In Sankara's Manīṣā panchakam we find the following excerpt -

If a person has attained the firm knowledge that he is not an object of perception, but is that pure consciousness which shines clearly in the states of waking, dream and deep sleep, and which, as the witness of the whole universe, dwells in all bodies from that of the Creator Brahma to that of the ant, then he is my Guru, irrespective of whether he is an outcast or a Brahmana. This is my conviction.

Also we find from his commentary to Vedanta sūtrās the following passage

The Sūdras are not qualified for that reason also that Smriti prohibits their hearing the Veda, their studying the Veda, and their understanding and performing Vedic matters. The prohibition of hearing the Veda is conveyed by the following passages: 'The ears of him who hears the Veda are to be filled with (molten) lead and lac,' and 'For a Sūdra is (like) a cemetery, therefore (the Veda) is not to be read in the vicinity of a śūdra.' From this latter passage the prohibition of studying the Veda results at once; for how should he study Scripture in whose vicinity it is not even to be read? There is, moreover, an express prohibition (of the Sūdras studying the Veda). 'His tongue is to be slit if he pronounces it; his body is to be cut through if he preserves it.' The prohibitions of hearing and studying the Veda already imply the prohibition of the knowledge and performance of Vedic matters; there are, however, express prohibitions also, such as 'he is not to impart knowledge to the Sūdra,'...

Now going through above sayings by him, we find both are mutually exclusive sayings.. A chāndāla or Sūdra (obviously his opinions are same for chāndālas as well as they are outcast) required to learn Vedanta to have BrahmanJnāna but at the same time Sankara is reluctant to let them study Vedanta to develop discrimination by which an outcast could become BrahmanJnāni ( or attain a firm knowledge he is none other than Brahman). Isn't this a deadlock condition? Or hypocrisy? Or wickedness?

It is like Sankara is cutting hands of outcasts & then saying "I will accept you my Guru if you feed me".

  • Yes his biased nature towards caste/varna is evident from the fact that his lineage of disciples did not include a shudra.. Even after the so called encounter with the candala, he continued in a similar fashion which is evident from his books. Apr 4, 2017 at 4:11
  • Yes @RakeshJoshi how a chāndāla will become BrahmanJnāni without providing him wisdom. ( If he is eager...) Apr 4, 2017 at 4:16
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    When quoting scripture please give the verse numbers etc. I like to look at my own books and it is difficult to do without the appropriate verse numbers. It is very easy to take verses out of context. With regards to this specific question, I and many Advaitists including Swami Vivekananda have faulted Sankara for his views on this. Apr 4, 2017 at 4:49
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    Would be better if intellectuals explain the reason of downvote as well. It is highly immature to downvote just because of unpleasantness of question. Apr 4, 2017 at 5:40
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    @RakeshJoshi Adi Shankara said "Even Chandala with Atma Jnana or Advaita Jnana (you may consider as realized Chadala) is his Guru ". As any realized person is Brahmin, his words are true. But it's still surprising on his castiest remarks.
    – The Destroyer
    Apr 4, 2017 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


I'm not well-read with Sankara's teachings, but there were certain parts in your question that I have participated in discussions about in the past. For my answer, of most importance is this part of your second quote:

'For a Sūdra is (like) a cemetery, therefore (the Veda) is not to be read in the vicinity of a śūdra.'

There are two points I'll mention:

  1. I always visualize the four varnas as being divided based on how much a person's consciousness is elevated, rather than the family or place they were born in, etc. So, a person born in a sudra family could have, for example, had a very similar realization as Gautam Buddha, and thus become qualified for Vedic education. On the other hand, a person born in a brahmana family may not have appropriate traits or interests, and may thus not study the Vedas. And there are examples of both, one that came into mind readily is of Jada Bharata, who is born to a brahman father but acts as if he's dumb and does not pursue Vedic study.
  2. Giving Vedic education to a sudra is considered dangerous for both the sudra him/herself and the society as well, since their consciousness is not in the mode of goodness (sattva-guna or sattvik), and they may end up causing more bad than good with that education. It is like letting a person of questionable background into the upper echelons of a government and giving them power through knowledge of a nation's defense systems. That would not make people around that person feel very secure..

So, to conclude, it's not that the sudra cannot receive Vedic education, but that they must show/prove their qualification (or adhikara) first to a guru who may personally decide how to proceed. Of course, I cannot really say what exactly Sankara wanted to say here, but there are similar statements in many other sects of Hinduism and I thus wanted to offer my two paise about the more general debate.

EDIT: Adding a couple of things based on feedback. What I wrote above strictly compares the two references, without discussing anything specific to Sankara and his teachings in general.

Based on the verse listed as "Quote 04" on this page, everyone is born a sudra, and becomes a brahman/kshatriya/vaishya at the upanayanam ceremony when the guru accepts them as disciple, thus they are also called dvija (twice-born, second birth by guru making them brah/ksh/vai). So anyone could approach a guru (including someone born in a shudra family), and the guru would decide which varna that person is really in, based on their 'gunas' (qualities or nature). If guru finds them to be of sudra mentality, then the second quote would apply, and they would not receive Vedic education.

Also adding some points on people changing varnas during their lifetime from this article:

Manu Smriti 10.65 asserts that Brahmin can become Shudra and Shudra can become Brahmin. Similarly Kshtariyas and Vaishyas can also change their Varnas.

Manu Smriti 9.335: If a Shudra (uneducated) serves the educated ones, is polite, devoid of ego and stays in respectful company of knowledgeable ones, he/ she is considered as having a noble birth and stature.

There are several shlokas in Manusmriti that state that a person belonging to high Varna falls down to level of a Shudra (uneducated) if he does not conduct noble deeds. For example,

2.104: A person who does not worship the Supreme Lord twice daily should be considered a Shudra.

2.172. He who has not been initiated with teaching of the Vedas is a Sudra.

4.245: A Brahmin acquires brilliance through company of noble persons and avoiding bad company. On contrary, if he indulges in bad company, he becomes a Shudra.

  • Just a small request: I'm just getting started here on Hinduism.SE (and SE in general). So, if you downvote something I wrote, I would really appreciate if you could leave a comment letting me know if I'm doing something wrong, missing something, or not following a certain policy. That would help me contribute better to this community (in whatever small way I can). Apr 4, 2017 at 5:15
  • I think your answer has been downvoted because 1-You didn't cite references. 2-You didn't answer. But thanks for the time you took to answer. Apr 4, 2017 at 5:27
  • Thanks @Rohit. I thought I kind of answered the question, since the basic question is about a comparison of the two references, rather than what Sankara had in mind while writing/teaching those two things. Everyone is born a sudra, and becomes a brahman/kshatriya/vaishya at the upanayanam ceremony when the guru accepts them as disciple, thus they are also called dvija (twice-born, second birth by guru making them brah/ksh/vai). So anyone could approach a guru, and the guru decides which caste they really are in. If guru finds them to be of sudra mentality, then the second quote would apply. Apr 4, 2017 at 5:47
  • For reference, see quote 4 on harekrsna.com/sun/editorials/05-14/editorials11673.htm. If you like, I can add this to my answer to make my points clearer. Apr 4, 2017 at 5:48
  • Yes, u can put the reference. And you can read about casteism here- hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/17758/8696 Apr 4, 2017 at 5:52

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