Organized Religion

Maneesha Panchakam Of Shankaracharya

(This is a review of Sri Ranganathanandji’s booklet ‘Shakaracharya and an Untouchable’)

Recently I had an opportunity of laying my hands on a booklet (of just 40 pages) of Sri Ranganathananda, the 13th President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Kolkata.

Sri Ranganthananda had all the praise and choicest English words to describe the greatness of Sri Shankaracharya. After all, Sri Ranganathananda rose to the position of the President of R K Math because of his mastery over English language and oration.

The tragedy of most intellectuals of this (great) country is that once they are impressed with a person or an ideology their entire life is spent in choosing finest words to praise that person or the ideology. Critical thinking is closed ‘once for all’ and some goes to the extent of personality assassination of his opponents. Objectivity is a serious sin for them. This type of attitudes has destroyed impartial analysis of personalities or ideologies and consequently the intellectual growth.

This is also the case with Sri Ranganathananda with regard to Shankaracharya. For him Shakaracharya is the greatest personality ever to be born in India. So is Acharya’s small work of five shlokas or verses in response to the two questions of Lord Shiva in the guise of a chandala (untouchable). These five verses are described as Maneesha Panchakam, meaning five verses of wisdom of Shakaracharya.

Although Sri Ranganathananda condemns in strongest terms the prevalence of practice of untouchability in India for the last two millennia, his understanding of Shankaracharya’s contribution to its elimination or reduction appears to be ridiculous.

Gurubhakti is a highest spiritual trait and as such a bhakta (or a chamacha) should take every opportunity to extol his Guru in finest words even if adi-shankaracharyathose are blatant falsehood! In line with this tradition Sri Ranganathananda sees or rather invents great contribution by his Gurus Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. He narrates an incident of the life of Ramakrishna where Ramakrishna went to a chandala’s house secretly in the midnight and washes the latrine in his house. I seriously suspect that the chandala had any latrine at all in his hut! I am unable to realize how this incident contributed to abolition of or reduction in the practice of untouchability in this country! Instead, he could have made a public statement on an appropriate platform or during a suitable occasion condemning this atrocious practice which is not to be seen anywhere else in the world. He could have exhorted upon his teaming bhaktas to work towards eliminating this practice. Why is it that in each and every good topic the bhaktas drag in Ramakrishna and Vivekananda? This is how the intellectual stagnation works in almost all spheres of public (spiritual?) life in India.

While assessing the value and impact of Maneesha Panchakam we need not fall back on or bear in mind the Shakaracharya’s greatness and achievements. If I make an objective analysis it need not be construed as showing disrespect to Shakaracharya and insulting him personally or if I make a certain remarks on some topics, upon which Acharya has commented then it should be confined to my understanding of that topic and not on Acharya’s comments. Hence one is at liberty to assess my remarks as per one’s outlook. Neither my remarks nor his analysis should be construed as casting aspersion on Acharya’s commentary. But such objectivity is very uncommon in this country.

Now, let me come directly to ‘Shakaracharya and an Untouchable, An Exposition of Manisha Panchakam’ of Sri Ranganathananda published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata in 2009. Sri Ranganathananda was right in observing that certain amount of mythology had crept into the story of the encounter of Shakaracharya with the untouchable. It may be a historic fact that a chandala couple might have encountered the Acharya in Kashi and posed the questions sung in the Manisha Panchakam. Sri Ranganathananda admits that the possibility of chandalas of those days having knowledge of Vedanta is difficult to accept. Sri Ranganathananda is of the opinion that all over India one can see that an ordinary low caste person could speak Vedanta, for they hear various expositions by speakers. They also gather a lot of these thoughts through folk songs and similar means. But I have my own reservations on this observation of Sri Ranganathanand. How could a chandala in such a highly stratified society where they are never allowed to come near a Brahman or enter temple precincts, acquire such knowledge? Also they are condemned to live far away from the locations of upper castes. It appears improbable that an ordinary illiterate chandala could pose such serious, deeply spiritual and challenging Advaita problems to such an Acharya. Hence the element of mythology was introduced here by branding the chandala couple as Shiva and Parvathi in disguise.

The first three shlokas of Manisha Panchakam refers to the ugly and inhuman practice of untouchability of those days. Shiva, in the guise of a chandala, wants an explanation or a reply from this great advaitin, according to whom, the entire Universe is the manifestation of Brahma and every thing is Brahman, why chandalas are so badly discriminated against and asked to go away from vipras (brahmans) while on road? Such questions posed by an ordinary unlettered/illiterate chandala would be irrelevant ones, unworthy of a reply by such a learned Acharya. That’s why, it appears to me, that the authors of this poem (may be Shakaracharya himself) have brought Shiva in.

It can be viewed from a different perspective as well. The whole episode depicted here might be a fiction with a sociological content of a commentary on the then prevailing practice of untouchability of those days. To highlight the gravity of the problem, the authors thought that the problem was seized by Shiva himself and He thought it fit that he should pose this question to the proponent of Advaita himself.

In reality an ordinary chandala might have posed these questions. To give the problem the worthy attention it deserves this mythological turn might have been attributed.

The chandala poses two sets of questions to Acharya in shokas 2 and 3. His first question “O worthy Brahman, you wanted us to go away from you, our body or the consciousness from yours? The second one is, “where from has arisen this delusion of great divide, which sees some as Brahmans and some as chandalas (Koyam vibheda bramah).”

These are the questions of serious social, philosophical and spiritual relevance and implications and could be posed by no less than a personality like Shiva himself!

The response to these questions is narrated in the five shlokas or verses which are known as Manisha Panchkam, the five verses of great wisdom of Shankarachrya. But I found them highly disappointing and unworthy of the wisdom of Shakaracharya’s intellectual standing.

It is generally accepted principle in education that the question posed by a student reveals more than the answer given to a question. So, here the questions posed by the chandala are really of great significance.
A man of Shankaracharya’s intellectual maturity could have offered revealing replies. But here Acharya failed miserably. None of the two questions were remotely touched upon in the five verses greatly admired as the essence of Shakaracharya’s wisdom.

In his first verse Acharys says that he would accept a person as his Guru if he possesses highest wisdom irrespective of the fact that the person is a chandala or a Brahman. In the second verse he repeats the same sentiment and says if the person has the correct knowledge he will accept him as his Guru even if he is a chandala. In the remaining three shlokas he says that he would accept a man whether he is a chandala or brahaman, if he possesses the true knowledge of Brahma as his Guru.

Nowhere in these five verses are there references to the questions posed to him by the chandala. The only one thing that follows is that a chandala of those days can access the Vedantic knowledge, which is difficult to accept.
The chandala exposes the ‘the mahaan vibheda bramah’, the delusion of great divide as Brahman and chandala. The question is very clear, direct and straight forward, with no vagueness of any sort or scope for confusion. Further, the chandala amply clarifies his questions by revealing two examples. He asks why sun reflects his image in the Ganga waters and also in the water that flows by the side of the chandalas’ huts. He asks again why is space fully occupied both in the golden jug and an earthen pot?

