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About Sankara:
Jagatguru Adi Sankaracharya is undisputably the greatest philosopher
that India, or the world, has ever produced. He is unique in the
history of the world as he combined in himself the attributes of a
philosopher, a devotee, a mystic, a poet and a religious reformer.
Though he lived twelve hundred years ago, India and the world feels the
impact of the life and work of this spiritual genius even today.

As per the promise given in the Gita that God would descend on earth
whenever righteousness and all that is dependent upon Dharma is on the
decline, Sankaracharya appeared on the Indian scene at a time when
moral and religious chaos had overtaken the country.

Sankaracharya was born during the 8th century. By those times, Buddhism
was widely spread in the country, but in a very much changed form from
that of the pure and simple ethical teachings of the Master; Jainism
also had its influence and a wide following. Both the religions, as per
common comprehension, i.e. as per lay men's understanding, were bereft
of the concept of God, with the result that atheism was becoming vogue
and the general creed of the people. Hinduism itself was broken up into
numberless sects and denominations, each opposed to and intolerant of
the other. The religious coherence in the land was lost and, besides,
many unwholesome excrescences such as the vows of the Saivas and the
vamachara of the Saktas, Ganapatyas, Sauras and Bhagawatas which crept
in, were corrupting the purity and spirit of religion. What the times
needed was an integration of all thought so as to stop the waning of
the eternal principles of Dharma, to arrest the religious decadence,
disharmony, and discord mounting up among the various sects of the
Hindus, and bringing about a moral, religious and spiritual harmony,
integration and renaissance in the land. Such a mighty and stupendous
task only God could do.... and Sankara came, undertook it and
accomplished it too! ......

During the brief span of 32 years of life, Sankara established firmly
the Advaita Vedanta philosophy as the essential unifying basis of the
Hindu religion. He brought about religious harmony, spiritual coherence
and moral regeneration of the country.

Sankara's Life Profile:
Sankaracharya was born towards the end of the eighth century A.D., at
Kaladi, a village in Central Kerala. He was the only son of a devout
Nambudiri Brahmin couple, Sivaguru and Aryamba. It is believed that he
was born as a result of their long prayers to Lord Siva of the famous
Vrishabhachaleswara temple at Trichur. He was an infant prodigy and
completed his Vedic studies by the age of eight. His father died when
was still young and it was his mother who brought him up with loving
care as he was her only source of consolation and support now. The boy
exhibited ascetic tendencies and mother felt very upset. Yet, the
divine mission for which that great genius had been born had to be
fulfilled, and so something of miracle had to happen to set Sankara
free from worldly ties. So once when the son was bathing in the nearby
Purna river, while the mother was standing on the bank, a crocodile
caught hold of the boy's leg and was dragging him into deeper waters.

When death was (seemingly) near, Sankara asked permission of the mother
to enter the last 'ashrama of Sanyasa', which every Hindu was supposed
to enter before his death. Formal renunciation at such a critical
situation, *Apat-Sanyasa*, was a common practice. Very reluctantly,
Aryamba gave her consent and lo, mysteriously the crocodile let go the
boy ! Emerging from the river, the bala-sanyasin decided to become a
wandering monk and soon left his village after consoling and assuring
his mother that he would be at her side during her last days and even
perform her funeral rites. Thus, Sankara set forth on his divine
mission at the very young age of eight, when most of the boys would not
have even left their toy-trinkets.

After leaving Kaladi, the young sanyasin-scholar wandered through South
India and ultimately reached the banks of Narmada in search of a Guru.
There, he met Govinda Bhagavatpada, a prominent disciple of the great
Gaudapada of Mandukya Karika reputation. Govindapada welcomingly
accecpted this boy-sanyasin as his disciple and initiated him into the
intricacies of Vedanta. After about seven years, when Sankara had
completed his Vedantic studies and Sadhana, his guru told him to
proceed to Kasi, the ancient city of learing and spirituality, and
spread the message of Advaita Vedanta from there by writing
commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upnishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

As instructed, he proceeded to Kasi and there, within a short time,
established himself as the greatest champion of Vedanta philosophy. He
won many debates; and disciples came to him in large numbers.
Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Totaka were the chief among them. Thus, by
the age of sixteen, Sankara had established himself as a great
philosopher in the city of Varanasi, then the very heart of the
intellectual and spiritual movements in India.

