The Story of Totakacharya

Siva 380

Pictured: Swami Sivananda Saraswati and students in Rishikesh, India (circa 1940).

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This month is Guru Poornima and we decided to include this famous story about the merits of being a humble student.

Adi Shankara is one of India’s most well known gurus. He lived around 800AD and walked across India teaching yoga and establishing schools that are still alive and strong today. Even Ashram Yoga is directly connected to him via the Saraswati lineage which he established.

Adi Shankara had four main disciples: Totakacharya, Sureshwara, Padmapada and Hastamalaka.

Totakacharya had neither the learning of Sureshwara and Padmapada nor the realisation of Hastamalaka. But he was unrivalled in his personal attention to the guru. He found pleasure in looking after the personal comforts of the guru as a devoted servant.

His co-disciples decided he was not very intelligent. Even Padmapada was not free from this misconception. One day when Totakacharya had gone to the river to wash clothes, the guru waited for his arrival before starting the lesson.

The other disciples were impatient. Padmapada could not restrain himself and said: “Why should we wait for him? He is as thick as a wall.” Adi Shankara naturally did not relish this remark. He felt it necessary to teach Padmapada a lesson. So by a mental flash, he endowed Totakacharya with all the knowledge of the scriptures.

When Totakacharya returned from the river, he was literally in bliss. He addressed the guru with some brilliant stanzas and since then he was counted among the foremost disciples of Adi Shankara.