How to express our Devotion and Gratitude to Sri Shankara?
A Demonstration by Jagadguru Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamigal
The Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharada Peetham
With Humble Pranams on His 61st VardhantI (Birthday) April 9, 2011
श्रीगुरो पाहि मां परमदयालो पाहि माम् ।शृङ्गेरिजगद्गुरो पाहि मां भारतीतीर्थ पाहि माम् ॥
[An Article by Shri Suresh Chandar of Chennai published in a Sringeri Mutt Souvenir]
In Canto 9 of Madhava Vidyaranya’s Shankara Digvijaya we find Viswarupa extolling the great Guru, Sri Shankara Bhagavatpadal thus: “Only in men with a background of great meritorious deeds will the tree of spiritual life take real roots. Control of mind is the sprouting leaf-bud of that tree; control of senses, its tender foliage; contentment its blossoms; forbearance, its nectar; and faith, its fruit. Your teachings, which inculcate all these excellences of spiritual life, become available only to men who have great merits to their credit. May true scholars be delighted by the study of Thy works and attain reputation thereby.”
Acharyal Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamigal is the living example of the greatness that accrues to one who develops deep devotion towards Sri Shankara. Acharyal demonstrates by His life a deep-founded adherence to Sri Shankara’s philosophy and admiration for His prodigious achievements. For instance, we can consider the following verse from Sri Shankara’s Upadesa Panchakam”.
वेदो नित्यमधीयतां तदुदितं कर्म स्वनुष्ठीयतां
तेनेशस्य विधीयतां अपचितिः काम्ये मतिस्त्यज्यताम् ।
पापौघः परिधूयतां भवसुखे दोषोऽनुसन्धीयतां
आत्मेच्छा व्यवसीयतां निजगृाहात्तूर्णं विनिर्गम्यताम् ॥ १ ॥
[“Study the Veda every day. Perform well the acts enjoined therein. Worship God through the performance of duties. Give up the thought of engaging in desire-prompted rites. Eradicate the hosts of sins. Contemplate the faults in worldly enjoyments. Establish the desire for the self. Quickly go away from home. Accept a knower of the Truth as your Guru. Sincerely serve at His Lotus Feet…..”]
When we reflect on events that mark Acharyal’s astonishing spiritual achievements, we realise that there is a striking adherence to the above guidelines specified by Sri Shankara! What follows is a summary of the events that took place in Acharyal’s life from the day He commenced His Vedic studies till the day He surrendered Himself once and for all at the lotus feet of His Guru Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal.
After Sri Seetharamanjaneyalu’s (the pre-sanyasa name of Acharyal) Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony) was performed at the age of seven, His father Sri Venkateswara Avadhani, who was himself a Vedic scholar and teacher, started teaching the Yajur Veda to his illustrious son. The boy’s grasp of the mantra-s was so fascinating that the father was genuinely motivated to teach his son at a faster pace than the usual. This regular and sincere study of the Veda prompted the divine lad to become more sincere towards the performance of the duties enjoined therein. His family found a noteworthy transformation in His attitudes. He became very focused in His anushtana (religious rites meant for Brahmana). He was very meticulous in organizing His daily schedules (including schooling, assisting His father in his job as a purohit, assisting His mother at home on some errands) to ensure that none of His Veda-stipulated duties was compromised.
Once when a devotee was blessed with a personal audience with His Holiness Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamigal, the following conversation on the boyhood days of His Holiness ensued.
Devotee: Didn’t Your Holiness find the Vedic study at that tender age unwarranted and a lot more burdensome?
His Holiness: No. I was in fact looking forward to my Upanayanam so that I could commence the study of the Veda early. I was really very passionate about studying the Veda!
D: Would Acharyal bless me with the reasons as to why Acharyal was so passionate about the Vedic study?
H.H.: I had total faith in the statements “The Vedas are the breath of God. Whatever is mentioned in the Veda is indisputable and hence final. The Karma-s (duties) enjoined therein should be performed without fail. Sincere recital of the Veda-s constitutes true worship of God, the Supreme.” Moreover, I derived immense pleasure in listening to the Vedic recital even during My pre-upanayanam days. This also kindled my desire to start learning and reciting the sacred words of God at the earliest.
