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Sankaracharaya's Message of Cohesion
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on Sankaracharya Jayanti on April 26, 1993)

Today we bring to our memories the coming of a great savant, saint and sage whose advent took place in this country several centuries back. This coming, this advent, had not only a tremendous historical significance, but it paved the way for what may be regarded as a permanent cultural revolution in India. Not only was it in this country, but its impact has been indelibly impressed upon the culture of the world as a whole because the work of this genius, who was called Acharya Sankara, was actually the birth of wisdom of an insight into the reality of life as distinguished from the ideas that people entertain about the world through sensory perception and sensory contact with the world outside.

The complete overturning of the very process of knowledge became a necessity for the blessedness of mankind as a whole, since it also became necessary to point out that the truth of life cannot be known by the contact of the senses with the things in the world. Senses do not contact anything, as a matter of fact. We are under the wrong impression that the senses come in contact with things in the world. What happens is not actually a contact, but a repulsion exerted by the objects upon the senses. When I love you and embrace you, it is a contact, but if I give you a kick in anger, that is also a contact.

Now, the contact of the senses with the objects is not a loving embrace of the objects in regard to the sense organs. It is indeed a contact, but it is of the opposite kind. They give a hit, a repulsive kick, and that we consider as a blessing. Those who know the meaning of social life, family life, and some element of psychology will be able to understand how we can consider even a kick as a blessing. Such is the life we live in this world.

It is impossible to understand the meaning of the situation that is taking place in our daily lives. If we enter into the mystery of this phenomenon of sense contact, we will be horrified to realise that every person in the world is an utter fool. Pītvā mohamayīṁ pramādamadirāmunmatta bhūtaṁ jagat (B.V.S. 43) is a passage from the Vairagya-Shatakam of Bhartrihari: “Having drunk deep the liquor of ignorance, people have gone mad.” This is what Bhartrihari says. The raving madness and the dance of ignorance may also be regarded as a blessing. Otherwise, why do people drink liquor and want to become unconscious and fall under the table? That is also a blessing. If it is not a blessing, who will go for it? But we know what kind of blessing it is.

Acharya Sankara had a great message which was not intended to be understood so easily, in the same way as there is not much benefit in telling a confirmed drunkard, “From tomorrow please don't drink. It is not good for you.” What impression will our advice create in his mind when he has been addicted for years to this habit? Our message will be like pouring water on a rock.

This is the reason why even today, with all the scholarship poured upon the writings of this great scholar Acharya Sankara, his message has not been properly understood. We have only academic gibberish which appears to be a kind of understanding of his message because professorial, academic, scholastic study of a philosophy of this kind is, again, confined to intellectuality only, which is a handmaid of sense perception. And we again come to the same point, that the truth of life does not lie either in sense contact or even in intellectual apprehension, because the intellect is only a confirming medium of what we receive through the sense organs. The intellect is a judiciary which depends upon the evidence, and the reports come through the sense organs. So the senses are not our guides and friends, and neither is the intellect. It is direct intuition that is actually called for. Anubhava, experience of the fact of life, alone can bring to the surface of our experience, our consciousness, what Truth is.

What is Truth? In his great commentary on the Brahma Sutras, the great master said, “Whatever may be the truth of life, one truth is evident: that you are there, or I am there.” Is it not true that I am here? Is it not true that you are here? Let the other truths be there, whether they are clear to your mind or not, but this much at least is clear: You are sitting here. Have you any doubt that I am here or you are here?

This indubitable conviction that “I am here” is not a knowledge come through the sense organs. Even if my sense organs do not operate—I do not see, I do not hear, I do not taste, I do not smell, I do not touch—in spite of the absence of all these sensory activities, I can know that I am existing. So there is one kind of knowledge which is different from the knowledge obtained through the senses. That you are here or I am here is a knowledge that has come not through sensory activity. It is also not an intellectual conviction. Do you require intellectual argument, logical deduction elaborately produced in order to know that you are existing? Do you want proof to know that you are existing? Neither do you want any proof, nor do you want any sense organ to operate, nor do you want logical deduction, yet you can know that you are. How do you know that? Let everyone ponder over this great fact of life. How do you know you are here if it is a knowledge come not through the sense organs, not through the intellect, not through the mental operations? It is existence speaking for itself. Nobody can deny oneself; nobody can doubt that one exists. Doubt all things in the world: The world may be there, the world may not be there, people may be there, people may not be there, God may be there, God may not be there, but are you there? You cannot doubt it.

