Short Essay on the Teaching of Sankara in Indian Philosophy

The eternal quest of the Indian mystic was to be fulfilled by the complete and final realization of the identity of his soul or inmost self (atma) with Brahman.

Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence MERITER » Teaching Activities

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This was to be achieved by spiritual training and meditation. Sankara did not reject the gods, but taught that they were the primary mani­festations of the impersonal Absolute, sharing up to a point in the unreality of all things. Their worship might help humble souls, but the spiritual athlete strove to pass beyond them, to direct knowledge of final reality, which was to be found in his own self.

Thus Sankara’s system is sometimes referred to as ‘The Way of Knowledge’ (jnana-marga). It is wrong, however, to look on this system as fundamentally an intellectual one. The knowledge referred to is not comparable with that acquired by learning, but rather with the know­ledge gained from intensely close acquaintance-the knowledge of the man who declares ‘I know my wife’, rather than that of the one who says ‘I know the theory of prime numbers’.


The Upanishads contain a very wide range of doctrines and Sankara’s re­duction of their contents to a single consistent system was only achieved by brilliant exegesis, in no way inspired by the modern open-minded attempt to think the thoughts of the authors of the texts.

Like most medieval Christian schoolmen faced with similar exegetical problems, Sankara approached his- texts with the full conviction that he already knew what they meant. His task was to convince his readers and hearers that this was what they really did mean. His brilliant dialectic was on the whole successful with later genera­tions, and his system even today is the most important one in intellectual

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