Hinduism: Hindu Renaissance – An Era of Sri Adi Shankar Acharya – 32

Hinduism: Hindu Renaissance – An Era of Sri Adi Shankar Acharya – 32


Hinduism has been a vibrant religion throughout
millennia. Every religion has phases of peaks and ebbs. After a glorious epoch of the Vedic period,
there came a temporary decline. The prolonged ritual ceremonies of the Aryan
system, together with undue dominance of the Brahmin class, had a negative effect on the
growth and sustenance of Hinduism. Excessive religious formalities and the over-exploitation
of the lower castes caused severe damage to the cause of the religion. Time was thus ripe for alternative options
to sprout. Jainism and Buddhism were born as alternative
spiritual paths and in due course became very well established religions. From this big jolt, many attempts were made
to revive and rejuvenate the decadent Hindu religion. The Gupta Empire (320–500 CE) has been described,
as an era of Hindu revival. There was Hindu activity in the form of construction
of many magnificent temples, although this dynasty supported the Buddhist and Jain religions
as well. This period has been hailed as the golden
period of Indian culture, but it was not until the eighth century, that an ascetic of the
highest caliber came forward to uphold the dwindling flame of Hinduism. He was Adi Shankar Acharya (788–820). His name will be always remembered for playing
a major role in reorganizing and reforming the system. In Hindu theology, it is believed that whenever
there is a steep downfall of the religion, God reincarnates as the savior. Adi Shankar’s arrival is considered to be
the God’s intervention. Not only was he a child prodigy who mastered
all the major scriptures at the tender age of seven years, but he also went by foot to
all four corners of the country. He then established four major religious monastic
centers, or maths, in India: the Sringeri Math on the Sringeri hills near Mysore in
the South; the Sarda Math at Dwarka in the West; the Jyotir Math at Badrinath in the
North; and the Govardhan Math at Puri in the East. Shankara also organized hundreds of monasteries
into a ten order, dashanami system, which were assigned to these four pontifical centers,
the head of which was known as Shankaracharya. The hierarch of the monastery at Puri is regarded
as the teacher of the universe, the Jagadguru Shankaracharya. Shankara brought all the warring sects under
one roof and wrote voluminous commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and
the Braham Sutra. These scriptures remain classic authorities
even today. Anyone who is interested in the philosophy
of Hinduism cannot afford to bypass this genius of the Hindu mind. Among the many reforms that he affirmed was
the toning down of oppressive formalities. Adi Shankar was a strong proponent of Advaitya—God
is all, and everything is but his manifestation. He, however, was very accommodating to the
dualistic Dvaitya philosophy as well. Adi Shankar’s devotional poetic work Bhaj
Govindam, mentioned in the later part of this chapter, is a testimony of his universal approach. Indeed, it was his broad vision of integrating
different divisions of Hindu society that will be forever gratefully remembered. Even as the evils of the caste system and
other problems were nibbling at the roots of Hinduism, the three factions—Shaivites,
Vaishnavites, and Shaktas—started to pull in opposing directions. Shaivite Hindus worship Lord Shiva as the
Supreme God. This sect is mainly based on temple worship,
and Siddha yoga. Renunciation (sanyasa), austerities (tapas),
meditation, and mysticism form an integral part of it. It has close links with both the ancient Sindhu-Saraswati
civilization as well as the Dravidian culture. Vaishnavite Hindus worship Lord Vishnu as
the Supreme God, who has incarnated multiple times but mainly as Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. They often address God as Purushottoma, the
noblest amongst persons. They are dualistic, considering God separate
and higher than all beings. Shakta Hindus worship Shakti or Devi as the
supreme goddess in the form of the Divine Mother. The origin of this sect also may have a link
with the ancient Sindhu-Saraswati culture. The Shakti goddess has many forms, too. Shaktas practice Kundalini yoga, with many
rituals of Tantra. Apart from these three main sects, there are
innumerable smaller divisions and sub-sects among the Hindu religious organization. All Hindu sects, however, have more unifying
elements than those of division. The diversity of Hinduism is based on the
ethnic origins of different groups of society as well as the distinct aspirations of the
individuals. Violence among each other is conspicuous by
its absence. All sects uphold the supremacy of the Vedas
and also accept the basic philosophies of karma (as you sow, so shall you reap), reincarnation
(punarjanam), the eternal cycle of birth and death (samsara), salvation (moksha), and God
incarnation (Avtar Karan). The differences among the various sects are
minor and add diversity in place of uniformity. Adi Shankar then also popularized the ancient
unified sect Smartas—those who believed in all deities and classical Hindu scriptures. He re-established the worship of the five
deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya, and Ganesh (Panch Deva Sthapana). Later he also added the sixth Kumara, and
came to be known as Shanmata Sthapanacharya. In the dwindling phase of Hindu society, his
organizing a major unity program among the different sects caused him to be seen as a
great savior. In fact, this opened later the worship of
unlimited number of deities in Hindu theology, according to one’s choice, without any restraint
whatsoever. The concept of adopting a preferential personal
deity (ishta devta) became more accepted. This notion was in conformity with the essential
Vedic teaching: Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti (One alone exists; sages call it by various
names.) More recent Hindu temples, especially those
in foreign countries, are generally multi-deity temples. The Hindu pantheon has the unique distinction
of housing many different gods under one roof, adding even new gods periodically. Soon after Adi Shankar came yet another jewel
of Hinduism, also from the South: Ramanuja (1017–1137). He also largely contributed to the renaissance
of Hinduism. His philosophy was based on qualified non-dualism
(Vishishta dvaita—God is above all). God is superior to everything else. Ramanuja advocated devotion or surrender to
the Supreme Lord for realization of divine knowledge. There was yet a third school of monism (Dvaia
Vedanta), propounded by Sri Madhvacharya (1119–1278). Sri Shankaracharya also wrote the immortal
classic Bhaj Govindam, a devotional scripture in which his main spiritual teachings have
become the beacon of light for millions of Hindus. Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda, Worship
Govinda, O foolish one! Rules of grammar will profit nothing, once
the hour of death draws near! Thus, he emphasized true worship above the
formalities of rituals and ceremonies. “Many are with matted locks, with closely
shaven heads, and many who pluck out all their hair and wear robes of ochre or are clad in
other colors, but all this is for the sake of their stomachs. The deluded ones, even seeing the Truth revealed
before them, see it not.” He painted the picture, very boldly and bluntly,
of all the pseudo saints, whether they belonged to the Hindu, Buddha, or Jain religions. One of the most prominent authorities on Hindu
philosophy in modern times, Swami Chinmayananda, has aptly noted:
“These three schools of thought are not so much competing and contradicting theories,
as explanations of necessary stages we must pass through in our pilgrimage to the peak
of our perfection. Only the intellectual pundits quarrel and
seek to establish as the one or the other declaration as superior.” Paramhansa Yogananda said:
“A combination of personal theism and the philosophy of the Absolute is an ancient achievement
of Hindu thought, expounded in the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. This reconciliation…satisfies heart and
head.”

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