Preceptors of Advaita

by T. M. P. Mahadevan | 1968 | 179,170 words | ISBN-13: 9788185208510

The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself — as Śrīman-Nārāyaṇa or as Sadā-Śiva. The supreme Lord revealed the wisdom of Advaita to Brahma, the Creator, who in turn imparted it to Vasiṣṭha....



Srivatsa Somadeva Sarma
Sāhitya-vānmukha-bhūṣana Purūna-sāgara

In the uninterrupted lineage of the preceptors of Advaita, Śrī Śakti Āchārya occupies the fourth place. His biography and greatness are described in various Purāṇās. Vasiṣṭha, the spiritual son (mānasa-putra) of Brahma, had a hundred sons through his wife, Arundhatī. The eldest among them was Śakti, who possibly on account of the varied powers he had, was named so.

The greatness of Śakti is set forth in the work ‘Śrī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha Jagadguru Paramparāratnamālāstuti’, by Sadāśivabrahmendra with the commentary by Atmaprakāśendra Sarasvatī, published by Śrī Vidyā Press, Kumbhakoṇam, in 1837.

manasā śdktimupaimi sadviraktam”

“I meditate upon Śakti, the detached one, whose presence removed the sins of the king by name Bahumitrasahan, who had pre-eminent splendour, who possessed of mantra and yantra powers bestowed upon him by great ones.”

The commentator explains the meaning of this verse as follows: Mitrasaha of the solar dynasty had Vasiṣṭha as his family preceptor. Destruction of wild beasts and demons being the duty of the king, Mitrasaha once wanted to kill a demon; but the latter, by the power of his ‘māyā’ eluded the arrow and hid himself somewhere. With the evil intention of doing some wrong to the king, the demon disguising himself as a cook, prepared food from a human being’s flesh for the ancestral ceremony to be performed by the king. The food was served to Vasiṣṭha. But, the sage coming to know of the true nature of the food that was served to him, got angry and spelt a curse on the king that he should become a man-eating demon. The king, not knowing the tricks played by the demon thought that Vasiṣṭha was wrong in cursing him and he, in turn, in an angry mood took water in his palms to spell a curse on the sage. The minister, however, dissuaded him from doing so by saying that by cursing the preceptor the whole family would be destroyed. The king, fully convinced, poured the water on his feet. If the water taken after determination is poured anywhere that portion or place would get dirty. As a result of the king’s pouring water on his feet, his feet also became dirty; henceforth, he was called ‘Kalmāṣapāda’. This act, according to the king, was mainly intended to show others that any insult done to the preceptor would be a sin. Thus having become a demon, one day while he was on a chase to kill the sons of Vasiṣṭha he came across Śakti Āchārya, and on merely seeing him his sin and curse were removed. He then prayed to śakti Āchārya to take him as his disciple and instruct him on the nature of Truth as a result of which he crossed the ocean of transmigration and attained release.

This narrative is slightly different from the one that is found in the other Purāṇa. There, it is found that ‘Kalmāṣapāda’ killed and ate all the one hundred sons of Vasiṣṭha including Śakti, that Śakti’s son Parāśara in order to kill the demons performed a sacrifice and that Śakti by the grace of Lord Śiva appeared before the child to make him stop the sacrifice.

There seems to be a contradiction involved in the narratives of the two Purāṇas. But if we adopt the view that ‘Kalmāṣapāda’ ate Śakti and others from the first Purāna and that his sins and curse were annihilated just by the mere presence of Śakti emerging from the sacrificial fire and that he attained liberation on receiving instructions from Śakti himself from the other one (Purāṇa), the mutual contradiction in the views expressed in the two Purāṇas get dissolved.

In the 65th chapter of the first half of the Liṅga-purāṇa the following version is found. It says that Śakti is the eldest of the one hundred sons of Vasiṣṭha. He learned all the arts from his father, married ‘Adṛśyantī’ and was running the life of a householder duly performing all the prescribed Karmas. Viśvāmitra, as a result of his enmity towards Vasiṣṭha, accosted a demon by name ‘Rudhiran’ to enter the body of ‘Kalmāṣapāda’ and made him kill Śakti and the other sons of Vasiṣṭha. Overcome with grief at the death of his sons, Vasiṣṭha, as was the custom in that cosmic age fell from a hill-top with his wife in an attempt to end his life as well as that of his wife. This way of putting an end to one’s life was known as ‘bhṛgu-patanam’ which was not regarded as suicide, since one was permitted to end one’s life at the time of grief by falling from the hill-top. But ‘Bhūdevī, the Goddess of earth saved the old couple. ‘Ādṛśyantī, the wife of Śakti, consoled them by saying that since she was in the family way, the family thread would not be disrupted.

Vasiṣṭha was solaced on hearing this piece of good news. One midnight Vasiṣṭha heard the chanting of the Vedas from the place where Adrśyantī was sleeping. As he was wondering, he heard an unknown voice saying that it was his grandson, the son of Śakti who was chanting the Vedas from the womb of his mother, that he (the child) was going to be a great devotee of Śiva and that he would compose Viṣṇupurāṇa. Vasiṣṭha, forgetting the grief that had seized him, began expecting the day of his grandson’s birth. At last, the day also came and the joy of Vasistha and his wife knew no bounds. After having worked out the child’s horoscope, he was named ‘Śākteyan’. The child, noted for his wisdom even while in the womb, asked his mother the reason for her not being able to enjoy the birth of a child for her. While everyone else including Vasiṣṭha and his wife was avoiding a reply, the mother herself informed the child that his father was killed by a demon and that was the reason why she was not happy. Even before she could conclude her narrative, the child told the mother that he would bring his father very soon. Śākteya, praying to Lord Śiva, lit up a fire and began performing a sacrifice aiming at exterminating the demons. Thousands of them perished in that fire. Devi Pārvatī, consort of Lord Śiva, astonished at the child’s devotion to his father requested her husband, Śiva, to return the father to the child. Śiva also complied with the request of his consort. Śakteya, coming to know through his mother that Śakti was his father, prostrated before him.

The father embracing the child told him thus:

“Who can kill whom? It is only one’s karma that is responsible for one’s death. So, stop the sacrifice”.

The family of Vasiṣṭha was once again united. Pulastya of the ‘Rākṣasa’ race, blessed him thus:

“Since you were like an arrow to the enemy, you shall henceforth he known as ‘Parāśara’ and you shall compose Viṣṇupurāna”.

The Mahābhārata, Adiparvan, 192-195, gives a biographical sketch of the three preceptors—Vasiṣṭha, Śakti, and Parāśara. Once, a king by name ‘Divodāsa’ also known as ‘Mitrasaha’ was returning after a tiresome hunting in the forest. On the way, he came across some sages among whom Śakti. also was one. The king, feeling hungry and thirsty, asked the sages to give him way. Śakti told the king that it was he who should give way for the sages and not vice versa. The king, getting angry at this reply whipped Śakti and he in return pronounced a curse on the king that he would forthwith become a demon. While the king, repenting for his action, was about to apologise to the sage, Viśvā-mitra prevented the king from doing so, by making a demon called kiṅkara enter the body of the king.

Śakti learnt all the Advaita texts under his father, Vasiṣṭha. He was always conscious of his identity with the Supreme Self. It was indeed our good fortune to have had such illustrious, realised souls like Śakti who kept alive the Advaita tradition for the benefit of posterity.

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