November 19,2019 - November 27,2019
Introduction to the works of Acharya Shankar
Sri Adi Shankaracharya is arguably the most important philosopher in the history of Advaita Vedanta. It is Shankaracharya’s interpretation of the source texts of Vedanta that lays the foundation for classical Advaita. He taught the universality of the Vedic religion and successfully rid it of the contradictions of its partisan adherents of different schools. He also synthesized the triple way of karma, bhakti and jnana assigning to each its proper and necessary place in the unitary method of achieving liberation from the ills of samsara.
All these stemmed from the philosophy of Advaita which he taught as the central truth of the Upanishads, the Bramhasutras and the Bhagavat Gita known as the Prasthanatraya of Indian philosophy. He explained this at length lucidly and cogently in a language characterized as prasannagambhira in his commentaries on all three of them. That they have been surviving in the thoughts and utterances of men during the centuries that have elapsed since He wrote and that they have secured understanding appreciation even from people of alien faiths in lands far removed from ours is eloquent vindication of their truth and vitality.
A large number of (short) Advaita treatises, called Prakarana Granthas, are also attributed to Sankara. These works are often used to teach beginners. A large number of Stotras (hymns) are also attributed to Sankara. These range from the famous Bhaja Govindam hymn to the Dakshinamurti Stotram.
Apart from the aforementioned major works, Sri Adi Shankaracharya is also said to have written numerous other texts, like the Yogasutra Vivarana Bhashya and a commentary on the Adhyatma Patala of the Apastamba Dharmasutra,and commentaries on the Vishnu Sahasranama and Lalita Trishati. A Sankhya work called Jayamangala and a Nyaya work called Sthirasiddhi are also attributed to him.
Prasthanatraiya means the three sources of authority. It is the collective name given to the Upanishads, Bramha Sutra and Srimad Bhagavat Gita, which are accepted as three sources from which the different schools of Vedanta derived their authority.
The Upanishads generally form the end of the aranyakas of the Vedas and therefore the philosophy obtaining therein is called as Vedanta meaning `end of the Vedas’. They contain the essence of Vedic teachings. They are the foundations on which most of the later philosophies and religions of India rest.
There is no important form of the Hindu thought which is not rooted in Upanishads. If the hold which a work has on the mind of man is any clue to its importance, then evidently the `Bhashya of Sri Adi Shankaracharya’ on Prasthanatriya is the most influential work in Indian thought.
The Upanishads say that the formless Bramhan has been assigned forms only for the convenience of the aspirant and it is not possible for ordinary man with finite equipment to concentrate on a `formless’ being. Sri Adi Shankara has maintained this “all through” in His Bhasyas, encouraging the Seekers step by step, as an aid to concentration, adoring the God for His ideals behind His Idols.
The father gives birth to one, but the Supreme Guru as Adi Shankaracharya alone can save the person from the necessity of being born again. One can repay the debt to his father by procreating offspring in his turn and by offering obsequious oblations for the pacification of his soul after death. But because the Supreme Guru saves His disciple from avidya, the debt to Him can never be repaid. Perhaps we can repay an Portion of the debt by passing on the knowledge in turn to other deserving disciples.
The Upanishads contain two sets of teaching regarding reality or Bramhan, addressed to two different levels of the mind. To the highest grade of the aspirants, belongs the disciple who has attained the mental equipment necessary entering upon the course of study, either in this birth or possesses an introvert mind as a result of discipline undergone in his last lives, qualifying him to grasp the teaching imparted in the Sruti.
This class of seekers comprises 2 grades. The first needs only reminding of the true nature of oneself by the Shruti through an experienced Adept (Guru) Who has Himself experienced the Truths of Vedanta, while the second requires guidance for the contemplation of the spiritual steps through which one has ultimately to reach the same self.
The other set of Upanishads teachings according to Sri Shankara, consists of injunctions for the meditation on apara (lower) Bramhan. This meditation is a mystical discipline assures benefits in the highest heavens called Bramha Loka. Then the question comes are there 2 Bramhans superior and inferior?
