By Sujay Adukia

Shankara(A.d 788-820) was a Shaivite (follower of Shiva) born in an orthodox South Indian Brahmana family. When still a young boy, he became an ascetic and it appears, compiled his two major works (viveka Chudamani and Sharirika Bhasya). He travelled widely over India and died in the Himalayas at age thirty-two.

At the same time Shankara appeared, Buddhism had received the patronage of the Indian emperor Ashoka and had thus spread through out India. Shankara sought to reform and purify religious life by reasserting the authority of Vedic scriptures, which Buddha had completely rejected.

Shankara’s interpretation of Vedic literature is known as advaita-vedanta (nondualistic Vedanta) because he posited that the jivas is identical with God. Although there are many shastric statements describing the Absolute truth as Supreme person and the jivas as His subordinate, eternal parts, Shankara taught that the jivas are themselves the Absolute Truth (Parambrahman) and that ultimately there is no variety, individually or personally in spiritual existence. He taught that the supposed individuality of both the Supreme being and the jiva is false.

In denying the plurality of jivas, shankara differed from all orthodox Vedic schools. Shankara held that the questions about the origin ofthe cosmos are unanswerable and that the nature of maya is inexplicable. To account for the Vedic verses describing Iswara, the Supreme Person, as the cause of all causes, Shankara developed a two fold theory of Brahman.

For him there were two aspects of Brahman-the pure impersonal Brahman and the Brahman manifest in the universe as the Lord. In order to arrive at this conclusion, Shankara reinterpreted or rejected most of the smriti and he pointedly contradicted Bhagavat Gita and the puranas by equating the jivas and Bhagavan. Ostensibly, Shankara accepted the authority of Bhagavat Gita, but his interpretations of the verses opposed the clearSiddhanta of the Gita.

Thus Shankara’s philosophy is sometimes considered as a compromise between theism and atheism.Since it would have been impossible to restore Vedic literature’s theistic conception just after the Buddhists’ complete atheism, Shankara made a logical compromise to fit the time and circumstance.

His interpretations resemble Buddhism, but he rested his case on the authority of Vedic literature. Shankara lived only thirty-two years but wherever in India he travelled his philosophy prevailed and Buddhism bowed. Over a long period of time Shankara’s Sharirika Bhasya was for many the definitive rendition of Vedanta and for Some scholars it remained so.


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