Our Guru Parampara
We have now seen up to the guru parampara culminating in Śuka Mahaṛṣi.
शंकरं शंकराचार्यं केशवं बादरायणम् ।सूत्रभाष्यकृतौ वन्दे भगवन्तौ पुनः पुनः ॥
I offer obeisances again and again to Śrī Veda Vyāsa, the author of the Brahma sūtras, who is none other than Lord Viṣṇu, and Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, the commentator on those sūtras, who is none other than Lord Śiva.
Now we arrive at the A.D. era. Our invocation of the Advaita Parampara continues from Ācārya Gauḍapāda the 8th guru to whom Śrī Ādi Śaṅkarācārya referred to as the “Parama Guru”. Very little is known about him, but from his name, it is surmised that he came from Gauḍa Deśa, the modern West Bengal. But his fame rests on the Kārikā which he wrote on Māṇḍukya Upaniṣad. His work is one of the pillars of Advaita Philosophy and is greatly respected. It has been commented upon by many succeeding Ācāryas including Śri Śaṅkarācārya. Gauḍapāda enfolded the meaning of Omkāra [‘A’ kāra ; ‘U’ kāra’; M’ kāra and Turīya (silence)], and described the practice of Omkāra meditation for sharpening the mind so that Upaniṣad teachings can be understood.
It must be noted that our ancients did not give importance to the dates, time or periods of events. Hence historians find it difficult to fix dates accurately so we may find many versions of the same event.
Next in the lineage is Śrī Govinda Bhagavatpāda, the Guru of Ādi Śaṅkara. This ācārya lived on the banks of river Narmadā in Omkārnāth, meditating in a cave. Śaṅkara who was just 8 years old then, approached this Mahātma and prostrated at his feet. To the Guru’s query as to who he was, Śaṅkara composed the famous ‘DAŚAŚLOKĪ’ – “One Changeless” ŚIVO’HAM ( Auspiciousness I Am ); indicating his true identity with the supreme Reality,
“Na ca vyoma bhūmirna tejo na vāyuḥ
Cidānanda rūpaśśivo’ham śivo’ham ||”
I’m not the space, earth, fire or wind.
I’m the nature of consciousness and limitlessness. I am pure self.
Jagadguru Adi Śaṅkarācārya is a unique historical figure of India, he possesses the characteristics of a poet, logician, an ardent devotee and at the same time was the leading exponent of the system of philosophy called advaita. In his commentaries on the Prasthānatraya, he exhibited a rare faculty of relentless logic and had the great capacity to harmoniously link all the arguments and refutations. Such subtlety of reasoning has been unsurpassed in the philosophical works of the world.
The great yogi was very pleased with Śaṅkara and saw in him an already awakened soul. Śaṅkara stayed with his guru for 3 years and mastered all scriptures and yoga techniques.
The following anecdote reveals his greatness even then .
Once the river Narmadā was flooding and the water was about to enter the cave where the master was in Samādhi . The disciples were afraid for his life. It is said that Śaṅkara placed his Kamaṇḍalu (water pot that the sanyāsīś carry ) at the mouth of the cave and lo and behold the water flowed into the Kamaṇḍalu and the Guru was unharmed. When the guru came to know of his feat, he blessed Śaṅkara saying, ‘’ just as you compressed the water into your Kamaṇḍulu, you should write commentaries on scriptures compressing the essence of all Vedas”. After some time the Guru took Mahāsamādhi.
The 10th guru in the advaita lineage is the great Śaṅkara who is not an individual but an institution. He travelled the length and breadth of India propagating the philosophy of Advaita, defeated through debates all non-vedic religions that were popular then, like Buddhism, Jainism, Materialism (Cārvāka) and many more by his incisive arguments, “jnānāt eva tu kaivalyam” was his Mantra. Once for all he established the superiority of Vedas , composed beautiful hymns soaked with Bhakti on all the Gods and Goddesses of Hindu Pantheon which are even to this date chanted in temples and homes with devotion. Who has not heard of his Bhaja Govindam , which teaches us in simple language the path to ‘Liberation from Saṃsāra’?
His glories are endless. In a short span of 32 years he accomplished the work of 32 centuries! He wrote Bhāṣyams (commentaries) on Vyāsaś Brahma sūtra, Bhagavad Gītā, Viṣṇu Sahasranāma, to name a few, as his works are countless. To keep his work running he established MUTTS (religious centre) – Jośī mutt in North, Purī in East, Dvārakā in West and Śṛṅgerī in South. The mutts are flourishing even to this day singing his glory. He made his 4 main disciples as heads of these Mutts. May He bless us with Brahma Jñāna.
The four main disciples of Śaṅkarācārya
Now we have arrived at Śaṅkara’s 4 main disciples to whom we pray in our invocation namely, ŚRĪ PADMAPĀDA, ŚRĪ HASTĀMALAKA, ŚRĪ TOṬAKA and ŚRĪ ŚUREŚVARA (Vārtikakāra ).
