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The Untouchable Untouchable

“An outcast, carrying a load of meat one day, passed by Sri Shankaracharya and accidentally brushed against him. ‘You have touched me,’ said Shankaracharya sharply. ‘Sir,’ said the outcast, ‘please reason with me. I have neither touched you nor have you touched me, for you are not the body or the mind but are instead pure Consciousness alone.”

With this well-known story from the auspicious life of the great nondualist, Shankaracharya, Sri Ramakrishna reminds us of our true nature and about the finite mind’s penchant for forgetfulness of this verity.

As was told in prior centuries, Sri Shankaracharya, who though the very soul of loving compassion to all living things, nevertheless reacted with aversion to a member of the lowest caste while going about the business of everyday existence. This challenge occurs to many people during their lives and has been recorded in the lives of other great luminaries as well. For Shankara, it was made all the more problematic by the fact that this “untouchable” was carrying a load of meat, deemed impure to orthodox Hindus who are decidedly vegetarian.

God, however, does not judge what is pure and what is impure and quite often places in our way that object, thing or experience that will remove our bad habits and limited mental concepts. “One cannot realize God without getting rid of attachment to the five fetters,” the Great Master has often said — tendencies such as fear, pride, shame, aversion and secrecy. These act as bonds which attach us to old and unwholesome ways of thinking and acting. They restrict the acquisition of such healthy attributes as sincerity, sensitivity, compassion and concern for the suffering of others. No authentic spiritual life is complete or mature without the likes of such qualities and progress in spiritual life can often be gauged by how one responds and modifies behavior patterns in the heat of such experiences.

Such was the case with the great Advaitist, Shankaracharya, who is said to have stopped dead in his tracks and stared in wonder at what the chandala said to him. Realizing that God dwells in all beings is not merely a fine statement that gets repeated for the sake of mere remembrance. Nor is it just the grand assertion of the idealist and optimist. It is an irrefutable fact that needs to be implemented and tested in everyday life. One’s inner substance gets revealed by such acid tests. Shankara passed this test, as did others of his kind, for he saluted the man and remained humbled and amazed that God could appear so profoundly through the mind and body of a simple worker. The lesson is one for all times and is brought forward for our contemplation once again by the Great Master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

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