Here is an occasion to remember our most revered Jagadguru Bhagavatpada
Shankaracharya. The Holy Shankara Jayanti is around the corner, falling on
Wednesday, the 29th April, 2009 (Vaishakha shuddha panchami). In view of this
occasion a four-part write-up largely based on the benedictory discourse
delivered, in Kannada, at Mysore on 15.4.1988 by His Holiness Jagaduru Sri
Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swamigal, 35th Pontiff of Sri Sharada Peetham Sringeri,. is presented.
Starting from this part, I will be posting one part every day.
GREATNESS OF SHANKARA’S LIFE AND TEACHINGS
In our Holy land, Bharath, persons in the Government, Advaitic Sannyasins,devotees and people interested in the Shastras have been celebrating , since the start of the current year, the twelfth centenary of the advent of Bhagavatpada, the preceptor. Historically, 1200-1300 years have passed since Bhagavatpada was born. If, following deliberation as on other issues, a consensus had arisen about the year of Bhagavatpada’s advent, be it 1200 years ago or earlier or later, there would have been no occasion for dispute. Historians have so far not determined the year of Buddha’s Nirvana with exactitude and certainty. Yet, in 1956, the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s Nirvana was commemorated in various parts of the globe. Research has not established that Jesus Christ was born precisely in 1 A.D. on December 25. Nevertheless, the world over, Christmas is observed on December 25 and the Christian era commences from 1 A.D. Thus, there are precedents for the anniversaries of events relating to personages being celebrated even in the absence of historical definiteness about the dates of those occurrences. So, the mere reason that 788 A.D. may actually not be the year of Bhagavatpada’s advent cannot debar or render censurable the current twelfth birth centenary celebrations.
However, be that as it may, it is intensely gratifying that the twelfth birth centenary of that holy one is being celebrated. The present celebrations provide us a special opportunity to think of and express our gratitude to Bhagavatpada, who has done so very much good to all.
What was the state of affairs in India when Bhagavatpada incarnated? What was the attitude that had developed in the minds of the people? There was discord on metaphysical and Dharmic matters; each deemed his view to be paramount. Bhagavatpada, however, emphasized a sameness in all.
On the greatness of Bhagavatpada, a great scholar has said this:
Kapila-muninA nirNiktAtmAnamanchtia-vigraham |
NigamashirasA svArAjye sve chirAdabhishechitam
Jayati samavan devam dAsyAd Gururmama taantrikAt ||
( Source: SiddhAnta-siddhAnjanam Part 2 end)
The overall meaning of this verse is: Sage KaNAda freed the Atma from the
prison of the body by negating the charvaka view that the body alone is the
Self. Then Sage Kapila established the Pure nature of the Atman. The Vedanta
(the Upanishads), proclaims the Atma as the Self-effulgent, Free entity.
Holding this view, our Acharya, Shankara, has been protecting the Atma from the
idea of a servant as held by the Tantrikas. Glory to Sri Shankara who
successfully anointed the Atman as the unopposed Sovereign.
In the time of Bhagavatpada, there were several creeds. There were the
Vaishnavites, the Shaaktas, the Shaivas, the Bhairavas and the Kaapaalikas.
Apart form these, there were the Charvakas who had the enjoyment of worldly
pleasures as their sole aim in life. Their thinking was that there is only this
world that is experienced and none other that is attained after death. They
denied the existence of the hereafter, the existence of Gods and rejected the
authority of the Veda, Smritis, Itihasas and the Puranas. They felt, “We should
enjoy ourselves to the maximum extent possible. If we are wealthy, we can have
much. Therefore, wealth is very important in life and should be sought. Even
if we are not too well off, we can enjoy ourselves by procuring things using the
money obtained from others. If we go and steal, we might get caught and land in
severe trouble. People will not give us things on their own. So, let us borrow
money and then use it to buy things for
ourselves. Alternatively, we can borrow things too. So long as we keep
postponing the repayment, we can manage. Later on, we may get into some trouble
with the creditors but we can do something or the other to evade them. In any
case, once death overtakes us, there is no problem, for, after death, there is
nothing, no virtue or vice. There is not going to be a future birth. This was
the thinking of the Charvakas, which was in keeping with their mental
Apart from these, there were those who accepted life after death and held that
liberation consisted in dwelling in Vaikuntha. Another group averred that
abiding in Kailasa was liberation. There was a set that postulated the
existence of an individual soul but said that liberation comprised in eternal
ascent and not in dwelling in any world, such as Kailasa. Yet another group
opined that liberation is a state of total void. Each of the several groups
held that only its own view was correct.
It was in this prevailing atmosphere that Bhagavatpada incarnated among the
people. Reform is best effected by keeping in mind the ways of the world.
Bhagavatpada graced people engaged in austerities, Yogis, seekers of knowledge
and those desirous of liberation. But he did not stop with that. He realised
that he had the responsibility to set an example for the people by his life.
Rama has made such a great impact on us by His having led a life totally wedded
to righteousness, Dharma. As with the life of Rama, that of Bhagavatpada serves
as an ideal for mankind. The Veda enjoins, ‘Maatrudevo bhava’ (Venerate the
mother as a god.)