The Acharya acts smart by telling something totally unrelated in bombastic words. This is similar to the case with a student who does not know the answer for a question but to show off his smartness gives an irrelevant and totally unrelated reply. It appears to me that Acharya resorted to play cleverly here. It is possible that either he did not know the answer or he did not want to give the correct answer for the reasons best known to him. It also appears to me that Shakaracharya knew the answers but lacked necessary guts and courage to express the same by going against the prevailing social practice of untouchability. He did not have the necessary strength to challenge it and was afraid to face the public wrath.

In Eashopanishad upon which he wrote an elaborate commentary, there are two shlokas bearing Nos. 6 and 7 which reads as under:

“Yastu sarvaani bhootanyatmneyvaanupashyati, sarva bhooteshu chaatmanum tato na vijigupsate”“If one sees in Atma(eternal soul)in all creations and in all creations the Atma then one need not feel greatly disgusted.”

“Yasmin sarvaani bhootaanyatmevabhoodidwijaanatah tatra ko moh kah shokah ekatyamanupashyatah”“When one realizes that all creations are just manifestations of Atma why one should feel attachments and pains? He sees unity in all creations.”

Again in extant Bhagad Gita (6:29) compiled by him and highly respected commentary by him known as ‘Shankara Bhashyam’ there is a shloka which says,

“Sarva bhootshataamanam sarva bhootani chaatmani|
Eakshyte yogayuktaatmaa sarvatra samadarshnah|”

The meaning is identical with that of first shloka above.

These shlokas clearly establishes that Shakaracharya was fully aware that the institution of untouchability has no sanction of Shastras. In fact Shastras had denounced this practice as seen in the above shlokas. But Shakaracharya could not utter a single word against this practice even when Shiva posed this question to him. He evaded the question and indulged in ‘beating around the bush’ diverting Shiva’s attention.

The question is not about what type of Gurus he would accept or what his wisdom says on the qualities of (his) Gurus. He may respect a chandala with such great knowledge of advaita and accept him as his Guru. But how a chandala can access such great knowledge in a highly stratified and discriminative society as prevailed in his days? Brahmins never allowed chandalas to come near them, there were absolutely no opportunities for them to get education. Then how is it possible for them to acquire such great knowledge? Does this means that Shakaracharya was very sure that such chandalas cannot be produced at all in then prevailing society and hoping to get such chandala Guru is out of question? Was Shakaracharya making mockery of Shiva’s questions? In his deeper heart was he wishing that such a situation will not occur at all. Was he indulging in playing with words or cunning? I am compelled to call him a hypocrite, at least on this count.

Acharya never offered any comment on how and why this heinous institution came into existence. Neither social, philosophical, spiritual comments nor the justification of it came from Acharya. From these shlokas one can not make out what exactly was his perception of untouchablility. But one thing is very clear from these verses that Shankaracharya was practicing the untouchability himself. Again we do not know whether he gave up this deploring practice after this dramatic incident as there is no such reference in these verses.

I am of the opinion that Shankaracharya missed a historic opportunity to abolish this inhuman practice of untouchability in this country. His one strong comment condemning this practice would have had a salutary effect on the Hindu society. He could have quoted shlokas of Eashopanishad and Bhagavad Gita referred to as above and declared that the practice of untouchability has no scriptural sanction. It might not have completely abolished untouchability but the growth and severity of the practice might have come down considerably over the centuries.

I am of firm belief that it is a miserable failure on the part of Shankaracharya even after such an opportunity was offered to him to face it or tackle it. I feel that the society represented allegorically by Shiva, wanted an explanation and corrective action from an Acharya of Shankaracharya’s standing. It naturally implies, if he could not offer a viable explanation he must work towards eliminating this social wrong by putting all the weight of his personality. Did Shankaracharya achieve this?

In such circumstances praising Shankaracharya with all the finest words for his great wisdom in handling chandala couple’s questions by Sri Ranganathananda appears incredible and smacks of insincerity. I have no opinion on Shankaracharya or his philosophy. In fact I admire his intellectual greatness, his literary works, his leadership qualities, his energy, his organization capacity and his magnificent efforts in reviving decadent Hinduism of his days and other achievements. These great works need not deter us in critically examining his works.

About the author

K Ramadeva Aithal

65 Comments

  • I admire the great work this website is doing on behalf of Evangelical Christians – shredding the myths about Hinduism is half the battle won for us. Jesus Christ is the only true God! Hinduism is the faith of the uncivilized, tribal people. It is a bunch of BS when compared with Christianity.

    Thanks again for doing such a great work on our behalf!

  • Very interesting post and reference to this text. I looked it up and found an English translation on the web (http://sanskritdocuments.org/all_pdf/manishhaa5.pdf)

    I think the devotees of Shiva & Vishnu engage in quite contrasting behavior – the social structure preferred by these groups is also very different. Apart from this example of Shankaracharya, more recent example can be found in Basavacharya & his disciples of (Lingayat) Veera Shiavas who consciously shunned caste discrimination and indeed fought against it.

    One reason could be the contrasting personalities of Shiva and Vishnu themselves. Shiva being the supreme embodiment of the Tamas guna doesn’t discriminate between good & bad, virtuous & vile etc. On the other hand, Vishnu embodies Satvik guna which emphasizes constantly becoming more and more virtuous. The disciples of Vishnu are usually more conservative : they shun meat and alcohol, they adhere strictly to the Vedic rituals etc. This hierarchy of mental states automatically transforms into a hierarchy of society.

    The philosophical strand of Advaita is more tuned towards Shiva disciples and the strand of Dvaita more towards Vishnu disciples. Advaitins or Shiva Yogis usually shun caste practices and take members of all castes as their followers (and as in the case of Shankaracharya, as their Gurus).

    “Acharya never offered any comment on how and why this heinous institution came into existence.”

    This is a valid point. But I think the question is not framed like that by the chandala, it is asked on a more personal basis “why your are treating me like this ?”. To that specific question, the Acharya not only admitted his mistake but also extrapolated on the most extreme terms on the equivalence of Brahmin and Chandala.

    • ut I think the question is not framed like that by the chandala, it is asked on a more personal basis “why your are treating me like this ?”. To that specific question, the Acharya not only admitted his mistake but also extrapolated on the most extreme terms on the equivalence of Brahmin and Chandala.

      That’s not the point of this article. According to Hindu apologists, Maneesha Panchakam is supposed to show that Advaita Vedanta does not condone the Varna system. But as the article shows, it does nothing of that sort.

      • According to Hindu apologists, Maneesha Panchakam is supposed to show that Advaita Vedanta does not condone the Varna system. But as the article shows, it does nothing of that sort.

        I can still argue why Maneesha Panchakam does indeed denounce the caste system, but the article itself does say
        “These shlokas clearly establishes that Shakaracharya was fully aware that the institution of untouchability has no sanction of Shastras. In fact Shastras had denounced this practice as seen in the above shlokas. ”

        The question was “where from has arisen this delusion of great divide” to which I think Sankara has given the reply. The chandala did not ask how has this happened in society, he asks how has this delusion happened within Sankara. Contextually, the question was posed when Sankara asked him to move out of the way. To which Sankara gives the reply, once he realized his mistake.

