Saturday March 24, 2018

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 NewsGram

Next Story

Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.