EPISODE-34 (SHANKARACHARYA AND AVATAR MEHER BABA)
Meher Baba disclosed that He was Shankaracharya in His past advent, while on Blue bus tours in 1938. He referred to it as an in-between Avataric incarnation. In this period He laid emphasis on Advaita philosophy and established 4 monasteries (Mathas) in four corners of India. Biographies of Shankarachya and Avatar Meher Baba are briefly described as under:
Adi Shankara, of 8th century was a philosopher and theologian from India who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He is credited with unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism.
His works in Sanskrit discuss the unity of the ātman and Nirguna Brahman "brahman without attributes". He wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon (Brahma Sutras, Principal Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) in support of his thesis. His works elaborate on ideas found in the Upanishads. Shankara's publications criticized the ritually-oriented Mīmāṃsā school of Hinduism.[ He also explained the key difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, stating that Hinduism asserts "Atman (Soul, Self) exists", while Buddhism asserts that there is "no Soul, no Self".
Shankara travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mīmāṃsā School established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. He is reputed to have founded four Mathas ("monasteries"), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organizer of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmata tradition of worship. He is also known as Adi Sankaracharya, Shankara Bhagavatpada, sometimes spelled as Sankaracharya, (Adi) Śaṅkarācārya, Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda and Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya.
Shankara was most likely born in the southern Indian state of Kerala, in a village named Karati. His father died while Shankara was very young Shankara's upanayanam, the initiation into student-life, had to be delayed due to the death of his father, and was then performed by his mother. Adi Shankara died in the thirty third year of his life,
Shankara's hagiography describes him as someone who was attracted to the life of Sannyasa (hermit) from early childhood. His mother disapproved. A story, found in all hagiographies, describe Shankara at age eight going to a river with his mother, Sivataraka, to bathe, and where he is caught by a crocodile. Shankara called out to his mother to give him permission to become a Sannyasin or else the crocodile will kill him. The mother agrees, Shankara is freed and leaves his home for education. He reaches a Saivite sanctuary along a river in a north-central state of India, and becomes the disciple of a teacher named Govindapada.
The biographies vary in their description of where he went, who he met and debated and many other details of his life. Most mention Shankara studying the Vedas, Upanishads and Brahmasutra with Govindapada, and Shankara authoring several key works in his youth, while he was studying with his teacher. It is with his teacher Govinda that Shankara studied Gaudapadiya Karika, as Govinda was himself taught by Gaudapada.
Adi Shankara traveling widely within India, Gujarat to Bengal, and participating in public philosophical debates with different orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, as well as heterodox traditions such as Buddhists, Jains, Arhatas, Saugatas, and Carvakas. During his tours, he is credited with starting several Matha (monasteries), however this is uncertain. Ten monastic orders in different parts of India are generally attributed to Shankara's travel-inspired Sannyasin schools, each with Advaita notions, of which four have continued in his tradition: Bharati (Sringeri), Sarasvati (Kanchi), Tirtha and Asramin (Dwaraka). Other monasteries that record Shankara's visit include Giri, Puri, Vana, Aranya, Parvata and Sagara – all names traceable to Ashrama system in Hinduism and Vedic literature.
Adi Shankara had met a number of disciple scholars during his travels, including Padmapada (also called Sanandana), Sureshvara, Tothaka, Citsukha, Prthividhara, Cidvilasayati, Bodhendra, Brahmendra, and others, who authored their own literature on Shankara and Advaita Vedanta.
Adi Sankara is believed to have died aged 32, at Kedarnath in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, a Hindu pilgrimage site in the Himalayas. Some texts locate his death in alternate locations such as Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu) and somewhere in the state of Kerala.
Adi Shankara's works are the foundation of Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, and his doctrine, states Sengaku Mayeda, "has been the source from which the main currents of modern Indian thought are derived". Over 300 texts are attributed to his name, including commentaries (Bhāṣya), original philosophical expositions (Prakaraṇa grantha) and poetry (Stotra).
