Preceptors of Advaita
THE SAGE OF KANCHI
T. M. P. Mahadevan
M.A., Ph. D.
9. Since 1957
In the history of the city of Madras, the years 1957-59 constitute an unforgettable chapter; for, during these years, the Acharya stayed in the city––visiting it after a lapse of twenty-five years––and blessed the people by his benign presence, by the daily puja, performed to Sri Chandramaulisvara and Sri Tripurasundari and by his after-puja discourses. An enthusiastic and reverential welcome was accorded to His Holiness the Jagadguru, when, accompanied by his Principal Disciple, he arrived in the city on the 23rd of September 1957. Sri V. Ramakrishna Aiyar, Deputy Chief Reporter to “The Hindu”, Madras, to whom was “assigned” the task of reporting the ceremonial welcome, records his personal experience on that glorious night as follows:
“As I had not the good fortune of receiving the darshan of His Holiness previously, I went to my ‘duty’ in a professional attitude, little realizing the unique experience that awaited me. The first sight of His Holiness sent a thrill through my body and brought about an indescribable mental revolution. A glance from that shining benevolent eyes and a comforting gesture from the hand, which caused a wave of peace to engulf one, made me surrender myself to him unreservedly.
“I could have discharged the duty assigned to me that day to the satisfaction of my office, by covering the reception accorded to His Holiness at ‘Farm House’, by Mr. Kasturi Srinivasan and the members of his family and prominent citizens constituting the Reception Committee and then winding up my report by mentioning that His Holiness and Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Svami were taken in procession in decorated palanquins to the Samskrit College, indicating the route taken by the procession. But I found myself unable to move away from that divine presence and without any conscious effort on my part, I followed the procession, noting down everything that happened en route. It was only after His Holiness retired late in the night at the Samskrit College that I managed to drag my feet home”.10
Thousands of devotees listened with rapt attention to the Acharya’s after-puja discourses. It was a new experience of exaltation and ennoblement each day. To watch the Acharya perform the puja was itself a unique participation in the adoration of the Divine. After the evening puja, the Acharya would come to the platform and sit there in silence for a while. One was often reminded of Sri Dakshinamurti whose mode of upadesa is silence. But, in order to bless us who cannot understand the language of silence, the Acharya would begin to speak after preparing the ground through silence. The speech would flow effortlessly, without the least trace of artificiality. Into the content of the speech would go the most ancient wisdom as well as the results of the latest research in a variety of disciplines. Above all, every word of the Acharya’s utterances would have as its support authentic inward experience. The entire audience would sit spell-bound, drinking in every syllable and accent and their deep significance. Those who could not listen to the discourses in person, for some reason or other, had the benefit of reading reports of them in the newspapers such as “The Hindu” and “The Swadesa Mitran”.11
The following is a brief account of the significance and gist of the Acharya’s teachings: ––
“True to the appellation Jagadguru (World-teacher), the Acharya’s teachings are meant for the entire mankind. Even when they are addressed to the Hindus, they are applicable mutatis mutandis to the followers of other faiths. Advaita, whose consolidation was the great life-mission of Adi Sankara, has no quarrel with any religion or spiritual perspective. No one is excluded from its portals. The plenary experience which is Advaita is the common goal of everyone. Inheriting this most comprehensive outlook as the Acharya does, he finds no difficulty in accommodating apparently divergent points of view and elevating them at the same time with the lever of Advaita experience.
“Advaita is not a school among schools of thought. As the Acharya says, sages belonging to different traditions and religions have had the Advaita-experience; and they have shared their experience with others. Tattvaraya Svami was a Madhva; Mastan Saheb was a Muslim. Even those thinkers who profess to oppose Advaita turn out to be contributors thereto; and all of them speak the language of Advaita. This shows that the expansive heart of Sri Adi Sankara accommodates all views on the ultimate Reality and all approaches to it. Though other systems may quarrel with Advaita, Advaita does not quarrel with them.
“It is in the context of Advaita that the Acharya’s varied teachings fall in place. His exhortation for work for the common-weal, his advice for the adoption of simple and clean modes of living, his repeated invitation for offering worship to God in any of His myriad forms, his recommendation of the practice of concentration and meditation, his advocacy of the study of Vedanta and the realisation of its truth–all these are to be understood as relating to disciplines that lead to Advaita-experience.
“There is an unfounded criticism that Advaita accords no place to God in its scheme. The truth, however, is that even the Advaita outlook one gains only through the Grace of God. There is nothing strange, therefore, in the Acharya’s teaching, through example and precept, that the most important item in one’s daily programme should be divine worship. Those moments in one’s life are vain which are unrelated to the endeavour to bespeak the blessings of the Lord.
