Saturday, July 3, 2010



“Maneesha” in Sanskrit means “conviction” and “Panchakam” means  collection of five (slokas).”Sloka” stands for a poetic stanza.
Maneesha Panchakam , a  collection of 5 contextual slokas, 5 conviction (understanding ) slokas indicating the quintessence of advaitha philosophy and 1 final epilogue sloka - strives to  highlight  – the essential oneness of all Human Beings – irrespective of caste, creed, race, sex and all differences that divide us till this day.
In that sense, Adi Sankara who lived about 1200 years ago ((788 CE - 821 CE)  in a society steeped in extreme orthodoxy – is undoubtedly the greatest Social Reformer of his times.
Adi Sankara’s ADVAITA  philosophy is a no non-sense exposition of man’s oneness with Brahman, the universal consciousness. He made all-out efforts to convince the great pundits of his time of his Advaita philosophy – and many of them became his disciples and many others unequivocally accepted his advaita version of  the VEDANTA.
When we read Maneesha Panchakam and some of his other writings – we are left wondering –“ if only Adi sankara lived longer!!”  No one else has ever accomplished in just 32 years of life – what Adi sankara has. Not in their own life time – did any one do so much great miraculous work in so many different areas.
To my mind, advaita Philosophy is not only an exposition of an essential truth but also a great, much needed  social reform. 
Most of the world – even today – will find it hard to believe that – we are all one – and that we are all THE SAME SINGLE BRAHMAN – and that there is nothing else.
Whoever says I am the God, and so are you – even today – is taken as a mad man or some kind of maverick – to be kept at a distance. That happens – until you come in contact with any competent GURU OF ADVAITA PHILOSOPHY.
Then you change. Then it sinks in. Slowly. Steadily. Surely. The definition of God Changes. The definition of “I” changes. The definition of world /Universe changes. Nothing remains – of what we ever thought of these entities.
It is not easy to understand this philosophy from Books. Many words are loaded with great Vedantic meaning derived from various Upanisads, Puranas, Brahma sutras and so on. The straight literal meaning – will take us nowhere.  It is a science and like any science – it has its terms with special meanings. You know it when the GURU explains. But today – these texts are printed – and each of us has access to such texts, with their literal meanings as well. And, we also do find it difficult to go after, accept and sit before a competent Guru – to learn these, methodically-which is essential for a clear and correct understanding.
Maneesha Panchakam is one text – which give us a good understanding – though not a thorough understanding - thanks to some good commentaries, audios and videos etc on the subject – which are good – but certainly not capable of replacing a guru.
I have heard some great gurus on the subject, read commentaries on the same – and wish to make my humble attempt at unraveling a bit of this great subject.
We will now see the slokas, their meaning and my humble comments thereon – as I understand.
I will certainly be grateful to receive any comments, suggestions and corrections from readers, on any technical or other errors herein.

1st Sloka :

Satyaachaary asya gamanae kadaachin mukti daayakam,
Kaasee kshaetram prati saha gouryaa maargae tu Sankaram,

Meaning : Once, a great Saint was passing through the streets of Varanasi (Kasi). On the way – he saw two people, a man and woman, coming opposite to him. They were none other than Lord Siva and Gouri Devi in disguise.
Comments : The way, the first 5 slokas are written, eulogizing Adi Sankara also in each of them – to me, it appears that these five are probably written by one of his disciples – among those who were with the Guru on this Varanasi Visit. There is no doubt that the next five and the epilogue are spoken by the great Acharya, the Adi Sankara himself.
And then, who else can come to teach Adi Sankara – the last of his lessons – except Lord Siva himself.
What else can be the lesson – except the highest wisdom of all – in its precept and practice both.
The great Saint, passing through the streets of Varanasi was Adi Sankara, along with his disciples, after a sacred bath in the river Ganges. The one who came from the opposite side is –  Lord Siva himself, along with his consort, Gauri – but in disguise.

