adi shankara's cave

As one is led into the Adi Shankara gufa, the cave right underneath the Jyotirling at Omkareshwar, one is drawn into a meditative stillness in front of the Shankara murti installed there. Tradition states that this is the cave where Shankara, travelling from down south Kalady as a boy of nine, met his guru, Govindapada, on the banks of the Naramada. When asked by Govindpada, “who are you.?” Shankara bursts forth into the Dasashloki, an evocative ten-verse composition on the true Self, Brahmn, which defines him. Shankara`s profigious reply, considered his earliest exposition of Advaita, startles Govindpada into realizing that this was a rare intelligence, and he accepts Shankara as his disciple.

Cave where Adi Shankara took Diksha

Shankara`s dissection of the phenomenal world, and of his real nature, sets the tone for the formulation of the Advaita philisphy: “I am neither earth nor water, nor fire, nor air…. Neither mother nor father, neither gods nor scriptures…. Neither waking, nor dream, nor deep sleep….neither castes nor observance of duties….I am Turiya, Sivah kevala hum, Brahmn alone am I.” applying Pariseshya Nyaya, the rule of Residue, Shankara states that reality is the residue after all phenomena of the world have been subsumed in the non-dual Self. The Self shines as pure awareness, it is auspicious thereby.

Tradition also attributes a major miracle by Shankara during his stay with Govindpada for around two years. During the monsoon season, River Narmada used to get flooded by rains, and its waters threatened to engulf this cave, where Govindpada used to meditate. While fellow-disciples got alarmed, Shankara is said to have placed a ‘charmed-magical’ pot at the mouth of the cave, which contained the torrential waters of the Narmada. This yogic miracle, attributed to Shankara, is part of the lore. It has been considered as part of the great scholastic Hegelian construct of Advaita, in which all actions are subsumed within the one Brahmn.

In tracing his intellectual and spiritual lineage from Govindpada and his own Guru Gaudapada, Shankara conceives of the Self as consciousness, placing it beyond the three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping. Crucially he places it beyond the distinction of subject and object, since subject and object are both frnctions of the mind, the enquiry into the Self is looking at the Seer and not the seen, for what appears and disappears, as Ramana Maharshi used to say, is temporary. Only the Seer is constant, and Atma-vichara is a look at the origins of one`s mind.

In reformulating Upanishadic truths, Shankara and his gurus ground their Advaita thought in a phenomenological analysis of experience. Shankara believed that this Self-critique of the mind would lead to spiritual illumination. The mind would lapse back into its original consciousness from which it arose.

In contrast to the Buddhist emphasis on samskara and dukkha, as starting points of the search for the Self, Shankara focuses on the end-points of spiritual fulfillment and bliss, and lays down a mode of spiritual seeking, which alone can calm the existential anxiety of man.

The thought may be abstruse to the common man, but Shankara revolutionized the way of looking at the world and oneself too it is in the smaller poetic compositions, Prakarna texts, like the Atma-Bodha and Vivekachudamani that Shankara puts these abstruse Advaitic concopts within wasy grasp of the common man.

As one comes out of the Shankara cave, you will be overwhelmed bu the grandeur of Shankara`s thought best summed up as, Brahmn Satyam Jagat Mithya Jivo Brahmaivah Napara—‘Brahmn alone is real, the world`s illusory, the individual and the universal soul are one’. Rebel and conformist rolled into one, he was a man consumed by his life-mission to establish the non-dual nature of Brahmn but also ended up synthesizing various schools of thought into his Brahmn pyramid.