Contributions of Sri Adi Sankaracharya to Modern Society – A Dialogue

This Dialogue was a part of the ‘Adi Sankara Jayanti’ celebrations conducted by Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth in collaboration with Chinmaya International Foundation on 25 April 2023 at the maternal birth home of Sri Adi Sankaracharya. The audience constituted scholars, students,

and teaching and non-teaching faculty. The event was inaugurated by Chinmaya Vishwa Vidyapeeth’s Dean of Academics, Dr. Sunitha Grandhee. She also introduced the topics of discussion.

The panel was composed of six undergraduate students—three from the Sanskrit stream and three Psychology students. In a meeting a few days prior, the students had a meeting with Swami Sharadananda, Dr. Sunitha Grandhee and Prof. Gauri Mahulikar, during which the different aspects of Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s contributions to the world were discussed and each student picked a theme which was personally close to their heart. Thus, the topics of discussion were—

  1. Unity through Philosophies by Alok Kumar
  2. Social Inclusiveness by Anirudh Sharma
  3. The Shanmata Sthapna by Sai Avaneesh Raghuram
  4. Bhakti and Jnana by K. L. Meenakshi Nair
  5. Adi Sankara’s Four Matha Sthapna by Aswathi Asha
  6. Psychology and Sri Adi Sankar by Amruta H. S.

Each student spoke for ten minutes and each speech connectively resonated with the audience. Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s greatest contributions were highlighted and the applications of his Mayavada Advaita Darshana in today’s modern society were explored.

To summarise the essence of each topic:
Unity through Philosophies: Sanatana Dharma is not a closed fraternity but allows for a multitude of paths. No path is false. Among these paths, Vedanta is the discovery of the world through the discovery of the Self. In this vision, everything is divine. When the whole world is pervaded by divinity and there is essential unity among all the beings, there is no need for jealousy, enmity and hatred. In this way, Vedanta promotes the unity of the whole world: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam!

Social Inclusiveness: Sri Sankaracharya accomplished something remarkable by uniting our subcontinent with disparate communities and seemingly incompatible worldviews, including Buddhists, Mimansakas (old Vedic householders), Vedantins, Shaivas, Vaishnavas, and Shaktas. This Mayavada doctrine of reducing the world to a mere illusion was transmitted by his travels and discussions with all and everyone. He was not just a propagator of Advaita, he was the one who re-established the value of integration which was the forgotten value of our system. Adi Sankaracharya toured the whole country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to show that India is one.

The Shanmata Sthapna: Adi Sankaracharya has done immense work for Sarvadharmamaitri, i.e., for the fostering of a spirit of friendship between the followers of different religions. That is why he is called ‘Loka Sankara’. He united six quarrelling cults— Shaiva, Vaishnava, Ganapatya, Shaurya, Kaumara and Shakta—under the head of Sanatana Dharma and is hence known as the ‘Shanmata Sthapana Acharya.

Bhakti and Jnana: Bhakti, which refers to devotion or love for a particular deity or spiritual practice, can be beneficial in many ways in today’s world. In today’s fast-paced and stressful world, people often struggle to find inner peace. Bhakti practices such as chanting, meditation, and prayer can help individuals calm their minds, reduce anxiety and stress, and find a sense of inner peace. Sri Sankaracharya saw devotion as a means to develop a sense of surrender and detachment, which were essential for the realisation of the ultimate reality. He believed that true devotion should ultimately lead to the realisation of the oneness of the individual self with the divine.

Sri Adi Sankara’s Four Matha Sthapna: By building mathas in the four cardinal directions of our country, Sri Sankaracharya proposed that the thought of Advaita cannot be relegated to one corner of the country. It has to be visibly immersive to all of India. The more interesting aspect is the delegation of his four main disciples to head these four mathas. This defined national integration. They were shining examples of seemolanghana: forgetting the nature of regional boundaries and considering India as one. Thus, these mathas are clear examples of Sri Adi Sankara’s contribution to national integration.

Psychology and Sri Adi Sankara: Two examples of psychological explanations given by Sri Adi Sankaracharya were explained through his bhashyas of the Gita and Chandogyopanishad. A purified mind must be used as a tool to understand the Self or the Purusha. A purified manas is that which is purified by शास्त्राि◌ण (sciences), आचायोपर्देशाः (teachings of the teachers), शमः (control of mind), दमः (control of the senses) etc. The mind or the manas, is not something imaginary or eternal, but a physiological component of our body and can be called a sense organ.