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Shankaracharya with disciples, Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
Adi Shankara (Malayalam: ആദി ശങ്കരൻ, Sanskrit: आदि शङ्करः, IAST: Ādi Śaṅkara, pronounced [aːd̪i ɕaŋkərə]) (788 CE - 821 CE?), also known as Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, was an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta. His teachings are based on the unity of the soul and Brahman, in which Brahman is viewed as without attributes. He hailed from Kaladyof present day Kerala.
Shankara travelled across India and other parts of South Asia to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He founded four mathas ("monasteries"), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organizer of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of theShanmata tradition of worship.
His works in Sanskrit, all of which are extant today, concern themselves with establishing the doctrine of Advaita (Nondualism). He also established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. Shankara represented his works as elaborating on ideas found in the Upanishads, and he wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic Canon (Brahma Sutra, Principal Upanishads and Bhagavadgita) in support of his thesis. The main opponent in his work is the Mimamsa school of thought, though he also offers some arguments against the views of some other schools like Samkhya and certain schools ofBuddhism that he was partly familiar with.
· 1 Life
· 2 Mathas
· 5 Works
· 6 Film
· 8 Notes
Traditional accounts of Adi Shankara's life can be found in the Shankara Vijayams, which are poetic works that contain a mix of biographical and legendary material, written in the epic style. The most important among these biographies are the Mādhavīya Śaṅkara Vijayaṃ (of Mādhava, c. 14th century), the Cidvilāsīya Śaṅkara Vijayaṃ (of Cidvilāsa, c. between 15th century and 17th century), and the Keraļīya Śaṅkara Vijayaṃ (of the Kerala region, extant from c. 17th century).
Birth and childhood
The birth place of Adi Shankara at Kalady
Adi Sankara Keerthi Sthampa Mandapam, Kalady, Kerala
Shankara was born to Kaippilly Sivaguru Namboodiri and Aryamba Antharjanam in or near Kaladiin central Kerala. According to lore, it was after his parents, who had been childless for many years, prayed at the Vadakkunnathan temple, Thrissur that Sankara was born under the starThiruvathira.
His father died while Shankara was very young. Shankara's upanayanaṃ, the initiation into student-life, was performed at the age of five. As a child, Shankara showed remarkable scholarship, mastering the four Vedas by the age of eight.
From a young age, Shankara was inclined towards sannyasa, but it was only after much persuasion that his mother finally gave her consent. Shankara then left Kerala and travelled towards North India in search of a guru. On the banks of the Narmada River, he met Govinda Bhagavatpada, the disciple of Gaudapada. When Govinda Bhagavatpada asked Shankara's identity, he replied with an extempore verse that brought out the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Govinda Bhagavatapada was impressed and took Shankara as his disciple.
The guru instructed Shankara to write a commentary on the Brahma Sutras and propagate the Advaita philosophy. Shankara travelled to Kashi, where a young man named Sanandana, hailing from Chola territory in South India, became his first disciple. According to legend, while on his way to the Vishwanath Temple, Sankara came upon an untouchable accompanied by four dogs. When asked to move aside by Shankara's disciples, the untouchable replied: "Do you wish that I move my ever lasting Ātman ("the Self"), or this body made of flesh?" Realizing that the untouchable was none other than god Shiva himself, and his dogs the four Vedas, Shankara prostrated himself before him, composing five shlokas known as Manisha Panchakam.
Meeting with Mandana Mishra
One of the most famous debates of Adi Shankara was with the ritualist Mandana Mishra. Madana Mishra's guru was the famous Mimamsa philosopher, Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa. Shankara sought a debate with Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa and met him in Prayag where he had buried himself in a slow burning pyre to repent for sins committed against his guru: Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa had learned Buddhist philosophy from his Buddhist guru under false pretenses, in order to be able to refute it. Learning anything without the knowledge of one's guru while still under his authority constitutes a sin according to the Vedas.Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa thus asked Adi Shankara to proceed to Mahiṣmati (known today as Mahishi Bangaon, Saharsa in Bihar) to meet Maṇḍana Miśra and debate with him instead.
