Namaskaar friends. Today is Sankara Jayanti. As students of Advaita Vedanta we believe that the great poet-saint, the great Guru Adi Sankara did an incredible job of spreading Advaita – non dual. He roamed the our motherland almost 1500 years back and crisscrossed it several times on foot in his short life of only 32 years — a feat that cannot be accomplished in today’s times with all the utilities available to us. It was a herculean effort during which he established Maths in every corner of the country and gave us ‘000s of his works which are in use today as well. He wrote works of prose, poetry and some of most elaborate commentaries on the scriptures. Its impossible to repay a debt to this great Guru. I am reproducing a wonderful transcripted talk by Swami Viditmananda, of AVG, which was delivered on Guru Purnima day in year 2000. Gives us an insight into the greatness of Sankara and the paramparaa (lineage) he has established centuries ago.
Hara Hara Shankara. Jaya Jaya Sankara
The story of Sri Shankaracharya
If you look at this lineage as a very beautiful necklace, then Sri Shankaracharya forms its shining pendant. He is said to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva or Lord Dakshinamurti. Sri Shankaracharya’s parents, Shivaguru and Aaryambaa, did not have a child for a long time and had become very old. They performed a penance and Lord Shiva appeared before them in their dream and asked them what it was that they wanted. They asked for a child. Lord Shiva said, “OK! I will make you an offer. You can either have a son who will live long but will be mediocre, or have a brilliant son who will have a very short life. Which one do you want?” The couple chose a son who would be brilliant, even if he were to be short-lived. Lord Shiva granted their wish and said that he himself would be born as their son. The son was born and was named Shankara, the name of Lord Shiva. He was to have had a lifespan of only eight years. At the age of five, he was given yajnopavita, the sacred thread, and sent to a gurukulam. In two years, he learnt the entire Vedas and came home at the age of seven. He himself started teaching the Vedas, and told his mother that he wanted to become a renunciate. His father had passed away. The mother told him, “No, I am very old. Who will take care of me if you go away?” Shankara wanted the consent of his mother to become a renunciate; he would never go against her will. One day they both went to the river Krishnaa in Kaaladi for a dip. Aaryambaa was standing on the shore and Shankara was in the middle of the river, saying his prayers. Suddenly, a crocodile caught hold of his foot and he started drowning. He shouted, “Mother! I am drowning! I am going to die now. Do I now have your permission to take sannyaasa?” It is said that if you die as a sannyaasi, you go to brahma-loka. Therefore, there is a tradition of taking sannyaasa, called aapat-sannyaasa, just before death. That is why Shankara asked his mother if he could take sannyaasa at the time of his impending death. Aaryambaa consented. In the presence of the five elements, (the sun, the earth, water, air and space) he took the vow of sannyaasa. Suddenly, a miracle happened. The crocodile let go of Shankara. Not only that, but he got a further lease on life of eight more years. When he came out of the water, Aaryambaa was extremely happy to see her son saved from the jaws of death and said, “OK, let us go home now.” Shankara said, “No mother, I cannot come home anymore because I am a sannyaasi.” Reluctantly, she let him go, but asked him to visit her at the time of her death. Shankara agreed to her condition and left as a sannyaasi.
Sri Shankaracharya traveled widely to teach self-knowledge and to liberate people lost in samasaara.
There is a traditional verse that describes Sri Shankaracharya beautifully:
अज्ञानान्तर्गहनपतितानात्मविद्योपदेशैः त्रातुम् लोकान् भव-दव-सिखा-ताप-पापचमानान्।
मुक्त्व मौनं वट-विटपिनो मूलतो निष्पतन्तीम् शम्भोर्मुर्तिः चरति भुवने शङ्कराचार्य-रूपा॥
muktva maunam vaTa-viTapino muulato niShpatantim
shambhormurti carati bhuvane shankaracharya-ruupaa||
Lord Shiva (as Sri Dakshinamurti) gave up the silence, came out of the root of the banyan tree and is moving about on the earth in the form of Shankaracharya, to save the people who are fallen in the deep forest of ignorance and who are scorched by the heat of the flames of the fire of forest of samsaara, by imparting the teaching of self-knowledge to them.
The embodiment of Lord Shiva or Sri Dakshinamurti, in the form of Sri Shankaracharya, is traveling around this world. What is the need for Lord Shiva to take an incarnation as Sri Shankaracharya? Because people are all lost in the forest of ignorance. Very often, samsaara is compared to a forest or an ocean. What kind of forest is it? It is one, in which we are completely lost. Forest is perhaps very nice to look at from a distance, but there is no easy way to get out if you are lost inside. Wherever you turn, you find all kinds of problems like thorns, bushes etc. Similarly, we can easily get lost in life if we don’t find any direction, if we do not know our way. Further, imagine what would happen if there is a forest fire? People are lost in the forest fire of samsaara and, further, the flames of pain and suffering are scorching them from all directions.
