A Spiritual Cure for Hate, Racism & Casteism: Manisha Panchakam

A Spiritual Cure for Hate, Racism & Casteism: Manisha Panchakam


Prejudice and discrimination have afflicted
people all over the world. People unjustly branded as being inferior,
undesirable, or even repugnant, merely because of their ancestry
or the color of their skin. In India, Hindus born in certain families,
belonging to so-called lower castes, have been marginalized and oppressed. Here in the US, natives were banished
to remote reservations and blacks were enslaved,
then later subjected to strict segregation. Sadly, each new wave of immigrants
to land on American soil were victimized by those who had migrated here
only a generation or two before. Today, social evils like these
still cause untold suffering. Prejudice and discrimination have been addressed
again and again by governments, by major religious institutions,
and by various social organizations. Yet, in spite of all their efforts,
these problems stubbornly persist, perhaps because they’re so deeply embedded
in human culture. Since other remedies haven’t worked,
we could ask, “Is there a spiritual solution
to the problem of social injustice?” A possible answer can be found
in Manisha Panchakam, a short Sanskrit hymn
composed by Shankara, the famous 8th century teacher
of Advaita Vedanta whose brilliant works
were based on the wisdom of the rishis, the sages of ancient India. The rishis taught that every person
has a divine nature, an inner essence that’s utterly untainted
by worldly imperfections. They called it, “the true self, atma,”
and they described it as sat cit ananda, pure consciousness that’s unborn,
uncreated, perfect, full and complete. That consciousness happens to be
your own awareness, the awareness that enables you
to perceive the world, the awareness by which you know
your innermost thoughts and your deepest emotions. To discover the true, divine nature of your own
consciousness is to become enlightened, and that’s the goal of spiritual practice
as taught by the rishis. When the teachings of the rishis lead you to discover
your consciousness to be fundamentally divine, you’ll simultaneously realize that the very same divinity
is present in every conscious being, in every single person. After gaining this insight,
it’s absolutely impossible to judge anyone as being inferior or undesirable. The recognition of the true, divine nature of every person
is powerfully presented in Manisha Panchakam, which is a composition of five verses
in which Shankara expressed his wisdom, his firm conviction that all beings
are essentially divine. There’s a remarkable story
about how this work came to be written. At one time, Shankara lived in Kashi, a sacred city on the banks
of the holy Ganges river, a place that’s believed
to be the earthly abode of Lord Shiva. The British called it Benaras,
and we now call it Varanasi. Early in the morning,
Shankara went to bathe in the river, accompanied by some of his students. This purifying bath was considered necessary
before they could perform their daily rituals of worship. While returning from the river,
they were confronted by a chandala, an outcaste, a so-called untouchable. According to orthodox religious rules, contact with the chandala
would make them ritually impure and prevent them from carrying out
their daily worship. So Shankara told the chandala,
“Gaccha, gaccha, go away, go away.” As you probably know, Hindu culture is said
to have four distinct social groups called castes, brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and
shudra. Those born outside of these four castes,
like foreigners or aborigines, are called outcastes. Yet, outcastes are people like you and me, so from a secular point of view, rules that forbid contact with them could be considered
religiously sanctioned forms of discrimination. So we could ask, “How did those rules of religious purity that are the basis
for discrimination arise in the first place?” To find out, we’ll have to investigate
the origin of the caste system, a system derived from a social structure that actually
predates the religion we now call Hinduism. In the Vedas, the source scriptures
for the Hindu tradition, there’s an important Sanskrit hymn
known as Purusha Suktam. This hymn was composed
more than 3000 years ago, and it contains what’s probably
the earliest scriptural reference to the four castes. It asks, “How did the Lord create the world?” It answers using
wonderful symbolic imagery. “The Brahmin priests came from his mouth,
and from his arms came mighty kings. The merchants sprang forth from his legs,
and from his feet, the laborers.” This passage refers to the four castes,
not to define a social structure or to prescribe any rules, but to explain how Purusha or God is the ultimate source
from which all human beings were created. At the time this hymn was composed, people happened to belong to one of four
already-existent social groups, groups that we now call castes. The brahmanas chanted prayers,
so they’re depicted as coming from God’s mouth. The kshatriyas bore weapons,
so they’re described as coming from his arms. Vaishyas were traders and farmers,
so they’re represented as coming from his legs. And the entire Vedic society
stood upon the work of laborers, who are therefore depicted
as coming from God’s feet. Note that no social group is described here
as being superior or inferior. But, as Hinduism evolved, the original intent
of this hymn was apparently lost, and new meanings were ascribed. For example, brahmanas were given
