One of the conflicts in my mind that I have struggled with is spiritualism, mysticism as compared to rituals. Hence when I came across this book on life of Shankaracharya and his philosophy at Chinmaya Mission, I grabbed it. For here was a person who conceptualized Advaita Vedanta and promoted while simultaneously setting up temples and encouraging common man to practice rituals. The biggest contradiction being that while as per Advaita Vedanta God is within us. The rituals prescribed in Vedas and Sanatan Dharma were about worshipping or keeping God(s) happy, in other words, God was outside of a person. The idea of God being external was so entrenched that even Ramanuja, was uncomfortable with it and proposed qualified Advaita Vedanta there by separating Brahman into Nar and Narayan.
Advaita sets a person on a spiritual journey of finding oneself. Just like philosopher Hegel said that God is journey of self-determination. According to Adi Shankaracharya, our consciousness gets veiled by adhyasa and agyan. Adhyasa is super-imposition of other aspects such as body, mind of thoughts in our definition of self or I. When we meditate, we can observe our body and our thoughts. That consciousness is Brahman. Agyan is ignorance or our beliefs arising from our biases and emotions. We seek motivations in what is being said. Care more about who has said it rather than what is being said. We develop causal relationships based on our beliefs. All these are nothing but illusions. Even Garuda Puran says, that our relationships here are meaningless for in the larger scheme of things, we are all the same. A father and son in this world are equals in the after world.
Adi Shankaracharya realized that not everyone wants to embark on this journey of Self-discovery. Most people are too busy earning livelihood, taking care of their parents, kids, friends and relations. Shankaracharya realized that rituals brought self-discipline and also reinforced the belief that God is approachable. That such persons can achieve liberation by being a good person. A person who is on spiritual journey does not need this assurance. He saw following rituals or devotion to God as first step in journey of spirituality. Today of course, we realize that this may not be true. Today the words have become more important than the spirit. It was rituals that excluded a section of society from worshipping in temples or from reading Vedas. If we really have to bring Amrut Kaal in India, we have to go easy on rituals and go high on spirituality.