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The Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham

Dr. K. Venkatasubramanian

It was Albert Franklin, the Consul General for the United States at Madras decades ago, who said, after personally meeting Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya Swami of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, that "he saw Lord Christ in the Swami".

Writing in the Tamil weekly Kalki in May 1977 in an article entitled "The Spring of Compassion" Hon, justice M.M.Ismail, former chief Justice of Madras High Court, hailed the Mahaswami as "Jagadguru'(World-Teacher). Annotating his view of the Jagadguru, Mr. Ismail said that He is the one who always dreams of a world bound by moral law.

Sri Agnihotram Ramanuja Thatachariar would call the Mahaswami the "Ideal Prophet of our times". Dr. Paul Brunton who was a disciple of Ramana Maharishi had on occasion to visit the Mahaswami in 1931. He records in his famous book A Search in Sacred India, his first impression of the Mahaswami as follows:

"His noble face, pictured in grey and brown, takes an honoured place in the long portrait gallery of my memory. That elusive element which the French aptly term "spiritual", is present in the face. His expression is modest and mild, the large dark eyes being extraordinarily tranquil and beautiful. The nose is short, straight and classically regular. There is a rugged little beard on his chin, and the gravity of his mouth is most noticeable. Such a face might have belonged to one of the saints who graced the Christian Church during the Middle Ages, except that this one possesses the added quality of intellectuality. I suppose we of the practical West would say he has the eyes of a dreamer. Somehow, I feel in an inexplicable way that there is something more than mere dreams behind those heavy lids".

After the glorious meeting at Chengleput which left an indelible impression on Paul Brunton, he narrates a strange experience at his home far away from Chengleput when he was fast asleep.

"The next thing of which I am aware is sudden awakening. The room is totally dark. I feel my nerves strangely tense. The atmosphere around me seems like electrified air. I pull my watch from under the pillow and by the glow of its radium-lit dial, discover the time to be a quarter to three. It is then that I become conscious of some bright object at the foot of the bed. I immediately sit up and look straight at it.

My astounded gaze meets the face and form of His Holiness Shri Sankaracharya. It is clearly and unmistakably visible. He does not appear to be some ethereal ghost, but rather a solid human being. There is a mysterious luminosity around the figure which separates it from surrounding darkness.

Surely the vision is an impossible one. Have I not left him at Kancheepuram? I close my eyes tightly in an effort to test the matter. There is no difference and I still see him quite plainly!

Let it suffice that I receive the sense of a benign and friendly presence. I open my eye and regard the kindly figure in the loose yellow robe.

The face alters, for the lips smile and seem to say:
Be humble and then you shall find what you seek.
Why do I feel that a living human being is thus addressing me?
Why do I not regard it as a ghost, at least?

The vision disappears as mysteriously as it has come. It leaves me feeling exalted, happy and unperturbed by its supernormal nature. Shall I dismiss it as a dream? What matters it?

There is no more sleep for me this night. I lie awake pondering over the day's meeting, over the memorable interview with His Holiness Shri Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram, the "Hierarchy of God" to the people of South India."

The philosophy of Adi Sankara that bears the name 'Advaita' has come to be regarded not only in India but even abroad as one of the most valued products of the genius of mankind in its researches of the eternal truth.

Of the monastic institutions installed by the great saint in charge of his immediate disciples to propagate the ideal of Advaita, the one at Kanchi came to be known as Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. The 68th Pontiff in the hallowed line of succession of spiritual heads of the Peetha is His Holiness, Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvathi Swamigal.

It is our great good fortune that we have in our midst today, three great Acharyas in the venerable lineage of Adi Sankara, and belonging to three successive generations, a unique blessing no other Peetham can claim presently. In fact, the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is the only Sankara Peetham in the country which has been blessed with an unbroken line of succession of Acharyas right from its inception around fifth century B.C. more than 2400 years ago.

If Adi Sankara is worshipped as the very incarnation of lord Sankara(Siva) then our Kanchi Paramacharya can be deemed to be the incarnation of Adi Sankara Bhagavatpada himself. Sri R. Venkatraman, former President of India, spoke about the Mahaswami thus:

'A living example of Lord Krishna's definition of the devotee most dear to me' (Yo madbaktas sa me priyah'; Gita:XII:verses 13-14), the Kanchi Maha Swamigal 'hates no being' ('adveshtaa'), is friendly and compassionate to all, ('nirmamo nirahankaara') has no conceit of 'I' and 'mine', balanced in pleasure and pain ('samadukhasukha') steady in meditation, and self controlled ('satatam yogee yataatmaa'), possessed of firm conviction ('dhritaniscaya'), mind and intellect dedicated to the Lord ever ('mayyarpitamano-buddhi'). His Holiness, therefore, is nearest and dearest to the lord, nay, one with Lord himself ('atmaiva me matam')

Adi Sankara had to contend within his life-span of just 32 years, two different and conflicting schools of thought. His philosophy alone emerged as indestructible in the ultimate analysis.

The Mahaswami at Kanchi who has completed a century is the incarnation of Adi Sankara who is an Avatar of Ishwara Himself. The Mahaswami is an unparalleled "ball of fire", to destroy all the ills of society.

The ten Commandments of the great Paramacharya culled out from his various utterances is given below. These extracts from his speeches mark him as a great savant in the history of mankind.

  1. One of our duties as human beings is to avail ourselves of every opportunity to do good to others. The poor can serve others by their loyal work to the country and the rich by their wealth to help these poor. Those who are influential can use the influence to better the condition of the lowly. That way we can keep alive in our hearts a sense of social service.
  2. Man by himself cannot create even a blade of grass. We will be guilty of gross ingratitude if we do not offer first to God what we eat or wear. Only the best and choicest should be offered to him.
  3. Life without love is a waste. Everyone of us should cultivate prema or love towards all beings, man, bird and beast.
  4. Wealth amassed by a person whose heart is closed to charity is generally dissipated by the inheritors; but the family of philanthropists will always be blessed with happiness.
  5. A person who has done a meritorious deed will lose the resulting merit if he listens to others praising him, or himself boasts of his deeds.
  6. It will do no good to grieve over what has happened. If we learn to discriminate between good and evil, that will guard us from falling into the evil again.
  7. We should utilise to good purpose the days of our lifetime. We should engage ourselves in acts which will contribute to the welfare of others and to our own up-liftment.
  8. We should perform our duties that have been prescribed for our daily life and also shall be filled with devotion to God.
  9. One attains one's goal by performance of one's duties.
  10. Obtaining Jnanam is the only solvent for our troubles and sufferings.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has written in his 'Discovery of India' about Sankara as follows:

"Sankara was a man of amazing energy and vast activity. He was no escapist, escaping into his shell or into a corner of the forest seeking his own individual perfection, oblivious of what happened to others. In a brief life of thirty two years, he did the work of many long lives and left such an impress of his powerful mind and rich personality on India that is very evident today."

The above description of the Great Master can be equally applied to the Mahaswami whom we all see as the Adi Sankara of the 20th century, in the unbroken line of pontiffs from 482 B.C. (2620 of the Kali Era) till today.