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....



K. Balasubrahmanya Iyer.
B.A., B.L., M.L.C.

The truth of Advaita rests not merely on the inherent validity of the scriptures or the Vedas but on that of actual experience or anubhava. The Great Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda, who is the foremost expounder of the truth of Advaita, clearly states in his commentary on the second Sūtra of the Brahma-Sūtra (janmādyasya yataḥ 1.1.2) that unlike in the case of Dharma the knowledge of Brahman rests also on experience (śrutyādayaḥ anubhavādayaścha yathāsaṃbhavam iha pramāṇam). Again when discussing the possibility of the existence in this world of jīvan-muktas or realised souls he emphasises that the only test for the existence of such realised souls in the human form is their own heart-experience, and such experience cannot be questioned by arguments about the possibility or not of the existence of jīvan-muktas after they have destroyed their karmavāsanās. Hence it is that Śaṅkara postulates the necessity for initiation by a Guru for the realisation of the truth of Advaita. As a corollary to this proposition came the acceptance of a series of Gurus, who developed the Advaita-saṃpradāya. Before initiation into the study of Vedanta, everyone is expected to make a Śāntipāṭha, and in that one recites the Guru-paraṃparā, from the beginning. God Nārāyaṇa himself is the first Guru, next comes Brahmā, next Vasiṣṭha, then his son Śakti, then Sakti’s son Parāśara, afterwards the son of Parāśara, the great sage Vyāsa, then his son Śuka, afterwards Gáuḍapāda, his śiṣya Govinda Bhagavatpāda, and then his śiṣya Śrī Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda, and then his śiṣyas Hastāmalaka, Sureśvara, Padmapāda, Totaka and others, and then downwards to one’s own Guru under whom one gets initiation into the study of Vedānta. We find therefore that Bhagavān Śuka occupies a highly honoured place in our Guru-paraṃparā. In this Guru-paraṃar ā that has been handed down to us in the Advaita tradition, all the Gurus are, as will be seen, realised souls that have experienced the Advaita-tatva. When praising Vyāsa the famous verse about him refers to him as the father of Śuka (śukatātam taponidhim). This is a unique distinction for, usually, the name of the son is denoted by the name of his father. Here Vyāsa is extolled by being mentioned as the father of Śuka. This shows with what veneration the great devotees of Advaita Vedānta looked upon Śuka. He is one of the greatest of Brahma-Niṣṭhas. The story of Śuka’s wonderful birth and the way of his realisation of Brahman are very graphically narrated in the Mahābhārata — Śānti Parva-Adhyāya 323, and following Adhyāyas. It is said therein that Bhagavān Vyāsa performed a severe penance for begetting a son. He meditated on the great Śiva. Pleased with his austerities God Śiva blessed that a son would be born to him who would be pure as fire, air, earth, water and etheric space and that he would attain fame throughout the three worlds by his spirituality. Having attained this boon from Lord Śiva, it is narrated that Vyāsa began to produce fire from two sticks of wood (araṇi). At that time the beautiful celestial dancer Ghṛtāchī appeared. Enslaved by Kāma on seeing her, Vyāsa let fall his Vīrya on the fire produced from the sticks of wood, and out of it a son was born. As the Apsaras Ghṛtāchī took the form of a parrot (śukī) at that time, this son came to be known as Śuka. This boy shone like effulgent fire and resembled Vyāsa in his appearance. The child was later initiated into the study of the Vedas, and Vyāsa instructed him in all Śāstras. The child was also instructed by Bṛhaspati himself. Curiously enough in a short; time the boy attained the knowledge of all branches of learning. But his mind did not move by the attractions of the other two āśramas, of Gṛhastha and Vānaprastha. But he was intensely(?) longing for Mokṣa. Hence his father Vyāsa, advised Him to go and study under the great Rāja Rishi Janaka at Mithilā. The Mahābhārata specifically says that from the great āśrama the Himalayas, Śuka came all the way to Mithilā on foot, even though he had the power to fly over the intervening space between the Himalayas and Mithilā. When he went to the palace of Janaka a discriminating gate keeper readily admitted struck by his attractive appearance. Śuka was received in the palace by the ministers of Janaka and enjoyed the hospitality of the maids of the palace. Even then he had absolute selfcontrol, and was indifferent to their attractions. In the morning Śuka was received by Janaka and instructed in the path to Mokṣa. Then Janaka portrays to him beautifully the characteristics of a realised soul, how he is utterly devoid of jealousy and other evil qualities, how he looks upon all people with the same eye, how he is devoid of the opposites, praise and calumny, pleasure and pain, heat and cold, how he treats gold and iron as same, and how he has mastered the mind and indṛyas.

