510 – 478 BCE
Related Pages: Advaita Vedanta
Biographical Sketch by Universal Theosophy
Sankaracharya (from Saṅkara a personal name + ācarya teacher) was an Indian reformer and teacher of Vedanta, who founded what has become known as Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest teachers to have been born on Indian soil, H.P. Blavatsky referring to him as “the greatest of the Esoteric masters of India.” 1 Yet much mystery shrouds his life and teachings, leaving the student the necessary task of wading through confused and often conflicting information presented by historians and Advaitis alike.
Thus the first task in any biography of Sankaracharya is to ascertain his date of birth, which has been widely debated. What is of central importance, at the outset, is this: Sankaracharya founded key mathas (monasteries) at the four corners of India 2, in addition to numerous other, minor mathas, and following his death the leaders of these mathas (the heads of the Advaita tradition) each took on the title “Sankaracharya”. There have thus been several hundred Sankaracharyas through the history of India, but only one Adi (first) Sankara.
Upon examination, what reveals itself to the enquiring student is the existence of two Sankaracharyas who stand out above the rest, these being 1. Adi Sankaracharya and 2. a later one referred to as Abhinava Sankaracharya. 3 Modern scholarship tends not to make this distinction, however, viewing the two as one, and from this arises much confusion. 4 The latter lived in the 8th-9th century CE, which has become the date accepted by modern scholarship for the original Sankaracharya. However, there is every indication that Adi Sankaracharya was born around 509 BCE 5 and died (or retired from the world, according to one legend 6) thirty-two years later.
T. Subba Row, an esoteric Advaitin himself 7, put forth this date, saying that: “According to the historical information in their [Tibetan and Indian Initiates] possession he was born in the year B.C. 510…” 8. Furthermore, the only complete Advaita paramguru (lineage) records (those of the Kalika and Sarada mathas) both provide dates corresponding to 509 BCE. T.S. Narayana Sastry in his work The Age of Sankara, translates a section from the Brihat Sankara-vijaya, which likewise gives a date of 509 BCE. 9
The evidence thus points to an original (Adi) Sankaracharya who lived at the turn of the 6th-5th century BCE, who founded mathas of what would become the Advaita order, after which each matha produced a lineage of Sankaracharyas. In the 8th century, one of these Sankaracharyas became a prominent figure, wrote extensively under that name, and inadvertently caused modern scholars to confound him and his writings with the great founder.
Traditionally, 10 Adi Sankara is said to have been the disciple of Govinda Yogi, who was in turn the disciple of Gaudapada, the author the famous Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad, a cornerstone of the Advaita tradition. T. Subba Row equates Govinda Yogi with the famous Patanjali, saying that “According to the immemorial custom observed amongst initiates Patanjali assumed the name of Govinda Yogi at the time of his initiation by Gaudapada.” 8 Other views are that Govinda Yogi was a later incarnation of Patanjali, while still others view them as two entirely separate gurus, one a teacher of Gaudapada, the other his student. 11 However we view the details, it is this group of teachers/disciples who laid the foundations of the system of thought that would give rise to Advaita-Vedanta. On this backdrop—with this group of teachers assembled and with the steady decline of Kali Yuga in full sway—the story of Sankara begins. 12
In Kerala, in the year 2593 of Kali Yuga (corresponding to 509BCE), a child was born—a child who would become an inspired teacher, who would “proclaim to the world the truth of the Absolute Philosophy of the Vedanta for the purpose of saving the country from running headlong into political chaos, intellectual ruin and spiritual perdition.”13 It is said that the boy Sankara was a true wonder, exhibiting extraordinary intelligence and beginning his studies as young as age 3. By age 8 he is said to have mastered the vedic literature at his disposal with an intuitive intelligence that penetrated into their deepest mysteries. In that year Sankara’s father passed away; a year later the young boy requested of his widow mother that she grant him permission to become a sannyasin (a renunciant, an ascetic monk). After some hesitation, she assented, and thus the young boy of nine years set off in search of a guru.
Sankara traveled north 14 until he finally met his guru, Govinda Yogi, who had likewise been searching for him—the two having been given complimentary visions. Sankara was then formally initiated as a sannyasin. He is said to have then studied under Govinda Yogi for two years, and subsequently under his paramguru Gaudapada for a further 4 years, during which time he composed many of his bhasyas and other writings. 15
There is then a story of Sankara being taken to holy Mount Kailash to visit with the paramgurus of Gaudapada—Bādarāyaṇa and Śuka—who then directed him to go to Benares to preach the Advaita Darśana. Before returning, however, Sankara is initiated by the Great Guru himself, Maheśvara, a legend clearly relating Sankara’s position as a direct ambassador of the lodge of great teachers beyond the himalayas.
From this moment Sankara is entirely transformed into a new man; he has become a Jivan-Mukta—one in feeling, soul and power with the Infinite and Eternal Lord, though living in a mortal body still, for a while, solely with a view to save the world.”
Sankara returned alone from the Himalayas, with his mission set before him, but he is soon accompanied once again by his trusted friend and co-disciple, Chitsukhchārya, who becomes Sankara’s first initiated student. The mission is set aside for a time while Sankara tends to his dying mother, and then returns also to tend to his dying guru, Govinda Yogi, who upon his passing instructs his students to follow Sankara as their new guru. These duties complete, Sankara, accompanied by his disciples, embarks upon his tour of India to teach the Advaita philosophy.
He first makes camp at Prayāga (Allahabad), and begins teaching. “In a short time, his fame as a great Vedantic teacher reaches the nook and corner of Aryavarta and intelligent men from various quarters come to him almost every day and seek admission as his pupils to study the Vedanta Philosophy under him.” Hereafter several wonderous acts of Sankara are related in Sastry’s narrative, including his famous debate with Mandana who after became an illustrious student of Sankara. His position as the greatest teacher of his time shines through clearly in these stories and the true wonder of this great soul is recognized all the more so when we consider that he was but 15-16 years old at the time.
Sankara had made his way to Sringeri and is said to have lived there for 12 years, teaching his Advaita doctrine. After this he traveled widely, eventually settling again in Kanchi where he established the Sarada Matha. “From this central institution radiated the other Advaita Mathas—Jyotir Matha in the North; Dvaraka Matha in the West; Sringeri in the South; Govardhana in the East.”
Having esablished his divine mission, the incomparable Sankara attained his Bramībhāva (identity with Brahman) at Kanchi, in the precincts of sri Kamakshi, in his 32nd year, in 2625 Kali, in the cyclic year Raktākshi, corresponding to 476 B.C.”
Thus is the life of Adi Sankara as related in the narrative of Sastry. 16
From his time to ours, the influence of this great teacher has only grown, penetrating to the depths of the mind and heart of India. The central importance of Adi Sankara in the spiritual life of India is well stated by one of the great Swamis of our age, Paramahansa Yogananda:
“Every swami belongs to the ancient monastic order which was organized in its present form by Shankara. Because it is a formal order, with an unbroken line of saintly representatives serving as active leaders, no man can give himself the title of swami. He rightfully receives it only from another swami; all monks thus trace their spiritual lineage to one common guru, Lord Shankara.” 17
As to his teachings, because of the tradition of matham leaders assuming the title of “Sankaracharya”, the extant writings attributed to Adi Sankara must be seen as coming from more than one source, as modern scholarship clearly demonstrates—some from Adi Sankara, some from Abhinava Sankaracharya and others by the wide array of other acharyas who wrote under the same name. 18 Thus it becomes the task of the student to filter through these and ultimately to decide for themselves on the attribution of each work. This task may be somewhat relieved, however, as T.S. Narayana Sastry’s book 14 produces a list of 41 works attributed to Adi Sankara, as drawn by him from the Brihat Sankara-vijaya. Within this list is the Vivekachudamani (the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom), which supports the notion that it ought to be recognized as a seminal work of Adi Sankara (see footnote 4). The student who compares these works with the other works widely attributed to “Sankaracharya” will see notable differences in teachings. 19 For instance, while exoteric and popular Advaitism seems to have fallen into an almost monotheistic approach to Brahman, making little or no distinction between It, an impersonal principle, and Isvara, the active creative god, from an esoteric standpoint the difference is profound. 20 The original teachings of Adi Sankara are not theistic in nature, even though his later followers have often tread down that road, including later “Sankaracharyas”.
It is, then, to the Vivekachudamani and several others of these 41 works, such as the Atmanatva-viveka (a most wonderful synopsis of Vedanta), that we must look for the teachings of the original Sankaracharya.
Advaita-Vedanta (Advaita: non-dual, Vedanta: the knowledge contained in those scriptures found at the end of the Vedas) provides both a system of thought and a system of practical guidance. The practical side begins with the Four Qualifications or Four Perfections. These we find in the Tattva-bodha and the Atmanatva-viveka, respectively as:
“ The Discerning between lasting and unlasting things;  No Rage for enjoying the fruit of works, either here or there;  the Six Graces that follow Peace;  and then the Longing to be free.”— Tattva-bodha, tr. Johnston
“(1) True discrimination of permanent and impermanent things. (2) Indifference to the enjoyment of the fruits of one’s actions both here and hereafter. (3) Possession of Sama and the other five qualities. (4) An intense desire of becoming liberated (from conditional existence).”— Atmanatva-viveka, tr. Mohini M. Chatterji
The intense longing for liberation must underlie the disciples motivations. The Six Graces provide guidance on study and meditation. The indifference to the fruits of one’s actions provides guidance for right living. And the first of the qualifications leads us to the foundational doctrine of Advaita.
The first qualification is further clarified in both works:
“What is the Discerning between lasting and unlasting things?
The one lasting thing is the Eternal; all, apart from it, is unlasting.”— Tattva-bodha, tr. Johnston
“Q. What is the right discrimination of permanent and impermanent things?
A. Certainty as to the Material Universe being false and illusive, and Brahman being the only reality.”— Atmanatva-viveka, tr. Mohini M. Chatterji
The fundamental notion that Brahman alone is the All, the One Reality, is the foundational starting point of Advaita Vedanta. But of equal importance is the position that the true nature (self or atman) of the jiva, the individual, is none other than Brahman. This provides the essence of non-duality—i.e. the two are not essentially different. This teaching is put succinctly in the great statements (mahavakyas) found in the unpanishads such as:
Tat tvam asi – Thou art That.
Aham brahmasmi – I am Brahman.
From here, the philosophy proceeds. We are taught that the experience of duality—where none truly exists—is due to ignorance (avidya) and illusion (maya). The creative power (maya) of the manifested Brahman (i.e. Isvara) gives rise to the appearance of multiplicity. The ignorance of the jiva veils the true knowledge of Brahman and gives rise to the perception of duality and diversity as real and substantial. Realisation of the underlying reality, which is liberation (moksha) arises when ignorance is dispelled.
Thus, Adi Sankara’s writings, while expounding this philosophic system, focus also on the Self and the means by which one may arrive at liberation—which is not something gained, but rather something inherent that is revealed when ignorance is removed.
“But I shall declare to you the own being of the Self supreme, knowing which a man, freed from his bonds, reaches the lonely purity.
There is a certain selfhood wherein the sense of “I” forever rests; who witnesses the three modes of being, who is other than the five veils; who is the only knower in waking, dreaming, dreamlessness; of all the activities of the knowing soul, whether good or bad—this is the “I”. …
This inner Self, the ancient Spirit, is everlasting, partless, immediately experienced happiness; ever of one nature, pure waking knowledge…
When the Self is veiled by unwisdom there arises a binding to the not-self, and from this comes the pain of world-life. The fire of wisdom lit by discernment between these two—Self and not-Self—will wither up the source of unwisdom, root and all.” 21
The Vedantic philosophy is vast, delving into the minutest details of the structure and functioning of Universe and Man, but what Adi Sankara does, perhaps above and beyond all else, is cut straight through to the core of the condition of Man as trapped by avidya and maya, and provide the means by which we may rise beyond such a state. Through the exercise of discrimination between the not-real and the real, we are told that Man may arrive at the realization of the non-dual Self and thus one’s fundamental union with the All. And this may be said to be the essential heart of Advaita-Vedanta.
^2. These key four mathas are: Jyotir (in the north), Govardhana (in the east), Kalika (in the west), and Sringeri (in the south). In addition to these is the Sarada matha, also in the south.
^^4. For instance, two principal works of “Sankaracharya”—the Vivekachudamani and the Brahma-sutra-bhasya—have been clearly demonstrated to have been written by two different authors, and while the latter can indeed be shown to have been composed by a Sankaracharya of the 8th century CE, the former cannot be similarly attributed. As David Reigle observes: “The Viveka-cūḍāmaṇi differs from it [the Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya] in doctrine, usage of technical terms, and vocabulary…”. While the Brahma-sutra-bhasya has been taken as the seminal work of Sankaracharya by modern scholars, we propose the opposite: that the Vivekachudamani more rightly deserves that distinction and that the Brahma-sutra-bhasya was composed by the later Sankaracharya. [Ed.]
See “Bibliographic Guide: Works of the Original Sankaracharya” by David Reigle in combination with his “The Original Sankaracharya”.
“Upasika (Madam B. [Blavatsky]) and Subba Row, though pupils of the same Master, have not followed the same Philosophy — the one is Buddhist and the other an Adwaitee.”—Letter LXXX, written by K.H.
“Subba Row will help you to learn, though his terms — he being an initiated Brahmin and holding to the Brahmanical esoteric teaching — will be different from those of the “Arhat Buddhist” terminology.”—Letter LXXVI, written by K.H.
“… they [H.P.B. and Subba Row] are both chelas, or rather disciples.”—Letter XXX, written by K.H.
