi, where a young man named Sanandana, hailing from Chola territory in South India, became his first disciple. According to legend, while on his way to the Vishwanath Temple, Sankara came upon an untouchable accompanied by four dogs. At Badari he wrote his famous Bhashyas "commentaries" and Prakarana granthas "philosophical treatises".
This view was widely shared and respected throughout India at that time. Thus it would have been important for Adi Shankara to debate with him. Mahishmati is on the banks of the holy river - Narmada, in Madhya Pradesh.
Mahishmati is now known as Mandala. Mandala finds mention in Pauranic literature as the capital of Sahasrabahu Kartyaveer Arjun who had obstructed the river by his thousand arms by his frolicking, at his capital Mahishmati.
She asked him questions related to sexual congress between man and woman - a subject in which Shankaracharya had no knowledge, since he was a true celibate and sannyasi.
Sri Shankracharya asked for a "recess" of 15 days. The queens, thrilled at the keen intellect and robust love-making of the "revived" King, deduced that he was not their husband, as of old. Philosophical tour Adi Shankara then travelled with his disciples to Maharashtra and Srisailam.
In Srisailam, he composed Shivanandalahari, a devotional hymn in praise of Shiva. As a result, Adi Shankara composed the Laksmi-Narasimha stotra. At Kollur, he accepted as his disciple a boy believed to be dumb by his parents. After this, Adi Shankara began a Dig-vijaya "tour of conquest" for the propagation of the Advaita philosophy by controverting all philosophies opposed to it.
He travelled throughout India, from South India to Kashmir and Nepal, preaching to the local populace and debating philosophy with Hindu, Buddhist and other scholars and monks along the way.
He then started towards Karnataka where he encountered a band of armed Kapalikas. King Sudhanva, with his Nairs, resisted and defeated the Kapalikas. They safely reached Gokarna where Shankara defeated in debate the Shaiva scholar, Neelakanta. Proceeding to Saurashtra the ancient Kambhoja and having visited the shrines of Girnar, Somnath and Prabhasa and explaining the superiority of Vedanta in all these places, he arrived at Dwarka.
He then defeated the Jainas in philosophical debates at a place called Bahlika. Thereafter, the Acharya established his victory over several philosophers and ascetics in Kamboja region of North Kashmir , Darada and many regions situated in the desert and crossing mighty peaks, entered Kashmir. Later, he had an encounter with a tantrik, Navagupta at Kamarupa. The Madhaviya Shankaravijayam states this temple had four doors for scholars from the four cardinal directions.
The southern door representing South India had never been opened, indicating that no scholar from South India had entered the Sarvajna Pitha. Adi Shankara opened the southern door by defeating in debate all the scholars there in all the various scholastic disciplines such as Mimamsa, Vedanta and other branches of Hindu philosophy; he ascended the throne of Transcendent wisdom of that temple.
Towards the end of his life, Adi Shankara travelled to the Himalayan area of Kedarnath-Badrinath and attained videha mukti "freedom from embodiment". There is a samadhi mandir dedicated to Adi Shankara behind the Kedarnath temple. However, there are variant traditions on the location of his last days. One tradition, expounded by Keraliya Shankaravijaya, places his place of mahasamadhi leaving the body as Vadakkunnathan temple in Thrissur, Kerala. Dates Several different dates have been proposed for Shankara: — CE: This is the mainstream scholarly opinion, placing Shankara in mid to late 8th century CE.
The Sringeri records state that Shankara was born in the 14th year of the reign of "VikramAditya", but it is unclear as to which king this name refers.
Though some researchers identify the name with Chandragupta II 4th. CE , modern scholarship accepts the VikramAditya as being from the Chalukya dynasty of Badami, most likely Vikramaditya II — CE , which would place him in the middle of the 8th c. The date — is also among those considered acceptable by Swami Tapasyananda, though he raises a number of questions.
However, such an early date is not consistent with the fact that Shankara quotes the Buddhist logician Dharmakirti, who finds mention in Xuanzang 7th c. Most scholars feel that due to invasions and other discontinuities, the records of the Dwaraka and Govardhana mathas are not as reliable as those of Sringeri. Thus, while considerable debate exists, the pre-Christian Era dates are usually discounted, and the most likely period for Shankara is during the 8th c.
The heads of the mathas trace their authority back to these figures. Each of the heads of these four mathas takes the title of Shankaracharya "the learned Shankara" after the first Shankaracharya.
Philosophy and religious thought Advaita "non-dualism" is often called a monistic system of thought. He wrote commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi. Although he mostly adhered to traditional means of commenting on the Brahma Sutra, there are a number of original ideas and arguments to establish that the essence of Upanishads is Advaita.
He taught that it was only through direct knowledge that one could realize Brahman. This metaphor was borrowed from Yogacara Buddhist thinkers, who used it in a different context. However, although Advaita proposes the theory of Maya, explaining the universe as a "trick of a magician", Adi Shankara and his followers see this as a consequence of their basic premise that Brahman alone is real.
Their idea of Maya emerges from their belief in the reality of Brahman, as opposed to Buddhist doctrines of emptiness, which emerge from the empirical Buddhist approach of observing the nature of reality. Historical and cultural impact Because of his unification of two seemingly disparate philosophical doctrines, Atman and Brahman, Westerners who know about him perceive him as the "St. Thomas Aquinas of Indian thought" and "the most brilliant personality in the history of Indian thought.
Hinduism was divided into innumerable sects, each quarreling with the others. The followers of Mimamsa and Sankhya philosophy were atheists, insomuch that they did not believe in God as a unified being. Besides these atheists there were numerous theistic sects.
There were also those who rejected the Vedas, like the Charvakas. Adi Shankara held discourses and debates with the leading scholars of all these sects and schools of philosophy to controvert their doctrines. He unified the theistic sects into a common framework of Shanmata system. In his works, Adi Shankara stressed the importance of the Vedas, and his efforts helped Hinduism regain strength and popularity.
Many trace the present worldwide prominence of Vedanta to his works. He travelled on foot to various parts of India to restore the study of the Vedas. Even though he lived for only thirty-two years his impact on India and on Hinduism was striking. He reintroduced a purer form of Vedic thought. His teachings and tradition form the basis of Smartism and have influenced Sant Mat lineages. He is the main figure in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta.
Adi Shankara, along with Madhva and Ramanuja, was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism. These three teachers formed the doctrines that are followed by their respective sects even today. They have been the most important figures in the recent history of Hindu philosophy.
In their writings and debates, they provided polemics against the non-Vedantic schools of Sankhya, Vaisheshika etc. Thus they paved the way for Vedanta to be the dominant and most widely followed tradition among the schools of Hindu philosophy. The Vedanta school stresses most on the Upanishads which are themselves called Vedanta, End or culmination of the Vedas , unlike the other schools that gave importance to the ritualistic Brahmanas, or to texts authored by their founders.
The Vedanta schools hold that the Vedas which include the Upanishads are unauthored, forming a continuous tradition of wisdom transmitted orally. Thus the concept of apaurusheyatva "being unauthored" came to be the guiding force behind the Vedanta schools. However, along with stressing the importance of Vedic tradition, Adi Shankara gave equal importance to the personal experience of the student. Logic, grammar, Mimamsa and allied subjects form main areas of study in all the Vedanta schools.
Regarding meditation, Shankara refuted the system of Yoga and its disciplines as a direct means to attain moksha, rebutting the argument that it can be obtained through concentration of the mind. His position is that the mental states discovered through the practices of Yoga can be indirect aids to the gain of knowledge, but cannot themselves give rise to it. According to his philosophy, knowledge of Brahman springs from inquiry into the words of the Upanishads, and the knowledge of Brahman that shruti provides cannot be obtained in any other way.
It has to be noted that it is generally considered that for Shankara the Absolute Reality is attributeless and impersonal, while for Madhava and Ramanuja, the Absolute Truth is Vishnu. This has been a subject of debate, interpretation, and controversy since Shankara himself is attributed to composing the popular 8th century Hindu devotional composition Bhaja Govindam literal meaning, "Worship Govinda".
This work of Adi Shankara is considered as a good summary of Advaita Vedanta and underscores the view that devotion to God, Govinda, is not only an important part of general spirituality, but the concluding verse drives through the message of Shankara: "Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool!
Of these, the Brhat-Sankara-Vijaya by Citsukha is the oldest hagiography but only available in excerpts, while Sankaradigvijaya by Vidyaranya and Sankaravijaya by Anandagiri are the most cited. According to the Kanchi matha tradition, it is "Abhinava Shankara" that western scholarship recognizes as the Advaita scholar Shankara, while the monastery continues to recognize its BCE chronology. Sir R. Bhandarkar believed he was born in CE.
The Life of Adi Shankaracharya