I am. What is the meaning of this “I am”? I am existing. Where are you existing? The development of this thought is the entire gamut of the philosophy of life. Once you are convinced that you are, you have to build an edifice, a palace on this foundation of the fact that you are existing. Suffice it to say that you are existing. Now tell me, where are you existing? This is the second question. You will find that the second question is more difficult to answer than the first one. Somehow you have understood, and it is clear to you: “Yes, I appreciate, I understand that I am existing, and I know that this not through the sense organs or the intellect. But you are asking me where I am existing. This is difficult for me to answer. Can I say that I am existing in Rishikesh, on this Earth, in the solar system, in this world? None of these answers seem to be adequate. No, I am not like that. My existence cannot be defined in this manner by saying 'I am here', 'I am there' and so on, because there is a difficulty in giving an answer to this question.”

I am existing. Not merely am I existing, but I am also aware that I am existing. Therefore, existence goes with consciousness. Existence is consciousness; consciousness is existence. It is not that you exist minus consciousness; it is not that you are conscious minus existence. Look at the beauty of it. You are conscious that you are existing, and you are not conscious of existence as an object outside. It is consciousness itself existing, or rather, existence itself being aware of itself. Be very careful in knowing what this matter actually is. I am conscious that there is a pillar in front of me, but it is not in that sense that I am conscious of my existence. The pillar is not the same as my consciousness of it, because it is outside. The existence of myself, of which I am conscious, is not like a pillar in front of me; it is me. So here is a great difference between the type of consciousness that I have about myself and the consciousness I have about other things in the world. This requires a deep concentration of mind in order to understand what it means. If you casually hear this and just let it pass, it will not enter your feeling and your heart. It is a very hard nut to crack.

What is all this? What does it mean, finally? It is a serious matter, and nothing can be more serious in life than this because it is a matter regarding yourself, and what is more important to you than yourself? Minus yourself, is anything in this world important? You are the key to the importance of anything in this world. You go, and everything goes with it. So inasmuch as it is something connected with you and about you, you have to be very cautious in going deep into this mystery of what all this phenomena about yourself is. It is a consciousness of yourself, consciousness which is existence—consciousness not of existence. Language is limited here. We cannot use an ordinary style of speaking to explain what it is. There is no “of” between consciousness and existence. There is no “is”, there is no preposition, there is no conjunction, there is no verb. Consciousness is just existence. Existence-consciousness. We cannot express it in writing because language is limited.

Now, where are you existing? Wherever consciousness is, there you are. Now, where is existence? Everything is existing. There is nothing which does not exist. If it does not exist, then nobody will talk about it. So everything has an existence. Even a leaf in the tree exists. Where is consciousness? There is a quick, abrupt answer to this question which is generally given by people: “Consciousness is within me.” Is it really within you? If it is within you, you are inadvertently saying that it is not without you, that it is not outside you. Then if consciousness is inside you, locked up within your body, as it were, how do you become conscious of things other than you, that are outside your body? So it is ultimately not true that consciousness is within the body only, locked up within the body. Consciousness has a permeating feature extending beyond the limitations of the bodily enclosure, touching everything outside, defying the law of outsideness, because existence has no externality. Existence is universally pervasive, and wherever existence is, consciousness also is.

So where are you existing? This answer will be a bombshell dropped on the mind of any person. You will be shuddering to give an answer to this question. Where are you existing? “I seem to be existing everywhere.” Your heart will stop for a moment to say these words. You will hesitate a hundred times before uttering these words. “I seem to be driven to the conclusion that I am not just here, and I am not just anywhere else. If existence is everywhere, and if consciousness is inseparable from existence and I am existence, I have to be everywhere. What happens to me afterwards if I am everywhere?” Any one of you seated here may close your eyes for a few seconds and feel for yourself what will happen to you if you are everywhere. You will melt into the substance of all things. All these buildings and structures, the entire heaven will melt into liquid and become you. This Atman will become Brahman, as the great message goes.