“As a spiritual discipline, the worship of one’s chosen form of the Deity is indispensable for one’s progress towards enlightenment. Especially at the initial stages it serves as the go-cart which helps the child to learn to walk. While praying one may ask for the fulfilment of one’s personal ends; but the best prayer is that which asks God to dower the entire world with His blessings; for the devotee of the Lord should took upon all mankind as one.
“A theme which recurs frequently in the Acharya’s speeches is the plea for inter-religious understanding. There is no meaning in the rivalries between the followers of the different faiths. The attempts at religious conversation are like those of the drivers of all sorts of conveyances at the railway station to “catch” passengers. While the behavior of the drivers is understandable, that of the protagonists of religions is meaningless. As the God of all religious denominations is one, there is no need to give up one religion and adopt another. This does not mean that all the religions are uniform; uniformity is not important; what is important is unity; and all our faiths are united in proclaiming the supreme reality of the One God. The religions are like the arches of a bridge. To a man standing under a particular arch, that one would loom large and the others would appear small. But the fact is that all arches are similarly constructed and are of the same dimension. As God cannot be different, why should there be decrying of any religion? The religions are many only to cater to the different tastes of men. This should not lead to religious fanaticism and hatred.
“The grandeur of Hinduism is that it consciously recognizes the unity of religions. That the different religions are not contradictory of, or antagonistic to, one another, but are only aspects of one Eternal Religion, is not a mere theory or abstract speculation with the Hindus; it is an article of faith. It is a tragedy, therefore, that there should be religious quarrels among the Hindus themselves. A major division in Hinduism is that between Vaishnavism and Saivism. The Acharya is never tired of pointing out that, according to all our Scriptures and the teachings of all the great masters, Siva and Vishnu are one. Our ancients have taught us in several ways the unity of Godhead. The conceptions of Nataraja and Rangaraja are complementary to each other. In fact, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are but different aspects of the same Deity. A similar complementariness is to be noticed in the idea of God as male and female, as father and mother. The integrated views of the Deity as Harihara and as Ardhanarisvara, have a deep significance and take us nearer the supreme truth.
“A resurgent and strong Hinduism is necessary not only for the salvation of the Hindus but also for the betterment of the world. The Veda which is the basic scripture of Hinduism is not a sectarian text. Whatever truth was declared by any great prophet can be traced to the Vedas. On the river-banks of the Vedic dharma, the various religions are like the bathing-ghats. In the distant past, the Vedic religion was spread throughout the world. Gradually other religions appeared in the other parts of the globe, each emphasizing some aspects of the religion of the Veda. To India, belongs the privilege of preserving the ancient dharma in its purity and comprehensive nature.
“A disciplined and ordered life is what is taught in the Veda. The main Vedic disciplines are: performance of one’s duties (karmanushthana), cultivation of the cardinal virtues (sila), worship of the Deity (upasana) and acquisition of wisdom (jnana). To live like an animal, eating, sleeping and begetting, is to prostitute the precious human birth. We must learn to put a curb on the animal propensities and purify our minds. By good deeds we must convert the material goods into religious merit (punya) which alone is legal tender in the worlds to come. Earning and hoarding should not become the ends of life. A career-oriented education is no education. What should first be inculcated in young minds is respect for dharma. There is no point in asking people to increase their standard of living; what should be aimed at is improvement of the quality of life. The frail mortal cannot improve his life by self-effort alone; he must seek God’s Grace through worship and meditation. It is by bathing in the holy waters of meditation that the mind gets cleansed of its impurities. The mind so cleansed develops the power of discrimination; it gains the ability to distinguish the real from the unreal, which paves the way for the dawn of wisdom (jnana).
“jnana is the fruit of the tree of life. The man of wisdom, the sage, is the ideal of man. He has no attachment and aversion; praise and blame are equal to him. He does not sink under the weight of so-called troubles. A heavy log of wood becomes light when immersed in water. Let the troubles be sunk in the waters of jnana, they will cease to be troubles. To the jnani the supreme Self is the sole reality. As the dolls in the Dasara exhibition are all clay in their insides, so are all things the Paramatman in substance for the jnani. There is no bondage for the jnani; he does not fall again into the tract of samsara. Moksha or release is not a post mortem state; it is the eternal nature of the Self. The jnani realizes this; and hence there is no more travail for him. The Trayambaka-mantra compares release to the separation of the cucumber fruit from its stalk. This fruit does not fall down, but gets detached from the stalk, or rather, the stalk gets itself detached even without the fruit knowing it. This ‘cucumber mukti’ is the goal of every one. Those who have realized it are the jnanis.
