Shri Adi Shankaracharya: His Life – Part 5

Adi Shankaracharya and Mandana Mishra in a Debate at Mahishmati
(Source: Photos in this post have been taken from the Shankara Digvijayam Drama presented by the students of the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus in Sai Kulwant Hall on January 14, 2013)

Mandana Mishra and Ubhaya Bharati

Shankara then set out on his wanderings, visiting all the sacred shrines in the land. All travel had to be done by foot. He went to every assembly of scholars and vanquished them in debates. He propagated the Advaitic doctrine. He declared, “The bodies are different, the forms are different, but the inner Self is one alone. The Divine is present in all like sugarcane juice which is the same, regardless of the cane from which it is got”. 

There is no need for penance or Japa or other austerities to realise oneness with the Divine. Love alone is enough. This is the message of Vedanta. When Adi Shankara set out on a tour of the country to propagate Advaita, he met Mandana Mishra, a great Vedic scholar and follower of Karma Siddhanta (the path of action). They wanted to have a philosophical debate. They had to choose a judge to declare who had won in the debate. Adi Shankara, who was a Trikala Jnani (one who knew the past, present and the future), chose Mandana Mishra’s wife, Ubhaya Bharati, as the judge. She was a lady who could rise above personal attachments. The debate was held and Ubhaya Bharati gave the judgment in favour of Shankara. She declared in unqualified terms that Mandana Mishra had lost in the debate. Immediately Mandana Mishra took to Sanyasa

Ubhaya Bharati delivers the verdict in favour of Adi Shankaracharya

Thereafter, Ubhaya Bharati also, as Mandana Mishra’s wife, followed suit and became a renunciant. Ubhaya Bharati established her own Ashram to which only women were admitted as disciples. One day she was going with some of her disciples to the river Ganga for a bath. On the way she saw an ochre-robed Sadhu resting under a tree with his head on a Kamandalam (a vessel used for keeping water). He was a renunciant only in external vesture but not a wholehearted renunciant. He kept the water container under his head lest someone should take it away when he fell asleep. To teach the Sadhu a lesson in genuine renunciation, Ubhaya Bharati spoke loudly to her disciples, “Ladies! Look at the man’s renunciation! He has not given up his attachment to his worthless Kamandalam and is concerned about its safety”. On hearing her words, the Byraagi (renunciant) got angry. When Ubhaya Bharati was returning from the river, he ostentatiously cast off the gourd-bottle. Ubhaya Bharati then exclaimed, “What a pity? I thought the Sadhu was only a victim of attachment. I find that he is also filled with Ahamkara (egoism). If he was not so egoistic would he have thrown his Kamandalam at me?” She stood before the Sadhu, and told him, “Your egoism is growing along with your attachment. This does not befit the robe you are wearing. You cannot be a real renunciant as long as you are filled with attachment and egoism. Give up attachment to the body and develop attachment to the Atma”. She taught this lesson in a quiet and convincing manner. In the sphere of wisdom, there are no distinctions of gender or creed. Hearing Ubhaya Bharati’s words, the Sadhu came running, fell at her feet and sought her forgiveness. He said, “Oh Mother! Because I had no one to teach me the truth in this manner, I was leading this double life. From now on, you are my Guru.”

Digvijayam – The Triumphant Tour of Shankara

Shankaracharya's Digvijayam across Bharat

Shankara went all over the country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, several times. He convinced the scholars of the truth of Non-dualism. ‘Ekam Eva Adviteeyam Brahma’ (the Supreme Divine Principle is one without a second). Adi Shankara was able to convince all the scholars about the truth of Advaita. People are deluded by the multiplicity of names and forms. But the basis for all this diversity is the one Divine. Without the basis nothing can exist. This fact is recognised by all faiths. God is one and the goal is one. The doctrine of Advaita is not easily understood. It has to be explained to the students in simple and intelligible terms. Shankara left his body at the early age of 32. But he completed the mission for which he had come. Before his passing, he collected five Lingas and installed them in 5 different centres – Puri, Dwaraka, Shringeri, Varanasi and Kanchi. At Kanchi he installed the Yoga Linga. One of the pontiffs of these centres was Suresha, who was none other than Mandana Mishra before he took to Sanyasa. By establishing these Maths (spiritual centers) and promoting the sense of spiritual oneness among the people, Adi Shankara promoted harmony in the country. He demonstrated that underlying all forms, names and qualities, there is one basic reality which alone is real and changeless. This is the doctrine of Advaita (Non-dualism). Out of a mango seed comes a tree with branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, each with distinct forms and uses. But all the myriad things that have come from the seed owe their existence to the seed from which the tree arose. This truth was declared by Krishna in the Gita when He said, “Beejam Maam Sarvabhoothaanaam” (I am the seed that is the origin of all beings). All things in the universe are manifestations of the One Divine Principle. 

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