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 http://sanskritdocuments.org/all_pdf/manishhaa5.pdf.
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.