Commentary on Adi Shankara

It seems Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker is now $0.99 on Kindle, so I got a copy. From what little I know the subhead is warranted, so understanding Adi Shankara goes a long way to understanding elite Hinduism.

On the other hand, I have a dim view of most religious philosophy personally. But, it is important that people take such thinking seriously, as understanding it is a part of understanding humanity. For example, I can acknowledge that Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant thinker, while at the same time thinking his mind was wasted.

21 thoughts on “Commentary on Adi Shankara”

  1. This post is unfinished… But I will say, I always thought of Adi Shankara as similar to Kant.

      1. Let me make an off-the-road remark which can be interested. It is about the meaning of the word ‘apostle’ (i.e. ‘apostol’). Many people are interested to know what it means this saintly word, i.e. title. This a Serbian word which means ‘barefooted’. Jesus was sending his students-followers to go barefooted, without shoes, among the people to preach his gospel. In Serbian, ‘postol’ means ‘shoes’, ‘a-postol’ means ‘without shoes’. There is also a male personal name (a bit archaic now) – Apostol. Paul the apostle=Paul without shoes.

        As I can see, Adi Shankaracharya is also barefooted, it means that your comparison is founded. Btw. Paul was hiding in caves in Serbia to avoid persecution of Christians while they were still illegal. His friend St. Peter also firstly visited Serbia, founded first Christian diocese, 29. AC in the Roman capital city of Sirmium (50 km from Belgrade) and after that left to Rome where he later was hanged in Nero’s garden. Paul without shoes also finished as one of Nero’s victims.

        Couple hundred years after that (313AC), two Romans’ Co-Emperors, both Serbs, Constantine and Licinius, signed the Edict of MILAN (a Serbian toponym in today’s Italy where Serbian tribes lived), proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire and stopped the persecution of Christians. Constantine and Licinius fought for primacy and Constantine won, Licinius was killed. In the town of Niš (now the second largest city in Serbia), where it was his residence, the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

        About 1700 years before that (2025BC), one expedition left the same city of Niš (pronounce – Nish) and went to the east. They called themselves Aryans (the followers of the god Arion). They went to South and East Asia, founded Babylon and established the first worldwide empire in human history. There is a neighbouring thread with a discussion who inherited the most genes from those ancient guys.

        Small world, isn’t it?

      2. PS. Just a small correction in a calculation of years –
        Constantine legalised Christianity in Nis 1700 years ago but Aryans left Nis 2300 years before him…. And, a small addition…

        …Much later after Aryans, Greeks had a god Dionisius. That was exactly the guy who led the first Aryan expedition to SA and the meaning is literally ‘The God from Nis’. The Roman version of this god is Bacchus from the ‘Bak’ (in Serbian – bull). The name of Baghdad came from his name (‘given by the Bak’). In the Bible he is – Nimrod – first before the God.

        The second Serbian Aryan leader, Serbon, was also a deity in Greek and Roman mythologies known as Heracles and Hercules (in SA and the Bible also known as – Asur).

  2. I am done with taking things seriously esp. humanity, i am only about questioning every position& every side that can & may exist in this world.

    Humanity is the biggest lie for biggest wars be it religious, political or otherwise, humanity is a clock for every life’s inherent nature i.e. tribalism & survivalism, nothing else matters.

    I care even less about Philosophy because it essentially has no practical use for common people, except finding new ‘exploits’ about various species {& communities within} which ‘Elites’ can exploit for their profits.

    1. @Deep Bhatnagar Do you think it’s even possible to function like a decent human being in the absence of philosophy?

      1. Yep one can be a perfectly decent human being without philosophy because survivalism & tribalism requires everyone to forge strong ‘social’ connections which one feels will be enough for their progress hence we all are to some extent ‘Nepotistic’ because ‘trust’ is a difficult thing & if someone misuse trust then it becomes even harder to accept next time. No philosophy can ever go beyond inherent natural behavioral traits of tribalism & survivalism.

        Have you ever watched ‘Apocalypse now’ ? If you have not then i would suggest you to watch it & ponder about the questions it asks of the viewers.


          I especially love this scene & the story of vaccination of how Primitive instincts vis a vis Modern progress clash and projects dilemma that has no single answer ?

          As we may find primitive behavior heinous, barbaric but it is also on another level the naked truth about life as it struggled throughout it’s evolution & the simplicity, clearness in the barbaric actions of these primitive people lays bare the truth about life that it is survival as one sees fit & nothing else matters.

          On the other hand we find manipulativeness on each & every step as we become ‘modern’. We may have better understanding of world & various technologies but with more understanding we become more authoritative as we lose our simplistic, clear understanding of the world & this poses the question which human state is better – One that is inherently natural & simplistic or Progressive one that is manipulative at all times ?

