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Prime Minister Modi’s party is busy preparing for the next election. They are unveiling statues of Adi Shankaracharya all over India. They are doing a great job in mixing religion with politics. During the unveiling of latest Shankara statue, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, Adi Shankara played a crucial role in reviving Sanatana Dharma. Udhayanidhi Stalin called for the elimination of Sanatana Dharma.’
He is making a political statement. ‘You should vote for our party. We will save Sanatana Dharma’. Thousands of crores of taxpayer funds have been used to erect these massive statues all over India. We have to ask ourselves, ‘are these really necessary?’
Coming to Adi Shankaracharya, lots of hagiographies are in circulation about his life. There is a lot of uncertainty about his lifetime. He was dated from the 5th century BC to the 8th century AD. Some people say he was born in the 5th century BC while others date him to the 8th century AD.
Hundreds of books were attributed to him. But it is unlikely he wrote most of those books. Many hagiographic accounts of his life came into circulation centuries after his lifetime.
Let us take a look at the basic teachings of Adi Shankaracharya. His most important teaching is ‘Tat vam Asi’, which means ‘That thou art’. He says, you are no different from Brahman. You are no different from God. God is in you. You are in God. You are divine.
But you don’t feel like that. Do you? You are Atman. God is Brahman. At an empirical level, you, as atman, feel different from Brahman. But that’s only an illusion. The task before you is, you must realize that you and Brahman are identical. The knowledge of the identity of Atman and Brahman gives you liberation or moksha. So, liberation or moksha comes when you realize that you and Brahman are one. When you come to that realization, you will say, Aham Brahmasmi. I am Brahman. I am divine. You will say Ayamatma Brahman. My Atman is Brahman.
How do you come to this realization? Western philosophy is mostly a theoretical discipline but Eastern philosophy is mostly a practical discipline. You come to this realization by practice. You practice meditation, do yoga and sit at the feet of great teachers to come attain that knowledge.
Basically, Shankara taught Theistic Non-Dualism. If you look carefully, he borrowed these ideas from Buddhism. In Buddhism, we see non-theistic non-dualism. Buddhism says, you don’t have an individual soul. When you think you have an individual soul, you’re nurturing an illusion.
When you think you are Atman, that is the problem. That is the source of suffering. You are anatman. You are soulless. With the disappearance of the self or soul, you are liberated from self centered living. That liberation is the solution to all suffering.
Like Hindus, Buddha believed in reincarnation. Moksha comes when you realize you are anatman. You are no different from anything else. Hinduism has many gods but Buddhism has none.
So, we see Non-theistic Non-Dualism in Buddhism. Shankara took it and turned it into a Theistic Non-Dualism.
Buddhism: Non theistic Non-Dualism
Shankara: Theistic Non-Dualism
In Nirvana Shatakam, Shankara says, “I am Consciousness, I am Bliss, I am Shiva, I am Shiva. Without sins”. Shankara believed that he was sinless. He was one with God.
According to the Bible, both of his teachings are false. God created human beings in His image. That means we are created with some godly characteristics. For example, like God we are personal beings. Like God, we crave relationships. Like God, we are moral beings. We are emotional beings. We are rational beings. We are eternal beings etc. Still we are distinct from God. We will never become one with God and lose our individual distinctions. Contrary to what Buddhism teaches or what Adi Shankara taught, our distinction from God is not an illusion. It’s actually the reality.
Shankara also taught that he was sinless and we are sinless. That is also a false teaching.
Read Romans 3:23 . All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Every human being who ever lived is a sinner. But there is good news.
Read First Timothy 2:5. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.
For there is one God. He is distinct from all of us. Sin created a great gulf between God and mankind. No one can cross this gulf between God and mankind. No amount of transcendental meditation, no amount of yoga will give you access to God. But there is good news. We have a mediator. His name is Jesus.
Jesus is the incarnation of God. He was the only incarnation of God. That is why Jesus was a greater teacher than Shankara. Jesus lived a sinless and perfect life. Only Jesus did live a sinless life. Everyone, including Shankara of us is a sinner. Jesus died for our sins. He paid the debt we owe for our sins.
That is how He became the mediator between God and man. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our sins are forgiven and we are granted access to the presence of God. While we do not disappear into God, we come into fellowship with God. This fellowship between God and us continues while we maintain our distinct individual identities.
So, the oneness taught by Adi Shankaracharya is a false teaching. I hope you come to the truth of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace!