Shankara Digvijayam Part 5
Vision of Gaudapada
Back to Kashi and sitting on the banks of the Ganga, the Acharya had a vision of Gaudapada. The Acharya prostrated before him in great excitement. Gaudapada spoke to the Acharya appreciating his attainments, in words and smiles that excelled the soothing influence of even moonlight. Shankara replied with great humility and emotion and read out his commentaries on Mandukya Upanishad and Karika on the same. Highly pleased, the deathless and desire-less sage Gaudapada disappeared after blessing the Acharya.
Ascending the Sarvajna Peetham at Kashmir
The Acharya came to know about a temple with four gates for Goddess Sharada in the Kashmir region. The temple was famous for its ‘Throne of Omniscience (Sarvajna Peetham)’, signifying that only an omniscient one can sit on that throne. Scholars from the Western, Eastern and Northern directions had in the past opened the three respective entrances, but till then there had been no learned men from the South. Sri Shankara who hailed from the South felt that he was divinely ordained to attempt to ascend the Sarvajna Peetham. So, the Acharya left for Sharada Temple in Kashmir. The people greeted Sri Shankara enthusiastically and hailed his advent as a lion ruling over the forest of Advaita.
The Acharya approached the Southern entrance when at once a group of controversialists stopped him. Adherents of Kanada’s Nyaya School, Sankhyas, Buddhists, Digambara Jains, and the followers of Jaimini put the Acharya to severe test in their own systems. The Acharya’s replies convinced every one of them that the Acharya was proficient in all philosophies and they opened the Southern entrance. Holding the hand of Padmapada, the Acharya was about to ascend the Throne of Omniscience when he heard the voice of Goddess Sharada. The Goddess challenged him that it is not enough if a person is omniscient but he should also be pure. Shankara cannot be said to be pure because of his stay at the palace of the king Amaruka.
To this challenge, the Acharya answered that from his birth he had done no sin with this body of his, and what was done with another body will not affect this body. Sharada’s voice became silent accepting the explanation and the Acharya ascended the Throne of Omniscience, to the ovation of the people there. The heavenly conch Shells blew, kettledrums sounded like roaring of the oceans, and flowers rained down in praise of Sri Shankara.
The end of the incarnation
Sri Shankara thus ascended the Sarvajna Peetham signifying the triumph of the doctrine of Advaita. Sri Shankara subsequently left for Badri after deputing the others to Sringeri and other places. At Badri he again preached his doctrine to followers of the Patanjali school who accepted Advaita as the true import to the Vedas. In this way, Shankara though Shiva’s Avatara, started his life as a seeker of truth at the hands of Govinda Bhagavatpada, dived deep into the secrets of the Upanishads, recovered the gold mine of Advaita, wrote the great commentaries and other Advaita treatises. He also composed hymns on Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Subrahmanya, Sharada, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Narasimha including Shivananda Lahiri, Soundarya Lahiri and all the time remained a teacher until he reached the thirty second year of his life.
The Acharya then went to Kedara, the holy land of Shiva. Tradition has it that the Acharya disappeared from sight at Kedarnath. Madhaviya Shankara Vijayam portrays the same incident in a manner fitting its poetic splendour thus ‘ ‘There came a concourse of Rishis and Devas with Brahma as their head to lead the incarnate aspect of Shiva back to his pristine state in Shivaloka. The divine bull Nandi came and stood before him. To the chorus of hymns, rain of Kalpaka flowers, the great Sanyasin mounting the back of Nandi with Brahma supporting him transformed himself into real form as the great Shiva and attained to his divine abode.’
The Genius of Sri Shankara
Sri Shankara’s versatile genius is highlighted through the several Shankara Vijayams. That Sri Shankara visited many holy places like Tiruvanaikkaval, Kanchipuram, Tirupati, Tiruchendur, etc. and contributed to the temples is known from these accounts of Sri Shankara’s life.
It is Sri Shankara’s contribution to the stabilisation of Sanatana Dharma in all its forms that remains today as a mark of his divine descent. While the followers of Sanatana Dharma regard Sri Shankara as a realised soul descended to sustain Dharma, Sri Shankara is considered by all as the highest of intellectuals the world has ever produced. Yet Sri Shankara was not only a philosopher but also a great Bhakta. Sri Shankara instituted the worship of Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Surya, Vishnu and Subrahmanya, all on the same pedestal pointing towards the one God worshipped in different forms. His compositions on all the deities contain poetic excellence that thrill the common man, touch the emotions and carries the sadhaka forward step by step. Shankara has emphasised that deliverance cannot be had except by Atma-Jnana. The paths of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana are steps in the ladder to realise the Atman, the summum bonum of human life. Total surrender to God as the culmination of Bhakti has been accepted by Sri Shankara as a sure means of attaining salvation because such surrender embodies Jnana. In a prayer to Vishnu, Sri Shankara says,
तत्यपि भेदापगमे नाथ तवाह न भामकीनत्वम् ।
सामुद्रोहि तरङ्गः क्वचन समुद्रो न तारङ्गः ॥
Oh Lord, even after realising that the Truth that
There is no real difference between Jiva and Brahman,
I beg to state that I am Yours and not that You are mine.
The wave belongs to the ocean, not the ocean to the waves.
Sri Adi Shankara and Sringeri Sharada Peetham
We, the present generation are extremely fortunate to be in the midst of the twelfth birth centenary of Shankara. The great spiritual organisation at Sringeri established by Sri Shankara has made a cultural conquest of the country without any physical force and has stood the test of time and gained veneration, respect, help and patronage from various rulers irrespective of their religion. Scholars of repute, administrators and others in different walks of life, in modern times have remained loyal to the Sringeri Mutt that has had a line of highly philosophical, saintly and scholarly Pontiffs in its illustrious lineage. The farsighted organising ability of Adi Shankara has proved itself in Sringeri, to be colossal and amazing.
It was given to the thirty third Pontiff of Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati Mahaswamigal, who is considered a purnavatara of Sri Shankara, to initiate Shankara Jayanti Celebrations, throughout the country. It was this Jagadguru who resurrected the long forgotten Kaladi and caused the publication at one and the same time the complete works of Sri Adi Shankara. It is the grace of the great Shankara Bhagavatpada that the Sringeri Sharada Peetham has played such a significant role.