As a young brahmachari (celibate), His Holiness had many remarkable qualities one of which was contentment. Though He was performing Vedic rites and reciting the Veda mantra-s, he was not in the least inclined towards engaging Himself in any desire-prompted rites. Sri Avadhani’s family was not affluent. If the divine young Celibate had wished, He could have easily pleased the Gods through His sincere mantra recitals and asked for wealth. However He did not choose this course of action. While speaking to a devotee after Sanyasa, His Holiness mentioned: “There was neither an inclination nor any urge to engage Myself in any desire-prompted rite, in spite of My absolute faith in the power of Veda mantra-s to grant our wishes. I used to repeatedly remind My mind of the truth ‘whatever happens is by the will of God. Whatever is due to us will reach us at the appropriate time in the appropriate measure.’ So never did the craving for material wealth and pleasure surface in My mind.”
Days of sincere performance of scripturally ordained duties and Vedic chanting brought about a complete sense and mind control in the illustrious brahmachari. Once, while conversing with His Holiness a person posed the question, “I have heard that Acharyal used to be very meticulous and sincere in the performance all the religious rites or duties after the upanayanam was performed. Would Acharyal kindly enlighten me as to what had prompted Acharyal to be so?” Acharyal replied, “Yes. There were two specific prompts. Firstly, such duties being Veda ordained, I viewed them to be the direct command of God and hence I made it a point to perform them at the specified time in the specified manner. Secondly, I found great joy in performing them. I also observed that because of such performances My mind was becoming increasingly peaceful and thoughts very clear and constructive. All these results, in turn, not only strengthened My faith in the Veda and my devotion to God, but also cultivated a strong indifference to worldly enjoyments. I wanted to undertake Sastraic studies in the traditional way under a competent teacher. ” Never does an earnest wish springing out of a crystal pure mind go unfulfilled! Providence blessed Sri Sitaramanjaneyalu with the darshan of His Guru Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal. The very darshan of the great Preceptor was enough to kindle the flames of dispassion in this divine lad. Subsequently, He left home and surrendered Himself once and for all at the lotus feet of His Guru at Ujjain.
The great Acharya readily accepted Him and took care of Him just as a loving mother takes care of her child. He personally trained this illustrious disciple for eight years, and, unwilling to let go of this precious spiritual gem to Truth-abiding seclusion, blessed Him with the sacred Sanyasa Asrama (stage of life as a renunciate) and placed Him in the celebrated Sringeri Guru Parampara instituted by none other than Sri Shankara Himself, as its 36th Jagadguru. Thereby Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal introduced to the world of astikas (Believers) a great sage and a perfect guide characterized by astonishing spiritual attainments and an undeviating dedication to the Sanatana Dharma (eternal code of practice for the universal welfare) as preached by the great Acharya Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada.
Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamigal’s devotion to Sri Shankara is matchless. Adorned with a complete mastery over the works of Sri Shankara, and with the realisation of the Advaitic truth propounded by the great Acharya, His Holiness has made it His bounden duty to spread Sri Shankara’s message with a view to planting the seed of spiritual insight in the mind of the suffering mortals caught up in the web of transmigratory existence. While astonishing scholars with His remarkable exposition of the teachings of Sri Shankara, His Holiness sincerely advises everyone to recite at least one shloka of the great Acharya everyday and attain shreyas (great good). Thousands of fortunate devotees have found the manner in which His Holiness expresses His innate devotion and gratitude to Sri Shankara to be irresistibly infective, as each such way serves as a source of soul stirring inspiration on how one should demonstrate one’s devotion and gratitude to the great Guru, Sri Shankara. What follow are a few illustrative pieces indicative of the deep Shankara Bhakti of His Holiness.
Whenever His Holiness enters the shrine of Sri Shankara and worships His image, one could see how humble His Holiness is. With His face filled with great joy, palms reverentially joined and His body bent with the mark of humbleness, His Holiness would remain there oblivious of His surroundings with His lips lisping verses in praise of the Great Master.
Once a devotee posed a question to His Holiness, “What would Your Holiness attribute the greatness of this Peetam (Monastry) to?” With His palms immediately joining and eyes closing in reverence, His Holiness replied, “What else but the fact that it was instituted by Sri Shankara Bhagavatpadacharya Himself. Even to this date, it is His grace that sustains all of Us here! Even hereafter it will take this Peetam right into the future with added glory. Have no doubt about this.”
The grand Shankara Jayanthi festival organized and celebrated at the Sringeri Math every year is itself a testimony to the great devotion that the Jagadguru of Sri Sarada Peetha has towards the great Guru. The celebrations take place for five days with great religious fervor. Acharyal heads the assembly of Vedic scholars, vidyartis and devotees in paying obeisance to Sri Shankara. One could witness the immense joy and enthusiasm in His Holiness when He stands in front of the shrine of the Loka Guru (Preceptor of the world) reciting Thotakashtakam along with one and all present there. A number of scholars from various branches of Sastras and other spiritual disciplines are honoured by His Holiness. A Vidwat Sadas (assembly of scholars) takes place in the august presence of the Jagadguru Who plays an active role in encouraging the scholarly discussions. His Holiness shows avid interest in listening to discussions on Sri Shankara’s Bhashya-s (commentaries). The puja performed by His Holiness to the Great Guru at the shrine is a rare sight to watch. One and all assembled at the shrine witnessing the puja would invariably realise the intense devotion and reverence evident in His Holiness. Acharyal has mentioned on many occasions “Never do I entertain the thought that I am facing a mere image of the Loka Guru while I am at the shrine of Sri Shankara. To Me, the great Acharya is very much present there in flesh and blood.”
It will never be an exaggeration to mention that His Holiness has mastered the complete works of Sri Shankara. Great scholars of this country have themselves testified to this! Thousands have witnessed the truth behind this statement while attending the soul stirring discourses of His Holiness wherein His Holiness quotes effortlessly from almost all the works of Sri Shankara. However, His Holiness has made it a point to read at least a few portions from the bhashya-s of Sri Shankara twice a day. Surprised at finding this, a devotee once asked His Holiness, “Acharyal has already mastered the bhashya-s of Sri Shankara, and has realised, by experience, the Truth expounded there. What then is the necessity to undertake this study?” With His characteristic humility, His Holiness answered: “Whoever has said I have mastered these great works? They are the perennial springs of spiritual excellence that tempt even the distinguished scholars for repeated visits! One should not claim that one has acquired mastery over Sri Shankara’s amazing works. I for My part honestly feel that I could never fathom the depths of these unparalleled commentaries. On the other hand, I derive a great joy when I regularly read the Master’s exposition and My knowledge gets strengthened evermore.”
Acharyal has penned a number of beautiful verses in Sanskrit in praise of Sri Shankara. Each of them testifies to His inherent devotion to Sri Shankara. While in one shloka He calls Himself the servant of the holy Master, He asserts in another shloka that Sri Shankara is the Sun to His heart lotus! In yet another shloka Acharyal portrays Himself as a fear stricken miserable man and prays for the mercy of the great Guru to transcend transmigration. What is noteworthy here is that Acharyal has composed all these verses in simple Sanskrit so as to enable even a common man to recite these verses of deep devotion and submission. To establish the fact that worshipping Sri Shankara is immensely beneficial, Acharyal has added even a palasruti (stanza describing the benefits that will accrue to one who recites the verse) to one of His verses, which declares “Whoever recites with true devotion this song of praise composed by Sri Bharathi Theertha shall surely obtain all that is desired, by the grace of Sri Shankara.”
It is the wish of Acharyal Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamigal that every true believer of God should make the best use of Sri Shankara’s precious pieces of advice. Acharyal points out to the fact that Sri Shankara has considered the spiritual elevation of all sections of people, from mighty scholars to ordinary men. That is precisely why the great Guru has composed not only great philosophical treatises and commentaries, but also simple verses in praise of the various forms of God, the Supreme. Acharyal sincerely feels: “Many do not possess the competence to understand Vedanta. Though a person might feel, after listening to a discourse, that he has understood a little, he would never care to stop and reflect on how contradictory his own conduct is to what he listened to in the discourse. Therefore, while one may not derive much benefit from Vedanta lessons, if one were to chant at least a single verse of Bhagavatpada’s daily, one would earn much merit. Instead of wasting our time, if we chant at least a single verse of Shankara’s daily, great merit will accrue to us.”
It is our great fortune that we have Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamigal, the personification of Sri Shankara’s ideals, right amidst us as a spring of gushing grace where all can slake their disquiet and distress. Let us submit our humble prayers to this Mahatma who is the very up-keeper of Shankara’s sacred tradition for our spiritual elevation and achievement of the goal of human life – Liberation.