Monday, 6 February 2012

Shankaracharya and the Chandala - Last Caste

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Krishna goes on to describe the soul as that which cannot be cut by weapons, that which cannot be burnt, made wet or dried in the immortalised Shloka - nainam chindanti shastraaNi......."

The caste system in India is a weird issue - people don't understand what it is... And yet, they screw around with it a lot. I happened to attend a function recently, where the poojari told what caste is in brief - he said, people were divided into four castes on the basis of the kind of work they used to do. But then, God Himself said that the four castes are Brahmins, who are like My face, Kshatriyas, who are like My shoulders/arms, Vaishyas who are like My thighs/legs and Sudras who are like My feet.

A quick glance by pseudo secular people (read Congress) would result in saying - Aha! See? Brahmins are given the position of the head, while OBC/SC/ST people are merely feet. But then he continued. He said, note that they are all part of God, and that nobody is greater or lesser. Given a chance, would you cut your feet off and say they are lowly? No! For a complete functioning of the society, every part is needed - and they are there, because they are to be there. Note, that the four positions are merely symbolic - symbolic of the kind of occupation they had - Brahmins, whose life revolved around their brains, their acumen, didn't have powerful arms like the Kshatriyas who were powerful, who used to fight and defend. And similarly the Vaishyas and the Sudras had their own jobs. But it is understandable that people don't get symbolism. Heck, the greatest saint of all time, Shankaracharya, who was so supremely intelligent that he was considered to be the incarnation of Lord Shiva Himself, didn't get it. Here's a short story...
Once Shankaracharya was walking in the forest and he comes across a chandala (Chandala is considered to be lower than all the four castes of the Varna system, sometimes called as Panchama - or the fifth) walking four dogs. So the Brahmin Sankaracharya stops and says, "Hey, get away from me. Remove these dogs and your own filthy self from my vicinity so I can pass.

   So the chandala turns around and asks him a metaphysical question - A question fit for the philosopher that Sankaracharya is. The chandala asks him, "Do you want the 'dehi' to go away or 'deham' to go away?" (Dehi is soul and deham is body.) Sankaracharya does not like dogs but likes a puzzle - especially a theological one. So he ponders the chandala's question, since he is interested in soul and its problems. 

   And since the chandala's question knocks at the very door of Shankaracharya's metaphysics, he understands immediately that the chandala is none other than Shiva and the four dogs, the four vedas. So he falls at the feet of the chandala and acknowledges his error.
The beauty of  this short story is that he understands that the soul, as Lord Krishna says in the Gita, is one that simply discards bodies like clothes. Therefore the same soul can be a Brahmin in this birth, and a Sudra or a Chandala even in its next. So, the soul can never be impure... Krishna goes on to describe the soul as that which cannot be cut by weapons, that which cannot be burnt, made wet or dried in the immortalised Shloka - nainam chindanti shastraaNi....... And the body also cannot be impure - for every one is born alike, the body constituents are alike - and it is only by fate (chance, ye atheists),  that you are born in one family and not the other. Thus, nor can the body be impure...

-- Unfortunately, given today's political scenario in India, the whole country would rather be fighting to be called backward... The reservation system needs to be rooted off, my strong opinion.

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You may also like to read:
What makes Yudhishtira so great? - Asked Arjuna to Lord Krishna

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