The Shankaracharya Seats

The Shankaracharya Seats

Shankara at Ramakrishna Math
Shankara at Ramakrishna Math

Adi Shankara was a famous sage who revived the monastic path and the non-dual approach to Vedanta. He had his 4 primary disciples found 4 maths or seats of learning in the four directions of India.

The current Shankaracharyas (students teacher of Shankara – see comment) can all be traced back to Shankara.

Not all the maths have sustained the understanding of effortless practice. That has (in part) led to a conflict over the linage in the north seat.

Also associated with each of the maths is one of the four primary Vedas. As each of the Vedas has an associated mahavakya or great saying, those too are associated.

  Math  Disciple Veda Mahavakya
North Jyotir Trotaka Atharva Ayam Atma Brahmasmi
East Govardhana Hastaamalaka Rik Prajnanam Brahma
West Dwaraka Padmapada Sama Tat Tvam Asi
South Sringeri Vartikakara Yajur Aham Brahmasmi


Last Updated on August 30, 2021 by Davidya

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    1. Hi Celeste
      Alas, that’s a messy topic. There was no one qualified for the seat for nearly 150 years. Then Swami Brahmananda Saraswati was finally talked into it (Maharishi’s teacher). When he passed, he had not assigned a successor but rather named several, based on willingness, in a will.

      For political reasons, the will was contested and quite bizarrely, competing Shankaracharyas were assigned.
      One line is successors from the will who support the effortless approach.
      Another line had the western math assign their own, then become both. They’re more politically connected.
      And a third line also sprouted though has little support.

      This article discusses some of the issues and has a small table of the current disputed holders.
      The left one is the first mentioned and the line that supported Maharishi’s work.

      It also mentions the recent linage of the other maths.
      There have been events where all 3 showed up. To me, this makes a political sham of the position.

  1. K

    There is also the Kanchi Mutt. It is not one of the 4 but was prominent and a big deal when the pontiff was Chandrashekarendra Saraswati (couple pontiffs ago). He was the pontiff when I was a child and was considered to be very holy by all. Later things were more messy and I am not sure how things are right now.
    It is always surprising when there is jockeying for power in spiritual lineages though one shouldn’t be surprised – when 3 people are involved, politics arises.

    1. Yes, we remain human and there can be financial inter-dependencies and cultural obligations.

      I’m less familiar with the south, though they seem to have a more effective succession process. Kanchi is generally considered a branch, founded around a bright light much as Jyotir was revived with a light. Your use of the word “pontiff” may give those unfamiliar a sense of the importance of the role in India.

      It’s natural for the politicians of the day to want a leader who is supportive. But that’s not one of the qualifications for the position. Part of the issue also revolves around points of philosophy I discuss on this blog. For example, common interpretation vs effortless practice.

      Maharishi Mahesh Yogi also played a role here. He was the Shankaracharya’s secretary in the ashram and thus brought forward the contested will. He has actively supported the will line and those Shankaracharyas have visibly supported his work.

      Maharishi was not Brahmin caste and thus could not become a Swami. It’s apparent he was seen by some as lesser. From a traditional interpretation, he was also not qualified to teach for the same reason. Yet he structured his organization to his caste and offered everything to his teacher. Some softened their position because of what he was able to accomplish.

      Maharishi’s funeral rites were huge in India.

  2. In the article, I defined Shankaracharyas as student of Shankara.
    However, rules of grammar suggest it’s better seen as Shankara Acharya. This is expert or teacher of Shankara.
    (a curious term, the expert as not-student)

    1. K

      In India, the sense is more of the Acharya aspect – i.e. they are the wearers of the mantle of Adi Shankara and hence are pontiffs or spiritual authorities. So people would ask them questions. This is my experience with the Kanchi Mutt. The prime minister Indira Gandhi at that time would come to see Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati. He would at times refuse to see leaders if he felt they were doing wrong things. He would usually meet prime minister Indira Gandhi but when she declared Emergency (a little bit like cancelling democracy for a while), he refused to meet her. For people, this just reified that she was on the wrong track. He was referred to as Paramacharya.

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