“Such jnanis have appeared at all times and in all places. Their presence is a blessing to the world. Thousands of people profit, even without their knowing, by contact with a Mahapurusha. There is no discord or divergence of views among the wise. The peace that passeth understanding is what they spread. Let the people resort to them for gaining liberation from the fetters of finite existence.”12
Every moment of His Holiness’s life is spent in the service of Adi Sankara, in conveying the Great Master’s all-comprehensive and soul saving message to the people at large. With a view to remind the people of Sri Sankara and his spiritual mission, His Holiness has been causing Sankara Memorial Mantapas to be constructed during the last few years, at important places of pilgrimage. The first to be so constructed is the one at Ramesvaram. After participating in the Kumbhabhishekam of Sri Bangaru Kamakshi at Tanjavur on the 7th of April 1963, the Acharya proceeded to Ramesvaram for the consecration of the first Sankara Memorial Tower there. The consecration ceremony took place significantly on the Sankara Jayanti Day, the 28th of April 1963. As the day dawned, the Acharya accompanied by Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Svami, went to the temple of Sri Ramanatha and performed the puja himself. After the puja, he proceeded to the newly constructed Sankara Mantapa for the Kumbhabhishekam ceremony. The sanctified waters in the Kalasas were taken out in procession. The Acharya himself accompanied, fanning the Kalasas with specially prepared chamaras. After Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Svami had performed the abhisheka to the five Kumbhas adorning the dome of the tower, the Acharya entered the shrine and performed puja in sequence of Sri Hanuman, the twelve Jyotir-lingas, the Dakshinamurti-Yantra and Adi-Sankara and his four disciples; finally, he consecrated the image of Sri Sarasvati in the Sarasvati Mandira attached to the main shrine just behind the Mantapa. The entire Memorial is a graceful structure with representations of holy sages and preceptors whose sight would bring back to one’s memory the unique grandeur of India’s culture. As one rises from the Agni-tirtha after a sanctifying bath, one beholds the Memorial Tower and the various features thereof. Each aspect elevates the mind of the onlooker. The central figure of Sri Adi sankara surrounded by his disciples impresses the pilgrim as representing all that is best and noblest in India’s heritage.
In connection with the Kumbhabhishekam, a sadas was held that night. Addressing the audience, the Acharya explained the significance of the installation of Sri Adi Sankara. With a smile, he observed in a lighter vein; “Sri Adi Sankara was a wandering Acharya moving quickly and frequently from place to place. He had travelled throughout this sacred country. Today Sri Adi Sankara has assumed a fixed seat in Ramesvaram, the dakshinamnayakshetra, the southern-most dhama of all the dhamas of Bharata-varsha. To the four corners of India he carried his message; but from today onwards the people of India from all over will be coming to him at Ramesvaram and after touching his Paduka placed in front of the Mantapa, will receive the message and inspiration from him.” The Acharya thus gave the reason why Ramesvaram had been chosen as the first place for the installation of Sri Adi Sankara. There is the shrine of Anjaneya built in front of the Mantapa. After adorning Sri Anjaneya, one worships the twelve Jyotir-lingas which Adi Sankara himself had worshipped at the respective dhamas in the country. The Sri Ramanatha Setu Linga has been appropriately installed as the first of the twelve Lingas. One then comes to the shrine on the top adorned by the Image of Adi Sankara and the representations of his four disciples. The Sankara Image is placed on a high pedestal so that every person who takes a dip in the Agni-tirtha would have Sankara’s darsana when he turns back to the shore. The result of this darsana would be, as pointed out by the Acharya, that through Sri Sankara’s grace one could get rid of nescience and gain the plenary wisdom.
Tiruvidaimarudur, also called Madhyarjuna, is a notable place of pilgrimage connected with Adi Sankara’s dig-vijaya. When Sankara visited this place, he desired that the Mahalinga at the temple should itself declare the truth of Advaita so that the doubt in regard thereto lingering in the minds of some people might be dispelled. In response to the Jagadguru’s prayer, the Lord Siva appeared out of the Mahalinga, raised the right hand and proclaimed the truth of Advaita three times thus: ‘satyam advaitam; satyam advaitam; satyam advaitam’. Our Acharya wished that this greatly significant incident should be adequately represented in sculpture so that people would easily remember it. A Vimana over the entrance of the local Sankara Matha was put up and within it were installed sculptured figures of the Mahalinga with the right hand raised and of Adi Sankara with palms joined. In the central courtyard of the Matha a shrine was constructed and in it was installed Sankara-paduka. Our Acharya accompanied by Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Svami participated in the Kumbhabhishekam of this new Memorial, which took place on the 5th of December 1963. A special feature of the ceremony was the archana performed to the Paduka with 108 laced shawls, which were subsequently presented to the panditas.