A mother puts up with so much of difficulty in begetting and raising a child.
She bestows all her love on her offspring. Thus, a person is deeply indebted to
his mother. If he does not conduct himself properly towards her, he is guilty
of the unpardonable sin of ingratitude. Bhagavatpada implemented the Vedic
injunction that one should venerate the mother as a god in letter and spirit.
Bhagavatpada’s father Shivaguru passed away before he could perform his divine
son’s Upanayanam. His mother Aryamba, arranged her son’s thread ceremony to be
performed by a relative, after the impurity period was over. Bhagavatpada was
then five years of age. He left for the house of a preceptor, as is enjoined in
the scriptures and very quickly learned the scriptures there. He completed his
studies and returned from his teacher’s home in his seventh year. Thereafter,
he served his mother with great sincerity.
One day, as Aryamba was going to the river for a bath, she was unable to
withstand the heat of the scorching sun and fainted. Finding that his mother
did not return on time, Bhagavatpada searched for her. On seeing her
unconscious, he revived her by sprinkling water on her and brought her home.
The river was at some distance from his house. Out of love for Aryamba,
Bhagavatpada felt that she should not have to endure the strain of covering that
distance every day. So, he went to the river and prayed to it, treating it as
God. He beseeched the river to change course and flow near his home. Could the
divine boy’s sincere prayer go unanswered? The next morning, Aryamba found that
she just had to step out of her souse to bathe in the flowing waters.
Though Bhagavatpada attended to all the needs of his mother without any
laxity, in his heart of hearts, he desired to renounce the world. He was
dispassionate to the core. One day, some sages came to his house. In response
to his mother’s query, a sage predicted that Bhagavatpada would have only a
short life. This made Aryamba feel upset. However, Bhagavatpada gradually
consoled her and took this opportunity to point out that parting in a family was
inevitable and added that there is not even an iota of pleasure in worldly life.
[Here is a video clipping from the Kannada film ‘Sakshatkara’ featuring three verses from Shankaracharya’s ‘Shiva-aparadha-kshamaapana-stotram’. These verses bring out the ephemerality of worldly pleasures and the need for devotion to God. The video also shows a scene from Sringeri, the Tunga River banks.]
He said that he would like to transcend worldly life and death by taking to
Sannyasa. On hearing these words of Bhagavatpada, Aryamba protested. She said,
‘You are my only son. How can I bear separation from you? I want you to get
married.’ Bhagavatpada pacified his mother and let the matter rest there.
Shankara thought to himself, ‘My mind is not inclined towards marriage. Yet,
I cannot disregard my mother and act against her wishes. So, I should get her
consent to realize my desire. Even if I am not able to get it whole-heartedly,
I should at least get it in a measure. I can hope only for that much’. One
day, when he was eight years old, he went to the river to bathe. The river was
in floods. As he was bathing, a crocodile caught his leg. Bhagavatpada shouted
On hearing his words, Aryamba came to the river and wailed. ‘When my husband
was alive, he was my refuge. After him, it is now my son. Even that son of
mine is now caught by a crocodile and is about to perish. O, God, why is this?’
She began to sob. Bhagavatpada said, ‘O, Mother, if I have your permission to
renounce everything in the world, this crocodile will release me. If you permit
me, I will take to Sannyasa.’ Bhagavatpada chose this kind of appeal to get her
permission. On hearing his words, Aryamba who was stricken with trepidation and
was ready to do anything to save her son’s life, granted him permission. At
once, Bhagavatpada mentally took to asceticism.
Thereafter, technically, he was free to go and take formal Sannyasa. However,
he felt that he should console his mother. He told her that she need not worry
about him or about herself. Her relatives would take care of her; after all,
his father’s property was there. They would tend to her even if her health
He informed her that though he might be far away from her, by being a
Sannyasi, he would be benefiting her much more than if he were to b e
physically with her. Aryamba told him, ‘I gave you permission to become a
Sannyasi since it was my wish that you should live. However, you are my only
son. If I die, you should come and perform my obsequies. Otherwise, what is
the use of having begotten you as my son?’.
Unwilling to disappoint her, Bhagavatpada declared, ‘I shall fulfil your
desire. Wherever I may be and in whatever condition, I shall come to you in the
hour of need and personally perform your last rites.’
One might ask, ‘Was it right on the part of Bhagavatpada to have given such a
promise?’ Yes, in that circumstance, Bhagavatpada’s assurance was perfectly in
order. He procured her consent on the basis of such an assurance. However, the
promise that Bhagavatpada gave cannot be given by any other, for another would
not b e able to visualize the time of his mother’s death and arrive at his
mother’s side immediately. Can a person not assuage his mother with promises,
take Sannyasa, and then forget the commitments? No, once one makes a promise,
it becomes one’s bounden duty to see that one fulfils one’s commitment at the
appropriate time. No promise should be allowed to turn out to be an empty one.
Bhagavatpada certainly valued his promise. When he was at Sringeri, by the
special powers that he had, he visioned the approaching end of his mother.
(To be continued)