These demonstrate Subba Row’s position as an initiated chela and an Advaitin. The authority of his writings is also vouched for in the same letters:
“You are wrong in distrusting Subba Row’s writings. He does not write willingly, to be sure, but he will never make a false statement.”—Letter XCIII (Dec. 1883), written by K.H. (composed only three months after S.R.’s article on Sankara’s Date and Doctrine)
And from The Blavatsky Letters to A.P. Sinnett:
“I could not (especially in my present state of nervousness) stand by and listen calmly to the astounding news (from Gough!!) that Sankara Charya was a theist and Subba Row knows not what he is talking about, without kicking myself to death…”—Letter XXXIII (shows H.P.B.’s trust in S.R.’s knowledge, specifically regarding Sankaracharya)
^^8. See “Sankara’s Date and Doctrine”, by T. Subba Row (see below), The Theosophist, September, 1883. Reprinted in Blavatsky Collected Works, Volume 5, Pages 176-197, and in Five Years of Theosophy, Pages 278-308.
^9. The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, 1971 (reprint of 1916 original). (see below).
^10. For the traditional sucession of teachers, see The Philosophy of Advaita by T.M.P. Mahadevan, p. 2. The list is given as follows: “Nārāyaṇa, the lotus-born Brahmā, Vasiṣṭha, Śakti, his son Parāśara, Vyāsa, Śuka, the great Gauḍapāda, Govinda-yogīndra, his disciple Śankarācārya, and then his four pupils Padmapāda, Hastāmalaka, Troṭaka and the Vārtikakāra (i.e. Sureśvara)”.
^11. There is a similar conflict in the dates assigned to Patanjali as we see with Sankaracharya. Modern scholars place Patanjali in the 2nd century BCE. However, again we may have the case of two Patanjali’s being confounded as one. In the Preface to his interpretation of the Aphorisms of Patanjali, William Quan Judge, after giving a brief biography of Patanjali, writes: “But there is also another Patanjali mentioned in the Indian books. He was born in India at Gonarda … Prof. Goldstucker has concluded that this later Patanjali wrote about 140 B.C. His writings were commentaries upon the great grammarian Panini … He must not be confounded with our Patanjali; of the latter all that we have is the Philosophy set forth in the Aphorisms.” In her Theosophical Glossary H. P. Blavatsky states that Patanjali was a contemporary of Panini and lived sometime in the 7th century BCE. Modern scholars do assign Panini to around the 6th century BCE, but have not done the same for Patanjali.
An alternative view to Subba Row’s equating of Patanjali with Govinda Yogi is a view that Patanjali was an early guru of Gaudapada, who became the guru of Govinda Yogi, who became the guru of Sankaracharya (see p. 35, 42-60 etc. of “The Age of Sankara” by Shastry). This view would seem to conform closer to the dates H.P. Blavatsky gives for Patanjali in her glossary (“The date assigned to him by the Orientalists is 200 B.C.; and by the Occultists nearer to 700 than 600 B.C.”). While the exact details may continue to be evasive, there seems to be ample evidence to support Adi Sankara’s date of birth as 509BCE, which thus pushes Patanjali’s date to within the 6th (or potentially the 7th) century BCE. For more see: Biography of Patanjali.
^12. The following portion of our biography is condensed from The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry. See chapter 3 of that work for a fuller account. All unattributed quotations here are drawn from this work.
^13. There is a belief prevalent in India, even among learned Advaitis, that Adi Sankara drove Buddhism out of India. However, this cannot have been true of Adi Sankara, but perhaps true of his later follower, the 8th century Sankaracharya who indeed lived at the time of the expulsion of Buddhism from Indian soil. The Sankara Vijayas which include this aspect of the tale are undoubtedly biographies of the later Sankaracharya, or mixed biographies including aspects of the lives of both Acharyas. See The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, p. ix, 109, etc., and also “Confusing the Esoteric with the Exoteric: T. Subba Row on Advaita Vedanta” by David Reigle, p. 6 etc..
^^14. It is at this point that Sastry has Sankara joined by Chitsukhchārya, who would become his constant companion and later both his disciple and biographer. It is Chitsukhchārya’s account that Sastry largely draws upon for this narrative.
^15. See p. 63-85 etc. of “The Age of Sankara” for an inventory of Sankara’s writings during this time. For the complete list of 41 works mentioned, see “ Bibliographic Guide: Works of the Original Sankaracharya”, p. 4-5.
^16. See also “Appendix-I: Chronological Table of Adi Śankara’s Life”, p. 181-184 of The Age of Sankara.
“… Shankara’s date is a center of the usual scholastic dispute. A few records indicate that the peerless monist lived from 510 to 478 B.C.; Western historians assign him to the late eighth century A.D. …”
^18. The evidence is clear that the main bhasyas of Sankaracharya known to students today were written by one or more later Sankaracharyas, due largely to references made to other schools of Advaita, to schools and doctrines of Buddhism, etc. that did not exist at the time of Adi Sankara and do not show up in other writings attributed to him. In The Secret Doctrine, 1888, H.P. Blavatsky tells us that: “…his original treatises, as there are reasons to suppose, have not yet fallen into the hands of the Philistines, for they are too jealously preserved in his maths (monasteries, mathams). And there are still weightier reasons to believe that the priceless Bhashyas (Commentaries) on the esoteric doctrine of the Brahmins, by their greatest expounder, will remain for ages yet a dead letter to most of the Hindus, except the Smartava Brahmins.” (Vol. 1, p. 271-2). It is possible that bhasyas composed by the original Sankaracharya do exist, but have not yet been made public (in the time-honored tradition of secrecy practiced among initiated Vedantins), while the public bhasyas are those composed by a later Sankaracharya.
^19. For an examination of the profound differences between the teachings contained in the later bhasyas and writings and the teachings found in the works of Adi Sankara, see the section “Sankaracharya on God” in David Reigle’s “The Original Sankaracharya”, where we read the following remark: “It would seem that the pure Advaita teaching of the original Śankarācārya has now become thoroughly overlaid with theism, as a result of the additions made to that teaching by the Śankarācārya who wrote the extant commentaries [bhasyas] on the three pillars of Vedānta.” (p. 14) [The three pillars are: the Upanishads, the Brahma-sutra, and the Bhagavad-Gita.]
“Parabrahm is not a God, but absolute immutable law, and Iswar is the effect of Avidya and Maya, ignorance based on the great delusion…”
See also T. Subba Row’s “Notes on the Bhagavad Gita”, where he goes into great depth on the subject.
See also S. Radhakrishnan’s “The Vedantic Approach to Reality”, where the distinction between Iswara and the Absolute (Brahmam) is explored.
Entries from the Theosophical Glossary
Adwaita (Sk.). A Vedânta sect. The non-dualistic (A-dwaita) school of Vedântic philosophy founded by Sankarâchârya, the greatest of the historical Brahmin sages. The two other schools are the Dwaita (dualistic) and the Visishtadwaita; all the three call themselves Vedântic.
Adwaitin (Sk.). A follower of the said school.
Sankara (Sk.). The name of Siva. Also a great Vedantic philosopher.
Âchârya (Sk.). Spiritual teacher, Guru; as Sankar-âchârya, lit., a “teacher of ethics”. A name generally given to Initiates, etc., and meaning “Master”.
Sri Sankarâchârya (Sk.). The great religious reformer of India, and teacher of the Vedânta philosophy—the greatest of all such teachers, regarded by the Adwaitas (Non-dualists) as an incarnation of Siva and a worker of miracles. He established many mathams (monasteries), and founded the most learned sect among Brahmans, called the Smârtava. The legends about him are as numerous as his philosophical writings. At the age of thirty-two he went to Kashmir, and reaching Kedâranâth in the Himalayas, entered a cave alone, whence he never returned. His followers claim that he did not die, but only retired from the world.
Ânanda-Lahari (Sk.). “The wave of joy”; a beautiful poem written by Sankarâchârya, a hymn to Pârvati, very mystical and occult.
Atmabodha (Sk.). Lit., “Self-knowledge”; the title of a Vedantic treatise by Sankarâchârya.
Smârtava (Sk.). The Smârta Brahmans; a sect founded by Sankarâchârya.
Sringa Giri (Sk.). A large and wealthy monastery on the ridge of the Western Ghauts in Mysore (Southern India); the chief matham of the Adwaita and Smârta Brahmans, founded by Sankarâchârya. There resides the religious head (the latter being called Sankarâchârya) of all the Vedantic Adwaitas, credited by many with great abnormal powers.
Vedânta (Sk.). A mystic system of philosophy which has developed from the efforts of generations of sages to interpret the secret meaning of the Upanishads (q.v.). It is called in the Shad-Darshanas (six schools or systems of demonstration), Uttara Mîmânsâ, attributed to Vyâsa, the compiler of the Vedas, who is thus referred to as the founder of the Vedânta. The orthodox Hindus call Vedânta—a term meaning literally the “end of all (Vedic) knowledge”—Brahma-jnâna, or pure and spiritual knowledge of Brahmâ. Even if we accept the late dates assigned to various Sanskrit schools and treatises by our Orientalists, the Vedânta must be 3,300 years old, as Vyâsa is said to have lived 1,400 years b.c. If, as Elphinstone has it in his History of India, the Brahmanas are the Talmud of the Hindus, and the Vedas the Mosaic books, then the Vedânta may be correctly called the Kabalah of India. But how vastly more grand! Sankarâchârya, who was the popularizer of the Vedântic system, and the founder of the Adwaita philosophy, is sometimes called the founder of the modern schools of the Vedânta.
The Original Sankaracharya
The Original Śankarāchārya
By David Reigle
Originally Published in Fohat Magazine, Fall 2001,
Republished online for Eastern Tradition Research Institute, 2004
Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine
Article “Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine”, The Theosophist, 1883
It is always difficult to determine with precision the date of any particular event in the ancient history of India; and this difficulty is considerably enhanced by the speculations of European Orientalists whose labours in this direction have but tended to thicken the confusion already existing in popular legends and traditions which were often altered or modified to suit the necessities of Sectarian Controversy. The causes that have produced this result will be fully ascertained on examining the assumptions on which these speculations are based. The writings of many of these Orientalists are often characterized by an imperfect knowledge of Indian literature, philosophy and religion and of Hindu traditions and a contemptuous disregard for the opinions of Hindu writers and pundits. Very often, facts and dates are taken by these writers from the writings of their predecessors or contemporaries on the assumption that they are correct without any further investigation by themselves. Even when a writer gives a date with an expression of doubt as to its accuracy, his follower frequently quotes the same date as if it were absolutely correct. One wrong date is made to depend upon another wrong date, and one bad inference is often deduced from another inference equally unwarranted and illogical. And consequently if the correctness of any particular date given by these writers is to be ascertained the whole structure of Indian Chronology constructed by them will have to be carefully examined. It will be convenient to enumerate some of the assumptions above referred to before proceeding to examine their opinions concerning the date of Sankaracharya.
I. Many of these writers are not altogether free from the prejudices engendered by the pernicious doctrine, deduced from the Bible whether rightly or wrongly, that this world is only six thousand years old. We do not mean to say that any one of these writers would now seriously think of defending the said doctrine. Nevertheless it had exercised a considerable influence on the minds of Christian writers when they began to investigate the claims of Asiatic Chronology. If an antiquity of 5 or 6 thousand years is assigned to any particular event connected with the Ancient history of Egypt, India or China, it is certain to be rejected at once by these writers without any inquiry whatever regarding the truth of the statement.
II. They are extremely unwilling to admit that any portion of the Veda can be traced to a period anterior to the date of the Pentateuch even when the arguments brought forward to establish the priority of the Vedas are such as would be convincing to the mind of an impartial investigator untainted by Christian prejudices. The maximum limit of Indian antiquity is, therefore, fixed for them by the Old Testament and it is virtually assumed by them that a period between the date of the Old Testament on the one side and the present time on the other should necessarily be assigned to every book in the whole range of Vedic and Sanskrit literature and to almost every event of Indian History.
III. It is often assumed without reason that every passage in the Vedas containing philosophical or metaphysical ideas must be looked upon as a subsequent interpolation and that every book treating of a philosophical subject must be considered as having been written after the time of Buddha or after the commencement of the Christian era. Civilization, philosophy and scientific investigation had their origin, in the opinion of these writers, within the six or seven centuries preceding the Christian era and mankind slowly emerged, for the first time, from “the depths of animal brutality” within the last four or five thousand years.
IV. It is also assumed that Buddhism was brought into existence by Gautama Buddha. The previous existence of Buddhism, Jainism and Arhat philosophy is rejected as an absurd and ridiculous invention of the Buddhists who attempted thereby to assign a very high antiquity to their own religion. In consequence of this erroneous impression on their part every Hindu book referring to the doctrines of Buddhists is declared to have been written subsequent to the time of Gautama Buddha. For instance, Mr. Weber is of opinion that Vyasa, the author of Brahma—Sutras, wrote them in the 5th century after Christ. This is indeed a startling revelation to the majority of Hindus.
V. Whenever several works treating of various subjects are attributed to one and the same author by Hindu writings or traditions, it is often assumed and apparently without any reason whatever in the majority of cases, that the said works should be considered as the productions of different writers. By this process of reasoning they have discovered two Badarayanas (Vyasas), two Patanjalis, and three Vararuchis. We do not mean to say that in every case identity of names is equivalent to identity of persons. But we cannot but protest against such assumptions when they are made without any evidence to support them, merely for the purpose of supporting a foregone conclusion or establishing a favourite hypothesis.
VI. An attempt is often made by these writers to establish the chronological order of the events of ancient Indian history by means of the various stages in the growth or development of the Sanskrit language and Indian literature. The time required for this growth is often estimated in the same manner in which a geologist endeavours to fix the time required for the gradual development of the various strata composing the earth’s crust. But we fail to perceive anything like a proper method in making these calculations. It will be wrong to assume that the growth of one language will require the same time as that of another within the same limits. The peculiar characteristics of the nation to whom the language belongs must be carefully taken into consideration in attempting to make any such calculation. The history of the said nation is equally important. Any one who examines Max Müller’s estimation of the so-called Sutra, Brahmana, Mantra and Kanda periods, will be able to perceive that no attention has been paid to these considerations. The time allotted to the growth of these four “Sruti” of Vedic literature is purely arbitrary.
