Sunday August 19, 2018

Adi Shankaracharya: The teacher who revived Sanatana Dharma

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By Nithin Sridhar

sankaracharya

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.

Glossary:

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

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Hinduism Should Not be Viewed Through the Narrow Prism of Marxism

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies

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Hinduism
Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male.

By Salil Gewali

“A little knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance”. And far more dangerous is when that little knowledge is spread in the society being propelled by the fuel of “prejudices”.  This write-up is with reference to a number of articles by a certain class of writers published in the mainstream media. Those articles are intended to rake up the issues in order to push the sacred temple of “Sabarimala” of Kerala or Shani Shingnapur and the culture associated with it, into the mire of controversy. Tarnishing the image of Hinduism is the main goal. Not unexpectedly, some stories even proclaim that in India “women” are thus demonized and their menstruation is abhorred.

Having gone through some of them I immediately contacted a number of top scholars in Kerala for hands-on verification — whether “women” are being despised so heartlessly or not. Since one of my books is translated into their language I did that with all ease. Not a single scholar (women included) informed me suggesting that they, or temple management of Sabarimala, have ever “despised women”, or hated “menstruation”.  I rather got an earful for asking such absurd questions.  They instantly reiterated referring to Hindu scriptures which teach all and one to look upon women as “Motherly figures”. One scholar remarks, “this confrontation has actually been orchestrated by the politicians with the help of certain forces which want to demean our culture”.  I heaved a sigh of relief!

Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male. But some vested interests with an ulterior motive have been distorting the true history/legends of India and also merrily belittling or shrugging off the literary treasure troves of the country. It was first done by the British in order to divide and rule Indians, in which they were very successful. And later, the legacy has been faithfully and aggressively carried forward by the Indian intellectuals influenced by certain thinkers and writers of the West and their culture.

Hinduism
Representational image.

Well, the seers of ancient India not only knew as information but they “fully realized” that everything, in and out, is pervaded by “Brahman” (Almighty). The modern science too has arrived at the “same conclusion”. The father of Quantum Mechanics — Erwin Schrodinger has scientifically discussed this fact in his world-famous book – “What is Life?”.  All knowledge associated with the ONENESS of Universe and the “Unity in Diversity” is systematically enshrined in 108 Upanishads.  They expounded with a force that “Purusha” (male) and “Pratriki” (female) both combine themselves to put forth the infinite COSMIC CREATION. One without other is like the fire without the heat. They are mutually complementary, inter-dependent and inter-related. The “discrimination” of any kind, not just “against women”, but even against the tiny “insects” and “plants” are considered irreligious. I would also request such biased scholars to read between the lines from the literature authored by Sri Aurobindo and Vivekananda who just quote from them to gloss over the footprint of their agendas. One wonders when they will learn to shake off the baggage of prejudices against while getting down to study the literature of the home country.

Now about the legend Ayyappa of Sabarimala in brief. The story which is long and interestingly too drawn-out, says —  Lord Ayyappa, who was born out of Lord Shiva and the feminine energy of Lord Vishnu, had exceptional power. His birth on earth was in order to kill a female demon– Mahishi. After having been killed the demoness, the curse against her ends. She again takes birth, this time the Goddess incarnate. This is laws of karma works. When she grew up she approached Lord Ayyappa for the marriage. But Ayyappa, who was practicing celibacy, denied. But, he consoles her saying that he will only marry her when no “first timer” will visit his temple for blessings. However, Lord Ayyappa asks her to reside just near to his temple. Later, in her memory, the devotee constructed a temple known as Malikapurathamma just adjacent to the temple of Ayyappa.

Since Lord Ayyappa, who was known for his celibacy, and had promised to marry Malikapurathamma, it has become a sort of a tradition among women not to visit the temple.  It should not be  misunderstood that it is apparently as a mark of showing respect to both Lord Ayyappa and Goddess Malikapurathamma.

Hinduism
Representational image.

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies (five sheaths mentioned in Upanishads). The areas of study are very vast. They caution that a woman during her monthly cycle should abstain from the religious public rituals, but can perform the personal spiritual practice. In fact, contrary to the modern tradition and practice, the seers didn’t “limit themselves” to the personal and public hygiene alone, but they went further, and so taken the “spiritual aspect” into consideration. Of course, lot many such dos and don’ts are beyond the understanding of we mundane people with limited five senses and “scattered mind”. It is too absurd who interpret that it is a practice of “untouchability”. A medical doctor will never allow you to enter into ICU unless you are well washed. Is not everything there meticulously sterilized?  Do you say that the hospital is practicing “untouchability”? I don’t think any mother will allow her children to enter the kitchen and take food immediately after the latrine without washing hands and feet.

Going by such biased articles in the mainstream media intended to denigrate the culture and heritage of the country; and also literary books (who unfortunately receive “Sahitya Akademi” and “Padma Shree” awards), I fervently wish that one should have the deeper knowledge of the subjects. Here the crucial prerequisite is that they must first unlearn false history and start to learn the true history without being weighed down by the prejudices.  Moreover, the cosmic ocean of the Indian wisdom is so deep, even it has described many “inconceivable” laws and principles which are seemingly out-of-box and discriminatory. I humbly suggest not to selectively pick up a few odds and use them to demean this vast culture of knowledge. The Vedanta should not be view through the narrow prism of Karl Marx and LeninEven their favorite master Fredrick Hegel (front ranking philosopher of the west) cheerfully confessed the depth of ancient wisdom, –  “It strikes everyone in beginning to form an acquaintance with the treasures of Indian literature, that a land so rich in intellectual products and those of the “profoundest” order of thought”. How I wish that a dagger not be wielded by an untrained person or else it will be disastrous!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.