Thursday, 28 April 2016

Astrophysics and Advaita Vedanta

Cosmogony, the study of the origin of universe, forms part of astrophysics.  During nineteenth Century, the Western view of the universe was considerably influenced by Christian theology which held that the world was created in 4004 BC, on a Monday morning.  Even after the immensity of cosmogonic time was recognized, the concept of a static and eternal Universe, as conceived by Ptolemy and amended by Newton, prevailed among Western scientists and rationalists.  Einestein also subscribed to the theory of "closed universe" initially and calculated the radius of static universe as about 35 billion light years. In early 1920s, Edwin Hubble discovered that the spectral lines of distant galaxies showed a shift towards the red.  They theorized that the ‘red shift’ meant that the distant galaxies were receding faster than those galaxies nearer to our system.  This led to the concept of an expanding universe and “Big Bang” theory.  As per this theory, the universe had its origin after a ‘Big Bang’ and is undergoing continual expansion.  Big Bang does not mean an explosion, but the phrase is used to indicate the sudden origin with a bang as it were from nowhere and the fast expansion in a staggering scale thereafter. Origin of universe is stated as from nowhere as nobody knows or can know anything about that point of origin; for at that point, if it can be so called, there was nothing; no time, no space, no matter and no energy.   As our thoughts, words and concepts all function in a frame of time and space, this point of Big Bang, is beyond comprehension or description. So this state of infinite density and of infinite energy out of which all the origin and expansion had started 13.8 billion years ago, is spoken of as “point of singularity” by Roger Penrose, English mathematical physicist.  Singularities are zones which defy our current understanding of physics. This theory postulated not only a beginning after a ‘Big Bang’ in the remote past, but also an eventual collapse in a ‘Big Crunch’ in some distant future.

We have a term in Sanskrit, for a state that defies description; which is ‘Anirvachaniya’, meaning that which cannot be spelt out in words.  And this is the term used by Advaita Vedanta, to describe ‘Maya’, the power of Brahman, the Supreme Being.  Brahman is the Supreme Being with its inseparable, indescribable power called Maya and is commonly referred to as God in religious literatures.  Bhagavat Gita describes Maya as made up of three gunas, Satva, Rajas, and Tamas.  Generally speaking, Satva is the quality of tranquility and wisdom; Rajas one of dynamism and action; and Tamas of inertia and sloth. When the gunas are in equilibrium, universe is in an unmanifest state (Avyaktha) in Maya.  When the equilibrium is disturbed, creation happens.  Maya is also described as one that can make things happen without a cause i.e. Aghatana Ghatana Patiyasi Maya.  It is through this Maya, Brahman projects the Universe in creation.

When  we compare this concept of Maya with the concept of the point of singularity, we find a few striking similarities.  Both are Anirvachaniya, unexplainable. We can guess their existence but we do not exactly know what they are, and how they function. The upset of the equilibrium of three Gunas is one comparable to Big Bang when creation starts.  The state of Big Crunch is comparable to the pralaya i.e. deluge, of Indian Philosophy, when again all the manifested things in creation go back to their unmanifest state, Avyaktha.  As per Indian philosophy this cycle goes through eternity, in cycles of shristi i.e. creation and pralaya over a period measured in kalpas. A kalpa is a period of time equal to 4.32 billion earth years.  Astrophysics has now a theory similar to that.  Lincoln Barnett in his book “The Universe and Dr.Einstein” says “the universe in this picture is like a balloon in which cycles of expansion and contraction succeed each other through eternity”.  Both Maya and the point of singularity are not sentient. Intelligence evolves after creation, as per science and so at the point of singularity sentience is not there.  And Maya being only the power of sentient Brahman is also insentient.

