Śhaṅkara, also known as Ādi (original) Śhaṅkara or Ādi Śhaṅkarācārya, was a great spiritual leader and teacher in India about 2500 years ago. He is renowned for combining deep devotion with sharp intellect. He founded four seats of learning in four corners of India, known as the seats of the Śhaṅkarāchāryas, to perpetuate his teachings in their purity.
The teaching of right action without due emphasis on the primary necessity of realization of Being is like building a wall without a foundation. It sways with the wind and collapses before long. Within three or four hundred years all real connection between the essential teachings of Lord Buddha and the daily life of His followers had disappeared. Insight into the principle of the integrated life was again lost. Having forgotten the prime importance of realizing Being, society becane immersed once more in the superficialities of life.
Nature will not allow humanity to be deprived of the vision of Reality for very long. A wave of revival brought Shankara to re-establish the basis of life and renew human understanding. Shankara restored the wisdom of the Absolute and established It in the daily life of the people, strengthening the fields of thought and action by the power of Being. He brought the message of fulfilment through direct realization of transcendental Being in the state of Self-consciousness, which is the basis of all good in life.
Shankara’s emphasis on Self-realization stems from the eternal philosophy of the integrated life expressed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita when He asks Arjuna first to ‘be without the three gunas’ and then to perform actions while thus established in Being. That all men should at all times live the bliss-consciousness of absolute Being, and that they should life the state of fulfillment in God-consciousness throughout all thought, speech and action; this is the essence of Shakara’s message, as it is the essence of Lord Krishna’s and of the entire Vedic philosophy.
The greatest blessing that Shankara’s teaching has offered to the world is the principle of fullness of intellectual and emotional development in the state of enlightenment, based on transcendental pure consciousness, in which the heart is so pure as to be able to flow and overflow with waves of universal love and devotion to God, while the mind is so refined as to enjoy awareness of the divine nature as separate from the world of action.
The spontaneous expressions of Shankara’s mind and heart in this state of freedom and fulfilment have been a source of inspiration both to those who live by the heart and those who live by the mind. His consciousness exemplified the hightest state of human development; his heart expressed supreme transcendental devotion to God (para bhakti), while his mind expressed awareness of the Self as separate from the field of action (gyana). This it was that led Shankara’s speech to flow into ecstasies of devotion and at the same time into clear expressions of knowledge, the dry and hard-headed truths concerning divine nature as detached from the world. These are the two aspects of the living reality of a life in complete fulfilment.
Shankara not only revived the wisdom of integrated life and made it popular in his day, but also established four principal seats of learning in four corners of India to keep his teaching pure and to ensure that it would be propagated in its entirety generation after generation. For many centuries his teaching remained alive in his followers, who lived the ideal state of knowledge with devotion (gyana and bhakti).
—Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation and Commentary, portion of Preface.
“To get a human body is a rare thing—make full use of it. There are four million kinds of lives which a soul can gather. After that one gets a human body. Therefore, one should not waste this chance.
“Every second in human life is very valuable. If you don’t value this, then you will have nothing in hand and you will weep in the end.
“Because you’re human, God has given you power to think and decide what is good and bad. Therefore, you can do the best possible kind of action. You should never consider yourself weak or a fallen creature.
“Whatever may have happened up to now may be because you didn’t know, but now be careful.
“After getting a human body, if you don’t reach God, then you have sold a diamond at the price of spinach.”
What is the best thing a spiritual aspirant can do?
Carry out his spiritual teacher’s (guru’s) instructions.
What must be avoided?
Deeds which lead us into greater ignorance of the truth.
Who is a spiritual teacher?
He who has found the truth of the Totality (Brahman) and is always concerned for the welfare of his disciples.
What is the first and most important duty for a man of right understanding?
To cut through (transcend) the bonds of worldly desire.
How can one be liberated?
By attaining the knowledge of the Totality.
Who, in this world, can be called pure?
He whose mind is pure.
Who can be called wise?
He who can discriminate between the real and the unreal.
What poisons the spiritual aspirant?
Neglect of his spiritual teacher’s teachings.
For one who has achieved human birth, what is the most desirable objective?
To realize that which is his ultimate good and to be constantly engaged in doing good to others.
What deludes a man like an intoxicating drink?
Attachment to the objects of the senses.
What are thieves?
The objects which steal our hearts away from the truth.
What causes the bondage of worldly desire?
Thirst to enjoy these objects.
What is the obstacle to spiritual growth?
What is the best weapon with which to subdue others?
Wherein lies strength?
Where is poison?
Within the wicked.
What is fearlessness?
What is most to be feared?
To become possessed by your own wealth.
What is most rarely found among mankind?
Love for the Lord.
What are the evils most difficult to rid one’s self of?
Jealousy and envy.
Who is dear to the Lord?
He who is fearless and takes away fear from others.
How does one attain liberation?
By practicing spiritual disciplines.
Who is most lovable?
The knower of the Totality.
How does one develop the power of discrimination?
Through service to an elder.
Who are elders?
Those who have realized the ultimate truth.
Who is truly wealthy?
He who worships the Lord with devotion.
