[Advaita-l] Book review: Shri Shri Satchidanandendra Sarasvati (Life History & His Contributions to Shankara Vedanta)
Jaldhar H. Vyas
jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue Dec 9 04:50:32 CST 2008
It is our ancient custom to recount the biographies of our saints and scholars.
In the tales of the itihasa and puranas or the digvijaya of Shankaracharya we
can see the practical application of the theories of the shastras. We mustn't
think that the heroes of sanatana dharma belong solely in the legendary past
for even today Punya Bharat is the home to sages of the greatest magnitude. One
such luminary was Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati of Karnataka. (1880-1975)
The story of his life and great deeds was written in Kannada by Shri
Lakshminrsimha Murti, a disciple, under the title Gurucharitamrita. Now thanks
to our list member Shrimati Savitri Devaraj, it is available to English
speakers as well. She was kind enough to send me a copy and here are my
thoughts about it.
Y. Subbaraya was born in a typical Brahmana family of that time. His parents
though not great scholars themselves were faithful astikas and did their duties
dilligently. And the village Yellambalase where they lived though small and off
the beaten track was filled with pious people. It was an environment that
instilled a devotion to dharma and jnana in young Subbaraya that would last a
lifetime. This was a very uplifting part of the book for me. We see the boy
growing into a young man and steadily increasing in Vedantic knowledge. From
the beginning, he did not just repeat what he had learnt but thought
analytically about each topic.
Although he supported himself by various teaching jobs, Vedanta continued to
remain Subbarayas main interest and in 1920, he formed the Adhyatma Prakasha
Karyalaya as a vehicle to spread knowledge about Shankaracharyas teachings and
his own views on the same. His fluency in Sanskrit, Kannada, and English led
him to become a prolific author. This book gives useful information on the
title, contents, and publication dates of his many works and the various
dharmic activities of the Karyalaya.
In 1948, Y. Subbaraya took sannyasa with the name Swami Satchidanandendra
Saraswati. The description of this event in this book reminds us that Vedanta
cannot remain a matter of books. It has to be put into practice with vairagya.
Swamijis critical approach (combined with the utmost reverence. He did not make
controversy for its own sake.) led him to conclude that the two major lines of
interpretation of Shankaracharyas thought, the bhamati and vivarana schools
unnecessarily complicated and even obscured the teachings of Advaita Vedanta.
He felt sadhakas should concentrate on the bhashyas alone and only turn to
other works if absolutely needed. As you can expect this was contested by more
conservative scholars. Personally, at this point I don't know if I would agree
with Swamiji. However it is clear that he was no deviationist and his ideas
are well within the bounds of traditional Advaita Vedanta and were accepted as
such by the vidvans. The book explains the nature of the controversy and tells
of some of the participants but I would have liked more information. Happily,
the book also contains English excerpts from one of Swamijis Sanskrit works on
the topic called vedantavidvadghosti ("Vedantins Meet") This will give the
reader an introduction to his style and salient arguments.
By the time Swamiji attained mahasamadhi in 1975, he and his organization
(which is still going strong today) were responsible for introducing the
thought of Shankaracharya to literally thousands of people. By introducing new
readers to the life and teachings of this great soul, I am sure this book will
help increase that number further still.
"Shri Shri Satchidanandendra Sarasvati (Life History & His Contributions to
Shankara Vedanta)" (294 pages) is available for Rs.150 (India) or $5(foreign)
from Adhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya Holenarasipur 573 211 India.
Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
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