Today is Sankara Jayanthi. It is popularly believed that Sankara was born on this earth, as per the Indian Almanac. Historians are divided on the date of his sojourn on this eath, one view is that he lived from B.C.509 - 477 and the other A.D. 788 - 820. Both views are agreed that he lived for 32 years. To my mind he could be said to belong to antiquity. He packed his short life with activities that would need several lives for ordinary persons to perform!
1. Travelled thrice all over Bharat (as it then was) with thousands of disciples, to propagate Advaita Vedanta that upheld BRAHMAN as the SOLE REALITY.
2. Propagated Bhakti (devotion) as a pass-port to realisation of Brahman.
3. Shattered almost seventy odd non-Vedic atheistic sects, that were destructing social order and cohesion.
4. Wrote about 150 books including over 20 commentaries on scriptures like Upanishads, Bhagavatgita, Brahmasutra, Vishnusahasranama, several treatises expounding non-dualism (Adwaita), over 70 prayer hymns including Bhajagovindam, Soundarya Lahari, Sivananda Lahari.
5. Organised the Maths in the corners of India for propagating faith in and adherance to Sanatana Dharma (eternal truth).
6. Empowered temples and pilgrim centres to serve as focal points for spiritual advancement of people and propagation of ideals of Dharma.
WHAT IS ADVAITA IN SIMPLE LANGUAGE
All beings in the Universe are manifestations of the Cosmic Energy, at various levels. At the micro level, everything is the same, i.e. Brahman. Even modern Science accepts this and the study of Particle Physics is all about this fundamental unity of matter. Only forms, names and appearances are different to our perception. The findings of the massive GENOME PROJECT confirmed this and said that the gene content of the fruit fly and the human being is 99 per cent common!
I would like to illustrate the Brahman concept by giving the following easy to understand illustrations;-
a) Go to a sea-shore and take some sea-water in both hands. What is in your hands is the same as the sea. Only the magnitude or scale differe., not the content:
b) When you go to a jewellery shop, you see different kinds of jewellery pieces, Bangles, rings, necklaces, wrist=wear, waist-wear, head-wear etc, no two alike. They appear distinct and different. Each has a name and form. BUT ALL OF THEM ARE TRULY ONLY GOLD, manifesting in various forms and getting formed and named. The fundamental truth of all of these varied forms, appearances and names is GOLD AND ONLY GOLD.
c) All earthen pots (including porcelain) are made of earth, but forms and names are different.
d) All clothes are made of cotton (or polyester or silk) but each one is different in form and name.
e) All waters (rivers also) originate in the ocean and end in it, but each one has a distinct identity, name and form. The rivers and water lose their identity once they enter the sea.
f) Water may exist as vapour, or cloud or ice or as water itself, when we can see it. When it dissolves into molecules of Hydrogen and Oxygen, it becomes invisible.
Advaita Vedanta says that the appearances or manifestations of Brahman (the only Reality) as the many, having different forms and names is "Maya" or false understanding, While we see jewellery with a name, we tend to forget the gold which is its reality. The realisation of the fundamental relity of the Universe and the Unity principle of Brahman is the goal of every created form of life. We fail to pursue this enquiry and are content and comfortable to live with a world of forms and names, distortions and distinctions. In fact, we waste a lot of time looking for differences between one thing and another, between us and others Sankara says in Bhajagovindam TWAYI MAYI CHAVAITRAIKO VISHNUHU VYARTHAM KUPYASI MAYYASAHISHNUHU meaning the spirit inside everything is the same, needlessly do you quarrel over differences imagined by you to be existing.
The result of the misunderstanding and misconception is frenetic human activity which leads to the unending cycle of action-result-pleasure-pain-rebirth-death. Once it is realised that Brahman is the Only Reality - the unifying principle - the universe of varieties that confronts us disintegrates. It takes long - and merit too - to attain this stage but, we should start some time, somewhere. Why not here, and NOW/
Ask yourself; WHO AM I ? A son, a father, brother, son-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, nephew? Which one is real ? i.e. true for all time, and for all persons. You are a son to your father, a husband or wife, nephew or uncle, depending upon another person for the relationship. Also, note that these relations arise and end in time. They are transitory and changing. A nephew may become a son-in-law overnight! Keep asking questions to yourself until you realise your true identity as Brahman who permeates every one and everything around and for ever. You cannot have different identities at the same time or over a period.