A Story from the Past – 9

ShankarAcharya is considered to be one of the greatest Guru of वेदांत = Vedanta since the days of the early sages of Eternal Dharma. He became a संन्यासी = Samnyasee or ascetic at the age of 6. By his 12th year, he had written his famous भास्य  = Bhasya or commentary on the BrahmaSutra. Shankar-Acharya then decided to travel all over India to promote his अद्वैत = Advaita or Non-Duality school of Vedanta.

His purpose was also to end the dominance of the Karma-Kand or the Vedic Ritualistic path. The greatest proponent of the Karma-Kand school was मंडन मिश्र or Mandan Mishra. Shankar-Acharya had to defeat Mandan Mishra in open debate to succeed in his goal. This was a huge task. Mandan Mishra was a giant of intellect, a master of debate and a Pandit of great scholarship. Shankar-Acharya was only 16 years old at that time. He realized that he had to win the debate and win it big.

The stakes were extraordinarily high and the challenge was steep. So Shankar-Acharya decided to employ the ancient tactic of enraging his opponent to make him lose his cool.

Shankar-Acharya entered the house of Mandan Mishra unannounced wearing his Samnyasee garb. Mandan Mishra was busy with the श्राद्ध = Shraddha (memorial service is the best translation) of his father. So the entry of Shankar-Acharya was taken as inauspicious and unwelcome.

When confronted by Mandan Mishra, Shankar-Acharya chose to interpret Mandan Mishra’s questions in the most sarcastic fashion he could. The conversation has been recorded as below:

  • Mandan MishraKuto Mundi? The common meaning is Where did you come from? But the alternate meaning could be How far have you shaved? Mandan Mishra clearly meant the first but Shankar-Acharya chose the second meaning. He answered:
  • Shankar-AcharyaAa Galaan Mundi (I have shaved up to my neck). This annoyed Mandan Mishra. He asked:
  • Mandan MishraMargam Pruchhate The common meaning is What is your school or discipline? The alternate meaning could be “I asked the Road”. Again Shankar-Acharya chose to respond to the second meaning.
  • Shankar-Acharya What did the Road tell you? Now Mandan Mishra is getting angry.
  • Mandan MishraSuraa Peetaa? The common meaning is Have you drunk Suraa or liquor? The alternate meaning – Is Suraa or Liquor Yellow?
  • Shankar-AcharyaNa Shwetaa – No Liquor is white.

As this exchange went on, Mandan Mishra got more and more angry. Then in his fit of anger, he agreed to debate Shankar-Acharya there and then.

Shankar-Acharya won this debate. This victory was clear, absolute and public. This defeat of the great Mandan Mishra was the spring board for Shankar-Acharya’s conquest of all Vedic Pandits in India. The next 16 years were a triumphant journey for Shankar-Acharya as he established the primacy of his Advaita school in all centers of Eternal-Dharma.

For details about his achievements, see the wikipedia section on Adi Shankar. Shankar-Acharya died at the age of 32. As noted author S.N. Dasgupta writes:

  • “So great is the influence of the philosophy propounded by Shankar and elaborated by his followers, that whenever we speak of the Vedanta-Philosophy, we mean the philosophy that was propounded by Shankar. If other expositions have to be mentioned, the names of the exponents have to be mentioned”.

A modern day lesson from this story is that a fight is for the cool-headed and a fighter cannot afford to get angry. This is true for physical fights or for intellectual fights as the above story shows.    

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