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Guru Nanak

Birth
Whenever there is a big catastrophe in the land, whenever there is decline of righteousness, whenever there are oppression and chaos in the land, whenever the faith of the people in God wanes, great men or saints appear, from time to time, to enrich sacred literature, to protect Dharma, to destroy unrighteousness and reawaken the love of God in the minds of the people. India was in a bad plight. Babar invaded India. His armies assaulted and sacked several cities. The ascetic captives were forced to do rigorous work. There was wholesale massacre everywhere. The kings were bloodthirsty, cruel and tyrannical. There was no real religion. There was religious persecution. The real spirit of religion was crushed by ritualism. The hearts of the people were filled with falsehood, cunningness, selfishness and greed. At such a time Guru Nanak came to the world with a message of peace, unity, love and devotion to God. He came at a time when there was fight between the Hindus and the Mohammedans—when real religion was replaced by mere rituals and forms. He came to preach the gospel of peace, brotherhood or the unity of humanity, love and sacrifice.

Nanak, the Khatri mystic and poet and founder of the Sikh religion, was born in 1469 A.D. in the village of Talwandi on the Ravi, in the Lahore district of Punjab. On one side of the house in which Guru Nanak was born, there stands now the famous shrine called ‘Nankana Sahib’. Nanak has been called the ‘Prophet of the Punjab and Sind’. Nanak’s father was Mehta Kalu Chand, known popularly as Kalu. He was the accountant of the village. He was an agriculturist also. Nanak’s mother was Tripta. Even in his childhood, Nanak had a mystic disposition and he used to talk about God with Sadhus. He had a contemplative mind and a pious nature. He began to spend his time in meditation and spiritual practices. He was, by habit, reserved in nature. He would eat but little.

Nanak’s education
When Nanak was a boy of seven, he was sent to Gopal Pandha to learn Hindi. The teacher told Nanak to read a book. Nanak replied, “What will it avail to know all and not have a knowledge of God?” Then the teacher wrote the Hindi alphabets for him on a wooden slate.

Nanak said to the teacher, “Please tell me, sir, what books have you studied? What is the extent of your knowledge?” Gopal Pandha replied, “I know mathematics and the accounts necessary for shopkeeping”. Nanak replied, “This knowledge will not in any way help you in obtaining freedom”. The teacher was very much astonished at the words of the boy. He told him, “Nanak, tell me something which could help me in the attainment of salvation”. Nanak said, “O teacher! Burn worldly love, make its ashes into ink and make the intellect into a fine paper. Now make the love of God your pen, and your heart the writer, and under the instructions of your Guru, write and meditate. Write the Name of the Lord and His praises and write, ‘He has no limit this side or the other’. O teacher! Learn to write this account”. The teacher was struck with wonder.

Then Kalu sent his son to Pundit Brij Nath to learn Sanskrit. The Pundit wrote for him ‘Om’. Nanak asked the teacher the meaning of ‘Om’. The teacher replied, “You have no business to know the meaning of ‘Om’ now. I cannot explain to you the meaning”. Nanak said, “O teacher! What is the use of reading without knowing the meaning? I shall explain to you the meaning of ‘Om’”. Then Nanak gave an elaborate explanation of the significance of ‘Om’. The Sanskrit Pundit was struck with amazement.

Nanak’s occupation
Then Kalu tried his level best to turn Nanak’s mind towards worldly matters. He put Nanak in the work of looking after the cultivation of the land. Nanak did not pay any attention to his work. He meditated even in the fields. He went out to tend the cattle, but centred his mind on the worship of God. The cattle trespassed into a neighbour’s field. Kalu rebuked Nanak for his idleness. Nanak replied, “I am not idle, but am busy in guarding my own fields”. Kalu asked him, “Where are your fields?” Nanak replied, “My body is a field. The mind is the ploughman. Righteousness is the cultivation. Modesty is water for irrigation. I have sown the field with the seed of the sacred Name of the Lord. Contentment is my field’s harrow. Humility is its hedge. The seeds will germinate into a good crop with love and devotion. Fortunate is the house in which such a crop is brought! O sir, mammon will not accompany us to the next world. It has infatuated the whole world, but there are few who understand its delusive nature”.

Then Kalu put him in charge of a small shop. Nanak distributed the things to Sadhus and poor people. He would give away in charity whatever he could lay hands on in his father’s house and in the shop. Nanak said, “My shop is made of time and space. Its store consists of the commodities of truth and self-control. I am always dealing with my customers, the Sadhus and Mahatmas, contact with whom is very profitable indeed”.

When Nanak was fifteen years of age, his father gave him twenty rupees and said, “Nanak, go to the market and purchase some profitable commodity”. Kalu sent his servant Bala also to accompany Nanak. Nanak and Bala reached Chuhar Kana, a village about twenty miles from Talwandi. Nanak met a party of Fakirs. He thought within himself: “Let me feed these Fakirs now. This is the most profitable bargain I can make”. He purchased provisions immediately and fed them sumptuously. Then he came back to his house. The servant informed his master of his son’s bargain. Kalu was very much annoyed. He gave a slap on Nanak’s face.

The father thought that Nanak did not like sedentary work. Therefore he said to Nanak, “O dear son! Ride on a horse and do travelling business. This will suit you nicely”. Nanak replied, “Revered father! My trade is divine knowledge. The profits are the purseful of good deeds with which I can certainly reach the domain of the Lord”.

Then Kalu Chand told Nanak: “If you do not like trade or business, you may serve in some office”. Nanak replied, “I am already a servant of God. I am endeavouring to do my duty honestly and whole-heartedly in the service of my Lord. I carry out His behests implicitly. I desire fervently to get the reward of divine grace from the Lord by serving Him untiringly and incessantly”. On hearing this, the father became silent and retired from there.

Nanak’s marriage
Guru Nanak had only one sister named Nanaki. She was married to Jai Ram, a Dewan in the service of Nawab Daulat Khan Lodi, who was a relative of Sultan Bahlol, the then Emperor of Delhi. The Nawab had an extensive Jagir in Sultanpur near Kapurthala. Nanak also married soon after his sister’s marriage. His wife was Sulakhani, daughter of Mula, a resident of Batala, in the district of Gurdaspur. Marriage and the birth of two children did not, in any way, stop Nanak’s spiritual pursuits. He went even then to forests and lonely places for meditation.

Nanaki and Jai Ram loved and respected Nanak much. Rai Bular, the Zamindar of Talwandi, also had great regard for Nanak. Rai Bular and Jai Ram thought that Nanak should be fixed in some job at Sultanpur. Jai Ram took Nanak to the Nawab, who put Nanak in charge of his storehouse. Nanak discharged his duties very satisfactorily. Everybody was very much pleased with his work. In those days the salary was given in kind and so Nanak received provisions. He spent a small portion for his own maintenance and distributed the rest to the poor.

Nanak had two sons named Srichand (born in 1494 A.D.) and Lakshmichand (born in 1497 A.D). Srichand renounced the world and founded a sect of ascetics called Udasis. The Udasis grew long beards and long hair. The application of razor to any part of the body was strictly prohibited. Lakshmichand became a man of the world. He married and had two sons.

Nanak gave up his service and distributed his goods amongst the poor. He lived in the jungles and put on the garb of a Fakir. He practised severe austerities and intense meditation. He sang inspired songs. These are all collected and preserved in the Adi Granth—the sacred book of the Sikhs.

The minstrel Mardana came from Talwandi and became Nanak’s servant and faithful devotee. When Nanak sang songs, Mardana used to accompany Nanak on the rebeck. Mardana was an expert musician. He sang Nanak’s songs always to the accompaniment of the rebeck.

Nanak became a public preacher at the age of thirty-four. He began to preach his mission. His preaching produced a deep impression on the minds of the public. He left Sultanpur and toured about in Northern India.

Rai Bular, the Zamindar of Talwandi, became very old. He wanted to see Nanak and so he sent a messenger to Nanak. Nanak at once proceeded to Talwandi and saw Rai Bular and his own parents and relatives. All his relatives began to explain to Nanak how they stood towards him in relationship and persuaded him to give up his mission and stay at home comfortably. Nanak replied: “‘Forgiveness’ is my mother and ‘contentment’ my father. ‘Truth’ is my uncle and ‘love’ my brother. ‘Affection’ is my cousin and ‘patience’ my daughter.

