Samkar is one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world. He is the unrivalled propounder of the Advait Vedanta and one of the most influential thinkers in the entire history of Hinduism. In a very brief life- span of 32 years, he revolutionized the ailing Hindu life and religion and revitalized the Hindu forces. Very little is known about his life. Even the year of his birth is based on guesswork. There are a number of his biographies written in samskrit namely samkar Dig Vijai, Samkar jaya, and Samkar Vijai Vilas etc. The western historians do not regard these as authentic. Their accounts are full of legends of his miraculous records and the west finds it hard to believe. Then there is a record of the periods of the heads of the Peethas, founded by him, still in tact, which may lead us to the period of the foundation of these Peethas and to Samkar. But his birth date remains still a matter of opinion. The govt. of India would do well to order a research to determine the exact date of his birth. During the British influence on India, it was considered that he flourished about the end and middle of 6th century. Sri RGBhandarkar proposed 680 AD as his date of birth. Max Mueller and Mac Donnel think that he was born in788 AD and died in 820 AD. It is the general belief in India that he was living during Buddha life- time. His date of birth varies from 6th BC to 8th AD.
There are no two opinions about the critical religious conditions prevailing at the time of his birth. The Hindu religion was passing through transition. It was weakened by rigidity in performance of rituals, which had lost its sanctity. Rituals were commercialized. Then there were divisions and sub- divisions between sects based on narrow interests. Only in Rameshwaram, the Shaiva tradition was sub-divided into six branches known as Shaiva, Rudra, Ugra, Bhatta, Jangam and Pashupati. They vividly differed in values. These communal sects propagated vegetarianism and opposed non-veg and wine vehemently. On the other hand, the Kapalis of Ujjain justified even the human sacrifices to please and appease a deity. The number of gods had gone unlimited. Religious piety was at a sad discount. Never before was witnessed such a chaos and distortion of values. Samkar was born as a silver line in the dark clouds of socio- religious life of Hindus.
It is said that he mastered the languages of Samskrit, Maghadi and Prakrit at the age of three. In may be something unbelievable for the west but the Indians accept this as they believe in Karmic theory. At the age of 9, Samkar became well –versed in the Vedas. By the age of 10, he had read and memorized all the scriptures and had written commentaries on many of them. At this time generally children go to school and start their studies but Samkar had shown intellectual prodigy. He got initiation into the thread ceremony at the age of 15. and then entered gurukul. He was a good observer. He, to his great surprise, noticed that there existed a vast gap between preaching and practice of the teachers. They were not the ideals to follow in life. They were more inclined to material life than to the spiritual one, which they preached. His father had died when he was a child. Samkar had seen the death of his father with his own eyes and was immensely shocked. He began to ponder over the riddle of birth and death. He composed a poem entitled,’ Moha Mudgaram’. In this poem, he pondered over the fact that birth brings death. And death brings rebirth. What for are these worldly relations? Who am I? And where from have I come? As a result, gradually he developed a desire for monastic life.
He persuaded his mother to grant him permission for the monastic life. As a tradition, the permission of the guardian of the family was essential before entering a monastic life. In his case the mother was the only guardian. Any way Samkar solved the problem as he assured her that he will be present by her bed at the time of her death. Samkar knew well that it was against the prevalent tradition for a sanyasi to do so yet he promised to do it. After getting the permission, he made necessary arrangements for the care of his mother and left in search of a Guru. Henceforth he embraced a life of a wandering monk. It is said that samkar met Gudapad on the bank of river Naramda and prayed him for initiation. He declined but asked him to go to his disciple Govindpad. It was he who initiated him and trained him in the process of Yoga of Meditation. Now Samkar had achieved high spiritual powers, coupled with mystic realizations. The time for him to go out into the world and teach had arrived.
Leaving his Guru Guvindpad, Samkar went to Varanasi where he began to write books and teach the people. He successfully influenced the people with his personal association and power of oratory. He had a wonderful eye-opening experience there. On his way to the river Ganges, Samkar met a candala, a lower class untouchable then, with four dogs blocking the way. Samkar asked him to clear off his way. The Candala asked him if the God is one, how come men of many kinds? Samkar at once realized that there should be no distinction of caste and creed. He prostrated himself before the Candal and composed a poem entitled ‘ Manisa Pancaka’ consisting of 5 stanzas, each stanza ending with a refrain-‘He who has learnt to see the one existence every where, he is my master – be he a Brahmin or Candala.” From Varanasi, he went to Badrinath in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was here that he composed the commentary on Brhma Sutra. He wandered all over India teaching Vedanta and taking on rivals in open debates and discussions.
India always believed in freedom of religion and free expression. During those days, debates and discussions were held in the open and in presence of reputed scholars. They were conducted in a healthy and competitive spirit unlike today. Covert means were not employed. There was no such possibility either. The vanquished gladly accepted defeat with grace and without any grudge. This system, symbolic of toleration of religion and freedom of expression, was unique in the world. Samkar tried to convert at first the renowned scholar Kumaril Bhatta. He was bed-ridden. So he directed him to see his disciple Mandan Misra. He was well known for his theory that the life of a householder was superior to a life of a monk. His views had wide acceptance. So a debate was organized on the point of the relative merit of life of a monk and the life of a householder. The winner was to have his way and the looser was to follow the way of the winner. The umpire was Bharati, the learned lady wife of Mandan Misra. The debate followed many days. At last Samkar succeeded in convincing Mandan Misra of the superiority of monastic life. As a result Mandan Misra became his disciple. During his countrywide tour, he had discussions with a number of rival scholars of philosophies, which included Jain and Buddhist scholars and some sects like shaiva.
During his wandering, he established and renovated many temples and founded four monastic centers in the four cardinal corners of India. The incharge of the center (Peetha) was titled as Samkaracarya. This position finds veneration among people to this day. These centers are at 1-Badrinath dham in the north Himalayas, 2- Rameshwaram on the South Seas, 3- Dwarka on the West Coast and 4-Puri on the Eastern shores. Samkar also founded the order of Dasnami Samnyasin, which was a federation of monks devoted to spreading of Advait Vedanta philosophy. He was the first to organize any monastic order. He also visited Sarda Devi in Kashmir.
During his life span of 32 years, he produced a vast literature of more than 200 books of immense value. His most important works are commentaries on Brhma Sutra, Bhagawat Geeta and the ten principal Upanishads. Many notable teachers have written commentary on Brhma Sutra. Different authors have differently interpreted it according to their need and viewpoint. It had caused confusion. Samkar’s commentary found a much wider acceptance as it contained subtle and deep ideas and came from the pen of the most celebrated personality of the age. So great acceptance and influence was of samkar’s philosophy that his words on Vedanta philosophy became the final word. He was treated as the sole authority on Vedanta. His commentary on different Vedas convinced us that they predicted a consistent system with the Brhma philosophy. Henceforth no one could prove that the Vedas are self- contradictory. This was also the case with Sankar’s commentary on Upanishadas.which included the principal Upanishads namely Isa, Ken, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Manduka, Aittariya, Taittiraya, Brhadaranya and Chandogya. He also wrote commentary on Svetasvatara and took into account Kausitaki, Mahanarayan and Maitri to make 14 as the principal Upanishads. His commentaries were so powerful and reasonable that it was regarded as final and perfect. He set aside the rival interpretation of any dualistic tendency in the Upanishads. The secret of his success was that he proved that his interpretation was rational and did not contradict experience although he knew well that scripture is ultimately the final authority. Besides writing commentaries, he produced two independent works-1-Upadesh Sahasri and 2-Vivek churamani (Crest jewel of discrimination) He was the author of many poems, hymns, prayers and sermons. He composed devotional songs on Shiva, Vishnu and on Devi in Saundarya Lahri. Samkar founded the order