CHENNAI: While the desire to seek happiness is basic in all individuals, the ability to recognise what makes one happy, and the means of attaining it is rare. While some seek money, fame and power, hoping that these will lead to happiness, others may choose to renounce worldly life in the hope of attaining peace. In this context, the role of preceptors who can unravel the goal of life and guide one towards attaining it becomes very significant. Sri Goda Venkateswara Sastrigal pointed out in a lecture that Adi Sankara's advent is hailed as momentous since this great preceptor not only established firmly the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as the unifying basis of Sanatana Dharma but also was responsible for the social and spiritual upliftment of the country at a time when atheism flourished. This preceptor had the unique distinction of being a philosopher, who was also a mystic, devotee, poet and religious reformer.
The far-reaching impact of his life, work and teachings has been felt since his times to the present cutting across all sections of society from the learned to the simple folk. While his learned treatises discuss at length the philosophical import of the Upanishads, his hymns convey the same philosophy through Bhakti Bhava to instil devotion among the masses.
During Adi Sankara's time a marked atheistic strain was reflected in the outlook of the people due to a general lack of the concept of God. His spiritual genius was pitted against the atheistic supporters (Nastika Vadins) who were well versed in the Vedas and the Vedic dharma that they vehemently condemned. Legend has it that Adi Sankara's desire to debate with Kumarila Bhatta, a philosopher and scholar from Prayag, was not possible since the latter was in the process of self-immolation when he visited him. But Kumarila Bhatta directed Adi Sankara to instead conduct debate with his disciple Mandana Misra, endorsing the high erudition of this disciple, who later became Adi Sankara's disciple. Adi Sankara was able to integrate the different strands of religious thought when the principles of dharma seemed to be on the decline.