        • It’s a common tactic of Santana Dogma to ignore the disease and instead concentrate on the symptoms. For example it is easy to say “I don’t practice untouchability” and then jump in joy that “I’m not a castiest”. That’s not how you treat a disease. A not-casteist will have zero qualms in admitting that Varna dharma is a useless idea. Now show us where Sankara has said something like that.

          • He didn’t say that because it is not an idea at all. It is an observation. The other thing is that varna is not the same as caste. However, Sanatana Dharma does not need caste for it to thrive. The forums speak for themselves, here is just one example
            http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showthread.php?t=1995
            Several westerners who are taking to Hinduism have no caste (as per Indian demographics) and fit in fine. The feudal mentality was a social stratification, not a religious/spiritual sanction.
            http://invadingthesacred.com/content/view/21/35/

            You’re right in that the disease should be cured. Manishapanchakam and Santana Dharma in fact aim precisely at that. So saying I am not caste-ist is actually the major step to treating the disease. The same can be said of saying I am not racist. Peoples’ beliefs ARE what make the difference. If everybody applied this, there would be no prejudice/disease to cure.

          • Then present day ethics have been co-opted into AV, that too ethics born out of a scientific worldview. Then the question becomes is AV really AV anymore?

          • Then present day ethics have been co-opted into AV, that too ethics born out of a scientific worldview. Then the question becomes is AV really AV anymore?

            Yes because like I said, the social stratification is not an AV principle. The philosophy pertaining to reality and ethics are in principle alone and can’t change since it is already in writing.
            However, when it comes to putting the principle into practice, the practitioners of AV are becoming drastically different and I think the change will continue. In that sense the community of AV followers is probably not the same as it was say 2 centuries ago. This is especially evident with the youth IMO.

          • Then why even bother with AV when there exist other more readily accessible, (not to mention equivalent if not better at the minimum) alternatives? Or even more bluntly, what have AV’s various practitioners achieved over centuries by tearing the veil of maya and getting enlightened? They surely didn’t have the courage to throw out an inhuman system. Being charitable, it seems like they just go along with the moral zeitgeist. AV can’t explain reality to the same level of beauty as science does. It can’t arrive at good ethics by following it’s own reasoning and has to rely on other worldviews. So what else is left in AV for its salespersons to sell? I think it is limited to what the Wachowski brothers sold.

          • To each his own. I think the literature, philosophy and the core of ethics actually do have a lot to offer. Some traditions, meditation and the music have created a unique culture. And although the principles certainly do not go into the depth that science does, they are interesting to learn nonetheless and don’t disagree with the science, at least not to the level that they would be at polar opposites. For eg, you would not see a battle of evolution vs. creationism with Hindus (barring ISKCON, who don’t want to call themselves Hindu).

            Practitioners can’t follow their own philosophy because it is innately difficult. If there is an oncologist who smokes, his advice to not smoke would not be incorrect just because he does not practice it. Everyone struggles with themselves, that is the whole point of self-development. If it is ineffective, you will see people let go and turn to other systems.

            Lastly, the community feeling is one that provides for security, comfort and socialization.
            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sloan-wilson/evolutionary-religious-studies_b_1524227.html

          • I don’t think AV has much to offer in the way of ethics. Evidence for is seen from the fact that no Vedantin who is considered an authority has ever repudiated Varna or Jati dharma (I’d love to be proven wrong). If secular humanism fails to repudiate social ills like misogyny, then it is of no good.

            Even on a philosophical level, AV relies on concepts like karma which carries over multiple lives and contributes to one’s present condition. Again, no Vedantin of repute has said that such concepts are wrong. You might argue for AV based on your interpretation, but when it doesn’t agree with the authoritative accounts, then you have to question how much of AV is in AV and how correct it is to call AV. More importantly, how sensible is it to defend your version of AV against critiques of authoritative versions of AV?

          • I don’t think AV has much to offer in the way of ethics. Evidence for is seen from the fact that no Vedantin who is considered an authority has ever repudiated Varna or Jati dharma (I’d love to be proven wrong). If secular humanism fails to repudiate social ills like misogyny, then it is of no good.

            The rejection of discrimination based on jati is implicit in the philosophy. As far as jati dharma, there are several instances of movement from one varna to another for the same jati, so much so that ‘promiscuous’ relations among jatis was common. Besides, as far as I know, Vivekananda and Veer Savarkar very strongly objected to jati dharma. There were others also, including Sankara as we have seen but none of them really had any political clout. Without that kind of power getting rid of a long prevalent social malaise is difficult. Certain practices within Hinduism are also condemned by Swamis in this day (like past-live prediction, gem stones for good luck etc.) and age of social media, but still the words fall on deaf ears. Why would anyone have listened to them centuries ago? Also, you yourself seem to imply that repudiation is not enough. Gandhi was one of the major proponents of caste reservations, but that has not helped, at least not in rural areas. People don’t listen. What you are doing is good. But I disagree about the role Hinduism has had to play in the caste system. Several western and eastern scholars of today are changing their attitudes about this long held misconception.

          • Besides, as far as I know, Vivekananda and Veer Savarkar very strongly objected to jati dharma.

            That is not even close to enough when you are selling a worldview. I was wrong when I said “Varna or Jati dharma”. It should be “Varna and Jati dharma”

            Certain practices within Hinduism are also condemned by Swamis in this day (like past-live prediction, gem stones for good luck etc.) and age of social media, but still the words fall on deaf ears.

            Which only goes back to my earlier point:

            Then present day ethics have been co-opted into AV, that too ethics born out of a scientific worldview. Then the question becomes is AV really AV anymore?

            And I’d like to see a citation for how “Gandhi was one of the major proponents of caste reservations”. Ambedkar on the other hand, who fully understood caste issues, shows how clueless Gandhi was about them.

          • You are dilly-dallying between two contradictory points. First you say that no Vedantin condemned CS, but when you are given examples you say that vedanta is not vedanta anymore and is following modern ethics. And you believe that shastra still approves of it, wherein there are numerous references which do not condone jati bheda. Even Ambedkar admitted that saints did not approve of jati bheda, but that the dalits were not literate enough to understand shastra. Well, that is why efforts were made and should be made to clarify the issue, so that there isn’t any unreasonable violence. Especially since inter-‘lower-caste’ violence is often attributed to ‘higher-castes’
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kherlanji_Massacre
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Dalit_protests_in_Maharashtra

            No need for dalits to follow shastra if they abhor it. They can choose whatever religion or irreligion, but with the unfortunate venom and hate that is in the atmosphere of Indian society it makes sense to atleast clarify issues. The question is, why don’t pro-reservation governments remove ‘caste’ labels from government forms? In Mandal commission the only OBC who was part of the commission refused to sign it. These are points to be thought about. And what about the other poor people in India who are not lower castes? I’m sorry, but banning shastra is not the solution. Educating the masses about shastra and government action is the solution. That is why Ambedkar was so unconvincing.