‘Peace’ is my constant female companion and ‘intelligence’ my handmaid. Thus is composed my whole family whose members are my constant associates. The only one God—the Creator of the whole universe—is my husband. He who forsakes Him will be caught up in the round of births and deaths and will suffer in various ways”.

Guru Nanak had great influence over Babar, who had very great regard for Nanak. Babar offered valuable presents to Nanak. Nanak, having declined them, asked Babar to release the captives of Eminabad and restore their properties. Babar at once carried out the wishes of Guru Nanak and implored Guru Nanak to give him some religious instructions. Guru Nanak said, “Worship God. Repeat His Name. Give up wine and gambling. Be just. Revere saints and pious men. Be kind to all. Be merciful towards the vanquished”.

Guru Nanak’s Tapas and meditation
Nanak practised rigorous meditation in order to realise God quickly. He was always in a deep meditative mood. He did not care for his body. The parents thought that Nanak was ailing seriously and so they sent for a physician. Nanak said to the doctor: “You have come to diagnose my ailment and prescribe medicine. You take my hand and feel the pulse. Poor ignorant doctor, you do not know that the pain is in my mind. O doctor! Go back to your house. I am under God-intoxication. Your medicine is of no use to me. Few know my disease.

The Lord, who gave me this pain, will remove it. I feel the pain of separation from God. I feel the pain which death may inflict. O ignorant doctor! Do not give me any medicine. I feel the pain that my body will perish by disease. I forgot God and indulged in sensual pleasures.

Then I had this pain. The wicked heart is punished. If a man repeats even a portion of the Name of the Lord, his body will become like gold and his soul will be rendered pure. All his pain and disease will be annihilated. Nanak will be saved by the true Name of the Lord. O physician! Go back to your house. Do not take my curse with you. Leave me alone now”.

Nanak gave up food and drink for some days. He became wholly absorbed in divine contemplation. He observed perfect silence. He concealed himself in the forests for days together.

Guru Nanak’s wanderings
Nanak lived in this world for a period of seventy years. He wandered from place to place. He went to Sayyidpur in the district of Gujranwala. He then proceeded to Kurukshetra, Hardwar, Brindavan, Varanasi, Agra, Kanpur, Ayodhya, Prayag, Patna, Rajgir, Gaya and Puri. He travelled throughout India. He made four extensive tours. He went to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mecca and Medina also. He travelled to Bengal, the Deccan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Arabia, Baghdad, Kabul, Kandahar and Siam. He held controversies with Pundits and Mohammedan priests. He debated with the Pandas of Gaya, Hardwar and other places of pilgrimage. He dispelled the clouds of ignorance and doubts of many people. He enjoined on all people to live righteously and with brotherly love and hospitality. He preached and taught:

“Do Nama Smarana. Love God. Be devoted to one God. Serve your fellow beings. God is all-in-all. Pray. Praise Him always. Attain the bliss of union with Him”. Nanak succeeded remarkably in changing the minds of men and winning their love and confidence and in directing them along the path of righteousness and devotion. He tried his best to unite the Hindus and the Muslims.

Guru Nanak proceeded to Multan. He halted by the side of a river. Multan was a place filled with Fakirs always. Prahlad was born at Multan. Shams Tabriez and Mansoor also lived there. The Pirs came to know that Guru Nanak had come to Multan. They sent him milk in a cup, filled to the very brim. Nanak put inside the cup some Batashas—small hollow lumps of sugar—and a flower above them and returned the milk. Mardana told his master that a thing like milk should not be returned and should be drunk by him. Guru Nanak replied, “Look here, Mardana. You are a simpleton. The Pirs have played a small trick. They have not sent this milk for my use. There is deep philosophy at the back of it. There is profound significance. The meaning is that Multan is already full of Pirs and Fakirs, just like the cup that is filled with milk to the very brim, and that there is no room for another religious teacher. I have also paid them in the same coin. My answer is that I will mix with them like the Batashah and would predominate over them like the flower placed in the cup of milk”. The Pirs and the Fakirs then came to see Guru Nanak. Nanak sang a song. The proud and arrogant Pirs came to their senses now. They became very humble. They said to Guru Nanak: “Pardon us, O revered Guru! We were surely self-conceited. Kindly give us spiritual instructions and bless us”. Guru Nanak blessed them and gave them instructions.

Two miracles
There is a remarkable incident in connection with Nanak’s visit to Mecca. At Mecca, Nanak was found sleeping with his feet towards the Kaaba, before which the Mohammedans prostrated themselves when performing their prayer. Kazi Rukan-ud-din, who observed this, angrily remarked: “Infidel! How dare you dishonour God’s place by turning your feet towards Him?” He also kicked Nanak. Nanak silently replied, “I am tired. Turn my feet in any direction where the place of God is not”. Kazi Rukan-ud-din took hold of Nanak’s feet angrily and moved them towards the opposite direction. The mosque also began to move. The Kazi was struck with wonder. He then recognised the glory of Guru Nanak.

Guru Nanak visited Hassan Abdal in the Attock district in the North Western Frontier in 1520 A.D. He sat under a Peepul tree at the foot of a hillock. On top of the hill, there lived a Mohammedan saint named Vali Quandhari. There was then a spring of water on top of the hill.

Mardana used to get water from the spring. Guru Nanak became very popular in a short time. The Mohammedan saint became jealous. He forbade Mardana from taking water out of the spring. Mardana informed Guru Nanak of the cbnduct of the Mohammedan saint. Guru Nanak said to Mardana, “O Mardana! Do not be afraid. God will send water down to us soon”. The spring that was on the top of the hill dried up immediately. There arose a spring at the foot of the hill where Guru Nanak halted. The saint was very much enraged. He hurled a big rock from the top of the hill down to the spot where Nanak was sitting. Guru Nanak stopped the rock by his open hand. The impression of his hand on the rock exists even now. Then the saint came to the Guru, prostrated at his feet and asked for pardon. Guru Nanak smiled and pardoned the arrogant saint. There now stands a beautiful shrine by the side of the spring which is called: “Punja Sahib”.

Teachings of Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak felt that it would be improper to postpone Nama Smarana or remembering the Name of the Lord, even by a single breath, because no one could tell whether the breath that had gone in would come out or not. Nanak says, “We are men of one breath. I know not a longer time-limit”. Guru Nanak calls him alone a true saint who remembers the Name of the Lord with every incoming and outgoing breath. The ideal is practical and within the reach of every man. He tells the people not to lose any time but to begin at once. He also says that there are no barriers of race, class, caste, creed or colour which check the progress of any in reaching the goal. He realised the great truth of the brotherhood of religions. He preached the universal brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God to all people.

Guru Nanak was a reformer. He attacked the corruptions in society. He strongly protested against formalism and ritualism. He carried the message of peace and of love for everybody. He was very liberal in his views. He did not observe the rules of caste. He tried his level best to remove the superstitions of the people. He preached purity, justice, goodness and the love of God. He endeavoured to remove the moral putrefaction that was prevalent amongst the people and to infuse real spirit in the worship of God and true faith in religion and God. He introduced the singing of God’s praise, along with music, as a means of linking the soul of man with God. Wherever he moved, he took Mardana with him to play on the rebeck while he sang. He said, “Serve God. Serve humanity. Only service to humanity shall secure for us a place in heaven”. Guru Nanak had great reverence for women. He allowed them to join all religious gatherings and conferences and to sing the praises of God. He gave them their full share in religious functions.

Guru Nanak clearly says: “The road to the abode of God is long and arduous. There are no short cuts for rich people. Everyone must undergo the same discipline. Everyone must purify his mind through service of humanity and Nama Smarana. Everyone must live according to the will of the Lord without grumbling or murmuring. How to find Him? There is one way. Make His will your own. Be in tune with the Infinite. There is no other way”. The first stage in making the divine will one’s own is attained through prayer for divine grace or favour—Ardas for Guru Prasad. Guru Nanak attaches very great importance to prayer. He says that nothing can be achieved by man without divine favour. He says: “Approach God with perfect humility. Throw yourself on His mercy. Give up pride, show and egoism. Beg for His kindness and favour. Do not think of your own merits, abilities, faculties and capacities. Be prepared to die in the pursuit of His love and union with Him. Love God as a woman loves her husband. Make absolute unreserved self-surrender. You can get divine favour and love”.

