Acharya Shankara reiterated the teachings of the Upanishads that Brahman is one, indivisible and of the nature of existence coupled with consciousness and infinite bliss ( sat,chit,aananda). Conversely, he taught that no other entity has noumenal (paaramaarthika) existence; all entities cognized by our senses have but phenomenal (vyaavahaarika) existence, which gets ablated with the realization of the true nature of the self; it is due to avidya or nescience that we are unable to perceive the identity of our self with Brahman and when the nescience is dispelled, the true nature of the self becomes evident forthwith in a flash. The essence of his philosophy is captured in the popular verse: “Brahma satyam jaganmithyaa, jivo brahmaiva naaparah” ( ‘Brahman alone exists truly, the world is but an appearance and jiva is none other than Brahman’).
This standpoint of the great Acharya is the hallmark of his all round integral approach. With this approach that there is only one true entity, there can be no real cause for dissension, as the Advaitin perceives everything integrally as being himself, albeit phenomenally differentiated in appearence. Thus, a true Advaitin in the footsteps of Sri Shankara has no quarrel with anyone for he sees so no real second. As long as he can perceive only one entity, there is no cause for fear, hatred, doubt or disagreement. There is a state of absolute, unalloyed and uniterrupted bliss. It is only when he starts making a distinction within himself that doubts arise, differences surface and the never-ending cycle of life and death begins.
The Taittireeya Upanishad pithily explains this and says: “Esha hyevaanandayati. Yadaa hyevaisha etasminnandrishye anaatmye anirukte anilayane abhayam pratishthaam vindate. Atha so abhayam gato bhavati. Yadaa hyevaisha etasminnudaramantaram kurute. Atha tasya bhayam bhavati”. This is also what Shankara’s grand-guru Gaudapadacharya taught in the Mandukya Karika: “Sva siddhaanta vyavasthaasu dvaitino nischita dridham; parasparam virudhyante, tairayam na virudhyate”. For the Advaitin there is no cause for fear or hatred from anyone. Commenting on this, the Acharya says in his Bhashya: “tairanyonyavirodhibirasmdiyoyam vaidikah sarvaananyatvadatmaikatvadarshanpaksho na virudhyate, yathaa svahastapadadibhih” (“ Our Vedic doctrine, as it is based on the tenet of non-second self-Brahman, is not contradicted by those other mutually contradictory standpoints, just as one is not contradicted by one’s one hands or feet”). He further explains this in his Mandukya Karika bhashya by saying: “Yatha mattagajaarudhah unmattam bhoomishttham pratigajaroodhoham gajam vaahaya maam prati iti bruvanamapi tam prati na vaahayatyavirodhabudhyaa, tadvat” (‘Just as a person riding an elephant does not run down another person of unsound mind standing on the ground and challenging the former to run him down, because the former has no opposition in his heart”). As the Acharya says, in his Taittireeya Bhashya : “bhedadarshanameva hi bhayakaranam”.( “Perceiving differences is only the cause for fear”).
Reconciling several apparently contradictory statements in the Shrutis and Smritis in the Sutra Bhashya Shankaraachaarya puts forth their true purport as Advaita. Even while severely criticizing other viewpoints, he points out that it is being done in a spirit of enquiry accepting all those, which according to him do not run counter to the doctrine of the Upanishads.
Shankaracharya’s philosophy thus helps us to integrate the entire humanity on the basis of the essential unity of all existence. National integration emerges as a by-product of that approach. What he preached was spiritual integration; integration of all other facets follows in its wake.
Consistently with his philosophical standpoint, the Acharya set about to integrate the religious beliefs of Indians. Seeing the people around him with different religious beliefs indulging in internecine quarrels, the Acharya systemmatized the extant religious practices into six schools, each devoted to one supreme God with all faiths rooted in Advaita philosophy. Thus were formed the six schools of faith respectively devoted to Shiva, Vishnu, Ganapati, Shakti, Surya and Skanda. This earned the Acharya the popular appellation, Shanmatasthapanacharya, the founder of six religious schools. Each one was free to pursue devotion to the God of his choice on the phenomenal plane without detriment to the conviction that noumenally they were all identical. This is the integrative approach of the Acharya on the religious plane.
