“My way is the way of Sankara Acharya”
—Sree Narayana Guru
Romain Rolland, after having read some of the essays by Nataraja Guru,
Glasenapp does not say anything regarding the new religious
manifestations in South India which are not negligible. Such, for
example, is the great Guru Sree Narayana, whose beneficent spiritual
activity has been exercising its influence during the past forty years in
the State of Travancore on nearly two millions of his followers (he passed
away in 1928). His teaching, imbued with the philosophy of Sankara,
shows evidence of a striking difference of temperament compared with the mysticism of Bengal of which the effusion of love ( bhakti ) inspired in him a certain mistrust.
He was, one might say, a jnanin of action, a grand religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classed in South India, and his work has been associated at certain times with that of Gandhi (cf. the articles of his disciple, P.Natarajan, in the “Sufi Quarterly” Geneva, December 1928 and in the following months)” —
Vide The Life of Sree Ramakrishna by Romain Rolland.
That succinct description is the best sketch of the Guru to come from the West.
Erudite scholars who had reflected on the philosophy of the Swami have stated that he has, like Sankara Acharya, give us a careful re- expression of Vedic thoughts, with special reference to the saying in the Gita. And scholars of the Gita explain that while the Upanishads stress the path of jnana (union with God through knowledge) almost exclusively, the Gita
lays emphasis on all the three paths – i.e. union through action ( karma yoga ), union through devotion ( bhakti yoga ) and union through knowledge ( jnana yoga ). The originality of the
Gita lies in making these three paths blend into one. Sankara expounds in depth the message of the Gita and other Vedic works and establishes that Adwaita (non-daulism) is the acme of Vedic
Sree Narayana Guru repeats this assertion and in the very process of that repetition extends it and almost recreates it. For that matter, this technique of creative repetition has been the chief characteristic of Hinduism from the Vedas down to the present day. The Vedas themselves appear to have been early prayers elevated to a higher spiritual level. The thinkers of the
Upanishads were no doubt revolutionaries straining at the leash of sacrificial religion of the Vedas, in order to progress towards a universal mystical religion. Nevertheless, they utilized all that was useful in the Vedic hymns even while they were engaged in the fundamental revision of earlier concepts. The Gita expanded, consolidated and synthesized the Upanishadic philosophy.
Sree Narayana Guru laid emphasis on the teachings of the Gita especially where Yoga is conceived as a remarkable synthesis or integration within oneself, integration with society and integration with the supreme spirit.
The Guru was not a ritualist. Nor was he a Vedantist who believed that one should desist from all activity if one wished to attain moksha.He did not stay in the woods, retiring from the world, spending his time in just contemplating on the Brahman. Once he had experienced
the non-duality of the divine being he started working among the people. His renunciation did not consist in the giving up of all work but the renunciation of the fruits of work. He lived according to the message of theGita which commands us to live in God, but to work in the world to serve His purpose. He led a holy life. He took refuge in the spirit. He saw everything and every being in the universe as aspects of One Reality.
The Guru shows us the Vedantic way of understanding. His great philosophical poem Atmopadesa Sataka repeatedly tells us that mere knowledge is not enough. Look within—go and find—search—try and experience—see how it works—think—practise what you are told. These
repeated exhortations of his are intended to make one realize again and again that the comprehender of Vedanta does not mean a man who grasps the verbal meaning of the lines, but one who has verified the truths in his own person. As the mystics would have it a person has to become what he knows. Sree Narayana Guru’s religion is a way of confronting life in all its
aspects. All mankind has to be responsive to true spiritual realization by living in amity, goody fellowship, and love, free from all antagonism of race, nationality, creed or caste. This has to be done in the name of the one supreme being who is Santam (calm, tranquil), Sivam (auspicious),
Adwaitam (one). That is the understanding which produces the same result as in the case of an excited visionary who realizes cosmic truths. The two processes are one. Practise it and you will actually experience, even when you cannot understand it through reasoning, how spirituality
penetrates all activity.
The greatest emphasis is therefore laid by the Guru on the formula that there are both a theory and a corresponding way of life that cannot be divided. The Guru expounds this philosophy in terms of one tradition and then in terms of another, repeating at every opportunity: Verify it in yourself, verify it.