Lord Shiva, the foremost devotee of Krishna and His guna incarnation is one of the twelve mahajanas or authorities in the science of devotional service. Vaishnavanam yatha Shambhu. Lord Shiva resides as Nandishwara meditating on Lord Krishna and awaiting His darshan near Nandagaon, as Gopeswhara and Banakhandi Mahadeva serving Krishna in Vrindavana, as Vishwanatha praying in baisi pahaca near entrance of Lord Jagannatha’s temple in Puri, as Lingaraja receiving the prasada of Ananta Vasudeva in Bhubaneshwar and as Sri Manjunatha worshipping Narasimhadeva in Dharmasthala. He is also receiving the blessings from the lotus hands of Anantapadmanabha swamy in Thiruvanantapuram and Adikeshava swamy in Thiruvattaru. As an eternal servitor of Krishna, he is always engaged in serving the Lord and performing activities exclusively meant for the welfare of this world.
That the various pastimes of Lord Shiva are elaborately presented in the Srimad Bhagavatam, which is perhaps the most important scripture for all the adherents of Vaishnavism, is a testimony to his greatness. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains in his Gitavali that Lord Shiva is always engaged in the ecstatic chanting of the holy names of Krishna. Great devotees like Narada muni and Brahmaji always yearn for his association. The very name ‘Shiva’ indicates that he is all auspicious and is serving the Lord in His ultimate plan, taking conditioned souls back to home, back to Godhead.
In line with the Lord’s plan, Lord Shiva incarnated on this planet in the land of Bharatavarsha as the great saint and mystic Adi Shankara. He appeared in a place called Kaladi, which is located on the banks of river Purna in the current state of Kerala. He was born to a brahmin couple – Shivaguru and Aryamba in response to their prayers to Sri Vadakunnathan, a form of Lord Shiva. During the time of Shankara’s birth, the world was facing an unprecedented spiritual turmoil. The authority and relevance of the Vedas, the basis of human learning and culture were severely undermined. Buddhism and atheism had become widely prevalent and theistic philosophies were discouraged and suppressed. As a result, the true import of the Vedas was lost. Philosophies like Karma mimamsa had assumed importance due to which ritualistic ceremonies were practiced without consideration of their actual purpose. The foundational principles of dharma were challenged. The remaining followers of Vaidika dharma wept for reform and the world was in need of a spiritual revolution. Sri Shankara was sent by the Lord to secure human civilisation from the onslaught of atheistic influence and lay the foundation for a Vedic rejuvenation to usher in.
Shivaguru passed away when Shankara was a small child. Shankara mastered all the Vedas when he was very young and took up sanyasa at the tender age of eight. This is not at all astonishing, for he is non-different from Sri Dakshinamurthy or Lord Shiva as the universal teacher. After travelling fearlessly to North India as a child sanyasin, Sri Shankara became a disciple of Govinda Bhagavatpada, an authority on the Vedas at that time. Initiated by his Guru to write commentaries and treatises on various subject matters starting with the Brahma sutras, the sun of Shankara rose in the sky of Bharata and shone his light on the importance of the Vedas, the bedrock of theism. Furthermore, he dried up the muddles of atheistic philosophies with the effulgence of his logic and erudition thus clearing the path to a spiritual renaissance. He retrieved the populace from the clutches of unscrupulous men and placed them back in the safe shelter of the Vedas. Shankara is aptly glorified by the following mantra reflecting his achievements, which are possible only for an Acharya – an empowered servitor of the Lord.
shruti smriti puranam alayam karunalayam
namami bhagavadpadam shankaram lokashankaram
“I salute the compassionate abode of the vedas, smritis and puranas known as Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada, who makes the entire world auspicious.”
True to his name, Sripada Shankaracharya did the great welfare work of travelling the length and breadth of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and turned people back towards the Vaidika marga. In spite of all these accomplishments, Vaishnavas have been ordered to desist from studying his philosophy and interpretations by none other than Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Chaitanya completely rejected the conclusions of Shankaracharya and ridiculed his theories, terming them Mayavada. Srila Prabhupada often quotes the famous statement of Lord Caitanya : mayavadi bhashya sunile haya sarva-nasha.
How is it possible that Shankaracharya, who is verily Lord Shiva, expounded the scriptures in such a way that it is strictly forbidden for the devotees of Lord Krishna to even hear it from a distance? After all, the mission of Shankaracharya was to re-establish the supremacy of the Vedas, which are coming from the lotus mouth of the Lord. Can there be a flaw in the plan of the Lord? Can his dearest devotee obfuscate the truth and present Vedic wisdom contrary to the sastras and act against the will of the Supreme Lord? And why did the Lord sanction such gross misrepresentation? These doubts may arise in our minds.
However, we should be cautious before concluding and possibly developing an offensive attitude towards Sri Shankaracharya, a great personality and an incarnation of Lord Shiva, the superexcellent Vaishnava. The readers of Srimad Bhagavatam will know the incident of the innocuous smiling of Chitraketu upon seeing Parvati devi sitting on the lap of Lord Shiva and his consequent birth as the demon Vrtrasura. In his narration and purports, Srila Prabhupada has sufficiently explained the dangers and consequences of a contemptuous attitude towards devotees like Lord Shiva.
Sri Caitanya Charitamrita also warns ‘vaishnavera kriya mudra vijneha na bujhaya’. Srila Prabhupada explains this point in the following manner:
“The devotee does not do anything not sanctioned by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As it is said, vaishnavera kriya mudra vijneha na bujhaya. Even the most learned or experienced person cannot understand the movements of a Vaishnava, a pure devotee. No one, therefore, should criticize a pure Vaishnava. A Vaishnava knows his own business; whatever he does is precisely right because he is always guided by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
These perplexing conflicts can be resolved by referring to the shastras and the elucidations of Lord Chaitanya presented by His expert representative, Srila Prabhupada. In the following articles, we will try to understand the mystery of Sri Shankaracharya’s interpretation of Vedic principles and unravel the real purpose behind his ‘misleading’ expositions. We will also find out reasons behind his bewildering commentaries of the scriptures and his internal convictions.