The beautiful composition of mystic poems uttered by Nanak is contained in ‘Japji’. It is sung by every Sikh at daybreak. The ‘Sohila’ contains the evening prayers. In ‘Japji’, Guru Nanak has given a vivid and concise description of the stages through which man must pass in order to reach the final resting place or abode of eternal bliss. There are five stages or Khandas. The first is called Dharm Khand or “The Realm of Duty”. Everyone must do this duty properly. Everyone must tread the path of righteousness. Everyone will be judged according to his actions.

The next stage is Gyan Khand or “The Realm of Knowledge” where the spirit of divine knowledge reigns. The aspirant does his duty with intense faith and sincerity. He has the knowledge now, that only by doing his duty in a perfect manner, he can reach the abode of bliss or the goal of life.

The third stage is Sharam Khand. This is “The Realm of Ecstasy”. There is the spiritual rapture here. There is beauty. The Dharma has become a part of one’s own nature. It has become an ingrained habit. It is no more a mere matter of duty or knowledge.

The fourth stage is Karam Khand or “The Realm of Power”. The God of power rules over this realm. The aspirant acquires power. He becomes a mighty hero. He becomes invincible. The fear of death vanishes.

The fifth or the final stage is Sach Khand or “The Realm of Truth”. The formless One reigns here. Here the aspirant becomes one with God. He has attained Godhead. He has transmuted himself into Divinity. He has attained the goal of his life. He has found out his permanent resting place. Now ends the arduous journey of the soul.

Guru Nanak again and again insists thus: “Realise your unity with all. Love God. Love God in man. Sing the love of God. Repeat God’s Name. Sing His glory. Love God as the lotus loves water, as the bird Chatak loves rain, as the wife loves her husband. Make divine love thy pen and thy heart the writer. If you repeat the Name, you live; if you forget it, you die. Open your heart to Him. Enter into communion with Him. Sink into His arms and feel the divine embrace”.

Nanak has given a beautiful summary of his teachings in one of his hymns as follows:—

Love the saints of every faith:
Put away thy pride.
Remember the essence of religion
Is meekness and sympathy,
Not fine clothes,
Not the Yogi’s garb and ashes,
Not the blowing of the horns,
Not the shaven head,
Not long prayers,
Not recitations and torturings,
Not the ascetic way,
But a life of goodness and purity,
Amid the world’s temptations.

“Vahe Guru” is the Guru Mantra for the followers of Guru Nanak. The other important Mantra for repetition is: “Ek Omkar Satnam Karta Purkh Nirbhav Nirvair, Akalmurat Ajuni Savai Bhang Gur Parsad—God is but one, His Name is true, He is the Creator, He pervades the whole universe, He is without fear, He is without enmity, He is immortal, He is birthless, He is self-born and self-existent, He is the remover of the darkness (of ignorance) and He is merciful”. The Lord is eternal. He has no beginning and no end.

The Granth Sahib
Guru Nanak invented the Gurumukhi characters by simplifying the Sanskrit characters. The holy Granth of the Sikhs is in Gurumukhi. It is worshipped by the Sikhs and the Sindhis. Every Gurudwara has a Granth Sahib. The holy Granth, popularly known as Adi Granth, contains the hymns of the first five Gurus. They were all collected, arranged and formed into one volume called Guru Granth Sahib by the fifth Guru. It contains a few selections from the hymns of Kabir and other contemporary Vaishnavite saints. Later on, the hymns of the ninth Guru were incorporated in the holy Granth by the tenth Guru. The compositions of Guru Nanak are very extensive.

The Granth Sahib begins with the following: “There is but one God whose name is true—the Creator”. It contains a code of high morals.

Purity of life, obedience to Guru, mercy, charity, temperance, justice, straightforwardness, truthfulness, sacrifice, service, love and abstinence from animal food are among the virtues on which great emphasis is laid; while lust, anger, pride, hatred, egoism, greed, selfishness, cruelty, backbiting and falsehood are vehemently condemned.

Guru Nanak’s last days
Nanak settled down at Khartarpur towards the close of his life. His whole family lived there together for the first time. Houses for the dwelling of Nanak’s family and a Dharmashala were also built. Mardana also lived with the Guru. Every day the ‘Japji’ and ‘Sohila’—the morning and the evening prayers composed by Guru Nanak—were recited in his presence. Guru Nanak died in the year 1538 A.D. at the age of sixty-nine. Guru Angad succeeded Guru Nanak. The other Gurus are: Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Hargovind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru Tej Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.

May the blessings of Guru Nanak be upon you all!

Sri Swami Sivananda

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God is not a dictator. He is not an autocratic ruler of this world.
He is your loving father, kind mother and Immortal friend.

Swami Sivananda

Origin and Glory
The earliest work in Sanskrit on Vedanta of the highest order is the Vasishtha Maha Ramayana or Yoga Vasishtha. This monumental work is one without a second in Sanskrit literature. Vasishtha, the great sage, taught the principles of Vedanta to his royal pupil, Sri Rama, the victor of Ravana and hero of the epic, Ramayana. He narrated beautiful and interesting stories to illustrate the principles. The book is written in the language of Valmiki.

It is the crest-jewel of all the works on Vedanta. It is a masterpiece. A study of the book raises a man to the lofty heights of divine splendour and bliss. It is really a vast store of wisdom. Those who practise Atma Chintana or Brahma Abhyasa or Vedantic meditation will find a priceless treasure in this marvellous book. He who studies the book with great interest and one-pointedness of mind cannot go without attaining Self-realisation. The practical hints on Sadhana are unique. Even the most worldly-minded man will become dispassionate and will attain peace of mind, solace and consolation.

The Yoga Vasishtha was once one of the most widely read books in India. It greatly influenced the general philosophical thought. The late Pundit Brindawana Saraswati of Benares had read the Yoga Vasishtha one hundred and sixty-five times. It is a comprehensive, deep, systematic and literary philosophical work of ancient India.

The name is derived from the sage Vasishtha. Though the book is called Yoga Vasishtha, it treats of Jnana only. Practical Yoga is dealt with in two stories. The word “Yoga” is used in the title of this work in its generic sense. It is known by the name Jnana Vasishtham also.

Rishi Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, compiled this remarkable book. He related the whole of Yoga Vasishtha to Rishi Bharadwaja as it passed between Sri Rama and sage Vasishtha.

There are two books, namely, the Brihat Yoga Vasishtha and the Laghu Yoga Vasishtha. The former is a big book containing 32,000 Granthas or Slokas or 64,000 lines. “Brihat” means big. The latter book contains 6,000 Granthas. “Laghu” means small.

The Yoga Vasishtha contains a system of ancient philosophical thought unique in its kind. This is a valuable heritage from the hoary past of this sacred land known as Bharatavarsha or Aryavarta. The system of thought that is presented in this book is a highly valuable contribution not only to Indian philosophical thought but also to the philosophical thought of the world at large.

Those whose minds are turned from this world, who have become indifferent towards the objects of this world and who are thirsting for liberation, will be really benefited by a study of this precious book. They will find in this book a vast mine of knowledge and practical spiritual instructions for guidance in their daily life. The Yoga Vasishtha first enunciates a doctrine in its various aspects and then makes it very lucid through interesting stories. This is a book for constant study as many times as possible. It must be read and re-read, studied and mastered.

The Yoga Vasishtha deals with the subject of effecting union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul amidst all the trials and tribulations of life. It prescribes various directions for the union of the Jivatman and Paramatman.

