1983 , was a landmark year ,when the Indian cricket team won the Prudential World Cup under the stewardship of Kapil Dev . India, Indians and the Indian cricket team became one as victors. This symbolized non duality. The same year, set against the pristine Himalayas , the classic Sanskrit film Adi Shankara was awarded the best film, screenplay, cinematography and audiography at the national level.
Who was Shankara? He is considered as Lord Shiva by many; rock solid in logic and certitude and standing as tall as the Himalayas. Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru wrote, ” In his 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 it is there in evidence today”.
Can a monk perform the last rites of his departed mother in the 21st century India harried by questions of tolerance and intolerance? The answer may be unutterable and ineffable to many .But this is what the Sanyasin had done way back in 9th century AD. He truly was a mutineer against the established order.
Born to Aryamba and Sivaguru at Kalady in 788 AD, Shankara cast his mortal self at Kedarnath in 820 AD. He was mentored and by Govinda Bhagvatpada.
Aryanism/Brahmanism or Hinduism prior to Shankara had dwindled in its space and sphere of influence on account of its orthodoxy and dogmatic approach; consequently there emerged as many as 62 heterodox sects. Prominent among them were the Charavaka philosophy, Tantra and the astonishing growth of Buddhism and Jainism.
However with passage of time, Buddhism which ushered in a platform of change to the seekers became elitist and secluded in nature, mirroring the fallacious practices of orthodox Hinduism, it too was also on the wane. The death knell was inflicted by Shankara through his philosophy and doctrine of Advaita (non–duality). His commentaries were spellbinding and demoralized Buddhist scholars.
Shankaracharya composed devotional hymns eulogizing Shiva, Vishnu and the Divine mother. Advaita (non-duality) was constructed on texts like Upanishads and Bhagvad Gita. Burnished with this repository of knowledge he debated extensively with the scholars of Mimamsa and Acharyas of Buddhism.
Shankaracharya articulated effectively that Buddhist metaphysics were an imitation of the ancient Santana Dharma and appertained the Maya of Buddhism into the fold of Vedanta and the Vedic traditions of Hinduism. Some of his critics called him Prachanna Buddha or the camouflaged Buddhist. But they fail to recognize that he infused fresh blood in the moribund Hinduism and resurrected the ancient texts and revved up the religion through his astute scholarship.
His path breaking work “Saundarya Lahiri” (Waves of Beauty) purged the objectionable features of Tantric worship of Devi which had crept into the propitiation of the Mother Goddess.
Non duality amplifies that the universe and all its multiplicity are ultimately the expressions or appearance of one essential reality.
His concept of monism made the Brahman the absolute reality. This metaphysical exposition was to be the cornerstone of his argument. The individual soul in the ultimate analysis merges with the absolute soul. This could be achieved through only Jnanayoga . This proposition was not priestly or canonical. The seeker was not separate from the creator.
Shankaracharya however did not condone the caste system, he was really ahead of his times by accepting in principle that any individual irrespective of his caste could attain the pinnacle of knowledge that could lead to the liberation of the soul.
He batted deftly by being a realist. The renegades of Hinduism were brought back into the fold of the religion.
He was a voyager and travelled India extensively establishing four Maths (fountainheads of knowledge) . These were established at Shringeri in Karnataka, Dwaraka in Gujarat, Puri in Odissa and Badrinath in Uttarakhand.
One is bewildered at the farsightedness of Shankaracharya. He connected the four corners of the country. Seeds of Incredible India! were sown with extraordinary precision. In fact the concepts of pilgrimages and even tourism were laid. Pt Nehru writes,” Whatever the religious significances of these pilgrimages in the minds of the people might have been, they were looked upon also, as they are today, as a holiday time and opportunities for merry-making and seeing different parts of the country”.
Shankaracharya multitasked as teacher, philosopher, reformer and also a synthesizer. Most importantly he was an inquirer! He was an existential who tried to understand the nature of human mind through ontology. Thus he can also be called a psychologist.
Change is inevitable and evolution of thought process continues. Over a period of time Vaishnava saints gained in prominence. Prominent among them were Madhvacharya and Ramunajacharya.
The philosophies of Dwaita and Vishishitadwaita (dualism) struck roots in the country and challenged the tenets of monism as propounded by Shankaracharya.
The proponents of duality distinguished Atman from the self. There is separation between Man and Nature. It is also stretched further as the essential difference between mind and matter, mind and body.
It is largely conceded that the esoteric Hindu philosophy has been simplified by the contribution of Adwaita , Dwaita and Vishishitadwaita .
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