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Philosophy of Shankara
by T.M.P. Mahadevan

Adi Shankara

Among the path finders to the Eternal, Sankara stands pre-eminent. He spent his entire life, short though it was, in urging his felowmen from the ephemeral to abiding, from the fleeting panorama of the temporal life to the spiritual felicity of the life eternal. So far as earthly living and the demands go, there is no distinction between men and animals.Sankara gives expression to this fact aphoristicallythus; pasvadibhis cha aviseshat ( As there's isno distinction from beasts etc.), and goes on to explain that here is no difference in the behavior of men and animals so long as the moving factors are appetition and aversion, and activity consists in a going forth towards the external sense objects. But man is endowed with a certain other characteristic whic, if properly cultivated will make for a distinction. Sankara defines this characteristic as the eligibility for karma, willed action, j Ana, knowledge and cites this connection in a scriptural text which says " The Atman is expanded only in man. He, inded, is endowed with intelligence. He gives expression to what is known. He sees what is known. He knows what is to come. He knows the visible and the invisible worlds. He perceives the immortal through the mortal. Thus is he endowed. But with the other animals eating and drinking constitutes their knowledge."  It is because of this special ability to discriminate and discern the truth that birth of a human being is said to be precious; jantunam Nara-janma durlabham It is in virtue of this endowment that man quests for the eternal, and eventually succeeds in gaining it.
Explaining the first word "Atha"  ( then) in the first aphorism of the Brahma Sutra, Sankara sets forth the qualifications that would make one eligible for the quest eternal. The qualifications are discrimination of the eternal from the non-eternal, non-attachments to finite enjoy,eats of this world as well as of the other, the  possession in abundance of virtues like calmness, and equanimity and a longing for liberation. The first of these is the initial qualifications that is essential for the Vedhanric inquiry to start. At this stage, discrimination does nor mean the final knowledge of truth. It only I plies that philosophical attitude which refuses robe deceived by the first look of things. What blinds the vision is narrow attachment to selfish enjoyments. Theses may to this world or the heavenly world. The mind longs for them and so is unable to see the truth when it is in the grip of passion such as appetition and aversion, it cannot understand even empirical truth, and so it goes without saying, says Sankara, that the mind needs must be thoroughly cleansed before it can realize the truth of the inner self
Na hi icchadvesha-vasikrta-chittasya
Yathabhutartha-vishaya-j a am-atpadyate
Bahri api kimu vaktavyam tabbhyam
Avishta-buddheh samudhasya pratyagatmani
Bahu pratibaddhe jnanam na utpayata iti
The mind that has been freed for passions should then be strengthened by cultivation of the cardinal virtues. The right attitudes must take the place of the wrong ones. Rid of its defects, the mind must acquire the excellences. It is then that the aspiration for release will firmly get established in the mind. This aspiration should not be confused with any passionate desire. Explaining this point, Suresvara Sankara's disciple, says that the longing for the supreme happiness which is release is not attachment; if this be attachment, then the wish for solicitude, etc. also be so, which is not the case.
Atyantoka-sukhecchayam Yadi ragitvam uchyate,
Vivikta-Desa-sevadav icchayam Kim na ragita.
Release which is regarded as the highest value is the same as the Supreme self which is the sole reality, according to Sankara's Vedanta known as Advaita. It is the reality that is referred to in the Upanishads by such terms as Atman and Brahman. One may deny everything else, but not the self, for it is the very nature of one who denies. In the empirical world it appears as limited and as many. As conditioned by the psychological complex called the body and by things that constitute the world, it is spoken of as 'experience' ( Anubhava).