As per Advaita Vedanta, beyond this Maya that undergoes apparent transformation in shristi and pralaya, is the unchanging Brahman, timeless, beginningless, endless, and attributeless, without dimension, and without limitation.  Can the physical sciences go beyond the point of singularity to reach the Brahman?  No, says Max Planck, father of quantum physics.  In his book “Where is science going” he says science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature.  And that is because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of nature”. Brahman is described as the mind of the mind in Kena Upanishad, meaning that it is the power behind the mind, that makes the mind to think and reason. So in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the question is posed “Through what, known can know the knower i.e.Vijnataram are Kena Vijianiyaat?  (2-4-14.)

If  the knowledge of Brahman, the undivided and all-pervading consciousness,  could be gained by Rishis, it was in the intuitive mystic spiritual way, which is possible only for a highly refined mind, and not through the physical  processes of the enquiry.  Swami Vivekananda says “The mind can exist on a still higher plane, the superconscious.  When the mind has attained that state which is called Samadhi-perfect concentration, super consciousness- it goes beyond the limit of reason, comes face to face with facts which no instinct or reason can never know”.  It is at the superconscious level that man feels himself identified with the Self within, Athma, which is also the all-pervading consciousness, Brahman. Insight gained in the state of   superconsciousness does not contradict reason but fulfills it. 

Intuition is no stranger to science or scientists. Stephen Hawking worked mostly by intuition in his work on Black Holes.  Black Holes are the term applied to super dense stars that collapse as a result of their own gravitational forces.  Michael Harwood writing about Hawking’s theory on black holes says “key overview ideas came to him as ‘spiritual revelations’ and make him one of the greatest physicists of our age”.  This state is called Chitta Ekagratha, stage of one-pointedness  of mind. This state which they attain is similar to the state of savikalpa Samadhi described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. At this stage personal consciousness is not lost and the distinction between the one who meditates, the object of meditation and the process of meditation called triputi is not lost.  In the state of super consciousness, even the personal consciousness is lost and only the object of concentration remains.  This is the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, where there is oneness with the object of meditation and no triputi, described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.  It is in this state of superconsciousness, the Vedic Sages could divine their intuitive insights, to which today’s astrophysics is approximating.  

Dr.Fritjof Capra, the eminent physicist, remarks in his book “The Tao of Physics”, “that fullness which the Hindus call as Brahman can be the meeting point of the ultra modern physics as well as ultra ancient Upanishadic Philosophy”.   Can the meeting point as envisaged by  Dr.Capra be reached is a question that may not be  answered affirmatively even when the dream of a grand unified theory, started by Einstein and pursued by Hawking and still elusive, a Theory of  Everything (T.O.E) is achieved.  This theory will integrate into one theory the four separate theories that are required to explain different features of the world; namely theory of gravity, theory of relativity, theory of electro-magnetism and quantum theory. Even when T.O.E. is achieved it may be only a set of mathematical equations that can establish the single source of creation beyond doubt.  But we will still be missing the Infinite Intelligence that set this dream in motion in the first instance and that is behind Creation. Beyond Maya or the point of singularity is that Supreme Force and this is not the realm of physics but of metaphysics where not only intuitive intelligence of an individual mind but the subjective experience of individual realization in a state of superconsciousness is the influencing factor.  Twentieth century physics has stripped physics of its air of certainty and objectivity in the realm of infinitely small and infinitely big and revealed the inter-connectivity of Space and Time, Mass and Energy. Maybe this century may reveal that all branches of human knowledge including metaphysics are interconnected in the form of  Advaita Vedanta.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Quantum physics and Advaita Vedanta

Quantum theory and Einstein's theory of relativity form the basis for the modern physics. Quantum theory is the theoretical basis of modern physics that explains the nature and behaviour of matter and energy at the atomic and subatomic level.  The nature and behaviour of matter and energy at that level is also referred to as quantum physics and quantum mechanics. So we can say quantum physics is the study of the behaviour of matter and energy at the molecular, atomic, nuclear, and even still smaller microscopic levels like quarks.  "Quantum" comes from the Latin, meaning "how much." It refers to the discrete units of matter and energy that are predicted by and observed in quantum physics. Even space and time, which appear to be extremely continuous, have smallest possible values.  Quantum theory can be defined as a collection of ideas that scientists use to describe the way this microscopic world operates.  In the early 20th century, it was discovered that the laws that govern macroscopic world do not function the same in respect of microscopic world.   Quantum physics has brought science closer to Advaita Vedanta.  This is not to quote science to validate Advaita or to authenticate Advaita through science but to showcase how modern science today as quantum physics is approximating to the ancient truths propounded in Advaita Vedanta. 

