Friday, September 11, 2009

A tryst with Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharaya is an epitome of Hindu wisdom and a pristine guru. Continuing my quest to speak with masters and prophets, I thought I would consult him to clarify the doubts that still persist in my mind.

Swamiji, Pranam. I am born a Hindu and am enamoured at your story and teachings. Sometimes, however I am confused by some of the tenets that prevail. Could you help me understand these better in today’s context ?

Of course. I will be happy to.

In your time, the caste system was sacrosanct. Today there is more openness but many people still do feel each group has slightly different traits and so there was an order created through the caste system. What is your opinion?

Of course, there are differences as humans are bound to be different. But, this is no way means one group is superior to another. Further, birth is not the deciding factor. Each person is who is his because of so many factors. So, I feel and have stated also that caste system is a stumbling block to realization. In my own case, when I happened to see a Chandala as one of a lower caste, I was jolted to realize it is highly contradictory to the principles I espouse.

Similarly, not accepting others because they are different in any one aspect, such as the God they pray to, is also one such stumbling block.

Only if we see all people as part of the same cosmos can we be true followers of Vedanta.

Why then do we have different Gods?

Just as there are different colours in the rainbow, different notes in music, there are different Gods and deities. The seven colors of the rainbow are actually manifestations of pure white light. But, doesn’t a rainbow look beautiful because of the different shades? Just as there is no reduction of harmony in nature with these differences, there should not be any disharmony because of differences. Sameness is not unity. Understanding is.

Some claim idol worship is not a good practice. And yes, there are some sacrifices undertaken in front of idols that even I don’t understand. Even the ecological damage during Ganesh festivities clearly create too much pollution. How do we understand these?

If through idols, you are able to connect better with a higher power, then do continue but remember to understand the symbology.

If Ganesh’s symbology is understood, none of you will create so much ecological damage in his name. A simple prayer to give more determination and persevere on the right path despite obstacles would make the vignaharta much happier.

Similarly, pray to Lakshmi for abundance (not excessive wealth but ample for your needs), Saraswati for wisdom and Durga for a sense of right and wrong and supporting justice.

With people of other faiths, how best must we understand the differences?

Each has evolved in a particular mileau in a particular context. Even Hinduism which we say is the oldest is not static but dynamic. It is necessary to grow with times while keeping the principles of oneness, compassion and both inner and outer peace as the goal.

Inner and outer peace?

We end each chanti with Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. First for inner peace, second for the environment around us and the third for the entire world. Only the approach of bringing change through a change in our own selves can ever wok, be it in one’s family, one’s environment or in the entire world.

Still, if others create violence, what should we do ?

The other you speak about, is obviously also a part of the same cosmos. Approach him with an attitude of understanding and peace. If nothing, at least don’t foster hatred.

If you do wish to make a difference, ask, why is this violence happening? What can I do to prevent it and bring about better understanding? All this obviously can be done only in a non violent way. .

However, would non-violence succeed?

Of course it will but you would need to continue your efforts not remain passive. See, the satyagraha of Gandhi almost succeeded but not completely only because of people not being able to understand oneness in the complete sense. Remember, the seed he has sown is not dead yet. Foster it to bloom completely.

As I bow and take leave of the Shankaracharya, I offer my gratitude and seek his blessings for all of India and indeed the world to move towards this pristine understanding of each other as part of a single cosmos.


  1. Yes, the caste system has been totally and deliberately misinterpreted by vested interests.The 4 castes relate to the 4 functions/ activities we perform in different situations.So, they are strictly situation-specific. How ? Let's see.When one uses
    -his intelligence / brain he is a Brahmin- teacher, preacher etc..
    -his work/ livelihood/trading skills for survival he is a Vaishya- trader, businessman ...
    - his physical strength for self -defence/ protection he is a Kshatriya- a warrior, soldier...
    -his simple acts by his limbs to wash/ clean himself and his environs, he is a Kshudra.
    So, it's obvious that we are -all in one and one in all !
    Can one learn ( brahminical)without unlearning -cleaning out the old- a Kshudra ?
    Can a Kshatriya fight only with physical prowess ? Does he not deploy his intelligence ( brahmin)- strategy/ gameplan...?
    One can go on and on to finally tell us that all these differences and contradictions 'simply melt away 'to once again reiterate that
    ALL IN ONE AND ONE IN ALL holds good !-the macrocosm and the microcosm become ONE !
    Ponder over this
    Many realised saints from the cobbler community !
    Please share your views. I am already thinking about it .

  2. Thanks for the feedback... You are right. The process of realizing our oneness is the journey we all need to undertake for the well being of the entire cosmos.

  3. I agree with Jamuna and Ramanand. Truly, each functional facet of our existence in this material world, is but a dimensional projection of Our True Self as IT identifies with the spread that Maya provides. No wonder we have been reminded umpteen times to see the Lord in every creature regardless of the functions individuals may be performing. Strangely enough, in the Purusha Suktam (one of the pancha suktams and an extract from the Rig Veda), which describes the origins of Creation from the Lord (Purusha)- Brahmins are from the mouth of the Purusha,Kshatriyas are from His two arms, Vaishyas are from His Thighs and Sudhras are from his Feet !! Evidently, all came from Him and are in Him - No one is superior or inferior by one's wild imagination!!! Otherwise it would be like saying God's Mouth is Superior to God's Feet etc !!! Think about it !!! Each, as rightly brought out, has the potential to attain Liberation - it is the folly of humans that has created this unwanted Divisions with its complicated interpretation - all for convenience - Ranga!!!

  4. Yes, we need all functions and the point is, these functions are by deed and not by birth..
    all the confusion has been created by vested human interests... which is often the case with many religions...