Monday, May 7, 2012

India's Ideas

India can be described as the country which has seen the beginning of history of civilization. Now its the country rushing into the future when one day when it becomes a global super power revolutionary wheel would have come full cycle for India. Country that played most prominent role in ancient times would take center stage in modern era. Civilization in India has long been driven by search for knowledge and truth unlike other settlements across the globe. The thinkers, the priests and the poets have occupied higher positions in the society than the warriors. This is the land where we often hear about the stories of a person renouncing the kingdom seeking enlightenment and to abolish suffering. Indian history as a whole and few greats here contested the idea that history should only be written by men in war. From Buddha to Ghandhi Indian history has got to offer lots of such personalities. Personalities who had powerful thinking and ideas, such revolutionary ideas which changed entire course of history of entire world.  
Continuity of old ritual order could be found in many places even now. Where majority of rituals could be attributed to very few people. India has produced series of influential thinkers; here I am going to discuss who according to me are two most powerful thinkers India has ever produced and whose ideas have touched majority of lives in our nation.
Gautama Buddha

"India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border."
Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA

Well one of the major reason behind this is Buddha, even now his followers in the form of Dalai Lama are still causing problems for China. Western history is full of men of violence like Hitler Alexander and Napoleon who made a mark in war. Strangely in India this man sat under a tree meditating went on to re shape the history. This guy challenged the old order.
Being born as a prince its said that foretellers predicted him to be a great king or a great philosopher. Buddha when 29 years old on seeing the suffering people go through in his kingdom renounced his princely life and wealth in search for answers and in search for truth.
He first visited Rajahgaha where he begged for alms. Here the King Bimbasara offered him a place to stay. He learnt meditation and austerities from saints Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta. Still unconvinced, his quest for answers continued. After this is when the famous incident happened. He sat under a pupil tree which now is known as Bodh gaya, Bihar and got enlightened. Thus its said he got the name “Buddha” – The enlightened soul.
He then travelled to the city Wat Chedi Liam (in present day Thailand) where he gets 5 friends who became his first disciples. Its said that he taught the 4 noble truths, his famous teaching to them here. Then he propagated his doctrine of 8 fold path. The link to the teachings is this and this respectively. He then spent next 45 years of his life by travelling and preaching peace. 

Few centuries later is when Buddhism is said to have been flourished. King Ashoka (grand son of Chandra Gupta Maurya ) of Magadha empire is known to have shepherded  Buddhism which then spread across India and other parts of world. In his initial days as the King, he is known to be one of the cruelest kings of Indian times. He even built a torture chamber and had hundreds of men and women tortured. Its said the battle of Kalinga where he saw more than 1,50,000 men die was the catalyst in his transformation. On seeing thousands of men die for a cause not greater than these dead men he realized non violence is the way forward. Ashoka turned to the religion of peace - Buddhism. This completely changed everything, he even went on have police force deployed to arrest people torturing animals (from he himself building torture chamber to protect animals from being tortured is a long way I would say). This guy enforced what Blue cross is doing now 2300 years back. He built thousands of Stupas and donated loads and loads of gold to the monasteries. Its also believed Ashoka sent representatives to Afghanistan, China, Sri Lanka, Greece, Africa, Babylonia for world peace. Eventually the greatest empire India has ever seen patronized Buddhism. Thus a secular India was born in 300 BC.       
As quoted by BBC, “There were many empires in world created with sword, only in India empires were created with spirit.”
What more is the height of honor than having Ashoka’s wheel in our national flag !. Such was the influence of this great man Buddha on Indians.
Vivekananda also said “Aim of Buddhism was to reform the vedic religion by standing against ceremonials requiring offerings of animals, against hereditary caste and exclusive priesthood and against belief in permanent souls. It never attempted to destroy that religion or overturn the social order.
He continued “The popularity of Buddhism and its fresh vigour  made the Maurya kings the greatest emperors that India has ever had. The power of Maurya sovereigns made Buddhism that worldwide religion that we see even today.
The extreme adaptability in the long run made Indian Buddhism lose almost all its individuality and extreme desire to be of the people made it unfit to cope with the intellectual forces of the mother religion in few centuries.The Vedic party in meanwhile got rid of a good deal of its most objectionable features, as animal sacrifice and took lessons from rival daughter in judicious use of images, temple processions and other impressive performances and stood ready to take within her fold the whole empire of Indian Buddhism
Today nearly 400 million people around the world are Buddhist and see here ( for the break up by country.  In the Middle Ages Buddhism was wiped out of heart land of India, due to various reasons like many of Buddhist stupas, monasteries and universities destroyed by invaders (Buddhism was highly centralized with majority of religious happenings in monasteries and by monks) and Hindu faith gaining momentum after arrival of a man whom I have discussed in next topic.   