Let us see how small the elementary particles that we are discussing about are.  The diameter of an atom is one hundred millionth of a centimetre. As it is difficult to conceive, let us see it through an example.  When an orange is blown to the size of the earth, then the atom will be of the size of cherry. If the atom is blown to the size of the St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome, the biggest dome on earth, then the nucleus of the blown up atom will be the size of a grain of dust on it. And protons and neutrons are constituents of nucleus. Protons are so small that in a little dot (.) we can pack 500 billion ie. 500,000,000,000 protons.  As for electron, if it is to be blown up fourteen trillion and two hundred billion ie.14,200,000,000,000 times, then it will be the size of an apple of four centimeter radius.    
Ernest Rutherford demonstrated that the atom is not the solid building block, but it has an internal structure consisting of small dense nucleus about which electrons circle in orbits.  Electrons are held in their orbits through the electrical attraction between positive nucleus and negative electrons.  Nucleus was later found to contain positive protons and neutral neutrons. Protons, neutrons and electrons were collectively called as nucleons and taken to be the ultimate indestructible unit of matter.  In 1930, new particles were discovered as scientists refined their experimental techniques and today we know over hundred ‘elementary’ particles, which are divided into two groups of hadrons and leptons and scientists are nowhere near finding the ultimate indestructible unit of matter, if it exists.  For hadrons are composite particles made of quarks and antiquarks.  But, quarks, which at present is treated as fundamental matter principle, cannot be isolated and studied and is also not stable.  The electrons have been studied in depth and it is the findings thereof that made the Western Scientists turn towards Advaita Vedanta and the Upanishad truths on which it is based.
There is an interesting aspect about subatomic particles. They behave as if they have split personality with wave-particle duality.  For they can move both as particles and as waves; particle being one confined to a small space while wave is one spread over a vast region of space. For example light can take the form of electro-magnetic waves or particles called photons.  Further the particles will behave one way or another depending upon the way the observer chooses to measure it.  This means that in the realm of quantum physics, observing something actually influences the physical processes taking place. So, the data is not independent of the way the observer measures it and the observer is also part of the project and is now called the participator.  Again the wave functions, associated with subatomic particles, are abstract mathematical quantities based upon the probabilities of finding the particles in various places with various properties.  This has made Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, celebrated physicist called “The Father of atomic bomb” remark “If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same we must say ‘No’.  If we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time we must say “No”.  If we ask whether electron is at rest we must say “No”, if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say “No”.”  That means science is talking the language of the Upanishads, describing the Indescribable in paradoxes.  For example, Isavasya Upanishad describes the indescribable Brahman through paradoxes.  “That moves; That moves not; That is at a distance; That is very near;  That is inside everything; That is outside everything” (Mantra 5)

In the double-slit experiments it has been found that photons, particles of light that start as particles and end as particles change to waves and back in between on their own, as if they have a will of their own.  Such a change on its own without external interference is possible only among sentient beings.  The change could be inferred but point of change and re-change could not be detected.  E.H.Walker, an American physicist, openly concluded that the photons may be conscious.  What are photons but only subatomic particles!  And these subatomic particles only make up matter.   That means matter has also potential consciousness which is the view propounded by Advaita.  Advaita philosophy states that matter has also consciousness but in unmanifest form as everything in universe, matter and non-matter, is Brahman only. 