The nature of Brahman or Sat and the various methods of attaining Self-realisation are vividly described in this book. The main enquiry regarding the final beatitude or summum bonum is beautifully dealt with. This book embodies in itself the science of ontology, the knowledge of the Self, the principles of psychology, the science of emotions, the tenets of ethics and practical morality, discourses on theology, etc. The philosophy of Yoga Vasishtha is sublime. Read the rest of this entry »

The world’s most extraordinary book of practical philosophical idealism of India is Yoga-Vasishtha*.
The gist of this work is this:
“The non-dual Brahman or the immortal soul alone exists. This universe as universe is not. Knowledge of the Self alone will free one from this round of births and deaths. Extinction of thoughts and Vasanas is Moksha. Expansion of mind alone is Sankalpa. Sankalpa or thought, through its power of differentiation generates this universe. This world is a play of the mind. This world does not exist in the three periods of time. Extinction of Sankalpas is Moksha. Annihilate this little ‘I’, Vasanas, Sankalpas, thoughts. Meditate on the Self and become a Jivanmukta.”

Swami Sivananda

See The Yoga Vasishtha

* Here you can download the Yoga Vasishtha Laghu

Om Suryam sundarlokanathamamritam vedantasaram sivam,
Jnanam brahmamayam suresamamalam lokaikochittam svayam; Indradityanaradhipam suragurum trailokyachudamanim, Brahmavishnusivasvarupahridayam vande sada bhaskaram.

I always adore Surya, the sun, the beautiful Lord of the world, the immortal, the quintessence of the Vedanta, the auspicious, the absolute knowledge, of the form of Brahman, the Lord of the gods, ever-pure, the one true consciousness of the world himself, the Lord of Indra, the gods and men, the preceptor of the gods, the crest-jewel of the three worlds, the very heart of the forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, the giver of light.

Sivananda

ramanuja

In the year 1017 A.D., Ramanuja was born in the village of Perumbudur, about twenty-five miles west of Madras. His father was Kesava Somayaji and his mother was Kantimathi, a very pious and virtuous lady.

Ramanuja’s Tamil name was Ilaya Perumal. Quite early in life, Ramanuja lost his father. Then he came to Kancheepuram to prosecute his study of the Vedas under one Yadavaprakasha, a teacher of Advaita philosophy.

Ramanuja was a very brilliant student. Yadavaprakasha’s interpretations of Vedic texts were not quite up to his satisfaction. Ramanuja pointed out many mistakes in the exposition of his master. Sometimes he gave his own interpretations which were much liked by all the co-students. This made Yadavaprakasha very jealous of Ramanuja.

Yadavaprakasha made a plan to take away the life of Ramanuja. He arranged for Ramanuja and his cousin Govinda Bhatta–a fellow student–a pilgrimage to Varanasi. Govinda Bhatta, being a favourite student of Yadavaprakasha, came to know of the latter’s plan while they were travelling. He at once apprised Ramanuja of the danger and helped him to escape. By the grace of God, Ramanuja escaped with the help of a hunter and his wife whom he accidentally met on the way.

About the end of the tenth century, the Visishtadvaita system of philosophy was well established in Southern India and the followers of this creed were in charge of important Vaishnavite temples at Kancheepuram, Srirangam, Tirupathi and other important places. The head of the important Vaishnavite institution was Yamunacharya, a great sage and profound scholar; and he was also the head of the Mutt at Srirangam. One of his disciples, by name Kanchipurna, was serving in the temple at Kancheepuram.

Although a Sudra, Kanchipurna was so very pious and good that the people of the place had great respect and reverence for him. At present, there is a temple at Kancheepuram where Kanchipurna’s image has been installed and where he is worshipped as a saint.

Young Ramanuja came under Kanchipurna’s influence and had such reverence for him that he invited him to dinner in his house. Ramanuja’s intention was to attend on Kanchipurna and personally serve him at dinner and himself take meals afterwards. Unfortunately, Kanchipurna came to dinner when Ramanuja was not at home, and took his meals being served by Ramanuja’s wife. When Ramanuja returned home, he found the house washed and his wife bathing for having served meals to a Sudra. This irritated Ramanuja very much and turned him against his wife who was an orthodox lady of a different social ideal. After a few incidents of this nature, Ramanuja abandoned the life of a householder and became a Sannyasin.

About this time, Yamunacharya being very old was on the look-out for a young person of good ability and character to take his place as head of the Mutt at Srirangam. He had already heard of Ramanuja through his disciples and made up his mind to instal Ramanuja in his place. He now sent for Ramanuja.

By the time Ramanuja reached Srirangam, Yamunacharya was dead; and Ramanuja saw his body being taken by his followers to the cremation ground outside the village. Ramanuja followed them to the cremation ground. There he was informed that Yamunacharya, before his death, had left instructions that he had three wishes which Ramanuja was to be requested to fulfil, viz., that a Visishtadvaita Bhashya should be written for the Brahma Sutras of Vyasa which hitherto had been taught orally to the disciples of the Visishtadvaita philosophy and that the names of Parasara, the author of Vishnu Purana, and saint Sadagopa should be perpetuated. Ramanuja was deeply touched, and in the cremation ground itself, before the dead body of Yamunacharya, he made a solemn promise that, God willing, he would fulfil all the three wishes of Yamunacharya. Ramanuja lived for 120 years, and in the course of his long life, fully redeemed his promise by fulfilling all the three wishes of Yamunacharya.

After the death of Yamuna, his disciples at Srirangam and other places wanted Ramanuja to take Yamuna’s place as the head of the Mutt at Srirangam. This was also the expressed wish of Yamuna.
Accordingly, Ramanuja took his place and was duly installed with all the attendant ceremonies and celebrations as the head of the Visishtadvaita Mutt at Srirangam.

Ramanuja then proceeded to Thirukottiyur to take initiation from Nambi for Japa of the sacred Mantra of eight letters Om Namo Narayanaya. Somehow, Nambi was not willing to initiate Ramanuja easily. He made Ramanuja travel all the way from Srirangam to Madurai nearly eighteen times before he made up his mind to initiate him, and that too, only after exacting solemn promises of secrecy. Then Nambi duly initiated Ramanuja and said: “Ramanuja! Keep this Mantra a secret. This Mantra is a powerful one. Those who repeat this Mantra will attain salvation. Give it only to a worthy disciple previously tried”. But Ramanuja had a very large heart. He was extremely compassionate and his love for humanity was unbounded. He wanted that every man should enjoy the eternal bliss of Lord Narayana. He realised that the Mantra was very powerful. He immediately called all people, irrespective of caste and creed, to assemble before the temple. He stood on top of the tower above the front gate of the temple, and shouted out the sacred Mantra to all of them at the top of his voice. Nambi, his Guru, came to know of this. He became furious. Ramanuja said: “O my beloved Guru! Please prescribe a suitable punishment for my wrong action”. Ramanuja said: “I will gladly suffer the tortures of hell myself if millions of people could get salvation by hearing the Mantra through me”. Nambi was very much pleased with Ramanuja and found out that he had a very large heart full of compassion. He embraced Ramanuja and blessed him. Having thus equipped himself with the necessary qualifications, Ramanuja succeeded Yamuna.

By this time, Ramanuja’s fame had spread far and wide. He became a good controversialist. Then he wrote his commentary on the Brahma Sutras known as the Sri Bhashya. The Visishtadvaita system is an ancient one. It was expounded by Bodhayana in his Vritti, written about 400 B.C. It is the same as that expounded by Ramanuja; and Ramanuja followed Bodhayana in his interpretations of the Brahma Sutras. Ramanuja’s sect of Vaishnavas is called by the name Sri Sampradaya. Ramanuja wrote also three other books–Vedanta Sara (essence of Vedanta), Vedanta Sangraha (a resume of Vedanta) and Vedanta Deepa (the light of Vedanta).

Ramanuja travelled throughout the length and breadth of India to disseminate the path of devotion. He visited all the sacred places throughout India including Kashi, Kashmir and Badrinath. On his way back he visited the Tirupathi hills. There he found the Saivites and the Vaishnavites quarrelling with one another, one party contending that the image of the Lord in the Tirupathi hills was a Saivite one and the other party saying that it was a Vaishnavite one. Ramanuja proposed that they should leave it to the Lord Himself to decide the dispute. So they left the emblems of both Siva and Vishnu at the feet of the Lord, and after locking the door of the temple, both parties stayed outside on guard. In the morning, when they opened the doors, it was found that the image of the Lord was wearing the emblems of Vishnu, while the emblems of Siva were lying at its feet as left there the evening before. This decided that the temple was a Vaishnavite one and it has remained so ever since.