2nd sloka :

Antya vaeshadharam drushtwaa gachcha gachchaeti cha abraveet
Sankarah so api chandaalah tam punah praaha Sankaram

Meaning : Since the couple is in the disguise of an unkempt, low caste  family, Adi Sankara had no way of recognizing them. He, a highly learned and holy man, therefore uttered the words,  Go away, Go away, Go away – from my way,  and so on.. in a little scornful manner. For this, the Lord Siva, in disguise, speaks back to Adi Sankara as follows…
Comments : Adi Sankara was the greatest authority on Advaitha Philosophy and was a crusader for it all his life. But, was there a chink in his armour of knowledge some where? Was his wisdom less than one hundred percent in some way? Lord Siva has himself come over to teach him his final lesson in this supreme Knowledge. But, Siva is disguised as an unclean, low-caste man, and is coming towards Adi Sankara, on the same street from the opposite side. Adi Sankara, has no way of recognizing him, He almost instinctually, utters the words – you, go away, go away..and other similar  scornful words..
But, the one who has come, has not come to go away, as asked by  Adi Sankara. This provides Lord Siva the excuse to begin taunting him on his Advaita Philosophy.

3rd Sloka :

Annamaayaad annamayam athavaa chaitanyam yaeva chaitanyaat
yativara dooree kartum vaanchasi kim broohi gachcha gachchaeti ?

Meaning : Oh great Saint, whom are you asking like this, to get away from your presence? Are you asking this physical body, made of food,  to go away from another body made similarly of food – which is one and the same for all! Or, do you mean the cosmic consciousness  pervading me to go away from the cosmic  consciousness pervading you – which is also the same in all!
Comments : We need to understand these questions carefully. Adi Sankara and Lord Siva are seeing each other’s physical bodies only – which is the only visible entity in all of us. The physical body is called ANNAMAYAKOSA (or, the outer sheath of man, made of food).
What is the nature of this ANNAMAYA KOSA?
The physical bodies of all living beings, come from the same five great elements – space, air, fire, water and earth - and they go back to the same five elements on disintegration (death) of these physical bodies. They are  therefore un-distinstinguishable from each other both before and after. Even when alive, the process of infusion and secretion of food is constantly happening in these entities.
By themselves, the five elements in the annamaya kosa are not capable of any independent functioning. They are totally inert by themselves, and become active and sentient only in the presence of the CONSCIOUSNESS principle that pervades them all.
Now, what is the nature of this CONSCIOUSNESS principle?
The nature of consciousness is – “SAT-CHIT-ANANDA’.  SAT (read as - sath) stands for Satyam – which means, ever existent and never changing. CHIT (read as chith) stands for all pervading Consciousness – in whose presence only, all action in the five great elements can happen. ANANDA stands for supreme bliss.
Thus, CONSCIOUSNESS is eternal, pervading the whole universe, is available in and out of all bodies; and is itself eternal bliss. It is in the presence of consciousness that all bodies derive their powers of movement, action, life etc.
A thing which is everywhere – where can it go and from where? No where can it go and nowhere can it cease to be.
The whole crux of Advaita is – that you are not the body – but you are the all pervading consciousness!
An enlightened person is one who knows and identifies himself with the all pervading CONSCIOUSNESS – and not with the physical bodies. It is ignorance which makes us identify with the bodies. It is against this background – that we need to re-visit the questions of Lord Siva.
There are two aspects of the first question –
(i)                  How can inert matter like the Annamaya Kosa (physical body) of the low caste man move away from another inert matter like the physical body of Sankara,  by itself? 
(ii)                By implication, the second part of the first question is – why should you ask mere inert bodies to move away from each other? They are anyway destined to go back to the five elements together, and become undistinguishable from each other.
The second question in the same verse is –
“or, do you want the consciousness that pervades this physical body to move away from the consciousness that pervades that physical body?”
It is the same consciousness – which pervades in Adi sankara, the low caste man opposite to him, the disciples,  and the whole universe. It doesn’t move anywhere and has nowhere to move from or to! Lord Siva is thus testing Adi Sankara’s precept against his actual Practice!

