Yesterday marked the 159th anniversary of the First War of Independence in India. The rebellion began on May 10th 1857 in the cantonment town of Meerut and quickly spread across the upper Gangetic plain and central India. The event pronounced, perhaps for the first time, India’s consciousness of herself; for this reason, it will always remain solemn in our memory.
Those who possess high energy, a great vitality, cutting-edge capacity and relentless spirit bring either pain or well-being to their less-endowed neighbours. The British, at the time, clearly practiced the latter — the mighty conquerer who brought half the world to their knees.
Far before India’s rebellion against the English in 1857, when nation-states didn’t even exist, India held a similar, if not greater, power. Her practice of this power was in thumping contrast with that of the British in contemporary memory. This was a time when India exploded all over Asia; her people were brimming with creative energy and they brought spirituality to Japan, Indonesia, China, to Burma. This was the long and glorious epoch of The Buddha and Mahaveera. Today, incidentally, marks the birth anniversary of another individual in this long band of legends: the great Ādi Shankarācharya.
Ādi Shankara descended on the subcontinent at a time when its greatest import — its spiritual genius — was withering in confusion and fragmentation. At the early age of 10 (according to some scholars), he took to the quest of life and truth with a fiery zeal; this was a quest whose end lay not in Shankara’s personal realisation alone, but in establishing an environment for his fellowmen where they too could drink from the finer understanding of themselves and the world. What he achieved in 32 years of life is incomparable in today’s terms and impossible to list in this tiny tribute. Till today he is remembered as ‘Jagad Guru’ or the World Teacher.
I am not one to yield my mind and self at the feet of any human personality. However, my adoration for Shankara is different; Shankara is much beyond a human mould. He reflects a dazzling intellect whose force is seen in its keen sense of questioning, never taking anything for granted; a spirit who, at the same time, approaches the human condition in its entirety — integrating the heart, the mind and the full force of one’s personality.
Philosophy and spirituality (merely as words, even) can seem daunting and scary. Shankara presents himself in these unnerving moments: a quiet spirit that soothes the sweat off the brows, reassuring one of every great and high possibility. His life and example are stamped as testaments to this. After all, the lives of all great seers — Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Prophet Muhammad, Guru Nanak, etc. — serve the same utility.
Discussing sages and seers is difficult for a number of reasons. For those who call themselves ‘followers’ of this and that Guru, deification and hagiography close deep and sincere engagement with these lofty and subtle minds; Shankara, to such minds, can easily become an authority rather than someone one thinks with.
My Namaskara to Ādi Shankarācharya today is an invocation to a possibility. A possibility that I know nothing of, but whose promise I have felt in this great Teacher.
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