In the Sri Matha at Kanchi, a new sixteen-pillared hall was constructed and therein were installed the Images of Adi Sankara and his four disciples and the Guru-paduka. The Acharya arrived at Kanchi on the 26th of February 1964, after a tour of the southern districts. On the next day, the 27th of February, the consecration ceremony was performed.
At Kanyakumari, the land’s end, where the eternal virgin Mother presides, a Memorial Mantapa for Sankara was built. The Kumbhabhishekam for this was performed on the 31st of May, 1964.
Sri-Saila, the Holy Mountain, in Andhra Pradesh is one of the most sacred Siva-sthalas. We have already referred to the visit of our Acharya to this place in 1934 during his vijaya-yatra and to the fact that Adi Sankara had also visited it. A fitting Memorial Mantapa for Sankara has been built there. And, our Acharya went to Sri-Saila in March 1967 for the consecration ceremony. Arriving there on the 8th of March, the Acharya and Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Svami had their bath in the sacred Patala-ganga and thereafter darsana of Sri Mallikarjuna Mahalinga and Sri Bhramarambika in the temple. On the 9th of March, which was Mahasivaratri, Ekadasa-rudra-homa was performed. The Kumbhabhishekam of the Sankara-Mantapa took place on the 22nd of March, 1967.
At Rishikesh near Lakshman Jhula, where the Ganga descends to level-ground, a temple for Sri Sankara has been constructed. This was consecrated on the 14th of May 1967, the Sankara Jayanti day.
At Kurukshetra, the Images of Sri Sankara and of the Gitopadesa have been installed. Among the other places of pilgrimage where arrangements are in progress for Sankara-Memorials are Trayambaka where the Godavari has its source, Prayaga where there is the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the invisible Sarasvati and Badari on the Himalayas where Nara and Narayana observe perpetual tapasya for the welfare of the world.
The following words of the Acharya bring out clearly the supreme importance and value of Sri Sankara and his message to India and the world: “There is no avatara greater than Acharya Bhagavatpada. Even from childhood he travelled throughout the land, the Setu to the Himalayas, from Ramesvaram to the Himalayas and established the six faiths. If one wishes to know the real truth, one should study the Acharya’s works. There is no country where the Acharya’s commentaries are not known. Is it possible to measure his greatness? His fame has been sung even in stone. The spade of the archaeologists has unearthed in the far-eastern countries several precious inscriptions. In them there is reference to ‘Bhagavan Sankara’. The following verse is from one of those inscriptions.”
The meaning is: ‘the seekers of the truth all over the world bow their head before Sankara. Their bowed heads are like the bees that do not wish to leave the tender lotus-feet of the Master. The heads of all the wise ones, the realized souls, in the world have found a harbour at the holy Feet.’ Thus the inscription.”
During the period of the Acharya’s stay in Kanchi in 1953-57, his second visit to the city 1957-59 and in subsequent years, several foreigners–-scholars and savants, spiritual seekers and religious leaders, exponents of the Arts and even diplomats–have had interviews with the Acharya, thereby gaining first-hand knowledge of the immortal tradition of India. What Professor Milton Singer, of the University of Chicago, said after meeting the Acharya in 1955, expresses precisely the feeling of all those from abroad who have had the privilege of conversing with the Great One. This is what the Professor said: “Before I went to India I had heard and read much about the great ‘soul force’ of its holy men and saints, but I had assumed that this was something in the ancient past. And it was not until I had met Sankaracharya that I realized it was still a part of the living force of Hinduism to-day”. In his book, The Lotus and the Robot, the well-known writer Mr. Arthur Koestler records his impressions of a meeting which he had with the Acharya in 1959 and speaks in glowing terms of the smile that transformed the Acharya’s face into that of a child: “I had never seen a comparable smile or expression; it had an extraordinary charm and sweetness”. Mr. Arthur Isenberg of the United States of America, reminiscing about the evening which he had the privilege of having with the sage of Kanchi, speaks about “his eyes, which looked at me with a mixture, or rather a fine blending, of intelligence, kindliness and compassion, while at the same time somehow reflecting a most gentle sense of humour”. He further says, “I had the definite sensation of being in the presence of a man thoroughly at peace with himself, a sage. This impression grew to conviction during the course of the three and half hour conversation that night on 20th April 1959”. Regarding the manner of the Acharya’s conversation, he writes, “Almost from the start I was impressed by a most remarkable habit which the Acharya practices. Not only does he never interrupt a question (which would be remarkable enough!) but he invariably pauses about a minute or more before answering. His reply, when it comes, clearly shows that it was preceded by reflection; it is invariably concise and to the point.” Miss Eughina Borghini, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who was among those who attended the first Agama-Silpa-Sadas at Ilaiyattangudi in 1962, has this to say about our Acharya: “I consider the day I first saw His Holiness as a day of great fortune in my life. I consider that in him Jesus has come again into this world. He is an image of love. From the moment I saw him, the light of his grace gave me maturity to understand clearly some of the aspects of spiritual life and religious teachings. His Holiness lives just like Jesus, homeless and devoted to a life of renunciation and with his contemplation, worship, penance and teachings working for the welfare of mankind. I shall bow at his feet and be always adorning him.” Dr Albert B. Franklin, the U.S. Consul-General in Madras, saw the Acharya for the first time in the Madurai Minakshi Temple during the kumbhabhishekam in 1963. In these striking words he records what he saw and the deep impression it made on his mind:
