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Life, work and legend of Adi Shankaracharya

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Adi Shankaracharya, Advaita Vedanta Philisophy

Mains level : Indian Schools of Philosophy

PM has unveiled a 12-foot statue of Adi Shankaracharya at Kedarnath, where the acharya is believed to have attained samadhi at the age of 32 in the ninth century.

Adi Shankaracharya (788-820 AD)

  • Adi Shankaracharya was an Indian philosopher and theologian whose works had a strong impact on the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.
  • He founded mathas, which are believed to have helped in the historical development, revival and propagation of his philosophy.
  • The story recounted today has been reconstructed from multiple Shankaravijayas (Conquests of Shankara) written over the centuries.

Birth and death

  • He is said to have been born in Kaladi village on the bank of the Periyar, the largest river in Kerala.
  • He is believed to have attained samadhi at Kedarnath; however, Kanchi and Thrissur are also talked about as places where Adi Shankara spent his last days.

His literary works

  • Adi Shankara is generally identified as the author of 116 works.
  • Among them the celebrated commentaries (bhashyas) on 10 Upanishads, the Brahmasutra and the Gita, and poetic works including Vivekachudamani, Maneesha Panchakam, and Saundaryalahiri.
  • He composed the Kanakadhara Stotram, following which there was a rain of golden amlas, which brought prosperity to the household.
  • It has also been claimed that Adi Shankara composed texts like Shankarasmrithi, which seeks to establish the social supremacy of Nambuthiri Brahmins.
  • His great standing is derived from his commentaries of the prasthanatrayi (Upanishads, Brahmasutra and Gita), where he explains his understanding of Advaita Vedanta.

His philosophy: Advaita Vedanta

  • Advaita Vedanta articulates a philosophical position of radical nondualism, a revisionary worldview which it derives from the ancient Upanishadic texts.
  • According to this, the Upanishads reveal a fundamental principle of nonduality termed brahman’, which is the reality of all things.
  • Advaitins understand brahman as transcending individuality and empirical plurality.
  • They seek to establish that the essential core of one’s self (atman) is brahman. It is pure non-intentional consciousness.
  • It is one without a second, nondual, infinite existence, and numerically identical with brahman.
  • This effort entails tying a metaphysics of brahman to a philosophy of consciousness.

Do you know?

There are six major schools of Vedic philosophy—Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta, and five major heterodox (sramanic) schools—Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajñana, and Charvaka.

Shankara’s contested legacy

  • Custodians of the caste system cite from Shankara’s commentaries to justify the unequal and unjust social order.
  • It is argued that the Advaita Vedanta borrowed the categories of Buddhist thinkers and called him the Prachhanna Buddha (Buddha in disguise).
  • Sri Narayana Guru offered a radical reading of Advaita Vedanta to dismantle the theory and praxis of caste.

His political appropriation

  • His works transcends the political boundaries of his time.
  • The mathas are believed to have established in Sringeri, Dwaraka, Puri, and Joshimath for the spread of Advaita Vedanta.
  • They are seen as custodians of Hinduism, and Shankara’s digvijaya (conquest) often interpreted as a near nationalistic project where faith, philosophy and geography are yoked together to imagine a Hindu India.

Try this PYQ:

Q. Which one of the following pairs does not form part of the six systems of Indian Philosophy?

(a) Mimamsa and Vedanta

(b) Nyaya and Vaisheshika

(c) Lokayata and Kapalika

(d) Sankhya and Yoga

 

Post your answers here.
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