The supreme Bramhan is spoken of where It is indicated by such terms as `not gross’ through a negation of all distinctions of names and forms, etc., called up by ignorance. That very Bramhan becomes the inferior Bramhan where it is taught as possessed of some, distinct name, form, etc., for the sake of meditation, as in such words as “Identified with the mind, having prana as his body and effulgence as his form” etc.,. In short, it is not all that can realize the formless Absolute.
To them, Sri Shankara says that the Supreme is both formless and with form, formless when viewed in itself, not in relation to the universe, ever beyond the senses, beyond speech and mind, and with form when thought of in relation to the world as its creator, Sustainer and indweller.
The study of these prasthanatraya-bhashyas requires profound knowledge of Sanskrit and competency in Vyakarana, Nyaya and Mimamsa and in Veda-adhyayana. The study of these works kept alive to this day in all parts of India in guru-sishya relation which is characteristic of Indian tradition.
Bramha Sutra are a compendium of 555 aphorisms by Sage Bhagavan Veda Vyasa. They present in concentrated form the entire philosophy of the Upanishads. It is the textbook for post graduate study for a student of Vedanta. Bright students are led into the enquiry about the nature of the Supreme reality, the relation between man and this Supreme reality, the summam bonum of human birth, existence and the means and method of reaching it. These Sutras are clues intended as memory aids to intensive contemplation on the Supreme reality. Marked by economy of words to felicitate memorizing, they are capable of being understood from all points of view and gateway to experience the supreme bliss when assimilated properly.
The Bhagavat Gita
Bhagavat Gita – is the most popular religio philosophic poem of Sanskrit literature. It is the most beautiful perhaps the only true philosophical song of its kind existing in any known tongue. Conveys sublime teaching on religion, philosophy, ethics and the art and science of correct and efficient living and attitude towards life and its problems.
Knowledge available in the world of books is found in two types of records. Text book of the Science (of the Supreme reality or Bramhan) explaining the theory and technique are called the `Shastras’, and the book that explain the terms and terminologies used in the shastra books are called `Prakarna’ books. Following are the examples of the latter type of books:
The Tattva-bodha (Knowledge of the fundamental Truth) has fifty brief prose pellets of wisdom in the question and answer style. After opening with an adoration of Vāsudeva, the Ācārya says that a sādhaka must have four essential qualifications (sādhana-catuṣṭaya). They are viveka (discrimination to distinguish between what is real and what is not), vairāgya (detachment or preparedness to renounce everything), śama (control of the mind) and such qualities, and mumukṣutva (desire for liberation). The student asks about the qualities that are understood to go with śama. The teacher lists them as śama (control of the mind), dama (control of the senses), uparama (readiness to perform one's duties), titikṣā (ability to endure sorrows), śraddhā (faith) and samādhāna (concentration upon Truth).
The work proceeds to distinguish between Ātman and anātman, explains the nature of creation, the mahāvākya, "tat tvam asi", and how to free oneself from karma. The ascension is gradual as the disciple is drawn into the various concepts of Advaita philosophy. In the course of this movement, the student dent learns key words like māyā (the illusory power), how Īśvara himself is but a reflection of Brahman in māyā, and the three types of karma called sañcita (karma accumulated in earlier births), prārabhdha (the karma of the past working out now), and āgāmi (the karma being done in the present birth getting accumulated).
Śaṅkara's Ātma-bodha explains the relationship between the Atman and the body, the method by which one can understand Ātman as different from the body, the realization that the Ātman is Brahman, the nature of Brahman and how the knowledge of Brahman leads to liberation. What endears the work to the aspirant are the series of similes which are drawn from everyday life, as when Śaṅkara's says that knowledge alone is the means to gain liberation, "like fire for cooking food". Even if we get all the rest, but remain caught in avidyā, liberation will elude us. Only knowledge can remove ignorance just as light alone chases away darkness.
The Viveka-cūḍāmaṇi is a masterpiece of Advaita. Beginning with the title," "Crest-jewel of Discrimination", philosophy and poetry blend with amazing luminosity. The opening prayer to Govinda addresses both Lord Krsņa and Śaṅkara's Guru, Govindapāda. A scripture for pursuing jñāna-yoga (which alone leads to knowledge, as Śaṅkara's avers), the first two verses mark the rarity of human birth, and rarer still the birth as a "male" (puṁstvam).
