H. H. Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal
The accounts of the life of great sages and saints are proof that the Truth declared in our scriptures are not mere words or figment of imagination but something achievable in this life itself and also serve as a guiding torch for those venturing into the spiritual life, a life of discovery and total fulfillment.
Sri Adi Shankaracharya was one such pre-eminent sage who was responsible for re-establishing our Sanatana Dharma and bringing out clearly the essence of the Upanishads. In His great wisdom and compassion, He also established four Maths in the North, South, West and East of India so that our Sanatana Dharma is ever preserved and every spiritual quest is always assuaged. Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetam, the first of the four Maths, has been led by mahapurushas well known for their abidance in Truth, tapas, sastraic knowledge and compassion. In such a lineage, Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswamigal, the 35th pontiff, shines like the pole star. Each and every aspect of His life is a veritable display of divine qualities that can super-charge any spiritual aspirant. Needless to say, the essence of His life and actions will also serve as an ideal to any human being.
Sri Srinivasan, as Acharyal was known before His Sanyasa, was born to Venkatalakshmi Ammal and Rama Sastry. The advent of incarnations has come to be celebrated after their descent. In this case, however, in accordance with the fullness of the divine manifestation, the country was agog with joyous celebrations on the day of the holy birth itself for it was none other than the sacred Deepavali day.
As per the Indian almanac, the divine descent occurred in the year Pingala in the month Aswina on the Bahula Chaturdasi day under the star Svati. This corresponds to November 13th, 1917. The birth took place in Rama Sastrys sisters house in Basavangudi, Bangalore at 6.45 am. The planets had so positioned themselves that the horoscope has as its features, Dharma Karmadhipa yoga and Sanyasa yoga.
Even from His childhood days, Sri Srinivasan was an embodiment of such divine qualities as compassion, firm belief in Ishwara, forbearance etc.
Once, His friend did not fare well in the examinations and the boys father punished him by placing a big stone on his back. On seeing this, Sri Srinivasans heart melted and He offered to bear the load. The father was moved by Sri Srinivasans concern and relieved his son of the burden imposed. He was young - yet He was not only ready to put up with suffering but also bold enough to approach an angry father and express His opinion. Similarly, He was extremely considerate to animals and chastised any of His friends if they willfully harmed any animals or insects. Sri Srinivasan helped His mother in various ways and thereby reduced her burden of taking care of the family and the house.
Sri Srinivasans belief in God was far from superficial. A tank was believed to be infested with ghosts and people used to abstain from using it after sunset. On an amavasya evening, Sri Srinivasans friends challenged Him to go to the tank. He boldly ran to it, washed His hands and feet, rinsed His mouth and returned. When asked for the reason for His fearlessness, He said, "I was chanting the name of God. How could any evil spirit approach Me?"
Once, He told His friends that the goal of His life would be to realise God. During this conversation, one of His friends challenged His conviction that God exists on the ground that neither He nor those He knew had seen God.
Sri Srinivasan: Can you prove that there is no God? Would you say that something does not exist because you have not seen it? For instance, have you seen Bombay? No. Does it then follow that Bombay is non-existent?
Friend: I have not seen Bombay but I have seen many who have. That is why I believe that Bombay exists.
Sri Srinivasan: Very well. Likewise, our ancient sages who had seen the Lord have given clear indications to that effect. What is wrong if we unreservedly accept their words? Their experience cannot be set aside and so we must concede the existence of God.
With the passage of time, Sri Srinivasan began to regularly express to His friends His desire to renounce the world. When one boy praised the position of a king, He replied "Do not think thus. What long-lasting benefit is there in becoming a king? An emperor can enjoy only when he is at the helm of power and this state has to come to an end sooner or later. If, however, I become a sanyasi, I can constantly meditate and be without any worries. There will be a wonderful opportunity to behold God and I shall remain ever protected by Him". Strange words of wisdom indeed from one who was hardly a teenager!
All this was only a prelude to His unmatched spiritual eminence that was soon to unfold.
Sri Srinivasans mother often found it difficult to feed her family due to extreme poverty. Seeing His mothers plight, Sri Srinivasan said, "Let my Upanayanam be performed. I will fetch you what I get for Bhiksha and with that your food problems will be solved". The mother was touched by Sri Srinivasans deep concern but unable to assure Him of such a happening. Providence willed otherwise.
His Holiness Sri Chandrasekhara Bharathi Mahaswamigal (Paramacharyal), who was the then Jagadguru of Sringeri, desired to spend more time in penance. Hence, He decided to choose a successor to whom He could entrust the responsibilities of the Math. He informed this to the Sringeri Math agent, Srikanta Sastry. Srikanta Sastry initiated a search for boys with a natural inclination for the Sanyasa order and also consulted various astrologers for this purpose; one of them was Venkatarama Iyer. Venkatarama Iyer, who lived in a rented room in Rama Sastrys house, handed over Sri Srinivasans horoscope. On hearing that Sri Srinivasans Upanayanam had not been performed, Srikanta Sastry took a decision to perform the function at Sringeri at the Maths expense. Rama Sastry gladly agreed.
