From TM-EX Newsletter, Volume 4, Number 1, Winter, 1992 INDIA A Visit to the Shankaracharya
Introduction: Over a thousand years ago(1), Adi Shankara, renowned for his revival of the knowledge of Vedic Sanatan Dharma or the worship of God, according to the Vedic Scriptures, and also for his commentaries on several major Hindu Scriptures, established four major monasteries in India. These monasteries, or ``Maths'' were located in the North, South, East and Western parts of India. These Maths or ``Peeths'' (monasteries) were overseen by ``Shankaracharyas'' according to the tradition and wishes prescribed by Adi Shankara.
Shankara was also widely accepted in India as the descension of Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity responsible for the final dissolution of the universe. The primary responsibility of each of the four Shankaracharyas, while overseeing the four Maths, has been the preservation of the major systems of Hindu philosophy which form the basis of the Hindu religion. Within the monasteries, the Shankaracharyas took disciples, who in some cases, assumed the revered title of Shankaracharya upon the death of their Spiritual Master. Those Shankaracharyas travelled extensively throughout India preaching their particular sect's beliefs to all Hindus.
The title ``Shankaracharya'' is a traditional title handed down to that person, who according to Adi Shankara, the original Shankaracharya, is Brahmin by birth, established in Yoga, or in other words, whose soul is in union with God and who is thereby Divine. Having achieved this union through lifetimes of spiritual practice and renunciation, now, as living Divinity, he is ``pujapad,'' his feet are worthy of worship. His scriptural understanding is so perfect that he can synthesize the scriptures of all Religions. He is Vedanta Incarnate, the embodiment of Hindu Scripture, and further, he must be recognized as Shankaracharya by the other three Shankaracharyas, having received proper initiation by them according to Hindu Scriptural injunctions. Recognized also means that the other Shankaracharyas are willing to sit alongside him at major religious festivals.
According to the rules laid down by Shankara, the only possibility of removing a Shankaracharya is, if, during his lifetime he should become mentally infirm or prove by his actions or judgment that he is not qualified to hold the title which is held sacred by Hindus. If such a case exists, a new Shankaracharya is elected by a learned body of pundits, called ``Kashi Vidwat Parishad,'' according to the tradition. In this way, the title of Shankaracharya and these Maths or monasteries have been maintained and handed down from Master to Disciple for thousands of years. This lineage is commonly known as the ``Shankaracharya Tradition.''
In October 1986, several months before my case against the Transcendental Meditation movement was to begin in Washington, D.C., I contacted Shree Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati. Shree Shankaracharya, reported and pictured in The Illustrated Weekly of India(2), has the unique distinction of holding the dual title, Jagadguru Shankaracharya of the Jyotir Math (Jyotish Peeth Monastery) of Northern India, as well as the Shankaracharya of the Dwarka Math in Western India.
Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati was a pre-eminent disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (Guru Dev). Brahmananda Saraswati, whose picture is customarily seen behind Mahesh Yogi, was also Mahesh Yogi's Spiritual Master. Guru Dev held the title of Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, the monastery located in Northern India, until his death, by poisoning, in 1954.
My interest in contacting the Shankaracharya was to attempt to discern whether or not, from the Shankaracharya's understanding of Indian Scripture, I had been misled by Mahesh Yogi. Further, as a teacher of TM, I wanted to know if, in fact, I represented the Shankaracharya Tradition as I had been told by Mahesh Yogi. Most of all, it was an attempt to find out what had happened to my mind from the practice of TM and the TM Sidhi programs.
The Shankaracharya, Swaroopanand Saraswati, had been invited to attend a five day birthday celebration of Guru Dev's oldest living disciple, Swami Akandananda, at the Akandananda ashram in the town of Vrindaban, India. A great tent and stage had been erected to hold several thousand guests. These guests included Shantinand (seen pictured to the right of the Shankaracharya Swaroopanand) and Vishnu Devanand (not pictured with the Shankaracharya), both of whom had previously attempted to lay claim to the title of Shankaracharya of the Northern seat.
When I arrived in Vrindaban, I settled into a hotel, then made my way to Akandananda's ashram. There were several hundred people listening to a speech on the Vedas. After making some inquiries, I quickly learned that Shankaracharya had not yet arrived, but was given the address of the house at which he was staying. I visited with the family and left my name and hotel address, hoping that Shankaracharya would contact me when he arrived.
Early the next morning, one of Shankaracharya's devotees brought word that he had arrived in the middle of the night and I was to come at lunchtime. Arriving at the house, I was taken to a side courtyard. Having removed my shoes according to custom, my host requested that I bathe my hands and feet prior to being taken to Shankaracharya's bedroom. Finally, the moment had arrived. I was taken down a long corridor and ushered into a bedroom. Shankaracharya was sitting crosslegged on the bed. He spoke in Hindi, pointing to one of his disciples dressed in orange. As he spoke, his disciple began translating. Shankaracharya asked my name and if I was the same gentleman who had contacted him. He asked if I had eaten and motioned to one of his disciples to serve me lunch, and we would talk again later. A traditional Indian lunch was served in the courtyard. By this time, about fifty people were at the house, including his disciples, dignitaries and local government officials who had come to receive his darshan and to welcome him to Vrindaban.