          • You are all over the place. So let me simplify things:

            1. AV has its own epistemic standards by which enlightened people have access to some eternal insights.

            2. Varna dharma is one of those eternal insights.

            3. Since Varna dharma is an untenable idea, it follows that these eternal insights are only commensurate to the understanding of the world at any given time.

            4. Accordingly, it was only after science had developed and ethics based on it arrived, did AV proponents renounce caste. Even then it wasn’t a complete renunciation. People like Vivekananda and Gandhi steadfastly held onto the delusion that Varna dharma can work.

            5. If you argue that AV has remained the same over all these years, then it simply means its epistemology has remained unchanged. But as seen in [4], AV had to borrow from other knowledge systems, which don’t put the same importance on personal experience as AV does. This means AV’s epistemic standards have indeed changed. Which means the AV you call AV is not really the AV of Sankara.

            6. And yet when Sankara’s AV is criticized you switch Sankara’s AV with your modified AV and then come to wrong conclusion that Sanakara’s AV is privy to eternal truths, the very same truths which didn’t materialize until another knowledge system produced them.

            7. So it follows that AV isn’t needed. The other knowledge system is a more capable system.

          • Okay, I think we have a communication gap.
            Points 1-3. Your points about Varna Dharma are moot since I mentioned that varna was an observation (based on personality archetypes) and NOT an untenable idea (Bhagavad Gita Ch 4 v 13 comm – “The decadent Hindu-Brahmin found it very convenient to quote the first quarter of the stanza, and repeat “I CREATED THE FOUR varnas,” and give this tragic social vivisection a divine look having a godly sanction. They, who did this, were in fact, the greatest blasphemers that Hinduism ever had to reckon with.”) and that dharma associated with varna was meant to prevent shirking of material responsibilities for a life of asceticism (Gita Ch 2 5, v33-35). Carl Jung had identified personality archetypes
            http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydevelopment/tp/archetypes.htm
            which are still widely accepted today. True they are not the same gunas as the gunas of the Vedas, but the observation still holds ground and can even be used for career choice. However, the use for Varnashrama by birth is NOT valid. The idea is choose your career wisely, then don’t shirk your responsibilities once the choice has been made. That is the meaning of varnashrama dharma. But Varnashrama by birth was denounced by Vivekananda and I will give you the reference.

            Point 4. Far before the scientific method was employed and ethics based on it were derived, there were saints who actively denounced CS.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basava
            http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=1211

            The rest of your points thus need not be addressed.

            Taking into account the points put forth earlier I would gladly like to provide citations
            1. Wolf, Siegfreid (2010-01). “Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s strategic agnostism: A compilation of his socio-political philosophy and world view.”
            2. http://www.stephen-knapp.com/casteism.htm
            3. http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/2002-August/003380.html
            4. http://vedicphilosophy.tripod.com/Varnashrama%20and%20Hindu%20Scriptures.htm
            read : Then is karma the braahmaNa ? No. Since the praarabdha, sanchita, aagami karmas are the same for all beings, and since all people perform their actions impelled by karma, therefore karma is not the braahmaNa. (this is an important point)
            5. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_3/Lectures_from_Colombo_to_Almora/The_Religion_we_are_born_in

          • Firstly, I asked a citation for what you said about Gandhi. In the absence of it, I can only conclude that you misquoted Gandhi. Being a model follower of Sanatana Dharma, it is only logical that Gandhi was clueless about caste issues as Ambedkar points out. That is why I wanted to know how he was a major proponent.

            Your points about Varna Dharma are moot since I mentioned that varna was an observation (based on personality archetypes) and NOT an untenable idea.

            It is not an observation. It is a prescription for how society should organize itself. Vivekananda says as much. The idea is untenable as a prescription. We have hundreds of years of evidence to see why.

            True they are not the same gunas as the gunas of the Vedas, but the observation still holds ground and can even be used for career choice.

            I find this intellectually dishonest. Jung’s archetypes don’t prescribe how a society should organize itself. Varna Dharma does.

            However, the use for Varnashrama by birth is NOT valid.

            I know that. It is one of the greatest tricks to have come out of enlightened minds. In the absence of any means to provide equal opportunity (an example here), a system of dividing people will have no option but to become birth based. I say this because I know that there never existed a system of providing equal opportunity in ancient India.

          • The HAF report was discussed here. It basically suffers from the delusion that an equal opportunity system was also proposed in Hindu texts when they proposed that Varna is not by birth.

            Regarding Basava, can you show me if there is consensus amongst Vedantins that Basava is a true Vedantin?

        • For Vedanta to take a position on varna/jati, one way or the other, it needs to consider the material world and its warts or inequities as real.

          When the material world and its concerns are considered as mere appearances and an illusion and the sole preoccupation and obsession is with the attainment of a state of abstracted void and nothingness where everything including the world, its cares and joys, mind, thought,subject, object, perception, knowledge, ignorance, feeling and emotion et al, are all to be given up and ‘transcended’, why should caste and its catastrophes matter at all?!!. Caste is just one more instance of ‘Avidya’ of the ‘deluded sense’!!!.

          Such being the delusional central and foundational attitude of Vedanta, it is futile to look for in it,any strictures against social evils.

          That the Advaita Vedanta (AV) has a philosophy and that it represents the zenith and the sublime essense of the best and greatest in Hinduism is an eternal ‘April Fool’s’ joke (that very few get it) and a tragic irony of all times.

          Success of this so-called philosophy can be termed as one of the greatest Goebbelsian coups of religious propaganda ever achieved and sustained by Hindu/Brahmin intellectual elites of old and modern times.

          AV has fooled even most of the rationalist intellectuals like Ambedkar(who saw in some of its parts what he chose to term as Brahmaism), Nehru and surprise of surprises! even EMS of the Marxist movement (this could have something to do with his soft corner for Adi Sankara as a ‘great son of Kerala’)

          Surely there must be critics who do not buy into the monumental nonsense of this extraordinarily inane, conceited and delusive religious creed of AV, but have not come forward to unequivocally denounce and condemn it.

          Both MN Roy and VR Narla have rightly seen through all the smoke-screen and fog of the works of AV as an attempt of religious / intellectual aristocracy of its times to pull wool over the eyes of the masses and mislead them into a mindless chase of illusions and useless abstractions.

          Just like Vedas would have probably died if not for the efforts of Mimansa Sutras and its hordes of Mimansakas from Jamini to Kumarila Bhatta, Upanishads and AV too would have perished and not hijacked the intellectual space of Indian culture, but for the evangelism of the false prophets like Badrayana, Adi Sankara and even Max Mueller, and the ignorance of Hindu middle classes,which keeps on providing it new leases of life.

          • A rationalist will be taken seriously if s/he can appreciate and criticize issues on merit whether they are religion based or science based.

            It can serve little purpose to criticize ancients and leave current problems as they are.

            Except for giving false satisfaction to ‘intellectuals’ who write on net and call it a day.

            Coming to Avidya etc., The moderns must conclusively prove that there is no life or its memories before and after birth.

            They must take help of scientific methods but it will help if they can do the research themselves.