The family reached Sringeri during Sri Shankara Jayanthi celebrations. Sri Srinivasans Upanayanam was fixed on Vaishakha Shukla Sashthi which corresponded to 4th May 1930. After completing all the religious observances connected with the Upanayanam ceremony, Rama Sastry and his family members went to Narasimhavanam to pay their respects to Paramacharyal. The austere eyes of the Jagadguru fell compassionately on the young celibate.
Paramacharyal: You are a Brahmachari now. It may be necessary for You to go home and perform the ordained duties.
Sri Srinivasan: No, I desire to remain here.
Paramacharyal: Do You not have to study English and take up a job to earn Your livelihood? If so, it is imperative that You go.
Sri Srinivasan: I desire neither that education nor a job. I wish to study Sanskrit here.
Paramacharyal continued with questions pertaining to Sri Srinivasans studies. Much to the astonishment of His father and others, Sri Srinivasan recited and expounded some passages from Nalacharitra in an exemplary manner and also gave a brief account of some of the historical facts He had learnt. When Paramacharyal asked Sri Srinivasan to tell a moral that He thought was important, Sri Srinivasan replied, "Keep good company and avoid evil associations."
The elated Paramacharyal then asked, "Will You study here?" Without a moments hesitation, Sri Srinivasan answered in the affirmative. Turning to His parents, He said, "You can go home, for I wish to be a student here". The parents left for Bangalore leaving their dear son under the loving care of Paramacharyal.
Paramacharyal arranged for Sri Srinivasans stay in Narasimhavanam itself. Along with Sri Srinivasan a couple of other students of about the same age were also taught. Sri Srinivasan developed the habit of waking up at around 4.30 am. After a wash and bath, He used to perform His Nityakarma (ordained duties such as Sandhya Vandanam) meticulously. After a light breakfast, He set Himself to studies. In the afternoon, after His Madhyahnikam and lunch, He continued His studies. Not before 10.30 p.m. would He retire for the day.
Vaidyanatha Sastry (later, Sri Bhashya Swamigal) was deputed to instruct the students in the performance of their daily routine and to teach them basic texts, such as Amara Kosha and Shabdas. After the study of Sanskrit, Kavyas were taken up. Paramacharyal regularly monitored the progress of the students. He found Sri Srinivasan head and shoulders above the others. In the evenings, Paramacharyal generally went to the Kalabhairava temple and often took Vaidyanatha Sastry and the young students with Him. On such occasions, several topics were discussed and quite often Antadi slokas were chanted. Paramacharyal was very pleased by Sri Srinivasans unique interpretation to slokas and situations.
Occasionally Paramacharyal would inquire about the welfare of the boys and also asked them about the quality of food. The boys usually gave various kinds of answers but Sri Srinivasan kept quiet on such occasions. Noticing this, one day Paramacharyal asked Sri Srinivasan the reason for this. Sri Srinivasan said, "All that we get is Acharyals Prasadam. As such, it is always tasty". Paramacharyal was very pleased on hearing this. It had been His intention to find out how far the boys were slaves of the tongue.
Once Sri Srinivasan developed high fever and became delirious. A Kashayam (an ayurvedic preparation) was administered but was not effective. Sri Srinivasans fever only increased and He started to speak incoherently. Amongst His various utterances, He said
sadguro sharaNam shivoham shivoham
(O guru, You are my refuge. I am Shiva. I am Shiva)
When the matter was reported to Paramacharyal, He neither authorised medical attention nor did He give sacred ash as prasada as He had done in the case of the other students when they had taken ill. Sri Srinivasan was eagerly expecting vibhuti prasadam from Paramacharyal and to assuage Him, Vaidyanatha Sastry told Him a lie to the effect, "Acharyal Himself is going to come to bless You". Sri Srinivasan was very happy and began to continuously chant
sadguro paahi sadguro paahi
(O Guru, protect Me. O Guru, protect Me)
The next day it was Ekadasi. At noon, when Paramacharyal was proceeding to the river for a bath, He heard Sri Srinivasans continuous chant. After making sure that only Vaidyanatha Sastry was around, Paramacharyal abruptly entered Sri Srinivasans room. Sri Srinivasan abruptly got up and prostrated in such a manner that His forehead came in contact with Paramacharyals sacred feet. Gently raising His disciples head, He said, "Have You still got fever? Do not worry. Go and lie down". The touch of Paramacharyals hand instantly freed Sri Srinivasan from His sickness and He became quite normal. This incident induced a major change in Sri Srinivasans way of life. He became comparatively very serious in His demeanor and seldom indulged in playful talk or useless conversation.