We have enumerated these defects in the writings of European Orientalists for the purpose of showing to our readers that it is not always safe to rely upon the conclusions arrived at by these writers regarding the dates of ancient Indian history.
In examining the various quotations and traditions selected by European Orientalists for the purpose of fixing Sankaracharya’s date, special care must be taken to see whether the person referred to was the very first Sankaracharya who established the Adwaitee doctrine or one of his followers who became the Adhipatis of the various Mathams established by him and his successors. Many of the Adwaitee Mathadhipatis who succeeded him (especially at the Sringeri Matham) were men of considerable renown and were well-known throughout India during their time. They are often referred to under the general name of Sankaracharya. Consequently any reference made to any one of these Mathadhipatis is apt to be mistaken for a reference to the first Sankaracharya himself.
Mr. Barth whose opinion regarding Sankara’s date is quoted by the London Theosophist against the date assigned to that teacher in Mr. Sinnett’s book on Esoteric Buddhism, does not appear to have carefully examined the subject himself. He assigns no reasons for the date given and does not even allude to the existence of other authorities and traditions which conflict with the date adopted by him. The date which he assigns to Sankara appears in an unimportant footnote appearing on page 89 of his book on The Religions of India which reads thus: “Śankara Achârya is generally placed in the eighth century; perhaps we must accept the ninth rather. The best accredited tradition represents him as born on the 10th of the month of Mâdhava (April-May) in 788 A.D. Ind. Studien, t. xiv, p. 353. Other traditions, it is true, place him in the second and the fifth centuries. Ind. Antiq., i, 361; vii, 282. The author of the Dabistân (ii, 141), on the other hand, brings him as far down as the commencement of the fourteenth.” Mr. Barth is clearly wrong in saying that Sankara is generally placed in the 8th century. There are as many traditions for placing him in some century before the Christian era as for placing him in some century after the said era, and it will also be seen from what follows that in fact evidence preponderates in favour of the former statement. It cannot be contended that the generality of Orientalists have any definite opinions of their own on the subject under consideration. Max Müller does not appear to have ever directed his attention to this subject. Monier Williams merely copies the date given by Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Weber seems to rely upon the same authority without troubling himself with any further enquiry about the matter. Mr. Wilson is probably the only Orientalist who investigated the subject with some care and attention; and he frankly confesses that “the exact period at which he [Sankara] flourished can by no means be determined” (page 201 of Vol. I of his Essays and Lectures chiefly on the religion of the Hindus). Under such circumstances the footnote above-quoted is certainly very misleading. Mr. Barth does not inform his readers wherefrom he obtained the tradition referred to and what reasons he has for supposing that it refers to the first Sankaracharya and that it is “the best accredited tradition.” When the matter is still open to discussion, Mr. Barth should not have adopted any particular date if he is not prepared to support it and establish it by proper arguments. The other traditions alluded to are not intended, of course, to strengthen the authority of the tradition relied upon. But the wording of the footnote in question seems to show that all the authorities and traditions relating to the subject are comprised therein, when, in fact, the most important of them are left out of consideration, as will be shown hereafter. No arguments are to be found in support of the date assigned to Sankara in the other portions of Mr. Barth’s book, but there are a few isolated passages which may be taken either as inferences from the statement in question or arguments in its support, which it will be necessary to examine in this connection.
Mr. Barth has discovered some connection between the appearance of Sankara in India and the commencement of the persecution of the Buddhists which he seems to place in the 7th and 8th centuries. In page 89 of his book he speaks of “the great reaction on the offensive against Buddhism which was begun in the Deccan in the seventh and eighth centuries by the schools of Kumârila and Sankara”; and in page 135, he states that the “disciples of Kumârila and Sankara, organized into military orders, constituted themselves the rabid defenders of orthodoxy. . . .” The force of these statements is, however, considerably weakened by the author’s observations on pages 89 and 134 regarding the absence of any traces of Buddhist persecution by Sankara in the authentic documents hitherto examined and the absurdity of legends which represent him as exterminating Buddhists from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin.
The association of Sankara with Kumarila in the passages above cited is highly ridiculous. It is well-known to almost every Hindu that the followers of Purva Mimamsa (Kumarila commented on the Sutras) were the greatest and the bitterest opponents of Sankara and his doctrine, and Mr. Barth seems to be altogether ignorant of the nature of Kumarila’s views and Purva Mimamsa and the scope and aim of Sankara’s vedantic philosophy. It is impossible to say what evidence the author has for asserting that the great reaction against the Buddhists commenced in the 7th and 8th centuries and that Sankara was instrumental in originating it. There are some passages in his book which tend to show that this date cannot be considered as quite correct. In page 135 he says that Buddhism began persecution even in the time of Asoka.
Such being the case, it is indeed very surprising that the Orthodox Hindus should have kept quiet for nearly ten centuries without retaliating on their enemies. The political ascendency gained by the Buddhists during the reign of Asoka did not last very long; and the Hindus had the support of very powerful kings before and after the commencement of the Christian era. Moreover the author says in p. 132 of his book, that Buddhism was in a state of decay in the seventh century. It is hardly to be expected that the reaction against the Buddhists would commence when their religion was already in a state of decay. No great religious teacher or reformer would waste his time and energy in demolishing a religion already in ruins. But, what evidence is there to show that Sankara was ever engaged in this task? If the main object of his preaching was to evoke a reaction against Buddhism, he would no doubt have left us some writings specially intended to criticize its doctrines and expose its defects. On the other hand he does not even allude to Buddhism in his independent works. Though he was a voluminous writer, with the exception of a few remarks on the theory advocated by some Buddhists regarding the nature of perception contained in his Commentary on the Brahma-Sutras, there is not a single passage in the whole range of his writings regarding the Buddhists or their doctrines; and the insertion of even these few remarks in his commentary was rendered necessary by the allusions contained in the Sutras which he was interpreting. As, in our humble opinion, these Brahma-Sutras were composed by Vyasa himself (and not by an imaginary Vyasa of the 5th century after Christ evolved by Mr. Weber’s fancy) the allusions therein contained relate to the Buddhism which existed previous to the date of Gautama Buddha. From these few remarks it will be clear to our readers that Sankaracharya had nothing to do with Buddhist persecution. We may here quote a few passages from Mr. Wilson’s Preface to the first edition of his Dictionary, Sanskrit and English, in support of our remarks. He writes as follows regarding Sankara’s connection with the persecution of the Buddhists:— “Although the popular belief attributes the origin of the Bauddha persecution to Śancara Achârya, yet in this case we have some reason to distrust its accuracy: opposed to it, we have the mild character of the reformer, who is described as uniformly gentle and tolerant, and, speaking from my own limited reading in Vedanta works, and the more satisfactory testimony of Rammohun Roy, which he permits me to adduce, it does not appear that any traces of his being instrumental to any persecution are to be found in his own writings, all which are extant, and the object of which is by no means the correction of the Bauddha or any other schism, but the refutation of all other doctrines besides his own, and the reformation or re-establishment of the fourth religious order.” Further on he observes that “it is a popular error to ascribe to him the work of persecution: he does not appear at all occupied in that odious task, nor is he engaged in particular controversy with any of the Bauddhas.”
From the foregoing observations it will be seen that Sankara’s date cannot be determined by the time of the commencement of the Buddhist persecution, even if it were possible to ascertain the said period.
Mr. Barth seems to have discovered some connection between the philosophical systems of Sankara, Ramanuja and Anandatirtha, and the Arabian merchants who came to India in the first centuries of the Hejira, and he is no doubt fully entitled to any credit that may be given him for the originality of his discovery. This mysterious and occult connection between Adwaita philosophy and Arabian commerce is pointed out in p. 212 of his book, and it may have some bearing on the present question, if it is anything more than a figment of his fancy. The only reason given by him in support of his theory is, however, in my humble opinion, worthless. The Hindus had a prominent example of a grand religious movement under the guidance of a single teacher, in the life of Buddha, and it was not necessary for them to imitate the adventures of the Arabian prophet. There is but one other passage in Mr. Barth’s book which has some reference to Sankara’s date. In p. 207 he writes as follows:—“The Siva, for instance, who is invoked at the commencement of the drama of ‘Sakuntalâ,’ who is at once god, priest and offering, and whose body is the universe, is a Vedantic idea. These testimonies appear to be forgotten when it is maintained, as is sometimes done, that the whole sectarian Vedantism commences with Sankara.” But this testimony appears to be equally forgotten when it is maintained, as is sometimes done by Orientalists like Mr. Barth, that Sankara lived in some century after the author of Sakuntala.
From the foregoing remarks it will be apparent that Mr. Barth’s opinion regarding Sankara’s date is very unsatisfactory. As Mr. Wilson seems to have examined the subject with some care and attention, we must now advert to his opinion and see how far it is based on proper evidence. In attempting to fix Amara Sinha’s date (which attempt ultimately ended in a miserable failure), he had to ascertain the period when Sankara lived. Consequently his remarks concerning the said period appear in his preface to the first edition of his Sanskrit dictionary. We shall now reproduce here such passages from this preface as are connected with the subject under consideration and comment upon them. Mr. Wilson writes as follows:—
The birth of Śancara presents the same discordance of opinion as every other remarkable incident amongst the Hindus. The Kudali Brahmans, who form an establishment following and teaching his system, assert his appearance about 2000 years, since; some accounts place him about the beginning of the Christian era, others in the third or fourth century after; a manuscript history of the Icings of Conga, in Colonel Mackenzie’s collection, makes him contemporary with Tiru Vicrama Deva Chacravarti, sovereign of Scandapura in the Dekhin [Dekkan] A.D. 178: at Sringa giri, on the edge of the Western Ghauts, and now in the Mysore territory, at which place he is said to have founded a College that still exists, and assumes the supreme control of the Smârta Brahmans of the Peninsula, an antiquity of 1600 years is attributed to him, and common tradition makes him about 1200 years old: the Bhoja Prabandha enumerates Śancara amongst its worthies, and as contemporary with that prince, his antiquity will be between eight and nine centuries: the followers of Madhwâchârya in Tuluva seem to have attempted to reconcile these contradictory accounts, by supposing him to have been born three times; first, at Sivuli in Tuluva about 1500 years ago, again in Malabar some centuries later, and finally, at Paducachaytra in Tuluva no more than 600 years since; the latter assertion being intended evidently to do honor to their own founder, whose date that was, by enabling him to triumph over Śancara in a superstitious controversy: the Vaishnava Brahmans of Madura say that Śancara appeared in the ninth century of Salivâhana or tenth of our era; Dr. Taylor thinks that if we allow him about 900 years, we shall not be far from the truth, and Mr. Colebrooke is inclined to give him an antiquity of about 1000 years; this last is the age which my friend Rammohun Roy, a diligent student of Śancara’s works, and philosophical teacher of his doctrines, is disposed to concur in, and he infers, that ‘from a calculation of the spiritual generations of the followers of Śancara Swami from his time up to this date, he seems to have lived between the seventh and eight centuries of the Christian era’; a distance of time agreeing with the statements made to Dr. Buchanan in his journey through Śancara’s native country, Malabar, and in union with the assertion of the Cerala Utpatti, a work giving an historical and statistical account of the same province, and which according to Mr. Duncan’s citation of it, mentions the regulations of the castes of Malabar by this philosopher, to have been effected about 1000 years before 1798: at the same time it must be observed that a manuscript translation of this same work, in Colonel Mackenzie’s possession, states Śancara Achârya to have been born about the middle of the fifth century, or between thirteen and fourteen hundred years ago, differing in this respect from Mr. Duncan’s statement; a difference of the less importance, as the manuscript in question, either from defects in the original or translation, presents many palpable errors, and cannot consequently be depended upon: the weight of authority therefore is altogether in favour of an antiquity of about ten centuries, and I am disposed to adopt this estimate of Sancara’s date, and to place him in the end of the eighth and beginning of the ninth century of the Christian era.
We will add a few more authorities to Mr. Wilson’s list before proceeding to comment on the foregoing passage.
In a work called The Biographical Sketches of Eminent Hindu Authors, published at Bombay in 1860 by Janardan Ramchenderjee, it is stated that Sankara lived 2,500 years ago, and that, in the opinion of some people, 2,200 years ago. The records of the Kumbakonam Matham give a list of nearly 66 Mathadhipatis from Sankara down to the present time, and show that he lived more than 2,000 years ago.
The Kudali Matham referred to by Mr. Wilson which is a branch of the Sringeri Matham, gives the same date as the latter Matham, their traditions being identical. Their calculation can safely be relied upon as far as it is supported by the dates given on the places of Samadhi (something like a tomb) of the successive Gurus of the Sringeri Matham; and it leads us to the commencement of the Christian Era.
No definite information is given by Mr. Wilson regarding the nature, origin or reliability of the accounts which place Sankara in the 3rd or 4th century of the Christian era or at its commencement; nor does it clearly appear that the history of the kings of Konga referred to unmistakably alludes to the very first Sankaracharya. These traditions are evidently opposed to the conclusion arrived at by Mr. Wilson, and it does not appear on what grounds their testimony is discredited by him. Mr. Wilson is clearly wrong in stating that an antiquity of 1,600 years is attributed to Sankara by the Sringeri Matham. We have already referred to the account of the Sringeri Matham, and it is precisely similar to the account given by the Kudali Brahmins. We have ascertained that it is so from the agent of the Sringeri Matham at Madras, who has published only a few days ago the list of teachers preserved at the said Matham with the dates assigned to them. And further we are unable to see which “common tradition” makes Sankara “about 1,200 years old.” As far as our knowledge goes there is no such common tradition in India. The majority of people in Southern India have, up to this time, been relying on the Sringeri account, and in Northern India there seems to be no common tradition. We have but a mass of contradictory accounts.
