One morning during his sojourn in Varanasi at the bank of the Ganges, Adi Shankara, the Hindu seer, and his disciples had gone down the Ghats of the Ganges to ablutions. Returning, they were faced with a Chandala, a low caste pariah, leading a pack of four dogs
. When the seer asked the lowly man to step aside from their path, instead of abiding the Chandala is said to have responded with the wise words, “Like your own, my body too is made up of the material food that is consumed and performs the same biological functions as any Brahmin’s. My Atman or consciousness too is identical to the Suprame Brahman which is omnipresent and forms the composition of your soul as well and is totally unaffected by the bodily aspects. So which part of me do you ask to step aside, the body or the consciousness (Chaitanya)? And why do you do so, learned Brahmin?”
These words were a direct reference to Adi Shankara’s own philosophy of Advaita Vedanta which sought to establish the existence of the one Supreme Brahman as the sole truth and all the remaining material substances as illusory.
The seer was dumb struck and awed with the enlightenment of a lower caste man. Adi Shankara prostrated to the Chandala and conceded that he had erred. This is actually the point where he composed the ethereal shlokas “Manishapanchaka”. The Vedantic purport of these shlokas is to accede that the only man who may claim to be illuminated is one who has learnt to see the world and all its beings as part of the Self and not in the form of individuals belonging to various castes.
No matter how often the masters have reminded us of deep principles, we tend to ignore the principle and only stick to rituals and external symbols. Certainly, it would help if we were to understand the core concepts for only then can we move towards true enlightenment.