Adi Shankaracharya was known for his lucid interpretations of Hindu spiritual scriptures. He had a deep influence on Hinduism during a period when bigotry, superstition and chaos were rampant. Shankara taught the importance of the hoary vedas and restored vedic dharma to it pristine glory. He restructured vedic rituals and religious practices and laid stress on worship as mentioned in the vedas.
He was born around 788 AD in a Brahmin family in the south Indian state of Kerala. His parents were Sivaguru and Aryamba. There is a legendary tale that Lord Shiva appeared in Aryamba’s dream, promising that he would be born as her child. In his childhood, Shankara was a bright student and mastered the vedas, puranas and epics in the local school.
Adi Shankara’s Philosophy
Shankara’s core philosophy was Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism). This philosophy reiterates one’s divine identity, while rejecting the notion that one is just a finite human, subject to transient changes. Shankara maintained that though bodies may be manifold, there is one divine identity inside the shells.
The phenomenal world is not different from the Brahman, but one with it. Advaita instills that Brahman is real, while the phenomenal world is illusory and unreal. This branch of philosophy aims to remove ego and duality from people’s minds. Though Shankara stressed the reality of Brahman, he did not undermine the unreal phenomenal world. Shankara said that holding on to the self, when actually there is no self, results in spiritual ignorance.
To dispel spiritual ignorance, he taught the ways of karma, yoga and bhakti to purify the heart and enlighten the intellect. Shankara cultivated his philosophy by writing commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahmasutras and the upanishads.
Shankara’s Monastic Centers
Shankara established four monasteries in India to propagate spiritualism. These are: Jyothir Mutt in Badrinath in north India; Sarada Mutt in Sringeri in south India; Govardhan Mutt in Jaganath Puri in east India; and Kalika Mutt in Dwarka in west India. Shankara was only 32 years old when he passed away in Kedarnath.