About five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna, the father of dharma, vanished from this world. Along with him went dharma, and everything began to deteriorate. Innocent animals were being sacrificed in the name of the scriptures, converting even temples into slaughterhouses. The scriptures, however, talk about sacrifices in a different context and say that if we cannot give life, we cannot take someone’s life. But all these principles were forgotten and misused to fulfil selfish motives.
It was at this time that Lord Buddha appeared, as predicted in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhavishya Purana. He was an emergency incarnation of the Lord. If somebody has fractured both legs and has had a plaster on for two months, he needs to heal completely before he can go horse riding—the Lord used the same logic for a degrading society. To save society, Lord Buddha performed the task of preaching the philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence).
He deliberately did not talk about the scriptures, because the killings were happening on that very basis. He also carefully avoided talking about God, because if He did, He would have to bring the scriptures back, as knowledge about God must come only from the scriptures. Indirectly, He guided people to seek God’s shelter by leading them towards Himself, since He was the incarnation of God.
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Lord Buddha applied the brakes on a nonconformist society, but it needed to take a U-turn in the right direction. This is why Lord Shiva was sent as Shankaracharya, to bring people’s faith back in the scriptures and God.
Shankaracharya had to devise ways and means appropriate to the time, place and circumstances. If he had directly spoken about devotional service, or a personal God, when people had been following the philosophy of ‘no God’, they would have rejected him. He had to first bring people’s faith back to the scriptures before he could bring God back into their lives in His ultimate glorious form.
So, he disseminated the dubious Mayavad philosophy, which states that God is there, but formless. His form is an illusion (maya), and all are one with God—you are God, and everybody is God.
When people were exposed to this philosophy, those who had fallen from the path and had no sense of religiosity immediately accepted the philosophy. Most importantly, Shankaracharya quoted the Vedic scriptures to prove his point. Thus, he brought back their faith in scriptures. However, those who were actually devotees didn’t accept this line of thought and kept their consciousness fixed on the beautiful form of the Lord. This also helped in the segregation between the true devotees and the pretenders, since it was a time when everyone seemed to be a spiritualist hiding in the shadow of atheism.
Lord Buddha and Shankaracharya were a part of the divine mission, not the whole mission. Their philosophies were meant for a particular time and reason. Later, Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya would establish the absolute truth, and give the world complete understanding about God and our eternal relationship of servitude to Him.
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The birth of a missionary
Shankaracharya was born in 788 ad and lived on this planet for only thirty-two years. In this short time, he accomplished the unimaginable, that which can only be achieved when a person is personally empowered by the Supreme Lord.
He was born in Kalady village in Kerala, south India, on the banks of the river Periyar. His parents, Shivguru and Aryamba, had been childless for a long time and desired a son. They decided to worship Lord Shiva with a pure heart.
Lord Shiva was so pleased with them that He Himself decided to be born to them. His father named him Shankar, since he knew that his child was born due to Lord Shiva’s mercy. The child was so radiant that he illuminated the entire house. All the ritualistic ceremonies were devoutly performed soon after his birth.
Excerpted with permission from ‘Icons of Grace – Twenty-One Lives that Defines Indian Spirituality’, written by Nityanand Charan Das, published by Westland Publications.