of Dasnami wandering monks. It was a federation of Shaiva sanyasins (renouncers) who belonged to ten monastic lineages, that can be arranged into four groups. The member of each lineage during initiation had to adopt a distinct name, a suffix to his individual monastic name. The ten lineage under four groups were attached each to one of the four principal monastic peethas headed by a Samkaracarya. with its own gotra, (clan) Sampradaya (tradition) Veda and Mahavakya. These four groups were 1- Jyotimath monastery at Badrinath in the North 2- Govardhan Math monastery at Puri in the East 3- Sringeri math monastery at Sringeri in the South 4- Sarda math monastery at Dwarka in the West. The ten lineages attached were respectively 1- Giri, Parvat and Sagar with Jyotimath 2- Vana and Aranya with Govadhan math 3-Puri, Bharati and Saraswati with Sringeri math, 4-Tirth, and Asrama with Sarda math. There were Dandi swamins from three lineages of Tirth, Ashram and Saraswati. They have to be Brahmin by birth. The Bharati lineage had a non-Brahmin section
The most valuable contribution of Samkar is that he gained general consciousness on the issue that the authoritative explanation of Upanishads, Geeta and Brhma Sutra was the final say in matter of religion. Any thing that goes contrary to the trio is not authentic. He also made a clear distinction between Vedas and Upanishads in his commentary on Geeta. He stated that the Karma Kand of the Vedas deal with the injunctions relating to the performance of duties and actions. These are for ordinary householders. He said that the path of duty and the path of wisdom were intended for different classes of people. The teachings of Upanishad are for the advanced people. It concerns Jnan kand, deals with the nature of the ultimate Truth and Reality. It is meant for superior aspirants who have no earthly desires. He laid down qualifications of six great virtues (satkasampatti) for those who were desirous to study Vedanta. The prerequisites were, besides mumuksutva (desire for salvation) and Viveka (power of discrimination); 1--Sama (control of mind and capability of concentration) 2-Dama (Control of sense organs) 3—Uparati (quieting of mind and fulfillment of religious duty) 4-- Titiksa (Equanimity or balance between pair of opposites) 5-Sraddha (faith in scriptures) and 6- Samadhana (Transmitting of truth).
Samkar reduced the number of gods and sects applying the thesis of incarnation and Amsha (projection, fragment). He prevented unuseful rituals and modified customs reasonably. He built a number of temples and rejuvenated many. He founded four monasteries in the Four Corners of India. He established Dasnami Sampradaya. He based religion upon reason, away from blind faith and rigid conservatism. In this direction, he fulfilled the promise given to his mother that he will be by her side in her last days. Even as a sanyasi, he was there. Nay, he performed the cremation ceremony of his mother too against tradition. He held discussion with a lady Bharati Misra against soulless tradition and even discussed on the subject, which is restricted for saints. He went out of tradition to initiating a woman as a disciple and the woman was none else but Bharati, the wife of Mandan Misra.
Samkar was a liberal, non- conservative, non-rigid Guru with broad outlook and healthy spirit. He was essentially an innovator and a reformer. He gave new life to Hinduism. It was his influence that Buddhism almost was lost in the land of its birth. Strange it is that Kumaril Bhatta called him a Buddhist in disguise. He did not propagate any new philosophy yet he gave new impulse to Hindu religion. His whole teaching can be summed up into one sentence, ‘There is nothing else but Brhma.’ He says that the Absolute Existence, Absolute Knowledge and Absolute Bliss is Real. The universe is not real. He says that Brahma and Atmana are one. The ultimate and the Absolute Truth is the Self, which is one though appearing as many in different individuals. The individual has no reality. Only the Self is Real; the rest, mental and physical are but passing appearances. In fact Samkar states a paradox- the world is and is not. It is neither real nor unreal. It leads us to recognize the existence of Maya. He thinks that the world is illusory from one perspective and from the second it is nothing but Brhma, Itself in manifestation. This apparent world is Maya and has its basis in Brhma , the Eternal. It looks as real. It has names and forms and actually it is not real In the light of true knowledge, it disappears and Self-alone shines as real. However Samkar’s Mayavad has not been accepted by many preachers and philosophers.
Samkar had, by the age of 32, revitalized the whole Hindu life and religion. He was essentially a reformer and an innovator. His life came to an end at 32, when this wandering monk was last seen moving in Kedarnath in the Himalayas and there after remained unseen