Many years ago in this country when the practice of Dharma was on the decline Adi Shankara appeared on the scene and propagated the ancient Vedic Dharma in the form of Advaita or the philosophy of non-duality.
It was Panchami, a Sunday in the month of Vaishaki of the year Nandana In the early hours of the morning during the ĎBrahmamuhurthaí, Shankaracharya was born in a place called Kaladi, a village in Kerala.
At the early age of five, Adi Shankara learnt the Gayathri Mantra. He learnt all that was contained in the Vedas by the time he attained the age of fourteen. He prepared the texts and his commentary acquired the name ĎShankara Bhasyaí His fourteen disciples accompanied him when he travelled all over India. Once when he was staying in Benares, he noticed an old Brahmin in a house reciting some rules of Grammar. Shankara entered that house and said that reciting Grammar rules will not help him at the end.
Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam
Bhaja Govindam, Muda mathe
Samprapthe Sannihithe kale
Nahi Nahi rakshathi Dhukhrum Karane!
Hari Govinda, Hari Govinda
Hari Govinda - Anara Manda
Mrithyuvu Dapuna Mesaletapudu
Sing the glory of Lord Govinda, utter the name of Lord Govinda; Oh, you ignorant person. You should go on uttering the name of the Lord. It will not be possible for you to do so when death faces you and you are close to it. Reciting the rules of grammar cannot save you. Adi Shankara composed Dwadasa Manjari also(Series of twelve verses).
After having composed a total of thirty-one verses, the name Moha Mudgara was given to them and were handed over for posterity as the Bhaja Govinda series.
In this manner, Shankara proclaimed to the world that it is unity that underlines the apparent diversity. He used the analogy of the same sweet juice that is present in all sugarcane stalks.
Adi Shankara insisted on the recognition of the unity that underlines all diversity. "Isha, Girisha, Naresha, paresha, mahesha, bileshaya bhushana bho, sambasadashiva shambo shankara sharanam meythava charana yugam", declared Adi Shankara, in praise of Shiva. In listing attributes of Shiva, the Acharya declared that Shiva is everything, by whatever name He is called. Thereby, the omnipresence of the Lord is proclaimed.
The Advaitic doctrine of Shankara propagated the view that bodies are manifold, and in these separate bodies the one Divine is present. With regard to Advaita, however, it is possible only to experience it as a"Bhava" (a conscious feeling), and not apply it as "Kriya Advaita", to carry on oneís activities in daily life. There is the Divine in a tiger, in a snake and in a human being. You can recognise this as a concept, but on that account, you cannot go and embrace a tiger. The tiger must be treated as a tiger and a snake must be treated as a snake. The human being must be given the status that is appropriate to the human. You must have the faith that the same Divine dwells in all beings. This is indicated by the presence of three Divine characteristics in all beings. Asthi, Bhathi, Priyam (Existence, recognizability and utility). This is also expressed in other terms as: "Sat-chit-Ananda" (Being Awareness Bliss). "Sat"refer to that which is unchanging. This is a Divine attribute. "Chit" refers to total Awareness to know the complete nature of anything. When "Sat" and "Chit" are together, there is Ananda (Bliss). This Bliss is unchanging. It is described as Brahmanandam (Supreme Bliss). It is like mixing sugar with water, resulting in a syrup.
Shankara worshipped images in childhood and he knew the value of Saguna Swarupa. He advised Saguna Aradhana to the large majority of people, even later in his life.
When Shankara thought of renouncing the world(in order to get the authority to educate it), he felt that his motherís consent had to be taken for the step. So when bathing in the Poorna river near his house one day, he cried that a crocodile had caught his leg. It was true for the crocodile was, as in the Gajendra Moksha story, represented only samsara. When the mother came rushing to the banks of the river, he told her that the crocodile would let him off only if he took sanyasa and become a monk! This was also true because for, renunciation, detachment or giving up worldly ties, is the only means of saving oneself from bondage. The bewildered mother agreed and the boy left home to seek his guru, and through him learn the secret of liberation.
