विश्वं मायामयत्वेन रूपितं यत्प्रबोधतः ।
विश्वं च यत्स्वरूपं तं वार्तिकाचार्यमाश्रये ॥
A lucid gloss He wrote upon the Truth, that the illusion which pervades the world; Is embedded nowhere but in the mind, Sureshwaracharya, Him I salute!
Sri Sureshwaracharya was a great scholar, and a philosopher of repute. He was the first Peethadhipati of Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetham, established by Sri Shankarabhagavatpada.
Sri Sureshwaracharya ‘s contribution to Indian philosophy in general and advaita vedanta in particular was both substantial and enduring. While His Master, Shankara, propounded the essentials of advaita, Sureshwara reinforced by setting at rest all talk of diverse interpretations in his perceptor’s writings.
Certain special characteristics of this great saint stand out prominently as can be seen from his life history given below.
The Vedic Tradition
The Vedic tradition is continued in the two Mimamsa schools. Poorva Mimamsa along with the Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta, is only with the direct continuation of the Vedic culture. The Poorva Mimamsa system took the ritualistic tradition of the Vedic culture. It helped a methodical interpretation of the otherwise complicated Vedic injunctions about rituals. It also supplied a philosophical justification for the beliefs which formed the source and authority for the rituals.
Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada heard of Kumarila Bhatta, the leader of one of the two branches of the Poorva Mimamsa school of philosophy. Kumarila Bhatta’s acceptance of the Vedic authority was total. He did not care to admit the existence of God. The great powers of argument of Kumarila Bhatta and the stories of his miraculous deeds in vanquishing well-known Buddhist scholars to reestablish the authority of the Vedas were almost known to everybody in the land. According to Kumarila Bhatta, the Vedas are eternal like the world.
When Sri Bhagavatpada heard of Kumarila Bhatta, he was immolating himself in a fire of husk as an act of expiation. Sri Bhagavatpada asked the great Vedic scholar to stop the act of immolation, and come out to argue with him because the Poorva Mimamsa attitude to the existence of God was not correct. It was so even according to the authority of the Vedas which the Poorva Mimamsa scholars accepted as supreme. Kumarila Bhatta explained that in deference to Vedic injunctions, for which mission his life was devoted, the act of immolation should not be stopped in the middle. He had to purify himself according to his own convictions.
Kumarila Bhatta however requested Sri Bhagavatpada to go to Mahishmatipura to meet his disciple Mandana Mishra and win him over to Advaita. He also added that the superiority of the Advaita doctrine will be revealed to the world if Mandana Mishra gets defeated in a combat of logic.
Kumarila Bhatta described Mandana Mishra as the dearest of his disciples, and a great scholar in all branches of learning. Sri Bhagavatpada blessed Kumarila Bhatta and accepted advice for the debate with Mandana Mishra.
Contrary to the normal course of a disciple seeking a guru to earn his grace by devotion, loyalty and service, it was Sri Bhagavatpada who went to Mahishmatipura in search of a disciple.
The Magadha empire, with Pataliputra as its capital, stretched far and wide in those days. Mahishmatipura was an important town in the extensive Magadhan empire.
Sri Bhagavatpada reached the city of Mahishmatipura with his followers. The passers by in the street gave him a graphic description of the place of Mandana Mishra.
It was like a Royal Palace because of Mandana Mishra’s affluence. His father Hima Mitra was an honoured pandit in the court of the Kashmir kings. He belonged to Kannauj Gowda Brahmin community. Mandana Mishra received the best of traditional training at the feet of Kumarila Bhatta and perfected his scholarship. He settled at Mahishmatipura as a house-holder with his wife Ubhaya Bharati. She was the daughter of learned and pious Vishnu Mitra living on the banks of Sonabhadra river.
Mandana Mishra and Ubhaya Bharati were an ideal couple, each of them equal to the other in all branches of learning, ethical character and strict observation of Vedic injunctions. Ubhaya Bharati was supposed to be an avatara of goddess of learning, Saraswati Devi, as Mandana Mishra was supposed to be an avatara of Brahma. His scholarship and the reverence in which he was held earned him the honorific epithet of ‘Mandana Mishra’. His real name was Vishwarupa.
When Sri Bhagavatpada reached the mansion of Mandana Mishra, it was found bolted from inside. Sri Bhagavatpada, as a Sanyasin, had no right of admission into a house found closed. Such are the rules of Smriti, which govern the daily conduct of traditional Sanyasis. Sri Bhagavatpada pondered a little. He had firmly decided to redeem Mandana Mishra from the rigidity of dogmatic ritualism. Therefore he felt like using his extraordinary Yogic powers. Great Yogi and Siddha Purusha as he was, Sri Bhagavatpada entered the house through the closed door.