Ramanuja then visited all the Vaishnavite shrines in South India and finally reached Srirangam. Here he settled himself permanently and continued his labours of preaching the Visishtadvaita philosophy and writing books. Thousands of people flocked to him everyday to hear his lectures. He cleansed the temples, settled the rituals to be observed in them, and rectified many social evils which had crept into the community. He had a congregation of 700 Sannyasins, 74 dignitaries who held special offices of ministry, and thousands of holy men and women, who revered him as God. He converted lakhs of people to the path of Bhakti. He gave initiation even to washermen. He was now seventy years old, but was destined to live many more years, establish more Mutts, construct more temples and convert many more thousands of people.

The Chola king about this time was Kulothunga I and he was a staunch Saivite. He ordered Ramanuja to subscribe to his faith in Siva and acknowledge Siva as the Supreme Lord.

Two of the disciples of Ramanuja, Kuresa and Mahapurna, donned the orange robes of Sannyasins and visited the court of Kulothunga I in place of Ramanuja. They argued there for the superiority of Vishnu. The monarch refused to hear them and had their eyes put out.

The two unfortunate people started for Srirangam–their native place. Mahapurna was a very old man, and unable to bear the pain, died on the way. Kuresa alone returned to Srirangam.

Meanwhile, Ramanuja, with a few followers, by rapid marches through day and night, reached the foot-hills of the Western Ghats, about forty miles west of Mysore. There, after great difficulties, he established himself and spent some years in preaching and converting people to the Visishtadvaita philosophy.

The king of the place was Bhatti Deva of the Hoysala dynasty. The Raja’s daughter was possessed of some devil and nobody was able to cure her. Ramanuja succeeded in exorcizing the devil and the princess was restored to her former health. The king was very much pleased with Ramanuja and readily became his disciple and he was converted by Ramanuja into a Vaishnavite. Thereafter Ramanuja firmly established himself in the Mysore king’s dominions, constructed a temple at Melkote, and created a strong Vaishnavite community there. The Pariahs or depressed classes (now called Harijans) of the place were of great service to Ramanuja; and Ramanuja gave them the right of entry inside the temple which he constructed at Melkote–on some fixed days and with some limited privileges–which they enjoy to this day.

Ramanuja constructed a few more Vishnu temples in and about Mysore, set up a strong Vaishnavite community and put them in charge of his disciples to continue his work and spread the Visishtadvaita philosophy and Vishnu worship throughout the king’s dominions. Thus he continued his labours here for nearly twenty years and his followers numbered several thousands.

Meanwhile, Kulothunga Chola 1, who persecuted Ramanuja, died. The followers of Ramanuja immediately communicated the news to Ramanuja and requested him to come back to Srirangam. Ramanuja himself longed to go back to his followers in Srirangam and worship in the temple there. But his new disciples and followers at Melkote and other places in Mysore would not let him go. So he constructed a temple for himself, installed therein his own image for worship by his disciples and followers, and left the place for Srirangam. He was welcomed by his friends and disciples at Srirangam. The successor to Kulothunga Chola I was a pro-Vaishnavite and Ramanuja was left undisturbed. Ramanuja continued his labours for thirty years more and closed his long active career after attaining the remarkable age of 120 years.

Ramanuja was the exponent of the Visishtadvaita philosophy or qualified non-dualism. Ramanuja’s Brahman is Sa-visesha Brahman, i.e., Brahman with attributes. According to Ramanuja’s teachings, Lord Narayana or Bhagavan is the Supreme Being; the individual soul is Chit; matter is Achit. Ramanuja regards the attributes as real and permanent, but subject to the control of Brahman. The attributes are called Prakaras or modes. Lord Narayana is the Ruler and Lord of the universe. The Jiva is His servant and worshipper. The Jiva should completely surrender himself to the Lord. The oneness of God is quite consistent with the existence of attributes, as the attributes or Shaktis depend upon God for their existence.

Sri Sivananda

    O Adorable Lord of Mercy and Love!
    Salutations and prostrations unto Thee.
    Thou art Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient;
    Thou art Satchidananda.
    Thou art the Indweller of all beings.

    Grant us an understanding heart,
    Equal vision, balanced mind,
    Faith, devotion and wisdom.
    Grant us inner spiritual strength
    To resist temptations and to control the mind.
    Free us from egoism, lust, greed, hatred, anger and jealousy.
    Fill our hearts with divine virtues.

    Let us behold Thee in all these names and forms.
    Let us serve Thee in all these names and forms.
    Let us ever remember Thee.
    Let us ever sing Thy Glories.
    Let Thy Name be ever on our lips.
    Let us abide in Thee for ever and ever.

    Swami Sivananda

adi-shankara-sankaracharya2

Introduction

Chaos pervaded all through India in the matter of religion and philosophy. Sect after sect, such as Charvakas, Lokayathikas, Kapalikas, Shaktas, Sankhyas, Buddhas and Madhyamikas sprang up. The number of religions rose as high as seventy-two. There was fight amongst sects. There was no peace anywhere. Chaos and confusion reigned supreme. There was superstition and bigotry. Darkness prevailed over the once happy land of Rishis, sages and Yogins. The once glorious land of the Aryans was in a miserable state. Such was the state of the country at the time which just preceded the Avatara (incarnation) of Sankaracharya.

The existence of Vedic Dharma in India today is due to Sankara. The forces opposed to Vedic religion were more numerous and powerful at the time of Sankara than they are today. Still, single-handed, within a very short time, Sankara overpowered them all and restored the Vedic Dharrna and Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity in the land. The weapon he used was pure knowledge and spirituality. The previous Avataras, like Rama and Krishna, used physical forces because the obstacles to Dharma in those days arose from the physical obstructions and molestations of the Asuras (demons). The menace to Dharma in the Kali age (age of destruction) arose from obstacles that were more internal than external, more mental than physical. The seeds of Adharma (unrighteousness) were then working in the minds of almost everyone. Hence the evil had to be combated purely by the weapon of knowledge and self-purification. It was in order to forge this weapon and wield it with efficacy that Sankara took birth in the Brahmin Varna (caste) and entered the Sannyasa (renunciate) order early in life. The previous Avataras like Rama and Krishna took birth in the Kshatriya Varna (warrior caste), because in their days they had to wield military weapons in the restoration of Dharma.

All are no doubt aware of the very important position assigned to Sankaracharya in the history of Indian philosophy. It can be affirmed, without any fear of contradiction, that Bharata Varsha would have ceased to be Bharata Varsha several centuries ago and would never have survived the murderous sword, the devastating fire and the religious intolerance of the successive invaders, if Sankara had not lived the life he lived and taught the lessons he taught. And those lessons are still pulsating in every cell and in every protoplasm of the true aspirant and the true Hindu.

Birth

Sankara was born in a very poor family in the year 788 A.D. in a village named Kaladi, six miles to the east of Alwaye, Kerala. Kaladi is a railway station, on the Kochi-Shoranur rail link. Sankara was a Nambudiri Brahmin. Rajasekhara, a Zamindar (a rich landlord), built a Siva temple in Kaladi and formed an Agrahara for Brahmins who were in the service of the temple. Vidyadhiraja was doing Puja (worship) in the temple. He had only a son named Sivaguru. Sivaguru studied the Shastras and married at the proper age. He had no child. He and his wife Aryamba prayed to Lord Siva to bless them with a son. A son was born to them in the Vasanta Ritu or the spring season at noon, in the auspicious Abhijit Muhurta and under the constellation Ardhra. This son was Sankara.

Sivaguru died when Sankara was seven years old. Sankara had none to look after his education. His mother was an extraordinary woman. She took special care to educate her son in all the Shastras. Sankara’s Upanayana or thread ceremony was performed in his seventh year, after the death of his father. Sankara exhibited extraordinary intelligence in his boyhood. When he was only sixteen, he became a master of all the philosophies and theologies. He began to write commentaries on the Gita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras when he was only sixteen years old. What a great marvel!

Sankara’s mother was consulting astrologers about horoscopes of suitable girls for her son’s marriage. But Sankara had a firm resolve to renounce the world and become a Sannyasin. Sankara’s mother was very much grieved that there would be no one to perform her funeral rites after her death. Sankara gave full assurance to his mother that he would always be ready to serve her at the death-bed and perform the usual funeral rites. Even then his mother was not satisfied.

