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19. The Ascent

 

The great Acharya proceeded towards Saurashtra accompanied by a huge conquering army of devotees and disciples. At every place through which the monks passed, great crowds would collect to have a look at the Acharya and listen to his heavenly discourses. Many scholars and Brahmins also accompanied the Acharya. In order to institute the rites of worship of the five deities among the common people, the Acharya would some Brahmins behind in different places so that they might teach the rites of worship to the people. Also in order to propagate Vedanta philosophy he has Sanskrit schools, tolas and Chatushpathis (institutes and universities of Sanskrit learning) set up under the patronage of highly learned Hindus and renowned scholars who accompanied him. Thus permanent provision was made for the propagation of the Vedanta philosophy and Vedic culture.

Wherever the Acharya rested in the evening, crowds of people would gather to see him. All would arrive to derive the benefits of having the Darshan of a God. After a walking tour spread over many days, the Acharya reached Ujjain, the capital of the kingdom of Avanti. At the news of the Acharya's arrival, the capital was bedecked with flags and banners and with the king in front, hundreds of distinguished men and women came out on the way to receive the Acharya and welcome him.

Here, the temple of Mahakala was famous. The Acharya, with his disciples, went first to pay his respects to the deity. He worshipped Mahadeva by composing a charming hymn in his glory. During the worship of the Lord, the solemn notes of drums and tambourines rang out and the whole place was filled with the fragrance of the Agaru scent and burning incense. At the news of the arrival of the Acharya a large crowd had already gathered. All were eager to have a glimpse of the great monk. His attitude of overwhelming devotion touched the hearts of everyone. Seeing the unostentatious mode of life of the noble Acharya, they were all the more curious. After the rites of worship were over, the Acharya came out of the temple and made his abode in the huge courtyard of the temple.

After accepting alms that were offered to him, the Acharya sent for his disciples Padmapada and said, " The famous scholar Bhaskara Pundit lives in this town. Go to him and informing him of my arrival here, tell him that I am challenging him to a debate".

Padmapada informed Bhaskara pundit of the Acharya's arrival and of his intention to meet the former in debate. Hearing this, the pundit also said that he too was eager to have a debate with the Acharya. Very soon the news that there was to be a debate between the Acharya and Bhaskara pundit spread in the town. Thousands of people gathered in the temple of Sri Mahakala. After a respectful exchange of greetings between the two, the debate began. The debate gradually led to sharp controversy and intricate arguments. Both were distinguished scholars and excellent orators versed in the skilful used of words. After a sharp discussion lasting for a long time, Bhaskara gave up his vain attempt of establishing his own views and began attacking the views of his opponent. He said, " In your view, it is the Prakriti or nature that creates distinction between the individual soul and the supreme Self. In reality however that is impossible. For whether existing in the supreme self or in the individual soul, Prakriti can never be the source of distinction. This is because the state of living creatures and that of the soul are both created after Prakriti".

The brilliant Acharya said, " If that is so, how can the mirror be the source of distinction between an object and its reflection? If the mirror can be the source of distinction between an object and its reflection whenever there is but an object, with the help of consciousness alone (face to be reflected), why should not Prakriti be the source of distinction between the living creature and the supreme Self? "

The Acharya presented such powerful arguments in refutation of Bhaskara's view that gradually he began to lose his brilliance before those who were present in the meeting. Defending his point view, the Acharya attacked the Bhedabheda (distinction and identity) theory of Bhaskara sharply saying, " It is true that between the lumps of earth from which earthen vessels are made and the material of the earthen vessel there is a difference on account of their being two different things viz. finished earthen vessel and just a lump of earth. There is also identity because of the earth being common between them. But there cannot be distinction and identity at the same time within the SAME quality. Therefore it is highly improper to speak of Bhedabheda - distinction and identity at the same time". The Acharya established his view with the help of many other points. Unable to hold himself before the very embodiment of knowledge, Bhaskara was gradually forced into silence. The scholars present in the debate declared that the Acharya had won the debate. With lowered head, Bhaskara left the meeting.

In course of his travels, the Acharya passed through many places in Avanti, having temples repaired and the Vedic way set up. Scholars like Bana, Dandi etc were also defeated in debate and became the disciples of the Acharya. Many other scholars and followers of Buddhism and Jainism were also defeated by the Acharya who also had debates with scholars belonging to different sects like Vaishnava, Shakta, Shaiva, Pashupata and Saura. Thus the fame of Advaita spread everywhere.

After visiting Avanti, the Acharya arrived at 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 Dwaraka. All these places were holy and linked with the memories of Lord Krishna. Even though Jains, Buddhists and dualists were prominent in these places, hearing of the Acharya's supernatural scholarship, none of them dared face him in debate. Everywhere the victory of the Acharya and the glory of Advaita Vedanta were proclaimed.

The Acharya arrived at Dwaraka, traveling with his disciples along the coastal path from Prabhasa. Having bathed in the holy waters of river Gomati, he went to the temple of Dwarakadhisha Krishna. He was overcome with joy in the worship of Lord Krishna with a deep feeling of devotion. Many pious men and women lived in that holy city. He inspired all to pursue pure-hearted single-minded spiritual practice leading to the awareness of the identity between the individual Self and the supreme Brahman through desire-less performance of rites and forms of worship, as laid down in the Vedas.

Leaving the town of Dwaraka, the Acharya passed through the shrines of Kanaka, Gurjara and Pushkar and arrived at Sindh. Even before the Acharya's arrival in those places, the stories of his Himalayan achievements had reached. He was greatly honored everywhere. Followers of diverse views came to respect and follow Advaita after hearing the Acharya's lucid exposition of the Vedanta.

From Sindh, the Acharya went to many places of pilgrimage, villages, settlements and towns, preaching the Vedic dharma. He reached thus the country of Gandhara (which was situated between the modern Kabul and Peshawar). At Purushapura, (modern Peshawar), Buddhism was still cruelly dominant. In many monasteries, Buddhist monks lived in large numbers. They were however too doubtful of their own views and philosophy to face the incomparable brilliance and scholarship of the Acharya in a debate. This fact proclaimed the victory of the Vedic dharma everywhere. The Acharya fulfilled the desires of people who sought truth by asking them to follow the Vedic path.