Mandana Mishra had an innate dislike for Sanyasis because in his staunch belief of ritualism, he felt that only those who wished to escape the rigours of Vedic injunctions found a refuge in the Sanyasa ashrama. Moreover when Sri Bhagavatpada entered the house, it was a time when the presence of a Sanyasin was most unwelcome. Mandana Mishra was performing a shraddha and the Brahmins were about to be fed. The entry of Sri Bhagavatpada at such a time caused a disturbance and Mandana Mishra was infuriated.
Hot and harsh exchanges followed. The Brahmins found the situation going out of control. They wished to set it right. They suggested to Mandana Mishra to invite Sri Bhagavatpada to participate in the shraddha by occupying Vishnu Sthana. Staunch ritualist as he was, Mandana Mishra was fully bent upon saving the ritual. He invited Sri Bhagavatpada accordingly.
But Sri Bhagavatpada declined to accept the invitation. He explained to Mandana Mishra that he did not come for bhiksha but for a polemical debate. Mandana Mishra who had never met his match in learning before was willing for a dialectical fight. He gladly welcomed it. The shraddha was allowed to be finished as ordained. The debate was fixed for the next day.
The Eight-day Debate
They met the next day after daily ablutions normal to their respective ashramas. Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra, agreed to serve as the judge as they both sought her help expressing confidence in her impartiality and appreciation for her wisdom and scholarship. She was the only scholar available who could follow the disputants in their flight to sublime heights.
As Ubhaya Bharati was a housewife, with her daily chores, which included the preparation of daily food for the disputants, she gave them each a garland of flowers. She said that the person whose garland faded away first was the person vanquished. To make the dispute more purposeful, they agreed to a wager. The person worsted in the debate should become the disciple and accept the ashrama, way of life of the victor.
They were giants of erudition, both of them supreme in the knowledge of the Vedas. The discussion continued daily without hindrance to their daily rituals, rest and other exigencies.
From day to day, Mandana Mishra saw new light in the arguments of Sri Bhagavatpada. He was losing faith in his own past convictions. His faith in Bhagavatpada was growing to a stimulating climax.On the eighth and the last day of the discussion, Mandana Mishra was fully convinced of the superiority of the doctrine of Sri Bhagavatpada. As Sri Bhagavatpada said, ‘Once the conditioning factor (the nescience) vanishes, the soul becomes one with the Brahman.’ When Mandana Mishra realised the limitations of his own standpoint and the Truth of Sri Bhagavatpada’s view, he found that his flower garland had faded. He fell prostrate before Sri Bhagavatpada, touched his feet and said in a trembling voice, ‘O Teacher of the World, pardon me and my audacity. I have offended you for these eight days. Hold your fury, O Jagadguru! and shower your grace on this humble servant.
Ubhaya Bharati disappeared from the mortal vision and regained her celestial form as Saraswati Devi, the Goddess of Knowledge. She however granted a boon to Sri Bhagavatpada that she would be immanent at a place where he may invoke her presence. Mandana Mishra gave all his earthly belongings to the needy at the last Vedic ritual which he performed before he took sanyasa at the hands of Sri Jagadguru Shankara Bhagavatpada.
Sri Bhagavatpada gave his disciple the name of Sri Sureshwaracharya. He took him on his march from place to place. Soon Sri Bhagavatpada reached Sringeri where he invoked the presence of Goddess of Knowledge. He installed Sri Sureshwaracharya as head of the Mutt.
Establishment of the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri
Sri Sureshwaracharya wrote elucidating metrical commentaries (Vartikas) on Taittiriya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishadic Bhashyas of Sri Bhagavatpada. Sri Sureshwaracharya also wrote commentaries on the Dakshinamoorti Stotra and Panchikarana of Sri Bhagavatpada. The commentary on Dakshinamoorti Stotra became famous as the Manasollasa Vartika. He also wrote a succinct monograph presenting an analytical picture of the fundamental teachings of Sri Bhagavatpada. This book became well-known as Naishkarmya Siddhi. Sri Sureshwaracharya also wrote a commentary called Balakrida on the Smriti of Yajnavalkya. Next to Sri Bhagavatpada, he stands as the foremost author in the field of Advaita.