काशीपञ्चकम् Kashi Panchakam – Sri Adi Shankaracharya Intro

काशीपञ्चकम् – श्रीमच्छंकरभगवत्पादविरचितम्

With the commentary Tatva Prakasika
by Svami Tattvavidananda Sarasvati


There are three aspects to any dharma: karma or rituals, upäsana or mental worship, also called bhakti or devotion, and Jñana or philosophy. All these three aspects are beautifully integrated in Hindu Dharma. In the Western culture, however, we find that philosophy is distanced from religion, which is limited to rituals and devotion. Even great philosophers like Aristotle did not contribute to religion and, in fact, some of them like Betrand Russell and Nietchze have spoken against organized religion. We find a marvellous synthesis of philosophy and religion in Hindu Dharma. Here, religion is not opposed to philosophy, and philosophers are not against religion. For example, even though Sri Shankara is dedicated to Jñana, yet, he accommodates karma with certain restrictions. Needless to say, no philosopher can accommodate nisiddha karma or prohibited action. Sri Shankara does not accommodate kamya karma, ritual prompted by desire, either. Even in the Gita, kamya karma is denigrated and rejected outright without any hesitation. The nitya karma, duty-based action, on the other hand, is beautifully integrated into yoga, the means of communion with God or the pursuit of knowledge.

One’s life is a life of action and therefore, karma has to be integrated properly into Self-knowledge. Karma has the quality of perpetuating itself and rituals have grown very unwieldy over time. Philosophy cannot accommodate all of these karmas. For example, the Kaivalyopanishad (3) says, na karmana na prajaya dhanena tyagenaike amrtatvamänasuh, it is through renunciation that a few have attained immortality, not through rituals, progeny, or wealth. If ritualism is divorced from the doctrine of philosophy, it becomes mechanical, repetitive, and dulls the mind. Karmas practised with the right attitude of duty and devotional offering are nicely integrated into philosophy as karma yoga, a means of purifying the mind. As Sri Shankara repeatedly points out, karma yoga is a wonderful means to neutralize phalabhisandhi, the attachment towards the result of actions.

Normally, we have so much attachment to the result, which fructifies in the future, that we tend to justify any means to achieve it. Since the mind cannot be committed to two things at the same time, our commitment to the result impacts our commitment to the means. It is the means that shapes the end, and karma yoga is an attitude of action without an attachment to the result.

This attitude is described in Gita, 6-1, as anäsritah karmaphalam karyam karma karoti yah, the one who performs action that is to be done, not driven by the result thereof. The striver has to perform nitya and naimittika karma, duties to be fulfilled daily and on occasion, without seeking the results thereof.

Bhakthi, devotion, which includes mythology, is also well integrated into Hindu philosophy. For instance, the Gita, 14-26 says, mam ca yo vyabhicärena bhaktiyogena sevate sa gunan samatétyaitan brahmabhuyaya kalpate; whosoever worships Me with unwavering yoga of devotion, he transcends these gunäs (satva, rajas and tamas) and becomes eligible to become Brahman. This is niñkäma bhakti, motiveless devotion. It helps one gain Self-knowledge. Again, if devotion is not validated by doctrinal philosophy, it becomes superstitious and does not help elevate the devotee. It has to become Yoga.

When religion gets divorced from philosophy and the rituals and mythology dominate, it loses its transforming power. One may perform elaborate rituals, often ostentatiously, with lots of effort, yet he is not transformed. If religion does not inspire and transform the individual who is the pillar of the society, it is a failure. This is how some of the ancient religions have lost their transformative power – their rituals and mythology are divorced from philosophy. Even while relating to mythology, philosophy should be kept in mind. This is one of the main contribution of Sri Shankara. He removes all the weeds out of karma khanda and makes karma into karma yoga, a means of attaining Self-Knowledge. Also Sri Shankara’s encomiums bring the flavor of philosophy into devotional literature and make it a means to the realization of the Self. He transforms bhakti into bhakti yoga. Mechanical recitation of these encomiums should not be the goal of devotees. These encomiums help us take the life of karma and bhakti into Jñana.

Religion is mythological descriptions taken literally, whereas spirituality is rising above literality. If one does not take the spirit of the mythological descriptions, one falls into the trap of division. When a person takes the division between him and Ésvara to be true, other divisions such as the division between him and other individuals become true as well, and the oneness or the undividedness of the Reality is completely lost. Therefore, students of Vedanta should overcome literality.

The Hindu mythological literature is created based on the principle of symbolism. Paroksa priya iva hi devah (Aitareyopanisat, 1-3-14), ‘the gods are verily fond of indirect names’. The seers love to shroud the truth in symbolic language. For instance, instead of saying that the sunlight can be split into seven colors, the puranas portray the sun as saptasvarathamarudham, the one who travels by a chariot pulled by seven horses. The literal meaning sounds ridiculous, but the symbolism shows that the seers had a marvelous power of observation. Similarly, a serpent is supposed to swallow the sun or the moon during the eclipses. There is only a shadow which covers up a part of the light of sun, and that is presented as a serpent. As the spirit of the portrayal is understood, the literal poetic beauty could be better appreciated.

Kasi is an ancient town bustling with pilgrims. Like any other ancient town, it is full of narrow lanes. And, taking bath in the Ganges in Kasi could be an ordeal due to the sheer number of people that throng its ghats. Yet, we rise above personal considerations and take a dip in the Ganges. Our deep love for the Ganges and Kasi can overcome all these inconveniences. It is believed that the ceremonial dip in the Ganges washes off all the sins and the person becomes eligible to enter the heaven after death. But, there is a deep spiritual significance to every aspect of Kasi and its sacred river, Ganges. A study of the Kasipancakam helps us understand this spirit and helps us rise above the literality.

Kashi is the oldest living city on the planet. Mark Twain said, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.

Who would have thought someone could plan such a fabulous city 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. It was a most fantastic plan – layers and layers of urban development. The highest level of talent in spirituality, science, mathematics, music, and astronomy all gathered in one place. It became the city of learning and of dispensing knowledge. Shiva enjoyed the intellectual vigor, the music, the company of people, and the way the city was designed. He fell in love with Kashi and did not want to leave anymore.

There is a story of how, when Shiva was about to come to Kashi, king Divodasa did not want him to enter the city because he knew if Shiva was there, he would not be the single point of focus anymore. He said, “A king can rule the city only if everyone looks up to him only. If you want me to rule the city, Shiva should not come. If he comes, I will leave.”

Shiva sent two ganas to the city to see how to get rid of this king. However, they fell so much in love with Kashi that they established themselves just outside the city and never went back. They did not have the guts to go to Shiva and say, “We love the city too much.” Shiva sent two more – they never came back either. Today, at the four corners of Kashi, there are four gana sthanas, where these four guys settled. Then he sent Ganapati – he never came back either. Afterwards, he sent Kubera – he never came back. Finally, he decided to go himself, and he did not want to go back either. All this is being said to tell you how beautiful this city was. When Agastya Muni was asked to leave Kashi and go south, he cried and wrote a heartrending poem, running into hundreds of stanzas, about the beauty of the city and the pain of leaving.

There is a whole lot of science behind how they established certain aspects of the city. It was such a complex and geometrically perfect design. But Kashi is not what it used to be anymore. The superstructure of the city is broken. The center of Kashi was a powerful energy form, which created a tower of light. So many sages and saints have talked about the tower of light, and about the actual Kashi being an energy form above the city. Even today, that part is intact, but the base and the main temple have been broken. But one aspect you must witness if you have the opportunity – in the evening around 7:30, there is one particular ritual, which is called Sapta Rishi Aarti.

After Shiva had transmitted yoga to the Sapta Rishis and they all had become fully enlightened, he sent them to different parts of the world to spread this knowledge. Before they left, they expressed their anguish, “Now if we go away, probably we will never get to set our eyes upon you again, physically. How can we have you with us when we want you?” Shiva taught them a simple process, which lives on to this day as Sapta Rishi Aarti, conducted by these priests who may not know the science behind it, but they stick to the process. I witnessed how they built stacks and stacks of energy, just like that.

We could do this at the ashram but it takes a different kind of skill. There are yogis who do such things – that is a different matter – but I have never seen anything like that anywhere conducted by priests. For priests who have no such energies of their own, what they build up in this temple in this one hour is phenomenal because they have a method – that is what a ritual is. Whoever conducts it, if it is done right, it will work, because it is a technology. These priests maintained the process. They kept well what is of some sanctity to them, and it still works fantastically. And at night, there is the Shayan Aarti, which is cute. If you get to witness it, you will know how loudly you have to put Shiva to sleep.

