Sri Kamakoti Mandali  
shrImAtre namaH  
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Approaching Tales


[Query] Guruji, there are many myths about Sankaracharya. How do we separate the true episodes from fabrications?

svadeshikasyaiva sharIrachintanaM
bhavedanantasya shivasya chintanam |
svadeshikasyaiva cha nAmakIrtanaM
bhavedanantasya shivasya kIrtanam ||

Is there really a need to differentiate here? There could be a need based on what these myths (or as I would like to call them, inspirational tales) are used for. While the scriptures speak of Brahman as without a form, saguNa rUpAdikas are attributed to Him for convenience, to be able to approach the limitless Supreme with our limited faculties. While different forms such as shiva, shakti, gaNapati, shrIhari etc. have been assumed by the Supreme due to his kAruNya, deshika is a special form of the same Supreme. The same benefit is obtained by worshipping one's GurunAtha with devotion as what one obtains by worshipping any other saguNa mUrti such as ambA, gaNapati or nArAyaNa. There is ample scriptural proof in this regard. While dealing with strI dharma, several smR^itikAras touch upon this subject and explain that a strI can attain spiritual heights by worshipping her husband in a fashion similar to that of a man worshipping his Guru in mAnava sharIra or a devatA in shtUla or sUkShma forms. In each of these cases, it is simply the bhAvanA dhArDhya of the upAsaka that matters and not the mUrti. However, I certainly feel that there is a subtle difference in worship of different forms as the energy associated with different names and forms are different, even if at a superficial level, and this difference does matter when the realm of names and forms are yet to be transcended. If I quote the example of our beloved lady of the three puras, it will seem to amount to favoritism and I shall hence refrain from that! So, coming back to the current topic, it can be easily established that bhakti to guru is extremely fruitful, be it directed towards a physical person or an image. In that sense, nAmasmaraNa, mAhAtmya kathana etc. can be valuable tools in cultivating further bhakti. If the use of the tales related to the Jagadguru, be it picked from the various Shankara Vijayas or elsewhere, serve this purpose, there is no further need for rational analysis. One needs to clearly analyze whether the reason for studying these tales is to establish historical facts or derive inspiration. We study various epics such as rAmAyaNa etc. Now a historian whose name I do not want to quote, thinks that sItA devI actually married rAvaNa and lived with him till the point of rescue from rAma. While this may be "his" truth that he has based on his limited vision and collected facts, can the spiritual benefit attained by great men like Sadguru Tyagaraja and others, who recited rAma nAma and lived every moment of rAmayaNa be denied on this account? Both are simply different approaches based on different goals and different qualifications. While a dog will show no interest in a piece of sandal, a damsel will grab it eagerly to anoint herself. So, the approach to these tales should be no different than that to rAmAyaNa, mahabhArata, bhAgavata or any other work dealing with guNa-mAhAtmya kathana. That said, not everything described in such works are total fabrications. For example, it is said that there was extensive narabali at the shrine of Lord pashupatinAtha at Nepal and Acharya bhagavatpAda is said to have stopped this practice and invited Rigvedic brAhmaNas from South to perform the pUjA. This practice continues to this day and the great soul Sri Padmanabha Adiga from Udupi served as the priest from the 50s till 1993. We need to recognize the fact that shankara, unlike many other teachers, is not a person but a phenomenon that has made way into every aspect of Sanatana Dharma as we see it today. It is not only difficult to see Shankara in an isolated sense or from a point of exclusivity, it is rather impossible. What applies to personalities like Rama and Krishna applies to Shankara as well and his popularity with commoners and scholars alike today, in par with these avataras, is proof enough.

I can only advice you to learn about Shankara, read shankara and more than anything, experience him. That alone can resolve such dvandva completely.

bhava sha~Nkara deshika me sharaNam