Adi Sankara - A Jagadguru

Updated 23rd July 2015

Adi Sankara - A Jagadguru

There are many explanations given for one to become jagadguru. Some say that by writing commentaries on prasthAntrayI, one becomes a jagadguru, some say by touring India and winning debates make one jagadguru, while some say the one who spreads nAma sankirtan, the yuga dharma, is a jagadguru. Lets examine what makes one a jagadguru. 

bhArat is soaked in spirituality. There are many traditions, Saiva, Shakta, vaiSnav, yOga, nyAya, cArvAka, Agamic, vAmcAra mArg (left hand path), tantra, etc. Our scriptures are monotheists, but they have pluralistic approach in a way that many forms of God are given, who are manifestation of brahman. A jagadguru in my opinion is the one who teaches all paths, harmonizes all paths, do not contradict veda-s, smriti-s and purANa-s and blends all into one harmonious system. A jagadguru removes misconceptions, corrects flaws in practice like removing weed gathered over a period of time, refines it, and offers in pure distilled form. 

In this context, a jagadguru must have mastery over not only one siddhAnta, but many siddhanta-s. Obviously, it is almost impossible for human being to have this knowledge. Hence only an avatar can be a jagadguru. Our AcArya Adi Sankara possessed those qualities of a jagadguru. From his biographies, and his extant works, we come to know that
  1. Adi Shankara in his commentaries has cited references of 
    1. Shruti-s (veda-s and Upanishads) - Karma Kand, MimAmsA
    2. Smriti-s (Dharmashastra-s) - Ethical and Moral Laws for universal well-being and harmony. Also represents Practical life.
    3. PurANa-s - For instilling Bhakti. He has cited as many as 12 PurANa-s including upa-purANa-s, thereby indicating their importance. He didn't interpret them only from Symbolic, Mephoric or esoteric point of view, he took stories as literal.
    4. ItihAsa (MahabhArata and RAmAyaNa) - For cultivating bhakti
  2. AcArya also commented on 
    1. Vishnu Sahasranama explaining meaning of various names (attributes) of Vishnu and indicated Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva abheda i.e. non-different.
    2. Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s - AcArya wrote Sub commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s by the name Yoga tArAvalI. It is only a 28 verse hymn, but considered as very important and is highly revered by Yogi-s
    3. On parts of Apastamba Dharma Sutra (sub-commentary on the chapter about inner atman), with the name AdhyAtma-paTala-vivaraNa (आध्यात्म-पटल-विवरण). (paTala means part, section or chapter of a book)
  3. AcArya composed an essence of tantra in his work prapancasAra tantra and saundarya lahiri.
  4. Was a master of mantra sAdhanA. He revived srI yantra upAsanA by re-consecrating srI yantra at kAmAkhyA devI temple at kamakoti (Kanchi) and other temples.
  5. Apart from this, AcArya composed PrakaraNa Grantha-s. PrakaraNa Grantha-s are the basic texts that teach basics of Advaita Vedanta. Adi Shankara, travelled length and breath of India and knew that it would be difficult for many to understand Advaita. Hence he created independent grantha-s. Important PrakaraNa Grantha-s are , Tatva Bodh (very basic, often recommended to be read first), Atma Bodh, AparokshAnubhUti, Vivek CuDAmaNi (though basic, contains very profound knowledge), Upadesha Sahasri, prabodh sudhAkara (talk about both saguNa and nirguNa brahman and two path, bhakti and GYAna).
  6. He also composed many Independent hymns for instilling devotion, Adi Shankara also composed devotional hyms to various deities. Popular ones are - DakshinAmurtI Stotra, Shiva PancAkshara Stotra, Veda SAra Shiva Stavan, Saundarya lahiri, SivAnanda lahiri, Guru pAdukA stotram, Guru aShTakam, etc
  7. Adi Shankara reconstructed and repaired many temples. The famous Jagannatha Puri Temple was once deserted and the idol was missing. The Lord appeared in his dream, gave Idol's location and ordered him to install the Idol. Adi Shankara not only installed Idol, but he established one of the amnaya peetha (math) right there. This math is known by the name PurI math. Acharya reconsecrated Sri Yantra at Kamakshi Temple in Kanchi thereby reviving temple worship and riving Sakta tradition.  
  8. To manage temple, naturally agama-s and Vedic Karma Kand are necessary. Hence he supported them too.
  9. Attempt for Universal Harmony - Adi Shankara propagated smArta sampradAya, worship for gaNeSa, Siva, Sakti, viShNu and sUrya as different manifestations of same brahman. He added sixth deity skanda for universal harmony. 

