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The Ardent Discipleship of Shri Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada

On this aus­pi­cious Guru Poorn­i­ma we are hum­bled to share that, we have the blessed for­tune of receiv­ing Shri Adi Shankara Bha­ga­vat­pa­da Vigra­ham to be kept in our new Kriya Dhyanalayam space. We pros­trate before the unri­valed jnani who con­se­crat­ed the whole land of bharatavar­sha through his immense tapobala and lived a life of seva. Through his self­less ser­vice he con­sol­i­dat­ed sanatana dhar­ma and ini­ti­at­ed dif­fer­ent sanyasa sam­pra­dayas who are ded­i­cat­ed towards bet­ter­ment of human­i­ty. With a thou­sand pranams we take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to touch upon excerpts from the life his­to­ry of the kar­mavedan­tin and an accom­plished guru, who was revered as an amsa of lord shi­va him­self, where (in the writer’s lim­it­ed understanding/intellect) he shines as an ide­al dis­ci­ple. This arti­cle tries to shed light into a few of the many instances in his life his­to­ry where we get to see the hard choic­es he made, the qual­i­ties he incul­cat­ed and the effort he had exert­ed to walk the path of divine.


In the vil­lage of Veliyanad, Kala­dy, in Ker­ala Shri Adi Sankara was born to Aryam­bal and Sivagu­ru Nam­budiri as a fruit of 48 days vra­ta observed towards the deity lord Vadakku­nathan. Dur­ing the 48th night the cou­ple had iden­ti­cal dreams where lord shi­va appeared and asked if they would like a num­ber of dumb chil­dren or one son with true intel­li­gence who will live short. The cou­ple had left lord shi­va to decide as he knew best, in their respec­tive dreams. The off­spring who was born on the birth star of ‘Aru­dra’ was named as ‘shankara’ where sam means aus­pi­cious karathi means giv­er.

Brahmacharya & Sanyasa

Sankara had his upanayana sam­skara at the young age of five and was ini­ti­at­ed into brah­macharya. Among many oth­er nithya kar­mas one of the impor­tant ones in the life of a brah­machari is to get bik­sha from dif­fer­ent hous­es and sub­mit it to the guru which the guru dis­trib­utes lat­er to all his stu­dents. Dur­ing one such times on a dwadashi day he vis­it­ed the house of a real­ly poor woman who had saved only a small amla to have after her ekadashi upavasa. Look­ing at the ten­der brah­machari at the house entrance she gave away her only amla fruit to him answer­ing to the call ‘bha­vati bik­shaam dehi’. Young Shankara was deeply moved by this self­less act of the poor woman rein­forc­ing the prin­ci­ples of daana. His heart over­flowed with daya and karuna (com­pas­sion & benev­o­lence) mak­ing him to invoke the deity Shri Maha­lak­sh­mi. In praise of the deity he sings the famous kanakad­hara sto­tram and it is said that it rained gold­en amlas over the poor wom­an’s hut absolv­ing her of the mis­ery.

At the age of eight shankara had already fin­ished the study of veda and his heart was inclined towards becom­ing an ascetic. He had to get the con­sent of his moth­er who did not agree to her only child tak­ing up sanyasa at this ten­der age. One morn­ing when shankara was bathing in the riv­er a croc­o­dile caught one of his feet and was drag­ging him into the deep. When shankara shout­ed for help his moth­er came run­ning but could not do any­thing about the trag­ic sit­u­a­tion. Even dur­ing such a crit­i­cal time because of his dhru­da nis­chaya (firm resolve) he was rea­son­ing out with his moth­er that due to his prarabda(past kar­ma) his life will end now and he was seek­ing her per­mis­sion to let him take up sanyas­ra­ma so that he could live, as change of asrama(stage of life) means tak­ing a new birth. Aryam­ba with desire for his son’s life agreed reluc­tant­ly. The moment she con­sent­ed Shankara resort­ed to apat-sanyasa(becoming an ascetic at times of dan­ger) and sud­den­ly the croc­o­dile changed its form to that of a gan­dar­va, prais­ing shankara and few away. Shankara gives his word to a grief-strick­en Aryam­ba that when­ev­er she thinks of him he would be by her side and promis­es to per­form the last rites on her death.

Meeting the Guru

Shankara was now already a seri­ous aspi­rant and was seek­ing the truth. He had under­gone all the right prepa­ra­tions to be a supatra(refined recep­ta­cle). After 4 years of seek­ing he had arrived at the banks of Nar­ma­da near Omkaresh­war where he was direct­ed to meet the illus­tri­ous saint Shri Govin­da Bha­ga­vat­pa­da who was in deep samad­hi inside a cave whose entrance was closed with a large boul­der with only a small open­ing at the bot­tom. It is said that Nar­ma­da was flood­ing that time and Adi Shankara caught all of Nar­ma­da in his kaman­dalu to avoid it from fill­ing the cave in which the saint was in penance, such was his prowess. He wait­ed out­side the entrance of the cave for months and one day when Shri Govin­da Bha­ga­vat­pa­da ques­tions who is it wait­ing out­side he chants the famous Nir­vana Shatakam to express how he is noth­ing but the pure con­scious­ness — the Atman, using the neti log­ic (not this / nega­tion). Shri Govin­da Bha­ga­vat­pa­da was very pleased after lis­ten­ing and under­stands the prepa­ra­tion that shankara has under­gone by just the look of his feet through the crevice. He then stretch­es his feet out­side the same crevice and declares that ‘I see your prepa­ra­tion form your feet. Now hold mine tight­ly’. That is how Shankara wins the heart of an accom­plished saint though his Shrad­dha, humil­i­ty and stren­u­ous con­sis­tent effort and gets accept­ed as a dis­ci­ple .

