Sunday, 30 June 2019

Kaupeena Panchakam

Kaupeena Panchakam is a short poem of five stanzas written by Sri Adi Sankara glorifying the life of a Jivan Muktha renunciate.  “Kau (कौ))” means private part of the body; that which covers it is called “Kaupeena (कौपीन)), which is the simple loincloth worn as an undergarment that is made up of rectangular strip of cloth tied around the waist of the wearer as a cover for the genitals with the help of the strings connected to the four ends of the cloth.  G-string is a similar modern undergarment which is a narrow piece of cloth that is attached to a band around the hips and passes between the buttocks to conceal the genitals. While the G-string is close to the Kaupeena in terms of design, the purpose is different. While G-string is worn to reveal the curves of the body seductively, Kaupeena here is worn by a spiritually liberated person who does not identify himself with the body, as a symbol of his total renunciation and he wears even that only to avoid a feeling of embarrassment to others.  The Jivan muktha Sanyasi is also called Yeti.  So this work is also called Yeti Panchakam, Panchakam meaning collection of five.  These verses highlight the inner disposition of the Yeti  whom Mundakopanishad  calls athmakreedah, and athmarathihi (3-1-4), the one who sports in himself and delights in himself  and call him “the fortunate one”.  With this brief introduction let us go into the work.

Verse 1
Vedantha Vakhyeshu Sada ramantho,
Bhikshannamathrena trishtimantha,
Vishokamantha karane charantha,
Kaupeenavantha Khalu bhaghyavantha  1
That person, who always revels in the Vedantic declarations; is satisfied with the food obtained by begging; is blissfully thinking about the inner Self, and is wearing the loin cloth only, is indeed a fortunate one.
Sri Sankara is describing in all these verses the traits of a Jivan Muktha ascetic who has limited his possessions to just a piece of cloth only and that too from a sense of decency and not out of any necessity.  The upanishadic statements on the Vedantic truths give him great pleasure as he mulls over them always.  He has no preferences in the matter of food.  He is happy with whatever he gets as Bhiksha.  In the matter of food he is as Lord Krishna says in Gita (4-22) “Yadricchaalaabhasantushtaha”, content with whatever comes to him without specifying.  He is ever in bliss, as Lord Krishna says in Gita (12-13)-“Santushtah satatam yogi” ever contented as a yogi.  He has neither dehabhimana nor fancy for dresses or ornaments

Verse 2
Moolam tharo kevalam ashrayantha,
Panidhvayam bhokthuma manthrayantha,
Kandhamiva sreemapi kuthsayantha,
Kaupeenavantha Khalu bhaghyavantha -2
That person who resides (anywhere, even) under the base of the tree, taking food using two cupped hands only to receive the food and disregarding wealth treating it as worthless piece of torn cloth and is wearing the loin cloth only, is indeed a fortunate one.
He has no fixed address or residence. He is “suramaṃdiratarumulanivasaḥ”(taking shelter in a temple or under a tree) as described in Bhaja Govindam(verse 18).   Receiving food using cupped hands denotes two things. One is that besides the loin cloth which he wears to save others the embarrassment, he has no other possessions, including plates and cups for taking food or drinking water. He just uses the cupped hands for that purpose.  Second is that he has totally conquered the ego and has no inhibitions in stretching his hands for receiving alms.  He has scant regard for wealth as he is free from desires and attachments.  His dispassion for possessions has come out of Athma Jnanm he has acquired that reveals the mithyatvam of worldly objects.

Verse 3
Swananda bhava pari thushti mantha,
Sushantha sarvendriya vruthi mantha,
Aharnisam brahma sukhe ramantha,
Kaupeenavantha Khalu bhaghyavantha – 3
That person who is contented in the joy of one’s own Self, controlling all the sense-pleasures and immersed all the time in the bliss of Brahman and is wearing the loin cloth only, is indeed a fortunate one.
He has realized through Athma Jnanam that his true nature is Brahman which is Aananda Swarupa.  The senses are under his control and  they do not run after worldly objects and pleasures at their will that leads to samsara.  In the words of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad he is, aptakamaha, athmakamaha and akamaha (4-3-21).  Aptakamaha is one whose desires have all been fulfilled; athmakamaha, one whose desire is for Athma only and akamaha, one who has no desires to fulfil. So with the knowledge of Athma and with no distractions caused by senses, he is immersed all the time in the Bliss of his own Self that is Brahman.

