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Sri Hastamalakacharya

In the village called Sribali there was a learned Brahmana named Prabhakara. He was very rich. But neither his learning nor his affluence gave him any pleasure as his only son appeared to be an idiot. The boy was as lovely as Cupid, as lustrous as the sun, pleasant like the moon and patient like the earth. But he behaved like an idiot. It was with great difficulty that his Upanayana was performed. He never played, never talked, never got angry and never studied. When Sri Shankara chanced to go to that village, the boy was about 13 years of age. The anxious father took his son to Shankara to see if anything could be done for him. In his first glance, the Acharya realised the greatness of the boy. He asked him who he was. The boy answered the question in chaste Sanskrit verse, expounding the real nature of the Self. As the boy was not suited to the life of a householder, the Acharya accepted him as his disciple and gave him Sanyasa. As the essence of truth had been so lucidly explained by the boy, like a gooseberry in one’s palm, he was named Hastamalaka. His extempore verses had the rare distinction of being commented on by the illustrious Acharya himself. Though he attended the classes held by the Acharya, it was more to verify his own experience than to gain proficiency in dialectics. It was suggested to the Acharya that, by reason of his realisation of the Self, Hastamalaka was pre-eminently competent to write a Vartika(Sanskrit commentary in verse) on the Sutra Bhashya. The Acharya negated the suggestion by pointing out that Hastamalaka’s plane of consciousness always dwelt on the supernal Self. He would not stoop to write books. When the Acharya placed him on a higher level that those engaged in dialectics, the disciples were naturally curious to know how one who was not known to have devoted any attention to learning the sastras could be proficient in realisation. Sri Shankara explained the phenomenon. On the bank of the Jamuna, a great sage was seated in contemplation when some brahmin girls came there to bathe. One of them had a baby two years old. She placed him by the side of the sage and asked him to take care of it till she bathed. The baby slowly crawled into the river and was drowned. The mother was aghast. She took out the dead body of the child and wept bitterly before the sage. The sage was quite oblivious of the happenings awoke from his samadhi. He was moved by pity for the grieving mother. By the powers of his yoga, he left his body and entered the body of the child. The dead child sprang into life. That child was Hastamalaka. This explained how he came to have such an all-comprehensive knowledge without any apparent instruction.

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