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Adi Shankara

Shri Adi Shankaracharya is a famous eighth century Hindu philosopher who had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism. He was a great thinker, leader and a missionary. He consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.

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 Life is identical with Brahman). An illusionary power of Brahman called Maya causes the world to arise. Ignorance of this reality is the cause of all suffering in the world and only upon true knowledge of Brahman can liberation be attained. When a person tries to know Brahman through his mind, due to the influence of Maya, Brahman appears as God, separate from the world and from the individual. In reality, there is no difference between the individual soul and Brahman. Liberation lies in knowing the reality of this non-difference. Thus, the path to liberation is finally only through knowledge.

Advaita Vedanta is based on scriptures, reason and experience, and aided by karmas. This philosophy provides a clear-cut way of life to be followed. Starting from childhood, when learning has to start, the philosophy has to be realized in practice throughout one's life even up to death.

At the time of Adi Shankara's life, Hinduism had begun to decline because of the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism had become divided into innumerable sects, each quarrelling with the others. Some were atheists, and there were numerous theistic sects. There were also those who rejected the Vedas, like the Charvakas.

Adi Shankara toured India with the purpose of propagating his teachings through discourses and debates with other philosophers. He held discourses and debates with the leading scholars of all these sects and schools of philosophy to controvert their doctrines. He unified the theistic sects into a common framework and stressed the importance of the Vedas. He traveled on foot to various parts of India to restore the study of the Vedas.

His efforts helped Hinduism regain strength and popularity. Many trace the present worldwide domination of Vedanta to his works.

At this era of globalization, the leaders and masses should have the wisdom to distinguish the reality from Maya. All glittering things are not gold. Things come in different color, shape and size. As a society we should evaluate each one of them, and should be able to say Yes or No. We should have an open and honest debate as Shankara did with other philosophers of his time. And the final decision has to be made based on our ideals, reason and experience. Lesson learned in the past can lead us to a bright future.