After establishing himself at Kasi as the invincible champion of
Vedanta philosophy, Sankara started on tour of this vast country for a
*Dig-Vijaya* or spiritual conquest, under specific instruction from sage
Veda Vyasa who blessed him with a vision while Sankara was writing the
Brahma Sutra Bhashya. Wherever he went, he won over eminent leaders of
the other existing systems of philosophy and firmly established Advaita
Vedanta. None could stand against his vast erudition, dialectical skill
and spiritual insight. Amongst these debates, the one which was of
great importance was his encounter with Mandana Misra, the great
disciple of Kumarila Bhatta, a staunch protagonist of ritualism. The
*Karma Kanda* portion of the Vedas had much hold on Hindu religion at
that time and this was largely due to the philosopher-leaders and
religious authorities like Kumarila Bhatta and Mandan Misra. In order
to establish the truths of *Jnana Kanda*, Sankaracharya had to defeat 
and win over these two intellectuals. Due to unavoidable circumstances,
Kumarila Bhatta could not undertake a debate with Sankaracharya and
directed the Vedantin to meet his disciple Mandan Misra. The debate
with Mandan Misra took place with Ubhaya Bharati, scholarly wife of
Mandana Misra, acting as the Judge. After many days of discussion,
Mandana Misra accepted defeat.

The condition of the debate was that he who would be defeated would
become the other's disciple and take up the victor's way of life. Thus,
Mandana Misra became a Sanyasi and was given the name Sureswara. This
victory gave a new impetus to Sankara's spiritual conquest. Sri Sankara
and his disciples travelled all over the land refuting false doctrines
and purifying objectionable practices which were in vogue in the name
of religion. He also established Maths in four places; in Sringeri in
th south; Badri in the north, Dwaraka in the west and Jagannath Puri in
the east. He chose these places of beauty of their natural environments
amidst snow-clad mountains, forests and rivers or on the shores of the
ocean, places where heaven and earth meet and transport man's thoughts
to sublime heights. He placed Sri Sureswaracharya at the head of the
Math in Sringeri, Sri Padmapada in Dwaraka, Sri Totaka in Badri and Sri
Hastamalaka in Puri. The establishing of these Mathas indicate Sri
Sankara's realisation of the physical and spiritual unity of India. He
wrote in Sanskrit, the lingua franca of cultured India of those times,
which alone could appeal to all the intellectuals all over the land.

After a pretty long stay in Sringeri, he hastened to the bed-side of
his dying mother in his ancestral home at Kaladi and sped her soul to
the 'immortal realms of light' to the strains of mellifluous hymns in
praise of Siva and Vishnu. Undeterred by the opposition of his
pharsaical (religious formalist) kinsmen, he cremated his mother's body
on the river bank behind the house and the spot had since become
hallowed as a place of pilgrimage.

He visited all the sacred shrines of the land around which have
gathered the cultural traditions of the people, purifying the forms of
worship and establishing the Sri Chakaras in many of them such as
Kamakshi temple of Kanchi, Nara Narayana temple of Badri and Guhyesvari
temple in Nepal, etc.

This "best of peripatetic teachers" ( Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya )
crowned his triumphal tours by vanquishing the great scholars of
Kashmir, and ascended the sarvajnapitha as the symbol of recognition
by the world of his scholarship and undisputed mastery in all the (then
known) branches of learning.

During his last visit to Nepal, he had a vision of Sri Dattatreya and
from there he went to Kedarnath at which place, at the age of thirty
two, he said to have disappeared from his mortal existence. A spot not
far from the shrine of Kedarnath is said to be the place of his
disappearance. ( One version, however, is that he merged in Mother
Kamakshi at the Holy Kanchi, thus ending his earthly career).

Sankara made the edifice of Hindu religion strong by his rational and
scientific exposition of the Upanishadic philosophy so that Sanatana
Dharma could face all the challenges during the vicissitudes of history
till modern times. His contribution to Indian philosophy is so great
and lasting that all the later philosophers have only tried to refute
him or to elucidate his ideas. In foreign countries, Indian philosophy
has always come to be identified with Sankara's Advaita.

Sankara symbolises the great *Rishi-culture* whose greatest exponent he
was. The message of Sankara is a message of hope and optimism. He says
that man is not a finality, a finished product; he has divine
potentiality in him which is to be discovered through self-conscious
evolution. The kingdom of peace, fullness and joy are within each one
of us, says Advaita. We will have to realise it. As his very name
suggests (Sam karoti iti Sankara -- " He who blesses is Sankara").

Sankaracharya was one of the greatest benefactors of mankind because he
expounded the Advaita Vedanta philosophy which is the essence of Vedas
and which is a pathway to Bliss and Immortality.

*** 1/3                                                     continued ***
Note : This article has been compiled from Sri Satya Sai Pre Sevadal
Course Material.

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