Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Adhi Shankara's Contribution to Sanatana Dharma

Adhi Shankara's Contribution to Sanatana  Dharma

                          P.R.Ramachander
                         Guru Vandana
I praise and seek the protection of Sankara,
Who is the ocean of nectar of our great holy books,
And who is like the Treasure
Of the essence of the great Upanishads,
And I meditate on his clear holy feet in my heart.

I praise and seek the protection of Sankara,
Who is the teacher among teachers
Who does not have any equal,
Who is the treasure house of Philosophy
And who is merciful to those who seek his blessings.
                                                                        From Thodagashtaka

Need for an incarnation

“To protect the oppressed ,
To destroy the bad,
And to reestablish Dharma,
I would come again and again”
       Told our Lord to Arjuna at the end of Krutha yuga and just before the start of Kali Yuga, This was about 5000 years before now. He had taken 9 incarnations before Kali yuga at different times and with different intentions. Years passed fast   Our Sanathana Dharma was in an extremely critical condition about 800 years back due to
1.Foreign invasions by  Greece, Turkey and other middle eastern countries.
2,Corruption of our own religion by
      a. People who did not follow the full import of Vedas and insisted that their Method mainly based on rituals is the correct one,
      b.Ignorance of Vedas even by intellectuals of those times due to the tough language of the Vedas.
      c. Religious ignorance of majority of the people because they did not know Sanskrit.
       d.Popularity of the Vamachara of Thathric practices leading to Nara Bali and other cruel practices.
3. The launching of the Buddhist and Jain religion which depended on the spoken languages of the masses and which opposed the cruel form of religion as popularized by practitioners of Thanthra.
4.Due to the fact that most of the great Hindu kings like Asoka, Harsha etc being attracted by religions other than Sanathana dharma.

      The first action to correct this slide in popularity of our religion came from the great Bhakthi movement under the leader ship of Nayamars and Azhwars. All of them sang and wrote in the language of the masses and they preached unalloyed Bhakthi to the Gods.

     In this critical stage there was an urgent need of an incarnation of God so that the our great inheritance from the sages of yore is preserved and handed in pristine purity to the succeeding generations.

Shankara the incarnation

   This was the time when the great seer of the modern times Shankara was born in to an ascetic family of Namboodiris in Kerala. His father was Shiva Guru and his mother Aryamba. (788-820 AD). This child initially studied whatever has to be learned from the Gurus in his village. Unfortunately he lost his father at a very tender age. With the permission got from his mother Arayamba , he became a sanyasin at the age of eight. He then traveled out of Kerala and reached the shores of River Narmadha,. There he met his teacher Govinda Pada. His guru realized that this child knew much more than him already but he taught all that he knew to this child. Sankara left his Guru at the age of 12 and started traveling all over India , which he did for the next 20 years. All his contributions were made during this time.

A. Contributions to Philosophy
                There was a very urgent need to make the scholars of the day understand the philosophical import of Vedas. Shakara was one of those great interpreters. His commentaries of Brahma Suthra , Bhagawad Gita and the 13 major Upanishads was one of the greatest happenings of Hindu Religion. The scholars , who were interpreting the Vedas like the blind describing an elephant started getting the holistic view. They started realizing that apart from the worship of idols in temples and strict observance of rituals, there was another dazzling part of Sanathana Dharma. This was the philosophy of Advaitha. Shankara interpreted Vedanta philosophy in a strictly non dual , monistic spirit. In essence this philosophy involves in understanding that all that is present in  the world is a monistic entity called “Brahman” .What we see as different beings and different things is due to Maya. Shankara told them that it was extremely difficult to put this in to practice in real life. This involved in seeing beyond the veil of Maya. He explained to them the crux of Upanishads and Gita, which gave methods for such a realization.
      Apart from his interpretations he also wrote several simple to understand books and verses to explain his phiolosophy. Oneof them is the Nirvana Shatkam , which clearly explains in the simply possible manner This great phiolosophy of Advaitha:-

