Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Maneesha Panchakam - Chandala Verse 2

Hare Krishna Friends,

We will see the second verse uttered by the Chandala today.

pratyagvastuni nistaranga sahajaanandavabhodambudhou
viproyam shwapachoyam ityapi mahan koyam vibhedhabhramaha.
kim gangambuni bimbitembaramanou chandala veethipayaha
poore vaantaramasti kanchanaghati mrutkumbhayorvaambare.

Meaning: “In the ripple-less (changeless), naturally blissful ocean of the Self how can there be this great delusory distinction that one is a knower of Veda - Vipra (Brahmin) and one is a dog-eater? Is there any difference in the jewel of the sky (Sun) when it is reflected in the waters of Ganges or in the water present in the street of an outcaste? Is there any difference in the space as such, be in a golden pot or in a mud pot?

The all pervading, changeless Consciousness is one alone. It has no difference of caste and creed. Irrespective of whether it is the body of a Brahmin or of a low caste, it is this consciousness that makes this inert body sentient. That being the case, why give more than required importance to caste? This is what the Chandala asks the Acharya in the above shloka. Also, he supplements his argument with some examples.

In the above verse, the first line is called in Sanskrit as “Daarshtaantam” (the point that is explained with a Drishtaantam) and the second line is the “Drishtaantam” (Exemplification).

Let us look at the “Daarshtaantam” part first. The Chandala asks, in the inner-core Essence, the Self, where there are no ripples of thoughts, a shore less Bliss state, how can there be any distinction as ‘this is a Brahmin’ or that ‘this is a dog-eater’ (basically any caste distinction). If at all such a distinction is felt it can only be an illusion or a delusion.

Note: “sahajaananda” has been translated as naturally blissful. However, bliss may not be the apt word for Ananda. Bliss is an experience and Ananda is not an experience. There might not be any exact word for Ananda in English. Bliss appears to be the closest and is widely used.

Then the Chandala gives “Drishtaantams”. His examples are according to two accepted Vedantic theories namely the “Pratibimbavada” and “Avachedavada”. These are used to explain how the Infinite Consciousness comes to play as individualized limited ego. We will touch upon the theories (many of us might be aware of this) before looking at the example.

“The Light of Consciousness reflected in the pools of thought in the mind-intellect is the individualized sentient ego in each one of us”, and this is called the “theory of reflection” (Pratibimbavada). Other Rishis declare in the very Upanishads an equally efficient explanation, with their theory of “the Consciousness conditioned by, and therefore, expressing through the body, mind, intellect equipment” is the individualized ego. This is called “Conditioning theory” (Avachedavada).

Does it make any difference to the Sun in the sky whether it gets reflected in the pure holy waters of the Ganges or in the filthy stagnant waters present in the street of an outcaste (say a slum)? The one Consciousness reflects in all hearts. The reflections surely will be different according to the reflecting surfaces. If the thoughts in a bosom are impure and vulgar the individualized ego will also be dirty and filthy, as the reflection of the Sun in the cesspool of the slum. If the thoughts are serene and loving, the Consciousness reflected therein, as an individualized ego, will be bright and brilliant as the reflection of the Sun in the clean holy waters of the Ganges. The difference here is in the reflections, not in the one Sun that is reflected. In the individuality there are certainly endless differences (based on the dominance of Sattwa, Rajo or Tamo gunas). But how can there be any difference in the one Consciousness that shines through all hearts? This is Pratibimbavada.

Based upon the Avachedavada the Chandala asks, “Is there any difference in space whether it is in golden pot of it is in a mud pot”? The difference is only in the material, size, shape, color etc of the pots, but the space is one and the same within the pots and without the pots. Space can never be conditioned really by anything that exists in space. Similarly, the one Self is ever Immaculate, be it in a Brahmin or be it in a Sudra.

This does not however mean that caste division does not exist. At the “Vyavaharik” level it does exist. In the 4th Chapter 13th shloka of the Bhagavad Geetha the Lord says that “the four castes have been created by Me etc…” Similar idea is brought out in the Shruthi as well (Purushasuktam - braahmano asya mukhamaaseet…). However, the same scriptures declare (at the “Paramarthik” level) that the world itself is a “Mithya”. That being the case how can the castes be completely true? The castes are there only for “Vyvahara” and one need not give more than required importance for the same and develop radical attitude.

