Adi Shankara’s Greatest Debate: Is a Life of Virtue and Faith Enough to End Pain and Suffering?

This essay is based on transcription of a lecture by Murli Venkatrao of Ananda Washington on an existential debate that has shaped Indian thought and philosophy. ‘Anand’a is a global movement based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. It was founded in 1968 by Swami Yogananda’s disciple, Swami Kriyananda. Yogananda’s teachings embrace the truths that underlie all great religions. People from all faiths and backgrounds are welcomed at Ananda.

I was born in India, brought up in Bangalore, and I come from a family of storytellers. Both my brothers narrated stories in temples in the old way. They built narrative pictures and often they were the stories of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Krishna. So from a very young age, I have been either involved in this, or doing this myself. A lot of stories in India are worth sharing, relevant to us both spiritually and when we face a problem in life. The story tells a truth that is sometimes hard to convey through philosophy or rules. I was trained as a computer scientist and I have a PhD in yoga. My active area of research is how Yoga works with diabetes. I also am the director of the Ananda Institute of Living Yoga  where we have Hatha Yoga programmes, Raja Yoga programmes, all based on the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda, our founder.

Many stories in India involve gods and goddesses, demons, princes, princesses, magical weapons, apocalyptic battles, miraculous resurrections, even reverse descending from the heavens. The story I'm about to tell you is about three Indians who argued for 32 days straight. Indians like to argue about anything, everything, and even about nothing, especially about nothing. Hundreds of books have been written in India about the nature of nothingness, it's called Nirvana It's no wonder that we invented the concept of zero. The outcome of this debate between these three people who argued for 32 days answered an ancient and profound question, perhaps the most profound of all questions. For as long as humanity has been in existence, man has asked if pain and suffering are a part of life, if they are inevitable. How do we overcome them? Tribes, kingdoms, empires, civilizations, cultures, they've all answered this. And interestingly, they've come up with exactly two answers to this question. The first answer says embrace life, enjoy life, take care of your family, take care of those in need, lead a life of discipline and moderation. It's like depositing into your cosmic bank account. If you lead a life of selfishness, evil and laziness, it's like withdrawing. If your bank account is positive, they say you have health and happiness. If your bank account is negative, then you have misery and disease. It's all about karma, be a householder, they don't use the term karma, but that's what it's referring to. So that's one answer.

The second answer is to turn away from life. Control your senses, seek God. Meditate on God, pray to God, and through divine grace and an experience of divine bliss, your pain and suffering will be removed. This is the way of the renunciant. Renunciant is Sanyasi in Sanskrit, it's all about God. So the first way  to get rid of pain and suffering is to be a householder and adopt the way of karma. The second is to be a sanyasi, the way of divine knowledge, Gyana.

A Debate That Inspired Generations: Which one is better, householder or sanyasi? This question was answered so satisfactorily in the debate that it has reverberated through the tunnels of time, and echoes even today. Hundreds of saints and social workers, politicians and philanthropists, even Mahatma Gandhi, derived inspiration from the outcome of this debate. So let us transport ourselves across space and time to 1200 years ago, when we find ourselves in the middle of the Indian subcontinent. There flows a beautiful holy river, the Narmada. Along the banks of this river is an ancient town called Mahishmati. It was said that it was once the capital of the entire world. But  1200 years ago it was the centre of learning. This was the golden age of Indian philosophy, the eternal truths of the Vedas had been distilled into not one, not two, but six philosophical streams. There was Nyaya, the system of logic, Vaisheshika the atomic theory, Sankhya metaphysics, yoga, the science of the mind, Mimamsa, the way of the household and karma, and Vedanta the way of the sanyasi and Gyaani. There were scholars in Mahishmati. In all of these different philosophies and disciplines, they were towering figures in their own right. They were also scholars in Buddhism and Jainism. If you entered the walls of Mahishmati, it was like walking into a cathedral of learning. There were professors and universities. Back in the day, universities were known as Gurukulas. Guru means teacher Kula means clan, the clan of the teacher. Professors were known as Acharyas. The city was filled with Gurukulas and Acharyas.

Ideal Householders & Scholars: Even amidst the staggering constellation of scholarship in this city, two people stood head and shoulders above everybody else. A man named Mandana Mishra and a woman named Bharati Devi  who were husband and wife. They were ideal householders. They preached the philosophy of Mimamsa, the way of the householder, and they lived it. They created wealth. Their house was situated in an affluent part of town. It was built on a raised platform, and there were many balconies, towers, gardens, gables and a vast courtyard. It was said that this abode could house 50 people every night, and in the courtyard Mandana Mishra and Bharati Devi fed hundreds of people in need, morning and night. They were virtuous, disciplined, moderate. They had many children and grandchildren, they were healthy. They had great wealth. It was said that their health and wealth came from the performance of Yagyas. Yagyas are ancient Vedic fire rituals done to propitiate gods. When I say gods, don't think about the God but about elemental powers, like that of the wind, water, thunder, rain, fire and so on. So when through the Yagyas, you gave offerings to them the gods in return gave you health, wealth and prosperity. Mandana Mishra and Bharati Devi, in the ancient city of Mahishmati, were towering giants of scholarship.

One day, a little past noon the courtyard of their house was empty because the public lunch was over, and Mandana Mishra and Bharati Devi had retreated into their house to have their own lunch. The gate was opened by a young man of about  25, on the thinner side and wearing the ochre robes of a sanyasi. He was barefoot, his head was shaved and in his hand was a simple wooden staff at the end of which was tied a small cloth, formed into a bag, which contained all his material possessions. In his other hand, was a small pot of water. His eyes, when they looked at you, seemed to scan your soul, and immediately went to that corner  which was filled with regrets, anger, loneliness or sorrow and made you feel better.

So you felt that you had to follow him. A small crowd had come with him and also four of his disciples, each of whom was twice his age; in their 50s. His name was Shankaracharya. He walked briskly across the courtyard, unmindful of the hot earth beneath him. He climbed up the stairs to the door of the house and told the doorman, "Please summon your master and mistress. I challenge them to a debate that the way of the Sanyasi is superior to the way of the householder." Normally one would be ridiculed for saying something like that.. But such was the magnetism of this young monk that the doorman wordlessly turned around and went inside. He summoned Mandana Mishra and Bharati Devi, who were about to have lunch. The rule of the householder is that the guest is God. So when a guest shows up, you have to take care of him first.

They stopped their lunch plans and Bharati Devi came out and said, "Revered monk, Welcome to our humble house. It is lunchtime. Let me give you some food." And she cooked for him, equal parts of rice and Mung beans, and then put a little ghee and a little salt into it. She made them into five fist-sized balls and presented it to Shankaracharya who took three of the rice balls, walked outside, held out his hand for the birds to come and eat. He walked back into the house, took the remaining two rice balls, closed his eyes, and recited a verse from the Bhagavad Gita: “I offer this food to God. The hand that eats this belongs to God. The fire that digests it is the fire of God, the nutrients that result from it go back to God. In this way, if my every action is offered back to God, one day will I not see you my Lord, let that be soon.” He then quickly ate the two rice balls and drank a little water from his water pot. That was his lunch and his dinner. Monks or renunciants lead a hard life. They are not allowed to cook in their own homes, they are not allowed to even have a home. They go out, and if somebody gives them food, they eat, and if they don't, they don't eat, it's as simple as that. Whatever food they get, three fifths has to be offered to other creatures in God's creation. Only two fifths is what they can eat. After his meal Mandana Mishra asked Shankaracharya, "Young monk, tell me the reason why your holy feet have graced my humble house today."

Adi Shankaracharya’s Challenge: Shankaracharya said, "Revered Acharya, oh great scholar. Your fame has spread far and wide, throughout the country. You are regarded as the greatest authority on Mimamsa, the way of the householder, and Yagya, fire ceremonies. I believe in Vedanta, I believe that the way out of pain and suffering is to turn away from life, renounce everything, and wait for divine wisdom to dawn. I believe my ways are superior. I wish to debate with you on this topic, I challenge you to a debate." Now, Mandana Mishra was a little disdainful of Sanyasis, he thought they were a burden on society and didn't do much. They just came in to take food, whereas he created wealth, he created a family, took care of the needy. But the crowd that had gathered outside had already heard the challenge so he couldn't say no. Furthermore, Shankaracharya was no ordinary monk. He was regarded as the greatest spiritual genius. He was only 25 and had  already written books that were changing the way people thought about God. He had toured the length and breadth of India walking long distances, spreading his message. Mandana Mishra thought he would put an end to this once and for all by debating Shankaracharya and showing that his own ways were superior. The debate was arranged and word went out in town  that the great Shankaracharya and the great Mandana Mishra, the two giants of philosophy, would be debating each other. They built a stage in the courtyard and on the left and right of the stage, seats were set up. Shankaracharya on one side, Mandana Mishra on the other, and seats for four of their principal disciples.

Unanimous Decision On Judge: At the very centre on a raised platform was a seat for the judge. Back in those days, debates didn't need moderators, there was nothing to moderate. People were expected to be civil to each other, well behaved, never raise their voices, and only debate the issues, not any ad hominem personal attacks. And they were supposed to answer the question. You couldn't just give a pat answer no matter what the question was, unlike some of the debates that we see today. So moderators were not required, but the judge was, as every debate had to have an outcome. So, who would have the competence to judge the giant of Mimamsa, Mandana Mishra , and the giant of Vedanta, Shankaracharya. Who could that be, the crowd of scholars that had gathered in the courtyard were unanimous. They looked at Bharati Devi and said, ‘Mother, You have been like the Goddess Lakshmi to all of us, you have fed us. You've asked after our welfare. But you are one of the greatest scholars not just on Mimamsa, not just on Vedanta but on all philosophical systems. You're the only one competent enough to judge who won and who lost.’ She accepted humbly, and the debate date was set. On the day of the debate, Bharati Devi walked in wearing a simple white sari, her hair parted in the middle and streaked with vermilion powder, and rightat the centre of the forehead, exactly where the sixth chakra, or spiritual eye is, another little circle of vermilion. These are the marks of a married woman, of a householder. And in her hand, were two garlands made of jasmine, their fragrance filling the entire courtyard. She said, ‘Let the contestants enter.’

Mandana Mishra walked in from the left of the stage, a tall well-built man, radiating good health, tempered by a lifelong practice of discipline and moderation. His piercing intellect and the zeal of his beliefs gave his gaze a sharp, unflinching quality. He sat down accompanied by his four disciples. Shankaracharya entered from the right, unremarkable physically, almost thin. He bowed to the judge and sat down, his face exuding an oceanic calmness, his eyes full of love. While Mandana Mishra was formidable in his self-confidence, Shankara was complete in his surrender to God. The two giants of philosophy were sitting opposite each other, and Bharati Devi got up. She addressed the crowd, saying the garlands were made of Jasmine flowers that she picked that morning.  She said she had infused them with her powers, so that their fragrance would last for as long as the debate lasted. She walked up and gave one garland to the Shankaracharya’s disciples, who put the garland round his neck. She then walked up to her husband and put the other garland round his neck. Her face was full of love, eyes filled with tenderness and good wishes. But the moment the garland touched his neck, her eyes became expressionless, her face stern, because she was now no longer the wife, she was the judge. She walked up to the stage, sat down and said, "Contestants, make your opening statements and declare your wager. As the challenger, Shankaracharya, you go first.”

Opening Statements & Wagers: Shankaracharya began to speak in his soft voice that somehow filled the courtyard. He said, "God is the only reality. When we turn away from all material pursuits and seek God, to the exclusion of all ends, we begin to glimpse God's presence, we begin to understand God's essence and eventually we will experience God as Satchidanandam, ever existing, ever new. And in this moment of divine ecstasy, the veil of Maya, delusion, falls away, the universe disappears and the soul declares Aham Bhahmasmi, I am the divine. And in this rising tide of infinite joy and bliss, pain and suffering are washed away. This is my position, and I'm going to defend this, if I'm unable to, I will pass away the robes of a Sanyasi. I will get married. I will buy a house, and I will become a disciple of the great Acharya that is sitting in front of me, Mandana Mishra."

All eyes turned towards Mishra. He said with a firm, strong voice, "Man's destiny is determined by his actions and his actions alone, nothing else. If a man works hard, creates wealth, takes care of his family and takes care of the needy, leads a disciplined life of moderation, then he will earn the right to health and happiness. If he's lazy, if he's evil, then he will experience disease and misery. It is only by unflinching devotion to duty, the performance of Yagyas, and the life of virtue, that pain and suffering can be eliminated. This is my position. If I'm unable to defend this, then I shall renounce my family, my children, my grandchildren, all my wealth, and I will become a disciple of this young monk, Shankaracharya, who sits in front of me."

Bharati Devi said in her mellifluous voice, "Let the debate begin". Mandana Mishra started off by saying, "Young monk. You said God is the only reality. I believe in what I see. I don't see God. I have never seen God. I don't know if anybody has seen God. On the other hand, you said the entire universe is a delusion, doesn't exist. I see my family. I see the house that I built for them. I see the hundreds of people that I feed every day. You asked me to believe that what I see is unreal. And what I don't see is real. How is this possible?" The crowd nodded. What a great point.

Shankaracharya was ready and said, "Oh great Acharya, great scholar. You have made a good point. But the eyes don't always perceive what is real, there is air all around you. But do you see it? Do you believe that the air is not real? Whatever the eye sees is not always true. I see your shadow right this moment, but is your shadow real? Out in the desert, there is a mirage, I see water, is that real? Go beyond the senses, oh great one, and perceive a reality that is far bigger." Mandana Mishra nodded. This was an abstruse branch of philosophy known as epistemology, the sources of truth.

Mishra was an expert on this having written not one but two textbooks on this topic. His rebuttal was immediate, precise and cutting. He said, "I know by experience that the shadow is not real because I have to touch it and there is nothing there. I know by repeated mistakes that there is no water in the desert, even though I might see it as a mirage. And I don't see the air, but I feel the wind, the hurricane, the typhoon and the cyclone, so I know that it exists, what I don't see, I can infer, I can use logic. I don't need to see the fire if I see smoke in the distance and there are trees. I know there is fire. So, by inference and logic, I verify what I see. Can you prove to me, young monk that God exists, I will accept it.” With that, he fixed Shankara with a piercing gaze that could only come from decades of study, experience and extraordinary confidence. Shankara stared back unblinkingly for a moment with his large peaceful eyes. Then he continued in the same soft tone, but now there was more resonance in it. He declared, "Ishwara Asiddhaha, God cannot be proven." Mandana Mishra looked at him and raised an eyebrow, as if mocking him.

Historic Arguments: Shankaracharya then said, "God is neither an object, nor a concept. If God was an object, you could see it, smell it, taste it and so on. If God were a concept we could debate it and prove. God instead is an experience. The wise ones call it Anubhava. A man wears a heavy, valuable golden necklace around his throat, and he searches frantically everywhere for it, but he doesn't find it because it's already on him. God is like that, oh Mandana Mishra. Don't look for him outside. It's the mind that perceives, it's the intellect Buddhi that analyses, don't look for him in either place, look for him in the stillness of your heart, he's already in there, find him there." Now the crowd, which was so far on Mandana Mishra's side, were beginning to get swayed by the arguments of this dynamic, charismatic young Sanyasi.

His simple arguments resonated with them. The debate proceeded and went on till the end of the day when it adjourned and Shankaracharya left the podium. He could not stay in the house, could not cross the threshold in order to sleep. So he went to an ancient temple on the outskirts of Mahishmati, found a tree under which he placed his staff, water pot, and his little cloth bag. He went into the Narmada river, bathed in its ice cold waters, meditated on God for several hours, and fell asleep. Mandana Mishra and Bharati Devi were householders whose duties never end. They fed 100 people, just like they did every day, after the debate. They do not talk to each other, maintaining a vow of silence because one is the judge and the other is a contestant. They don't even look at each other, lest some unintended communication happen that way. They go through all of their household duties, have a simple meal and turn their backs to each other and fall asleep.

Many Days Of Profound Debate: The next day, at exactly 7:36 am, the debate begins. The Indian calendar is divided into hours of 48 minutes each, they're called Muhurtas. The third hour after sunrise, which is 48 plus 48, one hour and 36 minutes is the most auspicious Muhurat to begin such things. It's called the Muhurat of Mitra. It's the name of the sun. So 7:36 is when the debate began. And for the next 14 days, the debate continued. They talked about Atman, the soul, Brahman, God, Dharma, the way of righteousness, and Artha, the need to make money, Yagya, fire ceremonies and Bhakti, devotion. They talked about Sanyasi, the way of the renunciant, and Samsari, the way of the householder, Karma, action, Gyana, wisdom, and most of all, how to liberate oneself from pain and suffering, Moksha. The audience were enthralled. They hadnever heard such nuanced presentation and debates of these great and eternal philosophies, Atman, Brahman, Yagya, Bhakti, Dharma, Artha, Samsara, sannyasa, Karma, Gyana, Moksha, everything is laid bare in front of them. And it went on for another 14 days.

On the 16th day of debate, Mandana Mishra began. His unwavering confidence was now shaken a little bit. In his framework of self effort,discipline, virtue & Yagyas, there was no room for God. He always thought that God was a concept, invented by weaklings to justify their fear and laziness. But now in the presence of the charismatic young Sanyasi, the spiritual genius Shankaracharya, he was awakening to a higher reality, glimpsing something that lies beyond family, health, and the body. H was beginning to glimpse a joy that could be far greater than what you get with family and possessions. And he knew that virtue and self effort would give happiness, but that it was an uphill battle.

It was so easy to slip from personal experience into the cesspool of suffering beneath and so much harder to claw one’s way back. So he knew, even in the system of Mimamsa, that help was needed. He asked himself. Could that be God? He wanted to find out as a man of action. The debate was coming to a climax, the questions were rapidfire now. Mandana Mishra asked, "What is the relationship between soul and God, soul and spirit?" Shankaracharya shot back. "They're related in the same way that the sun and its reflection are related, there is only one sun that warms and lights up the entire world, but his reflection can be seen in ponds and lakes and streams and rivers. The soul and spirit are the same way, there is only one God who is reflected in all the souls". A piece fell into place in Mandana Mishra's mind. He said, "Revered sanyasi. You say that God is omnipresent. He is present in every atom of creation, and in every soul. If he's omnipresent, why can't I see him". Shankaracharya looked at him, smiled and said, "if you take a glass of water. Add some salt into it. Where is the salt?" Mishra said, "it's dissolved in water". "Can you see it?" "Now, has the salt vanished? No it's right there," Shankaracharya said and asked, "if you take the teeniest sip of salt in a cup of water. Will you taste salt? Will you feel it?".

Mandana Mishra said, "of course I feel it". Shankaracharya said, "if I take the glass and pour half of it out, will salt still be there? Yes. If I take the glass and retain only 10 drops of salt water, will the salt still be there? Yes. What about one drop, it will still be there, half a drop, it will still be there". He said, "There is nothing  you can do to the water that you can remove salt from it. Now, that is exactly how God is. He is present in every atom of creation. He's Vishya, all pervading. But at the same time, he's beyond creation. Parama Purusha, he is both.”

Thrilling New Experience: At the same time, many pieces click into place in Mandana Mishra's mind. His face was aglow with the discovery of a thrilling new experience through new knowledge, but he was not done yet. He was a man of action, so he had one more question. He said, "Revered monk, I have one more question for you. How can I experience God? How can I get that experience?"

Shankaracharya said, "There was once a man from Gandhara, (it is a nation which is today's Afghanistan). He came to India, and he was in a forest, where he was robbed and the robber tied his eyes and hands. The man desperately wanted to get back to Afghanistan. He walked around and stumbled, fell and got injured. He got up again, continued to walk for months but he was unable to find Afghanistan. He has a memory of his hometown. It was getting dimmer and dimmer but that memory was making him go there. The air smelt like Afghanistan. He was joyful and then the next day it was gone.” Shankara said, “One day another man comes, he has been to Afghanistan before, he unties this man's blindfold and his hands and says over there is Afghanistan. And the man goes. That is how you find God. It needs the help of one that already knows where you're going, one that already has been where you're going. It needs the help of another person of God, that is a Sadhguru. That is your guru. And when the guru finds you, you too will find God". Mandana Mishra was almost ready, his heart was overflowing with joy because he knew tha he had found the greatest gem that one can find. But he still had one more question. "Young monk. Then what about the life of a householder & virtue, has it all been a waste?" Shankara said, "No, in fact, that is the cornerstone of life. It is through actions that we purify the heart. Actions are clarifying, your life as a householder, and having taken care of the needy and lived a virtuous life is what has purified your heart, a pure heart is ready to reflect the light of God. When the heart is pure, when the disciple is ready, the guru will come." Shankara leaned forward and Mandana Mishra perceived him as something far greater, no longer the young monk. Shankara asked him, "Mandana Mishra, Acharya, Are you ready?" He knew what was being asked of him. His heart overflowed with joy that he had found his guru, and he bowed to Shankaracharya. "Yes Gurudeva. I am ready, accept me as your disciple". In that moment, his garland wilted and the flowers dropped to the floor. The crowd gasped awestruck by Shankaracharya's brilliance. Mandana Mishra was wonderstruck by his new discovery. But Bharati Devi on the stage was thunderstruck. She too was swayed by the magnetism in the argument of Shankaracharya. She could not deny it, she felt the thrill of impending God contact.

New Challenge By Bharati Devi: On the other hand, this has consequences for her. She felt that her questions too needed to be answered as she was Mandana Mishra's wife and it was not his decision to make. She descended from the stage, bowed to Shankaracharya and said, "Revered sanyasi. I am half of Mandana Mishra's life. It is not yet his to renounce, unless you answer my questions too. Lord, will you debate me as well?" Shankaracharya thought about this as he was a Sanyasi and not even supposed to look up at a woman. How could he debate with her? But then he realised the one in the form of a woman was perhaps Goddess Saraswathi, the Goddess of Learning herself. Her scholarship was reputed to be even greater than Mandana Mishra. So he thought for a moment and said, "Revered lady, Oh incarnation of Saraswathi. It would be my honour to debate with you."

The debate between Bharati Devi and Shankaracharya began. Mandana Mishra's knowledge was stunning in its depth. Bharati Devi had both depth and breadth. So she began to ask him questions about Nyaya, Sankhya, Vaisheshika, yoga, and of course Mimamsa and Vedanta. It was a  rapidfire back and forth of these questions. Shankara was clipped and brief to the point in his answers, but such was the erudition, scholarship and brilliance of Bharati Devi, that even Shankaracharya, perhaps the greatest philosophical genius of all time, had to take a timeout every now and then to answer a subtle point that she had raised. This debate too proceeded for 15 days. ,. There were as many women in the crowd as men because one of their own was engaging in a debate.

In the debate with Mandana Mishra, the crowd was applauding and cheering. But with Bharati Devi and Shankaracharya, the level of the debate was so great that the crowd, which consisted of great scholars, had long bitten the dust. They didn’t know what was going on, they could only follow the Bhava, they could feel the debate. The crowd was silent, they kept looking back and forth. The rapid fire staccato rhythm of questions and answers was like popping corn. On the 16th day, at 7:36am, the crowd sat in anticipation. Was today the day when Bharati Devi, who had been like the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, for them, would become Goddess Saraswathi, and defeat Shankaracharya himself in debate, because it felt like she was gaining the upper hand. Bharati Devi sat down and in her voice that sounded like the tinkling of bells, she asked him, "Revered sanyasi. I have one last question for you. You described the moment of divine bliss, that singular moment of joy, which was so great that the soul is not aware of anything, internal and external. And you said that divine bliss gave you emancipation from pain and suffering. Every householder experiences a similar bliss during the act of procreation. And in that moment, the mind is not aware of anything, internal or external. Why is it that while divine bliss can emancipate you, the bliss of procreation is unable to?" Shankaracharya was now stumped. He renounced the world at the age of eight, he experienced divine bliss at the age of 10, but he had never experienced sensual pleasures. He didn’t know the pleasure of having a perfectly balanced meal where all the spices go perfectly well together. He had never known that pleasure. He didn't know the pleasure of owning possessions, certainly not the pleasure of procreation.

30 Days to Answer A Tricky Question: So he said, "Bharati Devi, oh pious woman. Would you please give me 30 days? And I'll come back and answer your question". She said, "Okay let's meet back here in 30 days and she looked at him. At 7:36am We'll be here 30 days from now". He rapidly left with his four disciples and went deep into the forest where  he could not be found. The previous day, word had reached everybody that the king in the neighbouring kingdom had died and his body was still in stasis, not yet cremated. Shankaracharya sat down in the middle of a dense forest in full lotus pose, closed his eyes, used his yogic powers to stop his breath. He withdrew all the energy inward into the realm of the chakras, Mooladhara. The energy rose up, the rising tide of Kundalini, Swadhisthana,  Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha and finally, Agya. Kutastha, the place where the three nadis meet. This great energy, all of his energy, his vitality along with Kundalini had come here, and now like a deluge breaching a dam, this energy of Shankaracharya, this Prana of Shankaracharya breached the Kutastha, the Agya and opened a subtle channel called Brahma Nadi. The wave of energy swept up the Brahma Nadi and gathered his soul like a wave in the ocean, rode this wave of energy, emerged out through a little opening at the top of the head, and within half a second, it travelled across to the neighbouring Kingdom, where the king lay dead. It entercd his head and Prana spread through his body. His wives, his ministers, his friends, they were all grieving, and then they saw his body fill with life blood, and the king stretched, yawned and without so much as a how do you do, got up and walked away with his entourage following him. They were stunned, but they didn't want to question it.

The soul of Shankaracharya, which was purified of all desire many lifetimes ago, now proceeded to do the duties of a householder, to enjoy the pleasures and dispense the responsibilities of a householder. Everybody sensed that there was something in the new King. There was a wellspring of peace that was both mysterious and irresistible. In those 29 days, the king accomplished more for the administration of the state than the previous king had done throughout his entire reign. He held great big banquets, he acquired new arms, weapons and he became a complete householder. Twenty nine days later, he called all those closest to him,  his wives, his children, his ministers and friends, and blessed them as if saying goodbye. He didn’t get up again, this time he was truly dead. Half a second later the Shankaracharya's body, which was sitting in full lotus, in the depths of a remote forest, began to pulse with life blood, and Shankaracharya's body shuddered. He woke up and his disciples bowed to their master, marvelling at this extraordinary feat of yogic power. Shankaracharya walked back and the next day the debate began at 7.36 a.m. Bharati Devi asked him, "Revered sir. Do you have an answer to my question?"

Shankaracharya said, "Oh incarnation of Saraswathi, I do. Pain and pleasure are a part of life, we indulge in sense pleasures, whether it's a great big banquet or the acquisition of possessions or the pleasure of procreation, we indulge them to forget the pain, but nothing has changed. At the end of it, the pain is still there. So this pleasure is temporary, this pleasure is external. You need somebody else to experience pleasures, you need something else, it's dependent on something, either another person or good health to enjoy good food or money to enjoy possessions. And therefore it is subject to duality, that pleasure brings with it pain. So it's temporary and external. You say the pleasure of procreation is a singular moment of extreme joy. And I can tell you that the pleasure of divine bliss is a million times greater than that. So sensual pleasures will not emancipate you, because they are temporary, they are limited, and they are external. Divine bliss is the bliss of the soul. It doesn't need anything external." He quoted a verse from the Gita.

Be Like A Lotus Leaf: "The soul finds contentment, it finds contentment in itself, the soul finds contentment in itself. That is the moment of divine bliss. It's neither external nor limited nor temporary. It is ever existing, ever new, infinite and inherent and that is why, Oh pious lady divine bliss is different from the bliss of procreation or all other sensual pleasures". Bharati Devi was  satisfied with the answer. She had one final question. She asked why if the way of sanyasa was so much better, how life could go on. “Who will have children, who will provide the bodies through which we can work out our karma? Won't the world come to an end.” Shankaracharya said, "No, it doesn't, it's not everybody's Dharma to become a sanyasi, only a few of them have their destiny. Most people have to be householders." Then he said a very important thing. He asked Bharati Devi to be like the lotus leaf which when it rains doesn't get wet because water slides off it. Be like that, go through life's experiences. Let both pleasure and pain rain on you but be undisturbed by it". And he continued, "Be like the wind. The wind carries the stink of manure and the fragrance of a rose but it itself is unaffected. And in that way, be a channel for life's experiences but maintain an inner separation. It is that inner renunciation. That is the key to emancipation, so be a sanyasi, even a samsari, while some people can be a sanyasi and dedicate their lives. And this is how the world goes on". Bharati Dev looked at Mandana Mishra, who was on the threshold because his status was unclear, whether he was a renunciant or not.

He was silently sitting at the feet of his guru. They both fell at Shankaracharya's feet and accepted his blessings. Then they became Sanyasis. Later on when Shankaracharya established a monastery in southern India called Sringeri, the first guru of that monastery was none other than Mandana Mishra. Even today you can find a sanctuary to Bharati Devi right there in the precincts of the temple, front and centre. In fact, the main temple in Sringeri is dedicated to none other than Saraswathi, who is believed to have come through Bharati Devi on that day. So ended the 32-day argument among three Indians whose echoes have reverberated across time and space and stays with us even today.

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