Adi Shankara (AD 788 to AD 820)
 Shankara appeared as an eager champion of the orthodox faith and spiritual reformer. He tried to bring back the age from the brilliant luxury of the Puranas to the mystic truth of the Upanishads. The power of faith to lead the soul to the higher life became for him the test of its strength. He felt impelled to attempt the spiritual direction of his age by formulating a philosophy and religion which could satisfy the ethical and spiritual needs of the people better than the systems of Buddhism, Mimamsa and Bhakti.”        
Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Former president of India

Kalady in Kerala, it was not just another birthplace; it was the fountainhead of a spiritual revolution of Vedic culture or Sanatana Dharma which helped the books and faces of scholars preaching Advaitham philosophy bloom as a lotus and shattered the hopes of dualistic (Dhvaitham) scholars. By the age of ten he not only was well versed in all major scriptures (like Vedas and Upanishads) he had written commentaries on many of them.

Birth place of Adi Shankara

The death of his father did affect him like how a fall of apple affected Newton. This set a puzzle in his mind and the riddle was life and death which he determined to solve. Adding to it were the people around him including his teachers who seldom practiced what was taught to him. Soon, stories of miracles grew around the boy. Shankara burning with youthfulness set out a journey in which he would renounce everything in search of meaning of existence and would lead people back to paths of truth. This is when he wrote “Moha Mudgaram” – The shattering of Illusion (popularly known as Bhaja Govindam ). On going for Bhiksha he came across a lady coming from poor family who did have only gooseberry to offer for this bhramana, he was touched to the core that he composed Kanakadhara Stotra . This hymn on goddess of wealth Lakshmi , made her fill the lady’s house with gold. The blessed house Swarnathu Mana (golden house) still exists about 30km from Kalady. At the time when most population in entire world was were nomads fighting with fellow animals for day to day survival and when they dint know existence of institutions like schools or education this 10 year kid was disgusted by the emptiness of book knowledge and started on his path which would transform thinking and lives of millions of people for ages together. A journey that changed the cultural foundation of our nation.
At the age of eight Adi Shankara left Kalady in a hunt for a Guru. He covered 1675 Kms across and reached Omkareshwar, where he found Bhagavadpada in a state of nirvikalpa nishta (single-minded devotion) in a cave on the banks of the river Narmada. This cave went on to become a popular Hindu shrine where huge gathering of people is common during Karthika Purnima festival (annual full moon fair). Even now in Omkareshwar it is believed that all the stones in Narmada are part of Shankara and that taking one from the river is equal to taking a part of him with you. Such is the power and respect that Shankara enjoys even now.
At a time when the entire nation was in a great collapse and decline (Politically, socially and culturally) Shankara got going. Following were the situation when he started on his journey
·         Buddhism was patronized in most of the major kingdoms across India. Namely  Maurya empire, The Gupta empire and Harsha empire.
·         Guptas declined by the middle of 7th century
·         Pallavas ruling Kanchi were beginning to decline
·         Chalukya were falling in Sringeri and peninsular India
·         Most of central India, was turbulent due to the problems caused by armies of the Rashtrakutas, the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
·         Kashmir was not stable as well. The powerful Lalitaditya had been threatening the kingdoms of the Gangetic plain, including Kanauj, and one ruler of Kanauj even sought the help of the emperor of China against him, though in vain. Lalitaditya finally defeated and slew Yasovarman of Kanauj. By the time Shankara reached Kashmir, its imperial glory had more or less faded under a succession of weak kings.
·         Kerala : land of different faiths.
o   Christianity was established after the arrival of St Thomas the Apostle and Thomas of Canaan.
o   Islam via traders in Arab
o   At around 755 to 765 AD there was a small settlement of Jewish population in cochin.
·         Shankara’s birth could not have happened more favorable geography than Kerala  

