The Legend of Shankara – 8: Shankara the disciple

Listening to the Atma ShatakamSri Govindapada was pleased. He extended one of his feet outside the cave in a symbolic gesture. The young Shankara understood the symbolism, and bent down and touched the feet of his master; thus he was accepted into the tutelage of Sri Govindapada, son of the illustrious GaudapadaShankara would spend the next two to three years learning the tenets of advaita or non-dualism from his guru in his hermitage. 

Advaita = A+dvaita. The Sanskrit root of dvaita is dwi, meaning two. Dvaita is thus, the philosophy of duality which recognises man’s spirit as separate from the ‘Universal Consciousness’ or the Supreme Brahman; the supreme Godhead. The purpose of man’s life, according to dvaita, is to finally merge one’s consciousness into the Ultimate Reality, thus achieving Nirvana, or Moksha. The atma, or spirit, in dvaita, must return to the parmatma, or Supreme Consciousness. 

A-dvaita, on the other hand, is the philosophy which believes in the essential one-ness of all creation, that everything that is present in this universe, living or non-living, has the same divine spark, the same Supreme Brahman pervading everything as a substratum, the same indivisible consciousness which lives inside everyone and everything. Advaita emphasises that the distinction between various objects, and living beings, is false, and is precipitated by maya, the dream like false state which envelops us, and prevents us from realising the truth, from ‘waking up’ to reality, and seeing the world as it is. The way to Nirvana or Moksha, is to realise the falsehood of this physical separation, break the shackles of ‘maya’ and realise the non-duality of creation. It is this realisation that sets one free from the continuous cycle of birth and death, freeing the spirit, and merging it with the One Truth – the Brahman

It is the lure of learning the tenets of this Advaita doctrine, that had brought Shankara from Kaladi in Keraldesham, to Omkareshwar, one of the twelve places of Jambudwipam, where Shiva had manifested himself as a jyotirlinga spontaneously – swayambhu. The island of Omkareshwar was across the Narmada, and for pilgrimage to this jyotirlinga the devotees had to cross the river, which was a difficult proposition in those days. It was only with great difficulty that Shankara had reached Omkareshwar, had been granted audience with his guru, and had been accepted as his pupil. 

Now he devoted himself completely to his learning, and also earning guru kripa, or the beneficence of his guru. Shankara knew that mere knowledge, or rote learning, will not light that spark in him. It could only be ignited by the benevolence of the guru which he must earn by sewa, or service, and obedience, and unflinching loyalty.

Thus, Shankara followed the instructions of his guru to the letter, followed him around everywhere, and was prompt in fulfilling the wishes of his teacher even before Govindapada had the opportunity to express them. 

To be continued……

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By Divya Narain

Additional Professor in Plastic Surgery, doting father, loving husband, newbie author. Love travel and literature. Love reading religion, politics and history!


  1. Penned down so well… So much relevant today also.. Gives us comfort and confidence during these difficult times.. Please keep writing to motivate us

    Liked by 1 person

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