“A stir in the central portion of the temple yard before the gilded Vimanam under which the Goddess Meenakshi is henceforth to stay, attracted our attention. The V.I.P’s in that area parted respectfully to let an old man with a beard and a long stick come through. He approached the ladder leading to the top of the Vimanam. It was the Sankaracharya. The old man approached with halting steps, his head turning from side to side as if he wanted not to miss any detail of his surroundings. Who was he? He has a name, he has a dwelling place, he has an age, but in fact, he is every man and he is as old as man’s ponderings. He is the man of faith who has given away all that he had and follows only his faith. He is symbol of that renunciation which is at the heart of all religions and which Christ himself demanded when asked by the rich young man “What must I do to be saved?” So, here, at this time, in the temple, he is more than the most highly placed of the V.I.P guests. With a vigour surprising in so old a man, he seizes the railing of the ladder in a long fingered, bony hand and rapidly climbs seven or eight rungs to a point from which he can reach the top of the Vimanam with his stick. He remains, a central figure throughout the ceremony”.13
We reproduce below the report of an interview which a British author and a French savant had with the Acharya on the 26th of February 1958, in Madras, as a typical illustration of such meetings:
“The time fixed for the interview was 9 p.m. Sir Paul Dukes arrived at His Holiness’s camp at Thyagarayanagar at 8-30. He was conducted to the place of the interview which was an open space beneath a row of palms. There was a spread of hay whereon in the centre was placed a wooden plank which was to serve as the seat for His Holiness. Struck by this, for him, unusual situation, Sir Paul remarked that this was a romantic setting for the new experience which he was looking forward to. Presently, the Frenchman, M. Philippe Lavastine, arrived escorted by a few Indian friends. He seemed evidently moved at the prospect of meeting a great scholar-saint.
“It was a little past nine. Our attention was drawn to the direction from where a mild torch-light flashed. His Holiness was coming slowly, with those unself-conscious steps which are uniquely his. About half a dozen devotees who were following him stepped back, as His Holiness sat on the wooden plank, asking the group that was waiting for him to sit down, by a graceful gesture of hand. The two guests sat at a short distance from His Holiness, with the interpreter in between them. The stage was now set for the interview.
“Sir Paul Dukes was the first to be introduced, as the author of two books whose titles are The Unending Quest and Yoga for the Western World. His Holiness asked Sir Paul as to what he meant by the unending quest. The Englishman said that in his own case the quest had not ended yet. In the case of the average Westerner, he added, it is thought that the quest ends once a particular church was accepted. Sir Paul’s view was that this was not so. Explaining the meaning of the unending quest, His Holiness observed: ‘If the quest is external, there would be no end to it. It would be like the quest after the horizon––a hallucination. If the quest is inward, then it would end with the discovery of the true Self. In a sense, even this latter quest may be said to be unending in that its object is infinite’.
“The Frenchman was then introduced as one interested in the study of our temples and the puranas in connection with his researches into the institution of kingship. M. Lavastine himself explained what his central problem was. In ancient times the temporal and the spiritual were united in the institution of kingship. There was no division of the secular from the sacred. Probably, most of the ills of the modern world are traceable to this division which now obtains. The French scholar thought that a study of the history of the South Indian temples might throw light on the question of the relation between temporal power and spirituality.
“His Holiness enquired if M. Lavastine had heard of the saying: raja dharmasya karanam (The king is responsible for dharma). As His Holiness was giving an illuminating explanation of this saying, the two visitors were observed moving close to him, with their attention fixed on every word of his. Although His Holiness was speaking in Tamil, he used a profusion of English words to help the interpreter in his task and also the visitors in their understanding of him. Not accustomed to squat cross-legged, the Western visitors were stretching their legs forwards. The interpreter touched the knees of the Frenchman, in order to indicate that he could fold his legs. Observing this, His Holiness told the interpreter that there was no need for this restraint. It was difficult for the average Westerner to squat. The way in which the visitors sat did not matter. They were like children in this respect. Why restrain them? How gracious of His Holiness to have made this observation! Is this not a true sign of a Mahatma?
