Shankara – Before and After

Shankara – Before and After

Adi Shankara was a renowned Indian sage who consolidated Advaita Vedanta or non-dualism. He lived from roughly 788 to 820, travelling throughout India and re-establishing non-dualism and the value of monasticism. He wrote extensive commentary on the Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita and won epic debates with other philosophers. His 4 primary students founded the 4 Shankaracharya seats (maths) in the cardinal directions of India. They operate to this day.

The core tenet of non-duality is that Atman and Brahman are one and the same. Ayam Atma Brahma.

The world is unreal
Only Brahman is real
The world is Brahman

The paradox of non-duality, often lost in modern neo-advaitism, is the third line. While many confuse non-duality with Self Realization, realizing Self or Atman is not realizing Brahman. True non-duality arises with the flowering of Brahman late in Unity. Only when Atman is recognized as of Brahman and even the subtle duality of existence is resolved does full non-duality arise.

Today, some aspects of Shankara’s teachings have become over-emphasized. Like that Maya means Illusion or that you have to be celibate to make spiritual progress.

But there’s another aspect that Shankara himself over-emphasized early in his life that is also still over-emphasized today. That’s the dry emptiness of Shiva. By itself, pure existence is a boundless empty void. This can certainly be one way Self Realization is experienced. But this is not complete.

There is a story told of Shankara walking by the water. One foot gets stuck and he is mysteriously unable to pull it free. He calls to a passing woman who chides him, saying it’s just an illusion. He realizes this is the divine mother herself. He goes on to write the poem Ananda Lahari.

Only when Shiva is united with Shakti does he have the power to create
Without her, Even an inch he cannot move…

Thereafter, Shankara speaks to the fullness of what is, of both aspects of the divine. That’s a lesson some have not yet recognized today.

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  1. Davidya, this is a magnificent article. All the more fascinating because I know this about you: You are writing from your personal experience.

    No braggin’: “These are my cognitions. Hear ye, less evolved people.”

    Not a bit of it.

    Personally, I am not yet at that level of consciousness. I am still enjoying my current level of consciousness quite a bit, grateful for it and exploring it.

    And yet, when a preview of my future is proffered so graciously, I enjoy the learning so much.

  2. Your beautiful articles, like this one, are all the more remarkable to me, Davidya, because I spent more than a year of my life in the physical presence of my (then) guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

    Countless additional hours were spent watching his videos and listening to audio recordings of his discourses.

    Yet more hours were spent listening to the TM leaders and big shots at Maharishi International University, during year upon year of devoted attention to every word that was uttered, hoping that some day through the grace of God I might rise above the life I had as a Woody Allen-like character.

  3. Why do I mention all this? Because I have heard many discourses and many commentaries.

    Your voice impresses me as you serve as a messenger of truth: Part compassion, part truth of experience, and also such a profoundly helpful intent.

    That way in which you experience “The world is Brahman” — and communicate about that reality — is just magnificent, Davidya.

  4. Wow, Rose. High praise indeed. For me, it is simply sharing what arises.

    And because I’ve been there. A Woody Allen-like character? Yup. Only in my case, there was also the unconscious dynamic of trying to be invisible. It wasn’t safe to be “seen”. Even the slow “coming out” on this blog has been a reflection of that.

    So this was the Woody Allen that made a few short films but never distributed any of them. (laughs)

  5. Recently, I ran into Vedic references that suggest Shankara was born about 500 years before Jesus rather than after.

    This is mainly due to when the Badrinath temple was restored to begin jyotirmath, the first of 4 seats Shankara established.

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