Shankara was an intellectual giant, a genius of linguistics, and, above all, a spiritual light, the pride of India. The level of wisdom and knowledge he showed at a very early age, he was a shining light for humanity. How do you produce such a Being? In the brief span of his life, he walked the length and breadth of this nation. From the southern tip of India, he walked to its heartland, further up north, east and west. Where did this energy, this zest, and this wisdom come from? One aspect which is both important and symbolic is that Shankara came from a village called Kaladi, which is a small town today. Kaladi literally means “beneath the feet.” In the South, we are at the feet of Bharat Mata, and this has paid off for us in so many ways.
There is a beautiful story from the Mahabharat that probably most of you will know. When Arjuna and Duryodhana went to seek support from Krishna for the Kurukshetra war, one of them stood at Krishna’s head, the other chose to stand at his feet – that decided everything. That afternoon, when Arjuna stood at Krishna’s feet, he basically won the war. This is the fundamental nature of our nation and culture – because we bow down to everything, we rise. We don’t rise by elbowing our way – we rise by bowing down.
Bharat means we always learnt how to be at the feet of the Divine. This is not a culture of pumped up pomp, but a culture of natural piety. Whether it is a god, a man, a woman, a child, an animal, a tree, or a rock – we learnt to bow down to everything. Just with this one aspect, we could produce great beings. By being at the feet of the Divine, we learnt, we evolved, we blossomed, and we became shining lights to the rest of the world for a long time.
Thousand years ago, well before Shankara, right from the Adiyogi, many yogis, mystics, sages, and saints have said this in so many ways. It is the intellectual clarity with which he expressed it, the zest and energy with which he spread it across the nation, that make Shankara stand out. One aspect that is very important in today’s world is that all this knowledge, all this wisdom came not by faith or belief, but by realization. Unless the spiritual process is in some way in sync with fundamental human logic and current scientific findings, people will not take it. Future generations will reject anything that does not make logical sense to them, and that is not scientifically correct.
In this context, Shankara is very significant today. There is some misunderstanding about what he said. I think we owe it to him to clear at least one. A lot of people are saying, “What is this nonsense that he said, ‘Everything is maya.’” The way it is being (wrongly) interpreted is – “maya means it doesn’t exist.” Maya does not mean it does not exist. Maya means an illusion, in the sense that you are not seeing it the way it is. Here you are with this seemingly solid body, but with the food that you eat, the water that you drink, and the air that you breathe, the cells of your body are being exchanged on a daily basis. The tissues and organs in your body completely rejuvenate in a matter of a couple of days to a few years, depending on the type of cells. This means after some time, you have a completely new body. But in your experience, it looks like it is the same thing – this is maya.
Similarly, the way you perceive existence, the way you know the world through the five senses, is completely off the mark – this is the illusion. It is like a mirage. If you are driving on the highway, sometimes, far away, there seems to be water. When you go there, definitely there is no water. This does not mean there was nothing there. There was some refraction of light that created this illusion. What is one thing seems to be something else. What you think is “me” is actually everything – this is the maya. What you think is “the other” is actually you. What you think is everything is nothing too. That is the maya Shankara is talking about. He also said that by knowing the human system, one can know the whole universe. Modern physics is telling you that the entire universe is fundamentally one energy. Similarly, Shankara said that creation and Creator are one. Today, after a long haul, modern science has come parallel to what Shankara and many sages of the past have stated with utmost clarity.
This spiritual wisdom needs to come down from the mountains into the cities, the towns, and the villages, and, above all, into the hearts and minds of people. It is time to bring back this culture, this piety, this sense of humility that has paid enormous dividend for us – to learn to bow down. This has been our strength, this has been our way, this has been the process and the method of our evolution and realization. This is going to be the greatest treasure – this is going to be the future of the nation. If we do this one thing, the entire world will seek guidance from us. Let us reignite the spirit of Shankara in this country and the rest of the world.