Acharya stayed a few days in Gangotri and then left for Uttarakashi. Uttarakashi is an ancient sacred spot and pilgrim center. Countless Yogis and Rishis passionately eager to attain final liberation have practiced arduous and lifelong penance here, making the very atmosphere of the region vibrant with spirituality. The river Ganga is north-flowing in this place, and it encircles this sanctuary in the form of beautiful crescent and flows on, proclaiming the glory of the holy spot. The sky-kissing surrounding mountain ranges shut off Uttarakashi from the tumult of the worldly maddening crowds and serve to enhance the solemn sublimity of this place of penance.
At the time of arrival at Uttarakashi, Acharya attained the age of sixteen. He now seemed ready to return to his trans-physical realm of existence. Almost all the time, he was absorbed in Samadhi. Padmapada and others were agonized to notice this trend in him. Acharya had heard the call of the infinite and appeared to be getting ready for the final emancipation.
Vijnananauka, the boat of Supreme Wisdom is a treatise composed by Acharya. It is important to us because it gives us a picture, partial though, of the state of his mind at this period. He writes:
1. The self that is attained by the mind, purified through practices of austerity, rituals, charity and the like and as a result, free from all attachment, and renouncing all worldly and royal gifts, I am that Eternal Supreme Brahman.
2. The Truth, that the learned realize in deep meditation and constant contemplation upon the Self after discrimination and by worship of the Brahman-knowing Guru, I am that Eternal Supreme Brahman.
3. He, who is bliss-personified, Self-effulgent, who holds in check the Universal illusion in his greatness, who is attained in the realization of the limitless thought, ` I am Brahman', I am that Supreme Self.
4. He, who is beyond mind and words, in the ignorance of whom the phenomenal world exists and with the advent of whose knowledge as the self, the objective creation vanishes, I am that pure, boundless Eternal, Supreme Brahman.
5. He, the one without a second, the Transcendental Brahman, is reflected in fullness in the hearts of the yogis in Samadhi, attained by stoppage of sense faculties following the Vedanta assertion, Neti Neti, ` not his not this, this is not the reality, this is not the absolute', I am that Supreme Brahman.
6. He, by a single particle of whose inherent bliss the entire universe is made blissful, by whose revelation all things are revealed, whos beauty is manifest in all that is beautiful, I am that Supreme Eternal Brahman.
7. He, who is the infinite, the cause of all causes, the all pervading, the womb of all, the inactive, the auspicious, the abstract, attainable through Pranava, the deathless, the formless, the resplendent, I am that Eternal Supreme Brahman.
8. He alone attains that final beatitude in the lotus feet of Vishnu who has quenched his great thirst by drinking the nectar of real knowledge and thus crossed the ocean of ignorance and duality via the boat of Super knowledge of the Brahman.
The disciples thought deeply over some means of bringing their adored master's fast soaring mind to the plane of normal human functioning. So, after long deliberation on the matter, they went to the Acharya with the prayer that they might be taught his Bhashya in detail, with all its nuances and profundities, as he alone was the competent authority for exposition of their right and full import. The plan worked. After earnest and repeated appeal, they succeeded in making the Acharya agree to impart sermon and instructions on Bhashya.
One day in the forenoon, Acharya was expounding to his disciples, the commentary on the Saririka Sutras when an aged Brahmin appeared at that place. The lesson was stopped as the venerable old man stepped in and everyone there got up and with great reverence, requested him to take a seat. But without taking the offered seat, the Brahmin queried, " I hear that a certain Sanyasi here expounds the commentary on the Brahma sutras. Can you tell me where he is?"
The disciples answered, "this is our Guru Shankaracharya, who has all the scriptures stored in his memory and they are all at finger tips. He has written a commentary on the Saririka sutras which has silenced all differences in interpretation. He is now teaching us that valuable treasure".
The old man now took a seat and made a request to the Acharya, "They call you the commentator on the Brahma sutra composed by Veda Vyasa. Well, let me see, please tell me the import of the first section of the third chapter".
With great humility Acharya submitted, " To all masters who know the import of the sutras, I offer my salutations. There is in me no such egoistic feeling that I am a great comprehender of the sutras. And yet, I shall try to give a correct answer to what you have asked me about".
With these words, Acharya started giving out a lucid and correct explanation of the sutra that the Brahmin had asked. His was a very thorough, highly learned and extremely convincing exposition, but yet, Acharya found in the old Brahmin a very powerful contestant. Hardly had the Acharya expounded a point with his natural unmatched brilliance, the aged Brahmin cut short with what struck everyone as an unassailable objection. Following close on the youth's heels did the old man throw out a shattering query or a devastating refutation. Bt Acharya did not reel. With great steadiness and in an unperturbed way, he met the Brahmin's objection with replies, strikingly sensible and impressively rational. But the old man would not be silenced. He would put forth another argument, only to draw out a more powerful counter-argument from Acharya. Indeed this battle of wits went on for long. Tirelessly did the Brahmin shower on the young head of the Acharya, questions dealing with highly mystical problems, only to bring out the illuming flashes from his genius. In this volley of dialogue, the whole of the Brahma sutras, the four Vedas, the Karma Kanda, the Jnana Kanda, many scriptures, various philosophies, all came in for analysis, elucidation, research and summing up.
The astoundingly deep scholarship, the astonishing power of memory, the limitless sweep of intellect, the rare depths of introspection, and the uncommon skill in debate of both the combatants, sp far removed in age from other, but so alike in wisdom and learning, made the disciples dazed and dumbfounded as the entertaining warfare went on. The discussion went on till past midday when the Brahmin suggested that they adjourn for the day and resume the debate the next day. The Brahmin rose and walked away in the direction from which he had appeared.
The next day was a repetition of the first day. When the morning class had assembled and the Acharya had started teaching his disciples, the aged Brahmin stepped in and began to discuss high philosophy exactly from the point where it had been left the previous day. A sharp debate ensued. The Brahmin raised questions which were extremely complicated provoking. Acharya, with unruffled temper, always gave convincing replies. The Himalayan debate raged for seven days (seventeen days according to some biographers). On the seventh day when the Brahmin had, as usual departed, Padmapada, who, of all the disciples, had followed this clash of high talent and top ability with keen understanding, approached the Acharya in private and asked him, " Master, who is this Brahmin who knows so well the hidden truth, mystery of Vedanta? Who other than Vedavyasa can possibly possess all this superior scholarship, this sharp intellect, this great skill of debate? Is it possible that Vedavyasa comes here in the disguise of this Brahmin and we stand outwitted as to his real identity? "
Acharya smiled and replied, " You are correct my dear, it is indeed the great Vedavyasa who is coming here everyday in the disguise of the old Brahmin. Well, if the Brahmin repeats his visit tomorrow I shall ask him to let us know who he is".
On the eighth morning, the Brahmin again entered Acharya's abode with a hard nut of a question for the young adversary to crack. Acharya first gave a suitable reply to the question and then fell reverentially at the feet of the Brahmin in an act of deep adoration and with all earnestness, addressed him saying, " Great soul, we have been eager to know who you are. Kindly satisfy our curiosity by letting us know your identity. All of us instinctively believe that you are indeed Vedavyasa Krishnadvaipayana. If our inference is right, please throw off your disguise and assume your real form. You are the first among the Gurus, and I feel blessed by this rare boon of these visits from you. Deign to accept my salutations".
The spontaneity and sincerity of Acharya's words touched the Brahmin deeply and he told the Acharya that his inference was correct and that he was indeed Vedavyasa. In an instant, the aged Brahmin was gone and in his place was seen a serene majestic figure, dazzling like lightening and brilliantly dark like the rain clouds. The crown of matted locks on his head, the sacred sacrificial cord on his body, the robe of the skin of black antelope round his loins, the wisdom- filled countenance and the grace-pouring eyes created a palpable atmosphere of divinity round the intensely human personality of Vedavyasa. A beatific smile played on his lips and placing his hand on Acharya's bowed head, the greatest of the sages blessed the young Sanyasin.
The poetic vein the Acharya immediately came into play and his veneration for Vedavyasa took shape as a beautiful hymn. He said, " O Great Sage Krishnadvaipayana, my life has become blessed by the sight of your holy feet. You have ever been devoted to the good of the others. You have performed mighty deeds for the benefit of the mankind, and your services, like your name, will live for all times to come. You are the compiler of the eighteen Puranas. You have classified the Vedas into four parts. You know the past, the present and the future. There is nothing on earth that you do not know. Your being is like the milky ocean, and out of it has come the Mahabharata like the moon. You have done infinite good to the world. Your glory knows no end and your activities are marvelously beneficial to one and all. I salute you as the foremost of the Gurus".
The eighteen Puranas which are the works of Vedavyasa are, Brahmapurana, Padmapurana, Vishnupurana, Bhagavatapurana, Markandeyapurana, Varahapurana, Agnipurana, Bhavishyapurana, Brahmavaivartapurana, Skandapurana, Lingapurana, Vamanapurana, Shivapurana, Naradiyapurana, Matsyapurana, Kurmapurana, Garudapurana and Brahmandapurana. The great Suta, in enlisting the characteristics of the Puranas in the Brahmavaivartapurana says, "There must be found in a Purana the following five marks - a description of creation, an account of the final deluge, tracing the lineage of the moon, the sun etc., a statement of the rights of the fourteen manus, and an enumeration of the rulers of the solar and the lunar dynasties. Scholars consider that the Upapuranas ( which include Kalikapurana, Nrisimhapurana etc. Some also count Devibhagavata here. But modern scholars feel that Devi Bhagavata is the fittest work to be called a Mahapurana. Instead some feel Bhagavata should me classified as a Upapurana ) also must possess these five distinguishing features. The Mahapuranas contain the following ten characteristics : an account of creation, of sustenance and destruction, a description of the process of protective nourishment, and of the course of desire, a glorificatory mention of each one of the fourteen Manus, a description of the final deluge, a definition of liberation, singing the glories of the Lord, and singing the praiseworthy qualities of the community of the Gods, individually and severally.
Vyasa felt delighted as much as Acharya's discovery of his identity as at his right understanding of his gifts and greatness. Taking the seat offered by Acharya, he said, " Wise boy, your erudition has quite charmed me. You are divinely gifted, with attributes unequalled on earth or in heaven. There is not one on earth who could have answered even one of my queries, while you answered them all to my complete satisfaction. Among the spiritual teachers, you are a class apart. I have come to love you as much as I love my son Shuka. Hearing that you have written a commentary on my sutras, I came to see you. I am convinced by my tests that you are indeed worthy of the big task of commenting on my sutra. I knew long ago that the lord Mahadeva himself would, in the form of a human Shankara write a commentary on my sutra".
Acharya, with great humility placed his commentary in the hand of Vedavyasa. Vyasa went through the commentary and was immersed in it for quite some time. Extremely pleased, he gave out his estimation of the work of the Acharya, " My dear son, this commentary is indeed worthy of you. At places you have cast reflection i.e. oblique hints at the sutra. I am very glad you have done so. Young and brilliant scholar that you are, you have the intuition to grasp the true sense of all things. I foresee a great future for you. Like the Sun in its dazzling glory of brilliance, you too will remove the darkness of ignorance in the world by spreading the glory of Self-knowledge of Advaita Brahman. The world will be amazed to witness the play of your astounding genius. All my unexpressed and implied thoughts in the sutra have been brought out by you in your commentary in a way in which no one could have done. Of course in one sense this does not surprise me. For I know that your being and your powers are derived from Mahadeva, the Supreme Being. You are verily Him. Your Guru Govindapada and his Guru Gaudapada are my lineal descendants, for Gaudapada learnt the scriptures from my son, Shukadeva. I now charge you with a continuation of your noble work. You have to write commentaries on the two other Prasthanas also, one the Sruti and the other the Smriti".
