Shankara Digvijaya – Part 3
Sri Shankara and Kumarila Bhatta
After Vyasa left, Shankara started on a spiritual conquest of the whole land of Bharat. Starting on his journey, Shankara decided to go to Prayag with a view to win over Kumarila, the staunch upholder of the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas. Having reached Prayag, he came to know that Kumarila was about to enter into a fire, as an act of expiation for betraying his teacher from whom he had the tenets of Buddhism. Sri Shankara rushed to the place where Kumarila was, only to see him already standing in the oven of husk. Kumarila recognised Shankara, narrated to him his work against the Buddhists, his awareness about Sri Shankara’s Bhashyas and his desire to write a Vartika (explanatory treatise) on his Bhashyas. Kumarila explained how he was not in a position to break his vow of expiation and therefore could not undertake the Vartika work. He further expressed his conviction about Sri Shankara being born to protect the doctrine of Advaita and how he had become sinless on seeing Sri Shankara.
Shankara replied thus, ‘I recognise you as an incarnation of Skanda, the son of Shiva. Sin can never affect you. I can save you by extinguishing the fire and you may write the Vartika.’ Kumarila who was a firm adherent of right conduct very politely declined the offer of saving him and instead requested for initiation into Brahma Vidya. He added that if Shankara could defeat Mandana Mishra, whose actual name was Vishwaroopa and famous as the great exponent of the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas, it would clear all obstacles in the mission that Shankara had undertaken. Sri Shankara could then make Mandana his own disciple and get the Vartika written. Shankara then imparted to Kumarila the knowledge of Brahman, and Kumarila hearing the Upadesham of Shankara realised his oneness with Brahman, dispelling his sense of individuality. Shankara then proceeded to Mandana’s place called Mahishmati, in present-day Bihar.
Shankara’s debate with Mandana
Shankara entered Mandana’s house and saw him cleaning the holy feet of Sages Vyasa and Jaimini, whom Mandana was able to bring there on account of his penance, for the conduct of a ceremony performed by him as per the Sastras. Mandana, who disliked Sanyasins, entered into a violent wordy duel with Shankara. The sages pacified Mandana and then he welcomed Sri Shankara’s challenge along with the condition that the loser of the debate would become the disciple of the victor.
Mandana fixed the next day for the debate and requested Jaimini and Vyasa to be the judges. But they said that Mandana’s wife Ubhaya Bharati, accepted as an incarnation of Goddess Saraswati shall judge the debate. The following day, Sri Shankara initiated the debate, announcing his proposition of the unity of all existence as follows:
‘Brahman, the Existence-Conscious-Bliss Absolute (Sat-chit-ananda) is the one ultimate Truth. It is He who appears as the entire world owing to ignorance, just as a shell appears as silver. When the illusion gets dispelled, the silver dissolves into the substratum, the shell. Similarly, when ignorance is erased the whole world dissolves into its substratum Brahman, which is the same as Atman. This is the supreme knowledge, as also Moksha (liberation from births and deaths); and the Upanishads are the authority for this proposition.’
Mandana made his proposition, emphasising the tenets of his faith thus: ‘The non-Vedantic part of the Veda dealing with effects produced by Karma is the real authority; actions alone (Karma) constitute the steps leading to Moksha and embodied beings have to perform action till the end of their lives.’
Ubhaya Bharati put a garland of flowers on the neck of the two contestants, declaring that the person whose garland withers will be considered defeated. The debate went on for several days. Ubhaya Bharati accepted that the cogent arguments of Shankara had overcome the contentions of Mandana and gave her verdict subjecting Mandana to defeat. The flower wreath on Mandana’s neck also faded. Mandana adopted Sanyasa in accordance with the wager. Ubhaya Bharati gave Bhiksha to both Sri Shankara and Mandana, indicating that her husband was now a Sanyasin.
Mandana, however, still had some questions regarding the aphorisms of Jaimini and their relation to the Absolute Truth, as propounded by Sri Shankara. When Sri Shankara clarified, Mandana prostrated and said, ‘You are the nature of pure consciousness, yet for the sake of ignorant men you have assumed this human body. You have saved all with the single statement – Tat tvam asi, and explained the great soul indicated in the Upanishads, the crest-jewel of the Vedas, as indestructible and one without a second.’ Praising thus, Mandana then surrendered himself at the feet of Sri Shankara.
आत्माम्बा इदमेक अग्रआसीत् ।
ब्रह्मवा इदं अग्र आसीत् एकमेव ।
सदेव सौम्य इदं अग्र आसीत् ।
एकमेव अद्वितीयं ब्रह्मय्च ।
The debate with Ubhaya Bharati
Ubhaya Bharati too praised Sri Shankara but then added ‘You cannot claim complete success over my husband until I, his better half, have been defeated by you. Though you are an embodiment of divinity, I have a desire to debate with you.’
Ubhaya Bharati convinced Sri Shankara to agree to a debate. For seventeen days a protracted debate continued. Finding Sri Shankara invincible in Vedic lore, philosophies and other Sastras, Ubhaya Bharati struck on the idea of questioning him on Kama Sastra, the science and art of love between the sexes, knowing that Sri Shankara was a celibate from boyhood. Sri Shankara accepted the challenge but requested a month’s time to resume the discussions.
Sri Shankara and his disciples, all masters of Yogic powers, traveled along the skies, and located a dead body, that of king Amaruka. Sri Shankara discussed with his disciples about the prospect of entering the King’s body, study the effects of the forces of love by remaining a witness, and then re-enter his body which would have to be safeguarded by his disciples. Padmapada gave his full consent but quoted a precedent of a Yogi Matsyendra as a possible pit fall. Sri Shankara met his arguments in his own superb manner: ‘In the case of one who has realised even here that the self is without all contacts, and is the relationless eternally pure spirit, the commandments and prohibitions of the Sastras have no application. All fruits are non-existent for one who has realised the world as a mere appearance. A true knower is free from any sense of good and evil. So even if I indulge in the enjoyment of sex love, no evil will result from it. However in order that the world may not be misled by the action of a Sanyasin like me, I will gain the experience of sex life through the body of this dead Amaruka, which I am going to enliven by temporarily identifying myself with that body.’
Shankara then entered the body of Amaruka by yogic powers, and lived in the palace effecting able and just administration. He also gathered the knowledge of love. Meanwhile, the ministers of Amaruka concluding from the remarkably superior gait of the king apprehended that some noble soul had entered the King’s body and ordered that all uncared for dead bodies in the kingdom be burnt. The expiry of the stipulated period was reminded by his disciples who came as musicians to the palace. Sri Shankara withdrew his subtle body from the body of the King. Even as Sri Shankara re-entered his body, the king’s emissaries having found it unguarded had already set it on fire.
Sri Shankara immediately recited a hymn addressed to Lakshmi Narasimha (Lakshmi Narasimha Karavalamba Stotram). By the grace of Narasimha, the fire got extinguished and Sri Shankara emerged from the cave. He traveled to Mandana’s house through the skies, was received reverentially by Mandana and Ubhaya Bharati with ecstasy and was offered a throne like seat. Ubhaya Bharati addressed him thus, ‘You are that Sadashiva who is the lord of Brahma and of all the Devas and other beings, and also the master of all Vidyas. You took all the trouble to master the science of sex love just to conform to the ways of the world. That we have met with defeat at your hands is not a matter of shame for us, just like moon and stars do not go into disrepute when the sun suppresses their light. I must now go to my heavenly abode. Permit me.’ Sri Shankara replied, ‘I know you are Saraswati, the consort of Brahma and the sister of Shiva and you are of the nature of pure consciousness. I shall in future be instituting temples of worship for you in Rishyasringagiri (Sringeri) and other places. I beseech you, to manifest yourself in all those temples, receiving the adoration of devotees and bestowing boons on them.’ Agreeing to do so she disappeared from the physical world.
Mandana became a follower of Shankara having extinguished all worldly desires and ambitions. Shankara imparted to him the Mahavakya ‘Tat tvam asi’ and gave him the name Sureshwara. Shankara having thus brought the celebrated Mandana into his own fold started again on his mission.
The Kapalika’s request
A Kapalika, an observer of Tantra, performed austerities to get a boon from Shiva, which would enable him to attain to Kailasa with his human frame. Lord Shiva had declared that his desire would be fulfilled if he could perform a sacrifice offering in fire the head of a King or an all knowing person. The Kapalika approached Shankara, narrated to him his ambition and said, ‘You are a man of renunciation without attachment to the body; you live only for the good of others. Sages like Dadhichi gladly gave to others their impermanent physical body. Be gracious enough to give me your head.’ So saying the Kapalika prostrated. Sri Shankara who was full of mercy to suppliants said, ‘Gladly shall I give you my head. This body is perishable. If it perishes for the good of another, what greater glory there can be? But you should take away my head in absolute secrecy when my disciples are away and I shall sit in a lonely place for you to take off my head.’
Accordingly, the Kapalika came at the fixed time and Sri Shankara sat in intense meditation, ready to sacrifice his body. Madhava Vidyaranya brings out in superb verses, the picture of the sage at this juncture.
आसीनमुच्चीकृत पूर्वगात्रं सिद्धासने शेषितबोधमात्रम् ।
चिन्मात्रविन्यस्त हृषीकवर्गं समाधि विस्मारित विश्वसर्गम् ॥
‘Sri Shankara withdrew his senses into the mind and the mind into the spirit. With his neck and back bone steady, his palms lying supine on the knees, his face calm, his eyes half open and fixed as though on the nose tip, he sat there in the state of the Supreme Bliss, completely oblivious of his surroundings.’
Just as the Kapalika was approaching the Acharya with his sword lifted up, the whole plot flashed in the mind of Padmapada owing to his deep meditation. Padmapada’s whole personality flared up like a burning mass of fire. He had attained Siddhi in the Narasimha mantra. The consciousness of Narasimha took possession of him and he became an embodiment of ferocity, leapt into the sky, came down, caught hold of the Kapalika, and tore open his chest with his nails as Narasimha did to Hiranyakashipu. The other disciples hearing the sound and commotion, rushed to the place to find the Acharya in Samadhi and the corpse of Kapalika lying nearby. With the aspect of Narasimha in the form of Padmapada still roaring, Sri Shankara came out of Samadhi and saw before him the formidable Narasimha. Sri Shankara sang hymns to pacify Narasimha –
त्वमेव सर्गस्थितिहेतुरस्य त्वमेव नेता नृहरेऽखिलस्य ।
त्वमेव चिन्त्यो हृदयेऽनवद्यें त्वामेव चिन्मात्रमहं प्रपद्ये ॥
Sri Shankara also mentioned that the Kapalika had in fact been graced with freedom from rebirths by dying at the hands of the Lord. Padmapada was thus brought back to his normal state from the super-consciousness of Narasimha. Thus Sri Shankara had once again brought out Padmapada’s austere devotion and had also indirectly paved way for the Kapalika’s goodwill.