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Śaṅkara

(788—820)


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(c.700 ce, trad. 788–820)

A highly influential Vedāntic thinker and exegete. Now credited with the founding of the Advaita Vedānta tradition, he has been promoted by many, particularly in the modern era, as the greatest Hindu philosopher. Nothing is known of his life beyond the hagiographies; these portray him as a brahmin from the small village of Kālati in Kerala who became a saṃnyāsin at the age of seven. According to the tradition, his guru was called Govindapāda and his paramaguru (his teacher's teacher) was Gauḍapāda. (Gauḍapāda was the reputed author of the earliest identifiable Advaita text, the Gauḍapādīya Kārikā, the basis of a commentary attributed to Śaṅkara.) The boy Śaṅkara moved to Vārāṇasī, where he acquired his own pupils, including Padmapāda and Sureśvara. Moving again, to Badrinātha, he composed the earliest surviving commentary on the Brahmasūtras, supposedly while still only twelve years old. Thereafter, he led the life of a peripatetic debater and teacher, before dying at the age of 32 in the Himālayas. During his period of wandering he is supposed to have founded an India-wide network of Advaitin monasteries, each with its associated order of saṃnyāsins, later identified as the Daśanāmis. There is some evidence, however, that these maṭhas may have been established much later in the history of Advaita, and it should be noted that while the Daśanāmis have a markedly Śaiva affiliation, it is likely that Śaṅkara himself was born into a smārta Vaiṣṇava family. Nevertheless, by around the 10th century ce, through the advocacy of his pupils, and various subcommentators, and the critical response of rival schools, Śaṅkara had become established as the major proponent of Advaita, and a large number of works, both philosophical and devotional began to be attributed to him. Most scholars now agree that only a small proportion of these texts should be unreservedly accepted as the work of the 8th-century Śaṅkara. Apart from one independent text, the Upadeśasāhasrī (‘Thousand Teachings’), these are all commentaries (bhāṣyas), namely: the Brahmasūtrabhāṣya (also known as the Śārīrakabhāṣya), bhāṣyas on the Bṛhadāraṅyaka and Taittirīya Upaniṣads, and (probably) the Bhagavadgītā, as well as the commentary on the Gauḍapādīya Kārikā (itself a commentary on the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad). Some scholars also regard commentaries on the other major Upaniṣads (with the possible exception of the Śvetāśvatara) as genuine. For Śaṅkara's teachings, see Advaita Vedānta.

Śaṅkara

Subjects: Hinduism.


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