the highest status among the four castes, while shudras were consigned
to the lowest level. How did this happen? Well, brahmanas were responsible
for interpreting the Vedic scriptures, so it’s possible that some of them interpreted the texts
in ways that benefitted members of their own caste, even at the expense of others. The point here is: the Vedic scriptures themselves
did not mandate caste divisions, nor did they sanction
any kind of discrimination. The terrible social injustice that later arose
was supported by the misinterpretation of the Vedas. To thoroughly understand all this would require
extensive study of history, religion and sociology, which we can’t do here. So, let’s return to our story. After Shankara told the chandala
to go away, he was amazed when the outcaste
replied in elegant, scholarly Sanskrit: yativara, O great monk,
bruhi gaccha gaccheti, when you tell me to go away, durikartum vanchasi kim,
exactly who is it that you want to avoid? Annamayad annamayam,
do you want my body to move away from your body? Athava, or, caitanyam eva caitanyat, do you want my pure consciousness
to move away from your pure consciousness? According to the story,
the chandala was actually Lord Shiva himself, who appeared in the guise of an outcaste
to teach Shankara an important lesson. What was that lesson? The chandala’s body and Shankara’s body
were both equally impure. Both contained waste products and body fluids,
considered by orthodox religion to be ritually unclean. On the other hand, the chandala’s consciousness
and Shankara’s consciousness were both equally pure. Both were divine, utterly untainted
by worldly imperfections, as the rishis had discovered. So, from a spiritual point of view,
there’s no issue of ritualistic purity here at all. Shankara was enlightened,
so he certainly would have known this already. Then, why did he treat the chandala
with such contempt? Well, Shankara was a product
of his culture, and at that time, orthodox rules
of ritualistic purity were taken very seriously. So, even though Shankara knew better, he was socially conditioned
to avoid contact with chandalas. As we noted before, prejudice and discrimination
are deeply embedded in human culture. To address this apparent blind spot
in Shankara’s understanding, Lord Shiva himself,
in the form of a chandala, began to teach him
with the following words, Bimbite ambara-manau,
when sun’s shining rays are reflected, ganga-ambuni,
by the holy Ganges river, chandala-vithi-payah-pure,
or by a filthy puddle in a village of outcastes, kim va antaram asti,
what difference does it make? Sunlight doesn’t get contaminated
when it shines on filthy water, nor does it become more holy
when it shines on the Ganges. Sunlight is completely unaffected
by whatever it comes in contact with. And in the same way,
the pure consciousness that abides within us all is completely unaffected
by its contact with our bodies and minds. Whether we happen to be saints or sinners,
the consciousness within us remains the same, immaculate, divine. Then, the chandala gave another example. Va ambare,
or with regard to the empty space, kancana-ghati,
inside a precious golden vessel, mrit-kumbhayor,
or inside an ordinary clay pot, kim va antaram asti,
what difference does it make? The space within them both
is exactly the same. Each of these pots is different in color,
style and shape. Yet, the space inside of them
is exactly the same. The color, style and shape of each pot
belongs to the pot, not to the space within. In the same way, the color, ancestry,
and gender of your body belongs to your body, not to you. Your essential nature as pure consciousness,
atma, is not male or female, not Indian or American, not brown or white. Your consciousness
is independent of all that. And, there’s another
really important point here. Space isn’t stuck inside these pots. Space can’t be confined inside. So, they’re all filled by the same vast,
formless space that pervades the universe. In the same way, consciousness isn’t stuck
inside your head or confined to your body. After all, it’s your body that has size and shape,
not pure consciousness. Properly understood,
consciousness has no size, no dimensions,
no edge or boundary. That means, consciousness is vast, limitless,
all-pervasive like space. Therefore, the same all-pervasive consciousness
is simultaneously manifest in you, in me, and in every living being. According to the rishis,
that consciousness is the supreme reality, the highest truth, the divinity of each being. The chandala then concluded
his message to Shankara, saying, Pratyag-vastuni, a person’s true,
inner self, atma, nistaranga-sahaja-
ananda-avabodha-ambudhau, is silent, limitless consciousness,
a perfectly calm ocean of awareness. When that pure consciousness
gets associated with a particular body, someone might say, “vipro ‘yam,
he is a learned Brahman priest,” or, “svapaco ‘yam ityapi,
he is a lowly chandala, an outcaste.” Mahan ko ‘yam vibheda-bhramah, but to make false distinctions like these
is a tremendous mistake. When you meet people,
you see only their bodies, not their true, inner nature. And what’s inside them
is exactly the same pure consciousness that happens to be your true nature. This great truth is understood by the wise,
as it says in the Bhagavad Gita, Panditah, the wise, sama-darshinah, they see the same self,
pure consciousness, brahmane, in a brahman priest, vidya-vinaya-sampanne,
who is learned and humble, gavi hastini, in a cow or an elephant, shuni caiva, in a dog, shvapake ca, and even in someone