One day, Sankara and his mother went to take bath in the river. Sankara plunged into the water and felt that a crocodile was dragging him by the foot. He shouted out to his mother at the top of his voice: “O dear mother! A crocodile is dragging me down. I am lost. Let me die peacefully as a Sannyasin. Let me have the satisfaction of dying as a Sannyasin. Give me your permission now. Let me take Apath-sannyasa”.

The mother immediately allowed him to take Sannyasa. Sankara took Apath-sannyasa (the adoption of Sannyasa when death is near) at once. The crocodile let him go unharmed. Sankara came out of the water as a nominal Sannyasin. He again repeated his promise to his mother. He left her under the care of his relatives and gave away his little property to them. He then proceeded to find out a Guru with a view to get himself formally initiated into the sacred order of Sannyasa.

In Search of a Guru

Sankara met Swami Govindapada Acharya in a hermitage in Badrikashram (Badrinath) in the Himalayas and he prostrated at the teacher’s feet. Govinda asked Sankara who he was. Sankara replied: “O revered Guru! I am neither fire nor air nor earth nor water-none of these, but the Immortal Atma (Self) that is hidden in all names and forms”. He also said in the end: “I am the son of Sivaguru, a Brahmin of Kerala. My father died in my childhood. I was brought up by my mother. I have studied the Vedas and the Shastras under a teacher. I took Apath-sannyasa when a crocodile caught my foot while I was taking bath in the river. Kindly initiate me formally into the holy order of Sannyasa”.

Swami Govinda was very much pleased with the truthful narration given by Sankara. Having initiated him and invested him with the robe of a Sannyasin, Swami Govinda taught him the philosophy of Advaita which he himself had learnt from his Guru-Gaudapada Acharya. Sankara learnt all the philosophical tenets from his Guru Govindapada. Govinda asked Sankara to go to Kashi. Sankara proceeded to Kashi where he wrote all his famous commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Gita and successfully met all the criticisms levelled against them. He then began to propagate his philosophy. Sankara had the greatest esteem for his Guru Govindapada and his Parama Guru or the teacher’s teacher, Gaudapada.

Sankara’s Digvijaya

Sankara’s philosophical conquests are unique in the world. He had his triumphant tour all over India. He met the leaders of different schools of thought. He convinced them by arguments and established the supremacy and truth of the religion that he expounded in his commentaries. He went to all the celebrated seats of learning. He challenged the learned men to discussion, argued with them and converted them to his opinions and views. He defeated Bhatta Bhaskara and condemned his Bhashya (commentary) on the Vedanta Sutras. He then met Dandi and Mayura and taught them his philosophy. He then defeated in argument Harsha, author of Khandana Khanda Kadya, Abhinavagupta, Murari Misra, Udayanacharya, Dharmagupta, Kumarila and Prabhakara.

Sankara then proceeded to Mahishmati. Mandana Misra was the chief Pundit of the court of Mahishmati. Mandana was brought up in the Karma Mimamsa faith and so he had intense hatred for the Sannyasins. He was performing a Sraaddha ceremony when Sankara somehow dropped down there. Immediately Mandana Misra became very furious. An ugly conversation was started when the Brahmins, who were present there for dinner, interposed and pacified Mandana Misra. Then Sankara challenged Mandana to a religious controversy. Mandana agreed. Bharati who was the wife of Mandana Misra and who possessed scholarly erudition was appointed as the umpire. It was agreed beforehand that Sankara, if defeated, would become a householder and marry; and that Mandana, if defeated, would become a Sannyasin and receive the robe of a Sannyasin from the hands of his own wife. The controversy began in right earnest and continued for days without any interruption. Bharati did not sit and listen to their controversy. She threw two garlands, one each over the shoulders of each of the disputants, and said: “He whose garland begins to fade first should consider himself defeated”. She left the place and began attending to her household duties. The controversy went on for seventeen days. The garland of Mandana Misra began to fade first. Mandana Misra accepted his defeat and offered to become a Sannyasin and follow Sankara.

Bharati was an Avatara of Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning. Once the sage Durvasa chanted the Vedas before Brahma and his wife in a big assembly. Durvasa committed a small mistake. Sarasvati laughed at it. Durvasa became enraged and gave a curse that she would take birth in the world. Hence Sarasvati had to take birth as Bharati.

Bharati now interposed and said to Sankara: “I am the other half of Mandana. You have defeated only one half of Mandana. Let us have a controversy”. Sankara objected to have controversy with a woman. Bharati quoted instances wherein there had been controversies with women. Sankara then agreed and this controversy also went on uninterruptedly for seventeen days. Bharati passed from one Shastra to another. At last she found out that she could not defeat Sankara. She decided to defeat him by means of the science of Kama Shastra.

Sankara asked Bharati to give him an interval of one month for his preparation to hold controversy with her in the science of Kama Shastra. She agreed. Sankara went to Kashi. He separated his astral body from his physical body by means of his Yogic powers and left his physical body in the hole of a big tree and asked his disciples to take care of that physical body. He then entered into the dead body of Raja Amaruka which was about to be cremated. The Raja rose up and all the people rejoiced at the astounding incident.

The ministers and queens soon found out that the revived Raja was a different person, with different qualities and thought. They realised that the soul of a great Mahatma had entered the body of their Raja. Therefore, messengers were sent out to search for a human body hidden somewhere in lonely forests and caves and to burn it when found. They thought that if they did so, the new Raja might remain with them for a long time.

Sankara was acquiring all the experience of love with his queens. Maya is very powerful. In the midst, of those queens, Sankara entirely forgot all about his promises to his disciples about his going back to them. The disciples began to search for him. They heard about the miraculous resurrection of Raja Amaruka. They immediately proceeded to the city and had an interview with the Raja. They sang a few philosophical songs which at once revived the memory of Sankara. The disciples immediately repaired to the place where the physical body of Sankara was kept hidden. By that time the messengers of the queen had found out the physical body and had just begun to set fire to it. The soul of Sankara just then entered his own body. Sankara prayed to Lord Hari to help him. There was a shower of rain immediately and that extinguished the flames.

Then Sankara returned to the residence of Mandana Misra. He resumed the old controversy and answered all the questions raised by Bharati satisfactorily. Mandana Misra gave all his property as a gift to Sri Sankara and Mandana was made to distribute it to the poor and the deserving. He then became a disciple of Sankara. Sankara initiated him into the holy order of Sannyasa and gave him the name of ‘Sureswara Acharya’. Sureswara Acharya was the first Sannyasin who took charge of the Sringeri Mutt. Bharati also accompanied Sankara to Sringeri and there she is worshipped even today.

Sankara ascended the seat of omniscience after inviting Vedic scholars from all parts of India and answering their numerous questions. Sankara, by vanquishing all the religious opponents of his day-and they belonged to no less than seventy-two different schools-and establishing the superiority of the Vedic Dharma, had become the Jagadguru of all.

Sankara’s success over the other religious sects was so complete that none of them have since been able to raise their head in the land. Most of them have disappeared altogether. After Sankara’s time, although a few Acharyas have appeared, none of them have been able to vanquish those who differed from them as Sankara did and establish unquestioned supremacy.

Mother’s Funeral Rites

Sankara received news that his mother was seriously ailing. He left his disciples and proceeded to Kaladi alone. His mother was then bedridden. Sankara touched her feet in reverence. He praised Lord Hari. Hari’s messengers came. Sankara’s mother gave up her physical body and went along with those messengers to the abode of Hari.

Sankara encountered serious difficulties in performing the funeral rites of his mother. Usually, Sannyasins do not perform any of the rites or ceremonies which are enjoined on the householders. The Nambudiri Brahmins were all against Sankara. Sankara’s relatives also did not help him. They did not come forward to assist him even in carrying the dead body to the place of cremation and refused to give fire for igniting the funeral pyre. At last Sankara determined to perform the funeral rites all alone. As he could not carry the entire dead body, he cut it into pieces and removed the pieces one by one to the backyard of the house. He then made a pyre there of stems of plantain trees and set fire to it by his Yogic power. Sankara wanted to teach the Nambudiris a lesson. He then made the local chief issue an edict that a corner should be set apart in each Illam or house of the Nambudiri Brahmins to burn the dead of the family and that they should cut the dead body into parts and then burn the same. This practice continues even today amongst Nambudiri Brahmins.