In this continuous string of 580 verses, we have much to learn. The following are rare occurrences: human birth, desire for mukti, protection of a Guru, a Mahāpuruṣa. Sādhana catuṣṭaya is indicated. Śaṅkara says that among things conducive to liberation, bhakti holds the supreme place. But here, bhakti is for realizing one's real nature, Brahman.
His Prabodha-sudhākara is a wake-up call for the initiate to reject the sleep of ignorance. Here, he literally pours the nectar of devotion on the disciple by his references to the Kṛṣṇa incarnation so much so a critic has referred to the work as Śaṅkara's Kṛṣṇānanda-laharī! The poem goes through the familiar lessons: controlling the mind, māyā, the subtle and causal bodies, the self-luminous Brahman. Absorbing the mind in Brahman-consciousness can be done in two ways: contemplating upon the nirguņa Brahman or saguṇa Brahman. What is important here is that, to begin with, the aspirant should make his mind pure and attain to the state of sattva. All this forms the familiar programmes for the pursuit of Truth.
Upadeśa - Sāhasrī
The Upadeśa - sāhasrī begins with a longish presentation in prose that actually is akin to a teacher-training course. The Scriptures have accorded a high place to the teacher, and he should be conscious of it. For the śruti says, " the teacher is the pilot ".
One is never graveled for want of matter to think about and meditate upon, when studying the work, especially the Tattvamasi-prakaraṇam. Do we become liberated into That, if we are told, "Thou art That" ? No! One must go on meditating, "I Am Brahman", to get to the actual state. Liberation is no magic show! If there is a person who gains the state when told, "Tat tvam asi", it would only mean that he has practiced it in earlier lives and has good saṁskāras which help him in this birth. The Upadeśa-sāhasrī also touches upon certain points in Buddhist philosophy and contradicts them in a persuasive manner.
The Aparokṣānubhūti is about the "how" when one aspires for the direct perception of one's own self. Hence Ramana Maharshi's advice to get an answer for the question, "who am I?" An oft-asked question is: why do good people suffer? Even realized souls like Ramana Maharshi have suffered intense physical pain. This prakaraṇa takes it up as the main issue. Such suffering is due to prārabdha-Karma. But it does not affect the liberated man. It is others who feel pained or saddened by what is happening to him, whereas he remains in Brahman-bliss.
The Sixty-seven terse question-and-answer prakaraṇa, Prashnottara Ratnamālikā, has been a favourite with aspirants. Its possible inspiration could have been the Yakṣa-praśna episode in the Mahābhārata.
The constant reference to the Witness within, the Jīva and the Self in Advaita Vedānta produced a crystalline prakaraṇa. Bhāratītīrtha's Dṛg-dṛśya-viveka is a great help to draw closer to Brahma-vidhyā, the knowledge of Brahman. Scholars consider it a very valuable work on epistemology. How does an ordinary human being become a liberated person? Generally, we refer to some mystic experience which places the person on the path of Brahman-knowledge.
The Dṛg-dṛśya-viveka uses just forty-six couplets to bring to our understanding how one must use buddhi (reason) to understand that, what is seen as one's body or the phenomenal world, is māyā. It is best to give up attachment for it. The moment the supreme Self is realized (as in mystic states of consciousness), attachments fall away by themselves. For such a person, no distinctions mar this unitive view of "Sarvaṁ Khalvidaṁ brahma".