At the cordial invitation of the people of Bahlika country (undivided Punjab), the Acharya proceeded to that region. It was a charming mountainous place. The climate was cool and very healthy. The scenic beauty was breathtaking. Learning that the Acharya had arrived there to propagate and establish Vedic dharma, the local Jaina community was much agitated. The Jainas in a body, challenged the Acharya to debate and a sharp debate began on the basis of Syadvada, the doctrine of sevenfold predication. But the Jaina scholars were unable to hold their own against the Acharya and left the meeting dejectedly. Realizing the superiority of the Acharya's teachings, the people sought his instructions.

At that time, the influence of the Buddhists in the Bahlika country was also not negligible. The Acharya had great debates with Buddhist teachers of Madhyamika (nihilism) and Vijnanavada (subjective idealism) schools. But they appeared to lose all their brilliance in the face of the arguments and conclusions advanced by the Acharya. The Acharya proved that Lord Buddha's spiritual practice was in accordance with the Vedic injunctions and that he attained unqualified supreme knowledge. He had also preached the Vedic truth and the eightfold spiritual practice. It is because they had not properly understood the instructions and the life of Lord Buddha that Buddhists were preaching their theories against the Vedas.

The Acharya went up to Iran and Iraq with his followers and defeating the scholars of these countries, reestablished Vedic dharma there. Muslim invasion of these countries had not yet taken place. Some deteriorating Buddhist influence was however present there, which was purged by the Acharya.

Thereafter, the Acharya established his victory over Kamboja (region of North Kashmir), Darada (Dabistan) and many regions situated in the desert and crossing mighty peaks, entered Kashmir.

The Acharya eventually arrived at Sarada Peetham in Kashmir. This place was at that time an important center of Hindu culture. Eminent scholars from all over India and spiritual aspirants lived there, adding to the glory of the place. There was quite a commotion among the people there at the arrival of the Acharya.

There was at the Sarada Peetham, a famous shrine of the goddess of learning. Inside the temple there was a pedestal known as the Sarvajna Peetha, the seat of omniscience. He alone who was All- knowing was entitled to sit on the pedestal of omniscience. The pedestal was guarded by famous scholars from all over India.

If any scholars arrived there with the ambition of ascending the pedestal of omniscience, they would have to defeat scholars belonging to all the different sects residing around the temple and the right to enter the temple would be acquired by the common consent of the scholars.

Many scholars had come from distant countries to sit upon the Sarvajna Peetha, but none had the fortune of ascending the Peetha. Thus, for long the right to sit upon it was looked upon as a rare privilege, difficult even for the Gods.

After arrival at the Sarada Peetha, one day the Acharya was sitting on the banks of Krishna Ganga when he heard the voices of some scholars. They were saying in the course of their discussion, " Well, he may be an all-conquering scholar but why should we accept his views? He has not yet been able to defeat the scholars here in argument. Besides the Goddess Sarada has also not conferred the title of omniscience upon him. Till this happens, we shall not accept the Acharya's teaching".

Hearing this, the disciples were distressed and requested the Acharya to ascend the Sarvajna Peetha. At the eagerness of his disciples, the Acharya gave silent assent to their request and proceeded towards the temple of Sri Sarada. There was a great commotion among the local scholars at the sight of the Acharya approaching the temple. Immediately they gathered at the four gates of the temple and prepared to challenge the Acharya to debate. There was great excitement everywhere. Many men and women belonging to the place had assembled there out of curiosity on hearing the news.

Asking the other disciples to wait, the Acharya proceeded with some of his important disciples like Padmapada, Sureshwara, Hastamalaka and Totaka towards the holy temple. Seeing the Acharya approaching the disputants addressed him thus, " O noble monk, with what object have you come to attain this great honor? Do you have the qualification the attainment of which alone leads to the right of entry in this temple? Are you versed in all branches of learning? Are you omniscient?"

Holding his head up a little, the Acharya said, " I know all the scriptures. There is nothing beyond the knowledge of my Self. If you want you may test me".

After this exchange of talk, Vaisesikas of Kanada school, Sankhya followers of Kapila, logicians of the Gautama school, Mimamsakas following Jaimini, Buddhists of Sautantrika,Vaibhasika, Madhyamika and Yogachara schools and Jain scholars of Swetambara and Digambara sects standing at the various gates engaged in debates with the Acharya.

An eminent scholar of the Kanada school put a question to the Acharya saying, " O great teacher, if you have mastered all branches of knowledge, tell us what the nature of matter is according to the Vaisesika theory? What is the reason of a Dvayanuka compound ( compound of two atoms) arising out of two atoms? Whence comes the Anutva (atomic quality) in the above compound? "

As soon as the Acharya had heard the question, he said smilingly, " In the Vaisesika theory, it is the dual number belonging to the two atoms of the compound which is the reason of the atomic quality inherent in the two atoms' compound".

Thereafter there were diverse arguments on both sides on the mysteries of the theory of matter. Hearing the Acharya's powerful conclusions, the followers of Kanada school desisted from further dispute and bowed down to the Acharya. Seeing this, the Nyaya scholar who was the follower of Gautama, proudly faced the Acharya and put his question to him, " Well, what is the difference between Kanada's and Gautama's views of liberation and what is the nature of matter according to Gautama ?"

The Acharya replied in solemn tones, " In Kanada's view, the Self devoid of qualities remains like the sky without any possibilities of regeneration - inactive and unattached. In Gautama's view however, existence in this liberated state is endowed with bliss and consciousness. In connection with the nature of matter it is clearly seen that in Kanada's view there are seven types of matter and in Gautama's view there are sixteen categories. There is no conflict between the two views on the nature of matter. Both the theories admit that liberation comes through a knowledge of Reality. The views of Kanada and Gautama are again the same on God, the creator of the universe and the Supreme regulator of all".

Hearing this reply of the Acharya, the theistic logician was satisfied and showing great respect for the Acharya, desisted from debate. Seeing this, a scholar of the Sankhya school arrogantly obstructed the Acharya's path to the temple and questioned him, " Well, can you tell me if the causation of the material universe by original Prakriti in the Sankhya theory, an independent phenomenon or subject to control by the Self as consciousness?"

