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 Blooming Stars

Shankaracharya

             Over many years I have the habit of spending the last 15 minutes of the ending year and the first 15 minutes of the New Year in meditation. This time I was driving to Kottayam with a companion after a late evening religious function in Kollam that was very moving in many ways. When I reached Ochira it was about 11. 45 p. m., and I pulled the car to some nearby holy grounds heavily socked by unseasonal rain, and started reflecting on the year quickly passing by and the new year fast breaking in. I was also deeply pained by the condition of a large number of homeless, destitute, emaciated, persons (about two hundred?) sleeping, some with nothing else but the skimpy clothes that they wore, on the wet vast temple grounds nearby. My companion and I carried on reflecting not only on the significant, unique experience that night but also on several spiritual topics later on. One of the topics that made a deep impression on me, I would like to share as I think it is very relevant in the New Year, 2012, for all of us seekers of the Supreme Being to reflect on. This topic relates to Maneesha Panchakam by Sankaracharya.

            Once when Sankaracharya was living in Kashi (Varanasi) he was walking on a very narrow lane to the temple after a bath from river Ganga. He saw a chandala (the lowest caste person) walking toward him with four dogs. He made the typical sound of hoi, hoi to signal the approaching of a brahmin (the highest in the caste hierarchy) to the on-coming lowest caste person so that he could move away from his path. The chandala, hearing the sound asked Shankaracharya: Who should move? my body? or my casteless soul? Hearing the question the consciousness of advaida (non-duality) was aroused in him. He became aware that it was the Lord of the universe (Vishwanath) himself who appeared in the form of a chandala to remind him of his proud clinging still as a brahmin to his caste-ego. After this ego-shattering event that made him aware in experience (aparokshaanubhoothi) the true spirit of Vedanta, Shankaracharya wrote Maneesha Panchakam with great conviction. It is not only a response to the chandala’s question; it contains the essence of Vedanta. When one has attained self-knowledge, considerations such as one’s caste, color, race, gender, and creed are totally irrelevant.

            The above advaidic (non-dual) experience of Shankaracharya clearly demonstrates the unity of humanity, the fact that we are all one, and that we are all in One, and that all are same in the One. And that unity of humanity is the reason that we experience deep pain and anguish when human beings like us, nay, Supreme Being (Daridra-Narayana) in the forms of unfortunate human beings, live routinely in despicable, sub-human condition in grounds of worship like Ochira. The whole advaida and the advaidic experience are about the unity of the universe. A brahmin as well as a chandala can be our guru. Nobody is untouchable. Nobody is of high caste or low caste. Nobody is of high family or low family. Anybody can receive education, training, culture, and refined manners. Janmana jayate shudra; karmana dwija uchyate (all are shoodras by birth; one becomes a brahmin by deeds (from Yagnavalkya Smriti). It is our sheer ignorance of our true origin and utter stupidity that make us discriminate and physically and emotionally torment other humans on the basis of race, caste, color, gender, class, and ethnic origin. The west primarily has to deal with race, color, and gender. The east primarily has to deal with caste, color, and gender. The supreme truth and the Supreme Being are beyond all these considerations. And God truly is beyond all religions. Who are we if our spirituality and our religions do not lead us to that unitive, mystical experience but get us royally stuck on a blind alley in our earthly pilgrimage to the God of liberation?!

 

     
 
 
 
 
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