Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada

His Holiness Jagadguru
Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Mahaswamigal
Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham

This day is the birth anniversary of Sri Sankara. It was by His avatara that the Vedas and the Works of the Rishis were rehabilitated. It was only by their rehabilitation that the observance of the holy Sri Ramanavami, Sri Narasimha Jayanti, Sri Krishna jayanti, Uttarayana Sankranthi and Sivaratri and other holy days was revived. The avatara of Sri Sankara made the remembrance and celebration of other Jayantis possible. Sri Sankara jayanti comes off every year on the 15th day of the Maadhavi month in the Vasanta Ritu. Like the pure white jasmine, which is also called Vasanti and Maadhavi, may the Vasanta madhava jayanti fill our spiritual perception with its own rich fragrance.

Who is Sri Sankara? He is lokasankarah; he makes for the welfare of the whole world. He is Siva Himself. Sivam means auspiciousness or what is propitious.

What does `Sam'' mean in the name 'Sankara'? It means sukham, bliss or aananda. The Brihadaaranyakopanishad speaks of it as 'Priyam', that which is dear. Ordinarily, the people of the world do not know where that sam, priyam or aanandam can be found. Hence they are afflicted with worldly sorrows. Sri Bhagavatpada was filled with compassion at the sight of world thus afflicted. He desired that men should enjoy the unlimited bliss of self-realisation What is that bliss by realising which Sri Sankara Himself left misery far behind? Sri Sankara says: "One's own self is Sukam or bliss. One's own self is all. One's own self is Brahman. Brahman alone is all that we perceive. Everything is the effect of Brahman. The cause itself is the effect. The effect is non-different from the cause. Everything is Sam or bliss. Let this Sam or bliss be enjoyed, in all our experiences. Let it be enjoyed as one's own inner self or Atman."

In the world Everything external to the self is dear for the reason that it is related to the self. The self alone is ultimately dear to everyone. Realisation of the self as non-different from Brahman is Supreme Bliss.

Sri Sankara taught that Paramaatman is one, tat everything is Brahaman and that all is one. What the veda taught is also what Sri Sankara taught. Sri Sankara said that as all is Brahman there is nothing apart from Brahman materialists hold that the world alone is real and the Brahaman does not exist. The Nyaaya logicians and other dualists said that the world and Brahman are both real. The Buddhists denied both the world and no reality in its own right apart from Brahman is the teaching of Sri Sankara.

Even in Buddhistic days, the systems anterior to it did not cease to exist. Chaarvaaka philosophy could not displace the systems of thought before its time. But on the emergence of Sri Sankara's philosophy, all earlier systems lost their appeal like stars losing their light on the rising of the Sun. Need it be said the partial light becomes dimmed before the Supreme and limitless effulgence of Universal Light? The methods of Bhakti, Upaasana and ethical virtues, and the conflicting paths of Tantra, Aachaara, Yoga and Samadhi, all these get absorbed in the indivisible Bliss of the non-dual Atman just as river flowing east, south, west and north get merged in one ocean. That Supreme Bliss is the goal of all these paths.

The teaching of the Bhagavatpada, as well as the teachings of other Aachaaryas, which, following the Vedas, are intended for the purification and elevation of one's Atman, prescribes that the Dharmas mentioned in the vedas should be practised by men in accordance with their respective Varnas and Ashramas. The Varnashrama Dharmas have been ordained by Sastras, not merely to foster among men an attitude of mutual helpfulness or only to promote the general cooperative material well-being of society. They have been prescribed for self-purification which they effect by developing peace, an essential means to liberation, and which cannot be otherwise experience.

The four means to Moksha, viz. Vairagya and others, accrue to a person by observance of his own Varnashrama Dharmas; and their dedication to Sri Hari. In the view, Sri Sankara closely follows the Gita where it is said:

tasmaat saastram pramaanam te kaaryaakaaryavyavasthitau

Therefore in the determination of what should or should not be done, Sastras are your mentor and guide. The word 'tasmaat' meaning, 'therefor', which occurs in this sloka, refers to a reason in the Sastraic determination of what should or should not be done. What is the reason? It is set out in the immediately preceding slokas of the Gita in that very context. In these slokas Sri Krishna says:

The gateway to hell which makes for self-destruction is three-fold, namely, desire, anger and avarice. Hence these three ought to be given up. One released from these three gates of darkness practices what makes for his elevation and then attains the supreme goal. But, if one violates the sastraic injunction and acts according to one's will and pleasure, one does not attain self-realisation. He can neither be happy nor reach the supreme goal."

