[Advaita-l] Why Shankaracharya performed his mothers shraddha.

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue May 18 16:20:32 CDT 2010

This was written for a different list but I thought it might be of 
interest on this holy day.

On Thu, 22 Apr 2010, RAVI CHANDRASEKHARA wrote:

> But this dharmic deviation does lead to questions regarding when can dharma
> be, if I may use the term, transgressed a little.  I heard sanyasis can only
> bow to their mother but not father after sanyas ashrama.  Perhaps Jaldhar
> Vyas (being moderator of Advaita Group List) could comment on Adi Shankara
> performing his mother's cremation. 

Karma is characterised by samkalpa (intention.) "I will do this action and get 
this result" whether it is some laukika or dharmic benefit is immaterial, it is 
the intention that makes it karma and it is ahamkara (the sense of "I") that 
drives intention.  (Therefore involuntary actions such as breathing, blinking 
etc. are not included in karma.)

There are four types of sannyasi mentioned in dharmashastras, bahudaka, 
kuchitaka, hamsa, and paramahamsa.  Of these the first two are allowed to 
perform karmas (in fact obligated to in the case of nitya and naimittika 
karmas.)  This is because as Swami Vidyaranya describes in jivanamuktiviveka, 
they are vividhisha or seekers of Brahman and as such still have some trace of 
ahamkara.  The latter two perform no karma not out of antagonism to it but 
because they have passed beyond ahamkara.  It simply does not apply to them. 
However they may still appear to perform actions not because of samkalpa but 
because of lokasangraha (the welfare of all beings.)  So for instance there 
were videos of Shringeri jagadguru performing Chandramoulishvara puja sent to 
this list sometime ago.  He does not "need" to perform that puja but it 
continues the traditions of the Sharada pitha and educates the public on the 
necessity of worshipping Bhagavan.

However none of this seems to explain this particular case.  A shraddha 
performed for all the mothers in the world would perhaps be considered 
lokasangraha if it were even possible but for for ones own mother?  So she 
would get to heaven?  This seems to be a clear violation of the paramahamsas 

I think if we review the facts of the story then the propriety of the acharyas 
actions becomes clear.

According to the Madhaviya Shankaradigvijaya (5th sarga) Shankaracharya at the 
age of 7 had mastered the Vedas and shastras and was ready to take sannyasa. 
However, His mother adamantly refused to give permission. (His father had 
already passed away by then.)  Then one day while bathing in the Purna river, 
he was seized by a crocodile.  He cried out to His mother to allow Him to take 
sannyasa but she was still reluctant.  It was only after extracting the promise 
to return and perform her shraddha that His mother assented.  On renouncing the 
world, the crocodile (which was the personification of Maya) released its grip.

So you see the promise was made before the entry into sannyasa.  As we have 
been discussing on advaita-l, even a jivanmukta can still feel the effects of 
prarabdha karma.  Sannyasa doesn't give magical immunity from that.  Even a 
jnani cannot take sannyasa without observing dharma such as asking permission 
from parents.  As long as anything remains to be accomplished, it is to be done 
according to the guidance of the shastras. It is only when one is certain there 
is nothing left to accomplish that one can become a paramhamsa.

A frequent criticism of Advaita Vedanta is that by saying that all dharma and 
karma can be renounced, it is just an excuse for doing as one pleases. But our 
Acharya Bhagavatapada demonstrated even at that tender age that Vedanta is not 
a rejection of the Vedas but the summation and fulfillment of their highest 

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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