Adi Shankaracharya: The teacher who revived Sanatana Dharma


By Nithin Sridhar


Guru Poornima Special- Part 2

In half of a sloka I state what has been stated by millions of texts; Brahman alone is real and this jagat is mithyä, and the jiva is non-different from Brahman”- Adi Shankaracharya

When dharma declines and adharma arises, when truth and knowledge become overshadowed by ignorance and arrogance, when confusion and propaganda engulfs the society, during such a critical juncture, the Lord himself takes birth as a man, in keeping with his promise (Bhagavad Gita: 4.7) to infuse life into dharma and remove the darkness of ignorance and confusion.

One such incarnation (avataara) of the Lord, was Adi Shankaracharya– a teacher, scholar, poet, saint, philosopher, yogi, bhakta, tantrika, and a jivanmukta.

The second part of this Guru Poornima will be dedicated to this great Acharya.

His Life: Though there is a dispute regarding the dating of Adi Shankaracharya, he is largely accepted as having lived during late 8th century.

He was born in Kaaladi, Kerala and Shivaguru and Aryaamba were his parents.

When he was eight years old, he took Sanyasa and went to the banks of Narmada, where he met his teacher Govindapada.

Govindapada instructed Shankara to write commentaries on various Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Brahmasutras,

Later, Shankara travelled far and wide and debated and discussed with a large number of scholars and practitioners. He convinced them regarding the authority and true import of the Veda and Vedanta.

He established four seats of learning (Amnaya Mutts) in four directions and made his four disciples, its head.

Finally, he went to Kashmir, where he managed to establish the supremacy of Advaita Vedanta and hence occupied the Sarvajna Peetham (The Seat of All-Knowing).

By this time, he was around 32 years old, and he went to Badrinath and discarded his physical body.

His Philosophy: Adi Shankaracharya propounded the supremacy of Vedas and upheld them as the only means to attain Moksha. He propounded the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as explained in the Upanishads.

He summarized the teachings of the Upanishads in this half verse: “Brahmo Satyam Jagat Mithyam Jivo Brahmaiva Na paraha.” It means “Brahman is real and eternal, and the world is transient and unreal. The Individual Self is actually non-different from Absolute Self.”

Adi Shankaracharya explains that, the world is full of various names and forms which is ever changing. They are transient in nature. They have a birth and a death. Hence, they cannot be called as Satyam. Satyam is that which is true always, which exists always without birth or death.

Therefore, God or Brahman which is the substratum of the universe is alone real. The attainment of this knowledge is Moksha (Liberation).

His Works: A very long list of works dealing with a variety of subjects is traditionally accepted as being authored by Adi Shankaracharya.

He wrote extensive commentaries on Brahmasutras, ten Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita.

He wrote a commentary on Vishnu Sahasranaama, Lalita Trishati, and a section of Apasthamba Dharma Sutras.

He wrote a vivarana (explanation) on Veda Vyasa’s commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

He wrote many independent Vedantic works for the sake of students like Upadeshasahasri and Vivekachoodamani.

He wrote various stotras (hymns) and Bhakti literatures like Kanakadhara Stotram, and Bhaja Govindam, and tantric works like Soundaryalahari.

His Legacy: The life mission that Shankara took upon himself was to establish the supremacy of Vedas and to impart the teachings of the Upanishads and hence revive Sanatana Dharma.

He wrote his major commentaries to explain the true meanings of the scriptures. He wrote independent Vedanta works for imparting the Knowledge of Atman to those desirous of Liberation.

Through his works, he also gave instructions regarding daily life and how people must practice dharma. He wrote various bhakti literatures inducing devotion towards God among common people.

Therefore, he taught Jnana to those who desired liberation, Karma to those who were inclined to actions, and Bhakti to those who were devotional.

He travelled extensively to the four corners of India and taught the Upanishadic teachings to everyone. He established four centers (Amnaya peetham) in four directions to propagate Dharma and Vedanta to the future generations.

He codified the traditions of Sannyasins (renunciates) and established Dashanami order, thereby reviving the order of Sannyasins.

He visited various temples and established Sri-Chakra’s in them. He thus revived the practice of Devi worship among common people.

He popularized the practice of shanmatha (six modes) system of worship thus integrating the sects of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Soura and Kaumara.

By various such measures, Adi Shankaracharya accomplished to revive Sanatana Dharma and consolidate Hindu society in his short life of 32 years. He was truly a Jagadguru– a world teacher who imparted lessons to all people from learned scholars to lay men.


Brahman: God as both transcendent and immanent.

Jagat: objective universe.

Satya: permanent reality having absolute eternal existence.

Mithya: transient and unreal having apparent existence.

Dharma: duty, righteous actions.

Adharma: unrighteous actions, actions prohibited by scriptures.

Yogi: an accomplished practitioner of Patanjali yoga.

Bhakta: a devotee.

Jivanmukta: a person Liberated even when in body.

Advaita Vedanta: a school of philosophy that explains adheres to non-dual philosophy Upanishads.

Jnana: may refer to Atma-Jnana or Self Realization or to the path of vichara (Self enquiry).

Karma: refers to actions. It refers to practice of dharma and Karma Yoga.

Bhakti: refers to devotion.

Vedanta: It means “end of Vedas”. It refers to the teachings of Upanishads.

Sanyasa: renunciation

More in this segment:

Guru Poornima Special- Part 1