Having thus been instructed in the Mokṣa-mārga by Janaka, Śuka returned to his father. At that time his father Vyāsa was engaged in teaching the four Vedas to Sumantu, Vaiśaṃpāyana, Jaimini and Paila. He taught Śuka all the four Vedas as his fifth śiṣya. Then Śuka sought Nārada as his Guru for being instructed in Rājayoga and Bhaktiyoga. Nārada taught the way of Dhyāna, Abhyāsa and Bhakti. He emphasised the absolute importance of jñāna and vairāgya. After obtaining the complete knowledge of the way of realisation of Mokṣa through Yoga and Bhakti, Śuka entered into austerities and attained Sūryaloka and became part of the effulgence of Sūrya. In the same way he identified himself with the other elements, Vāyu, Jala and Bhūmi, and finally he attained Brahman and wandered about.

Vyāsa was stricken with profound grief on account of the separation from his son and ran after him.

It is during his journey following his son that a wonderful incident occurred. The Heavenly dancers who were sporting in the water without dress, remained unmoved when Śuka went along that path, and when Vyāsa came, they hastily dressed themselves. When asked by Vyāsa the reason for the difference in their conduct towards himself and his youthful son, they said that Śuka was a person absolutely devoid of the knowledge of the difference of sex, and that Vyāsa had not come to that stage. This incident is mentioned with great enthusiasm in the Bhāgavata also. The greatest achievement of Ś uka, according to the traditional story, is his reciting the Bhāgavata to King Parīkṣit, who expecting death in a period of seven days, on account of a curse uttered by a sage, was intently meditating upon the Lord and was anxiously seeking for the way to attain the feet of God. The Bhāgavata narrates that Parīkṣit was seated near the banks of the Ganges surrounded by Ṛṣis and at that time Śuka made his appearance.

There is a beautiful description of Śuka who was of the age of sixteen at that time. The Great Brahmaniṣṭha who never stayed even a short time before any householder, stayed for seven days and instructed King Parīkṣit in the famous Bhāgavata-purāṇa, The Bhāgavata goes into ecstacies over the fine appearance of this lad of sixteen years with soft limbs of beautiful proportion, with attractive eyes, and smiling face, saturated with a mind absolutely tranquil and devoid of any desires. The whole assembly of Ṛṣis rose to their feet on seeing this Great Brahmaniṣṭha and made obeisance to him. Parīkṣit received him with great veneration and made him seated and asked him to teach him the way of meditating upon the Lord and concentrating on him. He said he was very fortunate in having Śuka to instruct him when he was greatly anxious to attain the knowledge of the way of salvation. Very much pleased with his desire to know the truth śuka congratulated him, and himself began to utter verses ending with tasmai śubhadraśravase namo namaḥ. This Hymn to the Lord by Śuka, one of the finest in the Bhāgavata is fit to be uttered by everyone desiring to practice devotion to the Lord. In that Hymn Śuka emphasised the greatness of Bhakti to the Lord. He declares that the path of Bhakti can be followed by all irrespective of caste, creed or race.

kirāta hūṇāndhrapulinda pulkasā ābhirakaṅkā yavanāḥ khaśādayaḥ
ye anye cha pāpāḥ yadupāśrayāśrayāḥ śudhyanti tasmai prabhaviṣṇave namaḥ

He also stresses that the Goal of all religious system is the realisation of God and the different mārgas expounded by those who have realised God is due only to their differences in the exposision of their experience due to the varying degrees of their intellectual perception.

But the only way by which they have attained the knowledge of Brahman is concentration through Bhakti-yoga on the feet of the Lord, by which their mind is purified.

yadaṅghryanudhyānasamādhidhautayā dhiyānupaśyanti hi tattvamātmanaḥ
vadanti chaitat kavayo yathārucham sa me mukundo bhagavān prasīdatām

Bhagavān Śuka thus expounded the great message of Bhakti as the royal road for all people irrespective of their intellectual attainment, for the realization of God. This Bhakti, the Bhāgavata declares, is the he all and end all of life. But this Bhakti according to the Bkāgavata must be inspired by tattajñāna (the knowledge of the truth) and by the practice of vairāgya accompanied by the pursuit of Rājayoga.

Śuka remains for all time as the foremost example of a Brahmaniṣṭha, who realised God through jñāna, Bhakti, Vairagya and Yoga.

The Bhāgavata rightly extols Śuka as a Muni, a sage with the cosmic universal heart, (sarvabhūtahridaya).

Therefore it is that both the Mahābhārata and the Bhāgavata state that at the call uttered by Vyāsa the whole of Nature responded to the call, (putreti tanmayatayā taravo’bhineduh). Even the trees, being united with him, responded to his name. Even the great sage Tayumānavar refers to the cosmic mind of Śuka and to the incident of nature resounding to the call of his father Vyāsa. He reckons Śuka among the immortal yogis. Śuka is undoubtedly the shining star among the illustrious galaxy of saints, who attained the knowledge of Brahman and merged into the universal soul, even during their sojourn on earth.

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