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6. Jagadamba Bhavani


For the accomplishment of divine task, Shankara was destined to live in the world, established in the experience of the undivided Brahman, rooted in the perception of Absolute Reality. Therefore, Adya Shakti, the Primal Energy or Power, as if overcome by a mood of immense grace ( which is but her very nature), and with the object of ensuring the enrichment of the knowledge of Brahman, showed a Lila-cosmic play, to bestow on Shankara, Brahmadrishti- the recognition and perception of Absolute Reality.

It is the Absolute endowed with `Gunas' or attributes, the Saguna Brahman, that works out the projection and preservation and the dissolution of the three worlds. In the attributeless Absolute which is indifferent to Shakti, there is no authorship of the universe. And what is this Guna aspect of Saguna Brahman? It is a great Shakti capable of bringing about strange impossible transformations possible that constitutes the Guna-quality or the Upadi- modification of the Absolute Brahman. It is only by taking the help of these Gunas or attributes that the undifferentiated and unconditioned Brahman becomes conditioned, endowed with attributes and subject to differentiations. The Saguna Brahman is as it were, the Ocean of Forms for the Formless, the Aroopa.

That which is the attributeless Absolute Supreme Self to the man of wisdom on his wisdom-plane, that same substance endowed with attributes is Ishwara or God on the plane of dual consciousness. This is the image of all rasas or artistic graces rolled into one and the abode of all powers. Says Sri Chandrashekhara Mahaswamigal, the very incarnation of Shankara and literally the mouthpiece of Sri Kamakshi, "The Chit Shakti, the power that is effulgent Consciousness and the Brahman of Vedanta are non-different even as water and its cooling power are non-different". That is why the aspirant on reaching this stage of experience says, "Knowing the secret that Kali is one with Brahman, I have discarded once for all, both righteousness and unrighteousness, religion and non-religion ( Sadhakas of Srividya are well aware of this, and practice exactly this during the Chidagni Homa).

Shankara in his commentary on the Saririka, has supported both the Saguna and Nirguna aspects of Brahman and moreover has assigned a place of importance to the adoration of the Saguna Brahman as enjoined in the Sruti and Smriti. Indeed the adoration of the attributes-endowed Absolute is an unavoidable, indispensable step to the attainment of the attributeless Absolute. The wisdom of non- duality is the last word and the final step to attainment of the attributeless Absolute. The wisdom of non-duality is the last word and the final achievement of all spiritual effort. The Sruti ahs it that whether one takes to the realization of the truth of the Supreme Indestructible Brahman or to the adoration of the Saguna Brahman depends on one's position in regard to native equipment and to attendant circumstances. An individual may be innately qualified either for the one or the other, and the environment, condition, stage of growth etc. of the person may also influence the choice. Shankara was the best of the knowers of the Brahman, and he standing at the meeting point of wisdom and devotion, Jnana and Bhakti, said, " O Paramatman, though the distinction that obtained between thee and me has been obliterated and in consequence the sameness has set in between us, I am really Thine. Never art though mine. For even though the ocean and the wave are identical and non-different, the wave is after all the ocean's and the wave can never claim the ocean as a part of it. "

One day in the very early hours while the darkness of night was still lingering, Shankara accompanied by his disciples was proceeding to the Manikarnika Ghat for the daily ablution at dawn in the holy waters of Ganga. On the way, a pathetic sight attracted his eyes. On the path leading to the river sat a young woman. She was the very picture of grief. A dead body, evidently of her husband, lay on the ground, its head resting on her lap. She was wailing loudly and soliciting help from all present there for the proper performance of the funeral rites of her departed husband. She had been sitting with a corpse in such a way that the narrow path leading to the Manikarnika Ghat was quite blocked. Shankara waited for long, it was getting quite late for the bath, and there was no other path leading to Manikarnika Ghat. He had, therefore, to ask the sorrowing woman, " Mother, if you will remove the corpse to one side of the pathway, we can move on to the river ". The woman seemed to be so overwhelmed with grief that she could not pay attention to Shankara's words. On being repeatedly requested by Shankara for the removal of the lifeless body to one side of the pathway, the woman responded telling him, "Why, Great Soul, why do you not yourself ask the corpse to move aside ?" Hearing her words Shankara told her in a voice choked with compassion, " Mother, you are besides yourself with grief. Can a corpse ever move of its own accord! Has it in itself the needed momentum for moving aside? " The woman then fixed her gaze on Shankara and spoke, " Why, you best of ascetics, you hold that it is the one and only one Brahman who is the sole authority of the universe and Shakti is indifferent. Is this not so? When Brahman is ever present everywhere, why should not the corpse then move? " Hearing the woman's utterance which was pregnant with wisdom, Shankara stood astounded and began to think over its import.

But where was the woman now? And where was the corpse? In a trice everything had receded. What divine sport was this! Shankara's mind was filled with an indescribable joy. Within and without, he experienced the sportive play of the Great Enchantress, Mahamaya, who is none but Adya Shakti or the Primal Energy. It was because of her glance that earth and heaven throbbed. Bending on his knees, Shankara began to sing in praise of the Goddess Mahatripurasundari, the sole refuge of the universe.

"Oh Goddess Supreme ! Brahman, Vishnu, Maheshwara, Indra, Chandra or Surya or any one for the matter of that have I never known. I am taking refuge at thy feet. Thou art my sole shelter. Thou my only heaven, Mother Bhavani! I have surrendered myself to thee. In debate and in danger, in error and in alien lands, in water and in fire, on hills, among foes and in forests, do thou protect me every where and in all places. Thou art alone my sheet-anchor. Thou alone my only refuse security- Bhavanyashtakam !"

Shankara now realized that the Goddess Supreme, the dispenser of boons to humanity, who is worshipped by the Lord of the Universe Himself, had out of her divine and mysterious Grace, made him become aware intensely of her magnanimous glory and grace. She was it, he understood the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer of this phenomenal universe and it was She again that bestowed material abundance and also the final salvation from conditioned existence. It was by the inducement of Her glance of Divine Sport that the Universe blossomed out. It was in her affection-filled bosom that the Universe had its being, and it was she who bore in Her, being the granary of the cosmic universe. All this Shankara realized with clarity and fullness by a moment of Mother's divine Grace. His heart felt strangely filled. He finished his bath at the Manikarnika Ghat and came back to his residence with an enchanted mind. His mode of thought and his pattern of behavior now underwent a revolutionary change. He had already experienced that the individual Soul-Jiva and the Infinite Soul Brahman were identical and non-different. He now understood that the attributeless absolute Brahman was just a witness, a mere spectator and no more. The authorship of the universe was that of the Primordial Energy Adya Shakti.

Shankara had become established in Samadhi Yoga and in the Supreme knowledge of non-dual Brahman. But he had not yet attained to a complete measure of the knowledge and the outlook and the attitude that, on the plane where the Jiva functions, and in the region of the practical and the pragmatic, " The universe in entirety is of the stuff of Brahman Absolute ". But Shankara's advent was only for the purpose of working out a divine mission. His enjoinment of self-bliss by remaining immersed in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which is the state of unqualified self-absorption, would not help him to accomplish his life's purpose. He would have to work out a practical application to life and labor on earth, of his experience of the Absolute Reality subsisting in all created objects and of his perceiving of the Absolute Reality everywhere and in all places. Only then, and only that way, would he become the meaningful living embodiment of the Great Utterance, "All this indeed is verily Brahman", and this Supreme self-knowledge of the non-dual Reality would be reflected in his life.