After resting in the afternoon, Shankaracharya once again summoned me to his room. There were about twenty people in the room sitting on the floor. After bowing in customary fashion to show my respect, I was asked to relate my questions to Shankaracharya. I began by telling him how I had started practicing TM, met Mahesh Yogi (as Shankaracharya called him), and had eventually become a teacher of TM. In particular, I read statements from TM literature saying TM came from the Shankaracharya tradition. I then read aloud the famous statement which was allegedly written by a Shankaracharya, which described Mahesh Yogi as the protector of the Shankaracharya Tradition, Rishi of Rishis and a descension of Shankara himself. I explained that these kinds of statements were used on courses and during fundraisers by TM officials to garner financial and emotional support from TM members. Further, I spoke aloud the sixteen mantras: eng, em, enga, ema, aing, aim, ainga, aima, shiring, shirim, hiring, hirim, kiring, kirim, shyam and shyama, and the method of giving them by age as I had been taught by Mahesh Yogi. Next came the advanced techniques. Finally, I described the TM Sidhi Program.
Shankaracharya looked physically distressed and his bowed head shook from side to side as the statements were translated. Then, after what seemed to be an eternal silence, he began to speak. He stated that his Master had left a will which clearly stated the names of those individuals who were to assume the title and responsibilities of Shankaracharya after his death. After the murder of his Master, the next in line was Shantinand. He said Mahesh immediately had him moved into the ashram to assume authority. Then, [Mahesh] used [Shantinand's] name after leaving India, to show that he taught under the authority of Shankaracharya.
In the meantime, he (Swaroopanand) said he had been given the title of Shankaracharya of Dwarka Math and travelled extensively throughout India preaching. He recalled that Shantinand did not have the proper training or credentials to hold the title of Shankaracharya, and eventually, after proving himself unfit to hold the title, the same learned pundits who had elected Brahmananda Saraswati to the throne asked Swaroopanand to take the title and responsibilities of the Jyotir Math ashram, until such time as another qualified person could be appointed. He agreed, and was given initiation as Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math.
Shantinand, at the direction of Mahesh Yogi, refused to give up possession of the Jyotir Math ashram and forced the matter into litigation. Years later, Shantinand finally gave up the title and Mahesh had Vishnu Devanand assume the title and possession of the ashram. In so doing, they also clearly ignored the will of Guru Dev which had specified the name Dvarikeshanand Saraswati as the second in line to receive the title. This was to occur, according to the will of Guru Dev, should Shantinand prove unqualified or leave the ashram. Swaroopanand continued, stating, it was written by my Lord (Guru Dev) that ``this is my will and command.'' He said that the scheme by Mahesh to appoint Vishnu Devanand was clearly gross disrespect of his own Master's desire. He said all of this was being done to delude Westerners. Mahesh needs a Shankaracharya to continue spreading his net of deception. He said, as Shankaracharya, it is my clear and absolute duty to uphold the true teaching of Shree Shankara.
Fact is fact, he stated, these things you have described to me have nothing to do with the Shankaracharya Tradition. The so-called mantras or meaningless sounds as you have described them are primarily used to gain material wealth and comfort, not for spiritual enlightenment. Further, my Master (Guru Dev) never gave the mantras you have described, his mantras were not mantras for material comfort, his were to uplift the soul, remove his material attachments and for realization of God.
He invited me to attend the meeting with him in the tent that evening. As he entered the tent, a loud voice announced the entrance of Shree Swaroopanand Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotish Peeth and Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth. There were now about 2,000 people in attendance. All prostrated as he entered the tent, walked on stage and assumed the throne of Shree Shankaracharya.
He gave discourse on the special teaching responsibilities of Shankaracharya and those who claim they belong to the Tradition. He described how the world, particularly the West, had no understanding of Indian spiritual traditions or Scriptures. Further, he stated to mislead Westerners was a grave insult to India and to those Westerners who relied on such misrepresentations.
I returned that evening to Shankaracharya's house and was immediately taken to see him. He asked, did you see Shantinand on the stage? I replied yes. He said, word came to me that he (Shantinand) had requested to be allowed on the stage. I allowed him to be present only because he has given up this nonsense of claiming title to Shankaracharya. He said Vishnu Devanand, Mahesh's so-called Shankaracharya, was also here in Vrindaban, he also requested to come onto the stage, but I refused. Then, he (Vishnu Devanand) stated he would sit on a lower, undecorated seat if I allowed him to attend. I refused him. Then, he again begged to simply sit on the floor of the stage at my feet, if I allowed him to be publicly present. Again I refused. He said, if I allow him to be seen with me, and all the while wrongfully claiming title as Shankaracharya, it will appear as if I approve of his activity, and I do not. Therefore, he said, I have ordered that he may not even come into the tent to sit in the audience.
He went on the describe how some mentally disturbed man in India had put on saffron robes and claimed to be a Shankaracharya. He said he travelled throughout India and gathered a few disciples who innocently were being deceived and who followed him. He said, anyone can build a throne, put on orange robes and claim the title of Shankaracharya--who would stop them? However, the true test of the title is whether the other Shankaracharyas, who initiate the new Shankaracharya, will sit publicly with him. During special spiritual ceremonies, all Shankaracharyas must be present and sit together. He said no other Shankaracharya will publicly sit with Vishnu Devanand, nor would he.
Shankaracharya then warned me that Mahesh now knows you are here in Vrindaban with me. He has sent Nadikishor and his spies here with others to watch you, you must be very careful. He placed a guard outside of my bedroom door at night and had someone travel with me at all times. Much to my amazement, I discovered that, in fact, I was being followed.
The next time, we met with the local press present. There he wanted the world to bear witness against the gross misrepresentations and disrespect which was being perpetrated against the Shankaracharya Tradition. On a warm Autumn evening, in Vrindaban, India, he answered the following questions, which I and others asked him. Robert Kropinski~
-TO BE CONTINUED- 1--Shankara, 788-820, Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, Schuhmacher, Woerner Editors, Shambhala, Boston 2--The Illustrated Weekly of India, September 13, 1987