To induce desirelessness in Sri Srinivasan, Paramacharyal used to very often stress the importance of dispassion and initiate the chanting of Antadi slokas relating to it. On an occasion, Paramacharyal summoned Vaidyanatha Sastry and Sri Srinivasan. When they were seated, Paramacharyal said, "Today we shall discuss the comparative merits of being a householder and a Sanyasi. You first explain the advantage of family life". As commanded, Vaidyanatha Sastry and Sri Srinivasan explained the values of being a householder. Paramacharyal then commenced His exposition of the disadvantages of being a householder. He gave many examples to prove His point.Paramacharyal finally asked, "Now tell Me. Is it better to become a married man or a recluse?". Without any hesitation, Sri Srinivasan said that Sanyasa indeed was the loftier path. Paramacharyal had often stressed to Sri Srinivasan the importance of Brahmacharyam and Sanyasa. One day, Sri Srinivasan asked Vaidyanatha Sastry a set of questions. They were: 1. I have heard that the eldest son in the family must get married. Is it so? 2. Is it necessary to master the scripture before renouncing the world? 3. I have heard that a set of debts accrues when one is born. Some of these are resolved by service to parents, some by worshipping Devas and some others are repaid by begetting progeny. Is this indeed the state of affairs? 4. To enter another Ashrama, is it necessary for one to dwell as a Brahmachari with the Guru for a long time? 5. Can a young boy like Me take up Sanyasa? Can Sanyasa be taken up without the approval of the parents? Vaidyanatha Sastry could not give satisfactory answers to these questions. Subsequently, one evening Paramacharyal went to the Kalabhairava temple accompanied by Vaidyanatha Sastry and Sri Srinivasan. Paramacharyal asked Sastry to give the meaning of certain slokas from the Prabodha Sudhakara which deal with liberation and procreation. As ordered, Sastry gave an overall meaning: "It cannot be said that begetting a son confers liberation because not all people with sons have attained liberation. Further, the cycle of transmigratory existence itself will cease if this were true. A son cannot be the cause of happiness in this world or next since the Vedas prescribe special rites such as Jyotishtoma to attain a higher world and not procreation. The Veda very clearly proclaims that only the realisation of the Self yields immortality. The Vedas utterances that a son is essential should be understood as merely eulogising the performance of sacrifices such as Puthreshti Yaga (performed to obtain a son).The Vedas, which are like a mother, certainly does not intend to compel desireless ones to perform such sacrifices". After this, Paramacharyal proceeded to give a detailed exposition. He said that marriage is compulsory only for a person who wants to enjoy sensual pleasures. For persons with strong dispassion there is no obligation to lead a householders life. Further, there is no Vedic injunction that a dispassionate one should get married. The householders life is recommended for persons with desire so that they avoid bad ways and lead a path of Dharma. In fact, the Jabala Upanishad explicitly declares that the moment one becomes extremely dispassionate, one can renounce and become an ascetic. Paramacharyal went on to explain the futility of begetting a child. He strengthened His explanations by various citations and firmly drove home His points. On many occasions, Paramacharyal spoke to Sri Srinivasan in private about detachment and Brahmacharya and He was able to gauge from Sri Srinivasans face that the advice was having the desired effect. Undoubtedly, these words would have been like nectar to Sri Srinivasan whose longing for asceticism was intense and innate. Paramacharyal did not explicitly reveal His intention to choose Sri Srinivasan as successor to the Peetam. However, His intention became apparent when, at the end of His daily puja to Sri Chandramouleeswara, He began to pray sarvajnam shriinivaasam kuru shivadayite satvaram madvinamram (O beloved of Shiva, quickly make Srinivasan omniscient and a disciple devoted to Me). One day Paramacharyal resolved that Sri Srinivasan should be His successor. That night He had a dream in which His Guru gave a total consent to the choice. Paramacharyal felt intensely happy. The next day He informed the Sringeri Math agent Srikanta Sastry. At Bangalore, Venkatalakshmi Ammal readily consented to Sri Srinivasan taking up Sanyasa. The sacred initiation ceremony was held on 22nd of May 1931. Paramacharyal named His holy successor designate Abhinava Vidya Theertha.