Adi Shankara is most known for his systematic reviews and commentaries (Bhasyas) on ancient Indian texts. Shankara's masterpiece of commentary is the Brahmasutrabhasya (literally, commentary on Brahma Sutra), a fundamental text of the Vedanta school of Hinduism,
His commentaries on ten Mukhya (principal) Upanishads are also considered authentic by scholars, and these are: Bhasya on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Chandogya Upanishad, the Aitareya Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, the Kena Upanishad, the Isha Upanishad, the Katha Upanishad, the Mundaka Upanishad, the Prashna Upanishad, and the Mandukya Upanishad.
Other authentic works of Shankara include commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita (part of his Prasthana Trayi Bhasya) His Vivarana (tertiary notes) on the commentary by Vedavyasa on Yogasutras as well as those on Apastamba Dharma-sũtras (Adhyatama-patala-bhasya) are accepted by scholars as authentic works of Adi Shankara. Among the Stotra (poetic works), the Daksinamurti Stotra, the Bhajagovinda Stotra, the Sivanandalahari, the Carpata-panjarika, the Visnu-satpadi, the Harimide, the Dasa-shloki, and the Krishna-staka are likely to be authentic.
Shankara also authored Upadesasahasri, his most important original philosophical work. Of other original Prakaranas (monographs, treatise), seventy six works are attributed to Adi Shankara. Shankara's stotras considered authentic include those dedicated to Krishna (Vaishnavism) and one to Shiva (Shaivism) – often considered two different sects within Hinduism. Adi Shankara's commentary on the Brahma Sutras is the oldest surviving. However,
Using ideas in ancient Indian texts, Shankara systematized the foundation for Advaita Vedanta in 8th century CE, one of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism founded many centuries earlier by Badarayana. His thematic focus extended beyond metaphysics and soteriology, and he laid a strong emphasis on Pramanas, that is epistemology or "means to gain knowledge, reasoning methods that empower one to gain reliable knowledge".
Adi Shankara, in his text Upadesasahasri, discourages ritual worship such as oblations to Deva (God), because that assumes the Self within is different from the Brahman. The "doctrine of difference" is wrong, asserts Shankara, because, "he who knows the Brahman is one and he is another, does not know Brahman". However, Shankara also asserts that Self-knowledge is realized when one's mind is purified by an ethical life that observes Yamas such as Ahimsa (non-injury, non-violence to others in body, mind and thoughts) and Niyamas. Rituals and rites such as yajna (a fire ritual), asserts Shankara, can help draw and prepare the mind for the journey to Self-knowledge. He emphasizes the need for ethics such as Akrodha and Yamas during Brahmacharya, stating the lack of ethics as causes that prevent students from attaining knowledge.
Adi Shankara systematized the works of preceding philosophers. His system marks a turn from realism to idealism. His Advaita ("non-dualism") interpretation of the sruti postulates the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman). According to Adi Shankara, the one unchanging entity (Brahman) alone is real, while changing entities do not have absolute existence.
Advaita Vedanta is based on śāstra ("scriptures"), yukti ("reason") and anubhava ("experiential knowledge"), and aided by karmas ("spiritual practices"). Starting from childhood, when learning has to start, the philosophy has to be a way of life. Shankara's primary objective was to understand and explain how moksha is achievable in this life, what it is means to be liberated, free and a Jivanmukta. His philosophical thesis was that jivan mukti is self-realization, the awareness of Oneness of Self and the Universal Spirit called Brahman.
Shankara considered the purity and steadiness of mind achieved in Yoga as an aid to gaining moksha knowledge, but such yogic state of mind cannot in itself give rise to such knowledge. To Shankara, that knowledge of Brahman springs only from inquiry into the teachings of the Upanishads.
The method of yoga, encouraged in Shankara's teachings includes withdrawal of mind from sense objects as in Patanjali system, but it is not complete thought suppression, instead it is a "meditative exercise of withdrawal from the particular and identification with the universal, leading to contemplation of oneself as the most universal, namely, Consciousness" Shankara rejected those yoga system variations that suggest complete thought suppression leads to liberation, as well the view that the Shrutis teach liberation as something apart from the knowledge of the oneness of the Self. Knowledge alone and insights relating to true nature of things, taught Shankara, is what liberates. He placed great emphasis on the study of the Upanishads, emphasizing them as necessary and sufficient means to gain Self-liberating knowledge. Sankara also emphasized the need for and the role of Guru (Acharya, teacher) for such knowledge.
