Life of Adi Shankaracharya
Adi Shankaracharya was born in around 788 AD to a nambuthiri brahmin couple, Shivaguru and Aryamba, in a little village called Kaladi in Kerala. As early as the age of eight he mastered the four Vedas and could recite the epics and Puranas by heart. When once a poor lady gave him the last piece of Amla fruit she had at home, Shankara being overwhelmed, composed a hymn (Kanakadharastavam) to Sri, the goddess of wealth. Subsequently, the lady was showered with golden amlas for her piety. Shankara is said to have re-routed the course of the Purna river, so that his old mother would not have to walk a long distance to the river for her daily ablutions. Once a crocodile had attacked him and caught hold of his leg, while bathing in the river. Shankaracharya then adopted Sannyasa (the ascetic life) with his mother’s permission, sensing his mother’s inability to save him. No sooner did he recite the mantras of renunciation than the crocodile released him. This kind of renunciation is called Apatsamnyasa. Consequently, the quest for a guru led him to Govinda Bhagavatpada, the disciple of the Advaitin Gaudapada on the banks of the river Narmada. He ushered Shankaracharya towards the mastery of Hatha, Raja and Jnana Yoga. Thereafter he was initiated into the Paramahamsa order of Samnyasa, the highest kind of renunciation. Thus he was reborn as Adi Shankaracharya, who was impassioned to spread the Vedic teachings of the Brahma Sutras throughout the world.
Works of Adi Shankaracharya
Govinda saw the potential in Adi Shankaracharya to expound the philosophy of Vedanta through commentaries on the principal Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Gita. To compose his commentaries, Shankra travelled to various holy places in India. These commentaries are called Bhashyas and have triggered sub-commentaries known as Varttikas, Tikas and Tippanis. He also commented upon the Adhyatma-patala of the Apastamba sutras and on Vyasa's Bhashya to Patanjali's Yogasutras. In addition to these commentarial texts, Shankara wrote independent treatises called Prakarana Granthas, including the Upadesasahasri and Atmabodha.
Sankara debated with the religious heads of other schools for two reasons. He wanted to influence disciples from other schools. It was also not uncommon that if a participant would overpower his opponent, then he would become the disciple of the winner. Thus Shankara successfully debated with Buddhist philosophers, followers of Samkhya and Purva Mimamsakas and followers of Vedic ritualism and consolidated his prominence as a spiritual guru. He ascended the Sarvajnapitha with the blessings of Goddess Sarada, after debating and defeating all other philosophers of the time in Kashmir. Shankara composed five Shlokas (Manisha Panchakam), when he realized that the untouchable he came across was Lord Shiva. Sankara even revived neglected pujas in temples, established Sri’s Yantras at Devi temples as in Kanchipuram and composed many devotional hymns. He then went to Kedarnath and attained samadhi at the age of 32 years.
Philosophy of Adi Shankaracharya
Shankaracharya’s philosophical teachings are summarized in Dasa Shlokas, or Ten Verses, which elaborated the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of Brahman - the core concept of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma).
For the individual the five elements are not expressive of his real nature. The individual is irrevocable. Castes and creeds do not define an individual and he will be seen when ‘maya’ is removed. The teachings of various religions and philosophies will not reveal his true nature. One is colourless, formless and light. He pervades the whole universe and is above, in the middle and below, in all directions. He has no teacher, scripture or any disciples and does not need parents, Vedas, sacrifices and pilgrimages. He is thus the eternal witness and absolute knowledge. The individual is neither awake in deep sleep nor dreaming, but above consciousness with which the three are associated. All these are due to ignorance and he is beyond that. He pervades everything, everywhere and the eternal reality and self-existent. The whole universe depends on him and become nothing without him. He is neither isolated nor non-isolated, neither he is empty nor full. He cannot be called one, for that implies two, which is not.
Monastic Centres of Adi Shankaracharya
Adi Shankaracharya established four Mutts or Peethas at four corners of India. Vedanta Jnana Peetha was established in Sringeri (South India) in Karnataka. Next was Kalika Peetha set up in Dwaraka (West India) in Gujarat. Govardhana Peetha was set up in Jagannath Puri (East India) in Odisha. Jyotih Peetha was constructed in Badarikashrama (North India) in Uttarakhand. These centres are sacred and would intimate one with his philosophy and teachings.
Famous Book of Adi Shankaracharya
The "Crest-Jewel of Discrimination" or Viveka Chudamani, one of his most famous works, upholds his ideas of non-dual Vedanta. Adi Shankaracharya was also a remarkable poet. His poems are sung and recited to this day by his disciples and seekers as an aid to meditation.
Patanjali Yoga Sutra