Acharyals Guru Bhakthi and Guru Seva stand as a perfect example of Guru-Sishya relationship eulogised in the scriptures.Since 1923, Paramacharyal began to periodically enter into a state called antarmukha avastha. During these periods His behavior was unpredictable and the ordinary rules of conduct, worldly or spiritual, were no more for Him. During such moods Paramacharyal had to be particularly cared for. People feared that He might get drowned or move away into the forest. None dared to approach Him for He would pelt them with stones. It was only Acharyal who was able to bring His Guru back to the safety of Sacchidananda Vilas. There were even times when Paramacharyal would start casting off His clothes and move about unconcerned like an avadhuta. Acharyal would rush spare clothing to Him to prevent a commotion. This apart, Acharyal used to constantly look after Paramacharyals needs when the latter was in His moods of seclusion. It is not too difficult to serve the Guru in conditions of normalcy but it requires patience, dexterity and tact to attend to the Gurus needs under trying circumstances. Acharyals exemplary care of His master is itself sufficient testimony to His boundless devotion to His Guru. Paramacharyals affinity to Acharyal was so great that He forbade people referring to Acharyal as Swamigal and strongly disapproved when devotees showed preference in having His (Paramacharyals) darshanam. In fact, Paramacharyal firmly believed that His disciple was none other than His Guru incarnate and even had told Acharyal about this. Paramacharyal did not hesitate to exhibit His regard for Acharyal openly - He would sometimes open the door for Acharyal and was known to have stood up on Acharyals arrival. Acharyal never let these things go to His head. As far as He was concerned, "It was only Acharyals love for Me that caused Him to speak of Me as a remanifestation of His own Guru". The fact that Acharyal adored His Guru did not imply that He aped all of Paramacharyals views for that would have never met with Paramacharyals approval. Several examples can be cited to differentiate between Paramacharyals orthodox views from Acharyals practical ones. Such differences in expressions do not imply that Acharyal did not take Paramacharyals views seriously. In fact, it was Paramacharyal who Himself encouraged Acharyal to take a free and independent line of thinking in such matters to keep up with the changing society. When Acharyal came to Sringeri, He did not know swimming but gradually mastered it. He would dive into the Tunga from high trees and swim for long distances even when the river was swollen in the rainy season. Acharyal also loved to wander into the forests and along the banks of the Tunga. Paramacharyal had such intense love for His disciple that He would become visibly restless if it became late for Acharyal to return. He never reprimanded Acharyal for coming late though He advised Him not to stay out well after dark. Acharyal has told a disciple, "Barring three things, I do not remember having done, even in dream, on even one occasion, anything that did not meet my Gurus approval. The three things were swimming, climbing trees and going freely for a walk in the forests". Paramacharyal wished to be absolved of responsibilities and pontifical duties and decided that Acharyal should shoulder them. The true disciple that He was, Acharyal did not hesitate or shirk, though His innate longing for penance was overwhelming. Paramacharyal soon handed over the performance of Sri Chandramouleeswara Puja completely to Acharyal and contented Himself with hearing the praises of Acharyals concentration and devout performance of Puja. Even though Acharyal was given the responsibility to handle all the pontifical functions, He continuously sought Paramacharyals permission regarding the same. Paramacharyal had conveyed to the Government that Acharyals views might be taken as His own (The reader is reminded that for some years, the Maths administration was under Government control). Though this meant that Acharyal could freely take decisions within the framework of Government control, He chose to always consult Paramacharyal in important matters even when the latter chose to be secluded. When Acharyal took a decision, He did it so well that Paramacharyal was completely satisfied.
The sage Yagnavalkya declares:
ayam tu paramo dharmo yadyogenaatmadarshanam
(Realisation of Atma by means of Yoga is indeed the highest dharma)
Realisation of Atma yields absolute freedom from the cycle of transmigratory existence which is the final aim of Sanyasa. Acharyal was temperamentally inclined to the royal path of Yoga. After Sanyasa, Paramacharyal initiated Acharyal into the Pranava and the Mahavakyas. Acharyal started chanting them for protracted periods of time during His anushtanam which gave Him great satisfaction. Apart from the mantras necessary for sanyasis, the pontiffs of Sringeri Sharada Peetam are also initiated into special mantras like mantraraja of Lord Narasimha, Sivapanchakshari, Balatripurasundari and Sri Vidya.
Acharyal was in His teens when He started mastering Yogasanas. He was eager to learn and He enjoyed doing asanas. Both of these contributed to the fact that He mastered many asanas in a relatively short time. Siddhasana with its variations, Sarvangasana with its variations, Mayurasana, Dhanurasana, Paschimottasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Bhujangasana, Chakrasana, Konabaddhasana and Supta Vajrasana were some of His favourites. Apart from Yogasanas, He also learnt various Kriyas. His favourite Kriya was Nauli.
Acharyal also took up the practice of Pranayama primarily to use it as an aid to meditation and to purify the Nadis. Paramacharyal initiated Acharyal into the process of contemplation when our Guru was hardly 15 years of age. Paramacharyal cited the 12th verse of Shatasloki and explained, "When a mumukshu (one desirous of liberation) walks, he should feel that he is a wave in the ocean that is the Atma. When seated, he should imagine that he is a pearl in the garland strung with the thread of consciousness. While perceiving objects such as form, he should feel that, by the light of consciousness of Atma, he is the seer illuminating what is grasped. With regard to sleep he should imagine that he is submerged in an ocean of bliss. You too should contemplate in this fashion constantly. Thereby great good will accrue to You". Acharyal started implementing the advice in right earnest. Initially, He would sometimes forget to practice for a few minutes. Paramacharyal was quick to sense these minor lapses and set them right.