After debating for over fifteen days, with Maṇḍana Miśra's wife Ubhaya Bhāratī acting as referee, Maṇḍana Miśra accepted defeat. Ubhaya Bhāratī then challenged Adi Shankara to have a debate with her in order to 'complete' the victory. She asks the questions in "kamasutra" in which sankaracharya has no knowledge since he is a true celibate and sanyasi,So he uses the art of "parakaya pravesa" and his soul joins a dead body of a king.And he acquires all the knowledge of "art of love" from the queen from questionnaire.Finally Ubhaya Bhāratī allowed Maṇḍana Miśra to acceptsannyasa with the monastic name Sureśvarācārya, as per the agreed rules of the debate.
Adi Shankara then travelled with his disciples to Maharashtra and Srisailam. In Srisailam, he composed Shivanandalahari, a devotional hymn in praise of Shiva. The Madhaviya Shankaravijayam says that when Shankara was about to be sacrificed by a Kapalika, the godNarasimha appeared to save Shankara in response to Padmapada's prayer to him. As a result, Adi Shankara composed the Laksmi-Narasimha stotra.
He then travelled to Gokarṇa, the temple of Hari-Shankara and the Mūkambika temple at Kollur. At Kollur, he accepted as his disciple a boy believed to be dumb by his parents. He gave him the name, Hastāmalakācārya ("one with the amalaka fruit on his palm", i.e., one who has clearly realised the Self). Next, he visited Śṛngeri to establish the Śārada Pīṭham and made Toṭakācāryahis disciple.
After this, Adi Shankara began a Dig-vijaya (tour of conquest) for the propagation of the Advaita philosophy by controverting all philosophies opposed to it. He travelled throughout India, fromSouth India to Kashmir and Nepal, preaching to the local populace and debating philosophy with Hindu, Buddhist and other scholars and monks along the way.
With the Malayali King Sudhanva as companion, Shankara passed through Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha. He then started towards Karnataka where he encountered a band of armed Kapalikas. King Sudhanva, with his Nairs, resisted and defeated the Kapalikas. They safely reached Gokarna where Shankara defeated in debate the Shaiva scholar, Neelakanta.
Proceeding to Saurashtra (the ancient Kambhoja) and having visited the shrines of Girnar, Somnath and Prabhasa and explaining the superiority of Vedanta in all these places, he arrived at Dwarka. Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara of Ujjayini, the proponent of Bhedābeda philosophy, was humbled. All the scholars of Ujjayini (also known as Avanti) accepted Adi Shankara's philosophy.
He then defeated the Jainas in philosophical debates at a place called Bahlika. Thereafter, the Acharya established his victory over several philosophers and ascetics in Kamboja (region of North Kashmir), Darada (Dabistan) and many regions situated in the desert and crossing mighty peaks, entered Kashmir. Later, he had an encounter with a tantrik, Navagupta at Kamarupa.
Accession to Sarvajnapitha
Adi Shankara visited Sarvajñapīṭha (Sharada Peeth) in Kashmir (now in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir).The Madhaviya Shankaravijayam states this temple had four doors for scholars from the four cardinal directions. The southern door (representing South India) had never been opened, indicating that no scholar from South India had entered the Sarvajna Pitha. Adi Shankara opened the southern door by defeating in debate all the scholars there in all the various scholastic disciplines such as Mimamsa, Vedanta and other branches of Hindu philosophy; he ascended the throne of Transcendent wisdom of that temple.
Towards the end of his life, Adi Shankara travelled to the Himalayan area of Kedarnath-Badrinath and attained videha mukti ("freedom from embodiment"). There is a samadhi mandir dedicated to Adi Shankara behind the Kedarnath temple. However, there are variant traditions on the location of his last days. One tradition, expounded by Keraliya Shankaravijaya, places his place of death as Vadakkunnathan temple inThrissur, Kerala. The followers of the Kanchi kamakoti pitha claim that he ascended the Sarvajñapīṭhaand attained videha mukti in Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu).
At least two different dates have been proposed for Shankara:
§ 788–820 CE: This is the mainstream scholarly opinion, placing Shankara in mid to late 8th century CE. These dates are based on records at the Śṛṅgeri Śāradā Pīṭham, which is the only matha to have maintained a relatively unbroken record of its Acharyas; starting with the third Acharya, one can with reasonable confidence date the others from the 8th century to the present. The Sringeri records state that Shankara was born in the 14th year of the reign of "VikramAditya", but it is unclear as to which king this name refers. Though some researchers identify the name with Chandragupta II (4th. c. CE), modern scholarship accepts the VikramAditya as being from the Chalukya dynasty of Badami, most likely Vikramaditya II (733–746 CE), which would place him in the middle of the 8th c. The date 788–820 is also among those considered acceptable by Swami Tapasyananda, though he raises a number of questions. It is also acceptable to Keay.
