Shankara's arrival on the scene was at a most critical juncture when both Buddhism and Hinduism were fast disintegrating into various sects and cults. Buddha's original teachings were a reaction to the vedic sacrificial extremities. But in the later centuries practices like magic and sexual mysticism crept into Buddhism. Vedic religion was not very different, having given way to superstitious ways, and a large number of rituals. It was Shankara who tried to re-assess and integrate sound teachings of Buddha in the vedic (Hindu) following, and was successful in the revival and reformation of Hindu thinking and way of life.
Shankara was born of poor but pious Nambudiri Brahmin couple in the Kaladi village of the Kerala kingdom. He lost his father early. Shankara has ascetic leanings from the beginning and he wanted to put to use all of the knowledge he could acquire for the better use of the society. He was the couple's only child and the mother resisted her son becoming a monk giving up all worldly life. It took great persuasion on Shankara's part to win her over. He promised attending on her final hour.
He went in search of a guru for further spiritual guidance and studied under Govinda Bhagavatpada, who was a famous disciple of the great saint Gowdapadacharya. Gowdapadacharya advocated monism or advaita. All the learning Shankara mastered was put to use through his brilliant eloquence. Dialetics, logic and semantics were the primary areas of scholarhood in those days, and the only means to achieve supremacy was to argue and win debates in august assemblies of scholars. Shankara argued and won over many great scholars of his time belonging to different faiths. He established that the original teaching of the vedas was that God is one and the study of vedas is the only way to salvation.
Shankaracharya was only thirty-two years old at the time of his death. But his life's mission was complete. Revival and reformation of original vedic...