The stage was set for Acharyal to step into the sublime realms of the heights of Yoga. Paramacharyal, though to Acharyals knowledge did not practice Samadhi, did contemplate intensely on the forms prescribed in the dhyana slokas of the mantras He chanted. Paramacharyal discovered that the tendency of the mind to wander was curbed if the gaze was directed to the region between the eyebrows. He conveyed this to Acharyal and asked Him to incorporate it in His japa. This instruction was sufficient for Acharyal to reach the acme of Yoga.
Acharyal was in the habit of doing prolonged japa of the Bala Mantra. He started practicing meditation by directing His gaze towards the middle of His eyebrows with partly open eyelids and mentally chanting the Bala Mantra. He experienced a tingling, slightly painful sensation between the brows and gradually beheld a light blue hue eclipsing His field of vision. At this juncture, the mental chanting spontaneously stopped. He then imagined Ambals form as coming out of the blue hue and remaining in front of Him as described in the dhyana sloka. Acharyals heart was filled with joy during these times. One day His meditation suddenly became very deep and His attention sharply focussed on Ambals feet. Acharyal has narrated His experience of that day to one of His devotees - "That day I was visualizing Ambals full form as usual when suddenly My mind sharply focussed on to Her feet. I had always been seeing Her form clearly but the experience that day was particularly special. I saw Her feet throbbing with life. I was seeing Ambal Herself and not merely the form that I was imagining earlier. The sense of reality of the vision was highly profound and left no room for doubts. That was my first experience of Savikalpa Samadhi." This experience occurred before Acharyal was 18 years of age.
Acharyal used to go to a hill adjacent to the one on which the Kala Bhairava temple is situated for doing meditation. He sat on the forested summit, facing west. From His seat he could clearly see the Malahanikareshwara temple bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. The scenic beauty and the calm surroundings were ideal for practice of Samadhi. Till then, Acharyal had been meditating on the Supreme as possessed of a form, such as that of Shiva, Vishnu or Amba. One day, Acharyal decided to focus on the Supreme without superimposed forms and activities. He sat down in the Siddhasana, facing west. Then He intensely reflected upon certain Upanishadic passages that deal with Brahman. This contemplation lasted for about 45 minutes and He had kept His eyes closed during this time. Then, He began His meditation in the normal fashion directing the gaze between the eyebrows and mentally chanting the Pranava.
ahameva param brahma vaasudevaakhyamavyayam.
(I am indeed the Supreme Brahman, the One free from decay and known as Vasudeva (He who resides in and shines in all))
He strongly held on to the idea conveyed and immediately He felt Himself expanding and becoming pervasive like space. A great wave of joy arose and submerged Him. That days meditative experience ended there. The experience repeated on subsequent days also. "It is true that I am experiencing great bliss in that state and I am perceiving no form and not hearing sound. But, still the feeling I am experiencing has not vanished. I must do something to transcend it", thought Acharyal. The next day, the moment He reached the state wherein He felt Himself pervasive and had a great experience of bliss, He forcefully restrained Himself and introduced the thought, "I am not the one experiencing bliss but am bliss itself". In a trice, a sharp change occurred. Awareness of the distinction of the concentrator, concentration and the object of concentration completely disappeared. No more was there any sense of individuality or of space, time and objects. Only Brahman, of the nature of absolute existence, pure consciousness and ultimate bliss, shone bereft of the superimposition of even a trace of duality. After a lapse of time His mind descended slightly from that state to the Savikalpa Samadhi level. Gradually His mind came down further. He opened His eyes and He saw nothing whatsoever as existing apart from Him. Everything was like bubbles in the ocean that was Himself. His body felt light like cotton-wool and as He walked downhill it seemed as if He were on a moving canoe. After about an hour the experience slowly faded. He began to repeatedly attain this state and soon the realization that He was Brahman, the substratum of all, became steady and unchanging. He had attained perfection and had become a Jivan Mukta, one liberated while alive. Strange as it may seem, Acharyals formal Vedanta lessons started much later than His attaining the Highest. The Vedanta study merely served to confirm what He had already known by direct experience.
Even after attaining perfection in Yoga, Acharyal tried out various experiments with meditative techniques just for the fun of it. For example, He found that Nada Anusandhanam (contemplation on internal sound) is an effective way of attaining Samadhi. He tried out and developed various short-cuts for Himself to plunge into Samadhi with minimum effort and in the shortest possible time. His experiments, though served Him no particular purpose, made Him an ideal Guru who could speak authoritatively on any aspect of meditation and comprehend the experiences of His devotees within the framework of His research.