All advaitins earlier were smArta-s. smArta-s are the ones who follow smriti-s and worship pancha-devatA (gaNeSa, Siva, Sakti, viShNu and sUrya). There are 18 smriti-s, some of them are Manu Smriti, Apastamba Dharma Smriti, Gautam, Yagnavalkya, Atri, Daksha, Shankha, etc. Smriti-s are typically called as 'notes from memory'. Great Rishi-s what had mastered Veda-s wrote smriti-s in accordance with Veda-s (shturi-s). Hence even shruti-s are also important to smArta-s. Smriti-s are also called as dharma Shastra-s (laws code, code of conduct) and are created for universal well being and harmony. Adi SankarAcArya has quoted many smriti-s in his bhashya-s. Which means that he himself gave importance to them. dharma SAstra-s, which provide moral and ethical laws, permit us to take sword for self protection and also allow Brahmins who are starving to take up occupations like trading and even take up the dharma of sword as a last resort. 

If we stick to 'Brahma Satya Jagat Mithya', then dharma shastra-s are also useless and everything is illusion which is not true, as evident from his commentaries.

Our AchArya says, until you attain inner purity, you will have to do nitya karma and carry out your duties.

Critics are of the opinion that devotional compositions praising more than one form of God like kruSNa / govindA or Siva or tripurAsundari cannot be composed by Adi Sankara as they do not match with his core philosophy of advaita. Howeve, they do not take into account many factors which are explained in detail in the article 'Questioning Authenticity of works attributed to Adi Sankara'. karma, upAsanA, yOga, Sakta, Agama-s etc are the foundation on which advaita rests. Advaita is the mountain peak, while ways to reach them are many.  Base of mountain is very broad, but peak is only one. Other objections like authenticity of non-sAttvika purANa-s and Adi Sankara did not preached smArta dharma, but was a vaiShNava are replied in relevant sections viz Authenticity of purANa-s, upa-purANa-s and sthala purANa-s and Adi Sankara preached smArta dharma

There are famous SubhASitA-s which sum-up his teachings are:

Ruchinam vaichitryad rijukutil nana path jusham;
nrinam ekogamyastvamasi pyasamarnavmiti"


"Due to the differences in individual dispositions, people follow different paths, but you are the only destination of all of them, just as the sea is the destination of all the waters"

Akashat patitam toyam sagaram prati gacchati,
sarva deva namaskaram Keshavam prati gacchati"


"All the water fallen from the sky goes to the sea,
salutations to all the gods reaches to the KeSava"

Note: Here keSava is not kriShNa, a person, but the supreme Self, formless Brahman under it's sway trinity works. (ref here for explanation)

There is no shortcoming or incompleteness in his teachings, nor advaita is an incomplete philosophy. It is the crest jewel of vedAnta, and represents highest philosophical truth after knowing this truth, nothing more needs to be known proclaims shruti.

Adi Shankaracharya only established advaita as highest philosophical truth. AcArya did not demean any form of God, nor did condemn or opposed any philosophy. Our AcArya accepted them upto a certain point, found them incomplete and asked us to rise above them. According to our AcArya, without knowledge (direct experience of Self), liberation is not possible.

He himself did not gave Jnana to any grihastha and gave utmost importance to sanyAsa for attaining brahma-vidyA, as one can fully devote all 24 hours to God. To practice advaita vedAnta, vairAgya and burning desire for liberation are extremely important. He had only 4 disciples, that too after walking the length and breadth of India. This shows that he did not teach advaita to all.

For masses, he also composed hymns for various deities , repaired temples, reconsecrated sri yantra-s. This means he encouraged deity worship, shakta-s tantra (in pure form), karma kand (mimAmsA), but he did not consider them as the supreme goal. So he asks us to rise above them after you attain inner purity.

Unfortunately some parts of his biography, as some say, is corrupted and hence rejected by rivals, and only his prasthAntrayI Bhashya is considered as authentic and are undoubtedly attributed to Adi Shankaracharya. If we blend even some of his hymns, his biography and his bhashya-s, we can understand why he is called as Jagat Guru.

According to mAdhaviya shankara Digvijay (written by VidyaraNya Svami), his gurU gOvindpAdaa is considered as incarnation of Shesha Naaga and the same shesha Naaga in earlier incarnation was Maharshi Patanjali.

saundarya lahiri is also considered as very powerful composition on Devi bhavAnI, specially the first 40 verses (out of total 100) are said to be very potent. Then there is Dakshinamurti stotra, Shiva Panchakshara stotra and Veda Sara Shiva Stotra is also attributed to him, all considered authentic atleast by Kanchi Paramacharya. They show all harmonious attitude of our AcArya.

Citing 12 purANa-s which includes 3 up-purANa-s in his Vishnu Sahasranam Bhashya shows that he was in full support of purANa-s and he did not devised symbolic meaning. Hence he even propagated bhakti. He also cited tamasic and rajasic puranas which means that unlike Vaishnava-s he did not considered them as leading to hell, or in other words, those verses are interpolations.

In his lesser known work, prabOdha sudhAkara, AcArya goes on to praise bhakti towards kruShNa as the ultimate goal of life. While describing how to meditate on various forms of bhagavAn kruShNa, AcArya goes into ecstasy and claims that for the ones socked in pure bhakti, there is no need to liberation.  (pra. su 240, 250). Adi Sankara also recalls many lilA-s of kruShNa bhagavAn.

bhagavAn viShNu can be said to be our AcArya's ISTa devatA, but he never denigrated any other form of God like Siva or Sakti.

Our AcArya blended yOga, tantra (Sakta), karma kANDa, upAsanA kAnDa, GYAna kAnDa, Agama SAstra into one harmonious system and established advaita as the final destination by reconciling contradictions and difference among various religio-philosophical systems.

In my opinion, these are the reasons why our AchArya is reverentially called as Jagadguru.

Life of Sringeri AcArya SrI Abhinava vidyAtirthA mahAsvAmI


There are and were many AcArya-s who were actively engaged in polemical debates to defend advaita. However, spiritual teachings are far far away from polemical debates. A book, 'Yoga, Enlightenment and Perfection of Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswami (AV)', Guru of current Sringeri Shankaracharya SrI bhArtI tirtha (current SankarAcArya as in 2015) shows us that paramAcArya AV had been passed through many types of sAdhanA-s including haTha yoga, kundalini yoga, karma kANDa (nitya karma vidhi), vedAnta (advaita), narasihma and SArdAmbA upAsanA. 

We will have to understand that a guru will never instruct his beloved disciple who is also chosen by ambA / SArdAmbA herself as the next successor to the peetham, in false, fake SAstra-s. From the book we can conclude that Sringeri AcArya-s consider all 108 upanishands as authentic even though they are not quoted by any pUrvAcArya-s. an example is sarasvatI rahasya upanishad.

Meditative journey of AV will help us to understand why SankarACarya-s are called as 'jagadguru'.
  1. Lord Shiva himself taught Hatha Yoga and some kriyas in a series of 7 consecutive dreams
  2. Amba gave her knowledge of chakras, kundalini and Nadis like ida, pingala, etc. He could even hear the voice saying that this is anahat chakra
  3. When he was meditating on Narasimha, he got so much intimate to him that he experienced that every thing is an offering to Narasimha like bathing, etc actually goes to him only.
  4. When he experienced Narasimha as an antar yamin, Narasimha's form disappeared
  5. Amba gave him her darshan
  6. He meditated on Lord Shiva with Dhyana sloka of Dakshinamurthy stotra (some consider it as not authored by Adi Sankara, but here a guru has instructed his beloved disciple, who the guru has already announced a shis successor when he gave sanyasa at the age of 13 1/2 years).
  7. AV then meditated on Lord shiva with Snake as his ornament (thats what the verse was). After an hour, when he opened his eyes, he saw a snake loosely coiled round his neck. He touches the snake. Snake seemed to have liked his touched and rested his fin on his right cheek. After 5 minutes snake left him and AV returned to ashram (He was meditating on hearby mountain).
  8. Another day, his guru blessed him with Mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' (that same guru had initiated him into Naramsimh upasana) and that day, AV had a darshan of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva blessed him and ordered him to move on to Advaita sadhana.
  9. His guru then taught him advaita sadhana. During all these teaining, Av was young and he had not studied all shastras.
  10. He went into samadhi with the help of Laya Yoga (Gorakhnath's way), hearing sound and then mind merging into brahman.
  11. AV entered into samAdhi as per advaita vedAnta. With practice, he could easily enter into samAdhi in short time.
  12. His Guru made him to enter into samadhiby mere will when they both meditated at same time. Finally one day, he got permanently established in Brahman

Then his guru Chandrashekhara Saraswati brought him down. as he would not even come back to body consciousness, but his guru had different plans for him. He had to take care of math. So he asked him to come down from samadhi. AV also discussed Saraswati Rahasya upanishad regarding different types of Samadhi. This upanishad is also not accepted by some as no one except upanishad Brahma Yogin has written commentary.

Sringeri Acharyas also revere works like Madhurastakam (मधुराष्टकम) by Sri Vallabhacharya, tulsidAsakrit SrI rAmacaritmAnasa (तुल्सिदासकॄत श्री रामचरित् मानस)

Since they have meditated in many ways as prescribed in SAstra-s, they can guide people practicing those disciples. Practicing one than one discipline and achieving siddhi (Atma-siddhi) is very very rare. Only blessed souls chosen by paramAtmAn can have such rare qualities to successfully pass through many kinds of meditative techniques.

A brief intro of the above mentioned book is given by advaita academy. This book is available at bookstores managed by Sringeri Matha.


Birth date of Adi Sankara

There are many controversies regarding dates of Adi Sankara. All agree that Adi Sankara lived for 32 years. Scholars have arrived at two dates.  509 BC - 477 BC and 788 AD - 820 AD.  Some suggest the date of 720 - 752 AD.  However, Date of Birth is of little importance as his teachings remain the same irrespective of his birth date.


Current SankarAcArya-s (Shankaracharyas)

There are some fake godmen, who claim to be a SankarAcArya and attach themselves to any of the four maths. There are four authentic petha-s. The fifth one is Kanchi Math. There are also four GauDapadAcArya Maths.

Please find names of current SankarAcArya-s of four maths

(not written in itrans form)

1. Sringeri (South India): Swami Bharti Tirtha (36th), Successor: Swami Vidhushekhar Bharti (37th)
2. Dwarka (West India): Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati (holding 2 peeths)
3. Jyoti / Jyotir (North India): Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati (holding 2 peeths)
4. Govardhan Puri (East India): Swami Nischalanand Saraswati

5. Kanchi Kamakoti (South India): Swami Jayendra Saraswati (69th). Successor: Swami Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati (70th)

Gaudpadacharya Kavale (Goa) Math - H.H. Shreemad Shivanand Saraswati

Chitrapur Math (split from Gaudapadacharya math) has several branches.



|| Hari OM ||
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