The Acharya replied in easy tones, " That primordial Prakriti which consists of the three Gunas and has diverse manifestations and which is the source of this material universe is an independent agent according to Kapila. But the truth according to Vedanta is that even this primordial Prakriti is subject to the supreme Brahman that is of the nature of consciousness". Thereafter, there were diverse and intricate arguments on both sides and the Sankhya scholar was eventually quite satisfied and desisted from further debate.

Seeing the Acharya proceed towards another gate, Buddhist and Jain scholars challenged him to a debate. Among the Buddhists, scholars of all the four sects - Madhyamika, Yogachara, Soutantrika and Vaibhashika were present. They said o the Acharya in an insolent manner, " O monk, explain the differences among our four sects and also explain the distinction between the two different theories of Bahyartha Vada (theories of the existence of external objects). What is again the difference between Vedanta and these four doctrines?"

Without pausing a moment for deliberation, the Acharya replied, " Among the followers of Bahyartha Vada, the Sautantrikas say that all objects are known through inference while the Vaibhashikas contend that these are directly perceived. In both the theories, all matter is regarded as momentary every moment, that is to say, matter is regarded as transient. According to the nihilistic Madhyamika view, every thing by nature is void. The awareness of the world is due to a stream of momentary consciousness. In nirvana, even this awareness vanishes. Then everything is realized as void. According to Vedanta, the eternal Brahman alone which is pure, intelligent and free by nature is true. Everything else is illusory and false. If the Sunyavadi (nihilist) regards the void as something existent and the Vijnanavadi (idealist) regards Vijnana (knowledge or consciousness) as fixed and unchanging by nature, there is no difference between them and Vedanta".

The Buddhists were so pleased with the Acharya's rational reply that they all said in unison, "Acharya, you are the fittest person to enter the temple".

But the Jainas did not stop at this. The Jains of the Digambara school demanded of the Acharya arrogantly, " O monk, tell us the real meaning of the word Astikaya. What object is denoted by this word?"

The Acharya smilingly replied, " Since you desire to hear the answer to this question, let me give the answer. By the five words Jivaastikaaya, Pudgalaastikaaya, Dharmaastikaaya, Adharmaastikaaya and Akaashaastikaaya, the following five objects - life, body, virtue, vice and sky are denoted. That which expresses the word `Asti' (to exist) is called Astikaaya. The root `Kai' means sound and from it is derived the word `Astikaaya'".

Hearing the Acharya's words, the Jaina teachers said with great respect to the Acharya, " It is but impertinence to seek to test you. You are a limitless ocean of knowledge and learning. You know all the scriptures and all the branches of learning. We consider ourselves greatly honored even to be defeated by you. Please enter the temple".

But even this did not satisfy the scholars' desire for debate. Even though Mandana, the greatest of the Mimamsakas was accompanying the Acharya as his disciple, the Mimamsakas said to the Acharya by way of a question, "What is the nature of sound or word in Jaimini's view? Is this a substance or a quality?"

The Acharya said in a sweet voice, "Sound is based on letters. The letters are constant and pervasive. When through the ear one becomes aware of the sound, its existence is accepted. Sound accordingly is a particular type of substance according to Jaimini and not a quality".

The Mimamsakas marveled at the Acharya's reply. They said humbly, "We did not put this question in order to test you. We asked only by way of a long standing custom. Please enter the temple".

Thus hearing proper replies to scriptural questions, the scholars who opposed the Acharya honored him in various ways and opened the temple gate so that he might go unimpeded up to the Sarvajna Peetha - the pedestal of omniscience.

People who had assembled in the temple courtyard acclaimed the Acharya's victory. Musical instruments rang out everywhere - their solemn notes filled the air. Amidst that tumult of joy, the Acharya drank of the holy waters of the spring adjacent to the temple and worshipped the Goddess Sarada in a melodiously rhythmic hymn. Everyone at this moment heard an incredibly melodious voice from the heaven, "Dear son Shankara, I am pleased with you. I bestow on you today the title, Sarvajna (omniscient, all-knowing). You alone are worthy of sitting upon this Peetha".

The divine voice of Sarada, the mother of the universe reverberated through the temple. Hearing the divine voice, the Acharya felt an ineffable celestial joy in his heart. This unthinkable event made everyone convinced of the living existence of the Goddess at that place. Taking his seat upon that Peetha bedecked with pearls and jewels, the Acharya satisfied everyone present by explaining the true nature of the great Goddess Parashakti. That unforgettable event was fondly treasured as an imperishable memory in all hearts. It did not take long for the story of the Acharya's ascent on the Sarvajna Peetha to spread everywhere. Staying in the holy Sarada Peetha for some days, the Acharya explained Advaita, Brahman and Self to the common public and formally initiated many worthy recipients into the worship of Sridevi by way of Samayachara, firmly on the basis of Advaita Vedanta.

Thus the Acharya rose to the greatest heights of honor. Can it be a matter of wonder that the Acharya who was Shiva incarnate, whose scholarship compelled the defeat of Mandana born of Brahma's powers, who was declared to be omniscient by the goddess Sarada herself, would be accepted as a Divine being at all? After this, Advaita towered above all the other traditions and entered into the very heart and thus released a tremendous movement in the spiritual world. as a result, deteriorated Buddhism and Jainism lost their luster and became evanescent and gave great impetus to the reawakening of Sanatana Vaidika dharma.

Leaving Sarada Peetham, the Acharya toured many places in Kashmir and arrived at Srinagar. Finding a Shiva temple on a nearby low hilltop, he went to visit the deity there. After visiting the holy deity and worshipping him, the Acharya went to visit the famous shrine of Parashakti at the foot of the hill. Many spiritual aspirants and worshippers lived there undertaking spiritual practices t please the great Goddess. Arriving there, the Acharya worshipped the Goddess overwhelmed by a unique feeling of affection and devotion. His heart was so full of the glory of the goddess that he proclaimed the majesty of the Goddess in a melodious hymn.

The city of Srinagar, which is believed to be constructed in the shape of Srichakra, is also associated with the great hymn of Saundaryalahari. It is said that this great hymn has its origin in the teeth of the Supreme Mother Lalita Mahatripurasundari. The Acharya, during his stay in Srinagar, (some biographers say in Varanasi) disappeared for a time. He transported himself to Mahakailasa, the abode of Paramashiva. There on a wall, he found this great hymn written. He began to read it, but as he read it, Ganesha, the offspring of Shiva, began rubbing it from below, lest this great sage should publicize this highly esoteric hymn in the world of men. So the Acharya could master only the first forty one verses, and in place of what had been erased, he composed an additional fifty-nine verses and made it a full text of hundred verses and published it in the world of men. The Acharya, along with the great jewel of Saundaryalahari, also brought from Mahakailasa, five sets of Ratnagarbha Ganapathy, Srichakra and Chandramouleshwara Linga. These were handed over to Padmapada, Totaka, Sureshwara, Hastamalaka and others who were designated as the heads of the monasteries that the Acharya established in Badari, Dwaraka, Puri, Sringeri and Kanchipuram. The worship of these divine images of Parabrahman, that the Acharya received directly from Mahadeva have been worshipped regularly with immense devotion by the Acharyas of these monasteries till the present day.

The hymn is incomparable not merely from the point of view of poetry and composition but a solemn and beautiful expression of the manner of his acceptance in life of the Parabrahma Shakti. The profound devotion and humility of the Acharya touches the heart of every reader of the hymn. The Acharya has used beautifully in his hymn, all possible similes and metaphors that are known in Sanskrit. There are some doubts regarding the Acharya's authorship of this divine hymn. However, a close look at Subhagodaya, a treatise on Srividya written by Sri Gaudapaadaachaarya establishes Acharya as the author of this hymn beyond any doubt. It is indeed the content of this treatise that is seen reflected in Saundaryalahari.

The Acharya's life was always blessed by the grace of the divine Mother of the cosmos. It was this supreme Parashakti who had appeared to him as Annapurana in Kashi. Again she played her part as Ubhayabharati and then as Sarada, playfully testing the Acharya. She as Mookambika showered her grace on him again. As Kamakshi Mahatripurasundari she manifested in front of him yet again. Thus the Acharya and his successors have always been devoted to the worship of Sridevi, the Chitshakti inseparable from Parabrahman.

The Acharya stayed in Srinagar for a few days preaching the glory of Parashakti and Vedanta. Leaving the Kashmir valley, the Acharya in his expedition of spiritual conquest, followed the course of the Chenab along its bank to step on to the plains and visiting in course of travel, places of pilgrimage like Taxila, Jwalamukhi and Haridwar, arrived at Naimisharanya of Puranic fame.

The glorious story of the Acharya's ascent on Sarada Peetha and the conferment upon him, the title of omniscience had already spread everywhere. For this reason, even though in places like Taxila the Buddhists and Jains were still predominant to some extent, none dared to face the Acharya in debate. Taking this opportunity, the Acharya and his disciples preached among the people the excellence of the Vedanta religion.

The Acharya was, above all, liberal in his approach. He would not ask any one to abandon his own views. He would not even demand of the Buddhists and Jains that they should abjure their faiths. In order to bring about the spiritual welfare of all, he would only demonstrate the imperfections of their views and would ask them to undertake spiritual practice advocated in the scriptures. He combined in his person, the qualities of a Jnani, a Bhakta and a Yogi. According to him, Brahman alone is truth and the universe that we see externally is an illusion. The universe has no existence apart from the Brahman.

The Acharya was also not in favor in making the Shaiva a Vaishnava or vice versa. On the contrary, he would ask everyone to worship his chosen deity as the symbol of Brahman. Even though he was firmly established in the knowledge of Advaita Brahman, he performed the ceremonial worship of Gods and Goddesses as symbols of Saguna Brahman in order to reveal the universality and the vast form of Vedic dharma. The great saying ` Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma', Verily all this is Brahman, found concrete expression in the Acharya's life.

The Acharya directed his disciple Paramakaalaanala, knowing him to be a devotee of Paramashiva to preach devotion to Shiva, based on Advaita and Saguna Brahman. Similarly, he directed his disciple Lakshmana to preach devotion to Narayana, Divakara to preach the glory of Surya, Girijakumara to establish the glory of worship of Ganesha, Batukanatha to preach the worship of Bhairava and Tripura Kumara to spread the knowledge of Shakta doctrine, all based on Advaita and Saguna Brahman. Thus during his life-time itself, the Acharya instituted different forms of worship of the Saguna Brahman through his disciples, in terms of their different aptitudes and qualifications.

The Acharya further said that it is through the knowledge of Brahman alone that absolute liberation is attained. In the state of liberation, the living creature is freed from its physical existence and attains identity with the Parabrahman. But through the worship of Saguna Brahman, one attains concentration of the mind and also the grace of the different Gods and Goddesses who are worshipped. In terms of different aptitudes of the recipients, there is need for rites of worship for different spiritual aspirants. Not everyone can comprehend the truth of Nirguna Brahman. A person who has four spiritual attainments i.e. he who can discriminate between the eternal and the transient objects, who is indifferent to the enjoyment of fruits of one's action here and hereafter, who practices restraint of passions, self-control, abstinence, forbearance, faith and profound meditation and who sincerely seeks liberation, is worthy of receiving the knowledge of the non-dual Brahman.

In the past, the Naimisharanya was an important center of Vedic culture, particularly for those who followed the ritualistic part of the Vedas. There are many references and instances of it in the Puranas. The Acharya on his arrival at Naimisharanya, was deeply distressed in not able to find any signs of the past glory. There was no hermitage of the Rishis, nor was any Vedic chanting heard. Instead there was a complete dominance of Buddhist Tantrikas. The Acharya stayed for quite some time and gradually reformed all the Buddhist Tantrikas. He explained to all that the instructions in the path of knowledge that was given by Lord Buddha was not different from Advaita Vedanta. As a result, many became devoted to Vedic rites and worship.

Leaving Naimisharanya, the Acharya arrived at Ayodhya, the birthplace of Sri Rama. There too through the spread of Buddhism, the worship of Hindu Gods and Goddesses was almost extinct. Arriving at the famous temple of Sri Rama, the Acharya had the shrine repaired and rites of worship instituted. He also gave instructions on the significance of the worship of Sri Rama. As a consequence of his preaching, many took to the worship of the five deities.

Thus, in spite of Buddhist dominance in all those places the Acharya went on preaching about the necessity of Vedic rites and worship of the Lord in accordance with the Vedas and traveling through places like Mithila and Nalanda, arrived at holy Gaya.