Shankara lived only for thirty-two years, but during that time, he purified and consolidated the various schools of worship and brought them under the umbrella of one philosophical principle, Advaita.
Shankara knew that Advaita requires intense sadhana which will remove all traces of ego and all ideas of duality from the mind of man. So, as a preparatory discipline to the dawn of awareness of oneís real unity with the substance of the universe, he taught the rules of Bhakti, yoga and karma; these according to him brighten the intellect and purify the heart. Advaita is the awareness of the Divine, in everything, every where in full measure.
To explain clearly, Shankara asked the young man whether he had mother, wife, sister and mother-in-law. He asked whether he was treating them equally and if in particular, he was treating his mother as his wife and his wife as his mother.
Totaka, a disciple of Shankara was approached by a young man and was asked, why he was wearing the yellow robe and wasting his time by remaining with the Guru. Totaka said that only his Guru could answer such question and took him to Shankara. Shankara asked whether his doubt was regarding his God or Totakaís God. The young questioner asked why Shankara was distinguishing between his God and Totakas, while God is only one and is not different for different people. By asking such a question he displayed his foolishness in accepting the existence of only one God and yet was questioning His reality.
"O Lord Shankara! My first sin is that in spite of my knowing (and also teaching others) that God is beyond mind and speech, I have tried to describe you through the several hymns (stotras)composed by me. This betrays lack of conformity between my thought and my word."
"Next, having been convinced of the scriptural sayings that God pervades and permeates everything in the manifested universe, I have been preaching this truth to one and all. Nevertheless, I have come to Benaras to have your Darshan. This shows that my thoughts, words and deeds are at variance with one another. This is my second offence."
"Thirdly, I have firm belief in the teaching of the scriptures that the one and the same Atma (Self) is immanent in all beings and there is no difference between the so-called Jivatma (Individual soul) and the Paramatma (Over Soul). While I have been proclaiming this Truth in all my discourses, I have now come here to stand before you as if we two are separate and different from each other. This is my third lapse. Hence I pray that I may be absolved of all these three sins, of which I am guilty."
Atma Jnana(knowledge of the self) is essential. This was the main teaching of Adi Shankara throughout his life, as he was preaching and following the Vedic dictum: "Ekatma Sarvabhoota Antaratma." (the one Atma is present in all beings) "Ekam sath vipra Bahuda Vadanthi (the one truth is described in many ways by the wise). He was also preaching that Jnana or wisdom was nothing but "Advaita Darsana" (Vision of Non-duality) But during his last days, Shankara realised that Bhakti was greater than Jnana In his famous "Bhaja Govindam", Adi Shankara emphasizes that only the path of devotion will help you to get over the cycle of birth and death.
At that time, people of Kaaladi did not view with approval the action of Shankara, because in their view, one who had not taken sanyasas, should not revert to the activities of a household and perform rituals."Sanyasa" means giving up all desires. The view of the orthodox pandits was that once a person had taken Sanyasa, he should not perform the last rites for a mother or a father which are obligated for a householder.
To enable the students understand the implications of the incident, I(Baba) shall explain what sanyasa means. Before one takes Sanyasa, the "Viraga Homa" is performed which signifies that the person dies as it were and gives up all his previous world by commitments and enters a new life, assuming a new form and a new robe. The old form is cast away and the former name is also given up. He gets a new name related to the ascetic order. The suffix Ananda is added to the name, though only a few of them experience Ananda!. After going through this ceremony, where is the place for mother or father.
Shankara was confronted with a difficult situation. No one in his village was willing to help him. He had to perform obsequies for his mother. The local Nambuduri Brahmin declared that they could not touch the body. They felt Shankara was going against the injunction of the scriptures. Utterly hopeless, Shankara himself carried the body to the backyard and cremated it. What Shankara did that day is practiced in Kaaladi even today. When any elder passes away, their bodies are cremated in the backyard of their houses. There is no separate cremation ground for them. In this manner, Shankara fulfilled the promise he gave to his mother.
Shankara then left for Kasi. He was deeply pained at the attitude displayed towards him by the people of Kaaladi. Shankara was walking all the way to Kasi, with just a stick in his hand and an oil torch to light his way at night.
Looking at a young man and woman going about his way, Shankara remarked to his disciples that young people are keen about sensuous pleasures than to enquire about Atma. It is a pity that people are attached to the body which is a container of filthy objects. They are carried away by the external physical attractions of the body. It is crying in shame! How long can youthhood last? Shankara then there taught the people about the transitory nature of carnal pleasures.
His message was a warning to the youth to be very careful in the life they led. They should give up attachment to the body. Shankara sought in this manner to turn away the youth from the sensual pleasures to thoughts of God. Shankara did not call upon young men to take to Sanyasa. He exhorted them to do their duty and dedicate their body to the service of the Divine. He preached the Truth, practiced it and broadcast it to the world.
Shankara pointed out how the world life is like the pictures on a screen. They come and go, but the screen remains. He declared:"Brahmam Sathyam, Jagath Mithyam" (The self is real, The world is illusory). Shankara also declared "Sarvam Vishnumayam Jagath" (The Universe is permeated by God). When scholars pointed out the contradiction between the two statements, Shankara said, "Worldly life is illusory because it is continually coming and going." At the same time, this worldly life is lived like the moving scenes on a permanent screen. In this process the world and the Divine become one as it were like the oneness of the screen and the picture in it. This is the basis for the statement "Sarvam Vishnmumayam Jagath".
The father of Shankara was a regular worshiper of Devi Rajarajeshwari for many years. He used to offer milk everyday to the Goddess. One day when Sankara was barely 5 years old, the father had to visit a neighbouring village. Everyday after finishing Puja and offering milk to the Goddess, he used to distribute the remaining milk to his wife, son and others as Prasadam. He told the boy,"Son! Your mother cannot perform the worship which I do. You better do the worship today."
After the father left, the boy followed his fatherís instructions. He filled a tumbler with milk, placed it before the image of the Goddess Rajarajeshwari and prayed:"Mother! Accept this offering of milk". He went on praying to the Goddess. When he found that the milk remained untouched, he became very sad. He cried: "Mother! What great crime I have committed? When my father offered the milk you used to take it, when I am offering, You are not taking". He was in a deep distress. He was thinking whether there was any lapse on his part, he became desperate. He declared in agony : "Mother! If You do not take the milk I shall end my life. I would have dishonored my father. I would also be guilty of failing to fulfill my motherís command. If I cannot please my parents, what is the use in my living?". He prayed intensely to the Goddess in great agony. Moved by the naive entreaties of the boy, Rajarajeshwari appeared before Him. She told him: "Child, Be happ. I am immensely pleased with your devotion. I shall drink the milk". So saying, She drank all the milk in the tumbler.
The boy was aghast to see that the whole tumbler empty."O! Mother" He cried: "If You drink all the milk, what is left for distributing as Prasadam? My mother will think that I have drunk all the milk, I have to give the prasadam to her. My father used to give some milk as prasadam also. Therefore, please restore some of the milk in the tumbler." How can the milk once consmed be brought back?. Can the rivers that has joined the ocean return? Can the apple that has been digested be brought back?
The Goddess told the boy that it is impossible to bring back the milk that has been consumed. The boy was in deep distress again. He thought within himself:"I will get a bad name from my mother." He prayed, "Mother please give atleast a little quantity of milk." Responding to the prayes of the young boy the Goddess drew milk from her breast and gave it to the boy. It was the sacred power of the milk whcih enabled Sankara in later years to master all the scripturers and earn lasting fame as a great spiritual leader revered by all.
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