Shankara lived in the time of the so-called "Late classical Hinduism", which lasted from 650 till 1100 CE. This era was one of political instability that followed Gupta dynasty and King Harsha of the 7th century CE. It was a time of social and cultural change as the ideas of Buddhism, Jainism and various traditions within Hinduism were competing for members. Buddhism in particular had emerged as a powerful influence in India's spiritual traditions in the first 700 years of the 1st millennium CE, Shankara, and his contemporaries, made a significant contribution in understanding Buddhism and the ancient Vedic traditions, then transforming the extant ideas, particularly reforming the Vedanta tradition of Hinduism, making it India's most important tradition for more than a thousand years.
Adi Sankara organized the Hindu monks of these ten sects or names under four Maṭhas (monasteries), with the headquarters at Dvārakā in the West, Jagannatha Puri in the East, Sringeri in the South and Badrikashrama in the North. Each math was headed by one of his four main disciples, who each continue the Vedanta Sampradaya.
Meher Baba on Shankaracharya
Meher Baba made following comments on Shankaracharya in a meeting with Catholic priest arranged by Malcolm (a disciple) in Nasik on 13th March 1937.
When they met, Baba commented to him, "All the mullahjis (Muslim priests) are good; the Pope is good; the Agha Khan is good; the pandits (indu scholars) are good. But only the Shankaracharya (head Hindu priest) can speak for hours on end!"
The priest, hearing Baba's words, proudly refuted what had transpired at the conference, "It was not the Shankaracharya, but I (Meher Baba) who spoke during the whole conference. The Shankaracharya could not argue convincingly at all. He could not say a word to Me and I (Meher Baba) rebuked him severely."
"Yes," replied Baba, "These mullahjis, and the Shankaracharya, all need to be warned. They deserve lecturing and need to be taken to task." "You just said they are good and now you say they need to be lectured?" the priest said. "I don't follow what you mean." Explaining, Baba spelled out, "The Shankaracharya and high priests have big heads — they are intellectuals — but they have small hearts. You, however, have a good heart." Baba added, "There are many to teach in the world, but very few to learn." "What do you mean?" asked the priest. "They all teach but none of them wants to learn — and those who teach do not know the Truth themselves!" (LM-1799-1937)
There is another touching episode related to Shankaracharya worth to mention. On 26 March, 1927, a former policeman approached Meher Baba for His daughter’s marriage. The man's story was very touching. He had developed leprosy, lost his job and fell into great financial trouble. Seeking help in his dire situation, he had pleaded to the Shankaracharya priest and to Mahatma Gandhi, but he found no help from either of them. As a last resort, he came to see Meher Baba. He explained that his daughter was of marriageable age, but that it was extremely difficult to find a man willing to marry into the family of a leper. Baba's compassion was shown as he helped to arrange her wedding and gave money for her dowry.
The next day, the mandali reminded Baba about the wedding, and Baba went to Ahmednagar with six men to attend the ceremony. The policeman was deeply moved by seeing Baba, and the marriage was joyously performed before him. The poor man cried out, "O Lord! Only your grace has brought about this happy event. Otherwise, who would have married the daughter of a leper?" Baba replied, "In your ugly cage resides a beautiful soul. Only I can see its beauty. Do not worry about your condition. You have nothing to fear." (LM-792-1927)
Biography of Avatar Meher Baba
For Baba lover no biography of Meher Baba is required. However, for others the short biography is written as under:
In 1954, Meher Baba is a contemporary personality who publically declared Himself as “Avatar of the Age” and identified Himself as same Ancient one As Lord Zoroaster, Rama Krishna, Buddha Christ and Mohammad and now He is Meher Baba
Meherwan Sheriar Irani, later called as Meher Baba by His followers was born in Poona (now Pune) in India on Feb, 25, 1894 to a Persian parents. In 1913 when He was returning home from college on bicycle, Hazrat Babajan, a lady Perfect Master of that time kissed on forehead of Meher Baba, thereby bestowed Him instant God realization and made Him aware of His highest spiritual destiny.