This is the power of the ritual – you can conduct it for any number of people, even if they are ignorant of it. In contrast, doing anything spiritual, meditative, is in a way safer and cleaner, but you have to prepare the person. A ritual does not need preparation – you can do it for the whole town. It may be a million ignorant people – still, if they just sit there, we can make them benefit. But unless the person who performs the ritual has a certain integrity, rituals become a tool for exploitation.

The best way to approach dimensions of the beyond is through internal methods and processes, but it needs a lot of preparation. If you want a quicker dissemination, there are external technologies and processes – I would rather call them processes than rituals. We can make this happen to large groups of people. But it needs absolute integrity. Only in the last three years, we brought in rituals at the Isha Yoga Center, because we have created people of such integrity that no matter what is given to them, the focus of their lives will not change.

Whatever external activity you do in your life, it is meaningful only if it touches people’s lives. If you can maintain integrity no matter what, we can offer you wonderful tools through which you can touch people’s lives in a way that you have never imagined possible. Once you have such access to another human being, your hands must be super clean. If you are sweeping outside, no one will ask you, “Did you wash your hands?” It is okay if your hands are not so clean. Suppose you are serving food, people would like to know if you washed your hands. Suppose you are inside the temple, we would like to know if you had a shower. Suppose you have to conduct a surgery, we definitely want to know if your hands are cleaned and disinfected.

The more access you have to another human being, the cleaner you have to be. If “What about me?” is the biggest question in your mind, you should not have access to anyone. If this one question does not arise in your mind, you are free to touch any being, and you should. Millions of people need this, because nothing has truly touched them. Without being touched, the being will not be a being – the being will just be a body.

काशीपञ्चकम् –
मनोनिवृत्तिः परमोपशान्तिः
सा तीर्थवर्या मणिकर्णिका च
ज्ञानप्रवाहा विमलादिगंगा
सा काशिकाऽहं निजबोधरूपा ॥१॥
यस्यामिदं कल्पितमिन्द्रजालं
चराचरं भाति मनोविलासम्।
सच्चित्सुखैका परमात्मरूपा
सा काशिकाऽहं निजबोधरूपा ॥२॥
कोशेषु पञ्चस्वधिराजमाना
बुद्धिर्भवानी प्रतिदेहगेहे ।
साक्षी शिवस्सर्वगणोऽन्तरात्मा
सा काशिकाऽहं निजबोधरूपा ॥३॥
काश्यां हि काशते काशी
काशी सर्वप्रकाशिका।
सा काशी विदिता येन
तेन प्राप्ता हि काशिका ॥४॥
काशीक्षेत्रं शरीरं त्रिभुवनजननी व्यापिनी ज्ञानगंगा
भक्तिः श्रद्धा गयेयं निजगुरुचरणद्ध्यानयोगः प्रयागः।
विश्वेशोऽयं तुरीयः सकलजनमनः साक्षिभूतोऽन्तरात्मा
देहे सर्वं मदीये यदि वसति पुनः तीर्थमन्यत्किमस्ति ॥५॥
|| ईतिश्री मच्छंकरभगवत्पादविरचितम् काशीपञ्चकम् संपुर्णं ||

HariH Aum __/\__
Courtesy and Credit :
– Swami Tattvidananda Saraswati JI
– Arsh Vidhya News Letter(2012)
– Isha Sadguru Blog


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Another excellent post from you. Thanks _/\_

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome Kamal Ji soon I am posting each verse each day 5 verses explanation by Pujya Swami Tattvidananda Saraswati Ji..
      HariH Aum __/\__

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Looking forward. Pranaam

        Liked by 1 person

  2. adsunsri says:

    Namaskar Kamal…This verse has so much depth in meaning and Mark’s commentary on kashi is absolutely true and feel glad that I named my younger son Advaith.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bhaskar says:

    Thanks to Kamal Kothari, I reached this article.

    I spend lot of my time in Kashi itself. Loved the whole article. Its beautiful. Going to share the same on my FB too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HariH Aum Pranama __/\__ Bhaskar ji in appreciations to Kashi Sri Shankaracharya wrote Kashi Panchakam with philosophical angle which consists of 5 verses I am posting each verse each day with commentary explanation by Pujya Sri Swami Tattvavidananda Ji..


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