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Adi Shankaracharya: The Timeless Philosopher



Early Life

Adi Shankaracharya, originally named Shankara, was born in 507 BC according to some traditions, although this date is a subject of ongoing debate among scholars. His birthplace was a small village called Kaladi in Kerala, India. His father, Sivaguru, and mother, Aryamba, were devout Hindus, and they had been praying to Lord Shiva for the blessing of a child. Legend has it that Aryamba had a dream where Lord Shiva promised to be born as her son. This is why many people believe that Shankaracharya was a reincarnation of Shiva himself.


Sadly, Shankara lost his father, Sivaguru, when he was just seven years old. This left his mother Aryamba with the responsibility of raising him and educating him. But she was more than up to the task. She played an instrumental role in introducing him to the Vedas and Upanishads, the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. Under her guidance, young Shankara showed an extraordinary knack for understanding complex spiritual teachings.


As he grew older, Shankara felt the call to deeper spiritual studies and eventually became a disciple of Govinda Bhagavatpada, under whom he further explored the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. This marked the beginning of a spiritual journey that would make him a revered philosopher and teacher, whose disciples included notable figures like Padmapada, Totakacharya, Hasta Malaka, and Sureshvara.


Through his life, Shankaracharya not only expanded the understanding of Advaita Vedanta but also founded the Dashanami Sampradaya, an influential monastic order in Hinduism. His legacy is so impactful that it has survived the test of time and continues to be studied and revered to this day.

Work

During his life, Adi Shankaracharya accomplished incredible things. One of his major tasks was travelling all across India to have deep discussions and debates with scholars and spiritual leaders. He founded four monastic centres in different parts of India: Sringeri in the South, Dwarka in the West, Puri in the East, and Joshimath in the North. These centres, known as 'Mathas,' continue to help people study Vedanta and Hindu philosophies.


But one of the coolest things he did was write some really important books. Shankaracharya is known for his commentaries on ancient texts like the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. These commentaries help explain some really tough spiritual ideas in a way that people can understand. He also wrote independent treatises like Vivekachudamani (The Crest Jewel of Discrimination) and Atma Bodha (Self-Knowledge). These books guide people on how to understand the true nature of reality and how to be spiritually awakened.


If you imagine each of these books like a manual for a complicated video game, then Shankaracharya is the ultimate guide who helps you navigate through the most challenging levels of the game of life!


Major Achievements in Writings:

  • Commentary on Brahmasutras: A cornerstone text that unpacks the dense principles of Vedanta.

  • Commentary on Bhagavad Gita: Where he helps us understand Lord Krishna's teachings in a whole new light.

  • Commentary on Upanishads: Including Iisha, Aitareya, Katha, and several others, these are guideposts for anyone seeking spiritual depth.

There's also an interesting academic debate about whether he authored the commentary on Shvetashvatara Upanishad.


In addition to these, he penned commentaries on texts like Vishnu Sahasranama and Sanat Sujatiya, and he's often credited with the commentary on Lalita Trishati.

In total, close to 400 works are attributed to him, creating an invaluable treasure trove of spiritual knowledge. Think of Shankaracharya as the ultimate spiritual guide, whose teachings are like cheat codes in the complex game of life. With a legacy that spans more than a millennium, his influence shows no signs of waning.


Philosophy

Shankaracharya's philosophy is called Advaita Vedanta, which means everything is connected and comes from one source, "Brahman." Imagine you have a big box of crayons. Even though all the crayons look different—some are red, some are blue, some are yellow—they're all still crayons. And they all come from the same box! That's kind of what Shankaracharya was saying about the universe. All things and people might look different, but we all come from the same "box," which he called Brahman.


Understanding Advaita Vedanta Through Simple Points:

The Beach Analogy

Just like different shapes can be formed from the same sand on a beach, everything in the universe is made of one fundamental substance

Relating to Brahman

Trees, animals, stars, humans—everything shares the same essential nature, called "Brahman."

The Illusion Factor

The differences we see—like age, beauty, and wealth—are illusions, termed "Maya" in Advaita Vedanta.

Realization is Key

To understand this oneness, one needs a profound spiritual experience, akin to realizing that all shapes in the sand are just sand.

See the Big Picture

When you grasp this concept, you can see the divine essence in everyone and everything, fostering empathy and unity.

Why It's Relevant Today

In today's divided world, this philosophy helps us see beyond superficial differences, promoting a more harmonious way of living.


Interesting Story and His Samadhi

One of the most captivating stories about Shankaracharya involves a high-stakes debate with a scholar named Mandana Mishra. Now, get this: according to the Advaita Vedanta tradition, Mandana Mishra eventually became one of Shankaracharya's four main disciples, along with Hastamalaka, Padmapāda, and Totakacharya! In fact, after losing the debate, Mandana Mishra took on a new spiritual name, Sureshvaracharya, and became the first head of the Sringeri Mutt—one of the four mathas or spiritual centers that Shankaracharya established.


So how did this incredible twist come about? Both men wore a garland of flowers during their debate. The agreement was that whoever's garland wilted first would lose, as it would show divine disapproval. After days of intense debate, Mandana Mishra's garland wilted first. Staying true to his word, he gave up his life of scholarship and wealth to become a devoted disciple of Shankaracharya. This dramatic story showcases Shankaracharya's power to transform even his critics into followers and disciples.


Let's also touch on Shankaracharya's final resting place—his Samadhi. Imagine a place so peaceful and powerful that it's almost like stepping into another world. This place is Kedarnath, situated high in the Himalayas. It's not easy to get there; people make a strenuous trek through mountains and valleys just to pay their respects. The air is filled with the scent of incense and the sound of temple bells, and it's said that the spiritual energy is so intense, you might just feel like Shankaracharya is right there with you.


It's incredible to think that the influence of one man has lasted for over a thousand years and that the line of his teachings continues through the mathas and disciples like Mandana Mishra, who started as his critics but ended up as his most loyal followers. Truly, the story of Shankaracharya is like an epic tale where wisdom, devotion, and legacy all come together to leave an indelible mark on the world.


Influence on Modern Philosophy

Even though Shankaracharya lived a very long time ago, people today still talk about his ideas. Some modern scientists even say things that sound a lot like what Shankaracharya taught about everything being connected. For example, in ecology, scientists say that all plants, animals, and even the weather are connected in one big system. So, Shankaracharya's idea that everything is part of the same "box" or the same big system is something that even science today agrees with.


And that's a wrap! Shankaracharya was a person who thought deeply about the universe and helped others understand it better. His ideas have been around for over a thousand years, but they're so good that people are still talking about them today. Isn't that cool?

 

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