Out of compassion, the Lord or the teacher wants to save the people suffering amidst the flames of the fire of samsaara, by the upadesha, the teaching, of aatmavidyaa, self-knowledge. There is no other way that the people who are trapped in samsaara can be saved. There is no other real way to help us, to save us from the forest of pain and suffering. We have many things that can save us from difficulties, but there is no means other than self-knowledge to save us from sorrow. Sorrow is caused by the ignorance of one’s true Self. Not only do I not know who I am, but I also know myself wrongly. Not knowing the fact that I am what I am seeking to be, not knowing the completeness or the wholeness that is my true nature, I take myself to be incomplete, and find myself helpless. Hence, I am constantly suffering from fear, helplessness, and a sense of persecution. This is called samsaara, life of suffering. All the attempts that I make to become free from this suffering seem to only increase or intensify my suffering.
Lord Shiva first appeared as Sri Dakshinamurti because there is no means other than self-knowledge, to save the human beings. He appeared as seated under a banyan tree and imparted knowledge to sages like Sanaka, Sanandana and others through a silent sermon. In the time of those sages, that was adequate. The sages came to him and he was able to impart self-knowledge to them. These days, however, people don’t come that easily for this knowledge. Sitting under a banyan tree in a silent sermon is not going to work in modern times. Therefore, Lord Shiva thought that the time had come to reach out to where the aspirants were and teach them through oral discourses. He took the embodiment of Sri Shankaracharya, and went around the world. A well and a river are both sources of water. However, in case of a well, you must go to the well and fetch the water to quench your thirst. Whereas, the river comes down to us, traveling several hundred miles from inaccessible places in the mountains, to quench our thirst. I guess, even during the time of Sri Shankaracharya, there were not enough discriminating people who sought this self-knowledge. Therefore, like a river, he went to the people.
Lord Shiva gave up both the maunam or silence and also the banyan tree. He gave up both, and traveled all over this earth, imparting self-knowledge to people out of compassion. That is Sri Shankaracharya. As far as we are concerned, he is the greatest person that we know of. There are other sages that we hear of, but Sri Shankaracharya’s greatness is evident to us in the form of his work. One of his best contributions is the compendium of bhashyas or commentaries that he wrote on the prasthaana-trayi, ‘the three basic scriptures’: the ten major Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma-Sutras. He gave us the key to open the secret of this knowledge. There are texts called Shankara-Dig-Vijaya, describing the life of Sri Shankaracharya, written by his various disciples and other scholars. Of these texts, one written by VidyAraNya Swami is very famous. There, he says that the Brahma-Sutras written by Veda VyAsa, also known as Sage BAdarayana, is a very beautiful garland with flowers in the form of passages culled from the garden of the Upanishads. However, even scholars did not understand the sUtras or aphorisms. Therefore, the Brahma-Sutras did not serve their purpose of communicating the teaching of the Upanishads. Imagine a very precious necklace displayed by a jeweler in his showroom. People come there, look at it and then go away because they do not have the money to buy it. Similarly, Veda VyAsa wrote the Brahma-Sutras, a very beautiful necklace of knowledge and displayed it. The scholars did come, and looked at it, but then they went away because they had no ‘artha’. One meaning of the word, artha, is money. The other meaning is ‘meaning’. The scholars could not benefit from it because they did not have artha; they could not understand the meaning of the Brahma-Sutras. Then came Sri Shankaracharya, who wrote a bhaashya on the Brahma-Sutras. He thus gave artha, meaning, to all the scholars, and gave them the ‘money’ to buy the necklace. The beautiful necklace of the Brahma-Sutras now adorns the neck of all the scholarly people.
Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati embodies compassion
AsmadAcAryaparyantAm. Then we come down to our own aacaarya. Amongst other things an aacaarya is a wise and compassionate person. Sri Shankaracharya himself describes wise people in the VivekacudaamaNi  as follows:
शान्ता महान्तो निवसन्ति सन्तो वसन्तवल्लोकहितं चरन्तः।
तीर्णाः स्वयं भीमभवार्णवं जनानहेतुनान्यानपि तारयन्तः॥
Shaantaa mahaanto nivasanti santo vasantavallokahitam carantaH|
tirNaH svayam bhimabhavaarNavam janaanahetunaanyaanapi taarayantaH||
Such composed, great, saintly people do live doing good to people, like the spring season, themselves having crossed the frightening ocean of samsaara and making other people also cross without any expectation in return.