who actually eats dogs, which is the crude way
that chandalas were described in those days. The wise see the same divinity in all beings. Now the question is, did Shankara even bother
to listen to the chandala’s teachings, or did he reject them as being the ridiculous prattle
of an uneducated heathen? The answer is found
in Manisha Panchakam itself. In its very first verse, Shankara not only embraces
the chandala’s Vedantic message, but, in an astounding act of wisdom and humility,
Shankara actually accepts the chandala as a guru. He said, Jagrat-svapna-sushuptishu,
when you’re awake, dreaming or in dreamless sleep, ya samvid, the consciousness or awareness
that’s present in those three states, sphutatara ujjrimbhate, shines clearly, brightly,
revealing whatever’s happening in your mind. When you’re awake, consciousness reveals
or illumines all your thoughts, all your emotions, and everything you perceive
through your five senses. The same is true when you’re dreaming,
except that perceptions come from your memories then, not from your senses. And during dreamless sleep, consciousness reveals
the complete absence of any thoughts, emotions, or perceptions in your mind. Your mind is perfectly empty, absolutely silent,
and yet consciousness continues to shine, constantly, like the sun. Day and night exist only for the earth,
not for the sun that illumines it at all times. In the same way, the states of waking, dream,
and deep sleep exist only for your mind, not for the consciousness
that continually illumines it. Shankara continues, Ya prota,
all-pervasive consciousness becomes manifest, tanushu, in the mind and body
of every single living being, brahmadi-pipilikanta, from Brahmaji,
creator of the world, down to an insignificant little ant. That consciousness is jagat-sakshini,
the observer or awareful witness of the world. Because consciousness is all-pervasive, it simultaneously illumines the activities
taking place in each and every mind, revealing everything that happens to be seen,
heard, smelled, tasted or touched. In a manner of speaking, it’s the very same consciousness
that looks out into the world through your eyes and through my eyes. It’s amazing how Shankara can express
such profound truths with just a few,
carefully chosen words. Shankara freely draws on
the vast body of wisdom passed down from the ancient rishis, and for this reason, his teachings,
here and elsewhere, are often quite lofty. It’s important to know that Shankara
is not expressing abstract theories or philosophical concepts here. He’s describing his own world view, his personal realization of these truths,
as he says in the second half of this verse, Saivāham, I am that
all-pervasive consciousness, na ca drishya-vastu,
I’m not a mere object that can be seen or touched, like a body with arms and legs. Iti dridha prajna api yasya asti cet,
if someone has firmly understood these teachings and knows his true nature
as all-pervasive consciousness, then, sa tu gurur,
he indeed is a guru, candalo ‘stu, whether he happens
to be a chandala, an outcaste, dvijo ‘stu, or a learned brahman priest. Ity esha manisha mama,
this is my conviction, my firm understanding. For an orthodox teacher like Shankara
to accept a chandala as a guru is nothing short of astonishing. So, when a revered and highly-respected
religious authority figure like Shankara accepts an outcaste as a guru, there can be no justification whatsoever
for caste discrimination in Hindu culture. Now, in the second verse,
Shankara goes much deeper as he distinguishes what is real
from what is ephemeral or mere appearance. Advaita Vedanta defines real as that
which exists independently of anything else. Let me explain. The existence of this pot
depends on clay, but the clay’s existence
doesn’t depend on this pot. Clay is the underlying substance or reality
because of which this pot exists. This pot is just a form of clay;
it’s a mere appearance. The rishis boldly declared the entire world
to be a mere appearance, like this pot. They showed how the existence of the world
depends on an underlying reality, a reality they called brahman. The rishis reached the pinnacle of spiritual truth
when they discovered that brahman, the reality because of which the world exists,
is identical with the all-pervasive consciousness present in every being. This is the highest teaching of the rishis,
which they expressed with the famous words, tat tvam asi,
that thou art. Shankara fully realized this sublime truth and said, Brahmaivaham,
I am brahman, my essence is the supreme reality
because of which everything exists. Idam jagat ca sakalam,
this vast universe, on the other hand, cinmatra-vistaritam,
is a mere appearance, a form or manifestation of brahman,
like a pot that’s a form of clay. Sarvam ca etad ashesham,
all this, the entire universe, maya kalpitam,
I once imagined to be real, avidyaya trigunaya,
due to avidya, ignorance. It’s not possible to thoroughly explain these advanced teachings
of Advaita Vedanta right here, but you can certainly appreciate
the depth of Shankara’s wisdom. At the end of this verse,
he turned his attention back to the chandala and said, Ittham yasya dridha matih,
Someone whose mind is firmly established, sukhtare nitye pare nirmale,
in this pure, blissful, eternal reality, the reality called brahman, sa tu gurur,
he indeed is a guru, candalo ‘stu, whether he happens to be
a chandala, an outcaste, dvijo ‘stu,
or a learned brahman priest. Ity esha manisha mama,
this is my firm understanding. Then in the third verse, Shankara explains how a guru’s teachings can ultimately lead you to discover
