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.


1 comment:

vedanta said...


Prostrations to all.

:)There are two views on the story of Sankara with the chandaala.

1. This was a play enacted by Sankara in order to show that the Self and spiritual path is beyond all castes (which would be the point 2 mentioned by Neel).
2. Sankara though was well advanced in the spiritual path (having written even the bhashyas) still had a bit of ego and caste-ism in him. Of course this is very tough indeed to conquer and too tough for Brahmins who have been egoistic all throughout about their caste. Thus the Lord came in front of him to get rid of the final tint of ego in Sankara.

2 is quite evident as if we go to any of the current-day Sankara mutts, we will find this. So much that one swamiji of Kanchi (who was initiated by none other than Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi swamigal) started accusing Balakrishnan Nair and Chinmaya (formerly a menon) and that they weren't realized as they are not Brahmanas :)

Pity is the state of such Mutts who should be propounding the advaita reality instead try to emphasize on caste which is based on body when Sankara himself totally dismisses it in this work of Maneesha Panchakam.

This work not only just speaks about jeeva Brahma aikya but has the bold statement of Sankara that even a chandaala is my Guru if he has knowledge (quite contradictory to the mutt followers of today).

I have no intention of pointing out the faults of the various mutts but we shouldn't be one among them -- following advaita externally and still clinging on to bodily distinctions -- if we do so, we will only be utterly foolish and externally show-casing ourselves as an advaitin when we dont even know the jeeva distinct from body.

Glad that Neel has taken up this beautiful yet deep work of Sankara.

PS: Neel, you could also get paramartha's cd on maneesha panchakam (1 cd i believe) if it is available with Mallika or Rajesh Kumar - I haven't heard omkarananda's discourse and hence dont know whether he follows paramartha dicto or has his own style (though being a disciple of paramartha). Of course, Chinmaya's commentary itself is enough:) -- there is a commentary by Balakrishnan Nair in malayalam released by none other than the great Mridananda of R K Mutt (this book has also been translated into english and should be available in bangalore R K Mutt - this should be a good one as Chinmaya used to tell that whoever from the mission goes to Kerala must compulsorily meet Balakrishnan Nair). The great importance of Balakrishnan Nair's works is that he is an INDEPENDENT (candidate:)) and hence the problems with mission-brahmana etc. will not be there in his works.

Prostrations to all.


Let a moment not pass by without remembering God