Verse 4
Dehadhi bhavam parivarthayantha,
Swathmana athmanyavalokayantha,
Naantha na Madhyam na bahi smarantha,
Kaupeenavantha Khalu bhaghyavantha – 4
That person, who is only a witness to the changes in his body, seeing himself as Athma only and having no thoughts of inside, outside or middle and is wearing the loin cloth only, is indeed a fortunate one.
Through Athma Jnanam he has realized that his true nature is Sakshi Chaithanyam, which is only a witness of changes that take place in the body-mind complex as in youth, old age etc., as well as of the three avasthas; waking, dream and deep sleep, daily. This knowledge has given him the Sarvathmabhava that makes him see all as one with no divisions.

Verse 5
Brahmaksharam pavanamucharantho,
Brahmahamasmeethi vibhavayantha,
Bhikshashano dikshu paribramayantha,
Kaupeenavantha Khalu bhaghyavantha - 5
That person who is always reciting the glory of Brahman with devotion and wandering around living on alms sporting only the “I am Brahman’ thought and is wearing the loin cloth only, is indeed a fortunate one.
Knowing his true nature as Brahman and the body-mind complex as mere upadhi, he uses his body for worldly transactions, as in wandering at will and collecting alms for survival, while keeping his mind engaged sub-consciously in contemplating on the glory of Brahman, with the “I am Brahman” thought.

The Jivan Muktha sanyasi is called a fortunate one as he is free from karma syndrome.  His accumulated sanchita karma has been annihilated;  accruing agami karma does not affect him as the punya phala goes to those who serve him and the papa phala, if any, goes to those who insult him or ill-treat him leaving only prarabdha karma to be lived through.   On its exhaustion, he attains Videha mukthi and is totally Liberated merging with Brahman.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Maya Panchakam

Maya Panchakam is a small work of five verses by Sri Adi Sankara describing the power of Maya over Jiva.  Maya is the power of Brahman that makes impossible things to happen. Maya literally means that which is not there (ma=not; ya=that).  It is not there really but it is there valid for transactions, like sunrise.  Sri Adi Sankara himself describes Maya in his prakarana grantha “Viveka Chudamani” thus in verse 108:
avyaktanamni paramesasaktiḥ
anadyavidya triguṇatmika para |
karyanumeya sudhiyaiva maya
yaya jagatsarvamidam prasuyate.II 108
Maya, also called the Unmanifest, is the power of the Lord. It is the beginningless ignorance; it comprises the three gunas and is superior to their effects (as their cause). It is to be inferred only by one who has a clear intellect, from the effects it produces. It is this Maya which projects the entire universe.

With this brief introduction let us proceed to the text.

Nirupama Nithya Niramshake Api Akhande
Mayi Chithi Sarva Vikalpanadi Shoonye
Ghatayathi Jagadeesha Jeeva Bhedham
Tvadh Agaditha Ghatana Patiyasi Maya
Maya which is capable of making the impossible possible, brings about the distinctions of the world, Iswara, and jiva in my consciousness, which is unique and eternal, partless and division-less, and which is free from all superimpositions.
Maya has two powers; veiling power, Avarana sakthi and projecting power, Vikshepa sakthiBrahman as Iswara projects the world using the Vikshepa sakthi of Maya.  Maya is only an alankara for Iswara as it is under His control.  But for Jiva it is bondage as Jiva is under the control of Maya.  Its Avarana sakthi makes the Jiva blind to its Real nature as Brahman. As a result Jiva mistakes the body-mind complex as its true self and under the influence of Vikshepa sakthi perceives difference where none exists.  Maya with Brahman is like the policeman, accompanying a V.I.P., who is serving the V.I.P.  Maya with Jiva is like the policeman, accompanying a thief, where the policeman is controlling the thief.
One’s true Self is pure Consciousness that is Brahman and it is eternal, unique, without any parts, without any divisions and free from modifications. Maya creates the differentiation of Jiva, Jagat and Iswara i.e. individual, world and God in the Consciousness that makes the Jiva believe that he is a distinct individual who is experiencing the world, Jagat and that there is a God, Iswara, who controls the world. This differentiation creates the notion of samsara and bondage which can be demolished only with Athma Jnanam that reveals Jiva-Brahma-Ikyam, and makes one realize one’s true Self as the immortal Consciousness which is only the witness of the three states of wakefulness, dream and deep sleep and not the mortal body-mind complex undergoing these three states.