“Explaining the Samskrit saying, His Holiness said: ‘It is natural that man should seek to satisfy his wants like hunger, thirst and a place to rest. There are duties which an individual has towards himself, the social group and the nation. Ordinarily the performance of these duties remains on the level of satisfying the creaturely wants. But there is a way of performing these duties which will elevate everyone concerned spiritually. That is dharma. And it is the duty of the king or the state to see that the citizens are provided every opportunity for spiritual growth and progress. That is the meaning of the saying: raja dharmasya karanam.’
“The Frenchman said that he wanted to study Samskrit in the traditional Indian way, directly from a teacher, without the aid of books. His Holiness expressed his appreciation of this wish and remarked: ‘Even in India that tradition has all but disappeared. The old way was not to confuse the ability to read and write with scholarship. Even the greatest scholars did not know how to read and write’. Here, one of the visitors cited the instance of Sri Ramakrishna who could not even sign his name properly in Bengali. His Holiness continued: ‘I am referring to even secular scholars. Writing was the special art of a small class of people called kanakkars. They were good caligraphers. But the rest of the people, for the most part, were not literate. Eminent mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, Vedic scholars–-these could not read and write. Learning was imparted orally and was imbibed by rote. The method has its own excellences and could be revived with profit, within certain limits”.
‘Would His Holiness favour the revival of all that is old and ancient?’, asked Sir Paul Dukes. His Holiness replied that what was good and of value was worthy of revival. There was no need for any propaganda. This is not to be done that way. If a few people would set an example in their personal lives, this would catch on; and a time may come when the West also would emulate. And, when there is recognition from the West, our people may wake up and see something grand in their own past.
“‘One last request’, said Sir Paul, ‘What would be the message from His Holiness that could be carried to the West?’ His Holiness remained silent for a considerable length of time. He was indrawn, with eyes half-closed and absorbed in contemplation. At the end of that period he spoke in slow, measured tones: ‘In all that you do, let love be the sole motive. Any deed must be with reference to another. Action implies the acted-upon as much as the agent. Let action be out of love. I am not here referring to the Gandhian gospel of ahimsa. There may be situations which demand violent action. Punishment, for instance, may be necessary. Even wars may have to be waged. But whatever be the nature of the action, the agent must act out of love. Passions such as desire and hatred, anger and malice must be totally eschewed. If love becomes the guiding principle of all deeds, then most of the ills of the world will vanish.’ ‘This’, added His Holiness, ‘you may carry with you as the message of the sages and saints of India.’
“Thus ended a memorable interview with one who is the embodiment of all that is most noble and sublime in the spiritual culture of India. Enjoying the aroma of the virtues of gentleness and courtesy, one could see the light of wisdom beaming forth from those enchanting eyes, as one listened to words which were true and at the same time pleasing.”
Royal Visitors from Greece had memorable interviews with His Holiness at the Kalahasti Camp on the 4th and 5th of December, 1966. Her Majesty Queen Frederika, Queen-Mother of Greece and Her Royal Highness Princess Irene came as seekers of truth; and they thought it supremely worthwhile to undertake this long journey and were richly rewarded. The following is the gist of the interviews––the questions asked by the Royalty and the instructions given by His Holiness:
1. Q. Your Holiness! I am able to meditate with a measure of success while awake. But, the meditative experience does not come in dreams. What should be done to retain this attitude in the dreams also?
A. One need not worry about the kind of dreams one has. One who practises meditation in the waking state, may not, when he goes to the dream state, experience the meditative attitude. The dreams may relate to non-spiritual phenomena. But the spiritual seeker should not be troubled over these; he should not think that such dreams constitute an impediment to his spiritual life. To think so and to be troubled mentally would be an obstacle. What the seeker should be careful about is the waking life. He should devote as much of it as possible to the spiritual quest. If his endeavours in the waking state are in the direction of the Spirit, then gradually in dreams also one’s spiritual nature will be reflected.
It is not dreams that affect waking life; it is the other way about. One who is fair-skinned in waking life usually dreams of himself in dreams as having fair skin. If he has dark-skin, in dream also he has a similar complexion. Thus, it is the experiences of waking state that get reflected in dreams, although in odd and queer forms. So, if the aspirant is vigilant in his waking state and strives constantly to remember the Self, gradually in dreams also the same attitude will get reflected. If he succeeds in rendering his waking life free from violent passions and base desires, in course of time his dreams also will become placid and full of peace.14
2. Q. Will Your Holiness be pleased to prescribe a technique by which the concentration and equanimity of the mind may be facilitated?
