Adhi Sankara is one of three Sages who established the guidelines for modern day Hinduism. He streamlined the six pathways of worship dedicated to Shiva, Shakthi (Goddess for energy), Sun, Karthikeya, Ganesha and Vishnu. He established monasteries in all four corners of India – North, South, East and West. His writings on philosophy, his interpretations of Bhagawath Geetha and explanations of Vedas and Upanishads are extensive. Sankara travelled on foot to all parts of India, establishing the principles of Adhvaitha (non-dual philosophy) through extensive debates and reasoning with scholars everywhere. All these accomplishments of Saint Sankara occurred in the eighth century, during his very short life span of thirty two years! That is truly amazing.
There is an episode from the early life of sage Sankara Acharya (the teacher). As a young boy, Adhi Sankara wanted to choose Samnyasa – monastic way of life. His mother, anxious as she was, did not accept the idea. One day while taking bath in a nearby river, a crocodile grabbed Sankara’s leg and would not let go of it. Facing imminent death, Sankara pleaded to his mother, looking at her son helplessly from the shore: “Mother, let me depart this life of a family man and go further on as a monastic”. Faced with the choice between the mortal loss of her child, and the loss of her son as a family member, Sankara’s mother acceded to his wish. Amazingly, the crocodile let go of his leg. Sankara grew up to be the greatest sage of our modern times leading to his far-reaching accomplishments!
This episode reminds us of what really makes the mother, who she is: When challenged with difficult choices, the mother always decides in favor of what is best for the child, even if it implies substantial personal loss for herself. This caring at all cost for those under her wings symbolizes the maternal love.
Many years later, and after his extensive accomplishments, Adhi Sankara visited the holy city of Benares, where he wrote the poem titled Annapoorna Ashtakam (Prayer song in worship of Goddess Anna Poorna, the Goddess at the main temple in Benares). The Sanskrit word Anna literally translated means “food”. The Goddess Anna Purna symbolizes one who nurtures the worshippers with abundant supply of food for their well-being. A more precise meaning for the word Anna would be “that which provides nourishment”. Anna Purna symbolizes the Mother who gives the child the nourishment for a healthy living, the food we consume for the nourishment of our body, comforting words and concern that sustains our emotional well-being and her wise counsel that nourishes our knowledge and understanding.
In his prayer song, the wise sage seeks the blessings of the goddess Anna Purna and seeks the gift of “Gnana Vairagya Siddhi”.
Gnana = Knowledge and understanding (leading to)
Vairagya = dispassion that arises as a result of objectivity of highest order
Siddhi = highest level of accomplishent in any given field or endeavor
This would sound strange at first. Why would he not pray for food, wealth, care and kindness from mother Goddess? Perhaps Sankara realized that while the food and nourishment and the tender care of our mother sustains us in our early years, it is the power of knowledge and reasoning that provides the rationale for our very existence and who we are and how we live! As we grow older we develop our means to find the food on our own. We learn to cope with our emotions. But, this gift – the commitment for seeking knowledge and the dispassion which leads to the peak of objective reasoning (Gnana Viragya Siddhi) – seems to be the only one that really matters at the end.
As we all grow older, so do our parents. They need care and kindness, not because of what they can give us or what they have given us, but simply because of who they are – father and mother. This responsibility to care for the elders falls on the younger generation. Some situations are simple and easy. In other situations it is difficult for various reasons – financial, physical, serious and extensive medical care required, etc. All these situations require an objective assessment based on knowledge and sound reasoning and a relentless commitment (Vairagya) to do the right thing (i.e) care for the elders, who paved the way for us to be who we are today. It is in situations like this the younger generation is sometimes faced with challenges of choice. Exactly what these choices are and how correct they are will largely depend on our “Gnana Vairagya Siddhi”.
It is time to wish the very best for all mothers on this Mother’s day! A word of sincere gratitude for all their care and attention to the younger ones. It is also time to express our gratitude and admiration for all those who are now caring for their mothers (and fathers) at a time of their need, simply for who they are, our elders. I am sure this group of admirable human being includes a lot of mothers! To them, a special word of recognition on this Mother’s day!
You can read our essays on the Mother’s Day from the previous years from the links below. https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/maternal-instinct/ https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/happy-mothers-day/