Shri Shankara started for the north of India in search of a God-knowing Guru. He had heard from his teacher, when he was studying grammar under him, that the holy Rishi Patanjali, author of the Mahabashya, had taken birth in the present age as Rishi Govindapada. This sage, a renowned scholar of the time, had been a pupil of the inspired teacher Gaudapada Acharya. According to some, Govindapada Acharya lived near Badrinath in the Himalayas, while others say that Shri Shankara discovered the holy man living in a cave on the bank of the sacred river Narmada.
Shri Shankara broke his journey at a peaceful spot rich in scenic beauty. Its atmosphere filled him with deep peace. He noticed little frogs jumping into the cool water of the pond and a black snake playing with them and protecting them with inflated hood if danger appeared. This sight astounded him and on enquiring he was told that this place was once the Ashrama of Shringa Rishi, a most pure and enlightened soul of ancient times. Shri Shankara was later to establish a monastic order and a seat of learning at the spot, which came to be known as the Shringeri Monastery.
Proceeding further he crossed high mountains and forded swift-flowing rivers. Nothing of spiritual value is obtained in the world without surmounting obstacles. He looked for the cave in which Govindapada Acharya lived and found it in a deep mountain valley; there he saw the holy Acharya in a state of samadhi. With joined palms and in an attitude of devotion, Shri Shankara sat down before the holy Rishi. At length Shri Govindanada interrupted his samadhi and, seeing Shri Shankara, at once recognised his purity, high intelligence and spirit of renunciation.
The Acharya then began to explain to him the truth of Advaita. Shri Shankara devoted in all three years to the study and practice of the philosophy, in which he became expert.
One day, as Shri Govindapada was merged in the contemplation of the truth of Advaita ( the identity of the individual self with the cosmic Self), the river Narmada came rushing down in tremendous flood. The other disciples of the Saint were greatly disturbed, as there appeared no way of averting the danger to their Guru’s life. Shri Shankara came to their help and by reciting a mantram saved the life of the holy Teacher.
All were struck with amazement at the spiritual power by which he had been able to control the rising flood. That evening Govindapada Acharya related an old tradition to his disciples, saying:
“Shri Vyasa once remarked that the holy man who would one day arrest the rising flood of the river Narmada would also give a true interpretation of my Sutras.”
He asked Shri Shankara to go to the sacred city of Kashi, the modern Benares, then as now the highest seat of learning, and to worship at the temple of Shri Vishvanath.
On arrival at Kashi, Shri Shankara took up residence in a small house near Manikarnika on the bank of the Ganges. In the morning he performed his spiritual duties and then went to worship at the temple of Vishvanath. He began to give instructions in Advaita Vedanta to those who came to listen. His extraordinary grasp of Vedanta and other systems of philosophy at the age of only twelve surprised the scholarly circles in the city. Here he commenced his great commentary on the Brahma Sutras which will ever remain a monument to his genius. This commentary was based on the teachings he had received from Shri Govindapada.
His fame as a mighty exponent of the philosophy of Adwaita attracted many pupils, the chief among whom was a man named Sanandana from the province of Chola. One afternoon Shri Shankara was on his way to the sacred stream with his pupils to perform his noon devotion when he met a dangerous-looking aboriginal accompanied by four terrible dogs. They impeded his way and he asked the man to let him pass.
The wild man rebuked Shri Shankara, saying:
“You are a teacher of Advaita and a Sannyasin (a monk) but your behaviour shows complete lack of understanding of Advaita. The whole world is pervaded by one and the same Sat-Chit-Ananda. Why do you ask me to go away? Where should I go? You think yourself to be a holy Brahmin and me a base untouchable. How different is your conduct from your precept.'”
The words of the wild man struck the holy Acharya with amazement. He said:
“The one Consciousness called Vishnu pervades a saint as well as a worm or a moth. That Vishnu is my own Self; I offer salutation to Him whether He appears in the form of a wildman or a saint.”
He then sang a song of which the following stanza is well known:-
“This whole world movable and immovable is Brahman. It has been created in my imagination by the nescience of the three gunas. He whose mind is set firmly in the eternal, the transcendent, the ever pure, be he an aboriginal, or a Brahmin, he is really a Guru worthy of worship. This is my firm conviction.”
The wild man was in fact no other than Shri Shiva himself. Throwing away his disguise he said: “My child Shankara, I am pleased with you. I want to use you as an instrument to restore the pure religion of the Vedas throughout the world. You are competent to do so, my son. Remember that the ultimate aim of Vedanta is an exposition of Advaita Brahman. Go and propagate this holy truth everywhere. Whatever you do will be my work.”
Having said these words, Shri Shiva disappeared.
Index for The Life of Shri Shankara: