When the rumblings of foreign assaults on India’s ancient Sanatana-dhrma began with Muhammad bin Qasim’s defeat of Raja Dahir of Sindh in 711 A.D., the land remained splintered politically. The times were not promising for bringing the national together in any manner. Just then, the gift of resurgence and spiritual unification came with the advent of Adi Sankara in 788 A.D. Renouncing material life, he mastered India’s ancient lore and cleared the cobwebs that obscured the Eternal Religion and interpreted cruicial scriptures like the Brahma-Sutra, the Upanisads and the Gita in the light of Advaita Vedanta. Understanding the need of the aspirants to reach out to the Unknown through the known, Adi Sankara inaugurated the vast area of stotra literature, which remains the common man’s gateway tot eh Divine every today.
Structured as a concise introduction to the varied writings of the greatest Advaitic philosopher the world has known, Adi Sankara: Finite to the Infinite recounts his life and travels. The individual writings are discussed to show how he was the father of the commentatorial tradition for which India is famous. What emerges in the end is an inspiring figure of an intrepid scholar, an illustrious teacher, a visionary administrator and a superb poet. Certainly, we have in Adi Sankara’s personality the much-needed motivation for the youth of today who are building the new India.
Dr. Prema Nandakumar obtained her Ph.D. in 1961 for her study of Sri Aurobindo’s SriAurobindo’s epic poem, Savitri. Since then, she has been an independent researcher, publishing ciritical and biographical works. As a translator, her career spans half a century, with the UNESCO publishing her wbook on Subramania Bharati. Nandakumar’s translationinto English o Manimekalai, the ancient Buddhist epic in Tamil, has been received with enthusiasm. She is also a creative writer in English and Tamil.
A resource person at various national and international conferences in India and abroad, Dr. Nandakumar Draws her inspiration from sources as varied as the Vedas, Sanskrit and Tamil epics, and modern India literarue. She is the recipient of several awards, including the “Sri Aurobindo Puraskar” (Calcutta), “Pandita Ratna” (Warangal), “Thamizh Peravai Chemmal” (Madurai Kamaraj University) and “Thiru Vi. Ka. Award” (Government of Tamil Nadu). Her latest publication is Swami Vivekananda (2013).
R. Balasubramanian, Ph. D. Litt. (Madras Universty), Vacaspati (Honoris Causa), a specialist in Advaita, Phenomenology and Existentialism, started his career in 1950. He taught in Besant Theosophical College, Vivekananda College, and Annamalai University before joining the faculty of Radhakrishnan institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras, of which he was the Director for a number of years. He started Sri Aurobindo School of Eastern and Western Thought at Pondicherry University and was its first Chairman for live years. He spent a year at Stanford University as a Fulbright & Smith-Mundt scholar for his post-doctoral studies. He was Chairman of India Council of Philosophical Research for a term. At present, he is Chairman, India Philosophical Congress. He has numerous publications to his credit.
The present volume entitled Adi Sankara: Finite to the Infinite written by Dr. Prema Nandakumar gives a coherent and cogent account of the life and achievements of Adi Sankara, closely following Madhava Vidyaranya's Sankara-digvijaya. The presentation is lucid, very often poetical, and gives us a vivid picture of the young sannyasin moving from place to place. One is tempted to read it again and again.
Among the legendary figures in the religio-philosophical history of the world, Sankara is one. He is unique in the Indian tradition. There is no one to be compared with him before or after his advent. He is at once a hard-core traditionalist and an amazing radical, a fascinating idealist and a down-to-earth realist, a great mystic and a constructive religious reformer, an uncompromising intellectual and an ardent devotee. His numerous writings reflect all these aspects of his personality. Tradition holds that he was an incarnation of Siva. Even if one would discount such a traditional story, what Sankara was able to achieve during his short life span of thirty-two years could not have been achieved even by the most gifted human being. What he did was the work of a divinity in the human form. According to tradition, Sankara was born in Veliyanad to Sivaguru and Aryamba. The incidents in the life-history of Sankara and his achievements during his dig-vijaya have been narrated in the Sankara-vijayas, which are quite a few. Sankara left his home when he was just eight years old, went to the north in search of a guru, met Govinda Bhagavatpada who was a disciple of Gaudapada, became his sannyasin-disciple, and received instruction in Veda- Vedanta. During his dig-vijaya he met scholars and debated with them on various issues of sanatana-dharma. A reputed Mimarhsaka with whom he held philosophical debate was Mandanarnisra, also known as Visvarupa. Accepting defeat, Mandana gave up his life of a house-holder, and became his sannyasin-disciple with a new name, Suresvara, Three other direct disciples of his were Padmapada, Totaka, and Hastamalaka. According to tradition, Sankara went around India more than once, probably 'thrice, and established monastic institutions in the different places in the country, the most notable of which are the Jyotir-matha at Badarikasrama, the Kalika-pitha at Dvaraka, the Govardhana- pitha at Jagannatha-puri, the Sarada-pitha at Smgeri, and the Kamakoti-pitha at Kanci. According to one account, he attained siddhi after ascending the sarvajna-pitha at Kanci. It is also said that he entered into a cave at Kedara and disappeared.