These great people, ShantaaH, enjoy total tranquility in their mind because even the most unfavorable circumstances cannot provoke them. They abide in the knowledge of the Self that is complete, self-sufficent. MahaantaH, mahaatmaas. One definition of a mahaatmaa is one who is large-hearted, meaning one who can accommodate anything. A mahaatmaa’s heart is as large as brahman itself. Brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati, the knower of brahman becomes brahman [MuNDakopanishad, 2-3-9]. Therefore, they have become limitless by knowing the Self or brahman, the limitless. As a result, they enjoy this large-heartedness and can accommodate anyone and anything. Only then, can there be compassion. True compassion can be there only when one can accommodate and accept another person, irrespective of how the other person is. AdveShTaa sarvabhutaanaam maitraH karuNa eva ca, the one who has no hatred for all beings, who has the disposition of a friend, and who is compassionate [Bhagavadgita, 12-13]. These great people have no dvesha, hatred. Not only do they not hate anyone, but they also show their affection towards everybody with karuNaa, compassion flowing from the heart. Sri Shankaracharya says this kind of a teacher is ahetuka-dayaasindhur-bandhuraanamataam sataam, an ocean of compassion with no motive whatsoever, who is a helpful friend to the seekers who salute him with appreciation [VivekacuDaamaNi, 33]. He is one who is, in fact, an ocean of compassion. What is the reason for compassion? Ahetuka, there is no reason why they are compassionate; it is their nature to be so. There is no reason for why they do what they do. They are bandhus, brothers, friends, relatives, protectors, well-wishers, and benefactors of all those who seek refuge in them. These great people enjoy tranquility, are large-hearted, and are compassionate. Their compassion is evident in other ways also.
Vasantavallokahitam carantaH. They don’t just sit in one place, but like the season of spring, go around the world. Wherever the spring goes, it spreads beauty, colors, and joy. Similarly, wherever these great people go, they spread joy by their very presence. But why do they do this? They are totally committed to the well-being of people because they have no agenda of their own. What do you do if you have no agenda? A wise person becomes free from the need for an agenda to such an extent that he has no free will. In fact, the definition of freedom is ‘freedom from any need to exercise the free will’. The VivekacudaamaNi compares a wise person to a dry leaf falling from the tree. The leaf goes wherever the gust of wind takes it. Similarly, a wise person goes wherever the wind of praarabdha, destiny, takes him. This is most amazing. We always glorify the free will. But what is true freedom? It is freedom from the need to exercise the free will. It means that a wise person is one who has completely submitted or offered himself at the altar of praarabdha, destiny, or the altar of God. He has no agenda of his own and, therefore, becomes a fitting instrument in the hands of God to carry out whatever agenda God has for him. The Lord wants to get a lot done. He tries to do that though us, but we do not fulfill his wishes because of our ahankaara and mamakaara, the notions of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. Very often, we become obstacles in fulfilling the Lord’s scheme. The wise, however, have no agenda, no ego or sense of ownership, and are like the flute held at the lips of Lord Krishna. The flute offers no resistance at all. It makes itself completely available to the Lord to play whatever tune he wants to play. So also, as instruments in the hands of the Lord, the wise go around the world spreading the joy of knowledge and living for the well being of the people.
They themselves have crossed this terrible ocean of samsaara and they help others also to cross the ocean of samsaara. In this manner we come down to our teacher, Pujya Swamiji.
The verse quoted above describes him very well. Thus do we salute this guru paramparaa, this lineage of teachers.
We as students of Vedanta are very fortunate If we see the tradition extending down to us, we should congratulate ourselves too, because, again, the VivekacudaamaNi  says:
मनुष्यत्वं मुमुक्षुत्वं महापुरुषसंश्रयः॥
durlabham trayamevaitad devaanugrahahetukam,
manuShyatvam mumukShutvam mahaapuruShasamshrayam.
The status of a human being, the disposition of one who longs for freedom, and being under the tutelage of a teacher – this three-fold blessing is difficult to gain and has its cause only in the grace of the Lord.
These three are rare indeed, and they can be obtained only by the grace of God. So we must have done something right to deserve to be where we are. To gain this human embodiment is something very rare because we could have been in any one of the many million embodiments that exist in this universe.
Again, there are billions of human beings on this earth now, but we find that most people have no value for Self-knowledge. The KaThopaniShad [1-2-7] says, shravaNaayaapi bahubhiryo na labhyaH, this knowledge is not available even for listening, for most people.
MumukShutvam. We are further fortunate that we have discovered an urge for Self-knowledge. We possess an urge for freedom and have jijnyasaa, the desire to know, which is very rare. We have discovered that freedom can be obtained through knowledge with viveka or discrimination. Everybody wants to be liberated, everyone wants to be free, but there are very few who have discovered the fact that the freedom can be gained only through knowledge.
MahaapuruShasamshrayaH. We also have sought the refuge of a mahaapuruShaH, a great soul in the form of our Pujya Swamiji. We are extremely fortunate that we have this privilege. Therefore, we also must have done something right.
We, who are extremely fortunate, salute guru paramparaa, this lineage of our teachers. This is the purpose of GurupuurNimaa, Teacher’s Day, and it is not only the Teacher’s Day, but it is Disciple’s Day as well because it is our privilege to be able to offer our sense of gratitude and prayers to our teachers.
May we gain the grace of all our teachers: Lord DakShiNaamuurti, Sri Shankaracharya, and of our own Pujya Swamiji. May we always enjoy their grace so that we remain steadfast in this path and do not swerve. May all internal and external obstacles be removed from our path so that we can march along in our journey towards self-growth and self-knowledge, and ultimately to total unconditional freedom or mokSha.
– Year 2000 GurupuurNimaa Talk transcribed by Deepa Shankar.
– Edited by Krishnakumar (KK) S. Davey and Jayshree Ramakrishnan.