In the present day however even in Vyavaharik level the concept of caste doesn’t seem to exist. For instance, as per the shastras a person born in the Brahmin family should study the Vedas and teach the Vedas alone. But presently how many Brahmins are following this? Let it be an IT industry or leather firm or any other occupation, we can find Brahmins working there. This is equally true with all the other castes as well.

After reading the above statements, one might have the following doubt “Doesn’t the Advaita Acharya know the above facts uttered by the Chandala?” Well this suspicion is unwarranted as in the following five verses Sankara reveals the wisdom of the Vedas, as lived and experienced by him in his direct insight. We will see the first verse of the Acharya in the coming days.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Chandala Verse 1

Hare Krishna,

Thanks to Hariram for pointing to some of the other commentaries available on Maneesha Panchakam. I will try to procure them soon and share them in the forum.

On getting beckoned by Acharya Sankara to move away, Lord Vishwanatha (in the form of Chandala) humbly lashes a few questions on the Acharya. There are two verses uttered by the Chandala. We will see the first verse today.

Annamayat annamayam athava chaitanyameva chaitanyat.
Yativara doorikartum vaanchasi kim broohi gaccha gaccheti.

Meaning: “O best among the ascetics! By uttering ‘Move Away’ ‘Move Away’ do you wish to move this body made of food from another body made of food or do you mean to move Consciousness from Consciousness. Do tell me”

Though the words of the Chandala are poignant, he still maintains his humble attitude and has huge respect for the Acharya. This is evident as he addresses the Acharya as the best among Yatis (a Yati is one who is striving for Liberation from Samsara - Mukti). Nevertheless, the Chandala wants to know what Sankara meant by saying “Move Away”.

The source for the body is food, irrespective of whether it is a Brahmin body or a Sudra body. As such body is matter and it is inert. How can an inert object move away from another inert object? Can matter move away from matter? This is the first clarification sought by the Chandala.

As per the Sastras, Consciousness (Chaitanya) is all pervading. Irrespective of whether it is Acharya Sankara or Chandala, the Consciousness is the same. That being the case, how and where can Consciousness move away? This is the second doubt raised by the Chandala.

We will see the next verse uttered by the Chandala in the next email.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Maneesha Panchakam - Introduction

Hare Krishna Friends,

The word “Maneesha” means “conviction” and “Panchakam” means a collection of five. The central theme of Vedanta is to show the oneness between Jivatma and Paramatma. Acharya Sankara in this short composition of five verses brings out this essence of Vedanta with conviction.

There is a traditional story connected with the composition of these verses. One day Adi Sankara along with his disciples, after having a bath in the Ganges at Kashi (the home of the famous Kashi Vishwanatha temple) was on the way to the temple walking through one of the narrow lanes. Suddenly he saw a Chandala (lowly caste person) walking opposite to him. As per the practice and customs prevailing in those days, Acharya beckons to the Chandala “Move Away Move Away”.

The Chandala is none other than Lord Vishwanatha Himself! At such a beckoning from the Acharya, the Lord in the form of a Chandala very humbly, yet poignantly lashes out a few questions (we will see the two verses uttered by the Chandala in the following emails) containing the Ultimate Truth of Vedanta. Immediately Acharya Sankara realises the presence of Lord Sankara before him and reels of five verses revealing the wisdom of the Vedas as lived and experienced by him in his direct insight. These five verses have come to be known as “Maneesha Panchakam”.

Now, after reading this story there can be various doubts:

Could the all knowing Acharya who is the foremost propounder of Advaita Vedanta react thus seeing a Chandala?

Has this legend been just interwoven to the main composition (“Maneesha Panchakam”) to serve as a lessonby somebody to erase the then prevailing atrocious social dogmas?

Was the Acharya not yet a fully realized when this event occurred?

Well, a highly debatable topic. Nevertheless, these argumentations will not result in any beneficial outcomes and will not serve any good purpose. Our aim is to learn and develop firm faith in Vedanta. With this as the sole purpose let us see the composition giving less importance to the stories around it.

I will be following the commentary on “Maneesha Panchakam” by:

1. Swami Omkarananda of Theni Ashram (Swami Omkarananda had his Vedanta training under 2. Swami Paramarthananda. I have been fortunate to have the mp3 files containing the lectures in Tamil on Maneesha Panchakam by Swamiji)
3. Swami Chinmayananda (Chinmaya Ashram has published a tiny but very interesting booklet on the same) and

The translation available in the website

We will see the reaction of the Chandala (in the form of two verses) when he was asked to move away by the Acharya in the next posting.