Acharyals realisation of the Supreme Truth was so firm that even when given an injection of morphine during a cardiac illness, with a semi-conscious mind, He continued to lisp words indicative of absolute realisation.
In 1954, Paramacharyal began to give hints that He no longer wished to retain His body since He felt that His work had been completed. On the 26th September early morning, Paramacharyal entered the waters of the Tunga and voluntarily cast off the body. Acharyal, in spite of being a Yogi, could not keep down His emotions. He immediately collected Himself and set about to execute the final rites according to the Math tradition.
Acharyals formal coronation as the 35th Jagadguru Shankaracharya of the Sringeri Sharada Peetam took place on Aswina Panchami under the star Rohini. This corresponds to October 16, 1954. A large and distinguished gathering witnessed the installation ceremony and invoked the blessings of the new Jagadguru. The formal completion of the functions took place on October 17. After His coronation, Acharyal rendered a brief speech wherein He said that He was highly in need of Paramacharyals grace to carry out His duties as a Peetadhipathi. He then said that He would pray for such blessings from His Guru.
The tasks that awaited the new Jagadguru were enormous. The Math administration, which lay in government hands, was far from satisfactory and the financial status precarious. Facilities for the stay of devotees at Sringeri were very poor and extensive renovations were absolutely necessary. Further, devotees from all over the country were eagerly looking forward to Acharyals gracing their cities since Paramacharyal had not toured much. Acharyal set about solving these and many other problems in His characteristic and inimitable style.
He assigned the first priority to the call of His devotees and so in 1956, set forth on His first South India tour. Village by village, He visited and graced devotees by the thousands. Relentlessly He drove Himself to the verge of exhaustion to inculcate dharmic ideals and spiritual values in the hearts of millions. He was not only a venerable teacher but also a perfect student too. He analysed and absorbed what was relevant to the Math. For example, He talked to serveral farm-owning disciples and learnt many agricultural techniques. Production units and technical centers captivated Him. Much of Acharyals knowledge stemmed from His interest and observations. He had said, "Even from My young age I was inclined to open up and reassemble a gadget in order to understand its working".
In 1959, the government handed over the Math administration to Him. He immediately formulated plans for the betterment of the Math. Acharyal initiated the construction of a new guest house. Renovation of Ambal and Ganapathy shrines at the Malahanikareshwara temple, a new vimanam for the Adishankara Bhagavatpadal shrine and a gopuram for the Ambal temple were His other schemes.
With the agricultural knowledge acquired during His tours, Acharyal converted a bamboo forest adjoining Narasimhavanam (the place where Acharyal stays) into cultivable land. Many thought that this was impossible and He proved them wrong. To enhance accessibility, Acharyal chalked out the positions and paths for laying roads in Narasimhavanam.
While planning a building, Acharyal would give importance to user-convenience, non-wastage of space, fulfillment of multiple objectives, provision of expansion and cost-minimization. His modifications to Chandramouleeswara thotti and His construction of several guest houses bear testimony to the above principles. He had said, "I have no formal engineering education but am ever ready to learn by questions, observations and practice".
Interested in Vedic education, He renovated the patashala at Sringeri and made numerous conveniences for the teachers and students. He established various branch Maths at various places and consecrated many a temple. He also encouraged secular education. With His blessings, a girls school was started at Sringeri. He was also the patron of the Shankara college at Kalady. He also planned and directed the construction of the Sri Sharada Dhanvantari Hospital at Sringeri.
Acharyal was a very able administrator. His taking over the reins of administration of the Math from the government bears concrete testimony to this. But, when the administration returned, the Math was stripped of all the jahagirs and this was a big blow to the income of the Math. When the news was sorrowfully told to Acharyal, He replied, "The jahagirs were non-existent in Bhagavatpadals time. The Math had been functioning quite well even before the lands were granted. Likewise, it shall carry on now without them. There is nothing to worry about". His stand had been more than vindicated due to the patronage of the devotees. Acharyal firmly believed, "Ishwara is there. He knows how to take care of things. Whatever He resolves is indeed the best".
Acharyals immaculate intuition and razor-sharp intellect contributed a great deal in evaluating and dealing with situations. Accepting and implementing good suggestions, skill based work allocation and freedom of action at various levels were the highlights of His ingenious methods.
