Shri Adi Shankaracharya: His Life and Message – Part 7

Sri Sathya Sai Speaks

…Continued from Part 6

Shankara’s Tapas in Kashmir

The ruler of Kashmir was a great patron of scholars. Shankara wanted to defeat them in debates. The moment Shankara entered Kashmir, the gates of the temple of Kanaka Durga closed. All the efforts to open them proved fruitless. All the Pandits went to the temple and prayed to the Goddess. In answer to their prayers the Goddess spoke in an ethereal voice, “Shankara is a great Acharya. But he suffers from one taint. Only when the taint is removed will these doors open”. Shankara then sang hymns in praise of Shiva. Shankara realised that he had committed a mistake in entering the dead body of the king of Kashi to acquire the experience of a householder for carrying on the debate with Ubhayabharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra. To atone for this lapse he decided on an eleven days fast without food or water, to perform Tapas. On the twelfth day, the doors of the temple opened of their own accord. This showed the power of Shankara’s determination and penance. True prayer should stem from the soul and not the body. 

Shankara continuously preached the doctrine of detachment to young people because he realised that attachments developed over many lives cannot be shed by listening to one or two speeches. There was a businessman who feared that his son might develop aversion to the world if he listened to the discourse of a Pandit who was expounding the greatness of renunciation. The Pandit assured the merchant that one day’s talk was not going to reform his son, when a series of talks had no effect on the father. When there is need for constant purity in daily life, the efforts at spiritual cleansing should be continuous. This was the way Shankara was preaching to the young the philosophy of renunciation and detachment. Students should hold fast to God as the only true friend and supporter. When you have firm faith, the Divine will manifest Himself to you. This is the truth, the truth and nothing but the Truth.

Today several Pandits expound Advaita, but few practise it. Advaita should be lived, not merely repeated in words! Realise the truth – “Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam Brahma!” (The Supreme Principle is Truth, Wisdom and Infinity)

The Atma is the Basis

Shankara looked upon man’s existence in the world as that of an actor on the stage, who plays his part, by being born, growing and dying.

Man's life is like a drop of water,
Shimmering without rest on a lotus leaf.
It is filled with grief and sorrow.
Give up attachment to this life
And start worshipping Govinda,
Oh man lacking in wisdom!

Human life is like a house filled with many rooms in the form of desires. Desires and disappointments are the order of the day. The human body is full of doubts. Life is full of fear. It is like a ‘Padmavyuha’. Man is racked by fears. Fear haunts him wherever he goes. He is caught up in a maze of troubles. How is he to escape from it? Even the happiness which he seems to derive from life is coupled with fear. There is no freedom from fear. How is it to be got? Where there is no attachment, there is no fear. How is this state to be got? By proximity to the Divine. Shankara exhorted mankind to banish fear by cultivating ‘Vairagya’ (detachment) and journeying towards the Atma. It is through Self-Realisation that the true nature of fear is understood. Sin and merit, joy and sorrow, profit and loss, light and darkness are pairs of opposites in which the absence of one is the sign of its opposite. For both, the root cause is the Atma. All things originate from the Atma. A flower has many petals. These petals appear distinct from each other. But all petals have emerged from the same single stem. The stem is the seat of the Atma, from which the petals have emanated. But we view the flower as a single object. The flower is one, but the petals are many. Although many, the petals have come out of one stem.

There are innumerable waves which arise in the ocean. The waves are many and distinct. Where do these innumerable and distinct waves come from? The source for these waves is the ocean. But they are of the same stuff as the ocean. The waves have the same properties as the ocean though different in form and name. Thus the ocean takes three forms which are water, waves and the foam. These three are based on the ocean. The three represent the three kinds of proofs in logic

Pratyaksha (direct perception), Paroksha (indirect evidence) and Anumaana (inference). The source for all these three is one and the same. This is the logical basis for Advaita. It is termed Triputi – the three-in-one – the Atmic principle. The Chit, Achit and Isaratwa unite to form the Atmic principle. Chit means inert. Achit means physical. Isaratwa means the one which changes. The unity of these three is the inner significance of life. In the human, this three-in-one is found in the unity of the body, mind and Atma. The body functions on the basis of the mind. The mind is based on the Atma. The Atma is the basis for everything. For the entire human life, the Atma is the basis. This is the doctrine of Non-dualism. Ignoring this truth, even if people pursue the myriad ephemeral objects of the phenomenal world, ultimately they will come to a realisation of the Atmic Principle.
Sathya Sai with Students after the Drama on Bhaja Govindam - 1987

Shankara’s Message to Humanity

Shankaracharya called upon mankind to realise that as human beings they should cherish human values and practice them. Otherwise they would be betraying their true role in life. The study of mankind is man. The unity of thought, word and deed is the true meaning of human life. This is called ‘Trikarana Shuddhi’ in the Vedas. Once this unity is achieved, love shall be born. This love will cause the heart to blossom and thus lead to detachment. Due to lack of love, man leads the life of an animal. This is what Prahlada told his father, “O father! You are so knowledgeable and all powerful but you are not behaving like a human being. You are behaving like a wild animal.” Be good and do good, then your life will be good.
Shankara went round the country exhorting people to lead spiritual lives, shedding their animal qualities. His disciples imbibed the essence of his doctrines and became proficient in expounding Advaita. Unfortunately some of his disciples later started distorting Shankara’s doctrines and started attributing their own views to Shankara. Ultimately the disciples fell out and opposed each other’s views. Similarly, among Christ’s 11 disciples differences developed and they fell apart. Only Mathew remained true to Jesus. He propagated the gospel. Peter was the first among Jesus’ disciples. But he denied Christ when the authorities questioned him. For a time the Advaitic doctrine held sway all over Bharat. In course of time, however, the doctrine lost its hold. Ramanuja who came after Shankara enunciated a modified version of Shankara’s Non-dualism. Then came Madhva, who propounded Dualism. 


I do not want you all to become Sanyasins and give up everything. All that I want you to do is to carry on your duties, place your faith in God and realise that there is one fundamental reality underlying all things. When you get this realisation, detachment will develop in you on its own. Detachment is not acquired by compulsion. As love of God grows, indifference to worldly things develops naturally.

Source: Sri Adi Shankaracharya: His Message, Discourse 17, My Dear Students Volume 3


  1. Brother shashank,

    Sairam and thanks for the series of articles on Adi sankaracharya. while i understand that detachment is not so easy is there any specific sadhana to practice detachment which swami told us?

  2. Sai Ram Brother Gopalakrishna,

    Thanks for your appreciation and the question.

    It is best to answer questions in Swami's own words. We shall try and include some excerpts from Swami's Discourses on the theme of 'Detachment' and include it in the 'Discourses to Students' theme.

    Do continue to give us your feedback. We would be happy to include themes which our readers want to know more on.

    Best Regards
    SSwS Team



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