From very ancient times Gaya was a great pilgrimage center for offering oblations to forefathers. From different parts of India, people came to offer oblations at the lotus feet of Sri Vishnu for the sake of deliverance of their departed ancestors.

At the place where Lord Buddha attained Buddha-hood, there was a large temple which housed an image of Buddha. In course of time, the place had become a very sacred pilgrimage center for the Buddhists all over the world. before this, the Acharya had declared Lord Buddha to be one of the ten incarnations of Sri Vishnu in his Dashavatara Stotra. Indeed it was through spiritual practices following the Vedic path that Lord Buddha had attained the state of realization. The nirvana that he spoke of was not an empty state of mind but a state full of joy. Nirvana in the Buddhist theory as preached originally by Lord Buddha and Moksha according to Vedanta are synonymous. However, the later followers of Buddhism misinterpreted the teachings and gave a different account of Buddha's doctrine. The Acharya clarified this point and reformed many Buddhist sects.

As a result of the Acharya's acceptance of Buddha as an incarnation of Sri Narayana, the foundations of the Buddhist religion were weakened. The Brahmins of Gaya instituted the worship of Lord Buddha as an incarnation of Sri Vishnu. The effect of such worship was tremendous. House-holder Buddhists of different social levels devoted themselves to the worship of Buddha as an incarnation of Sri Vishnu. Within a short time in places around Gaya and also in far away places, people in large numbers found refuge in Vaidika Dharma.

Leaving the holy city of Gaya, the Acharya explained and preached the Vedic faith in different places of Bengal. Within a short period, the Sanatana Vaidika Dharma came to be instituted at different levels of the society. At that time, Buddhist and Hindu Tantrikas were very powerful all over Bengal. Very few people knew about the very existence of the Vedas. As a result of the Acharya's arrival, Hindu scriptures began to be read and taught in different parts of Bengal. In some places, the house-holder disciples accompanying the Acharya had images of Shiva and Kali installed and encouraged their worship. Scholars were fascinated to hear the exposition of the scriptures and the explanation of the greatness of the Vedas from the Acharya. Shankaracharya was accepted as the visible, living incarnation of the Lord by all.

Completing the work of religious reform in Bengal, the Acharya proceeded towards Pragjyotishapura, Kamarupa and Assam. All over Assam and particularly in Kamarupa, the Tantrikas were predominant. They were accomplished in charms and spells and were skilled in the rites of destruction, mental distraction and bringing the opponent into subjugation. Learning that the Acharya had arrived with his disciples and hundreds of devotees, the then ruler of Pragjyotishapura came out on the way with his officials to greet and receive the Acharya with great respect. Blessing the king, the Acharya with his vast band of disciples, accompanied by the king, arrived at the foot of the Kamakhya hill, the seat of the Yoni Peetha of Goddess Kamakhya, famed in the Puranas. The Acharya ascended the hill and performed the rites of worship at the shrine of Parashakti and remained in meditation for three continuous days. Looking at that meditative, solemn and serene figure, all were filled with respect and devotion for him. The Acharya and his disciples gave instructions in Vedic dharma in terms of the capacities of the listeners. Before the towering personality of the Acharya, all heads were bowed and many became his disciples and engaged themselves in the practice of Vedic Dharma.

Within a few days, the Tantrikas of Kamarupa influenced by the Buddhists and led by a Tantrik Abhinava Gupta [not to be confused with Abhinava Guptapadacharya, the author of works like Tantraloka etc.], challenged the Acharya to debate. Abhinava Gupta tried his best to hold his own but facing the uncommon genius of the Acharya, who was the very embodiment of Sridevi, was something quite beyond his caliber. He had to admit his defeat. As a result, people became attached to Vedic dharma and following the rituals laid down by Rishis like Yagnavalkya, engaged in the worship of the Divine mother by modes of Samayachara.

Abhinava Gupta was not only a powerful Tantrika,but also a very renowned scholar. Defeated in argument, Abhinava Gupta considered himself deeply offended and humiliated. He realized that there was no scholar in the whole world who could defeat the scholarship of the Acharya. As long as the Acharya was alive, the destruction of Vamachara and of gory Tantrik rituals was inevitable. He engaged himself in secret magical rites to bring about the Acharya's death.

Within a few days, signs of an incurable ailment - anal fistula - manifested itself in the Acharya's body. The illness became gradually more serious and the pain was insufferable. There was suppuration and bleeding. The Acharya was however calm and unruffled. He continued giving instructions to various spiritual aspirants without giving a single thought to his body or pain. The disease worsened. The Acharya became extremely weak. Even in that state, the Acharya remained calm and continued to guide his devotees. The supreme Acharya even refused to cure himself, which was just a matter of silly game for him. The disciples were greatly concerned for their beloved master and attended on him to the best of their abilities. Padmapada became anxious for proper medical treatment of the ailment. Asking for permission to send for a doctor, they requested the Acharya.

With a smile, the Acharya said, " My sons, why are you so agitated? A disease is cured only cured through suffering and even if it is inevitable that I should die of it, I have not the slightest regrets. Do not make futile efforts at treatment".

Hearing word of such indifference from their Guru, the disciples held back their tears with great difficulty and said, " Lord of the Yogis, Indeed you have not the slightest attachment to your body, but master, you are our life even as water is life to the creatures that live in it. Saints live for the good of the world even though they themselves have attained their objects of self-realization and are without any desire. You should save yourself for the good of the others. We know that you will not use your limitless powers to cure yourself. But at least allow us to do what is best possible by us".

At this importunate request, the Acharya's heart was overcome with pity. He gave permission for doctors to be brought. The royal physician of that country began treating the Acharya using powerful drugs. But the illness showed not the slightest signs of abatement and on the contrary worsened day by day. All physicians who tried to cure the Acharya gave up hope. The disciples were plunged in sorrow. Meanwhile the overjoyed Abhinava Gupta waited for the moment when the Acharya would breathe his last. The Acharya meanwhile bore in silence the terrible pain of his illness and prepared for death.

The Acharya's patience leaves a deep impression on our minds. Having attained the supreme knowledge, he lived in the state of a Jivanmukta. There was no trace of desire in his heart. He viewed life and death with the same detached attitude. the life of the Acharya is a bright example of how a person who has attained the knowledge of Brahman lives in this world. his was an existence in the supreme being beyond joy and sorrow. The only attitude of his mind towards the world was one of charity.

There was no hope of recovery. The Acharya's death appeared to be inevitable. But would the divine Mother ever permit the victory of the evil? By divine dispensation, the Ashwini Kumaras, the celestial doctors appeared in the garb of young Brahmins. The disciples of the Acharya were surprised to see the young doctors radiantly full of splendid beauty. The eyes of both were painted with collyrium. Books in their hands, they appeared before the Acharya and said, " O great Acharya, it is impossible to treat your ailment for it has occurred from the spell of another person. The only remedy lies in divine intervention". After saying just this, the Ashwini twins went away. The disciples were full of grief and bewildered. The Acharya entered into unbroken Samadhi.

Padmapada was greatly agitated. The though that his Guru was about to die was unbearable to him. Finding no other way, he desperately prayed to his adored deity Sri Nrisimha Bhagavan for the recovery of his Guru. The compassionate Lord, pleased at the deep prayers of his devotee, appeared before Padmapada and said, " Child, there is no disease affecting your great Guru's body. The anal fistula he is suffering from is the result of some Tantrik incantation. Only if you can bring about a counter-spell by the incantation of powerful divine mantras, the Acharya will recover". Saying this, the Lord blessed Padmapada and vanished.

Padmapada, who was an adept in mantra Shastra, had written a commentary on Prapanchasara Tantra. Without wasting any time, he engaged himself in the rites of casting a counter-spell. Abhinava Gupta, who had observed all this from a distance did not remain inactive and proceeded to defend himself. There was bitter struggle between the forces exerted by the spells on either side. But Padmapada, who was a great devotee of Mahatripurasundari, Chandramouleshwara and Nrisimha, and an expert in Tantra Shastra won the battle, defeating the wicked Vamachari by the purity of his path of Samayachara. Within a few days, Abhinava Gupta discovered the incipient signs of anal fistula in his body and fearing public disgrace, fled home. Soon, the Acharya was fully recovered and the Tantrika expired.

The disciples of the Acharya were overjoyed to find their master completely cured. But the Acharya expressed his deep regrets when he learnt of the death of Abhinava Gupta. The incident surprised and frightened the Tantrikas who lived and practiced black magic in Kamarupa. They realized that the aim of Tantric practices was not to be for mean attainments. From now on, Advaita became the only goal of Tantra, which was indeed its true goal. Practices of Tantra, if followed without desires and in complete devotion to Parashakti leads to the knowledge of Brahman. Thus reforming the local Tantrikas, the Acharya initiated them to the Dakshinachara mode of worship of the Goddess.

The Acharya then proceeded towards Gouda (North Bengal) where the Vedic Dharma was almost on the point of extinction. In Gouda, Murari Mishra and Dharma Gupta were renowned scholars of Mimamsa philosophy. Learning that the Acharya was about to arrive in Gouda, they prepared to challenge him in debate. But learning that Mandana the greatest scholar of Mimamsa was accompanying the Acharya as his disciple, they gave up all hoes of debate.

One day, Dharma Gupta approached the Acharya and saluting him with reverence, said, "O noble Acharya, we have read your commentaries. Still we want to hear from you the points of difference between the conclusions of Vedanta and those of Mimamsa".

The Acharya then said, " Child, you have put a good question. It is because the fruits of work are transient that there is need for Vedanta. Through the knowledge of the unity of Brahman and the Self, as preached by Vedanta, the ignorance of the aspirant is removed and he attains the state of spontaneous liberation. The liberation that consists in the destruction of ignorance is not the result of Karma. Nor is this liberation a created object or a stage of existence. For this reason liberation is eternal. Of course for the person who has desire, there is need for Karma. Through this karma, various degrees of happiness are attained and the mind is purified and becomes fit to receive the Vedanta knowledge and one attains the capability of pursuing the path of the Ultimate Truth. Realizing that assumption of the ego in objects like the body that are not part of the Self is an error, and that movement again in the cycle of life and death is inevitable even after attaining different Lokas or heavenly stages in terms of one's good works, one comes to attend the knowledge of the supreme Brahman".

Thus after discussion of different topics Dharma Gupta realized the correctness of the Acharya's teaching and became a disciple of Advaita Vedanta. The people of that region were also inspired by Dharma Gupta to adopt a Vedic life.

Preaching in different places of gouda, the Acharya with his disciples arrived at the banks of the Ganga. One evening, the Acharya was sitting all by himself in meditation at a lonely spot, when he saw a Yogi of great brilliance and radiant presence appear in front of him. The whole place was enveloped in the light that radiated from his being. As soon as that figure of wonderful appearance, covered all over with matted locks came to him, the Acharya left his seat and bowing down at the feet of the serene being with folded hands, requested him to be seated.

The august person cast a pleasant look at the Acharya and blessed him. Then he said in a voice full of grace and charm, " Dearest son, you have completely attained supreme knowledge. Like a boat helping one across a river, you have helped millions across the oceans of ignorance and duality. Indeed you have brought me great joy. I am Gaudapada, your Parama Guru. I have come here to bless you".

With his palms joined on his head that was bowed and shedding tears of bliss, the Acharya said, " O great Guru, ocean of kindness, since you have glanced upon this servant with favor, your blessings will give me strength. The vision of your holy presence itself is a great presence. Boundless is my great fortune".

Pleased at the words of the Acharya, so full of humility, Sri Gaudapada said, " Dear Child, I was very keen on seeing you when I learnt of your wonderful achievements. You have written wonderful commentaries on the Brahma sutra and on the Upanishads. In your commentary on the Mandukyakarika, the real significance of the Karika written by me has been very well brought out. I m particularly delighted at this and have come to see you for this reason. Ask any boon that you like".

In overwhelming joy, the Acharya said in a choked voice, " O great Guru, by seeing you in person, I have, as it were, attained a vision of the Paramatman. What boon can be greater than this? Yet, I beg of you the boon that the minds of all my devotees and followers, in all times to come, should be ever-immersed in the knowledge of Eternal consciousness of Parabrahman".

Saying `So be it', the great master Sri Gaudapada disappeared. The Acharya in great joy passed the night in giving an account of the vision of the great Guru to his disciples.

A few days after this incident, it was learnt from many sources that the rites of worship of Pashupathinath had been stopped in Nepal. Because of Buddhist dominance, the worship of the Hindu God was completely stopped. Even the holiness of the shrine was variously affected. Religious opponents had defied the temple by throwing forbidden things into it. The Hindus lived in great misery and suffering. The local ruler was alo inactive and indifferent.

The disciples of the Acharya were deeply mortified to learn this. They urged the Acharya to proceed to Nepal. Finding them so eager, the Acharya, directed by divine will, proceeded towards Nepal. Traversing forests infested with ferocious animals and climbing mountain ranges the party gradually reached the region of Pashupatinath in Nepal. It was a solitary and charming spot. The environments were solemn. The serenity, silence and peace of ages seemed to surround everything there.

The local king received the Acharya and his disciples with due respect. Blessing the king and giving him a piece of advice, the Acharya proceeded towards the temple of Sri Pashupatinath. He was distressed to find no arrangements for rites of worship in the temple which was dirty and dilapidated without repairs. At the direction of the Acharya, the disciples, with great care swept the dirt, cleaned the temple and saluting the deity and went through the rites of worship.

People in large numbers arrived in Nepal to have a Darshan of the Acharya and also of Sri Pashupatinath. Living in the temple courtyard, the Acharya began to give discourses for the assembled people. Hearing the ultimate truth by the Acharya, the hearts of all were filled with an eternal delight. The Buddhist intruders were so much shaken at the arrival of the Acharya that without facing him, they left Nepal for other faces. Soon, entire Nepal witnessed a resurgence of spiritual feeling at the reawakening of the Sanatana Vaidika Dharma. The scholarly Brahmins who accompanied the Acharya began to instruct the localites in the daily duties, the rites of maintaining a perpetual sacred fire, worship of the five chief deities and the performance of the five great sacrifices. The king also showed an interest in these auspicious activities. At the Acharya's special desire, the temple of Pashupatinatha was repaired and the rites of worship properly instituted. Thus within a short time, Veda and Vedanta spread all over Nepal. Centers of study on the Vedas and the scriptures were set up in different places.

The story goes that Buddhist monks who followed Vajrayana and Vamachara tried to kill the Acharya by Kritya and Abhichara Prayogas and by creating natural calamities sought to raise difficulties in the way of his going to different places. But the Yogic power and the divinity of the Acharya, who was ever protected by Sri Mahadeva and Sri Nrisimha, defeated the evil powers of the Vamacharis. The Acharya was unscathed and overcoming hundreds of obstacles, spread the glory of Vedanta all over Nepal.

At the earnest request of many disciples, the Acharya then set out for Badari. The Acharya remained immersed in the contemplation of Brahman for long hours. The disciples protected his life with great difficulty. Day by day, the meditative mind of the Acharya was immersed in the fathomless depths of the ocean of Brahman. The Acharya duly arrived at Jyotirdhama on the way to Badari Kshetra.

Staying there for a few days, the Acharya satisfied all with his divine discourses and spiritual instructions. After having imparted new life by the life-giving Mantras of the Vedas to moribund Sanatana Dharma all over India from the Himalayas to the oceans, the Acharya again set feet in Uttarakhanda for the second time. There were discussions, worship, and spiritual sacrifices everywhere. The festival of divine joy seemed to be endless.

Those who were charmed at the Acharya's Darshan earlier, had assembled again in order to have the joy and satisfaction of being in the holy company of the Acharya. All felt that it was as if the entire knowledge, richness, strength, vigor, fame and beauty of the supreme Lord himself that was fully manifest in this great person. Indeed he was incarnation of Shiva. Such perfection was not possible for an ordinary human being.

There was a great transformation in the Acharya's heart ever since he had a vision of Sri Gaudapaadaachaarya. His mind was eager t be constantly immersed in meditation. The disciples were worried to notice their Gurudeva in this introspective mood. They realized that their revered Guru was now prepared to merge in his own self. His life-span of thirty-two years was now complete. In spite of repeated efforts, the disciples were unable to bring down the Acharya to material plane of earthly consciousness.

One day, the Acharya thus addressed his disciples, " You see, the task for which I assumed this physical existence is over. Now, you should be prepared to lead lives permeated with the truth of Vedanta and preach the glory of Vedanta to the world. establish yourselves in the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi, your mission will only then be right. If you have anything to ask, say it".

With his eyes full of tears, Padmapada said, " Lord, we have nothing further to ask. The path that you have shown by your very life will be followed by us through your blessings. You are the beacon-light of our lives. Bless us that we may follow the path shown by you".

The also gave his disciples a clear indication of for future the future programme of work and also made them aware of the noble idea of renunciation and service to humanity. In his life, it is the truth of Atmanaa mokshaartham Jagadhitaaya Cha, for one's own salvation and for the welfare of the world, that found expression. It is not Atmadhyana alone that comprises the whole of a Sanyasin's endeavor, he has at the same time to take upon himself, the great responsibility of establishing and maintaining Varnashrama Dharma. The Acharya laid special emphasis on propagating spiritual practices. The abbot would not stay at one place, he would move about for the preaching of religion and would watch with care the efforts of ordinary people to realize a higher and nobler religion through the observance of Varnashrama Dharma.

After taking steps to set on a firm foundation his life-long endeavor to re-establish the Vedic Dharma and also ensuring the future success of his work, the Acharya appeared to have completed all the tasks of his life and prepared for the FINAL JOURNEY.

The Acharya soon went on his way to Badari Narayana. King Sudhanva and many other disciples were accompanying him. The Acharya was extremely delighted to arrive at Badari Dhama for the second time. Repaired and bedecked with buntings and banners, the temple was looking incomparably beautiful. The worship and services to the deity were also being conducted regularly according to the scriptures. In a lilting verse-eulogy the Acharya composed and offered his salutations to Narayana. This famous hymn is known as the `Harimeede' hymn. Ever dwelling in the state of self-realization, the Acharya composed the verse identifying Sri Narayana as his very Self.

The monks, scholars, and kings regarded the Acharya's arrival as a special favor of the heavens. The Acharya was all the time introspective. At his direction, his disciples gave discourses on the nature of Brahman and Advaita Vedanta. The Sanyasin disciples of the Acharya were all great masters themselves. By rendering their shining spiritual lives, bright with renunciation and full of knowledge and devotion, to be dedicated ceaselessly to work, ensuring the good of the people, the Acharya transmitted bright faith and tremendous inspiration to the hearts of all who came to him.

