Shankaracharya, Adi – A genius and the main representative of AdvaitaVedanta, Adi Shankaracharya (788-820) was a great Hindu mystic and scholar who made the greatest revival of Indian philosophy and spirituality in his short lifespan, being alone responsible for a country almost entirely Buddhist becoming again almost entirely Hindu. He wrote many commentaries on the sutras and shastras, the Upanishads, etc., and won many disciples through his power in spiritual debate. His most important lesson was that reason and abstract philosophizing alone would not lead to moksha (Sanskrit for “liberation”). He believed that it was only through selflessness and love governed by viveka (“discrimination”) that a devotee would realize his inner Self. The philosophy that Shankara proposed was powerful and capitalized on years of dormant monist and mystic understandings of existence. He proposed that while the phenomenal universe, our consciousness and bodily being, are certainly experienced, they are not true reality. He did not mean to negate it, but considered that the ultimate truth was Brahman, the one divine ground that is beyond time, space, and causation. Brahman is immanent and transcendent, but not merely a pantheistic concept. A lasting statement attributed to him: “Brahman alone is real, the world is appearance, the Self is nothing but brahman.”
The supreme truth of Advaita is the nondual reality of Brahman, in which atman and Brahman are identified absolutely. It was Adi (meaning “First” in Sanskrit) Shankara who gave Advaita its name and actively tried to spread its ideas. He systematized his conceptions of nondualism and its practice into coherent works such as the Viveka-Chudamani (Crest-Jewel of Discrimination) and Brahma Bhashyas, which are commentaries on the Brahma Sutras. He is also well known for propounding a system of bhakti (selfless devotion) within an Advaitic system of philosophy, and composing several bhajans (devotional songs), which he believed brought one closer to realization. Some of his well known bhajans are Bhaja Govindam,Soundaryalahari, and Sivanandalahari.
Adi Shankara’s contributions to Advaita thought and Hinduism in general are crucial. He revived monism in India and brought a profound understanding of existence. He considered that the ultimate truth was Brahman, the one divine ground that is beyond time, space, and causation. He did not mean to negate the phenomenal universe, but rather the identification of our true nature with the ephemeral structures, such as body, psyche, and mind. Indeed, while
Brahman is the efficient and material cause for the cosmos, Brahman itself is not limited by its self-projection and indeed transcends all binary opposites/dualities, especially such individuated aspects as form and being, since it is incomprehensible by the human mind. The limitless Self cannot be comprehended by mind. Transcending the mind is the path of recognizing our ultimate essence, atman.
Later Vedantins debated whether the reality of Brahman was saguna (with attributes) or nirguna (without attributes). The spreading of devotional attitudes has had the roots on the belief in the concept of Saguna Brahman. However, it is important to mention thatAdvaita Vedanta did not deny Saguna Brahman. Shankara counseled worship of God in different forms, and has composed numerous works deploring the uselessness of intellect and calling for the true intuition of the heart to be found in love of the Lord. Advaita Vedanta is commonly misapprehended as an intellectual philosophy, whereas it is quite practical, seeking to awake discrimination (viveka) that leads to Self-realization.