Shankaracharya systematized and strengthened the philosophy of Advaita and went around the country a number of times to propagate and establish its supremacy on the Indian soil. He synthesized diverse currents of thought. He was a philosopher and scholar, agnostic and mystic, poet and saint, reformer and an able organizer.
"I believe in advaita; I believe in the essential unity of man and for that matter, of all that lives. Therefore, I believe that if one man gains spiritually, the whole world gains with him and if one man fails, the whole world fails to that extent. Thus declared the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi in the year 1924. Over 1200 years ago Shankaracharya, for the first time, systematised and strengthened the philosophy of advaita and went around the country a number of times to propagate and to establish its supremacy, on the Indian soil. Modern day Hinduism reflects in ample measure the ideas of the great acharya firmly grounded in the Upanishadic texts. While Shankara might have lived a long time ago his relevance to the modern age is amply testified by the Mahatma’s observations which is indeed a tribute to this great genius of India.
Mahatma Gandhi is not the only great modern who finds Shankara’s relevance to present day society. Many thinkers. Both in India and all over the world, have spoken eloquently about this great Indian savant. For instance Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has this to say of Shankara in his Discovery of Indio. "He synthesised diverse currents troubling the mind of India and built of unity of outlook. In his life of only 32 years he did the work of many long lives and left such an impress of his powerful mind and rich personality on India that it is very evident right upto this day. . He was a curious mixture of philosopher and scholar, agnostic and mystic, poet and saint, practical reformers and able organiser. On the popular plane he destroyed many a dogma and opened the door of his philosophical sanctuary to everyone who was capable of entering it irrespective of caste or creed"
Dr. Radhakrishnan, a modern philosopher who can be called a Vendantacharya as he has written and commented on the prasthanatrayi i.e. the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgita, describes Shankara in his Indian Philosophy as follows: "It is impossible to read Shankara’s writings, packed as they are with serious and subtle thinking without being conscious that one is in contact with a mind of a very fine penetration and profound spirituality. With his acute feeling of the immeasurable world, his stirring gaze into the abysmal mysteries of spirit, his unswerving resolve to say neither more nor less than what could be proved, Shankara stands out as a heroic figure of the first rank in the somewhat motley crowd of the religious thinkers of medieval India. His philosophy stands out complete, needing neither a before nor an after. It expounds its own presuppositions, is ruled by its own end and holds all its elements, in a stable, reasoned equipoise." Ramana Maharshi in his Tamil work Anuvada Noonmalai describes Shankara as the very embodiment of Shiva Himself. Shiva appeared in the form of Shankar in order to lead people to the ultimate bliss and oneness with Brahman which is the underlying truth of the universe says Ramana Maharshi.
It is interesting to note that Somerset Maugham’s Razor’s Edge is a remarkable exposition of advaita for the modern mind. He quotes the Kathopanishad at the beginning of this book. The title itself is borrowed from the words “kshurasya dhara nisita duratyaya” from the same Upanishad. He further quotes Emerson’s famous lines, ‘They reckon ill who leave me out, when me they fly I am the wings, I am the doubter and the doubt, And I the hymn the Brahmin sings’ in answer to the question who can explain the infinite in words? The character in Razor’s Edge poses the problem in the following manner——‘You who are so liberal, who know the world, who’ve read so much, science, philosophy, literature—do you in your heart of hearts believe in incarnation"? The answer is; “My dear friend, if I did not believe in it life would have no meaning for me.” ‘And what is the goal’? ‘Liberation from the bondage of rebirth’. Maugham seems to have caught the central idea of advaita with great precision and indirectly supports the conviction of the universality of appeal of the advaita doctrine. Satchidanandamurthy in his inaugural address at the Rashtriya Sri Shankaracharya Jayanti Mahotsava has pointed out the influence that Shankara exercised on many a modern mind. Thus he points out that “the thought of Rammohan Roy who ushered in the modern epoch in India was firmly rooted in the Vedanta.” So also the metaphysics on which Bal Gangadhara Tilak wrote his commentary on the Gita was based on Shankara’s advaita. Vivekananda who gave the clarion call for people to rise from their slumber was an advaitin. His entire teachings were based on the ideas of harmony and oneness which advaita stands for. “Rabindranath Tagore conceived of Advaitam as an absolute unity of harmony and bliss, the Infinite One who is Infinite Love, the self unborn beyond space, and yet this person, is the real Man, who is Brahman". "Vinoba Bhave’s bhoodan and sampattidan can be traced to the advaita vedanta. One could almost risk making the statement that any educated person in India worth his or her name would in some way or the other be influenced by Shankara’s advaita.
Of Related Interest:
Life of Shankaracharya - The Adventures of a Poet Philosopher
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