what the rishis discovered, the true, limitless nature
of your own consciousness, atma. This discovery is called moksha,
liberation or enlightenment. Vishvam akhilam,
the entire universe, shashvan-nashvaram eva,
is always changing and constantly decaying, unlike brahman, the unchanging, eternal reality
because of which the entire universe exists. Nishcitya,
having discerned this truth, vaca guror, with the help of a guru’s teachings, you should then, nirantaram vimrishata,
constantly contemplate, on nityaṃ brahma, on the eternal,
unchanging reality, brahman, nirvyaja-shantatmana,
with a silent, detached mind. No guru can make you enlightened. It’s up to you to fully grasp
and personally realize the truth imparted by a guru. A lot of deep reflection and meditation
is necessary to assimilate these teachings. As a result of all that intense practice,
pradahata, having burnt to ashes, bhutam bhavi ca dushkritam, all your past karmas,
and the possibility of accumulating any new karmas, samvin-maye pavake,
in the blazing fire of spiritual knowledge, then, svavapur, your own physical body,
prarabdhaya samarpitam, should be left to live out
the remainder of its life, it’s lifetime being determined
by the laws of karma. Ity esha manisha mama,
this is my firm understanding. Here, Shankara describes enlightenment or moksha, which literally means freedom, in particular, freedom from suffering. A guru’s teachings
can help free you from suffering by leading you to recognize
your true nature as pure consciousness that’s utterly untouched by suffering. A guru’s teachings can also free you
from any karmas that might result in being reborn
into a life of suffering once again. Next, in verse four, Shankara teaches how the true nature
of pure consciousness is to be realized. Tiryran-nara-devatabhir, all living things,
all animals, people, and celestial beings, ya antah sphuta grihyate,
they all perceive within themselves, aham ity, the feeling or sense
of being a conscious being. As we saw before, consciousness
is constantly present in every experience. Hridayaksha-deha-vishaya, all thoughts, emotions, sensations,
and external objects experienced by you, including your own body, svato acetanah,
are inert, insentient things. All those things, bhanti,
are illumined and revealed to you, yad-bhasa,
by your consciousness, by the same all-pervasive consciousness
that’s simultaneously present in all living beings. Since consciousness is present
in every experience you have, it’s easy to assume
that it’s quite ordinary, mundane. Yet, the rishis discovered that consciousness
is actually limitless, all-pervasive, infinite. So, why haven’t you already realized this? Well, it’s difficult to recognize
the limitlessness of your own consciousness when all your experiences are limited. Everything you experience – the world,
your body, your mind – it’s all finite, limited. And those finite experiences can prevent you
from realizing your true, limitless nature. Shankara compares them
to little clouds in the sky that cover the sun
and prevent you from seeing it. Tam sphurtim, that limitless,
infinite, pure consciousness, bhasyaih, is covered or hidden
by the limited, finite objects you perceive, pihitarka-mandala-nibham,
like the shining sun hidden behind dark clouds. But, a yogi, sada bhavayan,
through much reflection and meditation, nirvrita-manaso,
undergoes an inner transformation in which his mind
becomes completely fulfilled and firmly established
in the truth revealed by the rishis. Hi gurur, he indeed is a guru,
even if he happens to be an outcaste. Ity esha manisha mama,
this is my firm understanding. In the final verse, Shankara glorifies the deeply-felt
sense of perfect fullness, peace and contentment that can be attained by discovering
your true, limitless nature. Yat-saukhya-ambudhi-lesha-leshata,
with just a little drop of the vast ocean of bliss, the ocean of limitless consciousness, ime shakra-adayo,
various deities like Indra, the mythological king of the gods, nirvrita,
must be satisfied or content. Those deities must satisfy their thirst
for contentment with just a little drop of bliss because that’s all they can get
in the absence of a guru who could lead them to discover
their own true nature. On the other hand, munir nirvritah,
an enlightened sage becomes satisfied or content, labdhva, having discovered
the entire ocean of bliss, yac-citte, in his own mind, nitaram prashanta-kalane,
which is completely free from suffering of any kind. Galitadhir, the enlightened sage
whose mind is completely immersed, yasmin nitya-sukhambudhau,
in that ocean of eternal bliss, na brahmavid,
he is not merely a knower of brahman, supreme reality, but he is, in fact,
brahmaiva, brahman itself, because he knows his true nature
to be identical with brahman. Yah kashcit,
such an enlightened person, sa surendra-vandita-pado,
is respected and revered even by Indra, king of the gods. Nunam, most certainly, manisha mama,
this is my firm understanding. Manisha Panchakam may be short in length,
but its vision of reality is vast. Here, Shankara clearly shows the true nature
of every person to be the same limitless, all-pervasive consciousness. That all-pervasive consciousness is indeed
the divinity that abides in every person regardless of their physical appearance
or their family ancestry. These powerful teachings,
when deeply imbibed, can remove every trace
of prejudice and discrimination and replace it with love,
acceptance, and respect for all.