Verse 2
Sruthi Shatha Nigamantha Shodakan
Api Ahaha Dhanadi Nidarshanena Sadya:
Kalushayahti ChadushPada: Abhinnan
Tvadh Agaditha Ghatana Patiyasi Maya
Alas! Maya which is capable of making the impossible possible, deludes even the scholars who have mastered the Vedas and Upanishads to behave no better than four-legged animals by tempting them with wealth and possessions.
This verse describes how Maya can lead astray one, with mere academic scholarship in Vedas and Upanishads, with the temptations of wealth, power and possessions and make them behave like animals that know nothing but “eating, drinking, mating and sleeping”. To escape the clutches of Maya these scholars should acquire aproksha jnanam of Brahman along with academic knowledge.  One should know not only the scriptures but also the import of scriptures which is possible only when they have the inner urge for Liberation.

Verse 3
Sukhachita Akhanda Vibhotham Advitheeyam
Viyadha Anala Dhivi Nirmithe Niyojya
Bramayathi Bhavasaagare Nithantham
Tvadh Agaditha Ghatana Patiyasi Maya
Maya which is capable of making the impossible possible, causes Athma, which is Bliss, Awareness, and undifferentiated Knowledge, to identify with the physical body (made up of elements namely space, fire, etc.) thereby deluding non-dual Self whirl in the ocean of Samsara.
This verse adds to the first one, by declaring that, the Self deviates from its own true nature (Swaroopa Lakshanam) due to the magical powers of Maya.  Self is of the nature of Consciousness and Bliss, without parts and is non-dual.  As long as one imagines that one was born at a certain place and time and remains identified with the body and a name and status, the cycle of samsara will not cease.

Verse 4
Apagatha Guna Varna Jathi Bedhe
Sukhachithi Vipra  Vidadyahamkruthim cha
Sputayathi SuthaDhara GehaMeham
Tvadh Agaditha Ghatana Patiyasi Maya
Maya which is capable of making the impossible possible, creates in the pure Bliss-Consciousness which is devoid of attributes of caste, creed and the like, the notion of ‘I’ness, of looking upon oneself as Brahmana, Vaisya etc. as well as attachment to son, wife and home.  
In the Self which is of the nature of Consciousness and Bliss and devoid of the various differences of caste, creed, quality etc. the “I” notions that “I am a Brahmin”, “I am a Vaisya” etc., and the “Mine” notions of “my wife, my children, my son” etc., which are delusions are created and a person is strongly deluded into these notions by Maya.

Verse 5
Vidhi Hari Hara Vibhedham Api Akhande
Batha Virachayya Bhudhanapi Prakaamam
Bhramayahti Harai Hara Bedha Bhaava
Tvadh Agaditha Ghatana Patiyasi Maya
Maya, that makes impossible possible, creates the various differences of Hari and Hara in the absolute, division-less, Brahman, and alas, it deludes even the scholars into the differentiation of Hari and Hara and thereby make them fight amongst each other.
Maya super-imposes difference of name and form even on Nirguna Brahman.  One non-dual Brahman is projected as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva etc. So Saiva-Vaishnava bhedam is only an illusion and both Siva and Vishnu are veiled forms of Brahman only.  We can remember in this context that Sri Sankara pointed out that the caste differences in society also are only the play of Maya, in the previous verse. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