Guru’s Wish

Shankara trains under Shri Govin­da Bha­ga­vat­pa­da for 3 years. He was a sin­cere dis­ci­ple and gets dik­sha on all the Mahavakyas from his guru. At an appro­pri­ate time Shankara gets for­mal­ly ini­ti­at­ed into sanyasa by guru Shri Govin­da Bha­ga­vat­pa­da whose guru is Shri Gau­da­pa­da. This sam­pra­daya traces it’s lin­eage from the Shara­da Peetham Matha(mutt). He adorns the name of Shri Adi Shankara Bha­ga­vat­pa­da dur­ing his sanyas­ra­ma. He accepts his guru’s wish, to spread advai­ta vedan­ta for strong­ly estab­lish­ing sanatana dhar­ma, as a com­mand and resolves to do so. Shri Bha­ga­vat­pa­da swami­gal had by then attained the state of Ahamkara Shun­ya (dis­so­lu­tion of ‘I’ness/ego) that when his guru expressed his wish he could imme­di­ate­ly act upon it tire­less­ly with­out any slight­est doubt or sec­ond thoughts. He had become that hol­low ves­sel (instru­ment) through which the divine could flow.

Brahmasutra bhashya vada

It so hap­pened that once when Shri Adi Shankara was sur­round­ed by his dis­ci­ples, after he had writ­ten the bhasya to Vyasa Maharishi’s Brah­ma­su­tras, a very old man had approached him with a few ques­tions on advai­ta vedan­ta. The con­ver­sa­tion turned into a seri­ous debate between the two. But dur­ing the course of the debate Shri Adi Shankara was able to see that his under­stand­ing of Brah­ma­su­tras crys­tallised and was able to iden­ti­fy intu­itive­ly that the old man he has been seri­ous­ly debat­ing with can be none oth­er than Vyasa Mahar­ishi him­self. With that real­i­sa­tion he bowed down and sub­mit­ted him­self to Vyasa Mahar­ishi ask­ing for his for­give­ness for hav­ing debat­ed to him seri­ous­ly. Vyasa Mahar­ishi in turn acknowl­edges Shi Adishankara’s Bhasya on Brah­ma­su­tras, bless­es him and leaves. Shri Adi Shankara was pro­po­nent of kevala advai­ta which he sums up in the lines

Brah­ma Satyam Jagat Mithya

Jee­vo Brah­mai­va Na Aparah

Brah­man alone is real, this world is unre­al; the Jiva(individuated con­scious­ness) is iden­ti­cal with Brah­man. Which would mean that there is no dif­fer­ence between self and this world. It is impor­tant to note that despite this belief his act of sub­mis­sion with respect to Vyasa Mahar­ishi is a strik­ing proof of liv­ing the words ‘advaitam guru na saha’. Which trans­lates to nev­er prac­tice advaitam with your guru or advaitam (the prin­ci­ple of non-dual­i­ty) does not apply to one’s guru.

Shankara Digvijaya

Shri Adi Shankara inces­sant­ly trav­elled the length and breadth of bharathavar­sha and was a parivra­jakAcarya (parivra­ja­ka means to wander/travel, acarya — teacher) to spread and con­sol­i­date sanatana dhar­ma. He had estab­lished 4 main mathas(mutts) across the land in Dwaraka(Gujarat), Sringeri(Karnataka), Puri(Odisha), Joshi Mutt(Uttarakhand) which are of slight­ly dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions all oper­at­ing under the frame­work of Sanatana Dhar­ma. The 10 defin­i­tive sanyasa orders (dashana­mi) with suf­fix­es such as that of saraswati, Tirtha, Bharati, Puri, Asra­ma, Giri, Par­va­ta, Sagar etc., and the pop­u­lar shak­ta tra­di­tion of Kash­mir, the valiant nagasad­hus were all organ­ised by Shri Adi Shankara Bha­ga­vat­pa­da inorder to pro­tect and uphold sanatana dhar­ma. The Parama­ham­sa title implies the high­est of these grades among the dashana­mi sanya­sis. It is pos­si­ble to become a Parama­ham­sa by a long course of Vedan­tic study, med­i­ta­tion and Self- real­i­sa­tion. The Ati­var­nashramis are beyond caste and order of life. They dine with all class­es of peo­ple. Sankara’s San­nyasins are diverse and can be found all over India.

After estab­lish­ing these mathas and assign­ing his 4 chief dis­ci­ples as head to these he took abode at Kanchi Mutt(Tamil Nadu). These mathas through their self­less ser­vice, con­tin­u­ous­ly work for lead­ing all of human­i­ty towards jnana(true real­i­sa­tion) and hence moksha(liberation). Bharatavar­sha is trod­den with such great rishis and seers who walked the face of this plan­et for the cause of lokasam­gra­ha (wel­fare of the world). It is to such benev­o­lent gurus that we owe our life­times to, who through their math­rub­ha­va help one swim across this sam­sara sagara.

sada­si­va sama­ramb­ham sankaracarya mad­hya­mam

asmad acarya paryan­tam vande guru paramparam

Mean­ing: Salu­ta­tion to the lin­eage start­ing with lord Sada­si­va, with Shri Adi Shankara in the mid­dle and con­tin­u­ing up to my imme­di­ate teacher. May the Guru Parampara guide us.


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