After these verses occurs the verse beginning with 'tasmaat saastram pramaanam te'. Thus Sri Sankara follows the Gita when He declares that the observance of Varnashrama Dharma leads to self-purification and elevation of the Atman.

Expounding his Bashyas and the truths enshrined in the Upanishads, in a language which is profoundly sublime and yet transparently simple, the ascetic that was Sri Sankara traversed the whole of the Bharata Bhoomi on foot, from Rameswaram in the South to the Himalayas in the North. Rivers and sacred spots, villages and towns and temples have all been sanctified by him, and their spirituality augmented by his yantras and mantras and the invocations he made. Generally speaking, there is no holy spot in India, whose sanctity has not been heightened by his association. Even now, in every part of the country, people speak with pride that the temple in their place had been satisfied by Sri Sankaracharya and made famous by the Yantra he established. In all regions, where Vedic studies were prevalent, there is no spot where Sri Sankara's Bhashyas have not been studied with devotion by those who sought liberation, following the Guru-sishya sampradaya. Even now, Sri Sankara's Bhashyas are learnt in every place where Vedic studies are in vogue.

The growth of modern science is said to be responsible for the increase of lethal weapons calculated to destroy all life and too be pregnant with infinite danger to the world. Yet, from another angle, on calm and careful reflection, it will be clear that the growth of science shows the way for the promotion of peace among men. Fifty years ago, physicists held the view that matter was made of number of distinct elements and they held the theory of absolute difference among things. Now however, denying the distinctiveness of individual elements of matter and mutual difference between what is with form and mutual difference between what is with form and what is without form, they proclaim that they are all evolutes of one Energy. Thus it will be clear to all thinkers that modern scientists are giving up the theory of difference and are gradually getting oriented to the philosophy of non-difference. Especially great savants like Einstein, Sri James Jeans and Eddington have come very near the doctrine of Advaita taught by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada. Declaring that he phenomenal world of perception is not ultimately true, but only relatively real, they have come in effect to reject difference itself. the scientific thought of the present day progressively approximates to and supports the conclusion of Sri Sankara in the repudiation of the world of difference. This modern view will prepare the way for inculcating a sense of peace in the world. With the obliteration, through proper insight of sense of difference among the citizens of the world, among leaders of men, and among administrators, the wise, the brave and the thoughtful ones will no longer feel that others are different from themselves. They will realise their oneness even with the men of enemy countries. Themselves afflicted by the afflictions of the people of those lands, they will prove to be the foundation for raising the edifice of world peace.

On his holy day of anniversary of Sri Sankara's birth, may the truth, Advaita or non-difference to which modern scientific thinkers are getting attuned, a Truth which has been proclaimed by eternal Sruti, and which has been rendered radiant by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada be broadcast to all the world by thinkers and wise men, each in his measure, with earnestness and fervor. Many the malady of absence of peace which afflicts all mankind be cured by the life-giving nectar of the realisation of non-difference. May 'Sam' in the name of Sankara, i.e., peace, reign everywhere.

The genius of Bhagavatpada

Saastram saareera meemaamsaa
Devastu paramesvarah !
Aacaaryaah Sankaraachaaryaah
Santu janmani janmani

Every one of us is anxious that he should not be born again, that he should not have another janma. All Saastras have been propounded to show the way to get rid of future births. They teach us how to bring about the cessation of the alternations of birth and deaths, Sankara says: punarapi jananam punarapi maranam. But the sloka I have quoted seems to contradict this universal desire to annul all future births. On the other hand, it seems to contain a prayer for any number of janmas in the future. But, the prayer also contains three conditions. it says, "if, in every future birth the sheet anchor of my faith and understanding is the Saarera Meemaamsa, is my study, if the God I worship is Paramesvara Himself, if the Guru who will be my refuge is Sri Sankaracharya, it does not matter how many janmas I am to take. May these three be granted to me in life after life." This is the prayer of one among the crores of sishyas (disciples) of our Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada.

In a similar manner, Sri Sankara himself says in the Sivanandalahari Stotra:

Naratvamdevatvam nagavanamrigatvam masakataa,
pasutvam keetatvam bhavatu vihagatvaadi jananam
Sadaa tvat-paadaabja smarana paramaananda laharee
vihaaraasaktam chet hridayamiha kim tena vapushaa

"Let me be born as a men, as a god, as a
bird, as a monkey which jumps from tree to tree, as
a mosquito, or even as a worm. I do not decline any
janma if only it is given to me to enjoy the bliss
of contemplating the Lotus Feet of Sri Paramesvara.

What does it matter which form the body takes?(Kim tena vapushaa?)

The heart must be pure and directed to God, thought the body be ugly or even despicable. A handsome body concealing a heart devoid of devotion will only degrade human nature instead of elevating it. In fact, good men dread the prospect of another life(punar janmam), only because they are afraid their heart should be fouled by the enticement of the world.

God is the ocean of mercy. He loves us all. Devotion to Him is the sure way to our salvation. The Guru shows Him to us and instructs us in the Saastras that speak about Him. The Guru is most literally our friend, philosopher and guide in the fullest sense of that expression. In the sloka quoted at the beginning, the sishya prays that the Guru for him should always be Bhagavatpada Sri Sankara. True, many others had also been called "Aachaaryas", like Bhishma and Drona. We have also Sayanacharya, Udayanacharya, Bhaskaracharya and many others. In fact the propounder of every Saastra went by the name of Acharya. Regarding the qualifications of an Acharya, it has been laid down that he one who teaches the meanings of the Saastras, puts them into practice himself, and establishes others in those achaaras.

Aachinoti ca saastraathaan
Aachare sthaapayaityapi;
Svayam aacharate yasmaat
Tasmaad aachaarya uchyate.

In respect of others like Drona, Bhishma, and Charaka, the suffix "Acharya" has to be specially added to their names. But when the word "Acharya" is by itself used, it denotes only Sri Bhagavatpada Sankara.

According to tradition, our Bharatadesa was originally dived into 56 kingdoms. (the Bhagavata Purana speaks of the Saptadveepas and of the vedas having been current in all of them. We have references to Mitra and Varuna in literature of Mesopatomia and Scandinavia). Our Acharya traversed on foot all the 56 kingdoms of Bharatadesa and established the Advaita Tatva as the final truth of Vedanta. Prior to him, the Saankhyas propounded the theory of plurality of atmas and denied a Paramatman. The Meemaamsakas, on the other hand, affirmed the superiority of observing Vedic rituals (vedokta karmaanushtaana) over jnana as the means to moksha. The Buddhas said that there was no sayyavastu and promulgated the Soonya Vaada. The Jains advanced the Sapta-bhangi-naya and adopted a shifting criterion of truth. Thus, there were as many as 72 schools of thought. when the Aachaarya appeared on the scene, many of them were in conflict with one another. it was in this predicament that the Eesaana of Sarva Vidyaas took human form as the son of pious Sivabhakta, Sivaguru by name, and his devoted wife, Aaryamba. Before that event, both Sivaguru and Aaryamba, who were yearning for a child, had an identical dream in which they were asked if they wanted a number of long lived but stupid sons or one learned child, who will, however, be short-lived. Not able to decide between the two choices, they said that they would abide by the will of God Himself. Accordingly, Sankara was born, destined to die in his eighth year. When he was eight years old, he confronted his mother-his father having predeceased her-with the dilemma of either agreeing to see him die devoured by a crocodile in the river near their home or consenting to his renouncing the world by embracing the sannyasa asrama. The first occasion, in the dream, was a dilemma realizing to the birth of her child, while this one was a dilemma realizing to his death. Now too, knowing not how to decide, she left the choice to her son, to do as he thought best, and the result was that the child Sankara became the Acharya Sankara.

A person acquires a new lease of life similar to the old, upon his adapting the Sanyaasa Aasrama in the prescribed manner. And so, our Acharya, who was "born again" as a Sanyaasi, got a repetition of the eight years of life originally allotted to him. In the second lease of life, he sought a guru on the bank of the Narmada, Govinda Bhagavatpada by name. after completing his novitiate under him, Sri Sankara went to Kasi where he wrote the Bhashyas, Prakaranagranthas and the stotras. All the scholars of Bharatadesa, who came to stay in Kasi in their pilgrimage to that holy city, listened to the Bhashyas which they carried to their respective regions on their return. To give the seal of approval to Sankara's exposition of Brahma Sutra, Sage Vyasa, the author of the Sutras himself appeared as an ordinary, old man of ugly appearance, and invited Sri Sankara to a debate, which went on without intermission, for days together, neither disputant getting the better of the other. Amazed at this, Sri Sankara's disciple Padmapada discerned by divine vision (jnana drishti) that the old man was none other than Vyasa himself and exclaimed:

Sankaras sankarassakhshaat vyaso naraayano harih ! tayoh vivaaade sampraapte kinkarah kim karomyaham !!

"Sankaracharya is Bhagavan Sankara Himself. Vyasa is Hari, the Supreme Narayana. When these two are engaged in debate, what can I, humble attendant, do?"

Vyasa was so pleased with the exposition of his Brahma Sutra by our Acharya that he declared that Sankara's teaching was the Vedanta tatva. Giving him another lease of life for sixteen more years, Vyasa desired our Acharya to travel through out the whole of Bharatadesa and establish the truth of Advaita Vedanta. Our Acharya said that his mission has been accomplished when he laid his Bhashya at the feet of the sage. But he was told that though scholars who had gathered in Kasi had carried the text of the Bhashya to their homelands the Acharya should go to those places to give darshan to the people living there. Thus it was that the Acharya traveled throughout our country and, in diverse places, he found a number of shrines at which he established the worship of Sri Chakra, dedicated to the Goddess Uma, who is the embodiment of the Brahmavidya, spoken of in the kenopanishad.

It is worthy of note that Buddhism, Jainism, the Saankhya, and the Meemaamsa systems of thought were prevalent and popular, in each case, the philosophies that were propounded prior to it, were still current. But after the advent of Acharya, all the earlier systems lost their hold on the minds of the people and Advaita Vedanta, taught in the mahaavaakyaas of the Upanishads, gained universal acceptance. Other schools of Vedanta that arose and are prevalent in particular parts of our country are only small deviations of Advaita. To Sri Sankara belongs the distinction of having liquidated all other anterior systems, vaidika and advaidika alike. So conclusively convincing was the was the Advaita tatva, which he established as paramataatparya the supreme import of the Upanishads, that other thinkers willing gave up their differing views, and acquiesced in it, wholeheartedly. Great philosophers of foreign countries too were attracted to it in such a measure that they expressed their undisguised admiration of its sublimity. at the hands of our Achaarya's successors, Admiration of its sublimity. At the hands of our Achaarya's successors, Advaita Vedanta acquired an added brilliance, as it was sharpened on the grinding stone of dialectical controversies with critics belonging to other schools of Vadanta. Swami Vivekananda proclaimed "Let the lion of Vedanta roar", and carried the message of Advaita which he declared as" the most scientific philosophy" to America and Europe. Thus our Achaarya's matam became Sarva sammatam (accepted by all). The matam, however, was not a theory which he advanced on his own; it was the Supreme Truth of Upanishads he expounded. it was Aupanishadam matam.

It is remarkable that our Acharya established the Upanishadic truth of Advaita within the brief period when he was in his teens. his span of life was very short compared to that of Sri Sayanacharya, who, treading the path of Sri Sankara, wrote his monumental Bhashyas on all the Vedas, and also that of many other posterior Acharya who promulgated one or the other of the six paths of devotion proclaimed by our Acharya in the form of Shanmatam, and thereby earning the distinction of being "Shanmatasthaapanacharya".

Siva, Vishnu, Devi and other manifestations of the Supreme are worshipped by us, Hindus, every day. The vratas relating to the worship of these manifestation survive in our midst today only because of our Acharya. For, if he had not been born, Buddhism, Jainism, the Saankhya and Meemaamsa would still be flourishing in our land, and all of them together would have expelled God from the hearts and minds of our people. If today, we celebrate Sri Rama Navami, Janmashtami, Sivaratri, Durga Puja and other festivals connected with the different manifestations of the Supreme, Sri Sankara alone has made it possible. It is to remind ourselves of the irredeemable debt that we owe to our Acharya and to express our gratitude to him for his service to our religions that we a celebrate Sri Sankara Jayanti.


Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada taught us the truth that all the deities we hereditarily worship are but the manifestations of the One supreme Paramaatma. He established the worship of the moorthies of Siva, Vishnu, Ambika, Surya, Vinayaka and Subrahmanya all sanctified in the Vedas, and each having a specific Gayatri Mantra. If worshipped with devotion. all of them will enable us to attain the paramaatma, proclaimed by the Vedas as Sat Purusha, or Brahman. In that way he established the practical interpretation of the Gita teaching.

Yo yo yaam Yaam tanum bhaktah
sraddhaya architum icchati;
Tasya tasyaachalaam shraddhaam
Taam eva vidadhaamyaham

and came to be known as Shanmatasthaa-panaacharya. He traveled in all the 56 kingdoms of this country, where the Vedas were prevalent, and proclaimed the Advaitic principle of Oneness of God. Like the same God who is within us and within everything we perceive, the seer, the seen and the seeing (drashta, drisyam and drishti) are all aspects of the same paramaatma.

In darkness, a rope is mistaken for a snake. But when examined with a light, we will find that the supposed snake is only a rope. The superimposed snake disappears, when disappears, when light (knowledge) is thrown on it. Even for an illusion, there must be a basis in reality. the bases in the above example being the rope. All illusion will be superimposed on truth, and conversely what remains after the illusion is dispelled is the truth. When a person wakes up from a dream, everything seen and felt in the dream disappears, and what remains is only the dreamer. It means that we project ourselves into the objects of our dream. When the dream passes away on the dawn of awakening, we realise that there is nothing outside us. Similarly, the reflection in a mirror has no substantiality, but is only an appearance of what already exists. When we realise, with the aid of jnana, that God is the only ultimate Truth and everything else is illusion, anger, desire, hatred, pain, grief and other emotions will not affect us. We begin to dwell in the fullness of Supreme Bliss. This idea is clearly brought out by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada in the first verse of his Sri Dakshinamurti Ashtaam.

Visvam darpana drisyamaana nagaree tulyam nijaantargatam,
Pasyannatmani maayayaa bahirivodbhootam yathaa nidrayaa;
Yah saakshaatkurute prabodhasamaye svaatmaana-mevaadvayam,
Tasmai sreegurumoortaye nama idam Sree Dakshinaa-moortaye.

The last verse in this Ashtakam is :

Bhoorambhamsyanolo anilombaramaharnaatho himaamsu:pumaan,
Ityaabhaati charaacharaatmakam idam yasyaiva moortyashtakam!
Naanyat kincanavaidyate vimrusataam yasmaat parasmaad vibho
Tasmai Sree gurumoortaye nama idam Sree Dakshinaa-moortaye!!

The verse points out that earth, water, fire, air, ether, Sun, moon, and purusha are all one. Paramesvara bears the name of Ashtamurti and it is He who appears in the eight forms enumerated above. Therefore, when we turn our thoughts inward and make some research, we arrive at the realisation that Paramatma is the Ultimate Truth. We cease to covet anything. But this does not imply inaction; on the other hand, for the welfare of the word (lodasamgraha), each of us has to perform the duty assigned to him. when we do so with the Advaitic consciousness of oneness of God we shall be able to perform our duties, freed from every attachment. The Acharya made his appearance in the world to teach us this great truth and has, thereby, rendered an invaluable service to humanity. By paying homage to this great religious and spiritual preceptor, who reoriented philosophic thought to its Upanishadic traditions and whose achievements within a short span of life is unparalleled in history, we shall earn his grace which will guide us along the path of God-realisation. It is due to Sri Bhagavatpada and his compositions in praise of the different manifestations of God that a new life has come to be breathed into temple worship and the festivals associated with temples. Had it not been for him the observance of such festivals like Janmashtami, Vinayaka Chaturthi, Sri Rama Navami and Sivaratri in our homes would have ceased owing to the spread of atheism. Our elders, who profited from the teachings of Bhagavatpada, adhered to the various religious observances. It is their abundant faith that is responsible for the continuance of these observance even today, in spite of the neglect of succeeding generations.

By his upadesa, Sri Adi Sankara became a Jagadguru (world teacher) in the fullest meaning of that expression. We are proud to call ourselves his followers and to pay homage to him. But there is one drawback in us, and that is, we do not live up to the advice tendered by him. Each one of us is enjoined to perform the daily anushtanaas prescribed for him, to worship the deity hereditarily worshipped, and to meditate on the mantra given to him by a guru. But unfortunately, in these days, we thin of God only when faced with some calamity, and begin to do this pooja or that. Of what avail are these special poojas and rituals, if we have not built up our spiritual life on the bases of the anushtaanaas, enjoined upon us? In fact these special rituals to ward off a threatened calamity may not become necessary at all if we had been strictly adhering to our anushtaanaas, which are the means by which man can acquire the fund of divine grace without which not an atom will move in this universe. In the absence of this basic requirement, whatever else we do later on, will not bear fruit.

My stay in Madras will have produced some result if at least those who claimed allegiance to the Math observed the sastraic way of life and perform the basic anushtaanaas and, in that way, recapture the spiritual glory that once was ours. Otherwise, I will be in the same predicament as the commander of an undisciplined army. Spiritual discipline is as rigorous as military discipline. If we really want to fulfill the purpose of life, we must subject ourselves to that discipline. Then we need fear none. Purity in our life will command for us the respect and regard of the rest of the world.