ŚRĪ PADMAPĀDA whose pūrva aśrama name was Sanandana, was from South India. Śaṅkara initiated him into Sannyāsa Āśrama and took special interest in him. Padmapāda who was very devoted to his guru. Readers ! You may like the story of how Sanandana came to be known as “Padmapāda”. One time his guru was on his way to Badrīnāth and had to cross the river Alakanandā. Sanandana was engaged in some work on the opposite bank of the river. The guru called him to come immediately. The śiṣya without a second thought started crossing the mighty flooded river which would have swept him to death! But miraculously as Sanandana stepped on the water a full bloom lotus sprang up to support him! When he took the second step another lotus sprang up to support him! Thus the disciple crossed the mighty river on lotuses and reached his master without him being aware of the miracle and fell at his Guru’s feet. Other students were dumbfounded at the event and at his devotion to the master. The master smiled and said, “Arise Padmapāda” ( the student’s feet that were supported by lotuses). Jai Guru Bhakti !!!
Asked by Śaṅkara, Padmapāda wrote “Tīkā” (explanatory notes) on Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣyam. It is said that he saved his master’s life twice from enemies . He became the first Ācārya of Purī mutt in the East.
ŚRĪ HASTĀMALAKA is the next teacher in the lineage. He was born in a place called Sṛlbali in Karnātaka. Right from his birth he never uttered a word or did any work and behaved like a total idiot. This went on for 13 years. When Śaṅkara visited the place the desperate parents took the boy to him. When Śaṅkara asked the boy who he was, his name and where he was going. To the utter amazement of all, the boy stood up and recited 12 verses, later came to be known as “Hastāmalikyam”, full of deep Vedānta purport. Everyone around his parents and the students were astounded. Feeling happy Śaṅkara said “this boy sees the Truth as clearly as one sees an Āmlā (gooseberry ) placed in one’s hand (Hasta)”. Henceforth he will be known as “Hastāmalaka”. Further Śaṅkara himself wrote a commentary on those verses. Hastāmalaka became a disciple, served and travelled along with his master though he did not write or speak much. He became the first head of Dvārakā Mutt in the West.
Our next guru is ŚRĪ TOṬAKĀCĀRYA who was specially blessed by Śaṅkara. Toṭaka by name of Giri was born to a poor brahmin family. He was a humble person, doing all the menial jobs of, sweeping, cleaning, washing etc. He would stand at a distance and listen very attentively to the classes taken for other students. This impressed the master and he felt very happy seeing his ‘Śraddhā’. One day suddenly as he finished his chores he prostrated at his masters ‘s feet . Out of him burst forth the soulful TOṬAKĀṢṬAKAM retaining the verse “Bhava Śaṅkara Deśika Me Śaraṇam”. His Guru gave him the name “Toṭaka” and made him the first “Acharya of Jyotir Mutt” in the North .
We have arrived at the last of the disciples, ŚRĪ ŚUREŚVARA ( MAṆḌANA MIŚRA) who is popularly known as VĀRTIKAKĀRA. He was very erudite and a staunch follower of Pūrva Mīmāmsā (karma Kāṇḍa ) and Vedic rituals. His wife UBHAYA BHĀRATĪ was a great scholar and was regarded as an incarnation of Goddess Sarasvatī. Śaṅkara was a staunch advocate of Uttara Mīmāmsā, ( Vedānta, end portion of Vedas . Both Śaṅkara and Maṇḍana Miśra debated for 18 long days to establish the superiority between Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāmsā. Bharati was requested by Śaṅkara to be the judge. She gave them both flower garlands to wear as they debated and whose garland withers first was to be the loser. Miśra lost the debate, accepted Śaṅkara as his Guru. Śaṅkara was very impressed with Miśra’s deep knowledge ,accepted him as his śiṣya , gave him the name “SUREŚVARA”. He also asked him to write a “Vārtika”, a sub-commentary on his Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣyam. Hence Śureśvara was called Vārtikakāra in our prayer. His sub-commentary is a standard classical text on Advaita Philosophy. He also wrote Vārtika on the popular Dakṣināmūrti Stotram of Śaṅkara. He became the first Ācārya of Śriṅgerī Mutt in the South and trained many students.
With clear understanding may we appreciate and chant these ślokas with śraddhā and bhakti and also prostrate to one’s own immediate Guru.
सदा शिव समारम्भाम् शङ्कराचार्य मध्यमाम् |
अस्मद् आचार्य परियन्ताम् वन्दे गुरु परम्पराम् ||
Sadā Śiva samārambhām Śaṅkarācārya madhyamām |
Asmad Ācārya Pariyantām Vande Guru Paramparām ||
May all these great Ācāryas bless each one of us with Brahma jñāna !
OM ŚRĪ GURUBHYO NAMAḤ !!!