Neither am I mind, nor intelligence ,
Nor ego, nor thought,
Nor am I ears or the tongue or the nose or the eyes,
Nor am I earth or sky or air or the light,
But I am Shiva the all pervading happiness,
Yes ,I am definitely Shiva                                                            1

Neither am I the movement due to life,
Nor am I the five airs, nor am I the seven elements,
Nor am I the five internal organs,
Nor am I voice or hands or feet or other organs,
But I am Shiva the all pervading happiness,
Yes ,I am definitely Shiva                                                             2

I never do have enmity or friendship,
Neither do I have vigour nor feeling of competition,
Neither do I have assets, or money or passion or salvation,
But I am Shiva the all pervading happiness,
Yes ,I am definitely Shiva                                                                3

Never do I have good deeds or sins or pleasure or sorrow,
Neither do I have holy chants or holy water or holy books or fire sacrifice,
I am neither food or the consumer who consumes food,
As I am Shiva the all pervading happiness,
Yes ,I am definitely Shiva                                                                   4

I do not have death or doubts or distinction of caste,
I do not have either father or mother or even birth,
And I do not have relations or friends or teacher or students,
As I am Shiva the all pervading happiness,
Yes ,I am definitely Shiva                                                                   5

I am one without doubts , I am without form,
Due to knowledge I do not have any relation with my organs,
And I am always redeemed,
And I am Shiva the all pervading happiness,
Yes ,I am definitely Shiva                                                             6

B :Contributions to reform of religion
        
    Shankara traveled the length and breadth of our country at least twice. Wherever he went , he visited the local temples and systematized the agama worship at each temple. In most of the temples he also wrote a hymn praising the God/Goddess. In some cases he also installed a Chakra , so that the activities of the temple go on without problems .These created an upsurge of faith in the common man and temples once again regained their great status. During his visit he met many great Vaisesikas of Kanada school, Sankhya followers of Kapila, logicians of the Gautama school, Mimamsakas following Jaimini, Buddhists of Sautantrika,Vaibhasika, Madhyamika and Yogachara schools and Jain scholars of Swetambara and Digambara sects. He argued with them for days and defeated them. Many of them became his disciples and started helping him in propagation of philosophy.
    He also argued fanatic followers of Shiva, Vishnu, Shakthi, Subrahmanya and Adhithya and convinced them that all gods are equally important. He established the practice of Pancha Vigraha Aradhana. These brought to an end the tussle that was going on within Hinduism and helped the religion grow.
   He had several virtual wordy warfare with the Thanthrics who were following Vamachara. He convinced them that the methods that they were following will not help them to attain salvation but helped them to get occult powers. This brought to an end the very common phenomenon of Nara bali(Sacrifice of humans) and also abhorrent methods of trying to please God by use of Alcoholic drinks and women.
   He also established four Mathas (Religious counseling centres) in the four corners ofIndia. They are located in Badrinath(North), Dwaraka(West), Puri(east ) and Sringeri in the east. He deputed his great disciples to systematically run these institutions . The fact that they are even today gloriously functioning shows the foresight of Sankara


C. Contribution to Sthothra literature.
        Scholars are in complete agreement that he wrote 65 sthothras in praise of Shiva, Vishnu, Shakthi, Subramnya , holy rivers etc. These are mellifluous and musical pieces of art of the highest quality. Some of these sthothras like Dasa Sloki, Nirvana Shatkam, Nirvana Dasakam, Bhavani Ashtakam and Mohamudgaram are finest poems telling us the essence of the philosophy of Advaitha.Of them Moha Mudgara , otherwise known as Bhaja Govindam is possibly aimed at the common man. Those musical , yet very simple words of wisdom teach the common man the highest philosophy possible..Though all the prayers are well known, those which are specially known to most of the people are Soundarya Lahari, Shivananda Lahari, Annapurnashtakam, Manthra Mathruka Pushpa Mala, Ranganathashtakam, Panduranashtakam, Manthra Mathruka Pushpa mala etc. He also wrote one prayer addressed to his mother (Mathru Panchakam)and another to his Guru.(Gurwashtakam). A few samples of excerpts from some of these great prayers is given below:-