It is indeed surprising that an Orientalist of Mr. Wilson’s pretensions should confound the poet named Sankara and mentioned in Bhoja Prabandha with the great Adwaitee teacher. No Hindu would ever commit such a ridiculous mistake. We are astonished to find some of these European Orientalists quoting now and then some of the statements contained in such books as Bhoja Prabandha, Katha-Sarit-Sagara, Raja-tarangini and Panchatantra as if they were historical works. In some other part of his preface Mr. Wilson himself says that this Bhoja Prabandha is altogether untrustworthy, as some of the statements contained therein did not harmonize with his theory about Amarasinha’s date; but now he misquotes its statements for the purpose of supporting his conclusion regarding Sankara’s date. Surely, consistency is not one of the prominent characteristics of the writings of the majority of European Orientalists. The person mentioned in Bhoja Prabandha is always spoken of under the name of Sankara Kavi, and he is nowhere called Sankaracharya, and the Adwaitee teacher is never mentioned in any Hindu work under the appellation of Sankara Kavi.
It is unnecessary for us to say anything about the Madhwa traditions or the opinion of the Vaishnava Brahmins of Madura regarding Sankara’s date. It is, in our humble opinion, hopeless to expect anything but falsehood regarding Sankara’s history and his philosophy from the Madhwas and the Vaishnavas. They are always very anxious to show to the world at large that their doctrines existed before the time of Sankara, and that the Adwaitee doctrine was a deviation from their pre-existing orthodox Hinduism. And consequently they have assigned to him an antiquity of less than 1,500 years.
It does not appear why Dr. Taylor thinks that he can allow Sankara about 900 years, or on what grounds Mr. Colebrooke is inclined to give him an antiquity of about 1,000 years. No reliance can be placed on such statements before the reasons assigned therefor are thoroughly sifted.
Fortunately, Mr. Wilson gives us the reason for Ram Mohun Roy’s opinion. We are inclined to believe that Ram Mohun Roy’s calculation was made with reference to the Sringeri list of Teachers or Gurus, as that was the only list published up to this time, and as no other Matham, except perhaps the Kumbakonam Matham, has a list of Gurus coming up to the present time in uninterrupted succession. There is no necessity for depending upon his calculation (which from its very nature cannot be anything more than mere guess-work) when the old list preserved at Sringeri contains the dates assigned to the various teachers. As these dates have not been published up to the present time, and as Ram Mohun Roy had merely a string of names before him, he was obliged to ascertain Sankara’s date by assigning a certain number of years on the average to every teacher. Consequently, his opinion is of no importance whatever when we have the statement of the Sringeri Matham, which, as we have already said, places Sankara in some century before the Christian era. The same remarks will apply to the calculation in question even if it were made on the basis of the number of teachers contained in the list preserved in the Kumbakonam Matham.
Very little importance can be attached to the oral evidence adduced by some unknown persons before Dr. Buchanan in his travels through Malabar; and we have only to consider the inferences that may be drawn from the accounts contained in Kerala Utpatti. The various manuscript copies of this work seem to differ in the date they assign to Sankaracharya; even if the case were otherwise, we cannot place any reliance upon this work for the following among other reasons:—
I. It is a well-known fact that the customs of Malabar are very peculiar. Their defenders have been, consequently, pointing to some great Rishi or some great philosopher of ancient India as their originator. Some of them affirm (probably the majority) that Parasurama brought into existence some of these customs and left a special Smriti for the guidance of the people of Malabar; others say that it was Sankaracharya who sanctioned these peculiar customs. It is not very difficult to perceive why these two persons were selected by them. According to the Hindu Puranas Parasurama lived in Malabar for some time, and according to Hindu traditions Sankara was born in that country. But it is extremely doubtful whether either of them had anything to do with the peculiar customs of the said country. There is no allusion whatever to any of these customs in Sankara’s works. He seems to have devoted his whole attention to religious reform, and it is very improbable that he should have ever directed his attention to the local customs of Malabar. While attempting to revive the philosophy of the ancient Rishis, it is not likely that he should have sanctioned the customs of Malabar which are at variance with the rules laid down in the Smritis of those very Rishis; and as far as our knowledge goes he left no written regulations regarding the castes of Malabar.
II. The statements contained in Kerala Utpatti are opposed to the account of Sankara’s life given in almost all the Sankara Vijayas (Biographies of Sankara) examined up to this time, viz., Vidyaranya’s Sankara Digvijaya, Chitsukhacharya’s Sankara Vijayavilasa, Brihat Sankara Vijaya, &c. According to the account contained in these works, Sankara left Malabar in his eighth year and returned to his native village when his mother was on her deathbed when he remained there only for a few days. It is difficult to see at what period of his life-time he was engaged in making regulations for the castes of Malabar.
III. The work under consideration represents Malabar as the seat of Bhattapada’s triumphs over the Buddhists, and says that this teacher established himself in Malabar and expelled the Buddhists from that country. This statement alone will be sufficient to show to our readers the fictitious character of the account contained in this book. According to every other Hindu work, this great teacher of Purva Mimamsa was born in Northern India; almost all his famous disciples and followers were living in that part of the country, and according to Vidyaranya’s account he died at Allahabad.
For the foregoing reasons we cannot place any reliance upon this account of Malabar.
From the traditions and other accounts which we have hitherto examined, Mr. Wilson comes to the conclusion that Sankaracharya lived in the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th century of the Christian Era. The accounts of the Sringeri, Kudali and Kumbakonam Mathams, and the traditions current in the Bombay Presidency, as shown in the biographical sketches published at Bombay, place Sankara in some century before the Christian era. On the other hand, Kerala Utpatti, the information obtained by Dr. Buchanan in his travels through Malabar and the opinions expressed by Dr. Taylor and Mr. Colebrooke, concur in assigning to him an antiquity of about 1,000 years. The remaining traditions referred to by Mr. Wilson are as much opposed to his opinion as to the conclusion that Sankara lived before Christ. We shall now leave it to our readers to say whether, under such circumstances, Mr. Wilson is justified in asserting that “the weight of authority is altogether in favour” of his theory.
We have already referred to the writings of almost all the European Orientalists who expressed an opinion upon the subject under discussion; and we need hardly say that Sankara’s date is yet to be ascertained.
We are obliged to comment at length on the opinions of European Orientalists regarding Sankara’s date, as there will be no probability of any attention being paid to the opinion of Indian and Tibetan initiates when it is generally believed that the question has been finally settled by their writings. The Adepts referred to by the London Theosophist are certainly in a position to clear up some of the problems in Indian religious history. But there is very little chance of their opinions being accepted by the general public under present circumstances, unless they are supported by such evidence as is within the reach of the outside world. As it is not always possible to procure such evidence, there is very little use in publishing the information which is in their possession until the public are willing to recognize and admit the antiquity and trustworthiness of their traditions, the extent of their powers and the vastness of their knowledge. In the absence of such proof as is above indicated, there is every likelihood of their opinions being rejected as absurd and untenable; their motives will no doubt be questioned and some people may be tempted to deny even the fact of their existence. It is often asked by Hindus as well as by Englishmen why these Adepts are so very unwilling to publish some portion at least of the information they possess regarding the truths of physical science. But in doing so, they do not seem to perceive the difference between the method by which they obtain their knowledge and the process of modern scientific investigation by which the facts of nature are ascertained and its laws are discovered. Unless an Adept can prove his conclusions by the same kind of reasoning as is adopted by the modern scientist they remain undemonstrated to the outside world. It is of course impossible for him to develope in a considerable number of human beings such faculties as would enable them to perceive their truth; and it is not always practicable to establish them by the ordinary scientific method unless all the facts and laws on which his demonstration is to be based have already been ascertained by modern science. No Adept can be expected to anticipate the discoveries of the next four or five centuries and prove some grand scientific truth to the entire satisfaction of the educated public after having discovered every fact and law of nature required for the said purpose by such process of reasoning as would be accepted by them. They have to encounter similar difficulties in giving any information regarding the events of the ancient history of India.
However, before giving the exact date assigned to Sankaracharya by the Indian and Tibetan initiates, we shall indicate a few circumstances by which his date may be approximately determined. It is our humble opinion that the Sankara Vijayas hitherto published can be relied upon as far as they are consistent with each other regarding the general outlines of Sankara’s life. We cannot however place any reliance whatever upon Anandagiri’s Sankara Vijaya published at Calcutta. The Calcutta edition not only differs in some very material points from the manuscript copies of the same work found in Southern India but is opposed to every other Sankara Vijaya hitherto examined. It is quite clear from its style and some of the statements contained therein that it was not the production of Anandagiri, one of the four chief disciples of Sankara and the commentator on his Upanishad Bhashya. For instance, it represents Sankara as the author of a certain verse which is to be found in Vidyaranya’s Adhikaranaratnamala written in the fourteenth century. It represents Sankara as giving orders to two of his disciples to preach the Visishtadwaitee and the Dwaitee doctrines which are directly opposed to his own doctrine. The book under consideration says that Sankara went to conquer Mandanamisra in debate followed by Sureswaracharya though Mandanamisra assumed the latter name at the time of initiation. It is unnecessary for us here to point out all the blunders and absurdities of this book. It will be sufficient to say that in our opinion it was not written by Anandagiri and that it was the production of an unknown author who does not appear to have been even tolerably well acquainted with the history of the Adwaitee doctrine. Vidyaranya’s (or of Sayanacharya the great commentator of the Vedas) Sankara Vijaya is decidedly the most reliable source of information as regards the main features of Sankara’s biography. Its authorship has been universally accepted and the information contained therein was derived by its author, as may be seen from his own statements, from certain old biographies of Sankara existing at the time of its composition. Taking into consideration the author’s vast knowledge and information and the opportunities he had for collecting materials for his work when he was the head of the Sringeri Matham, there is every reason to believe that he had embodied in his work the most reliable information he could obtain. Mr. Wilson however says that the book in question is “much too poetical and legendary” to be acknowledged as a great authority. We admit that the style is highly poetical, but we deny that the work is legendary. Mr. Wilson is not justified in characterizing it as such on account of its description of some of the wonderful phenomena shown by Sankara. Probably the learned Orientalist would not be inclined to consider the Biblical account of Christ in the same light. It is not the peculiar privilege of Christianity to have a miracle-worker for its first propagator. In the following observations we shall take such facts as are required from this work.
It is generally believed that a person named Govinda Yogi was Sankara’s guru, but it is not generally known that this Yogi was in fact Patanjali—the great author of the Mahabhashya and the Yoga Sutras—under a new name. A tradition current in Southern India represents him as one of the chelas of Patanjali; but it is very doubtful if this tradition has anything like a proper foundation. But it is quite clear from the 94th, 95th, 96th and 97th verses of the 5th chapter of Vidyaranya’s Sankara Vijaya that Govinda Yogi and Patanjali were identical. According to the immemorial custom observed amongst initiates Patanjali assumed the name of Govinda Yogi at the time of his initiation by Gaudapada. It cannot be contended that Vidyaranya represented Patanjali as Sankara’s Guru merely for the purpose of assigning some importance to Sankara and his teaching. Sankara is looked upon as a far greater man than Patanjali by the Adwaitees, and nothing can be added to Sankara’s reputation by Vidyaranya’s assertion. Moreover Patanjali’s views are not altogether identical with Sankara’s views; it may be seen from Sankara’s writings that he attached no importance whatever to the practises of Hatha Yoga regarding which Patanjali composed his Yoga Sutras. Under such circumstances if Vidyaranya had the option of selecting a Guru for Sankara he would no doubt have represented Vyasa himself (who is supposed to be still living) as his Guru. We see no reason therefore to doubt the correctness of the statement under examination. Therefore, as Sankara was Patanjali’s chela and as Gaudapada was his Guru, his date will enable us to fix the dates of Sankara and Gaudapada. We may here point out to our readers a mistake that appears in p. 148 of Mr. Sinnett’s book on Esoteric Buddhism as regards the latter personage. He is there represented as Sankara’s Guru; Mr. Sinnett was informed, we believe, that he was Sankara’s Paramaguru and not having properly understood the meaning of this expression Mr. Sinnett wrote that he was Sankara’s Guru.
It is generally admitted by Orientalists that Patanjali lived before the commencement of the Christian Era. Mr. Barth places him in the second century before the Christian Era, accepting Goldstücker’s opinion, and Monier Williams does the same thing. A. Weber who seems to have carefully examined the opinions of all the other Orientalists who have written upon the subject comes to the conclusion that “we must for the present rest satisfied, . . . with placing the date of the composition of the Bhashya between B.C.140 and A. D. 60,—a result which, considering the wretched state of the chronology of Indian literature generally, is, despite its indefiniteness, of no mean importance.” And yet even this date rests upon inferences drawn from one or two unimportant expressions contained in Patanjali’s Mahabhashya. It is always dangerous to draw such inferences and especially so when it is known that, according to the tradition current amongst Hindu grammarians, some portions of Mahabhashya were lost and the gaps were subsequently filled up by subsequent writers. Even supposing that we should consider the expressions quoted as written by Patanjali himself, there is nothing in those expressions which would enable us to fix the writer’s date. For instance, the connection between the expression “arunad Yavana? Sâketam” and the expedition of Menander against Ayodhya between B.C. 144 and 120 relied upon by Goldstücker is merely imaginary. There is nothing in the expression to show that the allusion contained therein points necessarily to Menander’s expedition. We believe that Patanjali is referring to the expedition of Yavanas against Ayodhya during the lifetime of Sagara’s father described in Harivamsa. This expedition occurred long before Rama’s time and there is nothing to connect it with Menander. Goldstücker’s inference is based upon the assumption that there was no other Yavana expedition against Ayodhya known to Patanjali, and it will be easily seen from Harivamsa (written by Vyasa) that the said assumption is unwarranted. Consequently the whole theory constructed by Goldstücker on this weak foundation falls to the ground.
