AN INTRODUCTION TO
SOME OF THE WORKS OF SANKARA
than any other inspired being who has
graced and enriched India, Sri Sankara holds
a special place in both
the minds and the hearts of the
people. His lofty intellect, his incisive analysis
and his clarity of expression all
arouse both awe and reverence.
guage Sri Sankara the intellectual, the
philosopher and the teacher extraordinaire, requires
but a fleeting glimpse of his many acheivements.
In a span of a mere thirty two
years of life he thought, spoke and did
more than most can do
in several life times.
his hands, Hinduism underwent an intellectual
catharsis shedding the dross of dead ritual
and decadence which had accrued over
time. Advaita Siddhanta emerged to
feed sweet reason and nourish the then
weakened soul of the Vedic religion.
Sankara's commentaries on the ten
principle Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the
Bhagavad Gita, stand testimony
to this, and form the glittering
diadem of his ntellectual acheivements in the
field of Vedanta.
style of writing here reveals a relentlessly
logical mind, a mind unafraid of facing
the conclusions reached by that logic, however
revolutionary those might have been
in the 8th Century A.D. Surprisingly, far
from being cold or sterile, a warmth
sophisticated and esoteric
writings, moving a scholar to comment that
it was "monoistic music, it elevates
and it reassuares.
But what of Sankara the
man, the ascetic who saw no inconsistency
in a Sanyasin easing his widowed
mother's last moments of life ? What clues
has he left of his feelings, his
emotions towards the common man whose world
he had formally renounced ?
Did he feel superior to
them by virtue of his intellectual or
moral stature? Could he identify with
the petty needs, desires, joys and fears that
beset the common man, woman or child
? It is said that nowhere does a
writer stand more revealed than in his
poetry, for that is an outpouring of
his heart and not his head.
It is therefore in his
religious lyrics that we can find clues
to Sri Sankara's personality. In
these we find that his style of writing
is sharply at variance from his Vedantic
works. An ardent emotional fervour of
devotion charecterises them, together with a
spontaneous poetic elegance.
In these too, we see
the purity of the Advaitic doctrine,
albeit presented simply and subtly. Effortlessly,
he reconciles the Transcendent Brahman with
the Immanent and with equal facility, he
demonstrates that the cascading reactions
of Bhakti culminate in Jeevan Mukti.
what facinates the lesser mortal is the
amazing sense of empathy and sympathy
Sri Sankara reveals for the ordinary
man, and portraying the human foibles
of anger, greed, lust etc. and man's struggle
with his baser nature, some times effective,
and sometimes hopeless.
more astonishing is his capacity to identify
himself with the emotional psyche of a
woman, be it his own mother or that
Universal Mother. Nor is this sense
of identification confined to human beings,
for he quite clearly sees himself in
every creation of nature, bird or beast,
the animate or innanimate, even in the
very elements of nature.
see a multifaceted, infinitely complex and
intriguing personality, giving lie to the inept
criticism that Sankara preaches a cold logic
of crystalline purity, where human warmth
had liitle place. In fact, freed of any
sense of duality, Sankara saw universal oneness
which allowed him to relate as much
to the sophisticate as to the rustic,
lovingly helping them along in their
quest from the human to the divine.
Sivananda Lahari, a religious lyric of
a hundred verses, traditionally atributed to
him, may be studied in this context
to fathom Sri Sankara, the man. A paen
of praise and love to Lord Siva, it
is an elegant work which matches
his Soundarya Lahari in praise of the
is not in the Indian tradition to
record epitaphs. If one can make so bold
as to deviate from this norm and
look for one, appropriate to Sri Sankara,
that divinely inspired man, one need not
seek farther than his own Viveka Chudamani
Noble men live calmly and loftily,
Moving for the benefit of the world,
like the spring,
Having themselves crossed the fearful ocean
They, with no motive, help others also
to cross it.
RETURN TO THE WORKS OF SANKARA