Author:

23 thoughts on “A Spiritual Cure for Hate, Racism & Casteism: Manisha Panchakam”

  • Kartikay Bhardwaj says:

    Swamiji trust me… your channel provides CLARITY… such a clarity that i will download all your videos and keep a backup. Its a humble request to please don't stop making videos. Hare Krishna Prabhu.

  • Ah…I seriously think that the story of Adi Shankara and the chandala was/is a myth. Other versions say that it was one of his disciples who ordered the chandala away. Not possible that Shankaracharya would behave that way. Hopefully by the year 2100 the caste system will be gone…🙏

  • Earthway Experience Permaculture - Leksand says:

    Nice to hear from you .. new video .. good one thank you.
    I like your “traditional “ or root view of Vedanta.
    Beautiful story and lesson!! 🙂

  • Bubba the Self says:

    So Shankara was not yet enlightened or "wise" in that moment…? since he needed another Guru in the form of Chandala?

  • assalam o alykum , respected swami ji clarity of thoughts in your lectures is remarkable,, my humble request is that please give a lecture on vedas , and tell me how to learn Sanskrit the best and easy way you know….regards, Uzbek khan

  • Aurélien Carnoy says:

    Yes to all you said except 22:19 "in a matter of speaking it is the very same consciousness that looks at the world through your eyes and through my eyes" .
    It is not a matter of speaking, it is truly so. But you know that already brother.

  • Jessi Ferguson says:

    Swamiji, I was wondering if you could make videos teaching how to read sanskrit? I appreciate all the knowledge you are freely sharing and it would be useful to have a deeper understanding of the texts you share. Thank you so much for your teachings 🙏.

  • The four Varnas and their are beautifully explained, It is merely a social stratification based on the work people did. Adi Shankara's Manisha Panchakam was explained crystal clear – amazing!. Thanks Swami Ji.

  • Srinivas Narayana says:

    Thank you so much for all your presentations and explanations. Here some small correction is required, Chandala means not out caste or non-Indians, it means that those who born in illiset sexual relationship. There is a other names who born in different intercaste couples. Please look into this.

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