Shankaracharya is considered an incarnation of Shiv. His incredible abilities starting at 5 might be a display of it. By the age of 16, and he had reproduced all of the lost scriptures of Santana dharma
Historians give us the time frame of Shankaracharya as around 8th century. However, my opinion is that , it is incorrect and off by a 1000 years. He was there around 2000 years ago, and was there prior to Christ. I cannot give anyone any proof and do not ask or expect anyone to believe me solely based on my word. Shankaracharya left 4 peetha (or ashram) and has had a Sannyasi preside over it since he left them. They have kept accurate records of the names of all of them and the list is longer than 4000 names. Based on that one can get a glimpse of the duration of the lineage
I have written about Shankaracharya elsewhere
Let me tell you more about the Sannyasis of those times. The tradition continued but not in the sense it was intended. Times have changed
So lets go back 2000 years ago when Shankaracharya was there (you could make it 1200 years). He was born near Kochi, Kerala. And he travelled around India by the time he took Samadhi at the age of 32. No trains, buses, planes. There were bullocks and carts, but he travelled by foot. All over India.
The first generation of Sannyasi were given rules to follow. Those Sannyasi were all enlightened. Experienced. Established in Advaita. After being enlightened, they were given instructions to travel. Why? Santana and the vedas, upanishad had to be told and explained. Rituals had taken over and the meditation aspect was lost
So what were their instructions ?
Travel with a danda, a kamandal and wear saffron color clothes Bald headed but having a choti. The danda had a triangle saffron color flag They could not go to the same place twice In a small village they could stay only one night In a big city up to 15 days Rest was 3, 5 days depending on size of place They were only allowed to eat by begging for food The were only allowed to beg for alms at 5 homes at the most in a day. If they got alms from one house, they ate whatever little they got. They do not go to the next house for more. If they did not get food from the 5 places, they stayed hungry. The could beg for alms from any house but if they had food from a shudra place, they would sprinkle water on it and eat it. (There are spiritual reasons for sprinkling water) *Brahmacharya* was the rule. Brahmacharya - in physical terms. This means no sex. It included in thoughts and deeds. They only bow, prostrate themselves to their Guru. They are not permitted to enter any temples If they passby a shivling they would bend their danda and move on. *This picture is from Somnath temple, Gujarat*
These were the general rules. As time passed by, the sannyasi with full experience and remaining in that exalted state disappeared and the rules were slowly changed and modified to suit the times.
The word sannyasi is not the same as monk or sadhu. In general we put them all in the same category but no one follows the rules placed by Shankaracharya. It would be impractical in this day and age to beg for alms. Sannyasi comes from a combination of 3 sanskrit words together. Sam : everything or all. Ni : means inside or down. Sam plus ni becomes Sanni – by the rules of sanskrit conjugation. Asi : means is and if used as asa exists. Sanni plus asi – becomes sannyasi. Thus the word means – everything exists within or put everything down as give up. Both have opposite meaninng but means the same ! The wonder of sanskrit words
The image above is the most famous photo of Shankaracharya. It shows Shankaracharya in the center with his 4 disciples, Padmapadacharya, Mandanmishra, Totakacharya, Hastamalak, Sureshwaracharya (one of them goes by two names, dont remember which one are the same)
In my other dialogues I have explained the appearance of Sannyasi and how it relates to meditation elsewhere. Those who have a full understanding of the appearance to meditation, were the only people who were considered enlightened. It was not a random appearance.