Acharya finds an important place not only in the lineage of Advaita Guru Parampara, but also in the Srividya Guru Parampara. This lineage, beginning with Mahatripurasundari, with other Gurus like Sri Dakshinamurthy, Sri Anandabhairava, Sri Hayagriva, Sri Dattatreya and Lopamudra, also lists Acharya as an important Guru. There are many variations here, and what I list here is my own lineage, which is very interesting to note because of its striking similarity with Advaita Guruparampara.
Narayana, Brahma, Kapila, Atri, Vasishta, Sanaka, Sanandana, Bhrigu, Sanatsujata, Vamadeva, Narada, Gautama, Shunaka, Shakti, Markandeya, Kaushika, Angirasa, Kanva, Jabali, Bharadwaja, Parashara,Vedavyasa, Shuka, Gaudapada, Govindapada, Shankara Bhagavatpada, Sureshwara, Vidyashankara, Vidyaranya, Nrisimha Bharati, Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati, Chandrasekhara Bharati, Valukeshwara Bharati, Vidyabhinava Valukeshwara Bharati to my own Sri Gurunatha. There are however some Acharyas after Sureshwara, both householders as well as belonging to the Jagadguru Parampara of Sringeri Sarada Peetham, that I have omitted here.
“I have already accomplished that work also" said Acharya and produced the other parts of his works to Vyasa. Vyasa was quite amazed to see the prodigious labors of the young Acharya, and went through all his writings- commentaries on Sruti and Smriti- with a one-pointed attention indicating absorbing interest, and then said, " All this is very well done indeed. The production is eminently worthy of the producer. It is all as it should be. I am in a transport of joy".
Acharya now threw a bombshell as it were. He made a submission to Sri Vedavyasa Bhagavan, " Sir, I have done all the work that you expected of me. Kindly give me the permission to terminate my physical existence in Samadhi in your very presence here and now".
Padmapada and other disciples were at their wit's end. Vedavyasa was also astonished. He remained sunk in thought for a while. There was silence all around. And then Vyasa Bhagavan looked up said, " No Shankara, your task, contrary to what you think, is not yet finished. Much yet remains to be done. You have to meet and vanquish in debate all the renowned scholars in the land of Bharata and bring them round to your point of view of scriptural truth. You alone can do it. Extremely pleased with your work, I have come here to grant you a boon of extended life-span. My dear boy, destiny had fixed your span of life at eight years first. But you took Sanyasa and by the grace of Mahakala, the death-destroying Shiva, your life was extended by eight years. It is the gracious dispensation of the Supreme lord that you live for another sixteen years in this body till the age of thirty-two. Your first task now is to vanquish Kumarila Bhatta. Then you have to journey across the vast Bharata, traversing the holy land from end to end, in order to confront, conceive and convert all those who contradict your views, sticking to duality and ignorance. Your foremost work will be to harmonize the different schools of thought. You will also have to hoist aloft the flag of Advaita, establish Vedanta on a sound basis and proclaim the glory of the Brahman to all. On your shoulders rests not the destiny of an individual, but a whole nation's spiritual welfare ".
Acharya felt there was nothing to be said by him. He bowed down in approval, and Vedavyasa disappeared from view. Acharya felt the absence and became sorrowful. The minds of all the disciples were freed from the dark, hovering clouds of anxiety, and there was now no fear of their Acharya's quitting the world early. They were overjoyed and happy at the extension of his life-span.
After Vyasa left, Acharya became very eager to carry out the instructions of Sri Vyasa. His first task was to conquer Kumarila. His mind was now pre-occupied with this one thought. Acharya came to know from scholars present there that Kumarila was holy soul, who had vanquished in debate various philosophers and propagandists of anti- Vedic schools, and had re-established on a firm footing, the karma kanda of the Vedas. This section of the Vedas deals with rituals and extols their value. Acharya also came to know that the aged scholar, Kumarila Bhatta now lived in Prayaga.
The disciples of Acharya were eager to know about Kumarila about whom they heard good things. A Brahmin scholar there narrated the life and labors of Kumarila Bhatta.
Bhattapada's life is quite out of ordinary and his doings are such as to excite our wonder. It is quite obvious that his taking birth as a human being is solely for the purpose of re-establishing on this land of the Aryas, the ancient Vedic faith and culture. He was born in the Chola country in South India in a Brahmin family devoted to a religious discipline and exemplary living. Form the very boyhood, he was devoted to the Vedas. The well-known Buddhist logician, Dharmakirti, is Bhattapada's nephew. Dharmakirti got converted to Buddhist faith, and became very proficient in Buddhist philosophy, after undergoing a course of instruction under the Buddhist teacher, Dharmapala. He then came to the Chola country and challenged his uncle Bhattapada to a debate. Kumarila was vanquished in the debate and according to the solemn undertaking given, it became a matter of honor for Kumarila to switch over to Buddhist faith, to learn it better. He then went to the Buddhist Vihara at Nalanda and became the pupil of Dharmapala and studied Buddhist logic under him. Though circumstances compelled him thus to embrace the Buddhist faith, his inborn respect for and belief in the Vedic religion remained full as ever.
Anandagiri, in his biography of the Acharya says that Kumarila Bhatta went to Nalanda in order to study Buddhist philosophy. Bhattapada himself tells Acharya when the two meet each other, " In order to refute any school of thought, one should master the philosophy of that thought and have a thorough knowledge of its theory and practice. I had no knowledge of the tenets of Buddhism and so in order to combat Buddhism I had to master its philosophy and know all the intricacies of its workings and beliefs. So I was compelled to enter a Buddhist Vihara and be a Buddhist pupil and learn Buddhist doctrines ".
It is said that one day, the Buddhist teacher Dharmapala, seated in the midst of his disciples among whom was Kumarila, started abusing and ridiculing the Vedas. Kumarila felt extremely agonized at heart, to hear his condemnation of the sacred Vedas, and with face bent down, began to shed tears. The Buddhist Bhikshus noticed him weeping, and enquired about the cause for it. Kumarila was too grief-stricken to explain away his remorse and so told them frankly, " The teacher is vilifying the Vedas, this has cut me to quick". The Buddhist monks acquainted the teacher of his clear evidence of Kumarila's lingering sympathies for the Vedas which he was supposed to have discarded. This infuriated the teacher, and he admonished Kumarila saying, " Why do you weep in this way? Your tears clearly show that even now, you are a Veda-believing Hindu at the core, covered superficially by a guise of Buddhism. Donning the garb of a Buddhist you have been deceiving us."
Kumarila did not choose to pocket the accusation without protest or let the tirade against the Vedas go unchallenged. He entered into an argument with his teacher and said, " Sir, you have been vilifying and speaking ill of the Vedas, quite in an immoderate way for no reason whatsoever". The straight remark from an anguished heart in righteous protest roused the ire of the Buddhist teacher and in an excited voice, he challenged the pupil saying, " If you think that way, argue and establish the illogicity of my remarks and judgments ". Then began a long debate, a philosophical duel on a high plane of thought and feeling, a battle of keen wits, between teacher and pupil. Kumarila effectively smashed the successive positions and attitudes of the teacher, who found himself more and more powerless to contend against his own pupil who overwhelmed and confounded him with unanswerable refutations and forthright arguments. Kumarila was easily able to establish the Supreme authority and the unbeaten superiority of the Vedas. Having quieted down the teacher by the power of his greater understanding and argumentative skill, he declared, " Without the grace of the omniscience one, the individual soul cannot achieve omniscience. Buddha at first trod the path of Vedic faith and he became proficient in the profound wisdom of the Vedas, but then he rejected and disowned, repudiated and discarded the Vedas. In what manner can we style his behavior other than call it the practice of downright thieving?"
The strong and the severe remark of Kumarila made the Buddhist teacher red in anger, and he burst out, " You are defaming the lord Tathagata. The only proper atonement for this high sin of yours is the doing away with your life by throwing you down the roof of this lofty mansion". Hardly had these words come out of the teacher than the excited monks forcibly pushed Kumarila down the tofty mansion. In their display of vengeance, the disciples outran the teacher. The fast dropping Kumarila quickly composed himself into Yogic steadiness, remembered the Lord and uttered, " If the Veda be true, may my life be protected".
And the miracle happened. In spite of his having been rolled down from a great height, Kumarila did not die. He sprang up safe and sound. The disciples of Dharmapala could not believe their own eyes. But the news of this wonderful event soon spread all around the place. The Brahmins of the place who followed the Vedic religion, said in this incident lay a victory for them, and honored Kumarila in various ways. They also took away Kumarila in pomp from the precincts of the Nalanda Vihara. The incident did not end there. Rather it sparked off a heart-rending conflict between the Hindu and Buddhist communities of the day. To the Hindus, the miraculous escape of Kumarila from death seemed to be no less than the victorious assertion of the superiority of their faith. Making Kumarila their leader, the Hindus arranged a big assembly and challenged Dharmapala to a debate. The conditions of the debate were very harsh. That party to the debate which suffered a defeat had to change over to the faith of the victor or death by entering a fire of husk, called Tushanala.
At the time of Kumarila, the follower of every religion was firmly convinced that his was the only true religion and his the best among all faiths, and the worth of a religion and its superiority were all determined by debate and discussion.
From all corners of India, Buddhist monks came to Magadha to participate in the great assembly where the big debate was to be held and the superiority of the Vedic faith or the deteriorated Buddhist faith was to be established. The sparking brilliance of Kumarila put into shade the arguments of the Buddhists. Dharmapala, despite all his eminence and not withstanding the tireless efforts he and his followers made to turn the tide of the discussion in their favor, lost the debate. He however refused to change his faith and decided to sacrifice his life. In fulfillment of the terms of the debate, Dharmapala entered husk-fire, letting his body die a slow death in the smoldering flame.
This victory of Kumarila over the Buddhists had a national impact, and here was a new awakening among the followers of the Vedic faith. A grand Ashwamedha sacrifice was arranged to celebrate this victory by Adityasena, the king of Magadha. The celebration was a clear sign of the waning of popular support for Buddhism.
Kumarila was victorious in his campaign of resuscitating the Vedic faith wherever he went in North India, and he effectively lowered the prestige and brought down the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. He then left for South India on a victorious campaign of propaganda with a view of strengthening the roots of Hinduism. After his vanquishing of the best of the Buddhist teachers, Dharmapala, Kumarila found no one ready to face him in a debate. Everywhere, he demonstrated by argument, how the Vedas contained the true faith and how they were not man-made, but trans-human.
Also to be noted is that Kumarila is held to be the part-incarnation of Skanda Bhagavan. Mandanamishra, of whom we shall hear later, was born of the powers of Brahma. It was lord Mahadeva who directed them to be born on earth in order to assist Acharya in the work of re- establishing the Vedic faith. Kumarila is credited with having conquered the Jains as much as he conquered the Buddhists. He was a man of great initiative and power and proved much more than a match to many well-known religionists of that day. He was also a noted writer and wrote with authority on the Mimamsa philosophy. His authoritative works Sloka-Vartika, Tantravartika, Manavadharmasutra etc have made his name immortal.
This fascinating account of Bhattapada as narrated by the Brahmin of Uttarakashi deeply impressed the Acharya's disciples. The great services of Kumarila to the cause of the mother faith filled them with reverence and admiration for him.