§ 509–477 BCE: This dating, more than a millennium ahead of all others, is based on records of the heads of the Shankara Maṭhas atDwaraka matha and Puri matha and the fifth Peetham at Kanchi. However, such an early date is not consistent with the fact that Shankara quotes the Buddhist logician Dharmakirti, who finds mention in Huen Tsang (7th c.). Also, his near-contemporary Kumarila Bhatta is usually dated ca. 8th c. CE. Most scholars feel that due to invasions and other discontinuities, the records of the Dwarka and Puri mathas are not as reliable as those for Sringeri. Thus, while considerable debate exists, the pre-Christian Era dates are usually discounted, and the most likely period for Shankara is during the 8th c. CE.
Adi Shankara founded four Maṭhas (Sanskrit: मठ) to guide the Hindu religion. These are at Sringeriin Karnataka in the south, Dwaraka in Gujarat in the west, Puri in Orissa in the east, andJyotirmath (Joshimath) in Uttarakhand in the north. Hindu tradition states that he put in charge of these mathas his four main disciples: Sureshwaracharya, Hastamalakacharya,Padmapadacharya, and Totakacharya respectively. The heads of the mathas trace their authority back to these figures. Each of the heads of these four mathas takes the title of Shankaracharya("the learned Shankara") after the first Shankaracharya. The table below gives an overview of the four Amnaya Mathas founded by Adi Shankara and their details.
Prajñānam brahma (Brahman is Knowledge)
Aham brahmāsmi (I am Brahman)
Tattvamasi (That thou art)
Ayamātmā brahma (This Atman is Brahman)
Main article: Advaita Vedanta
The Hamsa (Sanskrit: "swan") is an important motif in Advaita Vedanta. Its symbolic meanings are as follows: firstly, upon verbally repeating hamsa, it becomessoham (Sanskrit, "I am That"). Secondly, even as a hamsa lives in water its feathers are not sullied by it, a liberated Advaitin lives in this world full of Maya but is untouched by its illusion. Thirdly, a monk of the Dashanamiorder is called a Paramahamsa ("supreme hamsa")
Advaita ("non-dualism") is often called a monistic system of thought. The word "Advaita" essentially refers to the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman). Advaita Vedanta says the one unchanging entity (Brahman) alone exists, and that changing entities do not have absolute existence, much as the ocean's waves have no existence in separation from the ocean. The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta are the Prasthanatrayi–the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras.
Adi Shankara was the first in the tradition to consolidate the siddhānta ("doctrine") of Advaita Vedanta. He wrote commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi. A famous quote from Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, one of his prakarana granthas that succinctly summarises his philosophy is:
Brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā, jīvo brahmaiva nāparah
Brahman is the only truth, the spatio-temporal world is an illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self.
Advaita Vedanta is based on śāstra ("scriptures"), yukti ("reason") and anubhava ("experience"), and aided by karmas ("spiritual practices"). 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 realised in practice throughout one's life, even up to death. This is the reason why this philosophy is called an experiential philosophy-the underlying tenet being "That thou art", meaning that ultimately there is no difference between the experiencer and the experienced (the world) as well as the universal spirit (Brahman). Among the followers of Advaita, as well those of other doctrines, there are believed to have appeared Jivanmuktas, ones liberated while alive. These individuals (commonly called Mahatmas, great souls, among Hindus) are those who realised the oneness of their self and the universal spirit called Brahman.
Adi Shankara's Bhashyas (commentaries) on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras are his principal works. Although he mostly adhered to traditional means of commenting on the Brahma Sutra, there are a number of original ideas and arguments to establish that the essence of Upanishads is Advaita. He taught that it was only through direct knowledge that one could realize Brahman. "A perception of the fact that the object seen is a rope will remove the fear and sorrow which result from the illusory idea that it is a serpent". Cited from Shankara's "Vivekachuudaamani"/ verse #12/translated by Mohini M Chatterji. This metaphor was borrowed from YogacaraBuddhist thinkers, who used it in a different context.
Adi Shankara's opponents accused him of teaching Buddhism in the garb of Hinduism, because his non-dualistic ideals seemed rather radical to contemporary Hindu philosophy. However, although Advaita proposes the theory of Maya, explaining the universe as a "trick of a magician", Adi Shankara and his followers see this as a consequence of their basic premise that Brahman alone is real. Their idea of Maya emerges from their belief in the reality of Brahman, as opposed to Buddhist doctrines of emptiness, which emerge from the empirical Buddhist approach of observing the nature of reality.
Pande (1994: p. 255) identifies the entwined relationship of Buddhism and the view of Shankara:
The relationship of Śaṅkara to Buddhism has been the subject of considerable debate since ancient times. He has been hailed as the arch critic of Buddhism and the principal architect of its downfall in India. At the same time he has been described as a Buddhist in disguise. Both these opinions have been expressed by ancient as well as modern authors--scholars, philosophers, historians and sectaries.
While Shankara is given credit for the defeat of Buddhism in Hindu literature, he was in fact active after Buddhism had almost entirely faded from prominence. In particular, he was not a contemporary of the last great Indian Buddhist philosopher, Dharmakirti. When Shankara came north to the intellectual centers there, he borrowed many of the ideas that had been formulated by Buddhist philosophers of the past.
In his exposition that the world is an illusion, Shankara borrowed arguments from Madhyamaka and Yogacara, though he disagreed with them on some matters. Despite this, Shankara described the Buddha as an enemy of the people.
At the time of Adi Shankara's life, Hinduism was increasing in influence in India at the expense of Buddhismand Jainism. Hinduism was divided into innumerable sects, each quarreling with the others. The followers ofMimamsa and Sankhya philosophy were atheists, insomuch that they did not believe in God as a unified being. Besides these atheists, there were numerous theistic sects. There were also those who rejected the Vedas, like the Charvakas.
Adi Shankara 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 of Shanmatasystem. In his works, Adi Shankara stressed the importance of the Vedas, and his efforts helped Hinduism regain strength and popularity. Many trace the present worldwide domination of Vedanta to his works. He travelled on foot to various parts of India to restore the study of the Vedas.
Even though he lived for only thirty-two years, his impact on India and on Hinduism was striking. He reintroduced a purer form of Vedic thought. His teachings and tradition form the basis of Smartism and have influenced Sant Mat lineages. He is the main figure in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta. He was the founder of the Daśanāmi Sampradāya of Hindu monasticism and Ṣaṇmata of Smarta tradition. He introduced thePañcāyatana form of worship.
Adi Shankara, along with Madhva and Ramanuja, was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism. These threeteachers formed the doctrines that are followed by their respective sects even today. They have been the most important figures in the recent history of Hindu philosophy. In their writings and debates, they providedpolemics against the non-Vedantic schools of Sankhya, Vaisheshika etc. Thus they paved the way for Vedantato be the dominant and most widely followed tradition among the schools of Hindu philosophy. The Vedanta school stresses most on the Upanishads (which are themselves called Vedanta, End or culmination of theVedas), unlike the other schools that gave importance to the ritualistic Brahmanas, or to texts authored by their founders. The Vedanta schools hold that the Vedas, which include the Upanishads, are unauthored, forming a continuous tradition of wisdom transmitted orally. Thus the concept of apaurusheyatva ("being unauthored") came to be the guiding force behind the Vedanta schools. However, along with stressing the importance of Vedic tradition, Adi Shankara gave equal importance to the personal experience of the student. Logic, grammar, Mimamsa and allied subjects form main areas of study in all the Vedanta schools.
Regarding meditation, Shankara refuted the system of Yoga and its disciplines as a direct means to attain moksha, rebutting the argument that it can be obtained through concentration of the mind. His position is that the mental states discovered through the practices of Yoga can be indirect aids to the gain of knowledge, but cannot themselves give rise to it. According to his philosophy, knowledge of brahman springs from inquiry into the words of the Upanishads, and the knowledge of brahman that shruti provides cannot be obtained in any other way.Moreover, Shankara was committed to the caste system. He also believed that the most important access to highest truth was Vedic texts, and that access to these liberating texts should be socially restricted to upper-caste males.