Initially it was assumed that electrons move around nucleus in fixed orbits like the planets around the sun.  Now it is discovered that electrons don’t have a trajectory or an orbit like the ball shot in the air or whirled around a chord.  Not only is it not possible to say where an electron will be at a particular time but it is also not possible to establish a causal relationship between two known positions of the electron.  Only the probability of it being at a particular time at a particular place can be given.  Dr.Fritjof Capra, physicist and systems theorist, remarks “Being a probability pattern, the particle has tendencies to exist in various places and thus manifests a strange kind of physical reality between existence and non existence” This type of reality, which can be neither termed as existent, nor dismissed as non-existent is not unknown to Advaita.  This is the property of Maya, power of Brahman, which can neither be said to be existent nor nonexistent. This property is termed Satasat Vilakshanam; Sat means existence, Asat   nonexistence and Vilakshanam devoid of (here of both).   Swami Vivekananda defines Maya as mere statement of facts as they exist.  Yes, Maya is the statement of facts as it exists in the subatomic world.

“Subatomic particles are Maya” means the world that is made of subatomic particles is a product of Maya.  Advaita has a word for it, Vyavaharika Satyam, relative reality. So quantum physics leads us to the conclusion that the world is a relative reality, not absolute reality which is what the Advaita philosophy had been proclaiming for ages earning for its votaries the derision of all schools of dualists as Mayawadhis.  

This indeterminacy in subatomic world is outlined in Heisenberg’s theory of uncertainty, which raised a hornet’s nest when it was propounded.  Einstein who set out to disprove this theory declaring “God does not play dice” became himself unknowingly the cause for strengthening it, by leading scientists after his time to the postulation of Bell’s theorem and to the concept of quantum entanglement.   Entanglement is when two particles (for example photons) are intimately connected so that measurement on one instantly affects the other, no matter how far away it is.  One entangled particle can be seen to affect the other instantly, no matter how far apart they are.

Bell’s theorem and the successful experiment by Alain Aspect, the French physicist, have shown that two electrons of an entangled pair, i.e. pair of electrons that have a total spin of zero, react to each other instantaneously irrespective of the distances separating them.  This has made Henry Stapp, another American physicist   remark “An elementary particle is not an independently existing analysable entity.  It is in essence a set of relationships that reach out to others”.  The bootstrap hypothesis of Geoffrey Chew, an American theoretical physicist, clearly states that the world cannot be understood as an assemblage of entities which cannot be analysed further, a view held earlier in classical physics or classical mechanics.  The universe is seen now as an ‘unbroken wholeness’, a dynamic web of   interrelated events, which is the similar to the conception of universe in Upanishads as Virat Purusha, a whole person, an organic dynamic whole where each part is interconnected and interrelated to every other part.  Idiom is different but idea is the same.

Extending this to human beings who are also assemblage of subatomic particles, every one of them is interconnected to every other human being in a subtle way irrespective of the race, religion, language or sex.  This is the key message of Advaita, a message of oneness of all living beings in their essential nature, much more so, of the human beings as their Athma (soul) is one and eternal, only their names and forms are different and finite. Even if we stop at interconnectedness without extending it to oneness that understanding itself will lead to the philosophy of Sanathana Dharma,Vasudaiva Kudumbakam’  (the whole world is one family); and on that basis a stable world peace and world order can be achieved.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Sankara Bhagavatpada -2

Philosophy of Advaita

Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada is the principal, though not the first, exponent of the Advaita Vedanta, and he systematised the works of preceding philosophers. “The Advaita taught by Sri Sankara is a rigorous, absolute one” observes Swami Sivananda. Bhagavatpada was the exponent of the Kevala Advaita philosophy.  His teachings can be summed up in the following words: “Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya, Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Aparah” - Brahman alone is real, this world is unreal; the Jeeva is identical with Brahman. So a correct understanding of his usage of the terms, Brahman, Satyam, Jagat, Mithya and Jeeva is necessary for proper comprehension of his philosophy.  His philosophy is based on Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras and so his Bhashyas of the Prasthana thrayi form the central texts in understanding his philosophy.