After staying in Badari Kshetra for some time, the Acharya then left for Kedara. Most of the time he remained in deep Samadhi. The same Acharya who for sixteen long years had carried on religious preaching tirelessly, had eagerly traversed hundreds of miles on foot, was now stable like the Brahman. Disciples like Padmapada were engaged in a vain bid to bring the mind of their Gurudeva down to the earth plane.

Duly arriving at holy Kedara, the Acharya immediately went to the shrine and remained immersed in worship there. The Acharya's being refused to come down from the plane of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He was indifferent even to food and nourishments. After several days had passed thus, one afternoon the Acharya addressed his disciples in a sweet voice saying, " My dear Children, the task of this body is over. The time has come to merge with my own real self. If you have any questions, please ask me".

Hearing these words, the disciples were thunder-struck. They could not speak. After a long silence, when the surge of emotions within had subsided somewhat, Padmapada said, his eyes full of tears, " Sir, by your grace, all over desires are fulfilled. We are fully satisfied. We have nothing further to ask. We feel that the execution of the instructions of our revered Guru is the only duty before us now".

The other disciples were silent. After a short silence, the Acharya said, " I bless you with all my heart that you may be crowned with success in your endeavors. As long as you remain in your earth existence, go on preaching Sanatana Vaidika Dharma according to the previous instructions given by me. The knowledge of Brahman and the Self that I have given you has been obtained through a long line of illustrious Gurus and it should be passed on to worthy aspirants".

The Guru lineage is : Narayana, Brahma, Vasistha, Shakti, Parashara, Vedavyasa, Shukadeva, Gaudapada, Govindapada and Sri Shankara.

"May you attain the state of Parabrahman." This was the great Acharya's last blessing to his disciples.

After this, the Acharya became silent and went into deep meditation. His entire body shone brilliantly with the brightness of thousands of Suns. He entered into the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. His earthly remains also transformed into a dazzling bundle of light and disappeared into the image of Sri Kedareshwara.

The Acharya was an incarnation of Mahadeva. Gods like Vishnu, Indra, Chandra, Vayu, Agni and others appeared in the skies along with Rishis and Siddhas in order to take him back to his own abode. At that time, the whole sky was filled with thousands of lightening- colored flying chariots. The Gods showered heavenly Mandara flowers on the head of the Acharya who was in monk's robes and sang his praises. Then the Gods decorated and brought Nandi, the celestial Bull whiter than milk and the swan. The Acharya, now assuming his original form as Sri Mahadeva, bedecked with matted locks and sickle moon, got up on to Nandi's back, resting on Brahma's shoulders. Parijata flowers began to fall on him like drops of rain. Indra, Vishnu and the other Gods sang hymns and took Shankara back to his eternal abode.

Thus stands before us the glorious life of our Acharya. By entrusting the heavy responsibility of the maintenance and propagation of Dharma on an all-renouncing order of monks, freed from worldly responsibilities, the Acharya has put the Sanatana Hindu dharma on a firm foundation. Those who are burdened with worldly responsibilities may find it practice, preservation and propagation of Dharma. The foreseeing sage had accordingly brought his disciples together and setting up Maths or monasteries in different parts of India, gave a concrete shape to this programme. This farsightedness of the Acharya astonishes us. The deep thought that the Acharya gave to the problem of maintaining intact, the beneficent character of Hinduism in accordance with Varnashrama and suited to the requirements of different times and places and the different aptitudes of its adherents, keeping the great far-reaching Vaidika dharma free from all turbidity and rescuing its ideologically ramified structure from erroneous conclusions, giving greater luster to the glory of his life. By rectifying wrong notions and semi-Vedic conclusions of the theories with the exponents of which he came into contact in the course of his triumphal tour all over India, he gave a Vedic character to all doctrines. He also took steps to preserve the distinct character of these doctrines. This reveals strikingly the generous nature of the Acharya.

The Acharya revealed his identity at the special request of King Sudhanva in the following words:

"In the Satya Yuga Brahma was the teacher of the world. in the Treta Yuga, it was Vashista. In Dwapara, Vedavyasa was the great teacher. For Kaliyuga, I am the world's teacher".

The advent and departure of Srimadacharya are both events of past. But his life and message are not set down in the pages of history alone, they have directed the course of Sanatana Dharma and have shed a soft radiance on the inner significance of Vedic Dharma. This becomes clear in the solemn lilting verse with which the Acharya concludes his masterpiece Vivekachudamani.

`Just as a traveler who has lost his way in the desert goes about in futile search of water and getting no trace of it, sinks further into misery, so in this world, man, deluded by illusions and errors, finds no end to his troubles. His whole being seems to be obscured in the blazing sun of worldly preoccupations. Where is the shade? Where is the water that can bring solace? The shade is but truth of Self, the ever-pure, ever-wise and ever-serene. For the person parched by the heat of worldly affairs, the supreme knowledge of the identity between the Brahman and Atman is the cool water'. Glory to this message of the Acharya that shows this eternal majesty of man in his spiritual crisis down the ages.

Even after long centuries, today the mission of Shankara-Bharati is not over. Acharya has not become out of date. Despite the myriad forms of wealth and accomplishments of man today, there is no end to his sorrow and suffering, for his good sense and wisdom are being clouded over with newer forms of error and delusion. Man is being tortured by lust, avarice, conceit and hatred in their various aspects, what is the way out? This way lies solely in man's realization of his own self as being non-different from the universal self. When everything is the self, who remains separate from the self to be hated or envied? Within all men burns brightly the light of an indivisible essential consciousness. Every human being represents the greatest truth of Brahman in the world in the acceptance, realization and propagation of this undeniable truth. The extraordinary life of thirty-two years of Srimadacharya is a living expression of this tremendous reality.

We have to remember the Acharya's life anew today. From his life- message, we have to find the means and inspiration of resolving the many conflicts of life in the knowledge of the self. Salutations to the incarnation of Sri Dakshinamurthy, the greatest teacher of the universe, salutations to Sri Krishna, the Jagadguru, salutations to Sri Vedavyasa, the teacher of the humanity, and salutations to Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the embodiment of all the three great teachers.