Shankara's Life

Shankara was a Hindu philosopher who created the first widely known school of Vedanta. Little is known about his life, which lasted just thirty-two years. He was born in Kerala to a family of Nambudiri Brahmins, who were strict in their study of the Vedas. He was said to be a master of all the sciences, even at an early age. He is declared to have caused a river to divert and thereby come closer to his mother's door so she would be saved the trouble of fetching water.

When he was eight years old, Shankara wanted to become a renouncer, but his mother said no. Soon afterward, he was attacked by a crocodile. A moment before death he cried out to his mother to allow him to renounce the world so he could reach liberation from birth and rebirth. His mother consented, and Shankara was miraculously released from the mouth of the crocodile. He proceeded to tour India and debate everyone he encountered. At a very early age, he retired to the forest, where he met the sage Govinda and became his pupil. In time, Shankara became known as the most brilliant philosopher of his time.

Shankara would come to be associated with Shaivism and with the worship of the goddess through texts later attributed to him. His system of Vedanta is known as the Advaita, or nondual Vedanta.

Though Advaita, or nondual Vedanta, is attributed to Shankara, the formal school of thought known as Vedanta owes more to a man named Badarayana, a sage from the first century. It is Badarayana who receives credit for stressing knowledge as the only way to liberation.

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