Swami Vishnudevananda was one of the most revered teachers in the classic yogic tradition. A pioneer in bringing yoga to Western audiences, he authored The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, started the first yoga teachers’ training course in the West, and founded the first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal, naming it after his Master, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. The ancient Vedic teachings conveyed to Swami Vishnudevananda through his Master are based on the tradition that began with the great philosopher and theologian Adi Shankaracharya, born in the 8th century CE.
Adi Shankaracharya established the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, anchoring his teachings in the most ancient, revered doctrine in Hindu tradition, that of the unity of each individual soul, or atman, and the Supreme Soul of all creation, Brahman. All of today’s main Hindu and yogic philosophies derive by one path or another from Adi Shankaracharya’s central teachings.
In addition to popularizing the Advaita Vedanta tradition he had developed, Adi Shankaracharya also systematized and synthesized the “six philosophical systems” of Hinduism commonly practiced in his day, bringing unity to a diverse set of beliefs. His beautifully simple explanation of complex phenomena centered on the recognition that the six seemingly disparate deities were actually components of a single divine and indissoluble being, Brahman. Adi Shankaracharya’s consistent focus was on teaching students to see beyond the temptations offered by traditions focused only on outward ritual, and to seek deeper, eternal truths within.
Adi Shankaracharya also wrote commentaries on the wisdom found in the ancient Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and established the Dashanami Sampradaya tradition of monastic living. The four monasteries he founded still exist to share his wisdom with students today.