Sankara then returned to Sringeri. From there he went out on a tour through the eastern coast with a large number of followers. He preached his Advaita philosphy wherever he went. He established the Govardhana Mutt at Puri. He went to Kancheepuram and attacked the Shaktas. He purified the temples. He won over to his side the rulers of the Chola and the Pandya kingdoms. He went to Ujjain and put down the atrocities of the Bhairavas who were shedding human blood. He then proceeded to Dwaraka and established a Mutt there. He then travelled along the course of the Ganges and held religious controversies with great personages.

Sankara’s End

Sankara proceeded to Kamarup-the present Guwahati-in Assam and held a controversy with Abhinava Gupta, the Shakta commentator, and won victory over him. Abhinava felt his defeat very keenly. He made Sankara suffer from a severe form of piles through black magic. Padmapada removed the evil effects of the black magic. Sankara became quite alright. He went to the Himalayas, built a Mutt at Joshi and a temple at Badri. He then proceeded to Kedarnath higher up in the Himalayas. He became one with the Linga in 820 A.D. in his thirty-second year.

Sringeri Mutt

In the north-west of the State of Mysore, nestling in the beautiful foot-hills of the Western Ghats, surrounded by virgin forests, lies the village of Sringeri and here Sankara established his first Mutt. The river Tunga-a branch of the river Tungabhadra-runs through the valley closely touching the walls of the temple; and its pure and limpid waters are as famous for drinking purposes as the waters of the Ganges are for bath (Ganga Snanam, Tunga Panam). Sringeri is a place of great sanctity and its beauty has to be seen to be appreciated. The Mutt is ‘still going strong’ as the phrase goes. The homage paid to the Mutt by countless aspirants and devotees is as much due to the greatness of illustrious men like Vidyaranya who have been at its head ever since its foundation as to the renown of the founder himself.

It may not be out of place to mention here that it took thirty years for the well-known Sanskrit professor Max Muller to translate the commentary on the Rig Veda, written by Vidyaranya, also known as Sayana. The learned professor, in his preface, says that not a single day passed in the thirty years without his devoting at least ten minutes on the translation. There is also a little interesting incident that when the manuscript was found to be illegible in some places, he got an authorised transcription from the first original still preserved in the Sringeri Mutt, through the influence of the then Maharaja of Mysore.

The famous holy shrine of Sri Sarada is an equal source of attraction to the devotees. Many are the Mutts and monasteries in India where holy men or their successors sit, and where Hindus from all parts of India gather, but none so great or so famous as Sringeri, the original seat of Adi Sankaracharya. The Sringeri Peetha is one of the oldest monasteries of the world flourishing for over twelve centuries now. It is the first of the four seats of learning established by Sankaracharya, the other three being Puri, Dwaraka and Joshi Mutt, each one of them representing one of the four Vedas of the Hindus.

Sankara placed his four eminent disciples (Sureswara Acharya, Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Trotakacharya) in charge of the Sringeri Mutt, Jagannath Mutt, Dwaraka Mutt and Joshi Mutt respectively. The most famous Sannyasin in the succession of Gurus of the Sringeri Mutt was, of course, Vidyaranya, the great commentator on the Vedas and the father of the dynasty of Vijayanagar. He was the Dewan of Vijayanagaram. He became a Sannyasin about 1331 A.D. The eleven Sannyasins before Vidyaranya were Sankaracharya, Viswarupa, Nityabodhaghana, Jnanaghana, Jnanottama, Jnana Giri, Simha Girisvara, Isvara Tirtha, Narasimha Tirtha, Vidya Sankara Tirtha and Bharati Krishna Tirtha.

The historic and sacred pontifical throne of the Sringeri Mutt is known as Vyakhyana Simhasana or seat of learning. Tradition has it that this seat was given to the great Sankara by Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning, in appreciation of the philosopher’s vast scholarly erudition. Thirty-five Acharyas had sat on the pontifical throne before his present holiness in regular and uninterrupted succession.

Dasanami Sannyasins

Sankara organized ten definite orders of Sannyasins under the name ‘Dasanamis’ who add, at the end of their names, any one of the following ten suffixes: Sarasvati, Bharati, Puri (Sringeri Mutt); Tirtha, Asrama (Dwaraka Mutt); Giri, Parvata and Sagar (Joshi Mutt); Vana and Aranya (Govardhana Mutt).

The Paramahamsa represents the highest of these grades. It is possible to become a Paramahamsa by a long course of Vedantic study, meditation and Self- realisation. The Ativarnashramis are beyond caste and order of life. They dine with all classes of people. Sankara’s Sannyasins are to be found all over India.

Some Anecdotes

Sankara was going along the street one day with his pupils to take bath in the Ganges when he met a Chandala who was also passing along the street with his dogs by his side. The disciples of Sankara shouted and asked the Chandala to clear off the road. The Chandala asked Sankara: “O, venerable Guru! You are a preacher of Advaita Vedanta and yet you make a great difference between man and man. How can this be consistent with your teaching of Advaitism? Is Advaita only a theory?”. Sankara was very much struck by the intelligent query of the Chandala. He thought within himself, “Lord Siva has assumed this form just to teach me a lesson”. He composed then and there five Slokas called the ‘Manisha Panchaka’. Every Sloka ends thus: “He who learnt to look on the phenomena in the light of Advaita is my true Guru, be he a Chandala or be he a Brahmin”.

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In Kashi, a student was cramming the Sutras in Sanskrit grammar. He was repeating again and again “Dukrin karane, Dukrin karane….”. Sankara heard it and was struck by the perseverance of the boy. He immediately sang a small poem, the famous Bhaja Govindam song, in order to teach the uselessness of such studies in the matter of the liberation of the soul. The meaning of the song is: “Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, O fool! When you are about to die, the repetition of these Sanskrit Sutras will not save you”.

——-

Once some mischief-mongers offered meat and liquor to Sankara. Sankara touched those items with his right hand. The meat turned into apples and the liquor into milk.

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A Kapalika came to Sankara and begged for his head as a gift. Sankara consented and asked the Kapalika to take his head when he was alone and absorbed in meditation. The Kapalika was just aiming with a big sword to sever the head of Sankara. Padmapada, the devoted disciple of Sankara came, caught hold of the arm of the Kapalika and killed him with his knife. Padmapada was a worshipper of Lord Narasimha. Lord Narasimha entered the body of Padmapada and killed the Kapalika.

Sankara’s Philosophy

Sankara wrote Bhashyas or commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Gita. The Bhashya on the Brahma Sutras is called Sareerik Bhasya. Sankara wrote commentaries on Sanat Sujatiya and Sahasranama Adhyaya. It is usually said, “For learning logic and metaphysics, go to Sankara’s commentaries; for gaining practical knowledge, which unfolds and strengthens devotion, go to his works such as Viveka Chudamani, Atma Bodha, Aparoksha Anubhuti, Ananda Lahari, Atma-Anatma Viveka, Drik-Drishya Viveka and Upadesa Sahasri”. Sankara wrote innumerable original works in verses which are matchless in sweetness, melody and thought.

Sankara’s supreme Brahman is Nirguna (without the Gunas), Nirakara (formless), Nirvisesha (without attributes) and Akarta (non-agent). He is above all needs and desires. Sankara says, “This Atman is self-evident. This Atman or Self is not established by proofs of the existence of the Self. It is not possible to deny this Atman, for it is the very essence of he who denies it. The Atman is the basis of all kinds of knowledge. The Self is within, the Self is without, the Self is before and the Self is behind. The Self is on the right hand, the Self is on the left, the Self is above and the Self is below”.

Satyam-Jnanam-Anantam-Anandam are not separate attributes. They form the very essence of Brahman. Brahman cannot be described, because description implies distinction. Brahman cannot be distinguished from any other than He.

The objective world-the world of names and forms-has no independent existence. The Atman alone has real existence. The world is only Vyavaharika or phenomenal.

Sankara was the exponent of the Kevala Advaita philosophy. His teachings can be summed up in the following words:

    Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya,
    Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Aparah
    Brahman alone is real, this world is unreal;
    the Jiva is identical with Brahman.

Sankara preached Vivarta Vada. Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope, this world and this body are superimposed on Brahman or the Supreme Self. If you get a knowledge of the rope, the illusion of the snake will vanish. Even so, if you get a knowledge of Brahman, the illusion of the body and the world will vanish.

Sankara is the foremost among the master-minds and the giant souls which Mother India has produced. He was the expounder of the Advaita philosophy. Sankara was a giant metaphysician, a practical philosopher, an infallible logician, a dynamic personality and a stupendous moral and spiritual force. His grasping and elucidating powers knew no bounds. He was a fully developed Yogi, Jnani and Bhakta. He was a Karma Yogin of no mean order. He was a powerful magnet.

There is not one branch of knowledge which Sankara has left unexplored and which has not received the touch, polish and finish of his superhuman intellect. For Sankara and his works, we have a very high reverence. The loftiness, calmness and firmness of his mind, the impartiality with which he deals with various questions, his clearness of expression-all these make us revere the philosopher more and more. His teachings will continue to live as long as the sun shines.

Sankara’s scholarly erudition and his masterly way of exposition of intricate philosophical problems have won the admiration of all the philosophical schools of the world at the present moment. Sankara was an intellectual genius, a profound philosopher, an able propagandist, a matchless preacher, a gifted poet and a great religious reformer. Perhaps, never in the history of any literature, a stupendous writer like him has been found. Even the Western scholars of the present day pay their homage and respects to him. Of all the ancient systems, that of Sankaracharya will be found to be the most congenial and the most easy of acceptance to the modern mind.

Swami Sivananda

mahavira-vardhamana-tirthankara-jaina-jinas

Mahavira was born in 599 B.C. He lived for 72 years. He abandoned home in 569 B.C. He attained omniscience in 557 B.C. and entered into Nirvana in 527 B.C. He was the last Tirthankara.

Mahavira lived a life of absolute truthfulness, a life of perfect honesty and a life of absolute chastity. He lived without possessing any property at all.

Mahavira was born of Sidhatha, Raja of Kundalpura, and Queen Trisala, who was known by the name Priya Karni. ‘Maha’ means great and ‘Vira’ means a hero. ‘Tirtha’ literally means a ford, a means of crossing over. Metaphorically, it denotes a spiritual guide or philosophy which enables one to cross over the ocean of recurring births in this world. ‘Kara’ means one who makes. The whole word Tirthankara means a Jain holy teacher.

Mahavira is not the founder of Jainism. He revised the Jain doctrines. He was more a reformer than the founder of the faith. In Jain metaphysics, “Time” is divided into cycles. It is claimed that in each half-cycle, twenty-four Tirthankaras, at long intervals, preach anew the doctrines. Mahavira was the twenty-fourth, and like the others, is claimed to have been omniscient.

Mahavira was also known by the names Vardhamana (i.e., ever advancing) and Sanmati. At the age of eight he observed the twelve vows of Ahimsa, etc. He was obedient to his parents and served them with great faith and devotion. He was an able statesman. He did not marry.

Mahavira was immersed in Self-contemplation. He knew that the pleasures of this world were transitory and that they strengthened the letters of Karma. He knew that renunciation would lead to the attainment of eternal bliss.

People were quite astonished at the virtuous nature of Mahavira at such a tender age. He was very much interested in meditation. He cultivated the arts of music and literature. Thirty years of Prince Vardhamana’s life passed off in this way.

Vardhamana saw, through his clairvoyant vision, that he had been passing through innumerable births. He thought, “How many births have gone by fruitlessly! I clearly see that the Soul is essentially separate from the Karma matter. I have still wasted away thirty years of my life. I have not practised any penance. I have not renounced the world in order to attain pure Knowledge. The infatuation which is at the root of all evils is not yet destroyed”.

Prince Vardhamana became extremely penitent. He resolved to give up everything worldly. He gave up attachment to his parents, friends and relatives. He thought over the twelve Anuprekshas or matters of deep thinking according to the Jain scriptures:

1. All worldly things are temporary.

2. The Soul alone is the sole resort.

3. This world is beginningless and crooked.

4. There is nothing to help the Soul, but the Soul itself.

5. Body, mind, etc., are essentially separate from the Soul.

6. The Soul is essentially pure and the body, etc., are essentially impure.

7. The Soul’s bondage is due to the inflow of Karma in it.

8. Every being ought to stop this inflow.

9. Emancipation is attained when Karma is absolutely got rid of.

10. The emancipated Souls remain fit the foremost top of the filled spaces.

11. In this world, to have the birth of a human being and to meditate on the nature of the Soul are the greatest blessings.

12. To have the three jewels as described by the Omniscient is the only morality.

Mahavira thought over these twelve things and decided finally that he must abandon home.

Mahavira’s mother said, “My beloved son, you will not be able to bear the severity of the austerities. There is time yet for it. You must help your father in governing the kingdom. You can become a monk after some years”.

Mahavira said, “Adorable mother! All the objects of the world are evanescent like water bubbles. Where can one get happiness in this world which is the abode of disease, sorrow, pain and death? I must leave this world”.

Mahavira distributed all his wealth to the poor with his own hands. He went to the forest. He took off even the piece of cloth which he was wearing and became absolutely nude. He turned to the north and said, “Salutation to the Siddhas!” He rooted out with his own hands five tufts of hair from his head and became a monk.

Mahavira practised rigorous austerities. He fasted for many days. He meditated on the pure nature of the Soul.

Mahavira was tested by the celestials. A group of handsome women surrounded him. But Mahavira remained unmoved and unperturbed. He attained omniscience. He preached his message of peace for thirty years after the attainment of omniscience. He wandered in Magadha, Mithila, etc. Many kings became his disciples.

Swami Sivananda

See Jainism

 

Introduction

“Jain” or more properly speaking “Jaina” means a follower of Jina, which is applied to those persons who have conquered the lower nature, passion, hatred, etc. The word ‘Jain’ comes from the word ‘Jina’ which means a conqueror. ‘Jina’ comes from the root ‘Ji’—’to conquer’. It means conquering the passions. It does not mean conquering nations. The passions are considered as enemies of the soul. They taint the natural qualities of the soul, obscure right belief, cause false knowledge and wrong conduct. Lust, anger, pride and greed are considered as the major passions.

The chief point in the Jaina creed is the reverence paid to holy men, who have raised themselves to divine perfection through long discipline. The Jina or the ‘conquering saint’, who has conquered all worldly desires is with Jains what the Buddha or the perfectly enlightened saint is with Buddhas. He is also called Jineswara (chief of the Jinas), Arhat, “the venerable”, Tirthankara or the saint who has made the passage of the world, Sarvajna (omniscient), Bhagavat (holy one). ‘Tirtha’ literally means a ford, a means of crossing over. It metaphorically denotes a spiritual guide or philosophy which enables one to cross over the ocean of recurring births in this world. ‘Kara’ means ‘one who makes’. The word Tirthankara means a ‘Jain Holy Teacher’.

According to the belief of the Jains, only the omniscient are able to give a right code of rules of life. These teachers or Tirthankaras are not creators or rulers of the world. They are pure divine souls, who have attained perfection. They never again take human birth.

Mahavira is not the founder of Jainism. He revived the Jain doctrines. He was more a reformer than the founder of the faith. He was the first active propagator. He was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara. He is claimed to have been omniscient. ‘Maha’ means ‘great’ and ‘Vira’ means ‘a hero’. Parasvanath was the twenty-third. The first of these twenty-four was named Rishabha Dev.

The idols which represent the Tirthankaras are like that of Buddha in a meditative posture, Jainism is a representative of Buddhistic ideas. It has much in common with Buddhism. It is a near relative of Buddhism, if not its actual descendant.

The Jain theory is based on reason. It is based on right faith, right knowledge, right conduct, tempered with mercy. Jainism is not a theistic system in the sense of the belief in the existence of a God as the Creator and the Ruler of the world. The highest being in the Jain philosophy is a person and not a Being without attributes like the Brahman of the Vedanta. Read the rest of this entry »