            Then alone can they come to understand the real issues involved.

            And last thing, No body can be convinced by words ALONE, Be it science or the vedanta.

            Experience alone can.

            – rkk

          • @RKK

            Rationalists are not just criticizing ancients and their works. We are also criticizing deluded and uncritical ‘followers’ like you who take the Vedic and Vedantic spin-doctorism of medieval and new prophets at face value.

            Rationalist activists are not leaving current problems as they are.

            Blog posting and comment is only a part of Rationalist social activism

            Posting on the net is not the end of the day for rationalist social activism

            Do not make assumptions that will only serve to expose your shallow thinking and ignorance

            Don’t come to Avidya or get started on or get us started on it. Why should ‘moderns’ care to prove or disprove what you ‘ancients’ have not proven. Do not burden science or empirical temperament with the tasks of disproving religious and spiritualist fantasies. You prove re-incarnation and transmigration without resorting to the nonsense in the Vedas and Upanishads and we will see then.

            Spare yourself and others the homilies of using scientific methods.

            There is a lot of paranormal investigation that is going around in the world that looks into all these fanciful claims (NDE, ESP, clairvoyance etc.).

            Read up on them if you can and you will know where you stand.

      • Dear Satish Chandra,

        The story of Lord Shiva and Adi Shankara has been misinterpreted in my view. The story highlights that everyone is the same. Lord Shiva took the form of Chandala to expose the limited consciousness of Adi Shankara and helped him realize the “omnipresent” Brahman (the Holy Spirit) in all.
        Why denounce one religion against another when all speak the same universal truth of love and compassion? please do not sow the seeds of hatred in the name of religion. Jesus or Isai is the same as Isha or Eswara, Mother Mary is the same as Mother Kali. We just give names so that we can develop an attachment to them in the form and name we like.
        Shed the differences and share our love towards one and all

        • Before we get into quarrels of misinterpretation, can you explain how is avatara or incarnation possible and accounted for using evidence,logic and reason.

          Why did Shiva take the trouble of appearing as a Chandala without really trying to improve the condition of actual chandalas existing in the time of Adi Sankara. If he had really used his ‘supernatural’ and ‘yogic’ powers to restore an equitable and caste-less society, we would not be here wrangling over all this.

          Also why is Shiva partial to Adi Sankara that he should appear only to him and not to others who could also be explained the nonsense of Brahman.

          If Shiva really wanted to evangelize the concept of Brahman, why is he contradicting this in Padma Purana by accusing Adi Sankara of deluding devotees using Mayavaadi theories.

          • Let me try – ignorant that I am about His numerous leelas.
            Let me answer the second one first – Lord Shiva took the trouble of taking the form of a chandala since Adi Sankara was a seeker and was deluded by differentiation by way of castes. For true seekers, the Lord appears in the form (appropriately enough) he wishes to and helps remove the ignorance that surrounds them. Differentiation by way of castes or various other forms practised today (rich/poor, brahmin/non-brahmin, weak/strong) are maya – for the person who has pierced the maya and sees the Lord in all, this differentiation doesn’t exist – Sarvam Brahmamayam as Sadasiva Brahmendra sings. There is no partiality – for anyone who seeks Him, he appears in the appropriate form and helps us reach the Truth – alas we don’t seek but sit and argue! Those who seek, don’t speak :).
            I haven’t read the Padma Purana, but in browsing thru the web, I understand that it revolves around the world being illusory and not real. In my view, the reason could be that spiritual evolution of a person is in stages. In the early stages, this concept of an illusory world is difficult to comprehend or accept for the seeker and would be driven to inaction. The path of seeking are multiple simply because it can be chosen based on each seeker’s temperament. For each there is a certain amount of logical explanation and beyond a point, logic and intellect cannot help comprehend the Brahman.
            Coming to the concept of avataras/incarnation – we are trying to comprehend this by way of our limited logical brain and understanding of the current limits of science. It is like taking a tribal from Nicobar islands and putting him in a plane, he would think it is a miracle but to us it is science. May I ask if you believe that Milky Way exists just because someone put a picture of it in our text books or just so that we believe our teachers told us the truth. We conveniently tend to believe what we agree upon and question what we do not agree upon. The only difference is in approach – I tend to believe it because unless disproved, I will not refuse its possibility. You probably tend to disagree unless proven. Both will one day discover the Truth. God bless us!

    • Since you bring up Lingayats, isn’t it an irony that those following Basavanna’s anti-caste message have organized themselves into a modern caste? I’ve also personally encountered Lingayats who detest people of other castes. Perhaps it is partly due to the zeal with which the Government carries out the absolutely useless task of classifying people based on caste and religion. Yet, from what I’ve seen, the intensity of the caste system is lower in North Karnataka where Lingayat’s are present in large numbers.

  • dear sir/madam,

    i need the book of “Manisha Panchagam” Written by Athi sangarar. Please guide me to get this book,

    Regards,
    Sivasankar.M

  • On the subject of how the Chandala would have knowledge of monistic philosophy during a time of such high caste discrimination Kapalikas, Nathas, some schools of Buddhists and various other schools of Tantric Hinduism did not recognize caste distinctions. In Shankaracharya’s biography there is mention of a Sudra acharya of the Kapalika tradition by the name of Unmatta Bhairava. However, though Shankara might acknowledge that Shudras and Dalits could obtain Advaitic realization, he did not believe they were allowed to study, or chant Vedas and Upanishads, or hold the title of acharya. He even refused to debate Unmatta Bhairava on these grounds. Hinduism does indeed have a history of counter-caste movements that tried to uphold the spiritual equality of the lower caste and tribal people. Shankara was arguably progressive in this respect, but he did not believe in an absolute equality of castes by any means.

  • Adi Shankaracharya may have more in his platter than all the intellectuals combined.

    For a brief information of all, Adi Shankara revived Sanatan Dharma at young age (compared to all intellectuals of today, at least).

    Only if Adi Shankara knew (or cared) that today’s intellectuals will use arbitrary criterion for judging him.

    The Chandal episode is indication for us mortals that Veds have always honoured people of ‘knowledge’ irrespective of their caste.

    – rkk

    • The Chandal episode is indication for us mortals that Veds have always honoured people of ‘knowledge’ irrespective of their caste.

      The beauty of Sanatana Dogma is that on one hand it says knowledge is respected, but on the other hand, it provided zero opportunity for all to learn the knowledge. It instead placed emphasis on gunas, as if people are just magically born with the right gunas (a logical certainty if karma is true). So the need of the hour is to undo the revival of this outdated mode of thinking and work towards a society that thinks equal opportunity is a moral necessity without making excuses that “it’s human nature”. Had Sankara lived today, he wouldn’t hold a candle to a college student who has taken ethics 101, let alone “all the intellectuals combined”.

      • Jean Paul Sartre was so fed up with his critics, that he said ‘one can take it or leave it’ but not take some parts of his writings and criticise arbitrarily.

        Ethics-101 may be some childish stuff for ‘children only’.

        Veds have always without exception included teachings of lowly people.

        Maharshi Valmiki, Ved Vyas and many more are shining examples of Vedic writings.

