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Three Works Of Adi Shankara And How They Have Inspired Me

When the clutches of ignorance held us tight, divinity got personified. For wisdom’s flame to re-ignite, Adi Shankara appeared to change our plight.

When the knowledge of the scriptures seemed to vanish and the dharmic people pleaded before Ishvara for mercy, a divine son was born in the house of Shivaguru and Aryamba.

Born two thousand years ago, Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya, none other than Shiva’s incarnation, changed the destiny of Hindus in this land of Bharatvarsha. He played an immense role in reviving the true essence of Sanatana Dharma at a time when the non-Vedic religions and philosophies were at their peak. Not only did Adi Shankara defeat their proponents in debates, he also taught Hindus how to overcome ignorance with correct knowledge. He wrote commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahmasutra and Bhagavad Gita and also composed many smaller Vedanta texts. All these works clearly explain the nature of Atman/Brahman. The various stotras he composed helped us develop devotion towards God. Adi Shankara teaches us how to live life meaningfully and attain absolute liberation in this birth itself. His works focus on One-ness or Advaita.  The basis of Advaita is that everything is Brahman and as a result even the individual is not different from Brahman. This is in contrast to our normal understanding, based on experience, that an individual is different from the all-power God. Adi Shankara considers this knowledge of Oneness as the absolute truth.

Among all his literary works, I have been deeply touched and influenced by his Prashnottara-Ratnamaalika and his two stotras Guruvashtakam and Nirvana Shatakam.

For people like us who either are not well versed with the scriptures or have a mind full of unanswered questions, Adi Shankara paved an easy way long ago. Prashnottara Ratnamalika, literally meaning “the gem garland of questions and answers”, contains sixty-seven verses in a question-answer format covering both the material as well as spiritual aspects of life. Only a truly enlightened being like Adi Shankara could fit the truth of existence into such a small and easily comprehendible work.

“Who will not adorn himself with this precious necklace of questions and answers? Memorise it for constant remembrance, since it is the best means to obtain all visible and invisible successes in life!”, writes Adi Shankara in the first verse of Prashnottara Ratnamalika, summing up the essence of everything he wished to convey through this beautiful composition. The teachings of this book are like gems because of their richness, value, brilliance and the unchangeable truth they discuss about. Memorising the verses of Prashnottara Ratnamallika would be of the utmost use since remembering something constantly makes it a part of our daily life. One’s life can change positively simply by putting in the effort to follow Acharya’s words. What makes me wonder about this book’s beauty is the fact that it answers the most basic as well as the most complicated questions in a single word or sentence. One can easily know what he or she is searching for and this leads to further guided enquiry within the self. While reading, one will find many questions that he or she definitely had at some point in his or her lifetime. The text helps us understand what the righteous path is and what actions must be abandoned to be liberated. Indeed, Prashnottara Ratnamalika tells us how one must enquire about the purpose of life and what virtuous deeds are to be done while we are alive. A small book of sixty-seven verses holds the infinite wisdom of the universe. All one needs is to get deeper into the answers’ meanings and discover the ultimate truth.

Next in my list ofAdi Shankara’s favourite works is the Guruvashtakam. This poetic composition has eight stanzas that throw light on having devotion towards one’s guru, the ultimate preceptor. This devotional song beseeches spiritual seekers to bow down to the lotus feet of their respective guru as it is not possible to achieve material happiness or liberation without his grace. All the stanzas of the Guruvashtakam speak of the unworthiness of every material achievement and possession if one is not devoted to his guru. All stanzas end with the line—

“guroranghripadme manaschenalagnam tatah kim? tatah kim? tatah kim? tatah kim?”

The meaning of the line is that “If one’s mind cannot even dwell on the lotus feet of his guru, What then? What then? What then? What then?”

There is no doubt regarding the supreme position a guru holds in Hindu Dharma. In the whole world, one cannot find an analogy to describe the positive impact of a guru on the life of his disciple. When the disciple accepts the guru as his guide and follows his guidance sincerely, then the guru makes the disciple just like him. Such power is embedded in his grace. A guru is simply great and is beyond the description. Divine beings like Adi Shankara are those whom we can believe firmly. These are the people whose words have a lasting impact. One must focus on the guru’s feet without whose blessing, none of the worldly attainments can be achieved. Adi Shankara repeatedly asks us to keep our guru in remembrance. Even if we are on the top of the world and acquired all that we wanted, we must not forget the one who actually showed us the path to where we are today and who led us on this journey selflessly. I hold the Guruvashtakam really close to my heart since it is among the very first compositions of Adi Shankara that I got introduced to. It is solely through his grace that I got introduced to his guru-shishya lineage. For having been blessed with faith unto my guru’s lotus feet, I thank this composition from the bottom of my heart. Indeed, if sung with a pure chit (heart and mind), one will be blessed with undying devotion towards the guru. There are absolutely no doubts in this regard.

Last but not the least, how can we forget the Nirvana Shatakam? There is a very interesting incident related to the creation of this beautiful composition. As per the Shankara Digvijaya (the biography of Adi Shankara written by Madhava Vidyaranya), in search of a guru, Shankara reached the cave where Shri Govinda Bhagwatpada sat in meditation. When Govind Bhagwatpada opened his eyes, he saw young Shankara standing in front of him with a unique spark in his eyes. When he enquired to ask “Who are you?”, Shankara gave a thrilling introduction that we today know as Nirvana Shatakam. He constantly repeated “Chidanand Roopah Shivoham Shivoham”, which literally means, “I am the embodiment of consciousness and bliss. I am that Shiva. I am that Shiva.”For a question that the common people would have answered to with their name, Shankara went on to speak of the true nature of the Atman. He was already a realised soul and not a normal being. Govinda Bhagwatpada instantly knew at that point that Shankara was none other than Mahadeva himself who had taken a human form to liberate spiritual seekers.

Nirvana Shatakam is not a normal composition but an advanced text. It very briefly sums up the basic philosophy of Advaita. Simply enchanted by the philosophy this composition tries to convey, I got to know who Jagadguru Adi Shankara was and what he taught. There was not a single day when I did not sing this stotra of six stanzas at the top of my voice, constantly trying to remind myself of my true nature. When the ropes of despair tied me tight to the darkness, Nirvana Shatakam acted like a sword, helping me cut through the dark. It led me towards the eternal wisdom that I am understanding a bit more each day. The work led me to my ultimate preceptor, Adi Shankara.

To this day, all kinds of praises remain an understatement for appreciating the works of Adi Shankara. A poet, writer, visionary, leader, scholar, preceptor and revolutionary of the highest regard, Adi Shankara will be remembered by generations to come. The divine being who single-handedly revived the glory of our civilisation will be forever revered as the Jagadguru, the guru of the entire world in this dark age of Kali. His works shall forever enlighten the ignorant masses and lead them towards truth. History shall never forget Adi Shankara as our ultimate saviour.

He was, therefore, we are.

He was, therefore, I am.

All glories to the lotus feet of ShivaAvtaar, Jagadguru Shri Adi Shankaracharya Bhagwatpada.

(Editor’s Note: In this series, we are publishing the essays of the winners – in no particular order – of ‘Jagadaguru Adi Shankaracharya Essay Competition’ organized by Indica Moksha as part of the Global Festival of Oneness 2022. Today’s Essay is by Sunnati Sati, Age 16)

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