As per Bhagavatpada’s philosophy there are three orders of Satyam, reality, viz., Paramarthika Satyam (absolue reality), Vyavaharika Satyam (relative reality or transactional reality.) and Pratibhashika Satyam (reflective reality).  Absolute reality is the unchanging Reality that does not undergo any change in all three times; past, present and future and is always the same. This is the Pure Existence defined in Upanishads as Sat and that is Brahman. Vyavaharika Satyam is the transactional or empirical reality. This has experienceability, transactability and utility but has no absolute Reality and that is the Universe. Reality of day and night is an example of Vyavaharika Satyam.  Pratibhasika Satyam is apparent reality like the mirage water, seen as water but not available for use as water. Object/event experienced in dream is an example of Prathibasika Satyam.

Brahman, Paramathma, is Nirguna, without Gunas, Nirakara, formless, and Nirvisesha, without attributes, and impersonal and it is Sat, Chit, Ananda i.e. Existence, Knowledge, Bliss, in their absolute pure nature. Sat, Chit, Anandha constitute the intrinsic nature of Brahman and should not be treated as attributes.  Nirguna Brahman has the unmanifest power, Maya.  Bhagavatpada describes Maya in Vivekachudamani in verses 110 and 111 thus:
Maya is the power of the limitless Lord. It is anadhi (beginningless) avidya and is of the nature of three Gunas viz. Satva, Rajas, and Tamas and is superior to their effects (as their cause).  Its existence can be inferred from its effects only, by one who has subtle intellect.  It is the Maya through which the whole world is born.   (110)  
Maya cannot be described as either existent (Sat) or non-existent (asat) or as a combination of both; as either separate or non-separate from Brahman or as a combination of both; as either having parts or as partless or as a combination of both.  It is a great wonder and is anirvachaneeya (cannot be categorically described).   (111)

Brahman  with this inscrutable, undefinable power of Maya manifest is called Saguna Brahman or Iswara. Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman are not two Brahmans, one the antithesis of other. It is the same Brahman from two different points of view, one Paramarthika point and the other Vyavaharika point.  Nirguna Brahman with power of Maya manifest appears as Saguna Brahman, Iswara and Iswara is the personal God whom the devotees worship. So the question of superiority or inferiority does not arise between the two though one maybe called Para Brahman and the other apara Brahman to distinguish between impersonal and personal Supreme.

Mithya is not illusion, it is vyavaharika satyam. So Jagat, the Universe, a product of Maya, is not an illusion. As vyavaharika satyam it is available for experience, transactions and is useful but it is not absolutely Real, and it is only the unchanging Brahman that appears as the changing Universe through Maya. Maya through its two powers, avarana sakthi, veiling power and vikshepa sakthi, projecting power, veils the unchanging Brahman and projects the changing universe as adhyasa.  As the unchanging Brahman only appears as the changing universe through Maya the universe has no independent Reality and hence Mithya

Jeevathma, is the real Self of the individual, Jeeva, who is a combination of Self, Jeevathma, and non-Self, anathma. The entire body-mind-intellect complex is anathama and material and Jeevathma is the life force that lends sentiency to anathama through its manifestation in anathma.  Jeevathma is Pure Consciousness, Chaitanyam, and is not different from Brahman, Paramathma.  Maya as anadhi avidya masks Jeeva’s real nature as Brahman and projects anathma as its real nature. Under the influence of  avidya an individual Jeeva mistakes its real nature as anathma instead of as Jeevathma.  Avidya includes not only ignorance but also erroneous knowledge. So the individual Jeeva thinks it is finite, limited and separate from Paramathma and other Jeevas and suffers samsara. Moksha or Liberation is ending the influence of avidya through Jnanam and realising one’s essential nature as Brahman. When one acquires the knowledge of one’s true Self as Brahman and is firmly rooted in that knowledge, avidya ends and one attains Jeevanmukthi, liberation while living. The identity of Jeevathma with Paramathma, called JeevaBrahma Ikyam, is an important aspect of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada’s philosophy. 

Another important aspect of the philosophy is adhyasa.  Adhyasa means superimposition or false attribution of properties of one thing on another. For example, when a rope is mistaken for a snake in dim light, there is adhyasa of snake on the rope. It produces the same effect on the seer as the real snake, the reaction of fear etc. This reaction of fear etc. lasts so long as no light is shone on the rope and when light is shone, its real nature is discovered and fear etc. goes.  In the case of Jeeva there is mutual adhyasa between anathma, body-mind complex, and Athma, so that the intrinsic nature of Existence and Consciousness are attributed to anathma and actions and experiences of anathma are attributed to Athma, which is really akartha and aboktha. So the empirical ego is mistaken for transcendental ego causing samsara.  With spiritual enlightenment, adhyasa ends and samsara goes. 

So in a nutshell, in Kevala Advaita, Athma is one only without a second.  Free of all upadhis and with Maya unmanifest, it is called Brahman. With universe as upadhi and Maya manifest, it is called Iswara.  With Maya active and adhyasa operating, it is called the efficient and material cause of the universe.  With Sareera Thriam as upadhi and with Maya as Avidya, it is called the Jeeva.  But only the upadhiless Athma, that is Brahman, is absolutely and unconditionally Real, all else either relatively Real or apparently Real, if not unreal. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada - 1

Life and Work

The date of Sri Adi Sankaracharya the most famous Advaita philosopher who restored the Vedic Dharma and Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity and glory is not very clear. Traditional date is Kaliyug 2593 or 509 BC. Modern Orientalists hold that he lived between 788 and 820 AD.  But it is agreed that he was born to a pious Nambudiri Brahmin couple Sivaguru and Aryamba in Kalady on the banks of River Purna, now River Periyar, in Kerala State. Legend has it that Aryamba had a vision of Lord Siva in her dream and was told that the Lord would incarnate as her child. The couple who were childless and praying for a child were overjoyed.  The child was named after Lord Siva as Sankara. Even as a child Sankara was precocious and could grasp and retain anything he read once. Even at a tender age of three he had studied the Kavyas and Puranas in Malayalam. He had his early education in the village in the usual way.  Sankara lost his father when he was of age seven and it fell upon his mother to get his upanayanam performed and to get him admitted in a Gurukulam for the study of Vedas and other Sastras. He not only learnt Vedas and Vedangas quickly but also learnt about other systems of philosophy as well. Young Sankara is reported to have performed two miracles.

In one he is said to have caused the River Purna to change its course to flow near his house through his prayer so that his aged mother need not struggle to walk a long distance for her morning bath. In the other as he was on his rounds seeking Bhiksha as a brahmachari, he stopped at a house where the poor lady of the house had nothing to offer and also did not have the heart to send the radiant little boy empty handed. So she searched and searched and managed to find an Amla fruit which she offered him as Bhiksha. Seeing her poverty and sensing her large heartedness, he sang a hymn, Kanakadhara Stotram, addressed to Goddess Mahalakshmi, at her doorsteps and caused a shower of golden Amlas in her courtyard.  The descendants of this lady still live in that house called swarnaththa manai

When he returned home from Gurukulam, Sankara’s mother started looking for a bride for him. But Sankara’s mind was set on becoming an ascetic. One day Sankara and his mother went to take bath in the river. Sankara plunged into the water and felt that a crocodile was dragging him by the foot. He cried out to his mother to allow him to take Aapat Sanyasa then at least.  Mother unable to save him agreed.  As soon as he recited the Mantra for taking Sanyasa, the crocodile left him and he became an ascetic then on.  After consoling his mother that wherever he was, he would return to her side in her last moments, Sankara left in search of a Guru.