        Vedantins are proud of association with them.

        They are much less proud of so called intellectuals who look through the glasses of today’s science ( albeit half understood ) at the vedantic knowledge.

        It is worse than comparing apples with oranges.

        To summarize ‘Do not attempt to criticize Veds for eradicating some thing as simple as caste system.’

        It is much simpler to deny your son what he does not deserve.

        If you are full of tamo gun (which is adequately described in many texts ) service is better option to get rid of it.

        And so on…

        – rkk

        • Veds have always without exception included teachings of lowly people.

          Such elitist, sectarian thinking is what the defenders of Ved are highly capable of. A secular humanist on the other hand will say “We should strive to provide equal opportunity for all humans.”. The word “lowly” will not even enter into their thoughts. But for people living in lofty ivory towers, preaching about guns, such words enter their thoughts with boundless alacrity.

          • ‘Lowly’ is deliberately used for the consumption of ‘so called rationalist’ only.

            Veds have no compunction in including Maharishi Valmiki’s works in Itihas Granths.

            Of-course only after his transformation from life of utter violence.

            It must be ok with rationalist to have utter violence in mind, speech and action.

            They are against Veds for telling people to shun Shad-Doshas in mind,speech and action.

            – rkk

      • Dear Satish Chandra,

        Again we are misinterpreting “knowledge” – it has been explained in as many words that so caled knowledge does not lead to the Supreme consciousness. Indeed, the Vedas say clearly that only if one sheds the false worldly knowledge (that which is attained by so called scholarship or erudition), can the supreme “knowledge” be attained. Again allegorically speaking, the Brahman cannot be reached by Indra and Brahma (the equivalent of senses and intellect). Only if we give up these, that the Supreme consciousness dawns (Be still and know that You are God!). All the paths lead to this – the concept of Yoga, meditation, Atma Vichara etc. all propose that stillness and giving up is the path to the Truth.
        So the so called chandalas dont need worldly knowledge to speak about the Truth. that is what Lord Shiva was explaining to Adi Shankara.

  • The so called intellectuals of vedic principle are deliberately in support of the depth of the crude irrationality, which evolved a social set up of retreat people with infective behavior. There are many science and technological growth across globe whereas in india, growth of veda or caste was touching the sky. Attempt by the Mughal and British to ease the caste evil end with Conversion, Converted caste ideology and some kind of betrayal compromise. One thing, we can understand from the history is, elite class Indian will compromise anything including his lives …………….. and even convert but won’t give up the caste aggressiveness.

    It was a vedic principle which prohibited the 80% of the Indian population from education, even who heard(sudra) the vedic teaching were pumped with molten on their ear. I don’t know how many sudra(present backward class) knows this, the sudra( mostly OBC) thinking dalit are sudras, but history registered the dalit as panchamas a religion less mass. No other class except Brahmin and beneficiary of caste systems hangs around strongly with Vedas. If I agree that Vedas has all the morality, science , tech and etc… Why does the vedic scholars were silent for many century? Who prevented them from making the Vedas contents into realistic scientific inventions? I think it is like a word match game like match fixing(after win) , yes fix the new invention with unknown meaningless sentences of veda ithigas.

    If we spread rationality across world it will stand unaffected to the changes occurs, but if we spread our religious base, sure, we ready for confrontation with existing establishments. So, rationality will win, but religion will divide the human relations.

    • Sir / madam,

      Please quote from Rig Veda those portions that encourage casteism and untouchability. Also, please show from the same source, where multiple castes like Thakurs, Iyers, Thevars and Choudhrys are mentioned. And please quote from the chronicles like babur nama and Chach nama as to how exactly Quasims and Baburs and Timurs worked towards erasing casteism. Please show from the works of Robert Caldwell and Max Mueller what they did to erase the same evil.

      • I am thinking of a creator/creature who has genital on head, chest, waist, foot to give birth to different varnas human!
        The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaisya , from his feet the Sudra was produced. – Chapter 5-10.90
        One intellectual of veda must tell how Thakurs, Iyers, Thevars and Choudhrys come, May be adjacent to it?
        During Timur invasion an estimated figure of 12lakh lost lives in a week, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timur
        Babar deflated many hindu worship place where elite class alone occupied.
        Akbar try to ease the situation but he has been ……………….. hindu elite class marriage.—How hard the caste/veda establishment survive these treatments!!! So it was a indirect attack on caste establishment, but elite class compromised all, but not the social division.
        You and me at least had a situation of exchanging words, it is because of british!!!

        So, thinking smart and propagating social evil is vedic culture?

        • But Babur as well as his ancestor Timur, also I presume might had deflated many Buddhist & Jain structures. Not to forget his own Racism , after all significant number of Upper caste Hindus & Babur somewhere share their races in distant past.Further also read about Kammis & Dr. Ambedkar’s writings on Muslim Caste System. Moreover in each of these wars , lower castes lost their lives more than the upper castes.

          Gurush is a religious apologist but at least , being a Rationalist you should not play with facts.

  • Ranganathan finally removed the ‘Reply’ option from his reply.

    Therefore following mail should stop this discussion.

    His observations do not apply to me however because I do not seek to impose either rationality or irrationality on any body.

    I read, think and try to understand.

    I know for sure that godlesss-ness in China led to forcing scientist there, counting pigs in piggery for a long time. The progress in science in China is manly due to extreme resolve in the minds of scientists there, after release from piggery ( after the death of gang of four ).

    Russia did not earn money for a long time after doing excellent science, but by other means only recently. Technology may have made life comfortable for ordinary people, but packaged food industry, pharma industry, and of-course the war industry ( which no doubt gave huge amounts to research also ) have collectively led to human misery.

    Mere ‘rationalist’ thinking will not solve the problems is clear to many thinkers.

    Human values are not new thinking to Indians. Who naturally helped pure strangers during monumental floods in Mumbai. Compare this with large scale looting in ‘Advanced’ world during natural disasters.

    Rationalists can always list there social work. Others will welcome it with open hands.

    ( Keeping your eyes open eg on discovery of curcumin helping cancer, mustard seeds preventing Alzemiers disease, will convince the ‘rationalists’ of conducting research on Indian Curries prevalent in Indian society from time imemorial.)

    The modern research needs large money, westerners may be able to spend. As they have been looting money from India and other third world countries for long. Oscar Wilde famously said that ‘ a curse can kill a man if you put enough Arsenic in it’.

    But ‘rationalists’ can beat ‘scientific world’ easily by collecting money and conducting top class research on subjects that universites may not touch. After all they are doing lots of social work as well, not merely writing on net.

    • RKK

      All I can do is reply to all this rambling from your side is that it is an incoherent rant.

      It is difficult to respond to this kind of incoherence and jumbling up of issues.

      As a fallacy of argument and debate, this can be termed as ‘shifting of goalposts’

      The point I tried to make was that the knowledge claims of Vedas and Vedanta are bogus and spurious and that the later grafts on it and the spin of latter day theologians and apologists have been co-opted into its prevailing philosophy, which is uncritically accepted and revered by many Hindus and such delusional beliefs affect their perceptions of coming to terms with problems of social crisis and its resolution.