When the nation was unstable with kingdoms failing, people’s faith falling, people not able to find answers for values of life & paths to heaven and when more confusion set in mankind with the advent and flourish of relatively new and dynamic ideas in the form of Buddhism, came Shankarachrya.
“Adi Shankara strove hard to synthesize the diverse currents that were troubling the mind of India of his day, and to build a unity of outlook out of that diversity. In a brief life of 32 years, he did the work of many long lives and left such an impression of his powerful mind and rich personality on India that it is very evident today. He was a curious mixture of a philosopher and a scholar, an agnostic and a mystic, a poet and a saint, and in addition to all this, a practical reformer and an able organizer.”
Jawaharlal Nehru, in The Discovery of India
To educate people on the doctrine of Advaitha, Adi Shankara had numerous debates in all parts of our nation and as the legend goes never was he defeated in any of the debate. Shankara is said to have fierce debate which lasted for 16 days with Vyasa. This debate went on to be endless and inconclusive. It is then both were asked to stop as Vyasa popularly known as embodiment of Vishnu and Shankara being embodiment of Shiva. Another is the famous debate where Shankara defeated Mandana Mishra. Mandana Mishra was famous lawyer of the idea Gruhasthan (a man who has a family) is far more superior to Sanyasi, where as Shankara represents completely different school of thought. This debate which lasted for 22 days had rules of engagement that states if Mandana won Shankara had to sacrifice sanyasam and if Shankara won Mandana has to become sanyasi. Bharathi wife of Mandana was the referee. It is also believed that Mandana went on to be Adi Shankara’s disciple who was later made in charge of Sringeri Matt in Karnataka.   Magazine The Week quotes that
In Mahishi, Bihar, residents appear unwilling to accept that their learned ancestor was defeated in a debate with Adi Shankara. This village is believed to be the birthplace of philosopher-scholar Mandana Mishra.
An ageing villager, Harishchandra Mishra narrates what his forefathers have passed on: “Mandana's wife, Bharati, intervened and asked her husband to become a disciple of Shankara, to save Sanatana Dharma, which was being overwhelmed by Buddhism.” And that, the villagers believe, is how the debate ended.
Now that he has written and formed the syllabus for people to re-establish the faith he had to start the institutions to propel those. Thus to propel these ideas and to guide people in a way which he professed he established Mattas in all four corner of the country where the legacy still continues.
  1. Sringeri , Karnataka (South)
  2.  Dwaraka, Gujarat (West)
  3. Puri, Orissa (East)
  4. Jyotirmath, Uttarkand (North)
  5. Kanchipuram , Tamil Nadu. (This few disagree on whether Shankara found it.)

Even now lots of kids are undergoing Gurukula style training in Vedas in these Matts. Where kids have to choose the Vedas and they would be placed in appropriate department. The course varies from 6 year course to 12 year course. After finishing the course students get placed in various temples across India and on interacting with Gurus in Sringeri Matt I came to know students get placed in Temples located in USA, Singapore, Malaysia and lots of countries. Amazing, is’nt it!
He organized and structured the the current system of worship in various parts of our country like
  • ·         Omkareshwar, Madhya Pradesh
  • ·         Kollur Mookambika temple, Karnataka
  • ·         Badrinath temple. He also appointed a Brahmin from Kerala to carry out the day-to-day rituals.       The tradition continues even today with the chief priest known as Rawal.
  • ·         Kashi Vishwanath temple, Varanasi. It is here that he wrote his commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, the Gita and the Upanishads.
  • ·         Puri Jagannath temple. Here he established Jagannath idol and also a seat of scholars at Puri to regulate temple rituals. The king made him the head of this seat, called Mukti Mandap. Shankara was allowed to wear his khadaun (wooden footwear), carry an umbrella and use a mattress to sit inside the temple, a practice still followed by the Shankaracharyas.
  • ·         Narsimha temple on the Joshimath-Badrinath highway was established by Shankara.
  • ·         Kedarnath in the Himalayas. Shankara's samadhi is located a few yards behind the Kedarnath temple. Worship at Shankara's samadhi takes place once a year on the Guru Purnima day.
  • ·         He inspired whole lot of spiritual thinkers who was to come after him on the likes of Ramakrishna pramahamsa, Vivekananda……

Considering all this, its fair to say this great person has influenced most of the Hindu souls which is dead and living after him in their faith and religion.


  1. very different post! :) well written!!

  2. This paper you can submit to some university.
    You may get a P.hd.Degree.

    1. ha ha, thr are better writers than this ... this was just a trial.. thanks Raghu for that ...

    2. Hi uncle , sorry I mistook you to another friend of mine .. Thats why previous comment ...

  3. Well writte. Should inspire fellow Readers to Learn more about Sankara and Buddha.Sankaa's Commentary ( Bhashyam) for Gita and Vishnu Sahasranamam are Noted Works.
    Keep writing. All The Best.

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