He was extremely just in all His dealings allowing neither partiality nor favouritism. He applied this rule to everyone without exception. His normal recourse was soft words and impeccable logic which appealed not only to the intellectual but also to the emotional and moral aspects of individuals. During His 1979-80 tour of Kerala, due to misrepresentation of Acharyals words in the press, a belligerent crowd armed with sticks collected outside a temple where Acharyal was visiting. The news was conveyed but Acharyal seemed thoroughly unperturbed. He emerged from the temple and the crowd became even more boisterous. Unexpectedly, Acharyal summoned one of the members. Taken by surprise, the man mutely stepped forward and Acharyal handed him a tray full of dry fruits. Acharyal spoke softly but with force, "You are the leader. Distribute the prasadams to people". The man obeyed and the crowd mellowed as they saw some conversation going on between Acharyal and one of their people. The distribution was thoroughly unexpected and the crowd, as though mesmerised, stopped the shouting. Acharyal said, "Repeat after Me". He began to chant "Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare". Initially, only a handful followed but soon it became an impressive chorus. Acharyal assuaged the people with comfortable words and minutes later, drove off in His car.
Simple living and high thinking characterise Mahatmas. Acharyal insisted on doing His personal works Himself. He would take His attendants assistance for a task only if such help was essential or if it was related to His pontifical duties.
People with various needs approached Him - spiritual aspirants who wanted to step into the next higher level and He guided each and everyone as if He had been with them throughout their spiritual evolution; scholars well versed in Sastras who were eager to analyze the intricacies of Tarka and Vedanta and He won their hearts by His in-depth knowledge; people who wanted material gains, relief from afflictions and ailments and He listened to them patiently, offered them kind words and, of course, benevolently blessed them.
Acharyal was always accessible to devotees and He made no distinction of caste, creed etc., as far as sincere aspirants were concerned. He accorded very high priority to spiritual aspirants. When arrangements were being made for Sishya Sweekaram in November 1974, an Italian came to get clarifications regarding Gaudapadacharyals Karikas on the Mandukya Upanishad. Even though Acharyal was extremely busy directing the arrangements of the function, He most readily consented to spare time when the request was made known to Him. On a certain day Acharyal was not doing well and darshanam was highly restricted. A spiritual aspirant in his twenties had travelled a long distance to see Acharyal and was to leave the next day. When this was made known to Him, He called for the person, heard him patiently and gave valuable advice.
Acharyal had an inimitable method of imparting spiritual advice but what instruction He would give to an aspirant could not be predicted. A man once complained of breathlessness during meditation. Acharyal diagnosed the problem immediately and replied, "You are making an involuntary effort to still the breath to gain better meditation. Your dhyanam is, however, not deep enough to warrant almost no breathing. Do not try to alter the breathing pattern. Just pay attention to fixing the mind on the object of meditation".
Another aspirant found the swallowing of saliva every few minutes disturbed his good meditation and approached Acharyal for guidance. Acharyal pondered for a few moments and said, "In your case, folding the tongue such that the tip is turned towards the gullet and rests lightly on the upper palate will be helpful. Secondly, do not consciously or semi-consciously anticipate the necessity to swallow". On the first day, the aspirant found the folding of the tongue somewhat inconvenient but got used to this soon. The need to repeatedly swallow started decreasing and in less than a week, the distracting feature ceased to cause difficulties.
Another aspirant mentioned of sharp bodily jerks during meditation and asked Acharyal for remedy. Acharyal clarified, "You are not strong. Eat well and do some exercise. The jerks shall not bother you".
There are so many such examples and when asked about His mode of answering questions, Acharyal replied, "Quite often, I give a solution based on personal experiences. As I have tried out numerous methods when I was young, I often easily comprehend the aspirants conditions. Sometimes, after getting further clarifications I try out what the aspirant practices. I use My experience to shape the reply. On some other occasions, I just feel like prescribing a particular course of action. It is Ishwaras grace which makes the answers helpful to the seekers".
Acharyals compassion was something that can only be wondered at and not explained. An Ayurvedic physician gave a small amount of a rare lotion to Acharyal and said that the lotion would heal any wound. The physician kept the composition of the lotion as a secret. One day, Acharyal was moved when He saw a badly wounded dog. The dog was hurt with a knife and the wound was deep. He ordered that the lotion be applied on the dog and the dog was cured in a remarkably short time.
Even when travelling He would notice persons or situations needing help. Once, when travelling through a city, Acharyal saw a man lying on the ground and having an attack of fits. He ordered His driver to stop the car. Even when told that those scenes were common and more often than not were mere pretenses to get alms, Acharyal refused to budge. Accordingly, the driver stopped the car. Acharyal realised that the man stopped having fits and was feeling thirsty. So, without a moments thought He picked up His own vessel and ordered for the water to be taken to that man. In the meantime, another car had stopped and its driver gave water to the sick man. When Acharyal resumed the journey, He remarked, "How fortunate the other car driver was to be able to render help! I was not lucky enough to avail the opportunity to help the suffering one".
A poor devotee was very keen on performing Pada Puja but did not have adequate funds for the purpose. When Acharyal went to a house for Pada Puja, He noticed this poor devotee standing in a corner and gazing longingly at Him. He beckoned him and found the reason for his grief. Acharyal cheered him up and told him to go to his house and be prepared. After the completion of the Pada Puja, Acharyal informed the Math staff about His intention to go to the poor mans house for Pada Puja. The Pada Puja proceeded smoothly. At the end, Acharyal asked His secretary to hand over Rs. 250 to the poor man.
Acharyal never believed in keeping to Himself what He had learnt. Hence, He had trained many in the Tarka Sastra. He was even keener on expounding Vedantic texts. He would welcome doubts and would not hesitate to refer numerous other texts. Once a sabha was called at Bangalore to discuss whether Bhagavatpadal recognised moola avidya (primary nescience). Traditional scholars are of this view while some other pundits held the contrary view. Acharyal witnessed the proceedings with avid interest. A person asked Him why He could not pass His verdict as a Jagadguru. Acharyals poignant reply was, "I am not here as a Jagadguru. On the contrary, I am seated as one who was taught the sastras and I want to confirm what I have learnt." This shows how impartial Acharyal could be in spite of His being recognised by scholars as an unparalleled exponent of Tarka and Vedanta. He would permit interested people to attend His classes for He held that even mere hearing of sastras was beneficial.
Quite often His expositions and upanyasams clearly bore the stamp of realisation particularly those which relate to dhyanam and the state of a Jivanmukta. While it is true that Acharyal believed in individual attention, He gave upanyasams by the thousands covering a variety of topics and each one is a gem that serves as guidelines to lead ones life properly. Acharyal regarded only a genuine practitioner as one competent to preach and so He was meticulous in His anushtanam. Acharyal never forgot any good done to Him even if the favour was meager. Having a crystal-like pure heart, Acharyal also, like Yudhistra, was only able to see the good in others.
Acharyals life itself serves as an ideal for disciples to emulate to the extent their limited capacities permit. Thus, it was not only when Acharyal was speaking or discoursing that He advised them. Even His simple day-to-day schedule and His exemplary precepts serve as beacon lights to guide persons struggling in the trammels of transmigratory existence.
In 1966, when Acharyal was observing Chaturmasya Vrata at Ujjain, a young brahmachari from Andhra Pradesh named Sri Sitarama Anjaneyalu - sharp in intellect, fierce in dispassion and extremely keen in learning the Sastras - came for Acharyals darshan. When Acharyal asked Sri Anjaneyalu about the purpose of his visit, pat came the obedient reply, "I want to learn the Sastras at the lotus feet of Your Holiness". The next day, Acharyal intimated Sri Anjaneyalu that He would teach Tarka Sangraha and the lessons started the same day. From that day onwards, Sri Anjaneyalu stayed with Acharyal and continued with the studies of the Sastras. As the days passed, Sri Anjaneyalu became a master of Vedas and the Sastras, totally indifferent to sense objects and extremely devoted to Acharyal. Sri Anjaneyalus surrender to Acharyal was complete and total. No wonder Acharyal chose Sri Anjaneyalu as His successor-designate. This sent a wave of joy amongst the devotees. The sacred initiation ceremony took place on 11th November 1974 and Acharyal named Sri Anjaneyalu as "Bharathi Theertha". Acharyal had mentioned in His speech that the tradition of the Sringeri Sharada Peetam is transferred from Guru to Shisya just as a lamp lights another lamp. He thus indicated that the lighted lamp becomes as bright as the one that lit it.
From 1954, Acharyal had set a very hectic pace for Himself as the Jagadguru. During this time He packed His life with achievements of no mean order. Within Sringeri, the list of accomplishments was staggering. One of the projects that He initiated in the 1980s was the construction of a bridge across the Tunga. For this project, he had collected photographs of world famous bridges over the years. While planning for this bridge, He utilized all these statistics. This shows how perfectly thorough He was.
With the passage of time, His Holiness began to hint that His work in a mortal frame was nearing completion. This thought reflected in His conversations and discourses. He also indicated this to His successor-designate.
From the second week of September 1989, Acharyal was not well. During this time, He asked His secretary to read to Him texts like Mohamudgara, Shiva Manasa Puja Stotram and Brahmanuchintanam. He said, "Instead of moaning and wailing when one is sick, one can read holy works such as these. This is what My Guru taught me. But now I am not able to read and so you read them out to Me."
In the early hours of the morning of 21st September, he experienced chest pain and uttered "Narayana". His assistant came running. Acharyals first reaction was, "Have I spoken so loudly that I woke you up?" The characteristic of extreme compassion never deserted Him even then. During the latter half of the morning, Acharyal shed His mortal coil.
Acharyal did not live to see the bridge across the Tunga completed. Small matter, for is He not, Himself, the ultimate bridge enabling His disciples cross the ocean of transmigratory existence. He lives even today in the hearts of many of His devotees and continues to bless and guide as ever before.