Oh mother mine,
With clenched teeth bore thou the excruciating pain,
When I was born to you,
Shared thou the bed made dirty by me for an year,
And thine body became thin and painful,
During those nine months that you bore me,
For all these in return,
Oh mother dearest,
I can never compensate,
Even by my becoming great.
                                                             Mathru Panchakam

Even if one is blessed,
With handsomely perfect body,
Which is free of all ills,
With fame from all quarters,
And with riches heaped liked mountain,
If his mind does not bow,
Before the feet of his teacher great,
What is the use? What is the use?
What is the use? What is the use?
                                                                  Gurvashtakam

Hey , Mother Annaprneswari,
Who is The Goddess of Kasi,
Who helps others with kindness,
Who makes all days deliriously happy,
Who gives boons and shelter to all,
Who is the epitome of all beauty,
Who cleans up all sorrows from life,
Who is the ever-visible Goddess of the world,
Who is the star of the family of Himavan3,
Please give me alms,
Ocean of kindness and compassion.
                                                                     Annapurnashtakam
Neither the mother nor the father.
Neither the relation nor the friend,
Neither the son nor the daughter,
Neither the servant nor the husband,
Neither the wife nor the knowledge,
And neither my sole occupation,
Are refuges that I can depend , Oh , Bhavani,
So you are my only refuge, Bhavani.
                                                                               Bhavani Ashtakam
I praise and salute that Dakshinamrthy,
Who faces the south,
Who explains the true nature of the supreme Brahman,
Through his state of silence,
Who is young in looks,
Who is surrounded by disciples who are old Sages,
Whose minds are fixed on Brahman,
Who is the greatest of teachers,
Who shows the Chinmudhra* by his hand,
Who is personification of happiness,
Who is in the state of extreme joy within himself,
And who has a smiling face
                                                       Dakshinamurthy Ashtakam

Ignoramus I am in the science of law,
In the science of life,
In the art of medicine,
In interpretation of events,
In the art of poems and song,
In the difficult tomes of arty grammer,
In the holy books of yore,
In the psalms of Vedas.
In singing about your great deeds,
In the art of dance and in art of comedy,
And so how can I get favour of Kings?
Oh Lord of all beings,
Oh all knowing one,
Of most famous one,
And Oh , all pervading one,
Tell me who am I?
And be pleased to protect me ,
Showering on me your sea of mercy.
                                                                      Shivananda Lahari
Let my mind revel in the form of Ranga 
Who is on the banks of river Kaveri,
And playfully dispenses mercy,
Who is below the Mandhara tree,
Where he speedily and prettily plays,
And who destroys all asuras,
By his play spread over the whole world.
                                                                     Ranganathashtakam

When all my senses have calmed down,
When I have lost my intelligence,
When I am not capable of any movement,
When my throat is full of phlegm,
When my body is shivering due to fear,
And when my soul is preparing to depart,
Without any one to help me,
Oh Lord of mercy, please come fast,
For I want to be in thine  presence, Lord Guha.
                                                                      Subrahmanya Bhujangam

Always thinking about words of philosophy,
Always getting satisfied with food got by begging,
And always without trace of sorrow, thinking of the inner self,
The man with the loin cloth is indeed the lucky one.

                                                                   Kaupina  Panchakam

Conclusion:

     We are following Sanathana Dharma even today because the great saint Called Shankara. Had God not come at that timein the form of Sankara  ,  our great religion would be a thing of past.So I consider him as another incarnation who came to save our “Sanathana Dharma”..

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