Sankara


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Sankara

 

(also Shankara). Probably born in A.D. 788; died circa 820. Indian religious philosopher and poet; reformer of Hinduism and creator of the consistently monistic system of Advaita Vedanta (nondualistic Vedanta).

Sankara was born into a Brahman family in Malabar (now state of Kerala). He became an ascetic in early childhood and studied with Govinda, a pupil of Gaudapada’s. Sankara founded several religious communities. His chief works are the commentaries to Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra, or Vedanta Sutra, to the Upanishads, and to the Bhagavad-Gita.

According to Sankara, the only and all-pervasive reality is brahman, the supreme objective principle that is identical to the self (atman, or the soul), which is the subjective principle. The apparent plurality of the world is explained by maya, the special power of divinity; maya is the illusion that at times conceals and at other times distorts the truth. Our ignorance (avidya) prevents us from apprehending the unity of brahman, creating the world of plurality and the movement and change associated therewith.

Sankara does not acknowledge the reality of changes, which he explains as mere appearance. He refuses to grant the status of reality to the empirical world, even though he regards the latter as objective inasmuch as behind every appearance lies its hidden substratum, or pure being (brahman). Sankara is consistent in distinguishing between the empirical and the transcendental point of view—from which two different pictures are obtained— and he sets forth the rules governing the transition from one to the other; these rules lead to the elimination of all attributes, such as creation, movement, change, and quality, that are functions of our ignorance.

Sankara’s system is crowned by his doctrine of immanent and transcendental divinity, which possesses no qualities, and of salvation (moksha), which is achieved by the free realization of the infinite and absolute self, acknowledgment of the self s extraempirical nature, and recognition of the essential identity of the self and brahman.

Sankara’s works laid the foundation for the many commentaries within Vedanta, of which the best known is the Panchapadika by Padmapada, one of Sankara’s pupils. Sankara’s doctrine was exceptionally influential in the development of the traditional world view of Hinduism, its influence being felt even today; his work is deemed to have contributed to the victory of Vedic beliefs over Buddhism, which was forced out of India shortly after Sankara’s time.

WORKS

Vedanta Explained: Sankara’s Commentary on the Brahma-sutras, 2nd ed., vols. 1–3. Edited by V. H. Date. New Delhi, 1973.
Selected Works of Sri Sankara-Charya. Edited by S. Venkataramanan. Madras, 1947.
In Russian translation:
“Atmabodkha.” In Ideologicheskie techeniia sovremennoi Indii. Moscow, 1965. (Introductory essay, translation, and notes by A. Ia. Syrkin:)

REFERENCES

Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaia filosofiia, vol. 2. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from English.)
Glasenapp, H. von. Der Stufenweg zum Göttlichen: Shankaras Philosophic der All-Einheit. Baden-Baden, 1948.
Hacker, P. Die Schüler Sankaras. Wiesbaden, 1951.
Sen, H. K. Acharya Sankara. [Dakshineswar, 1957.]
Karmarkar, R. D. Sankara’s Advaita. Dharwar, 1966.

V. N. TOPOROV

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