Sankaradeva: His Spiritual Teachings
The fundamental teachings and tenets of Assam Vaisnavism of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva are in complete harmony with the Bhāgavata and the Gitā.
Assam Vaisnavism is based upon absolute devotion to God with a spirit of self-abnegation so as to realise in the end that we live, move and have our being in and for God alone. Total surrender to God, absolute dedication to the service of God and His creatures, to feel the presence of God everywhere as the in-dwelling spirit, to see God in everything and everything in God, and to listen to and chant the names and qualities of God with absolute devotion are some of the basic tenets of Assam Vaisnavism.
Sankaradeva narrated in beautiful verses the purānic stories to establish the power of absolute devotion to God in his masterly work, Kirttana Ghosā, and Madhavadeva expounded in beautiful verse-forms his spiritual experiences and the philosophical basis of bhakti in his great work, the Nām Ghosā.
Assam Vaisnavism is a religion for the common man of this age. The object of worship and devotion is Krishna who is pure knowledge and consciousness, absolute truth and perfection. The qualities and names of Krishna, the quality-less and formless, are beyond the three gunas of māyā or prakriti, all the rest being subject to māyā. This being so, Assam Vaisnavism solely relies on nāma dharma and absolute surrender to and service of God and His created beings.
Sankaradeva's Neo-Vaisnavism, like the Upanishads and the Gitā, emphasises on detachment (niskāma bhakti) as the key to individual and social welfare, healthy social relationships and attainment of the final goal (paramārtha). One who gives up all desires and frees oneself from all cravings, attachments and egotism (pride) attains supreme bliss:
Vairāgyata pare bhāgya nāhi pravodhata pare
Sukha āru nāhi purusara;
Hari vine paritrāna kartā āru nāhi jānā
ripu nāhi samsārata para
There is no greater merit other than detachment, no happiness greater than wisdom, no other rescuer than God and no other enemy bitterer than world-mindedness for a man and know this for certain.
Detachment is the means to success, because it leads to self-control, self-knowledge, firmness of conscience and viewing unity in things and beings:
Visnumaya dekhe yito samaste jagate
jiwanate mukuta howe acira kālate
sakala prānika dekhibeka ātmasama
upāya madhyata ito āti mukhyatama
He who sees Visnu everywhere in the universe attains release even when alive. You should look upon all living creatures as equal to your own self.
This is indeed the highest of all means. Sankaradeva's religion thus puts equal stress upon the highest of Upanishadic teachings. His religious teachings emphasise the basic moral code to weave out the way to emancipation from all mundane sufferings.
Assam Vaisnavism, in accordance with the Bhāgavata, is the essence of all Upanishads. This religion is claimed to be simple but most effective and is indeed the most suitable and the only religion meant for the people of this age:
nāma vine nāhi kalita gati
kalira loka huive pāpamati
anyatra dharme nāhi adhikāra
jānibā kalita nāmese sāra
There is no way other than Nāma in the Kali age, for the people of this age are evil-minded, and they are not fit for any other religion. Remember Nāma (Name of God) to be essential in the age of Kali.
Āhmāra nirmala bhakatita durācāro tare kona citta
āhmāka bhajiā cāndālo tare samsāre,
stri sudra vaisya ādi yata visayata mātra sadā rata
moka bhaji sukhe isave howe uddhāra