Afterwards, in year 1914, Meher Baba was drawn to other four Perfect Masters of the time namely Upasni Maharaj of Sakori, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tajuddin Baba of Nagpur and Narain Maharaj of Kedgaon. Upasni Maharaj made him to regain His body consciousness. Meher Baba attained spiritual perfection in 1921. Sai Baba of Shirdi and Meher Baba prostrated to each other, Sai Baba exclaiming “Parvardigar” (God Almighty, incarnation of Lord Vishnu). Upasni Maharaj said “Meherwan, You are the Avatar and I salute you”. Narayan Maharaj garlanded Meher baba and made Him sit on his throne, later telling people “He is perfect man”. Tajuddin Baba caressed Meherwan’s cheeks with roses, calling him “My rose, my heavenly rose”.
First phase of His spiritual mission started in 1921, when He drew His close disciples who gave Him the name “Meher Baba” meaning “Compassionate Father”. After years of intensive training of disciples, in 1923, He established a colony called Meherabad near Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. Master’s work embraced opening of free school, dispensary and shelters for poor, mast ashram, bathing, clothing and washing feet of lepers and destitute. He demonstrated the real selfless service with the motto of “Mastery in Servitude".
Second aspect of His Avataric activity was His divine silence. Meher Baba observed silence from July 10, 1925 and continued for 44 years till dropping His body in Jan 1969. First, He used an alphabet board to communicate, later He communicated through gestures and an interpreter. He carried out all His activities of selfless service, spiritual discourses, and messages and dictated the book "God Speaks” through alphabet board in silence. This book reveals the mysteries of universe as how it came into existence and experiences of journey from God to man (evolution) and man to God (involution). His silence is unparallel and divine. He said “This is my silent advent (Mauna Avatar). I have spoken lot in my previous forms and rendered Zend-Avesta, Gita, Bible and Quran. In this age of publicity and propaganda, I shall work through silence. I have come not to teach but to awaken”.
Third and Important work of His Avataric mission was to contact God intoxicated souls called Masts who deserved His contact. Meher Baba contacted such souls in person, gave them spiritual push and advanced them in their spiritual journey. For this work, Meher baba travelled 75,000 miles to remote places throughout India, Ceylon and Pakistan and contacted over 20,000 advanced souls individually. A chronological account of these Masts (spiritually advanced souls) to whom Meher Baba contacted, their features, their response to Meher Baba with date and place of contact is given in the book titled “Wayfarers" (Pathik). This is the most authentic account of Meher Baba’s work with masts. Meher baba said “I have not come for the crowd but for those few ones who are lost in the crowd”.
Other aspects of Meher Baba’s Avataric activity were demonstration of living a life of a spiritual aspirant with all helplessness and hopelessness i.e. living on total surrenderance to God. This period was named as "New Life" which was lived by Meher Baba and His selected disciples with all humility and weakness in search of God from 1949 to 1952. He practically begged for alms for His disciples and lived in total surrenderance to God.
Avatar Meher Baba undertook universal suffering that an Avatar undergoes voluntarily. Meher Baba was involved in two car accidents without break in His silence. One accident occurred near Prague (Oklahoma, USA) in May, 1952. The other took at Satara (India) in December, 1956. In the first, Baba’s left side was damaged from head to foot. In the second Baba’s right side was badly damaged. Meher Baba said “Ordinary man suffers for himself, Perfect Master (Sadguru) suffers for humanity whereas, the Avatar suffers for one and all beings.
Meher Baba travelled to western world thirteen times. His first visit was in 1931, and last in 1958 when He and His disciples stayed at the center, established for His work at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in USA.
N.B. There have been hints and allusions to Baba’s having had in-between incarnations in Spain, China and Cuba and also in Egypt. Some wonder if Baba was Orpheus, known as Arfad, when He lived in Egypt. (The Mystery of Life and Death-p-145 by Ana Khandale)