It has to be noted that it is generally considered that for Shankara the Absolute Reality is attributeless and impersonal, while for Madhava andRamanuja, the Absolute Truth is Vishnu. This has been a subject of debate, interpretation, and controversy since Shankara himself is attributed to composing the popular 8th century Hindu devotional composition Bhaja Govindam (literal meaning, "Worship Govinda"). This work of Adi Shankara is considered as a good summary of Advaita Vedanta and underscores the view that devotion to God, Govinda, is not only an important part of general spirituality, but the concluding verse drives through the message of Shankara: "Worship Govinda, worshipGovinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool! Other than chanting the Lord's names, there is no other way to cross the life's ocean". Bhaja Govindaminvokes the almighty in the aspect of Vishnu; it is therefore very popular not only with Sri Adi Shankaracharya's immediate followers, theSmarthas, but also with Vaishnavas and others.
A well known verse, recited in the Smarta tradition, in praise of Adi Shankara is:
श्रुति स्मृति पुराणानामालयं करुणालयं|
नमामि भगवत्पादशंकरं लॊकशंकरं ||
Śruti smṛti purāṇānāṃālayaṃ karuṇālayaṃ|
Namāmi Bhagavatpādaśaṅkaraṃ lokaśaṅkaraṃ||
I salute the compassionate abode of the Vedas, Smritis and Puranas known as Shankara Bhagavatpada, who makes the world auspicious.
See also: History of Hinduism
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Deva Maheshwara. Guru Sakshath Parambrahma, Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha. (tr: Guru is the creator Brahma, Guru is the preserver Vishnu, Guru is the destroyer Shiva. Guru is directly the supreme spirit — I offer my salutations to this Guru.)
For more details on this topic, see Works of Adi Shankara.
Adi Shankara's works deal with logically establishing the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta as he saw it in the Upanishads. He formulates the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta by validating his arguments on the basis of quotations from the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures. He gives a high priority to svānubhava ("personal experience") of the student. His works are largely polemical in nature. He directs his polemics mostly against the Sankhya, Buddha, Jaina, Vaisheshika and other non-vedantic Hindu philosophies.
Traditionally, his works are classified under Bhāṣya ("commentary"), Prakaraṇa grantha ("philosophical treatise") and Stotra ("devotional hymn"). The commentaries serve to provide a consistent interpretation of the scriptural texts from the perspective of Advaita Vedanta. The philosophical treatises provide various methodologies to the student to understand the doctrine. The devotional hymns are rich in poetry and piety, serving to highlight the relationship between the devotee and the deity.
Adi Shankara wrote Bhashyas on the ten major Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. In his works, he quotes from Shveshvatara, Kaushitakai, Mahanarayana and Jabala Upanishads, among others. Bhashyas on Kaushitaki, Nrisimhatapani and Shveshvatara Upanishads are extant but the authenticity is doubtful. Adi Shankara's is the earliest extant commentary on the Brahma Sutras. However, he mentions older commentaries like those of Dravida, Bhartrprapancha and others.
In his Brahma Sutra Bhashya, Adi Shankara cites the examples of Dharmavyadha, Vidura and others, who were born with the knowledge ofBrahman acquired in previous births. He mentions that the effects cannot be prevented from working on account of their present birth. He states that the knowledge that arises out of the study of the Vedas could be had through the Puranas and the Itihasas. In the Taittiriya Upanishad Bhashya 2.2, he says:
Sarveśāṃ cādhikāro vidyāyāṃ ca śreyah: kevalayā vidyāyā veti siddhaṃ
It has been established that everyone has the right to the knowledge (of Brahman) and that the supreme goal is attained by that knowledge alone.
Among the independent philosophical treatises, only Upadeśasāhasrī is accepted as authentic by modern academic scholars. Many other such texts exist, among which there is a difference of opinion among scholars on the authorship of Viveka Chudamani. The former pontiff of Sringeri Math, Shri Shri Chandrashekhara Bharati III has written a voluminous commentary on the Viveka Chudamani.
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§ Isayeva, Natalia (1993). Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press (SUNY).
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§ Greaves, Ron (March 2002). From Totapuri to Maharaji: Reflections on a Lineage (Parampara). 27th Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, Oxford.
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