A. Normally one breathes through one of the two nostrils, right or left. It is possible to change the breathing from one nostril to the other by effort. If the breathing is through the right nostril and if it is to be changed to the left, what one should do is to put pressure on the right side of the body, which could be done by resting the right palm on the ground and making the body lean on that arm. For a change from the left to the right, the pressure should be put on the left side. Before the actual change takes place, the breathing would be through both the nostrils for a short time, say, two seconds. This is what may be called equalised breathing. If one practises to observe the equalised breathing, its period will become longer and longer. And, the equalised breathing will facilitate the gaining of mental balance and equanimity. The more one practises this, the greater will be the progress in achieving the balance of mind and the ability to remain unperturbed.
3. Q. If the surroundings are not salutary, if there are people who are hostile to one’s mode of life, if everywhere one sees evil and wickedness, what should one do?
A. One may be surrounded by wicked people who are treacherous and evil in their ways. But one should not be impatient with them or show hatred towards them. On the contrary one should have sympathy for them and compassion. No person is wicked by nature, but circumstances and upbringing make him so. There is no reason, therefore, to hate him for what he has been made into. And also, an aspirant should not have hatred for anyone. He should reason thus: “Since the wicked person is so because of circumstances and upbringing, he is to be pitied rather than hated. What would I do if someone whom I hold dear, say, my son, turns to evil ways? I would strive to correct him through love. Even so should I treat the stranger. In fact, there is no stranger for a truth-seeker; for all are his kindred. What would be my plight if I had been born and bred in those evil circumstances? I too would be behaving in a wicked way. So, let me see the same Self in the wicked man; let me not hate him.”
4. Q. What is the distinction between the savikalpa and nirvikalpa stages in samadhi? And, what is sahaja-samadhi?
A. Savikalpa and nirvikalpa are stages in the path of concentration and meditation. In what is known as savikalpa-samadhi, the mind is steady without any distraction, contemplating its object wholly absorbed therein. In nirvikalpa samadhi, which is the goal of yoga, the mind ceases to function and vanishes once for all, leaving the self to shine forth alone. In Advaita too, the path of meditation is recognised; but here the object of meditation is the distinctionless Brahman. What is called sahaja-samadhi is realised through the path of inquiry. It is the natural state of Self-realization and one of utter unconcern for the fleeting phenomena.
5. Q. What should a leader do in regard to customs, usages, etc.,? Even after he finds them to be not of any benefit for himself, should he follow them?
A. Those who are the leaders of a group, society, or state, should not neglect the established religious customs and usages. For themselves, they may not be in need of church-ceremonies, for instance, their advance in spirituality may not require these. But if they begin to neglect them, the people for whom the rituals are really helpful will also start neglecting them. This would be setting a bad example. In the words of the Bhagavad-gita “The wise one should not unsettle the minds of those who are ignorant and are attached to action; on the contrary, he should encourage them to perform what they should perform, by himself doing the appropriate actions well and with diligence”. It is a duty cast upon the leaders and those that are at the top to lead the people from where they are and not to refrain from participation in the traditional ways of worship.
Recording the indelible impression of the interviews and the unique blessing gained by the darsana of His Holiness, Her Majesty has observed thus:
“The two days we spent in his company will never be forgotten. There was pure spirituality. What strange fate has brought us close to him!”
Expanding the same impression and reminiscing on what has been aptly described as the meeting with Perfection, Her Royal Highness says:
“Since some time now I find myself in a situation where there are no more questions to ask (except for details). Yet identification with the Self is far from constant. Nevertheless the practice of application will also contribute in making it more permanent so that there is really no problem. Then I believe that Fate brings things when time is ripe. And what came as Fate’s great gift was this meeting with Perfection who’s blessing is more than I am able to cherish without being deeply moved.
“He mentioned that the astronauts must have experienced outwardly that which is usually felt inwardly by spiritual seekers––an outer mystic experience. We had the Grace of having both the outer and inner mystic experience in His presence and we are thankful for it. He appeared as the vivid link between Spirit and matter, a link (for the seeker) which showed that they are not separate. The world of appearance with this Sage, who quite obviously was a guest in the frail body, was there, but the Essence, with which the guest is identical, was there too, demonstrating that the world is not different from it. His gaze made the self cast off all the bonds of the ego, thus unveiling a pure reflection of what those eyes are identified with. How can the beauty of this be witnessed with dry eyes?
“The greatness of His blessings was so immense that this human container was incapable of holding it without its overflowing which resulted as tears. Tears of utter fulfillment which washed away the container, causing it to dissolve, for a while, into the Reality He symbolizes.”