      Without addressing this you have moved from China to Russia to floods in Mumbai to Indian curries.

      I totally fail to see what does Indian spice therapeutics have to do with Vedantic criticism.

      Also I did not know that responding to the mindlessness and idiocy of religious temperament is akin to imposing rationality and I am amazed that you can call your ranting mumble-jumble as an example of neutrality.

      • It is simple, very simple. The atheist countries have enough experience with atheism. Therefore ‘the rationalists’ may benefit from their experiences.

        The concept of Brahma is not a concept. If one is able to stop the external inputs to the brain ( for a short time ) the brain gets internally lighted in very ‘coherent’ fashion. The perception is different and more ‘real’ in this case.

        It is much easier to relate to ‘your’ real world ‘after’ this and also be very ethical.
        One can do science also with clear conscience after realising the Brahma. (After all the ‘world’ is ‘real’ for others if not for the realised soul.)

        I wrote in last few days about 15 second’s attention span of a fragmented brain.

        ‘Rationalist’ argue on points and ofcourse they feel happy if they can declare ‘Mayaa Jeetam’ falsely.

        Besides ‘ethics 101’ generations do not have the requisite strength to experience first hand the ‘coherent’ state of the brain.

        Each to his own.

        – rkk

  • the latest i came to know,even dr.satyendra nath bose(of the boson fame,higgs et al, after whom bosons were named) publicly criticised vedantic concepts and joked about their utter uselessness in the face of scientific thinking. Seems we have another “damn fool anti hindu”dr. Bose who knew zilch about the world and yet dared question adi sankara’s vedantic bul*s**t.

  • Can someone help me understand what the author of this post is trying to convey:

    1) Is he trying to lament the attitude of Sri Ranganathanandji towards Shankarachayra?

    2) Is he criticizing the sloka being discussed?

    3) Is he trying to lament that Shankarachrya did not do enough to abolish untouchability and that he practiced the same?

    Basically, what is the purpose of the post? If the author has a problem with Guru and Gurudom, today, in the Western world and in the corporate world, the same concept is practiced as a mentor/mentee and/or coach/player. And many a disciple not questioning their Guru is not the fault of Guru. On the contrary, Upanishads have reams and reams of conversations, where, the questioning spirit and solicitation of knowledge is encoraged. The episodes involving Yajnavalk are about challenge and response on many theological concepts. So other than the attempt to deride a custom that respects someone that imparts knowledge by calling it “chamcha” and scoring a discussion point, I see no value in the author’s lament in this regard.

    Now,while it is common sense that nobody or nothing is beyond being critiqued, the author here, at best, is indulging in crystal ball gazing on what he thinks transpired during the real / imaginary episode in Shankaracharya’s life and indulging in a bit of should’ve,could’ve would’ve on Shankaracharya.

    My question here is that, when, despite a huge portion of the work from this acharya being with us, there are at least 3 or 4 different versions of how the acharya died, in the end. No, I am not adhering to any of the theistic muktis but the locations and dates of his death have a few flavors. That being the case, how does the author know for sure that the acharya may not have publicly denounced untouchability, post this episode involving the chandala? What if, this episode did change the acharya’s incorrect perspective and he did really talk against this evil practice? I am speculating just as the author of this post was sepculating and passing it as a fact.Given the author quotes Upanishadic verses, there are also instances in the same Upanishads, where a prostitute’s son goes on to become a Vedic Guru. So how can the author comprehensively rule out the chance of a chandala having access to Vedic knowledge? At best the author is just speculating, even considering elapsed time between Satyakarma Jabala and last millenium’s acharya.

    So, if one of the aims of this post is to convey the picture that Shankara did not fight untouchability or for that casteism, based on what we know from that time, it is inaccurate. We just do not have enough proof to decide one way or the other, specifically post this episode involving the chandala. And if we are to dig deeper, over and above the episode being discussed, on this Acahrya’s perceptions of untouchability and dogmas, his commentary of Taittriya Upanishad talks about everybody being entitled to obtain knowledge and he gives primacy to this knowledge. So, if the author of this post wants to convey the failings of the acharya with reagrds to taking on the key social evil of untouchability, the evidence cited above does not cut it. The jury is still out…

    • For anyone who has looked beyond upper caste narratives, their privilege and has educated themselves in humanism, the purpose of this post should be abundantly clear.

      Sankara’s reply to the chandala involves a strawman fallacy. Whereas the Chandala was asking why there should be a divide and why he is impure, Sankara setup the strawman of how he is so magnanimous as to accept anyone as a guru. That doesn’t answer anything. To see why, consider this – A person asks “I was not allowed to go to school, and then college. Why?”. A wise guy then replies “I will accept as my mentor anyone who has completed a PhD regardless of whether they are a chandala or a brahmin”.

      So, the great enlightened saviour of Sanatana Dharma couldn’t do any better than to keep the system alive when he had the power to weaken it.

      • Oh…there must have been some divine scientific(cosmological) reason behind sankara’s great deed, for the upliftment of the shudras, which we puny mortals cant grasp.

      • Dear Satish,

        1) Your long winding sentence still does not put in perspective the motivation behind the post.Let us see – upper caste narratives-not my cup of tea & I am not conditioned by it, privilege-no, I had to work hard to get where I am and never took anything for granted or thought I was entitled to something,educated themselves in humanism-well, the opportunities I had to work with tsunami victims of ’04 taught me a thing or two about humanism. So, though I qualify the criteria you listed, this post still leaves quite a bit to unanswered.

        2)And on Shankara being able to or unable to effect the change in the society is precisely where I am saying that the evidence provided by the author of this post is insufficient. I am not here to defend Shakara’s response. But when passing an opinion on the episode, the author of this post seems to jump the gun. He just bent the espisode tosuit his tint. I can bend the episode to actually claim that Sankara became enlightened and trried to cleanse himself of the mindset of untoiuchability. So it can go either way.

        3) And your analogy is incorrect.If you read the verses of that sloka, the chandala asks Shankara a loaded question. It is not a question that is in black and white, as you have made it out to be.

        4) Well I look at Shankara as a theologian who was certainly responsible in arresting the slide of Hinduism during his days. He is as fallible or infallible as anyone else and he was obviously conditioned by the flavor of castiesm, as practiced during his time.So he’d have obviously had challenges in overcoming the mindset, as I stated above.

        5) “System Alive” If you are alluding to Shankara wanting to keep the status quo alive, his debates with Mimansa scholars, that laid utmost importance to rituals, beats the status quo premise,as, Sankara’s discourse was to move beyond the ritualistic streak of Hinduism that was in vogue, during his time.

        • 1. The notion of ‘self-made’, in this community, is tempered by the understanding that we are fully caused beings.
          (1 , 2)

          2. In either case, the ambiguity that this episode lends itself to, is itself a case against the deification and infallibility claimed for the historical personage of Shankaracharya by the faithful.

          3. The question was quite pertinent and pointed: Are Advaitic preachers willing to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and apply their doctrine of radical monism to affirm the essential unity of all human beings, or will they play along with the segregation enforced by the authorities of the day, using a conformist compartmentalization trick?