Sri Sankara made his way to the Ashram of Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada on the banks of River Narmada. Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada, a great teacher of Advaita Vedanta, was a prominent disciple of the famous Sri Gaudapadacharya, who through his Mandukya Karika established firmly Advaita Vedanta refuting the then dominant Buddhistic thought.  He was very happy to have such a brilliant disciple as Sri Sankara and initiated him into the Paramahamsa order of Sanyasa.  He taught Sri Sankara the profound philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, and commanded him to expound the philosophy of Advaita through commentaries on the Brahmasutras, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

Taking leave of his guru, Sri Sankaracharya travelled from place to place and arrived at Varanasi. Here he attracted many disciples around him, prominent among them being Vishnu Sarma. Sri Sankaracharya gave him the name Sanandana and Sanandana exemplified the Guru-Sishya relationship. For Sanandana, the Guru was everything and the command of Guru was ultimate. Once when he was on the opposite bank of a river, Sri Sankaracharya who was on the other side called him.  Sanandana, without even thinking that he might be drowned in a swollen river began walking on the water and lo! a lotus appeared under his feet on every step and held his feet from drowning.  From then on he came to be known as Padmapada.  Two other brilliant disciples to join him later are the ones who came to be known as Totakacharya and Hasthamalakacharya.  There is an incident connected with each one of them.

Totakacharya’s previous name was Giri.  Giri conducted himself as a hard-working and loyal servant of Sri Sankaracharya, and he did not appear bright to the other disciples. One day, Giri was washing his Guru's clothes, when Sri Sankaracharya was waiting for Giri to come back from his chores and join the class.  On this occasion, Padmapada pointed to a wall meaning that it would be the same if Sri Sankaracharya taught to this dumb wall as teaching to Giri. Sri Sankaracharya divined his mind and decided to reward Giri for his loyalty and devotion. Then he mentally blessed Giri with the complete knowledge of the sastras. The enlightened Giri composed extempore the Toṭakaṣhṭakam a Sanskrit poem in praise of the Guru and the dumb disciple blossomed into Toṭakacarya.

When Sri Sankaracharya was travelling in the western parts of India and overcoming in debate the expounders of the various schools of thought, he once came to a village known as Srivali. There a learned Brahmin named Prabhakara came to pay respects to Sri Sankaracharya. He brought his son along with him and after both of them prostrated, he explained to Sri Sankaracharya that the boy had been dumb from his childhood and that he had no likes and dislikes, nor a sense of honour and dishonour; and that he was completely inactive. Sri Sankaracharya then turned to the boy and asked him who he was. The boy replied in 12 verses containing the gist of the Advaita philosophy that he was pure awareness and not a man, God, Yaksha, Brahmin etc.  Sri Shankaracharya was greatly impressed and took him as his disciple, with the name Hastāmalaka since the knowledge of the Self was natural to him like an Amalaka fruit in one's hand.  Hasthamalaka   joined Sri Sankaracharya’s party thereafter.

At Varanasi, Sri  Sankaracharya wrote his commentaries on Brahmasutras, major ten upanishads and Bhagavad Gita besides minor works known as prakarana granthas like Athma bodha, Upadesa Sahasri etc.  It is at Varanasi, Sri Veda Vyasa came in the guise of an old man and challenged him on his interpretations in the commentary on Brahmasutras and feeling satisfied with his reply, revealed himself and blessed him.

At Varanasi, Sri Sankarachaya and his disciples were going for bath in the River Ganges, On the way they met a hunter with his dogs. As the hunter was being considered an outcast, disciples asked the hunter to keep out of the way as was the practice with the orthodox then. The hunter confronted Sri Sankaracharya and asked how could there be a difference between them as they were only Athmas in reality and that Athma was one and the same in all. Sri  Sankaracharya then came out with five beautiful highly philosophic verses of Manisha Panchakam wherein he acknowledged the hunter as his Guru. Then hunter revealed himself as Lord Siva and his dogs as Vedas. This seems to be more a ploy on the part of Sri Sankaracharya to condemn the untouchability among caste Hindus, in keeping with his reformist spirit.

