Saturday, 14 September 2013

Adi Shankaracharya : From Temporal To Eternal

| by T M P Mahadevan | 

Among path finders to the Eternal, Sankara stands out. He spent his entire life, short though it was, in urging his fellowmen to move from the ephemeral to the abiding, from the fleeting panorama of temporal life to the spiritual felicity of life eternal. So far as earthly living and its demands go, there is no distinction between humans and animals.

Sankara explains that there is no difference in the behaviour of humans and animals so long as the moving factors are appetition and aversion, and activity consists in a going forth towards external sense objects.

Human endowment

However, man is endowed with a certain other characteristic which, if properly cultivated, will make for a distinction. Sankara defines it as the eligibility for karma, willed action and knowledge. He cites a scriptural text:

 The Atman is expanded only in man. He, indeed, is endowed with intelligence. He gives expression to what is known. He sees what is known. He knows what is to come. He knows the visible and invisible worlds. He perceives the immortal through the mortal; thus is he endowed.

 But with the other animals, eating and drinking constitutes their knowledge. It is because of this special ability to discriminate and discern the truth that birth of a human being is said to be precious. 

It is in virtue of this endowment that man quests for the eternal, and eventually succeeds in gaining it.

Quest for the eternal

Sankara sets forth the qualifications that would make one eligible for the quest eternal -- discrimination of the eternal from the non-eternal, non-attachment, having virtues like calmness, equanimity and a longing for liberation. All this only implies cultivating the right philosophical attitude. What blinds us is attachment to selfish enjoyments. The mind longs for them and so is unable to see the truth when it is in the grip of passion; it cannot understand even empirical truth, and so it goes without saying, says Sankara, that, the mind needs to be thoroughly cleansed before it can realise the truth of the inner Self.

The mind that has been freed of passions should be strengthened by cultivation of the cardinal virtues. With the right attitude and having gotten rid of defects, the mind must acquire whatever is excellent. Then the aspiration for release will firmly get established in the mind. This aspiration should not be confused with any passionate desire.

Explaining this point, Suresvara, a disciple of Sankara's, says that the longing for supreme happiness which is release, is not attachment; if this be attachment, then the wish for solicitude and so on, could also be thought to be so, which is not the case.

Anubhava or experience

Release which is regarded as the highest value is the same as the Supreme Self which is the sole reality, according to Sankara's vedanta known as Advaita. It is the reality that is referred to in the Upanishads by such terms as Atman and Brahmn. One may deny everything else, but not the Self, for it is the very nature of one who denies. In the empirical world it appears as limited and as many. As conditioned by the psychological complex called the body and by things that constitute the world, it is spoken of as anubhava or experience.

THE 10 ORDERS - Sankara's Dasanami 

Adi Sankara organised sanyasis into the Dasanami order, writes There is a noticeable difference between the approaches of north and south India to Sankara’s teachings. The south stresses on jnana, which, given the high philosophy in his teachings, limits its reach to an elite, intellectual minority. The north emphasises bhakti, making his teachings universal in their appeal, transcending all barriers.  

Sankara’s achievements are not limited to the philosophical realm alone. He traversed the entire expanse of the region, re-moulding, reorganising and propagating sanatana dharma by restoring the primacy of scriptures over ritual. He established mathas, temples and gurukulas that continue to flourish to this day. 

Sankara’s pioneering effort in organising sanyasis into the Dasanami order is one of his most vibrant contributions. Before the Dasanami sampradaya, tantric sects were dominant. Uniting the diverse and chaotic community of ascetics into organised groups was no easy task. 

Sankara institutionalised the celibate sanyasi culture through four amnaya maths, many subsidiary maths and the Dasanami parampara. He restructured the sanyasin orders, organising them into 10 traditional paths to reach godhead, and gave each of them a unique title as follows:

1 Aranya: Lives in a forest, detached from mundane affairs, having forsaken the material world and yet experiencing bliss of living in a mystical garden. 

2 Ashrama: Monk in a hermitage, freed from wandering and bonds of kama, desire; krodha, anger; lobha, greed; moha, delusion; mada, pride and matsarya, jealousy and attained steadfastness and dispassionateness. 

3 Bharati: Carrying the treasure trove of learning, he forsakes all worldly burdens. With absolute knowledge, he transcends worldly sorrows. 

4 Giri: Steadfast like a mountain, he lives on lofty peaks in seclusion. Practising the Gita perennially, he cultivates firm, dignified and dispassionate intellect with lofty ideals. 

5 Parvata: One who resides at the foothill of the mountains in samadhi state, with the power to perfectly discriminate between truth and falsehood. He has knowledge of the transient nature of the world.

6 Puri: He is full of the knowledge of Brahmn. One with sampoorna, perfect  spiritual prowess. He is perpetually immersed in Absolute Bliss. 

7 Sagara: He has dived into the depths of the ocean of knowledge and collected the gems of Truth.

8 Saraswati: He is greatly learned and adept in yoga, one with his knowledge of pranayama, has mastered vedic intonation and is proficient in the vedas. 

9 Tirtha: He bathes at the confluence of the three rivers of knowledge and seeks realisation of the Truth through mahavakyas, such as ‘Tattvam Asi — Thou art That’, with the constant aim of unravelling the hidden meaning.

10 Vana: He has transcended the snare of desire, unshackled from worldly ties and lives quietly, in seclusion, in the interiors of deep forests. 

The four monastic headquarters were established to unify the groups of sanyasins and bring them under the banner of vedic dharma. The Dasanami sects were placed nominally under one of the four mathas, but maintained their independence. To propagate and uphold the scriptures, Sankara assigned one veda to each of the four mathas, and one upanishad to each of the Dasanamis. Mathas also served to facilitate wandering ascetics.

The Dasanami sanyasins are divided into two categories — dandadharis or staff holders and paramahamsas or non-staff holders. 

Another functional categorisation of Dasanami sadhus are astradharis or weapon holders, militant ascetics and saastradharis or scripture holders, the learned ascetics. The ‘militant’ sanyasis are recruited from all 10 orders, and are known as Naga sanyasis and their headquarters, the Akhada.

Sankara restructured the sanyasa order by freeing sanyasis from all ritualistic sacrifices, orienting them towards the scriptures by allocating them vedantic disciplines connected with the upanishadic texts, advocating vairagya or renunciation and parivrajaka or mendicancy, stressing on the fourfold practice of viveka, discrimination; vairagya, detachment; sat-sampatti, moral code and moksha, liberation and most importantly, creating a strong hierarchy and a strict guru-parampara to be followed to ensure that these precepts were actioned.

The guru, whilst initiating a pupil into sanyasa, carefully chooses one of the 10 titles based on the physical and mental disposition of the disciple. The title is a constant reminder to the sanyasi to seek God through the path prescribed by his guru. 

 “The Dasanami title is a strong reminder of the fundamental duty that the sanyasi has to perform,” says Shantananda Puri Swamiji of Vasishtha Guha, Rishikesh. 


Jai Gurudev
Aseem Seth

No comments:

Post a Comment