          4. The challenges, it seems persist to this day especially for many commentators here who are more rankled by a less-than-hagiographic take on Shankara than by instances of casteism and segregation on the ground.

          5. Far from a loosening of the ritualistic stranglehold, Shankara’s legacy has been a sort of tenuous, workable compromise between the ritualism of Purva Mimamsa and the intent of the Upanishadic revolution (1, 2, 3, 4) to outgrow rituals. In this sense, Shankara’s agenda has a counter-revolutionary and revivalist streak which is often ignored in hagiographic portrayals of him as a reformist.

        • The fact that you are using the Internet puts you in a position of privilege and denying that sort of privilege is what I was referring to. You might believe that what you are today is entirely because of your own efforts. However that implies that people who aren’t where you are, are there because they didn’t try hard enough, which I think is a very conceited view to hold. The circumstances you are born into matter a lot. Unless you believe in the nonsense of karma which justifies the circumstances by making absurd claims like “karma carrying over from past lives”.

          Coming to Sankara, I have no problem in accepting that he was a product of his times and held views commensurate to the the castiesm of his times. However, many people think he had achieved something great and is a role model to look up to. So what exactly is he a role model for? You can make an argument from ignorance that since we don’t know what Sankara thinks about caste discrimination, we can’t infer anything about his views. But we can infer from what is available, which is what this article did. Also, just not practicing untouchability is not enough to combat caste. As shown in this documentary, there are many other factors which add to the discrimination, one of which is the lack of a system of equal opportunity.

          If you think the chandala’s question was loaded, do enumerate all possible interpretations of it. But there can be no question of Sankara’s answer not being escapist.

          • Satish,

            It is not about me, Sir. Instead of the topic at hand, you were the one that passed vague qualifications for someone to understand the episode of Shankara discussing with a chandala. So I had to let you know a bit of who I was. You are entitled to your views about me.

            Switching to Shankara, even using the information we have at hand on the life and times at Shankara, this one episode is not enough of a sample to make a claim that Shankara did not do enough to take on the evils like untouchability or casteism. Again, I suppose you are not the author of this post to articulate what other materials were referred to arrive at the conclusion that the author of the post did.

            The nature of Shankara’s answer is something I did address in my previous post, on his own conditioning. And you have tactfully avoided a few questions of mine on the original post and also in my response to you. Like your wikipedia based claim on “System Alive” to which I responded, you have once again tried throw in another dimension of Shankara being an escapist.Escapists do not have conviction or tenacity of purpose. But Shankara’s life has enough in it to show that he had both and it proves that he was not an escapist. So your spurious claims on Shankara’s personality do not hold water. I am hoping that the author of the post will be kind enough to show the base data he used to pass conclusions on Shankara (beyond the episode being discussed).

            And Sanjay, if you are going to respond, please take a step back and try to respond to the points I enumerated in my response to you and then you can bring in new angles to the discussion.

          • I’m not the author of this article, and I can only infer Sankara’s intentions based on his response to the questions. However, I’ll be glad if you can educate me if there are other instances in Sankara’s works where he unequivocally condemned a system which had no provision of equal opportunity. Also, I didn’t say Sankara was an escapist in all aspects of his life. That is your own prejudice talking. I only said his answer is escapist, which it really is. Unless of course you object to it, which I haven’t seen you put forward despite the entire discussion hinging on it.

      • How do we know if Sankara did not do enough to remove caste differentiation? The caste system – not just caste – the basic principle of differentiation is ingrained in every human mind due to the ego – we differentiate ourselves as Indians, Americans, or as Marathis, Madrasis and within each state, based on caste, colour, sex, place or some way of creating an identity. This is the natural tendency of the ego. The Chandala episode is just way of showing that for one who seeks the Supreme Truth, this is an obstacle. Just learn from it and practice it. Don’t dissect and argue hours together. Rather practice and teach our young minds to come out of it.
        Many reformers have from time and again spoken about the oneness of all creation, but who listens! It is inappropriate to criticize religion just because of a few idiots who propagated the caste system. Just similar to labelling every Muslim brother as a terrorist just because of a few misguided youth.

  • @ Satish: You said “However, I’ll be glad if you can educate me if there are other instances in Sankara’s works where he unequivocally condemned a system which had no provision of equal opportunity.”

    That question of yours shows the extent to which you may have read Shankara’s works. Let us establish the framework within which Shankara operated. He lived for not more than 34 years (give or take a couple). Let us remove his infancy and his days as a student. In that limited number of years, his calling was completely towards metaphysics,philosophy and the writing of commentaries on Upanishads, Brahma Sutras etc. And add to it his travels across this land and debates with Buddhists and Mimansa scholars.

    The answer to your question lies in not my answering it but in you making an effort to read Shankara’s commentaries on Brahma Sutras and Upanishads (especially BA Upanishad) which show what Shankara’s views on the caste system were.So you did not know about this but based on the one questionable episode in Kashi, have been flogging Shankara that he was an escapist and did not take on the evil caste system? Great going…

    • I think the answer lies in your dismissing the one instance as being inconsequential. How many instances do you need? Why couldn’t Sankara admit that Varnashrama dharma is a bad idea? Wouldn’t that have been the right answer to the question?

      • Satish,

        Well, what you are attempting is called cherry picking. The author of this post uses the incident involving a conversation between Shankara and a chandala to establish a point of view. At the same time, the author also questions the ability of the chandala to ask those question,for, in the author’s scheme of things, the chandala could not have access to such knowledge. So only one of it is true and both cannot be true. Answering your question, in one of my responses to you I have already mentioned that perhaps, the question from the chandala did rattle Shankara. I guess you are not paying attention to what I am writing.

        And then you ask me, how many instances do I need? Please confirm if you have had a chance to read the commentaries of Shankara on the 10 Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. There are quite a few sections that deal with the caste system and the lament from Shankara of the then Brahminical hold on the system.

        It is becoming increasingly obvious that you have not done a deep dive into Shankara’s works, before passing opinions on Shankara. The pertinent question here is whether or not Shankara was condoning the then existing scheme of caste system. My response is, please read his works and then make up your mind.

        • A person who keeps saying “I’m not racist”, on meeting a black person says “You must play basketball, right?”. They then proudly list off how they have black friends, how they are appalled at slavery and so on.

          What you are doing is similar. A not-racist would know not to say that asinine statement. They don’t need to list out their life history to show that they are not racist. A single issue related to racism is enough to prove where they stand.

          As I said earlier, if you say that Sankara was as castiest as his society, no problem. Many American reformers who spoke against slavery owned slaves. That is a fact everyone knows and no one tries to sweep it under the carpet as they are mature enough to know that what the reformers said hold good despite their inability to put their sayings into practice.

          But for some reason you seem desperate to show that Sankara is not casteist. I get what you are saying. He was busy preaching his convoluted metaphysics and winning debates. So it would be unreasonable to expect him to find time on important social issues. But what I don’t get is your persistence in maintaining that the situation was something else.

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