Shri Shankara Acharya’s writings can be divided into the three categories of commentaries, devotional songs and short philosophical works. His commentaries on the major Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras are collectively known as the Prasthana, which literally means The Way, signifying the way which leads to Brahman- realisation. In his commentaries on these scriptures, Shri’ Shankara refers to earlier commentaries which are no longer extant, possibly because they have been eclipsed by his own writings. Shri Ramanuja Acharya, who later wrote commentaries on the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, contributed no further commentaries on the Upanishads.
Shri Shankara’s own commentary on the Brahma Sutras excels in literary beauty and delicacy as well as in profundity of thought: it is indeed a miracle, which the learned Vachaspati Misra calls “the pure Ganges” in his famous gloss known as Bhamati.
Some scholars doubt the authenticity of certain of the commentaries on the twelve major Upanishads traditionally ascribed to Shri Shankara. The commentary on the Svetashvatara Upanishad is not written in so fluent and attractive a style as Shri Shankara’s other works and it may therefore be doubted whether he was in fact the author. Doubts have also been expressed on stylistic grounds about the commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad. It is certain that many works which were later attributed to Shri Shankara are so different in style and content that they cannot be accepted as authentic.
In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Shankara reviews the different interpretations put forward by previous commentators. He explains the meaning of individual words as well as giving the substance of each verse. He holds that the only means to release is God-cognition and ably refutes the contrary theory that release may be achieved by a combination of jnana (knowledge; and karma (action). He does not consider that performance of the Vedic rituals is the most important preparation for God-cognition.
Many devotional songs composed by Shri Shankara are concerned with the worship of the personal God (Ishvara). Sixty-four of these Stotras (hymns) are attributed to him, not all of which can be accepted as genuine. There is, however, no doubt regarding the ‘Dakshinamurti Stotra’ on which Shri Sureshvara has written a gloss, or the sweet and eloquent ‘Bhaja Govindam’. Two of the many other fine Stotras are ’The twelve Stanzas” beginning ‘O dull-witted one, give up the thirst for acquiring physical wealth’ and the supremely beautiful ’Adoration to Hari’ on which Swami Vidyaranya, Swayam Prakasha and Anandagiri have commented.
Of Shri Shankara’s shorter philosophical works Anarokshanubhuti (Direct Experience of Reality) is considered to be one of the finest. Atmabodha (Self-cognition) is a valuable Advaita text-book on which Madhusudana Sarasvati has written a commentary. Another classic is Viveka Chudamani (The Crest Jewel of Discrimination) which summarizes the doctrine of Advaita in verses of great charm.
Index for The Life of Shri Shankara: