If one reaches the appropriate spiritual level, it is entirely possible to come face to face with Sankara.
A small group of spiritual aspirants was exchanging notes and sharing personal experiences in a satsang in a Nadi (palm leaf) astrologer’s house in Bangalore more than two decades ago. The subject of their conversation was Adi Sankara himself. I was seated next to them and all that I did was to listen silently to their lively discussion.
It did not take long for me to understand that they were devotees of Sankara.
“It is easy to have a ‘third-eye-view’ of Sankara during deep meditation”, said one of them, “But probably not possible to meet him or have darshan of his physical form with our naked eyes”.
“It may be difficult” said another, who later became my bosom friend, “But not impossible!”
“You mean… face-to-face with Sankara?” asked the third one.
“Yes!.. if only you believe one such direct experience of a photographer from Mangalore”.
My friend then set out to relate the photographer’s experience.
It happened very recently to this photographer at Kalady, the birth place of Adi Sankara in Kerala. The shrines of Sankara and Sharada are on the banks of River Poorna.
“I do not remember the photographer’s name but remember he hailed from Mangalore. He was hardly 35 years old when he lost his wife and only son. He wanted to embrace sannyasa and went over to Sringeri to seek the blessings of Maha Sannidhanam. The Acharya, however, directed him to go to Kalady and asked him to study Vedanta there. He joined the Vedanta school and mediated every morning in front of Adi Sankara’s shrine with his eyes closed, standing on one leg all the time.
“One day, the photographer caught cold. But he continued his vigorous early morning meditation; however, he could not help sneezing, and his eyes opened, only to discover someone in saffron robe proceeding towards the sanctum sanctorum of Sankara. The vibhuti (sacred ash) on his forehead had not dried up. It was difficult for the photographer to identify one who had a danda (staff) in one hand and a kamandala (bowl) full of water in the other! Water was also trickling from it. Without opening the door of the shrine, the great one got through it. The photographer had little doubt that it was Adi Sankara himself as he disappeared into the shrine through closed door”.
My friend continued:
“It was a couple of months after his experience that I learnt about it personally from the photographer-turned Vedantin. I had been to Kalady with three others one of whom was the Nadi astrologer. We had all assembled in a place in between the two shrines. The astrologer, reading from the nadi said that Adi Sankara moved in and around the temple area in subtle form. The photographer who was also close by said this was indeed true. An old man who accompanied us observed in total disbelief that he (the Vedantin) must be a ’mad’ one! I asked the Vedantin how he could say it was true. It was then that he recounted his experience of Adi Sankara entering a temple dedicated to him”.
Now, let us return to the satsang in Bangalore. My curiosity knew no bounds. When the astrologer , called me in, I asked him whether we should not immediately embark on a pilgrimage to Kalady to have similar experience. Reading from the nadi, the astrologer said the visit would not be fruitless! Vyartham na bhavati. That was sufficiently encouraging. But there were a few conditions, too: first, we should be at Kalady on a full moon day and mediate before sunrise. Second: we shouldn’t take anyone who was a spiritual misfit; third: we should mediate standing; and finally, we should mediate silently between 3 a.m. to 5 am.
The astrologer and I set out for Kalady. I was so eager for the experience that I did not find the 350 mile drive from Bangalore to Kalady tiresome. We reached our destination well in time – a few hours before the onset of full moon. After a brief rest, we went to the river for a dip. It was 4 a.m. The moon was full. We could not concentrate on our bath as our mind was firmly fixed on Sankara. After bath we went to the temple and started meditating exactly as we were advised.
Sound and Sight:
Strangely, within 10 to 12 minutes we heard sounds of someone taking dips in the river. Then there was stillness. Soon we saw a shadow approaching Sri Sankaracharya’s shrine. As it entered the meditation area, we could see the resplendent figure of Sankara in saffron robe. His face was serene and effulgent. The Acharya’s face was not longish as in the paintings, but roundish, resembling the round smiling face of the Utsavamurti worshipped there. The roundness of the face was in conformity with our inner experience in the antarmukha. For a second the stately figure stood just in front of the closed door of the shrine and disappeared into the sanctum sanctorum. We continued to mediate standing. A couple of minutes later we heard the sounds inside suggesting that the brief puja was being performed.
Shortly after, the nadi confirmed our experience and indicated that the Acharya wanted us to visit his shrine in Sringagiri (Sringeri) for further blessings. We returned to Bangalore but as the nadi reader was busy, I accompanied a group of friends and relatives to Sringeri.
Next morning, well before the Acharya’s temple opened, I went there alone to mediate, in its vicinity. It was still very dark and there was no one around. I meditated sitting in the serene atmosphere of the cool morning, free from any kind of disturbance. After about 30 minutes, there was a powerful streak of (what I choose to call celestial) light entering the shrine of Sankara. I looked upon the experience as Sankara’s blessing. After all, is not jyotisha based on jyoti or light? The object of jyotisha is to throw light on divine light! Only such experiences lend meaning to our efforts on the spiritual path.
The Mahabharata says that people in the same spiritual level will have identical spiritual experiences. If one reached the desired level, the experience – even from a scientific angle – is a foregone conclusion. Coming ‘face-to-face’ with such great ones, in any case, is a definite possibility, not a fictitious abstraction of orthodoxy!