No valid inferences can be drawn from the mere names of kings contained in Mahabhashya, even if they are traced to Patanjali himself, as there would be several kings in the same dynasty bearing the same name. From the foregoing remarks it will be clear that we cannot fix, as Weber has done, B. C. 140 as the maximum limit of antiquity that can be assigned to Patanjali. It is now necessary to see whether any other such limit has been ascertained by Orientalists. As Panini’s date still remains undetermined the limit cannot be fixed with reference to his date. But it is assumed by some Orientalists that Panini must have lived at some time subsequent to Alexander’s invasion from the fact that Panini explains in his grammar the formation of the word Yavanani. We are very sorry that European Orientalists have taken the pains to construct theories upon this basis without ascertaining the meaning assigned to the word Yavana and the time when the Hindus first became acquainted with the Greeks. It is unreasonable to assume without proof that this acquaintance commenced at the time of Alexander’s invasion. On the other hand there are very good reasons for believing that the Greeks were known to the Hindus long before this event. Pythagoras visited India according to the traditions current amongst Indian Initiates, and he is alluded to in Indian astrological works under the name of Yavanacharya. Moreover it is not quite certain that the word Yavana was strictly confined to the Greeks by the ancient Hindu writers. Probably it was first applied to the Egyptians and the Ethiopians; it was probably extended first to the Alexandrian Greeks and subsequently to the Greeks, Persians and Arabians. Besides the Yavana invasion of Ayodhya described in Harivamsa, there was another subsequent expedition to India by Kala Yavana (Black Yavana) during Krishna’s lifetime described in the same work. This expedition was probably undertaken by the Ethiopians. Anyhow, there are no reasons whatever, as far as we can see, for asserting that Hindu writers began to use the word Yavana after Alexander’s invasion. We can attach no importance whatever to any inferences that may be drawn regarding the dates of Panini and Katyayana (both of them lived before Patanjali) from the statements contained in Katha Sarit Sagara which is nothing more than a mere collection of fables. It is now seen by Orientalists that no proper conclusions can be drawn regarding the dates of Panini and Katyayana from the statements made by Hiuan Thsang, and we need not therefore say anything here regarding the said statements. Consequently the dates of Panini and Katyayana still remain undetermined by European Orientalists. Goldstücker is probably correct in his conclusion that Panini lived before Buddha and the Buddhists’ accounts agree with the traditions of the initiates in asserting that Katyayana was a contemporary of Buddha. From the fact that Patanjali must have composed his Mahabhashya after the composition of Panini’s Sutras and Katyayana’s Varttika we can only infer that it was written after Buddha’s birth.
But there are a few considerations which may help us in coming to the conclusion that Patanjali must have lived about the year 500 B.C. Max Müller fixed the Sutra period between 500 B. C. and 600 B. C. We agree with him in supposing that the period probably ended with B. C. 500, though it is uncertain how far it extended into the depths of Indian antiquity. Patanjali was the author of the Yoga Sutras, and this fact has not been doubted by any Hindu writer up to this time. Mr. Weber thinks, however, that the author of the Yoga Sutras might be a different man from the author of the Mahabhashya, though he does not venture to assign any reason for his supposition. We very much doubt if any European Orientalist can ever find out the connection between the first Anhika of the Mahabhashya and the real secrets of Hatha Yoga contained in the Yoga Sutras. No one but an initiate can understand the full significance of the said Anhika; and the “eternity of the Logos” or Sabda is one of the principal doctrines of the ancient Gymnosophists of India who were generally Hatha Yogis. In the opinion of Hindu writers and Pundits Patanjali was the author of three works, viz., Mahabhashya, Yoga Sutras and a book on Medicine and Anatomy; and there is not the slightest reason for questioning the correctness of this opinion. We must, therefore, place Patanjali in the Sutra period, and this conclusion is confirmed by the traditions of the Indian initiates.
As Sankaracharya was a contemporary of Patanjali (being his Chela) he must have lived about the same time. We have thus shown that there are no reasons for placing Sankara in 8th or 9th century after Christ as some of the European Orientalists have done. We have further shown that Sankara was Patanjali’s Chela and that his date should be ascertained with reference to Patanjali’s date. We have also shown that neither the year B. C. 140 nor the date of Alexander’s invasion can be accepted as the maximum limit of antiquity that can be assigned to him, and we have lastly pointed out a few circumstances which will justify us in expressing an opinion that Patanjali and his Chela Sankara belonged to the Sutra period.
We may perhaps now venture to place before the public the exact date assigned to Sankaracharya by Tibetan and Indian Initiates. According to the historical information in their possession he was born in the year B. C. 510 (51 years and 2 months after the date of Buddha’s nirvana), and we believe that satisfactory evidence in support of this date can be obtained in India if the inscriptions at Conjeeveram, Sringeri, Jagannâtha, Benares, Kashmir and various other places visited by Sankara are properly deciphered. Sankara built Conjeeveram which is considered as one of the most ancient towns in Southern India; and it may be possible to ascertain the time of its construction if proper enquiries are made. But even the evidence now brought before the public supports the opinion of the Initiates above indicated. As Gaudapada was Sankaracharya’s guru’s guru his date entirely depends on Sankara’s date; and there is every reason to suppose that he lived before Buddha. As this article has already become very lengthy we will now bring it to a close. Our remarks about Buddha’s date and Sankaracharya’s doctrine will appear in the next issue of The Theosophist.
The Age of Sankara
by T. S. Narayana Sastry, 1971
(reprint of 1916 original, where the name was spelled: Narayana Sastri)
Sankaracharaya, Philosopher and Mystic
Sankaracharaya, Philosopher and Mystic. 1
By Kashinath Trimbak Telang, N.A., LL.B.
1. At the request of Col. Olcott I have permitted the following paper to be published with materials collected by me for a paper read to the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society, in 1871. I had intended to rewrite the life of Sankaracharaya, with some additions and alterations, but as present pressing engagements do not leave me sufficient leisure for such an effort, I have thought it advisable to consent to my original Essay being utilized by Col. Olcott according to his own discretion. — K. T. T.
I might well plead the multitudinous engagements of a busy professional and literary life, as an excuse for not complying with the request to briefly notice in the THEOSOPHIST the incidents of Sankaracharaya’s illustrious career. But I am, first and last, a Hindu, and my sympathies and humble co-operation are pledged in advance to every legitimate attempt to elucidate the history of India or better the intellectual or physical condition of my countrymen. From the earliest time the study of philosophy and metaphysics has been prized and encouraged in this country, and high above all other names in its history are written those of our people who have aimed to help men to clearer thinking upon the subjects embraced in those categories, whether by their writings, discourses or example. The life which forms my present theme is the life of one of the greatest men who have appeared in India. Whether we consider his natural abilities, his unselfish devotion to the cause of religion, or the influence he has exerted upon his countrymen, this splendid ascetic stands facile princeps.
So enchanting, in fact, are all his surroundings, that it is no wonder that the admiration of an astonished people should have euhemerized him into an incarnation of the Deity. Our ignoble human nature seems ever so conscious of its own weakness and imperfection, as to be prone to deify whomsoever exemplifies its higher aspirations; as though the keeping of him on the human plane made other men seem meaner and more little by contrast.
Sankaracharaya’s biographers apotheosised their hero, as Alexander’s and Cicero’s and those of Apollonius, Jesus and Mahomet did theirs. They made his advent presaged by a heavenly vision — of Mahadeva, to his father, Sivaguru — and his career attended by miracles which no theory of interior, or psychical, development can cover. A lenient posterity may well pass over these pious embellishments as the fruit of an exuberant partiality, for after all these have been stripped away, the true grandeur of the pandit, philosopher, and mystic is only the more plainly revealed to us.
We are, unfortunately, without the necessary data to enable us to precisely fix the epoch in which this great teacher flourished. Some ascribe it to the second century before, others would bring him down to the tenth after, Christ. Most modern scholars agree in locating him in the eighth century of the Christian era; and, since we have for this opinion the concurrent authority of Wilson, Colebrooke, Rammohan Roy, Yajnesvar Shastri, and Professor Jayanarayan Tarkapanchanam, the Bengali editor of Anandagiri’s Sankara Vijaya, and it is less important, after all, to know when he taught than what he taught and did, we may as well accept that decision without debate. No more certainly can his birth-place be determined. As seven cities competed for the honor of having produced a Homer, so five biographers ascribe his nativity to as many different localities. Sringeri is commonly believed to have been the favored town (2); but a passage from the Sivarahanja, quoted in the Kayicharitra, would indicate a town in the Kerala district, named Sasalagrama (3); Anandagiri’s Life of Sankara names Chidambarapura (4); Madhev puts forward Kalati (5); and lastly, Yajnesvar Shastri, in his Aryavidya Sudhakara, tells us that Sankara first saw the light at Kalpi (6).
(2.) See Pandit K. V. Ramaswami’s sketches, p. 4 and, the Map at the end of the book.
(3.) Kavicherita, p. 3, line 17.
(4.) Ph. 9 and 19. it may be added here that I have grave doubts as to the Sankara Vijaya, pubished at Calcutta, being really a work of Anandagiri, the pupil of Sankara.
(5) Madhavacharaya. II. 3.
(6). P. 226.
Taking no notice of the portents and wonders said to have occurred in the animal and vegetable kingdoms at his birth — such as the fraternizing together of beasts ordinarily hostile to each other, the uncommon pellucidity of the streams, the preternatural shedding of fragrance by trees and plants, nor of the joy of the Upanishads or the glad paeans of the whole celestial host, we find our hero displaying a most wonderful precocity. In his first year he acquired the Sanskrit alphabet and his own language; at two, learned to read; at three, studied the Kavyas and Puranas — and understood many portions of them by intuition (1). Anandagiri, less circumstantial, merely states that Sankara became conversant with Prakrit Magadha and Sanskrit languages even in saisava, in infancy.
(1). Madhav IV. 1-3.
Having studied the Itihasa, the Puranas, the Mahabharat, the Smritis and the Shastras, Sankara, in his seventh year, returned from his preceptor to his own home. Madhav narrates that the mother of his hero being, one day, overpowered by the debility resulting from the austerities she had practised before his birth to propitiate the gods and make them grant her prayer for a son, as well as by the torrid heat of the sun, fainted; whereupon Sankara, finding her in the swoon, not only brought her back to consciousness but drew the river up, as well, a circumstance which of course spread his fame as a thaumaturgist far and wide! The Kings of Kerala vainly offering him presents of gold and elephants, through his own minister, came himself to pay reverence, and disclosing his longing for a son like himself, was made happy by the sage, who taught the king privately the rites to be performed in such cases. I must not lose the opportunity to point, in passing, to the two things implied in this biographical scrap), viz., that (2), it was believed that the birth of progeny may be brought about by the recitation of mantrams and the performance of ceremonial rites, and (3) that the secret is never publicly taught, but privately conveyed from adept to disciple. I shall not dwell upon these facts but leave them to be disposed of as they will by our new friends, the Theosophists, for whom the mystical side of nature offers most enticements.
(2). Madhav V. I. Compare Anandagiri p. 11.
(3). Madhav V. 59.
About this same time the great sage Agastya, visiting him with other sages, prophesied to his mother that he would die at the age of thirty-two. Feeling that this world is all a passing show, this boy of eight years determined to embrace the life of a holy Sannyasi, but his mother objected, her motherly pride doubtless craving a son to her son who should inherit his own greatness of soul and mind. The lad’s determination was not to be shaken, however, and the maternal consent was obtained, as the biographers tell us by the working of a prodigy (4.) Bathing in the river, one day, his foot was caught by an alligator. He wailed so loud that his mother ran to the spot, and, being told that the alligator would not leave go his hold until she had agreed to her son’s becoming an ascetic, felt coerced into giving her consent. Sankaracharaya thereupon came out of the river, and confiding her to the care of relatives and friends, and telling her he would come back to her whenever she should need his presence, he went away and took up the career for which he had so strong a natural bent.
(4). Madhav V. 87. None of Madhav’s details are to be found in Anandagiri, where we have but two lines on this subject altogether, p. 17.
As if drawn by some irresistible magnetic attraction towards a certain spot, Sankara travelled for several days, through forests, over hills, by towns, and across rivers, yet all the while unconscious of all, and oblivious to the men and beasts that went by him on his way, he arrived at the cave in a hill on the banks of the Nerbudda, where Govind Yati had fixed his hermitage. After the usual preliminaries the sage accepted the lad as a pupil and taught him the Brahma out of the four great sentences — Knowledge is Brahma; This soul is Brahma; Thou art that; and I am Brahma (5).
(5.) The originals are
It is related by Madhav that, immediately after he had entered upon this discipleship, Sankara performed, — one day, when his guru was immersed in contemplation, or, as we should say Dharana, — the prodigy of quelling a furious tempest of rain accompanied by awful thunder and lightning, by pronouncing certain mystic verses. Hearing, upon returning to consciousness of external things, what his illustrious pupil had done, Govind Natha was overjoyed, as this very event had been foretold to him by Vyasa at a sacrifice celebrated, long before, by the sage Atri. Bestowing his benediction upon Sankara, he bade him go to Holy Benares and receive there the blessing of the Deity.
‘On thy glorious work,
Then enter, and begin to save mankind’ (Madhav V. 53-61)
Thus admonished, Sankara proceeded to Benares where after a residence for some time, he is said to have received his first pupil, Sanandana — the same who afterwards became celebrated as his greatest favorite under the title of Padmapada. I confess to a doubt of the accuracy of this date, though I quote the circumstance from Madhav’s book, for it does seem impossible that Sankara should have begun to get pupils at such a very tender age as, upon Madhav’s own showing, he must have reached at the time. However, be this as it may, Padmapada was duly enrolled as a disciple at Benares, and there most of the others also joined him.
In his twelfth year Sankara removed to Badari, on the banks of the Ganges, where he composed his masterpiece, the commentary on the Brahma Sutras. Here also, he wrote the commentary on the Upanishads, on the Bhagavadgita, on the Urisimhatapaniya (so called by Madhav), and on the Sanatsujatiya, besides other works. He then taught his great commentary to his numerous pupils, but always reserving his greatest powers of instruction for Padmapada. This excited envy in the breasts of the other pupils, to dispel which Sankara, once standing on one shore of the river which flowed by his residence, called to Padmapada to come over to him directly from the opposite bank. The latter obeyed, and dauntlessly walked over on the surface of the waters, which sent up a lotus at each step he took. It was on this occasion that the name Padmapada was given him by Sankara, as he warmly embraced him in recognition of his enthusiastic devotion.