4th Sloka :

pratyagvastuni nistaranga sahajaananda avabodha ambudhou vipro
ayam swapacho ayamity api mahaan ko ayam vibhaeda brahmah ?

Meaning : Lord Siva asks further, stressing his stand point: O great man, is not the essential consciousness in all of us the same natural and absolute bliss, which is like a wave-less and steady ocean? The same natural and absolute Bliss is pervading  in all of us – is this not the perfect understanding of the learned? O! For you too, the Great learned man, why is this illusion of discrimination - that one is a learned Brahmin and that the other one is a low caste person!

Comments : The question is very clear now. The consciousness pervading both of us is the same supreme Bliss in us and it undergoes no change – it does not come down or go up or change to some thing else. It is like the ocean when the same is ripple-less and steady.
As You claim to possess perfect understanding of this all pervading consciousness which is the supreme bliss in us all – how can you as this all pervading consciousness, discriminate some one as Brahmin and some one else as low caste man? Why is this illusion in you?
Let us look at Lord Siva’s own credentials. He is the Boothanath, the lord of all daemons and all beings; and he is Pasupathi, the lord of all animal kingdoms. His favourite place, as the great destroyer, is the cremation ground, where he equalizes all beings. His body is covered with ashes of the burnt bodies. For him none is superior or is inferior.
And, here he is, disguised as a low caste man, chiding Adi Sankara, a highly learned man and a champion of Advaita, for being under this illusion of discrimination among human beings on such a ground as high and low caste.

5th Sloka :

kim gangaambudhi bimbitae ambara manou chandaala veedhee payah
poorae vaa antaramasti kaanchana ghatee mritkumbhayorva ambarae?

Meaning : Lord Siva continues further : What distinction does the Sun make when he shines (in the same way) on the  sacred and holy waters of river Ganges and on the muddy waters in the dirty lanes of the low castes? Sun makes no such distinction at all on the objects on which he shines.
Likewise, does the sky (i.e., the Space) make any distinction when it falls on and gets reflected in the earthen pot, and the golden vessel ! It makes no such distinctions. The Sun and the space are making no such distinctions at all – in doing their respective tasks- points out Lord Siva

COMMENT : Lord Siva has extended his argument further with two more examples. The Sun is one. The Space (or sky) is another. Both are unique in their way. The river Ganges, as per mythology, is said to have descended from the heaven (where it was earlier) on to the head of Siva where it got locked up in his hairs on such descending, and then, Siva allowed it to flow to the earth and from there to the ocean. Flowing from the heaven and then from the head of Lord Siva, Ganges is considered the holiest river. But, the Sun makes no difference in shining from the sky, on the pure waters of river Ganges or on the muddy puddles of water in the lanes of the low caste men. He shines on all of them in the same way.
The second example, Lord Siva gives is of space (or sky – which is one and the same). The space is every where. Whether it is inside a Gold vessel or a mud pot – it does not matter for the space. The space inside and outside the two types of vessels and also the space containing the vessel–matter itself are not different but one and the same space. It remains as one space undifferentiated at all times and all places.
Sun and Space are part of the five great elements which are not sentient by themselves. But, Adi Sankara, who identifies with the all pervading, blissful consciousness – must remain changeless in an absolute sense, even beyond Sun and Space and make no distinctions of the kind between low and high castes. This is the purport of these examples.

Further comments after Lord Siva’s questions and before Adi Sankara’s Replies: Now, these extraordinary questions of such great wisdom strike the heart of Adi Sankara like lightning. Not that he was theoretically unaware of these precepts. But, in practice, he was involuntarily following the multitude, till then, as his earlier words indicate.
To correct this difference between Adi Sankara’s precept and practice only – Lord Siva himself along with his consort, Gauri had come and told him the eternal knowledge so succinctly and so pointedly.
But, Adi Sankara was no ordinary man. His was an absolutely truthful life. He realizes his folly instantly and admits the same openly. He also accepts any one – be he a Brahmin or a low caste man – who gives him this deep understanding of the eternal knowledge as his GURU, instantly.

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