Dr Paul Brunton, an account of whose interview with His Holiness has been given earlier, has sent the following message on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of the Pitharohana:
“About forty years ago I sat in the presence of His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetham. The soundness of his graciously given advice, answers, explanations and his direction of my footsteps towards the late Sri Ramana Maharshi, was proved by later experience and study. There was also a feeling of the great importance of this meeting with him. Somewhere in “A Search in Secret India” I wrote of the mystical vision which followed during the night and the great upliftment which was felt at the time.
“I have often thought of him during the intervening years and there is no doubt in my mind that he is a sanctified being, a channel for higher spiritual forces. At the same time he is an upholder of religious values, which it would be regrettable for India to lose under the pressure of modern life, with its industrialism and materialism.
“Those scientifically educated young Indians who have no use for their own religion and regard it with disdain should take a lesson from the West which has gone through an equivalent experience already, but now has to retrace its way.”
The American consul General, Dr. A.B. Franklin, paid the following tribute to His Holiness, while presiding over a meeting held in Madras as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, on the 28th of February, 1967:
“We are living in a unique time in the world’s history, when things are happening on so many different levels that, if we are caught up in any one of these levels, we are likely to be completely mistaken about the whole. On one of these levels (the one which most interests me) the West, my West, is arriving laboriously, after centuries of search by our most brilliant minds, at philosophical knowledge which was both implicit and explicit in India thousands of years ago. The greatest miracle of the human spirit is the sum of knowledge found in the body of lore which we collectively term the Vedanta. His Holiness, sixty years ago, abandoned the multitude of other levels of human existence, contest, involvement, to devote himself to this Truth.
“If we meet here to-day to honour him because of the sixty years of his accession to the title of Holiness, I believe that this is immaterial to him. I believe that he is as far beyond the titles and honours of this world as we, on our side, are in need to honouring him, as a way of symbolising our awareness of the Reality he represents for us.
“It is hard for me to find a tribute in words which expresses my feeling of admiration and gratitude towards His Holiness. Those of us who deal in words as commodity or as a tool of trade, learn to mistrust them. Especially do we mistrust words as a means to describe a living, changing force, or personality and like your remote ancestors we learn to mistrust words as a means of describing ultimate things. Perhaps the most appropriate thing I can say on this occasion is a very simple thing. I come from a very God-fearing portion of Christian America, that is to say, New England. Our earliest great philosophers, in that blessed corner of the earth, were among the very first westerners to appreciate the fact that the Vedanta, far from being an outworn creed, was a vast and joyous experience that lay ahead of us. Not only do I come from that corner of the earth which bred Emerson and Thoreau, whose spirits are with us here this evening, but I am one of a long line––long as our lines in America go––of ministers and teachers. When this line started, back in the seventeenth century, ministers and teachers were usually the same individuals. It gives me pleasure to be able to say, in these circumstances, that though some of my ancestors were in their day the subject of controversy because of their beliefs, just as Emerson was in his day, yet not one of them would question the appropriateness of my being here this evening. For them as for me, the spirit whom we are celebrating, represents the highest aspirations of mankind.”
It is difficult to reduce to words what one feels about the unique greatness of our Acharya. His very presence in our midst is a blessing. The solace that countless devotees receive from his words is inexpressible. When one thinks of His Holiness, one is reminded of the definition of “The Guru” given by Adi Sankara in his Prasnottara-ratna-malika:
“Who is the Guru? He who has realized the Truth and who is always intent on the disciples’ good”.
For sixty years, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati has adorned the ancient Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha as the Sixty-eighth Acharya in succession to Adi Sankara. May this spiritual rulership continue to shower its many blessings on the entire world!
10. Acharya’s Call, Madras Discourses, Part I, Introduction, pp. iii and iv (B. G. Paul & Co., Madras; 1964)
11. The discourses have been subsequently published in book form: (1) Acharya-svamigalin Upanyasangal. In three parts (Kalaimagal Karyalayam Madras); (2) The Call of the Jagadguru, Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi, Discourses compiled by Sri P. Sankaranarayanan (Ganesh & Co., Madras 1958); (3) Acharya’s Call, op. cit.
12. From the present writer’s review of the book. The Call of the Jagadguru, op. cit.
13. See The Jagadguru, edited by Dr. V. Raghavan (Jaya Chandra, Madras-28), p. 101.
14. See the Panchadasi, a manual of Advaita (IV, 82). Relinquishing contrary thoughts, if one meditates without interruption, he would achieve meditation even in dreams, etc., because of the residual impressions.
Sage of Kanchi - Other Parts:
Sage of Kanchi
Preceptors of Advaita