Intellectual giant

For well over one thousand two hundred years, Shankaracharya’s name has withstood the buffeting of opposing opinions and has been the bulwark for the upholding of the spiritual and moral values of Indian culture.

Shankara’s mission in life was the correct reinterpretation and resuscitation of the
Vedantic tradition. This, in a way seems preordained as he appeared at a time when a number of decadent creeds were prevalent, with their sway over the masses almost obliterating the ancient Dharmic way of life.

As opposed to the ritualistic approach of the other creeds, Shankara’s system stood out in stark contrast for its emphasis on true knowledge and the oneness of the spirit within man and the Supreme universal spirit guiding the affairs of all creation. This system of non-duality or Advaita as it is called is the essence of the Vedantic tradition with the Upanishads being the epitome of Indian spiritual thought.

The philosophy of the Upanishads was made more meaningful and practical by Shankara in his commentaries on them, expounding them as he did in a lucid and attractive manner that was easily discernible to the learner. As his interpretation was based on  the undeniably logical conclusion of the unitary nature of the embodied self with the supreme, it made it more acceptable to people of different temperaments.

Shankara upheld the supremacy of the Upanishads as the guiding lamp in man’s life. It may be mentioned here that Shankara was not the ‘discoverer’ of Advaita as is commonly believed, but he only gave it a new lease of life by explaining it comprehensively that appealed to the scholar and the commoner alike.

As the Rev J F Pessein has said, “Great Credit is due to Shankara and his school for having fought strenuously against the upholders of the self-existence of the material world and for having brought the whole universe under the sway of God to whom it owes not only its origin but also its very being. Shankara understood that the existence of another being would imply limitation of God.”

Travelling far and wide all over the country, Shankara spread his message of the Universal way of life by engaging in debates and discussions with accomplished scholars and pundits and won them over by the sheer brilliance and novelty of his approach.

Even his most virulent critics could not ignore the versatility and vast spread of his intellect. In the words of E W F Tomlin, “With Shankara we have to contend with a philosopher of a very different calibre; in fact, we have in him one of the greatest of all philosophers -----."  In an all too brief life span, Shankara reached the pinnacle of intellectual and spiritual attainments that even today commands the respect and admiration of the layman and the scholar.

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