Early life of Adi Sankaracharya
Adi Shankara is also known as Shankara Bhagavatpadacharya. Scholars date him between 788 and 820 CE. There are a number of traditional biographies, the Shankaravijayas, written by his followers. He was born in Kaladi, a small village in Kerala. His father died when he was young and he was brought up by his mother. Adi Shankara was named Shankara in the honor of Lord Shiva. The initiation of Shankara into student life was performed at the age of five. He mastered all the four Vedas at the age of eight. From a very young age Shankara was attracted to the monastic life.
Later life of Adi Sankaracharya
After his mother gave him permission to enter into the renunciatory stage, Adi Shankara left Kerala and traveled to the northern part of India in search of a holy tutor. As a young Nambudri Brahman boy of about eight, Shankara is said to have vowed to become a renouncer but his mother would not let him. This great prophet toured the whole of India with the sole purpose of propagating his teachings through religious discourses and debates with other eminent philosophers and scholars. He is also the pioneer of four monasteries, which made a significant contribution to the historical development, revival, and spread of post-Buddhist Hinduism and essentials of Advaita Vedanta. He was also the founder of Dashanami monastic order and the Shanmata tradition of worship.
He went on a pilgrimage to the source of the River Ganga and stayed at Badrinath for four years, where he composed his major works. He returned to Varanasi and continued to teach. Apart from this text, three others are positively accepted as being of his authorship: the commentaries on the Brhadaranyaka and Taittiriya Upanishads and the independent work, the 'Thousand Teachings' (Upadesasabari). He probably also wrote the commentary on Gaudapada's Karika to the Mandukya Upanishad and the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, though there is not universal agreement on this.
Teachings of of Adi Sankaracharya
In his commentaries Shankara developed a theology in which he tried to establish that spiritual ignorance (avidya) or illusion (maya) is caused by the superimposition (adhyasa) of what is not the self onto the self. All knowledge is distorted by superimposition or projection, which prevents us from seeing our true nature as the self's (atman's) pure subjectivity, ontologically identical with the absolute (brahman). In order to realize the truth of the identity of the self with the absolute, a person must develop discrimination.
Adi Shankara was the founder of four mathas to guide the Hindu religion and to bring about a major reformation in the Indian spiritual life. Each of the chiefs of these four mathas acquires the title of Sankaracharya after the first Shankara. Hinduism had begun to decline at the time of Adi Shankara's life because of the deep impacts of the two religions, Buddhism and Jainism. He along with the help of Madhva and Ramanuja became active participants in the revival of Hinduism. To deal with logically establishing the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta was the main objective of his works. In the process of teaching he gave a very high priority on the personal experience of the student. According to Shankara, the knowledge sections are of greater importance, for liberation is the Veda's central message, and only knowledge leads to liberation. No action can discriminate the self from what is not the self, only knowledge can achieve this, as silver is suddenly seen to be shell.
Shankara does make concessions to the idea of devotion to a personal Lord as a lower level of knowledge. Brahman, in its timeless essence as identical with the self, is beyond all predicates and qualities, but in its temporal mode as the Lord it has attributes, and so can be approached through devotion as an object of consciousness. To see the absolute as the Lord is to maintain a distinction between self and absolute, which is to retain a vestige of ignorance which must finally be transcended. If reality is one, all distinctions must be illusory.