Founding of Four Mantras
In order to ensure the uninterrupted and efficacious spreading and paractice of his teachings, the Acharya founded four Mathas called Amnaya Peethas, each with its own deity, its own motto from an Upanishad Maha Vakya, but all anchored on the bedrock of Advaita philosophy. Hence, we have Jyotirmatha up North in Kashmir, Sringeri down in South, Puri in the East and Govardhana Peetha in Dwaraka, West. These four Amnaya Peethas bear testimony to the integral vision of Sri Shankarcharya to ensure that the true message of the Upanishads was spread throughout the country. Apart from these Principal Mathas, he also established a number of subsidiary mathas for propogation and practice of the Upanishadic teachings.
Besides founding the four Mathas in the four Cardinal points, the Acharya made it his life’s mission to travel the length and breadth of the country preaching his doctrine of unity to all. He was responsible for an integral Indian heritage being passed on to future generations. The spirit of India he discerned is the proud legacy handed over to us. That all Indians are one, spiritually, culturally, and even on the philosophical plane, was his message to us.
The universality of Shankaracharya’s teachings has left an abiding impression on all thinkers. When we perceive ourselves as identical with Brahman, how can we act on separatist impulses? How then can we make a choice of action, which hurts others in the process? Indeed, the Acharya says: “ tvayi mayi chaanyatraiko Vishnuh, vyartham kupyasi mayyasahishnuh” and again:“sarvasminnapi pashyaatmaanam, sarvatrotsrija bhedajnanam” (‘The same Vishnu resides in me and you, you are needlessly angry with me. See yourself in all around you and give up your sense of discrimination’). This, surely, is an exhortation that can only come from one with the utmost integral vision of life.
The message of unity of Shankaracharya is a clarion call to all citizens of the world, carrying with it intrinsic validation of the unity of all that exists. This the Great Acharya did on the basis of Shrutis, Smritis, Puranas and backed up by relentless logic, but validated by the final intuitive experience. The Acharya declared unhesitatingly that we are, all of us, in fact, just ONE and there is no other. How absurd it would be to exaggerate perceived differences and to behave as if we are not ONE!
Karl Marx emphasized the unity of the working class and exhorted: ‘Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains’. We may, in the same strain, echo the Achary’s teaching and say: “All humans unite! You have nothing to lose but your ignorance!”
The genius of the Acharya lies in the manner in which he relinked the popular religious practices to the Upanishadic theory of Brahman and the stern infusion of the Upanishadic doctrines into the mythological fancies. He refined several current concepts of maya, karma, jnana and a host of others and purged the Hindu religion of extant aberrations.
The complete appropriation of shankara by the whole nation unerringly shows that he is in perfect unison with the nation’s thoughts and aspirations. He left his distinct stamp on the traditions and cultures of the lands over which his peregrinations took him, leaving in his wake a unifying influence on all that he came across.
Shankaracharya’s impact on the nation is metaphorically, yet truly, brought out in his praise:
Aashailadudayaat tathaastgirito bhaswadyashorashmibhih
vyaptam vishwamanandhakaramabhavat yasya sma shishairidam
Arad jnanagabhastibhih pratihataschandrayate bhaskarah
Tasmai Shankara bhanave tanumanovagbhirnamskurmahe
‘We pay homage to Shankara the sun, whose disciples by the bright rays of their fame spreading from the Udayagiri in the East to the Astagiri in the West dispelled the darkness of ignorance enveloping the universe, and before the effulgence of whose light of knowledge, even the sun pales into a moon’
Justice Sri B. N. Srikrishna