Shankara
(seventh century C.E.)
   founder of Vedanta philosophy
   Shankara was the great seventh-century philo-sophical genius who created the first widely known school of VEDANTA. He is also known as Shankaracharya.
   Shankara was born in Kerala to a family of Nambudiri BRAHMINS, a strict Vedic group. Legend has it that when he was eight years old he wanted to become a renunciant, but his mother would not hear of it. Not long afterward, he was attacked by a crocodile. He cried out to his mother to allow him to renounce the world a moment before death so that he could reach liberation from birth and rebirth. His mother consented, and Shankara was miraculously released from the mouth of the crocodile.
   He then proceeded to tour India and debate all those whom he encountered. Eventually he became known as the most brilliant philosopher of his time. Following the lineage of his GURU’s guru Gaudpada, he argued that the BRAHMAN of the UPANISHADS was the only reality. He saw the world as a mere trifle, an illusion, or MAYA, unreal from the point of view of the ultimate.
   Shankara wrote commentaries on the VEDANTA SUTRA, the Upanishads, and the BHAGAVAD GITA. In a thoroughgoing analysis he found that they all expressed the understanding that only the path of knowledge, the true knowing of the brahman, could lead to liberation. Devotion and works were only secondary pursuits. He initiated a tra-dition of renunciant yogis (the SHANKARACHARYA ORDER) who sought the full realization of the brahman in a state of being, consciousness, and bliss (SAT-CHIT-ANANDA). Shankara’s name is also connected strongly to SHAIVISM and to the wor-ship of the GODDESS, through texts that were later attributed to him.
   Shankara’s system of Vedanta is known as the ADVAITA, or non-dual, VEDANTA, or more properly, Kevala (absolute) advaita Vedanta.
   Further reading: S. N. Dasgupts, History of Indian Philosophy, 5 vols. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975); Swami Gambhirananda, trans., Eight Upanisads with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, 2d ed. (Calcutta: advaita Ashrama, 1965–66); Karl Potter, Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 3, Advaita Vedanta Up to Sankara and His Pupils (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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