In addition to writing commentaries Sri Sankaracharya engaged in philosophical debates with leaders of various other schools and defeated them and converted them to his fold as was the custom then, for the defeated to convert to victor’s thought. Thus Sri Sankaracharya debated with Buddhist philosophers, with followers of Sankhya and with Purva Mimamsakas, the followers of Vedic ritualism, in Varanasi and elsewhere and defeated all his opponents in debate.  One of the important debates was with Mandana Misra the well-known Mimamsaka of Mahishmathi. The discussion went on for several days and at the end Mandana Misra accepted the superiority of Sri Sankaracharya’s philosophy and became one of his Sanyasi disciples with the name Suresvaracharaya.

During his travels in the south he heard that that his mother was seriously ill. He rushed to her bedside alone and was in time to see her before she breathed her last.  People were against his performing the funeral rites as promised to his mother as he was a sanyasi.  But he overruled their objections, and built a pyre himself and cremated his mother in her own backyard. After this, he resumed his travels, visiting many holy places, reviving Pujas at temples that had fallen into neglect, establishing yantras at Devi temples as in Kanchipuram, and composing many devotional hymns. He tirelessly travelled the length and breadth of the country for the propagation of Advaita philosophy, in those days with few facilities. In the course of his travels, Sankara reached Kashmir and ascended the sarvajnapita with the blessings of Goddess Sarada after engaging in debate and winning over all opponents.

Sri Sankaracharya was a great organizer and a religious leader with a national outlook. Shri Sankaracharya established four Mutts in four corners of India. The Mutts are Jyothir Mutt at Joshimath near Badrinath in northern India; Sarada Mutt at Sringeri in southern India; Govardhan Mutt at Jaganath Puri in eastern India and Kalika Mutt at Dwarka in western India.  He put his four main disciples to head them and continue his work maintaining the Advaitic tradition. Sri Sureshwaracharya, who hailed from the north was placed in charge of the Sarada Mutt in the South, Totakacharya from the South was placed in charge of Jyothir Mutt in the North, Padmapadacharya in charge of Govardhan Mutt and Hasthamalakacharya in  charge of Kalika Mutt.

The heads of Mutts have also come to be known as Sankaracharyas, in honour of their founder, who is now called as Sankara Bhagavatpada or Adi Sankaracharya, and revered as Jagadgurus. Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada also organized the community of ekadandi monks into the sampradaya of dasanamI sannyasins, and affiliated them with the four mutts that he established. He also organized for the Nambudiris from Kerala to perform Puja at Badrinath; Brahmins from Maharashtra to perform Puja at Rameswaram; and the Brahmins from Karnataka to perform Puja in Nepal. 

It was indeed a vast program that Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada accomplished within the short span of 20 effective years for at the age of 32 he had finished his work and had folded up his mortal life. He went to Kedarnath alone and entered into Mahasamadhi there.  Kedarnath is the place of Lord Siva and it is only fitting that Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada who is considered an incarnation of Lord Siva, shed his mortal coils in Kedarnath.

There are about 23 Bhashya granthas, 54 Prakarana and Upadesa granthas and 76 stotra, stuthi granthas, in all 153 works, attributed to Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada.  They may not all be the work of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, consider some, as the heads of various mutts were also called as Sankaracharyas.  Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada is considered to have completed all his major works before he was twenty-four.  After that he might have composed some stotras and Prakarana granthas only, it is said.  Of these, Bhashyas on Prasthana thraya and Vishnusahasranamam, Prakarana granthas like Vivekachudamani, Updesa Sahasri, Aparoksha Anubhuthi, Athmabodha and stotras like Bhaja Govidam, Dakshinamurthy Stotra, Kaupina Panchakam, Nirvana Shatkam, Manisha Panchakam,Soundaryalahari, Govindashtakam, Dasaloki, Dvadasa Panjarika, Sivananda lahiri and Sadhana Panchakam are a few among his important works which are acknowledged as his authentic works. Swami Vivekananda, who called Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada as the greatest teacher of the Vedanta philosophy, observed “--- his whole life’s work is nothing but that, the throbbing of the beauty of the Vedas and the Upanishads.”