[Advaita-l] Conference on that Date of Adi Sankaracharya in October, 2002

Sunil Bhattacharjya sunil_bhattacharjya at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 7 10:57:32 CST 2010

Dear Vidyasankarji,
Kindly do not call this pesky and kindly let us know why A.K.Shastri in his "History of Sringeri" opposes the view of the past mathahipati of Sringeri, which to my knowlege is quoted in the "History of Vijayanagara" regarding the calculations of the date of Adi Sankara as related to the king  Vikramarka. 

Sunil K. Bhattacharjya
--- On Tue, 1/5/10, Vidyasankar Sundaresan <svidyasankar at hotmail.com> wrote:

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan <svidyasankar at hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] Conference on that Date of Adi Sankaracharya in October, 2002
To: "Advaita List" <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
Date: Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 7:33 AM


> The hidden agenda behind the date controversy is an 'attempt' to dislodge 
> the Sringeri Math tradition as being not an original lineage but a sishya 
> math of another institution down south. 
> praNAms
> Hare Krishna
> That is really a very cheap & childish tactics whoever employed it..is it 

Yes, it is, indeed. Unfortunately, they have been employed and have almost irreversibly
vitiated any and every discussion of historical details concerning Adi Sankara.


> not?? When the question, whether shankara (bhAshyakAra) himself 
> established the four math-s, is itself an open issue for discussion, it is 

It is not, as far as tradition is concerned. All written and oral traditional accounts are
unanimous in declaring that Sankara indeed did establish maTha-s. Even if it was not
a conscious and deliberate policy decision on his part, it is quite easy to see how
institutions would have grown around his immediate disciples and their disciples in turn.
And widespread tradition also recounts the names of four principal disciples of Sankara.


As far as I can see, those who question this tradtion of four maTha-s fall into one of
three camps, 1. those who are blindly skeptical and dismissive of all traditional details,
2. those who have some interest in dislodging this tradition in favor of a different one,
and 3. those who are totally confused about the inevitable minor conflicts in detail within
oral traditional accounts and therefore make all sorts of illogical conclusions.


> really hilarious to see the fight for supremacy in shankara's 'original' 
> lineage. Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao in his book 'Shankara & Adhyasa 
> Bhashya' makes some important observation with regard to 'original' 
> lineage of shankara's advaita tradition. Here it is :
> // quote //
> The natural suggestion is that shankara, far from being the great 
> celebrity that he is now, was almost unknown during his days and for a 
> couple of centuries later. He must have been a quiet scholar, shunning 
> pulicity and engaged in study and writing throughout his brief life. His 
> reinterpretation of the vedantic tradition was doubtless of great import; 
> but it had to wait to be discovered long after he passed away. 
> ...............

> A cult must have subsequently grown up around the image of the Acharya as 
> the one responsible for the intellectual resuscitation of the correct 
> vedantic tradition. Monastic institutions owing allegiance to him 
> probably were founded several centuries later, in order to propagate his 


With all due respect to Prof. Rao, this is one of the illogical conclusions I mentioned
above, based on an untenable early date for Sankara and later dates for later authors
like vAcaspati miSra and sureSvara. I have already pointed out that the 800 years
allocated to sureSvara has been corrected by the Sringeri authorities when correlating
their records with modern calendar dates. It is the refusal to accept the 7th-8th century
period for Sankara's date that then leads to these wrong conclusions. In essence, how
different is Prof Rao's statement from what was claimed by Paul Hacker? Prof. Rao thinks
sureSvara (or whoever started maTha-s) must have lived roughly 800 years after Adi
Sankara? On what tangible historical basis is this statement made?

If one feels that historical details are completely uninteresting and unnecessary to
discuss, then one should be consistent and not raise any questions about these at all.
Once one brings this up, however, it is necessary to be logical and consistent in
examining the evidence. It is easy to hide behind an imaginary deference to tradition
and hang on to the illogical early BCE date for Sankara, but in reality, such an attitude
hurts the tradition. In some cases, it goes beyond hurting the tradition and brings
the entire tradition into question. I will point this out briefly below.

The correct questions to ask are - Was sureSvara a direct disciple of Sankara or not?
Was padmapAda a direct disciple or not? Was toTaka, the author of the Sruti-sAra-
samuddharaNa a direct disciple or not? If yes, to any or all of these three questions
(I know the reservations some people have about padmapAda), then the dates of
these authors directly impinge upon the date of Adi Sankara too.

The next set of correct questions to ask are - how many decades/centuries must have
elapsed between Adi Sankara and vAcaspati miSra? Between sureSvara and sarvajnAtman?

Between sureSvara and jnAnottama, the author of the candrika commentary on the

naishkarmyasiddhi? Between Adi Sankara and bhAskara, who wrote a bhedAbheda-based

commentary on the brahmasUtra? Any sane and reasonable answer to these questions
has to be based on internal literary evidence, not on stories that people concoct. These
answers also impinge directly upon the date of Adi Sankara. If you truly follow the thread
of time bckwards via the texts that are available to us, the conclusion is inevitable that
Adi Sankara's date has to be sometime in the 8th century, or maybe in the 7th century at
a stretch. In the absence of any further certainty in oral accounts, 788 CE is as good a
date as any in that period. 44 BCE and 500 BCE are both out. By a vast irony, one of the
most traditional institutions of advaita vedAnta, namely the Sringeri maTha, has accepted
the reason and rationale behind this argument and then gets hammered by those who pretend
to have a more ancient tradition and those who think they value ancient traditions.

If you think you are truly attaching great value tradition by insisting on a 5th century BCE
date for Adi Sankara, you had better choose your arguments very, very carefully. If the people
who wrote commentaries on Adi Sankara's works and the people who really safeguarded the
all-important value that Adi Sankara attached to saMnyAsa were only followers of a cult that
grew up many centuries after the time of Adi Sankara himself, then the entire tradition that
these cult-members built over the last ten centuries or so is valueless. This may suit the
purposes of those who think they have rediscovered the "original" Sankara, but I would say
to them, first re-examine your assumptions about history and the advaita tradition. Do not
throw out the baby with the bath-water just to hang on to assumptions that are potentially
invalid. Don't be afraid to examine tradition(s) with a critical eye, but be willing to turn the
same critical eye upon your own assumptions too.



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