Swami Gyanananda Saraswati, through a detailed and intensive research on Adya Jagadguru Shankaracharya, has primarily tried to prove through this book the period during which Shankaracharya could have been born. However, the date of his birth may not be so important or relevant for us as a lay reader but what would certainly interest us is the life of renunciation he led and what all he did to bring unity in the country.
He was an infant prodigy and knew all the four Vedas and Vedangas at a very young age. He mastered the six systems of Indian philosophy and knew the strengths and weaknesses of each system. He stated that there is only one reality (Brahman), an eternal principle that is a source of all things, and that differentiation, plurality and change are illusory.
He was probably born at the end of the 8th century in Kaladi village in Kerala. Within a short life span of 32 years, he studied almost all aspects of philosophy, toured all over the country declaring Advaita as the supreme philosophy, engaging himself in philosophical debates, reforming spiritual practices and reorganising religious life. When he appeared on the national scene, Buddhism had weakened the national identity and political unification of the country seemed far from possible. His efforts retrieved the country'scultural integration which in turn impregnated Hinduism with a will to survive despite the defeats of its rulers at the hands of foreign invaders. He carried out many reforms that provided Hinduism with a higher evolution in thought through the Advaita philosophy.
Swami Vivekananda, who had been deeply affected by his life and teachings, said of him: ?The greatest teacher of the Vedanta philosophy was Shankaracharya. By solid reasoning, he extracted from the Vedas the truths of Vedanta and on them built up the wonderful system of jnana that is taught in his commentaries. He unified all the conflicting descriptions of Brahman and showed that there is only infinite Reality.?
This apart, Swami Gyanananda Saraswati has explained Shankaracharya'stheory of mayavad (illusion) and his description of the ?world as an illusion and false like a dream?. Shankara did not lead a life of comfort but moved from one part of the country to another to establish and propagate Vedic Dharma. He expounded on the doctrine of Advaita and encouraged learned men to write vritti and vaartik on his treatises with the objective of spreading the message of Vedanta scriptures. He founded the ?Sannyasin Sangh? and established the four maths?Dwaraka, Puri, Rameshwaram and Amarnath in the four corners of the country ? to give permanence to his work.
His scholarship was exemplary. Not only did he explain the meaning of spiritualism in the book like Prasthanatrayi, but also displayed his command on subjects like Buddhism, Jainism, Pancharata, Pashupata, sankhya, nyoga, vaisheshika and mimamsa. Before writing his book Bhashyas, he studied all the philosophical treatises available at the time.
The Advaita philosophy has been expounded upon by various spiritualists, scholars and believers. The author Swami Gyanananda Saraswati has quoted extensively from the works and sayings of philosophers like S. Radhakrishnan, Swami Vivekananda, Dr Karan Singh and others regarding Shankaracharya and what has been consistently expressed by all is that among the threefold paths of karma, bhakti and jnana, Shankaracharya recognised only jnana as the direct means to moksha and said that ethical discipline and devotion to God were only accessories. ?Shankara was an exponent, an advocate and a crusader? of Vedantic thought and employed all the other three grounds of sruti, yukti and anubhava to refute and repudiate all the systems of metaphysics which were not in harmony with Vedantic thought.
This is a book which should be read by philosophers, believers in spiritualism and followers of Sanatana Dharma and those who are capable of appreciating the gigantic and mammoth role Shankarcharya played in uniting the fissiparous tendencies in the country at a time when the morale of the people was at an all-time low.
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