  3. I remember being surprised on knowing about this book, since it didn’t seem very likely that Pavan K Varma has any kind of expertise on the topic.

    Last year, its book launch featured Anil Dharker and Gulzar instead of anyone who has spent any time thinking of the topic, and some Hindus on twitter weren’t happy:

    World's foremost authorities on Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada and Advaita vedanta and living examples of advaita siddhi Debonair Peethadhisha Shri Shri 420 Anil Dharkar and Abrahmasri Gulzar of Gazal Matha discuss Shankara's life with abhinava madhavacharya @PavanK_Varma— ರಂಗೇಶ ஸ்ரீதர் (@kshetragnya) July 21, 2018

  4. More seriously, it is not easy to appreciate Shankaracharya, mostly because the issues he passionately argues on are not ones you would be concerned about, so it would feel like much ado over nothing.

    Here is something that people might be somewhat about to relate to though: unlike many, Shankara in his Gita commentaries doesn’t interpret the Gita as saying that Arjuna “should” fight. Rather, according to him, the setting of war merely illustrates the rise of “sorrow and delusion” that strengthen the karmic cycle, and the purpose of the Gita is to tell people how to get out of the karmic cycle; to quote from here:

    Here there is no injunction to take up war as a duty, because be (Arjuna), though he was determined for war, remains silent as a result of being overpowered by sorrow and delusion. Therefore, all that is being done by the Lord is the removal of the obstruction to his duty. ‘Therefore, join the battle’ is only an approval, not an injunction. The scripture Gita is intended for eradicating sorrow, delusion, etc. which are the cases of the cycle of births and deaths; it is not intended to enjoin action.

  5. Perhaps the only time when the N-Indians had wandered so much from Hinduism, that a beef eating mallu had to step up to the plate and redirect them .

    Yeah sometimes the teacher (N-Indian) has to be rescued by the student (S-Indian) . But by and large these are exceptions.

    1. Killing cow was punishable by death under Hindu rule in Kerala. Hindus didn’t eat their pets. Present ‘beef’ eating custom in Kerala is part of three-fold attack on native culture that includes Islamic, missionary and Marxist(secularized ‘monotheism’) ideology. People who don’t ‘resist’ tend to disappear like it’s presently happening in the case of Hindu population of Kerala.

    2. North Indians need to get over themselves. Nobody is looking at them (us ?) to teach anyone anything. Did you watch the Chandrayaan broadcast ?


      1. Yeah bro i agree, we are beyond redemption. But Adi Shankara time was a different one, when S-Indians “thought” they could teach N-Indians something 😛

  6. Advaita and Dharmic philosophy in general only makes sense if you privilege 1st person, present moment, subjective experience of reality as being the gold standard for epistemic truth.

    Not to say 3rd person empirically true reality doesnt exist or is not real. Its just that this knowledge is viewed as a sub-set of, and epistemically inferior to 1st person reality within most Dharmic philosophy.

    For a normal scientific materialist type viewpoint the opposite is the case I.e. 1st person subjective experience exists but ultimately its is prone to error whereas empirical truths are seen as more robust.

    In dharma the flaws of 1st person thinking are acknowledged but they attempt to move past them, via more direct experience of present moment reality, unobscured by inferential thought and mental clinging (through yoga, meditation, bhakti etc.)

    This is the goal of ‘elite’ dharma.

    1. via more direct experience of present moment reality, unobscured by inferential thought and mental clinging

      This should be the goal of Indian AI 🙂

    2. Advaita (and before it Buddhism) is concerned with questions of consciousness – not first person subjectivity. One can ask questions about consciousness even from a “third person empirical” standpoint. So far science hasn’t had that much to say about this – especially about what is sometimes referred to as “the hard problem of consciousness”.

      1. Basically 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person views / questions / memories etc are all subsets of 1st person subjective, present moment EXPERIENCE (I.e. consciousness).

        The science of consciousness is not that relevant.

        Since inferential thought happens across time it is considered epistemically inferior to and a small permutation of direct experience / consiousness.

        Dharmic philosophy consideres itself to be just the view or darshana, and epistemically far inferior to the goal or realization of “sat chit anada”.

        1. I am not sure how one decides what science is relevant. But it isn’t a stretch to say that to the vast majority of people questions of free will, responsibility, guilt, volition, suffering etc. are at least as relevant if not more so than say dark energy or the big bang. (I am reminded of Nagasena asnswering King Menander’s question about the existence of God by saying “It is not important”)

  7. I used to have a dim view of religious philosophies too, but my views are evolving now. For the ancients, religion was the science. Religion was their method of understanding the universe around them. In the light of modern scientific knowledge their speculations on the nature of reality may look rudimentary – even ludicrous. However when we realize that they came up with their philosophical models via just hard thinking and nothing else (no telescopes, no computers, just nothing), then we begin to appreciate their intellectual labors better.

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