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Adi Shankaracharya

Introduction

Adi Shankaracharya was an early 8th century Indian philosopher and theologian who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He is credited with unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism. His masterpiece is the Brahma-sutra-bhashya, the commentary on the Brahma-sutra, which is a fundamental text of the Vedanta school. His works in Sanskrit discuss the unity of the atman and Nirguna Brahman "brahman without attributes". He wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon in support of his thesis. His works elaborate on ideas found in the Upanishads. Shankara's publications criticised the ritually-oriented Mimaṃsa school of Hinduism. He also explained the key difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, stating that Hinduism asserts "Atman exists", while Buddhism asserts that there is "no Soul, no Self".

Early Life

According to one tradition, Shankara was born into a pious Nambudiri Brahman family in Kerala, southern India. He renounced the world and became a sannyasin (ascetic) against his mother’s will. He studied under Govinda, who was a pupil of Gaudapada. He was, by birth, a Shakta, or worshipper of Shakti. Later he came to be regarded as a worshipper of Shiva or even an incarnation of Shiva himself. His doctrine, however, is far removed from Shaivism and Shaktism. It is ascertained from his works that he had some faith in, or was favourable to, Vaishnavism, the worship of the god Vishnu. It is highly possible that he was familiar with Yoga (one of the classical systems of Indian philosophy, as well as a technique to achieve salvation). One study has suggested that in the beginning he was an adherent of Yoga and later became an Advaitin (Nondualist).

Shankaracharya Philosophy

He established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimaṃsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. He is reputed to have founded four mathas ("monasteries"), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organiser of the Dashanami monastic order and unified the Shanmata tradition of worship.
Sri Shankara brought his life giving philosophy of non-dual Brahaman of the Upanishads.In spirituality, nondualism, also called non-duality, means "not two" or "one undivided without a second". An exquisite thinker, a brilliant intellect, a personality scintillating super think tank with the vision of Truth, a heart throbbing with industrious faith and ardent desire to serve the nation, sweetly emotional and relentlessly logical, Adi Shankara was the fittest Spiritual General to champion the cause of Upanishads. He has presented the eternal, impersonal, consciousness Absolute is the Brahman, the one without a second.

Shankaracharya approach to truth is psychological and religious rather than logical; for that reason, he is perhaps best considered to be a prominent religious teacher rather than a philosopher in the modern sense. His works reveal that he not only was versed in the orthodox Brahmanical traditions but also was well acquainted with Mahayana Buddhism. He is often criticized as a “Buddhist in disguise” by his opponents because of the similarity between his doctrine and Buddhism. Despite this criticism, it should be noted that he made full use of his knowledge of Buddhism to attack Buddhist doctrines severely or to transmute them into his own Vedantic nondualism, and he tried with great effort to “vedanticize” the Vedanta philosophy, which had been made extremely Buddhistic by his predecessors. The basic structure of his philosophy is more akin to Samkhya, a philosophic system of nontheistic dualism, and the Yoga school than to Buddhism. It is said that Shankara died at Kedarnatha in the Himalayas. The Advaita Vedanta school founded by him has always been preeminent in the learned circles of India.

Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta (Advaita Vedanta, literally, "not-two") is a school of Hindu philosophy, and is a classic system of spiritual realization in Hindu tradition. The term Advaita refers to its idea that the true self, Atman, is the same as the highest metaphysical Reality (Brahman). The followers of this school are known as Advaita Vedantins, or just Advaitins or Mayavadins, and they seek spiritual liberation through acquiring vidya, meaning knowledge, of one's true identity as Atman, and the identity of Atman and Brahman.

Advaita Vedanta traces its roots to the oldest Upanishads. Advaita Vedanta is the oldest extant sub-school of Vedanta, which is one of the six orthodox (astika) Hindu philosophies (darśana). The most prominent exponent of the Advaita Vedanta is considered by tradition to be the 8th century scholar Adi Shankara. Advaita Vedanta emphasizes Jivanmukti, the idea that moksha (freedom, liberation) is achievable in this life in contrast to Indian philosophies that emphasize videhamukti, or moksha after death. The school uses concepts such as Brahman, Atman, Maya, Avidya, meditation and others that are found in major Indian religious traditions, but interprets them in its own way for its theories of moksha. Advaita Vedanta is one of the most studied and most influential schools of classical Indian thought. Many scholars describe it as a form of monism, others describe the Advaita philosophy as non-dualistic. Advaita is considered to be philosophy or spiritual pathway rather than a religion, it does not require those who follow it to be of a particular faith or sect.

Advaita influenced and was influenced by various traditions and texts of Hindu philosophies such as Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, other sub-schools of Vedanta, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, the Puranas, the Agamas, as well as social movements such as the Bhakti movement. Beyond Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta interacted and developed with the other traditions of India such as Jainism and Buddhism. Advaita Vedanta texts espouse a spectrum of views from idealism, including illusionism, to realist or nearly realist positions expressed in the early works of Shankara. In modern times, its views appear in various Neo-Vedanta movements. It has been termed as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.