Out of His own volition, projecting power of His maya, Bramhan becomes Iswara, the personal God and to bless the devotees manifests Himself in several divine forms in which a seeker contemplates on Him. Hence Sri Shankara Bhagavat Pada purified the rituals of worship of Shiva, Devi, Vishnu, Surya, Ganapati and Kumara and composed devotional hymns on each of these divine forms to help the devotees. These divine forms are not different. They are manifestations of the Supreme, and devotion to any one of them accompanied with complete self-surrender will bring divine grace, which will lead the Sadhana to Jnana and liberation. Because of his acceptance of the worship of six divine forms then in vogue, he is known as Shanmata Sthapaka. Since God is omnipresent, it is also possible to speak of His limited presence; or special presence; just as a King ruling over the whole earth can be referred to as the King of Ayodhya. This is done for the sake of contemplation, God is taught to be meditated upon there in the lotus of heart, just as Lord Hari is taught to be meditated on a Saligrama. A certain state of intellect catches a glimpse of Hari there. God though omnipresent, becomes gracious when worshipped there. Just as space, though all pervasive is referred to as having a limited habitation and minuteness form the point of view of its association with the eye of the needle, so also is the case with Bramhan.
Sri Adi Shankara, after writing his life-giving commentaries upon the sacred books of our culture, provided the seekers with a voluminous devotional literature, singing his own love of the Lord. Every one of this Stotras is culled out from the garden of the Upanishads, and strung together on the chord of His poetry, interspersed with his inquisitive similes.
List of Complete works of Acharya Shankar
1. Prasthānatraya bhāṣyā-s
2. Other Upaniṣadbhāṣya-s
2.2 Nr̥ siṁhapūrvatāpanīyōpaniṣadbhāṣya
4. 1 Viṣṇusahasranāmastōtrabhāṣya
5.1 Sāṁkhyakārikā jayamaṁgaḷāṭīka
6.1 Pātañjalayōgasūtraṁ bhāṣyavivaraṇaṁ
7.1 Prapañcas āraṁ
7.2 Saparyāhr̥ dayaṁ
8.2 Upadēśasāhasri - gadya & padyaprabandhaṁ
8.3 Sarvavēdāntasiddhānta sārasaṁgrahaṁ
9. Prakaraṇa prabandha-s
9.15 Laghuvākyavr̥ tti
9.19 Śrī maṇiratnamālā
9.20 Vākyasudhā/Dr̥ kdr̥ śyavivēkaṁ
9.21 Vākyavr̥ tti
10.1 Vēdāṉta stōtra-s
10.1.4 Mātr̥ pañcakaṁ
10.2 Guru-gaṇēśādi dēvatāstōtra-s
10.2.10 Dharmmaśāstr̥ kēśādipādavarṇanāstōtraṁ
10.3 Vaiṣṇava stōtra-s
10.3.3 Śrī Viṣṇubhujaṁgaprayātastōtraṁ
10.3.8 Lakṣmīnr̥ siṁhapañcaratnaṁ
10.3.9 Lakṣmīnr̥ siṁhakaruṇārasastōtraṁ
10.3.11 Śrīmadacyutāṣṭakaṁ (Acyutāṣṭakastōtraṁ)
10.3.12 Krṣṇ̥ āṣṭakaṁ-1
10.3.13 Krṣṇ̥ āṣṭakaṁ-2
10.4 Śiva stōtra-s
10.4.3 Śrīmr̥ tyuñjayamānasikapūjā stōtraṁ
10.4.4 Śivapādādikēśāntavarṇṇana stōtraṁ
10.4.5 Śivakēśādipādāntavarṇṇana stōtraṁ
10.4.9 Śivapa ñcākṣarastōtraṁ
10.4.10 Śivapa ñcākṣaranakṣatramālā stōtraṁ
10.4.18 Kālabhairavāṣṭakaṁ10.4.19 Śrīkāśiviśvanāthastōtraṁ
10.5 Dēvī stōtra-s
10.5.2 Tripurasundarīmānasapūjā stōtraṁ
10.5.3 Dēvīcatuḥṣaṣṭyupacārapūjā stōtraṁ
10.5.7 Mantramātr̥ kāpuṣpamālāstavaṁ
10.5.16 Aṁbāpañcaratnast ōtraṁ
10.5.26 Śyāmalā Navaratnamālikā
10.5.28 Kalyāṇavrṣṭ̥ istavaṁ
10.6 Puṇyanadī stōtra-s
10.6.2 Yamunāṣṭakaṁ (1)
10.6.3 Yamunāṣṭakaṁ (2)
10.7 Tīrthamāhātmya stōtra-s
10.7.1 Kāśīpa ñcakaṁ