To tell this to you, the great master Acharya Sankara was born. Even today, nobody has understood him. Sankara was a great genius, to say the least. It is often said that he mastered the four Vedas when he was only eight years old. When he was twelve years old, he mastered all the philosophies—the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta, the orthodox and super-orthodox philosophies. When he was sixteen years old he wrote his magnum opus, a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, which is a great wonder for even the great scholars in this world today. And it is believed that he was to have passed away by the age of twenty-four. The story goes that Saraswati, the great goddess, extended his life up to thirty-two; she did not allow him to pass away at twenty-four because he had to give a message to the world, to humanity.

Acharya Sankara's physical birth took place in South India, but he travelled far, to Badrinath, by the power of his yoga. At that time there were no buses, no airplanes, no vehicles of any kind, and not even a road. How did he go to Badri? By the yogic shakti only it must have been. He had a few disciples, of which four were very important: Suresvara, Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Trotaka. For the perpetuation of his message to this world he established four centres of learning in India. One centre of learning is in Badrinath, with its centre located in Joshimath; another centre is in the east, in Puri, in Jagannath; another is in the south, in Sringiri; and another is in Dvarka, in the western part of India. Thus, Acharya Sankara covered the whole country with the establishment of these Maths, or centres, and each one was presided over by one of his disciples. That tradition of running these four centres continues even today. These centres have pontiffs, all also known as Sankaracharayas. To distinguish these Sankaracharayas from the original master, we call him Adi Sankaracharaya. On Vaishkha Shukla Panchami his birth took place.

This philosophy is not merely to be studied from a book, because it is concerned with you. Can you regard knowledge of your own self as a kind of theoretical knowledge? It is a vitality itself. It is a breath of existence, and it is impossible to describe its significance and value. You have to live this knowledge. You have to be this knowledge. That is to say, Sat has to be Chit. If the knowledge that you have is outside you like professorial knowledge or the knowledge that is in the library or in the classroom, and is not in you, that knowledge is not going to help you. That knowledge alone is a blessing to you which is you. “I do not have knowledge; rather, I am myself knowledge.” Such a knowledge, which is existence itself, is going to protect you from all the ills of life and will bring you prosperity, here as well as hereafter. It will clarify the concept of the fourfold aims of life, known as dharma, artha, kama, moksha, the four-footed concept of the structure of existence.

Material values are known as artha. Vital and emotional values are called kama. Ethical and moral values are called dharma. Spiritual and ultimate values are called moksha, the last one including the other three. We have to live in this world with a blend of all these things into a concentrated focus, and not keep artha somewhere, kama somewhere, dharma elsewhere, and moksha for after death. Moksha is not to come after death. It is to be there wherever you are, and you are not there only after death. Even now you are also there, so why not be free now? Are you going to be free only after death? A person who expects to be free after death is not free, really speaking, because bondage will persist, and it will be carried forward to the next life as a figure in a balance sheet is carried forward. So the blending of dharma, artha, kama, moksha has to take place just now, so that we live a perfect life from now, today. It is not that we want to be healthy from tomorrow only. “Let me be sick today, and let me be healthy from tomorrow onwards.” No patient will say that. We want to be healthy today itself.

Therefore, would you postpone this great necessity—of blending the values of life into a single focus of perfection—to a future life? Actually, timeless is existence and, therefore, there is no such thing as a future life. It is eternal life that is really there. It is eternity that we are after, not a futurity of life. It is not a reincarnation through this psychophysical personality. It is a merging of Atman in Brahman, the Spiritual Entity within in the Spiritual Reality which is everywhere.

This also has a social impact, and is not only psychological, philosophical and spiritual. It has revolutionised human society. Sankaracharya has brought about a powerful force of cementing humanity into a single whole of compactness. If the soul, the Atman in the individual, is the reality of life, and it is a spark of divinity aiming at union with the Universal Being, then humanity is one fraternity, one family under the fatherhood of the Almighty.

Thus, political cohesion, social cohesion, psychological cohesion, ethical cohesion and spiritual cohesion are all brought together at one stroke by the blow given to the mind of man by this injection that the great master Acharya Sankara has given by his message. If these few words that I have spoken to you have entered you in their true spirit, and if you can draw the necessary conclusions from what I have told you, I have no doubt that you will be blessed and you will continue to deeply ponder over these truths, meditate on them, revolutionise your outlook of life, and live a life of perfection, happiness and abundance.