While teaching his pupils the youthful teacher did not fail of adversaries among the learned men who held tenets different to his own, but he always came off victor. He drew, says Madhav, from the arsenal of a vast Vedic learning, the weapons with which to combat his powerful assailants. We are treated to the description of an eight days’ debate between himself and Vyasa, who appeared under the guise of an aged Brahmin but whose identity was intuitively recognized at least by Padmapada. The biographer tells us that the spirit, in his assumed guise of the living Brahmin, propounded a thousand objections to Sankara’s great Bhashya on the Brahma Sutras, which were all triumphantly answered, and in the end, gave the latter an extension of sixteen years of life over and above the set term of sixteen that he was to have lived, and after bidding him undertake a refutation of all the other philosophic systems in vogue, blessed him and then disappeared.
After this, Sankara set out for Prayaga in search of Bhatta Kumarila,whom he wished to ask to write vartikas on his Bhashya, but found that he was upon the point of self-cremation in disgust with the world. Vainly entreating him to reconsider his determination, Sankara nevertheless was permitted to explain his commentaries, which Kumarila praised unstintingly; and after the latter had accomplished his act of self-immolation, proceeded on to Mahishmati, the city where, as Kumarila had informed him, he would find Mandana Misra who would undertake the work Sankara had requested him to perform. Arrived at the place, he was directed to the sage’s house by parrots miraculously endowed with human speech and able to discuss most recondite questions of philosophy! He found the house but found it closed, so that to obtain entrance he had to raise him self up into the air and alight, a deus ex machina, in Mandana’s hall. An animated and, at first, even acrimonious discussion ensued between the host and his unexpected and unwelcome guest, the two finally deciding to make the wife of Mandana Misra umpire between them. But she, having other matters to attend to, gave each a garland, stipulating that he should be deemed vanquished whose garland withered. I will not attempt in such time and space as I now command, to even epitomise this wonderful debate, but refer the reader to Madhav (VII. 34) for particulars, adding that they will richly repay study. Sankara won, and in winning, under the terms of the debate, claimed his antagonist as a disciple and required him to abandon the domestic life and become an ascetic. He consented, and the wife — who was an incarnation of Sarasvati, as we are told — started for the other world. But before she had quite departed she was prevailed upon by Sankara to tarry while he should hold debate with her also. Then commenced the second discussion, but the ready answers of the former to all questions put to him foiled Sarasvati, as she may now be called, until she struck into a path to which Sankara was a total stranger. She asked him a question on the science of love. He was of course, unable to answer it at once, being a Sannyasi and a celibate all his life; so he craved a respite of one month, which being granted, he left Mahishmati. The sequel will be told in my next paper.
— The Theosophist, Vol. I., No. 3, December, 1879
The Life of Sankaracharaya, Philosopher and Mystic (Continued)
By Kashinath Trimbak Telang, M.A., L.L.B.
The question of Saraswati as to the true nature of Love must be answered though he were ten times a Yogi or Samyasi, so Sankara journeyed on to find the means of learning the truth. As he was going out with his pupils, they met the corpse of a certain king named Amaraka (of Amritapura, to the west of Mandana Misra’s city, according to Anandagiri (1) lying at the foot of a tree in the forest surrounded by males and females mourning his death. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Sankara entrusted his own body to the charge of his pupils, and caused his soul to enter the corpse of the king. The supposed restuscitation which followed delighted the people, and king Sankara was taken in triumph from the forest of death to the throne of royalty. (2)
(1) Anandagiri 244.
(2) This incident is too important to pass by without editorial comment. The power of the Yogi to quit his own body and enter and animate that of another person, though affirmed by Patanjali and included among the Siddhis of Krishna, is discredited by Europeanized young Indians. Naturally enough, since, as Western biologists deny a soul to man, it is an unthinkable proposition to them that the Yogi’s soul should be able to enter another’s body. That such an unreasoning infidelity should prevail among the pupils of European Schools, is quite reason enough why an effort should be made to revive in India those schools of Psychology in which the Aryan youth were theoretically and practically taught the occult laws of Man and Nature. We, who have at least some trifling acquaintance with modern science, do not hesitate to affirm our belief that this temporary transmigration of souls is possible. We may even go so to far as to say that the phenomenon has been experimentally proved to us — in New York, among other places. And, since we would be among the last to require so marvellous a statement to be accepted upon any one’s unsupported testimony, we urge our readers to first study Aryan literature, and then get from personal experience the corroborative evidence. The result must inevitably be to satisfy every honest enquirer that Patanjali and Sankaracharya did, and Tyndall, Carpenter, and Huxley do not know the secrets of our being. — ED.THEOS.
There, king Sankara, standing as it were in the shoes of Amaraka, and, indeed Amaraka himself so far as the eye could discern, and passing as such, learned practically all that pertained to the science and art of Love, and fitted himself to answer the query of the cunning wife of Mandana. He also studied the theory of the subject in Vatsyanana, and made progress enough to write an original treatise upon it himself (3). Meanwhile, however, the ministers of the State, finding their resuscitated rajah a far wiser and better man than ever before, suspected that there had been some transmigration of souls, and so, to prevent the return of this intruder to his own body, secretly issued an order that all the corpses in the city should be burnt; but they took good care that the order should not come to the knowledge of the king (4).
(3) Madhav X. 18.
(4) Pandit Ramaswami says that the order was issued by the Queen herself, and in this the pandit is at one with Anandagiri who also makes the Queen suspect the fact (p. 215) and makes no illusion to the ministers.
In the meantime the pupils of Sankara who had charge of his body, finding that the limit of time fixed by him for his return had already been passed, grew very uneasy. While the others were given up to their grief, Padmapada suggested a plan which was unanimously adopted, and they started out to discover the whereabouts of their preceptor. The stories of Madhav and Anandagiri do not agree as to this quest of the pupils after their master, the former making them wander from province to province, while the latter tells us that Sankara’s body was deposited in the outskirts of the king’s own city. In fact, Madhav himself elsewhere describes the circumstances of Sankara’s soul not finding the body in the appointed place, then animating it on the funeral pyre, and Sankara’s then returning with his pupils to Mandana as a work of but short duration: — but we are interrupting the sequence of our narrative. Padmapada’s plan was for them to first discover the whereabouts of their master, and then, gaining access to his presence under the disguise of singers, express to him their sorrow at his absence and recall him to his own body and to the prosecution of his labors. Arrived at King Amaraka’s city, they heard the story of the preternatural resuscitation, and satisfied that they were on the right tract, carried out their affectionate plot. Their music not only held their audience spell-bound, but reached the inner consciousness of Sankara, in his borrowed body. He dismissed the singers, retransferred himself to his own body, and left the empty rajah to die once more, and this time effectually. He found his own body already amid the flames but having his armour of proof against fire it was uninjured, and he rejoined his devoted pupils, singing the praises of Nrisemha. Returning to the residence of Mandana, Saraswati was answered and Mandana Misra converted to Vedantism.
Travelling southwards, Sankara published his works in Maharashtra, and took up his residence at Srisaila, where a strange proposal was made to him. A Kapalika called on him and besought him to give him his head, which he said he wanted to offer up as a sacrifice as he had been promised by Mahadeva a residence in Kailasa in his human body, if he offered up the head of either a king or an omniscient person. Sankara agreed on condition that the Kapalika should come for it without the knowledge of his pupils, who might interfere. This was done, but before the decapitation could be effected, Padamapada learnt the thing through his interior consciousness, and assuming the form of a Man-lion fell upon the Kapalika, and rent him joint by joint. He had then to be appeased and brought back to himself.
The next miracle attributed to Sankara was the bringing back to life at Gokarna, of a child greatly beloved by its, parents. (Madhav xii, 24). To Srivali — where he got a new pupil in the person of Hastamalaka, a lad supposed to be an idiot, but in fact something very different — and Sringagiri, he then went. At the latter place Mandana Misra, who had taken the name of Sureshvar (see p. 251 of Anandagiri, whose account leaves it a matter of doubt as to the identity of Mandana with Sureshvar) wrote at Sankara’s command an independent tractice on the Brahma, which surprised the other pupils and equally pleased the master.
At this time Sanhara learning in some supernatural way (1) of his mother’s being at the point of death, hastened to her side, and at her request for spiritual counsel, instructed her, or rather attempted to instruct her, in the formless Brahma. She could not comprehend his teaching, but he tranquilized her mind until the moment of her dissolution. His relatives refused to aid him in performing the usual funeral ceremonies on the ground that he, being an ascetic, was not competent to perform the offices in question. Hereupon he produced a fire from his right hand, wherewith he burned the corpse. (Madhav 29-56).
(1) We must take issue with our distinguished contributor upon this point. We do not believe in “supernatural ways,” and we do believe and know that it was not at all difficult for an initiant like Sankara to learn by his interior faculties, of his mother’s state. We have seen too many proofs of this faculty to doubt it. — ED. THEOS.
At this time, Padmapada who had been absent on a pilgrimage returned, and told Sankara how a commentary on the Bhashya which he had composed and deposited with his uncle when he went on his pilgrimage, was destroyed by that person as it contained a refutation of the doctrines he held. To the great joy of Padamapada, Sankara dictated the whole from memory, as he had once read it himself, and from his dictation Padamapada rewrote it. Rajasekhar, also, who had lost his dramas, had them dictated to him in the same manner.
And now accompanied by his pupils and by king Sudhanvan, Sankara started on his tour of intellectual conquest. The redargutio philosophiarum, which Vyasa had suggested to him, and for which his original lease of life had been extended, now commenced. He first directed his steps towards the Setu — the Bridge — then passing through the countries of the Pandyas, the Cholas, and the Dravidas, he went to Kanchi where he erected a temple and established the system of the adoration of Devi. Having then favoured with a visit the people called Andhras, and having looked in at the seat of Venkatchalesa, he proceeded to the country of the Vidarbhas. On hearing that Sankara wished to go into the Karnata country, the king of the Vidarbhas warned him of the mischievous character of the people generally, and of their envy and hatred of Sankara particularly. Sankara went into that country nevertheless, and the first person of note he came across was a Kapalika named Krakacha, whose exposition of his own doctrines so disgusted all who heard it that Sudhanvan caused him with all his followers to be ignominiously driven away. They went breathing vengeance and returned armed in hundreds. They were however destroyed by king Sudhanvan — all but the first Kapalika Krakacha, who came up to Sankara, and addressed him saying, “Now taste the fruit of thy deeds.” He then prayed to Bhairava and as soon as he appeared, asked him to destroy the destroyer of his followers. But Bhairava killed Krakacha himself, exclaiming, “Dust thou offend even me?”
Onward went Sankara to the Western ocean, and to Gokarna, where he vanquished Nilakantha, a philosopher who thought himself perfectly invincible. Sankara thence went into the Saurashtra country and published his Bhashya there. Then he went to Dvaravati or Dvarka and thence to Ujjayini where he challenged and conquered Bhattabhaskar. Thence he went “conquering and to conquer” into the countries of the Balhikas, Bharatas, Surasenas, Kurus, Daradas, Panchalas, and so forth. In the country of the Kamarupas, Sankara encountered and defeated Abbinavagupta, a doctor of the Sakta school. Having, however, more worldly wisdom than philosophy or love of truth, and finding that he could not compete with Sankara, that personage got his pupils to hide his works for a period, and passed himself off as belonging to Sankara’s school, all the while maturing a plot of which the sequel will be presently narrated.
— The Theosophist, Vol. I., No. 4, January, 1880
The Life of Sankaracharya, Philosopher and Mystic. (Concluded)
By Kashinath Trimbak Telang, M.A., LL.B.
The north thus disposed of, and accepting the respect and veneration of the Videhas, the Kosalas, the Angas and the Bangas, Sankara went into the country of the Gandas. It was then that the nefarious designs of the discomfited doctor of the Sakta School — mentioned in my last — culminated. Sankara suddenly caught the disease, called Bhagandara* which had been sent upon him by the necromantic spells of Abhinavagupta, who had performed a special sacrifice to accomplish his malicious plot. The greatest physicians attended on Sankara, but in vain. Meanwhile the patient himself behaved stoically or rather vedantically. But at last when the disease could not be cured, he prayed to Mahadeva to send down the Ashvinikumars, who were accordingly sent down disguised as Brahmans. But they pronounced the disease to be beyond their powers of cure as it was caused by the act of another. On this communication the anger of Padmapada once more came to the relief of the Vadantism of Sankara. For, though dissuaded by Sankara himself, he muttered some mystic incantations which transfirred the disease to Abhinavagupta himself who died of it. (1)
*A terrible form of ulcerated sore, or fistica. — ED. THEOSOPHIST.
(1). Madhav XV1. 22-32. [An important point for the student of occult science is here made and should not be overlooked. The law of physics, that action and reaction tend to equilibrate each other, holds in the realm of the occult. This has been fully explained in “Isis Unveiled” and other works of the kind. A current of Akas, directed by a sorcerer at a given object with an evil intent, must either be propelled by such intensity of will as to break through every obstacle and overpower the resistant will of the selected victim, or it will rebound against the sender, and and afflict him or her in the same way as it was intended the other should be hurt. So well is this law understood that it has been preserved to us in many popular proverbs, such as the, English ones, ‘curses come home to roost,’ ‘The biter’s bit,’ etc., the Italian one ‘La bestemia gira, e gira, e gira, e torna adosso a che latira,’ etc. This reversal of a magnificent current upon the sender may be greatly facilitated by the friendly interference of another person who knows the secret of controlling the Akasic currents — if it is permissible for us to coin a new word that will soon be wanted in the Western parlance]. — ED. THEOS.
About this time Sankara heard of a temple in Kashmir, which none but an all-knowing person could open, which had been opened on its northern, eastern and western sides, but which had continued closed till then on its southern side. Sankara accordingly went up to the temple, but the controversialists there would not allow him to enter before they examined him. He was examined accordingly, and was found, as one may say, not wanting. He then entered, but as he was going to take his seat on the stool within, the Goddess of the temple — Sarasvati — said, “Your omniscience has been already more than sufficiently proved; but omniscience is not enough to entitle you to take your seat on this stool. Continence is also necessary. Bethink yourself of your acts, and say whether you can claim it under these circumstances.” Sankara replied: — “This body is perfectly pure. It cannot be tarnished by the sins of another body.” This was, of course, a clincher, and Sankara took his seat on the coveted stool! (2)
(2). Madhav XVI. 86.
He thence went to the hermitage of Risjasringa, and, after staying there for some time, to Badari. There he taught his Bhashya to some persons who were studying in the Patamjala School of philosophy. Thence he proceeded to Kedara — where he prayed to Mahadeva to send down warm water for his benumbed pupils. That was, of course, done; and Madhav says, the river still flows with hot water in that part of the country. (3)
(3). Madhav XVI. 101. According to Anandagiri the prayer for hot water was made to Narayana, p. 235.
He had now arrived at the close of his thirty-second years and his term of life being over, all the Gods, and all the Siddhas, and all the Sages, came down in divine vehicles to escort him up to heaven. As soon as Sankara made up his mind his vehicle appeared for him, and then “with his praises sung by the principal deities, headed by Indra and Upendra, and worshipped with heavenly flowers, supported by the arm of the Lotus-born God, he mounted his excellent Bull, and exhibiting his knots of hair with their ornament, the moon, he started for his own residence, hearing the word ‘victory! uttered by the sages.” (4)
(4). Madhav XVI. 107.
This does seem too materialistic and non-vedantic. Anandagiri has the following account: — “Once in the city of Kanchi, the place of absolution, as he was seated, he absorbed his gross body into the subtle one and became existent; then destroying the subtle one into the body which is the cause (of the world) became ‘pure intelligence’; and then (assuming the) size of a thumb, and attaining in the world of the Ishvara full happiness (unbroken) like a perfect circle, he became the intelligence which pervades the whole universe. And he still exists in the form of the all-pervading intelligence. The Brahmans of the place, and his pupils, and their pupils reciting the Upanishads, the Gita, and the Brahmasutras, then excavated a ditch in a very clean spot and offering to his body pigment, rice, &c., raised a tomb over it there.”(5)
(5). Anandagiri, p. 280.
And here ends the story of the life of Sankaracharya. As I look back over the narrative thus given by me after Madhav, methinks I hear the genius of nineteenth century scepticism whisper in my ears: — “All this is an absurd fable from first to last; it is the ‘tinsel clink of compliment,’ to one whom a halo of glory surrounds. At the age of two, it is impossible to have learnt what Sankara is said to have learnt; those miracles, which he is reported to have performed, are ‘mere and sheer impossibilities — in a word all Madhav’s narrative is fitter for the pages of a romance than of a work professing to be historical.” Now though I confess that I do believe there is some force in this argument, I must also confess that I am not prepared to give it as much weight as those, who propound it, seem to claim for it. I am perfectly willing to grant that there is a considerable menstruum of poetry in this narrative: but I am not prepared to say that it is as much as may at first sight appear. Even in the skeptical nineteenth century, we have had accounts of historical personages, given as history, which bear in some points a very striking resemblance to Madhav’s account of Sankaracharya. I shall put forward two very good instances in point, which occur to me at this moment. Dr. Thomas Brown, a man who flourished in this nineteenth century, a man whose life has been written by a prosaic Western not guilty of Oriental hyperboles, is said to have been engaged in the fourth year of his age, in comparing the narratives of the evangelists in order to find out any discrepancies that there might be between them. To appreciate the full force of this example, it must be remembered that this critical spirit was brought to bear upon a work, on which in opinion out of the common rut would be downright heresy. This circumstance, I may mention, is recorded in the memoir of Dr. Brown, prefixed to his eloquent lectures on the Philosophy of Mind. (6)
(6). See also the Contemporary Review, June 1872, Robert Leslie Ellis, Pro. Grote.
Mr. John Morley, the present Editor of the Fortnightly Review, has contributed to the pages of that publication a valuable life of Turgot. Here is his deliverance on the precocity of the subject of his memoir. “It has been justly said of him that he passed at once from infancy to manhood, and was in the rank of sages before he had shaken off the dust of the play-ground.”(7)
(7). Fortnightly Review, August 1869.
If more authority is necessary for refusing to subscribe to the theory that every statement which appears wonderful is, at once, and by reason of its being wonderful, to be put down as totally false, we have the authority of that prince of philosophic historians, Mr. George Grote. “In separating,” says that great authority upon all matters of historic criticism, “between the marvellous and the ordinary, there is no security that we are dividing the fictitious from the real.” (8). And not to depend on the ipse dixit even of a Grote, I would refer the sceptic to the wonders of science, which are “truths stranger than fiction,” which yet we see performed before our eyes. Before the fact, what would one have thought of the Electric Telegraph? Before the fact, what was thought of the Railway? I would ask the sceptic to pause here, to consider these matters fully from this point of view, before at once arguing: “these circumstances are wonderful; ergo, they are impossible.” They are not of a piece with the common run of occurrences; I am willing to concede also that they may be much exaggerated. But when I am told that they are wholly false, when I am told that no reasonable man can believe them, then I demur. I rather choose to hold myself in suspense.
I had intended in this paper to say something about the works of Sankaracharya, and about some other matters connected with him. But want of time and the length to which this paper has already extended, have prevented me from incorporating those necessary portions of a biography into the present paper. I hope, however, in an other paper to treat of those matters, as leisure and the materials accessible to me will permit.
(8). See, too, the Duke of Somerset’s recent book of Christianity and Scepticism, p. 46, and the Duke of Argyll’s Reign of Law passim.
According to Anandagiri, Sankara does not seem to have left his birth-place, before taking the Sannayasa, and when he left the place, he had already got numbers of pupils. He first went from Chidambarapur southward to Madhyarjuna (p. 19) where he converted the people to adualism by a miracle (p. 20). Thence he proceeded to Rameshvar near the Setu, where he stayed for two months defeating the representatives of various sects, that entered into controversies with him (p. 21). Then he went on to Anantasayana where he remained for one month (p. 51). Travelling westwards, he reached the town of Subrahmanya in fifteen days (p. 81). Proceeding thence in a north-westerly direction, he went to the town of Ganavara, and sojourned there for a month (p. 102), thence to Bhavaninagara (p. 122), where be stayed for a month, and held discussions with the sectaries of the neighbouring towns of Kuvalayapur and others (p. 127). From that town he went northward to Ujjayini where be remained for two months (p. 138), thence in a north-westerly direction to the city of Anumalla, (p. 160) where he spent twenty-one days. Going westward next to the town of Arundh (p. 164), and northward from that to Magadhapura (p. 170), he went on first to Indraprastha (p. 174), and then to Yamaprastha, whence, after staying there for a month (p. 178), he proceeded to Prayaga at “the confluence of the Ganges, the Jumna and the Sarasvati” (p. 184). Going eastward thence, in ” half a fortnight,” he reached Kashi (p. 205), and after staying there for some time, he went northward to Badari by the route of Kurukshetra (p. 235). Having next seen Dvaraka and other heaven-like places, he went to Ayodhya, thence to Gaya, and thence to Parvata by the route of Jagannath (p. 235). After a month he proceeded to Ruddhapura, where he saw Kumarila (p. 236) and northward thence to a very famous seat of learning — Vijilabindu — situated towards the south-east of Hastinapura (p. 238). Having there vanquished Mandanamisra, and established a college near Sringapura on the banks of the Tunghbhadra, he stayed there for twelve months (p. 251), after which he proceeded to Ahobala, thence to Vaikalyagiri, and thence to the town of Kanchi, where, within a month of his arrival, he founded Sivakanchi and Vishnukanchi (p. 251). Here his soul left this mortal coil. But before this end, he is said to have authorised five of his principal pupils to found the Shaiva, Vaishanva, Saiva, Sakta, Ganapatya systems of worship (p. 264 et seq.)
I must confess that even after a great deal of time and labour spent upon the work, I am as far as ever from being able to comprehend the geography of the tour of Sankaracharya as related by Anandagiri and abstracted in the last note. Many of the names cannot be found noted in our modern maps. The only point worth noting is perhaps this, that Chidambar, which is mentioned by Anandagiri as Sankara’s birth-place, may be Chillumbrun (so-called in the map), a place to the south of Porto Novo. The account of Madhav is somewhat better, but there are difficulties. Thus, though his progress through the countries of the Pandyas, the Cholas, and the Dravidas, to Kanchi, and thence to the country of the Andhras, may be understood, why should he go up as far as the country of the Vidarbhas — identified with Berar — and then return to the Karnatic districts? What follows, however, is not very hard to understand. It may, perhaps, be worth while to mention some of the names which have been identified. The knowledge may not be new to those who have studied the subject, but it may be new to those who have not looked into it as it was to myself. Mahishmati is mentioned in Raghuvansa (VI. 43) as situated on the Narmada. It is also mentioned in Magha (II. 64) as the city of Shishupala, and it is identified in Mr. Garret’s recent dictionary with Chuii Maheshvar. The Pandya country embraces the Tinnevelly and Madura districts; the Chola country is the Coromandel Coast, southward from Godavari and eastward from the hills at Nandidrug (Elphinstone’s India, fifth Edition, p. 239); the Dravida country about Madras up to Bangalore on the west (Elphinstone, p. 231). Kanchi is Conjeveram, south of Madras (Elphinstone, p. 239). The Andhra country is about Waranogol and forms part of Telingana. The country of the Vidarbhas is Berar; that of the Surasenas is Mathura; that of the Kamarupas is the east of Hindustan; that of the Videhas, Mithila; Kosalas, Oude; Angas, north-west of Bengal Proper. Indraprastha is near Delhi. The probable situation of Chidambara has been already stated, that of Sringeri is well-known. Sasalagram, mentioned above, I cannot find. May it not be the “Sallagrama” in the Mysore province; or, perhaps, what is called “Sosilly” in Cassel’s Atlas, also situated in the same province? As to Kalati mentioned by Madhav, I can say nothing at all. I may add here that it appears to me to be very probable that Madhav did not regard Sringeri as Sankara’s birth-place, for in XIV. 29, he makes Sankara leave Sringeri in order to see his mother in her last moments, and is then described as flying through space, while she herself, for aught that appears to the contrary, continued to remain at the town of his birth, where he had left her in charge of relatives.
— The Theosophist, Vol. I., No. 8, May, 1880
Sankara, the Teacher by Charles Johnston
Introductory: Sankara, the Teacher
(from the introduction to The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom and other Writings of Sankaracharya)
By Charles Johnston
The Upanishads, Buddha, and Sankara: these are the three great lights of Indian wisdom. The Upanishads far away in the golden age; in the bright dawn that has faded so many ages ago. Buddha, the Awakened One, who, catching in his clear spirit the glow of that early dawn, sought to reflect it in the hearts of all men, of whatever race, of whatever nation; sought to break down the barriers of caste and priestly privilege; to leave each man alone with the Universe, with no mediator between. But scattering abroad the rays of wisdom, Buddha found that the genius of each man, of each race, could only reflect one little beam; and that in thus making the light the property of all men, the purity and completeness of the light might be impaired.
Then followed Sankaracharya — Sankara the Teacher — who set himself to the preservation of the light; to burnishing the casket that held the lamp of wisdom. Busying himself chiefly with India, he saw that the light must be preserved, as far as its completeness and perfection were concerned, within the Brahman order, where the advantages of heredity, of ages of high ideals and rigid discipline could best secure the purity of the light; could best supply a body of men, fitted by character and training to master the high knowledge, to sustain the moral effort that made the glory of India’s Golden Age.
This task of fitting the Brahman order to carry the torch of wisdom was undertaken by Sankara the Teacher in three ways. First, by commenting on the Great Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, he rendered the knowledge of the Golden Age into the thought and language of the Brahmans of his day. Second, by writing a series of preparatory works, of catechisms and manuals, he made smooth the path of those who would take the first steps on the path of wisdom. Thirdly, by a system of reform and discipline within the Brahman order, he did all that sound practice could do to second clear precept.
The system formed by Sankara within the Brahman order largely continues at the present day. The radiant points of this system are the monasteries founded by the Teacher, where a succession of teachers, each initiated by his predecessor, carry on the spiritual tradition of the great Sankara unbroken.
Of commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, many, perhaps, were written in a gradual series leading up from the simple truths to the more profound mysteries; so that, with one after another of these treatises in hand, the learner was gradually led to the heart of the mystery which lies “like a germ of generation” well concealed in these matchless theosophic documents. These commentaries were followed by others, the work of Sankara’s pupils; and though these works of explanation are very numerous, all those that are published seem to belong to the earlier stages of learning, and leave the deeper passages and problems of the Upanishads still unsolved.
But the other part of Sankara’s work, the manuals and catechisms for learners, are complete and perfect. They really teach, quite plainly and lucidly, the first steps on the path of wisdom; they point out, with clear insistence, the qualities that are necessary to make these first steps fruitful; qualities without which the learner may remain, hesitating and halting, on the threshold, through lack of the force and sterling moral worth which alone make any further progress possible.
Nor are these necessary qualities difficult to understand. They are not queer psychic powers that only flatter vanity; they are not mere intellectual tricks that leave the heart cold; they are rather the simple qualities of sterling honesty, of freedom from selfishness and sensuality — which have formed the basis of every moral code; the virtues so common and commonplace on the lips, but not quite so common in the life and character.
These treatises of Sankara speak to the common understanding and moral sense in an unparalleled degree. They are an appeal to the reason that has hardly ever been equalled for clearness and simplicity by the sages of the earth. Their aim is Freedom (Moksha), “Freedom from the bondage of the world.” This aim speaks to every one, awakens an echo in every heart, appeals to the universal hope of common humanity.