Though the tradition of Advaita right from the Vedic times down to the present day is a continuous one, still we speak of pre-Sankara and post-Sankara Advaita making Sankara the dividing line or watershed in view of his importance in the historical development of the school. Whether we speak of pre- Sankara or post-Sankara Advaita, the basic teachings of Advaita as contained in the prasthana-traya remain the same in its long history. However, the periodization is intended to highlight the manifold contribution of Sankara to Advaita-consolidation of Advaita through his numerous writings, reconciliation of karma-kanda and jnana-kanda through a demarcation of their scope and subject-matter; the distinction between the two forms of Brahman, nirguna and saguna, based on the paramarthika and vyavaharika standpoints; formulation of the concept of adhyasa as the presupposition of philosophical investigation; exposition of the theory of vivarta; enunciation of the concept of moksa as the consummation of human values (purusartha- samapti) to be achieved here and now; formulation of the lad- der-model for explaining the relation between karma-yoga and jnana-yoga; articulation of a theoretical base for religious harmony leading to the worship of one God in six forms (sanmata); and cultural integration of the nation through the establishment of five seats of spirituality (mathas) in the north and the south, the east and the west.
Without claiming any originality, Sankara presented him- self as a spokesman of the Upanisadic tradition. The basic ideas of Advaita are not Sankara's invention. They are derived by him from the Upanisads, and so he is not original in this respect. However, his originality in the analysis and inter- pretation of the ideas enshrined in the Upanisads and of the arguments implicit in the Brahma-sutra is unsurpassable. His masterly commentaries, easily manageable manuals, and elevating hymns produced a tremendous impact not only on the followers of other systems, but also on the practices of the common people. The direct disciples of Sankara as well as other Advaitins established their rapport with the prasthana-traya through Sankara's commentaries thereon. He was the source and inspiration for the development of Advaita after him.
Though the vyavaharika realm is mithya, it is not, according to him, unimportant. What is finite implies the infinite. A lower value points to a higher value. Empirical knowledge (apara vidya) has to pave the way for higher wisdom (para vidya). Sankara teaches the philosophy of transcendence. To him, the absolute truth is at once the highest value and the supreme reality. Epistemology, axiology, and metaphysics show the path to the primal being which is beyond onto-theology. Through a rigorous philosophical inquiry, what is called pramana-prameya-vicara, Sankara shows where philosophy begins and how it ends. The more we read his writings, the more we are fascinated by them. There is nothing in them of the ephemeral and the parochial. The midrib of his philosophy is eternal and universal.
I venture to suggest that this monograph deserves to be translated in other languages including Sanskrit. Its special merit lies in the fact that it not only closely follows Vidyaranya's Digvijaya, but also elaborates the concepts and doctrines of Advaita contained in it.
Preface My earliest memory takes me back by seven decades when my grandmother held my hand and took me to the Sankara Matha in the tiny village of Kodakanallur on the banks of Tambraparni whenever a kathakalaksepa, or bhajan, or music recital was in progress there. We belonged to a Srivaisnava family, but my grandmother made me bow to the image of Adi Sankara in the Matha and seek blessings. I guess I slept on her lap after a while. But her love and the unconscious reception of the devotion-laden atmosphere have led me on the sun-lit path till today when I am able to present this homage to the Jagadguru who saved Hindu culture and spirituality for all time.
When Professor R. Balasubramanian gave me this assignment, I accepted it not without a good deal of trepidation. It is one thing to have studied Adi Sankara's works, or written articles about him, or given lectures on his ministry for Sanatana- dharma. But a book which would come under grave scrutiny from scholars was quite another thing. Do I dare to enter this world of an unparalleled Spiritual Agni with my little Sanskrit and less philosophy? Once again, I turned to Sri Aurobindo and his words calmed me: "If they aim be great and thy means small, still act; for by action alone these can increase to thee."
Indians have not preferred to waste their time on dates; instead, they have welcomed great thoughts and deeds that enrich the social fabric. This is a major problem for a writer today who is challenged by the western concepts of research in terms of time. Not all the biographies of Adi Sankara speak uniformly about his life, but all of them are sincere to their core. To avoid getting lost in alternate readings, I have chosen to rely mainly on Madhava Vidyaranya's Sankara-digvijaya, because this biography has also an excellent English translation by Swami Tapasyananda. I bow reverently to the memory of this sterling scholar-translator of Sri Ramakrishna Math.
All the biographies make it clear that Adi Sankara was an extraordinary person, a renunciate who had to face terrifying opposition from blind orthodoxy that had crept into the Vedic stream. There were also the non-Vedic religions that were inimical towards his work to resuscitate Hinduism. Which all goes to prove that we have a massive barrier-breaker, an incarnation in Adi Sailkara. As one who firmly believes in the avatara concept, I feel blessed to have been chosen as an instrument to put together this humble offering.
It has been an enriching adventure in every way. All the time, Professor Balasubramanian's encouraging words and timely help with choice books have sustained me. I am grateful to him for his unfailing guidance in my work during the last twenty years. When I despaired of getting the complete works of Adi Sailkara published by the Vani Vilas Press, as I had very few volumes of that classic edition with me, the internet came to my rescue, and I had them all in a trice. It was like opening magic casements that revealed a Guru of infinite com- passion. How he teaches his disciples word by word in his commentaries! And these sweet stotras that are easily memorized have been my companions for decades. A book subsuming all this needs tapasya from the author. I have none, but I can rightfully claim as a child of the Mother, Her devaprasada, the gift of indulgence from the Supreme.
Among those who have helped me draw to the works of Adi Sankara in the past, I remember with gratitude the late Sri Rama Narasu who often invited me to give talks on the Guru and his works in the Sringeri Math at Srirangam. As always, Nandakumar has been of unfailing help in every way and my children, Ahana, Bhuvana and Raja have kept me cheerful in moments of self-pity. I thank Srimati Sathiya Barna for preparing the maps of Adi Sankara's journey-routes in India.
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