Shankaracharya (A.D. 700?-750?), also known as Shankara, was a Hindu philosopher. His most important works were his commentaries on the Vedas, the sacred writings of Hinduism. Shankaracharya was born in Kerala, south India. He practised self-denial and learnt to give up worldly pleasures and comforts early in life. He devoted himself to study, philosophical discussion, and religious teaching. He achieved fame as the new interpreter of the Vedanta school and a propagator of Advaita (Monism) philosophy. The fame of this wandering scholar spread throughout India.
Shankaracharya maintained that the world we see around is an illusion (maya), for the reality lies beyond an cannot be seen through the existing human senses. Asceticism alone enables one to control these senses and direct them in a manner which permits the glimpse of reality. He traced his teachings to Upanishadic thought and for him the Vedas were sacred and above question. He was opposed to unnecessary rituals and wished to clear Hindu worship of many meaningless rites for which he established his own mathas, where a simplified worship was followed. The mathas (Hindu monasteries) were established at four places situated at four corners of India -- Badrinath in the Himalaya, Shringeri in Mysore, Dwarka in western India, and Puri in eastern India. These institutions were richly endowed and soon had branches elsewhere, becoming center's of Shankaracharya's teachings. In addition he encouraged missionary members of his ascetic order to propogate his teachings. Large number of pilgrims visit these holy places every year.
Shankaracharya traveled extensively in the sub-continent, displaying the brilliance of his mind in discussion and debate and converting others to the cause of Vedanta and Advaita. His own enthusiasm in debating with the opponents of Vedanta spurred the philosophical centers into new speculative thinking where earlier they had tended to be stagnant.
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