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Concept of Work – As Explained By Adi Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharya is generally assumed to have decried the importance of work and to have given supremacy to jnana, knowledge, over everything else. This is a wrong notion based on garbled conceptions. He said that mere mechanical repetition of the elaborate rituals by rote cannot lead to liberation. Hence, he never attempted a mutual harmony between knowledge and action in the ritual sense and relegated work to one corner.

But a careful study of his life shows that he himself was a worker par excellence. In the short span of thirty-two years of his temporal existence what a stupendous volume of work he has done! He even gave a sublime turn to the ritual worship by introducing the worship of five deities, panchayatana puja — Ganesha, Shiva, Surya, Narayana, and Shakti, in addition to the worship of guru — as preliminary to the worship of any deity.

Only when it came to the question of liberation directly through the performance of work, he stood adamant and declared that it was knowledge alone that led to liberation. What he meant was that work done as a means to knowledge will end up in knowledge and will disappear of itself, just as clouds disappear after showering rain. The task he left as a legacy for posterity was to go beyond work through the right attitude towards work. His disciple Sureshwaracharya termed it naishkarmya-siddhi.