But it is not enough for the mind to follow the lucid sentences of Sankara. “Freedom from the bondage of the world” demands something more. “Sickness is not cured by saying ‘Medicine,’ but by drinking it; so a man is not set free by the name of the Eternal, but by discerning the Eternal.” The teaching must be woven into life and character if it is to bear fruit; it is not enough to contemplate the virtue of freedom from selfishness and sensuality in the abstract.
One of these treatises, “The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom,” will be translated here. It will be divided according to the natural sections of the text, beginning with the first steps on the path and ending with the complete teaching of Sankara’s philosophy so far as that teaching can be put into words. Hardly any notes will be necessary, as the language of the teacher is lucidity itself. Every word is defined and every definition enlarged and repeated.
It is not, however, the object of these papers to put forward a presentation of eastern thought merely to be read and forgotten. We shall spare no pains of repetition and amplification to make the thoughts of the East quite clear. But much remains to be done by readers themselves. They must make the thoughts of Sankara and the sages their own spiritual property if they are to benefit by them, and as a preliminary for this first chapter of Sankara’s teaching, the “four Perfections” should be learned by heart and taken to heart.
Traditional Biographical Sources
List of Vijayas & Other Sources, from The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry
On the life of Śaṅkara we have no less than ten Śaṅkara-Vijayas or Biographies of Sankaracharya, purporting to have been written by the followers of his school of Philosophy; and these may be mentioned in the following order according to their probable date of composition:—
(1) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Śri Chitsukhāchārya one of the direct disciples and co-students of Śaṅkara, known under the name of Bṛihat Śaṅkara-Vijaya;
(2), The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Anandagiri, the well-known commentator of the Bhāshyas and Vārtikas of Śaṅkara and Sureṡvara, known under the name of Prāchîna Śaṅkara-Vijaya;
(3) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Vidyāṡaṅkara or Śaṅkarānapda, the author of Ātma Purāna and of the Dipikās on the Upanishads, Bbagavadgitā and Brahmasūtra, known under the name of Vyāsāchaliya;
(4) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Govindanātha, one of the Paṇdits of Kerala, known under the name of Āchārya Charita or Keraliya Śaṅkara-Vijaya;
(5) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Chūḍāmani Dikshita, the author of many Sanskrit poems and dramas, known under the name of Śaṅkarābhyudaya;
(6) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Anantānandagiri known under the name of Guru Vijaya or Āchārya-Vijaya;
(7) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Vallisahāyakavi, one of the adherents of the Śṛingagiri Maṭha, known under the name of Āchārya Digvijaya;
(8) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Sadānanda, also adherent of the Śṛingagiri Maṭha, known under the name of Śaṅkara Digvijaya Sāra;
(9) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Chidvilāsa, also an adherent of the Śṛingagiri Maṭha, known under the name of Śaṅkara Vijaya Vilāsa;
(10) The Śaṅkara-Vijaya of Mādhava, also an adherent of the Śṛingagiri Maṭha, known under the name of Samkshepa Śaṅkara Vijaya.
Besides these various Śaṅkara Vijayas, we have a number of Punyaśloka-Maṅjaris and Guru-Paramparās preserved by the various Advaitic Maṭhs in which we have a brief account of the chief incidents of Śaṅkara’s life recorded by his own immediate disciples. We have also a brief reference to Śaṅkara’s wonderful life recorded in an indirect manner in Gauḍapadollāsa, Harimiṡriya, Pataṅjali-vijaya, Brihad Rajataraṅgini, Hayagrivavadha, Maṇiprabhā Gururatnamālikā, Sushumā, Vimarṡa and other works. Of these works, the last three are of invaluable interest to the historian of Śaṅkara and the Tāmrapatrānuṡasana issued by King Sudhanvan of Dvārakā, one of the royal disciples of Śaṅkara and published in Vimarṡa by His Holiness, the present Śaṅkarāchārya of the Dvārakā. Maṭha contains a brief and authentic account of the life of Śaṅkara.
— from The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, p. 32-33
The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom
(Crest-Jewel of Wisdom)
The Vedanta Philosophy of Sankaracharya, by Charles Johnston
Advaita Vedanta on Universal Theosophy
Sankaracharya's Collected Works: A Bibliography
Śankarāchārya’s Collected Works
An Annotated Bibliography of Published Editions in Sanskrit
By David Reigle, Eastern Tradition Research Institute
Works of the Original Sankaracharya: A Bibliography
Works of the Original Śankarāchārya
By David Reigle, Eastern Tradition Research Institute
Collected Works of Sankara (Sanskrit), 1910 Vani Vilas Press Edition
Selected Quotes from Sankaracharya
On Wisdom and UnwisdomAmong all causes, wisdom is the only cause of perfect Freedom; as cookery without fire, so perfect Freedom cannot be accomplished without wisdom.
Works cannot destroy unwisdom, as these two are not contraries; but wisdom destroys unwisdom, as light the host of darkness.
At first wrapped in unwisdom, when unwisdom is destroyed the pure Self shines forth of itself, like the radiant sun when the clouds have passed.
When life that was darkened by unwisdom is made clear by the coming of wisdom, unwisdom sinks away of itself, as when water is cleared by astringent juice.
— from Ātma-Bodha, tr. Charles Johnston
The Appeal to the Higher Self
“I submit myself to thee, Master, friend of the bowed-down world and river of selfless kindness.
“Raise me by thy guiding light that pours forth the nectar of truth and mercy, for I am sunk in the ocean of the world.
“I am burned by the hot flame of relentless life and torn by the winds of misery: save me from death, for I take refuge in thee, finding no other rest.”
. . .
“Sprinkle me with thy nectar voice that brings the joy of eternal bliss, pure and cooling, falling on me as from a cup, like the joy of inspiration; for I am burnt by the hot, scorching flames of the world’s fire.
“Happy are they on whom thy light rests, even for a moment, and who reach harmony with thee.
“How shall I cross the ocean of the world? Where is the path? What way must I follow? I know not, Master. Save me from the wound of the world’s pain.”
— Viveka-cūḍāmaṇi, tr. Charles Johnston
The Four PerfectionsWe shall tell of the way of discerning reality, the perfection of freedom, for those who are fitted by possessing the Four Perfections.
What are the Four Perfections?
The Discerning between lasting and unlasting things; No Rage for enjoying the fruit of works, either here or there; the Six Graces that follow Peace; and then the Longing to be free.
What is the Discerning between lasting and unlasting things?
The one lasting thing is the Eternal; all, apart from it, is unlasting.
What is No Rage?
A lack of longing for enjoyments here and in the heaven-world.
What is possession of the Perfections that follow Peace?
Peace; Self-Control; Steadiness; Sturdiness; Confidence; Intentness.
What is Peace?
A firm hold on emotion.
What is Self-Control?
A firm hold on the lust of the eyes and the outward powers.
What is Steadiness?
A following out of one's own genius.
What is Sturdiness?
A readiness to bear opposing forces, like cold and heat, pleasure and pain.
What is Confidence?
Confidence is a reliance on the Voice of the Teacher and Final Wisdom.
What is Intentness?
One-pointedness of the imagination.
What is the Longing to be free?
It is the longing: "That Freedom may be mine."
— from Tattva-Bodha, tr. Charles Johnston
On the Self
But I shall declare to you the own being of the Self supreme, knowing which a man, freed from his bonds, reaches the lonely purity.
There is a certain selfhood wherein the sense of “I” forever rests; who witnesses the three modes of being, who is other than the five veils; who is the only knower in waking, dreaming, dreamlessness; of all the activities of the knowing soul, whether good or bad–this is the “I”.
. . .
This inner Self, the ancient Spirit, is everlasting, partless, immediately experienced happiness; ever of one nature, pure waking knowledge, sent forth by whom Voice and the life-breaths move.
. . .
When the Self is veiled by unwisdom there arises a binding to the not-self, and from this comes the pain of world-life. The fire of wisdom lit by discernment between these two–Self and not-Self–will wither up the source of unwisdom, root and all.
— Viveka-cūḍāmaṇi, tr. Charles Johnston
Freedom and Final Peace
As the sweetness, the flowing, and the coldness, that are the characteristics of the water, reappear in the wave, and so in the foam that crests the wave;
So, verily, the Being, Consciousness, and Bliss of the witnessing Self enter into the habitual self that is bound up with it; and, by the door of the habitual self, enter into the imaginary self also.
But when the foam melts away, its flowing, sweetness, coldness, all sink back into the wave; and when the wave itself comes to rest, they sink back to the sea.
When the imaginary self melts away, its Being, Consciousness, Bliss sink back into the habitual self; and, when the habitual self comes to rest, they return to the Self supreme, the witness of all.
— from Bāla-Bodhinī, tr. Charles Johnston
The Perfect Sage
This Self, self-illumined, is of unending power, immeasurable, the direct knowledge of all; knowing this, the knower of the Eternal, freed from bondage, most excellent, gains the victory.
Things of sense neither distress nor elate him beyond measure, nor is he attached to, or repelled by them; in the Self he ever joys, the Self is his rejoicing; altogether contented by the essence of uninterrupted bliss.
As a child, who is free from hunger and bodily pain, finds delight in play, so the wise man rejoices, free from the sorrow of “I” and “mine.”
His food is what is freely offered, eaten without anxiety or sense of poverty; his drink is the pure water of the streams; he moves where fancy leads him, unconstrained; he sleeps by the river-bank, or in the wood; for his vesture is one that grows not old or worn; his home is space; his couch, the world; he moves in paths where the beaten road is ended; the wise man, delighting in the supreme Eternal.
Dwelling in this body as a mere temporary halting-place, he meets the things of sense just as they come, like a child subject to another’s will; thus lives the knower of the Self, who shows no outward sign, nor is attached to external things.
Whether clothed in space alone, or wearing other vestures, or clothed in skins, or in a vesture of thought; like one in trance, or like a child, or like a shade, he walks the earth.
Withdrawing desire from the things of desire, ever contented in the Self, the sage stands firm through the Self alone.
Now as a fool, now a wise man; now as a great and wealthy king; now a wanderer, now a sage; now dwelling like a serpent, solitary; now full of honor; now rejected and unknown; thus the sage walks, ever rejoicing in perfect bliss.
Though without wealth, contented ever; ever rejoicing, though without sensuous enjoyments; though not like others, yet ever seeming as the rest.
Ever active, though acting not at all; though tasting no experience, yet experiencing all; bodiless, though possessing a body; though limited, yet penetrating all.
This knower of the Eternal, ever bodiless, things pleasant or painful touch not at all, nor things fair or foul.
— Viveka-cūḍāmaṇi, tr. Charles Johnston
Selected Quotes on Sankaracharya
Sankara the AvatarIndia has produced a host of intellectuals among whom Sankara takes the place of eminence. His life has been a miracle of thirty-two years which to relate is not history but a piece of poetry and will sound like a legend. He was a sublime actor on the stage of the world who knew what he was thinking of when he unflinchingly said :
'I expound in half a verse, what has been spoken of in million volumes—Brahman is the Truth and the world is mere illusion; the soul is none other than Brahman.'
This great luminary did save our Sanatana dharma at a critical juncture of religious unrest and he was its most virile and combative exponent. We reckon Sankara as an avatar with a practical mission in an age of delusion and decadence. Unique in the achievements of his own life, his greatness all the more is enhanced by the rich legacy of thought he had left behind and the stable institutions he had founded for individual salvation and knowledge. Centuries have rolled by, still he shines in the row of renowned teachers of the world.
— T. S. Narayana Sastry, The Age of Sankara.
H.P. Blavatsky on SankaracharyaIn The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky refers to Sankaracharya as: "Buddha's grand successor" (v.1 intro, p. vlix), as "the greatest of the Esoteric masters of India" (v.1 p. 86), as a "Sixth Rounder" (v.1 p.162), and as "the greatest Initiate living in the historical ages" (v.1 p. 271).
On Brahmanism and Buddhism, Sankaracharya and Gautama
Brahmanism and Buddhism, both viewed from their orthodox aspects, are as inimical and as irreconcilable as water and oil. Each of these great bodies, however, has a vulnerable place in its constitution. While even in their esoteric interpretation both can agree but to disagree, once that their respective vulnerable points are confronted, every disagreement must fall, for the two will find themselves on common ground. The "heel of Achilles" of orthodox Brahmanism is the Adwaita philosophy, whose followers are called by the pious "Buddhists in disguise"; as that of orthodox Buddhism is Northern mysticism, as represented by the disciples of the philosophies of Aryasanga (the Yogacharya School) and Mahayana, who are twitted in their turn by their correligionists as "Vedantins in disguise." The esoteric philosophy of both these can be but one if carefully analysed and compared, as Gautama Buddha and Sankaracharya are most closely connected, if one believes tradition and certain esoteric teachings. Thus every difference between the two will be found one of form rather than of substance. — H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Volume 2, page 637
The Greatest InitiateSri Sankaracharya, the greatest Initiate living in the historical ages, wrote many a Bhashya on the Upanishads. But his original treatises, as there are reasons to suppose, have not yet fallen into the hands of the Philistines, for they are too jealously preserved in his maths (monasteries, mathams). And there are still weightier reasons to believe that the priceless Bhashyas (Commentaries) on the esoteric doctrine of the Brahmins, by their greatest expounder, will remain for ages yet a dead letter to most of the Hindus, except the Smartava Brahmins. This sect, founded by Sankaracharya, (which is still very powerful in Southern India) is now almost the only one to produce students who have preserved sufficient knowledge to comprehend the dead letter of the Bhashyas. The reason of this is that they alone, I am informed, have occasionally real Initiates at their head in their mathams, as for instance, in the "Sringa-giri," in the Western Ghats of Mysore. On the other hand, there is no sect in that desperately exclusive caste of the Brahmins, more exclusive than is the Smartava; and the reticence of its followers to say what they may know of the Occult sciences and the esoteric doctrine, is only equalled by their pride and learning. — H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, pages 271-72