Who profits from his life?
The humble man.
Who is a loser?
He who is proud.
What is the most difficult task for a man?
To keep his mind under constant control.
Who protects an aspirant?
His spiritual teacher.
Who is the teacher of this world?
How does one attain wisdom?
By the grace of the Lord.
How is one liberated?
Through devotion to the Lord.
Who is the Lord?
He who leads us out of ignorance.
What is ignorance?
The obstacle to the unfoldment of the Divine which is within us.
What is the ultimate Reality?
Brahman (the Totality, which includes subjective and objective, Absolute and relative).
What is unreal?
That which disappears when knowledge awakens.
How long has ignorance existed?
From a time without beginning.
What is unavoidable?
The death of the body.
Whom should we worship?
An incarnation of God.
What is liberation?
The destruction of our ignorance.
Who is not to be trusted?
He who lies habitually.
What is the strength of a holy man?
His trust in God.
Who is a holy man?
He who is forever blissful.
Who is free from sin?
He who chants the name of the Lord.
What is the source of all the scriptures?
The sacred syllable OM.
What carries us across the ocean of worldliness?
The lotus feet of the Lord—they carry us like a great ship.
Who is bound?
He who is attached to worldliness.
Who is free?
He who is dispassionate.
How is heaven attained?
The attainment of heaven is freedom from cravings.
What destroys craving?
Realization of one’s true Self.
What is the gate to hell?
Who lives in happiness?
He who has attained evenness of mind (samādhi).
Who is awake?
He who discriminates between right and wrong.
Who are our enemies?
Our sense organs, when they are uncontrolled.
Who are our friends?
Our sense organs, when they are controlled.
Who is poor?
He who is greedy.
Who is totally blind?
He who is lustful.
Who has overcome the world?
He who has conquered his own mind.
What are the duties of a spiritual aspirant?
To keep company with the holy, to renounce (rise above) all thoughts of “me” and “mine”, to devote himself to God.
Whose birth is blessed?
His who does not have to be reborn.
Who is immortal?
He who does not have to pass through another death.
When is one established in the ideal of renunciation?
When one knows that the Self (Ātmān) and the Totality (Brahman) are one.
What is right action?
Action which pleases the Lord.
In this world, what is the greatest terror?
The fear of death.
Who is the greatest hero?
He who is not terror-stricken by the arrows which shoot from the eyes of a beautiful girl.
Who is poor?
He who is not contented.
What is meanness?
To beg from someone who has less than you.
Whom should we honor?
Him who does not beg from anyone.
Who, in this world, is truly alive?
He whose character is free from blemish.
Who is awake?
He who practices discrimination.
Who is asleep?
He who lives in ignorance.
What rolls quickly away, like drops of water from a lotus leaf?
Youth, wealth, and the years of a man’s life.
Who are said to be as pure as the rays of the moon?
What is hell?
To live in slavery to others.
What is happiness?
What is a man’s duty?
To do good to all beings.
What are worthless as soon as they are won?
Honor and fame.
What brings happiness?
The friendship of the holy.
What is death?
What is the most valuable thing?
A gift given at the right time.
What disease lingers on until a man dies?
A bad deed which has been hidden.
What should one strive for?
To go on learning as long as one lives.
What should a man hate?
Greed for the wives and the wealth of other men.
What should a man think of, day and night?
He should think how transitory this world is. He should never think thoughts of lust.
What should we prize most dearly?
Compassion and friendship with the holy.
Whose heart do you fail to win even if you try your hardest?
The heart of a fool or of a man who is afraid or stricken with grief or incapable of gratitude.
Who avoids the snares of the world?
He who is able to remain unmoved by either pleasure or pain and all life’s other pairs of opposites.
To whom do the gods themselves pay homage?
To him who is compassionate.
Whom do all men respect?
Him who is humble and speaks the truth so that it does good to others and makes them happy.
Who is blind?
He who does evil deeds.
Who is deaf?
He who does not listen to good advice.
Who is dumb?
He who does not speak kind words when they are needed.
Who is a friend?
He who prevents another from doing evil.
What is man’s best ornament?
His good character.
What is finished as quickly as lightning?
Friendship with bad men or women.
What qualities are rarest in this world?
To have the gift of speaking sweet words with compassion, to be learned without pride, to be heroic and also forgiving, to be rich without attachment to riches —these four are rare.
What is most to be deplored?
Miserliness in the wealthy.
What is to be praised?
Who is revered by the wise?
He who is humble.
Who wins glory for his entire family?
He who remains humble when endowed with greatness.
Who is the master of this world?
He whose words are sweet and beneficial and who follows the path of righteousness.
Who is never touched by any danger?
He who follows the words of the wise and has his senses under control.
Where should one live?
One should live with the holy.
What should a wise man refrain from uttering?
Falsehoods and evil words against others.
What ought a man to remember?
The sacred name of the Lord.
What are the enemies of the spiritual aspirant?
Lust and greed.
What should a man protect from harm?
A faithful wife and his power of discrimination.
What is the tree that fulfills all wishes?
The teachings of the spiritual teacher.