Matru Panchakam

(An elegy on mother)

Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, known as Sri Adhi Sankara, was born to a pious Nambudiri Brahmin couple Sivaguru and Aryamba in Kalady on the banks of River Purna, now River Periyar, in Kerala State. The couple were childless and praying for a child when one day Aryamba had a vision of Lord Siva in her dream and she was told that the Lord Himself would incarnate as her child and the couple were overjoyed.  They named that child as Sankara.  Sankara lost his father at an early age and it fell upon his mother to get his upanayanam performed and to get him admitted in a gurukula for the study of Vedas and other Sastras.  When Sri Sankara finished his studies at gurukula he wanted to become a sanyasi but his mother wanted him to get married and live the life of a house-holder.  His mother complained of old age and her struggle even to walk to the river for her morning bath to convince him to get married earlier.  But Sri Sankara caused the River Purna to change its course to flow near his house through his prayer so that she need not struggle to walk a long distance for her morning bath.  Then he caused another incident to happen in which a crocodile grabbed his foot when he went to take bath in the river. He then called out to his mother to give him permission to take to sanyasa as otherwise the crocodile will kill him. His mother agreed in desperation, and the crocodile let go of his foot. He emerged unharmed from the river and proceeded to renounce all his worldly attachments and take sanyasa.  He comforted his troubled mother with the promise that he would be present near her in her final hours without fail and the left Kalady in search of a Guru. True to his word when he realized at Sringeri that his mother was nearing death, he rushed to her and was with his mother at the time of her death and also lighted the funeral pyre defying the custom and the village elders.  It was at this time he wrote this work ‘Mathru Panchakam’, a small work of five slokas that poured out from the depth of his heart.   The words written in grief for his departed mother rings true for all mothers at all times.  This is an emotional work and it is not extolling any God nor is it explaining his philosophy.  We shall see the verses which are simple and full of feeling, needing little explanation.

Verse 1
Aasthaam tavaddeyam prasoothi samaye durvara soola vyadha,
Nairuchyam thanu soshanam malamayee sayya cha samvatsaree,
Ekasyapi na garbha bara bharana klesasya yasya kshmo dhathum,
Nishkruthi munnathopi thanaya tasya janyai nama.
Salutations to you, O my mother.  The pain endured by you at the time of delivery, the emaciation of the body during pregnancy, the year-long sharing of the bed made dirty by me, none of these miserable experiences borne by you during pregnancy can be adequately compensated by me even after becoming a grown up person. 

In this verse the pain a mother undergoes is described.  The pain is not only at the time when a mother carries and delivers the baby, but continues also for sometime later during the feeding stages. She observes diet restrictions and she eats only certain kind of food, not from taste point of view but only from child’s health point of view. The food is generally devoid of spices and is a lot of lentils and green vegetables. The poet remembers this and also adds that she must have spent sleepless nights because the baby's filth would have to be cleaned up regularly and the constant vigil making her weak and tired. However great one grows, still one cannot compensate or offer atonement for the pain a mother undergoes bearing the child in her womb and feeding the child as a baby. 

Verse 2
Gurukulamupasruthya swapnakaale thu drushtwa,
Yathi samuchitha vesham praarudho maam twamuchai
Gurukulamadha sarva prarudathe samaksham
Sapadhi charanayosthe mathurasthu pranaama.
O Mother, once in your dreams you saw me as clad in the dress of a sanyasi. You came to the gurukula and wept aloud. The entire gurukula also wept with you.  What can I do except falling at your feet and offering my salutations.

Once Aryamba, the mother of Sri Sankara had seen in her dreams her son in the robes of an ascetic. She immediately ran to the gurukula, embraced him and wept aloud. Knowing from her the reasons for her grief, others also wept with her. Sri Sankara remembers this incident as he pays obeisance to the feet of that mother as he later took sanyasa, as she feared.
Verse 3
Na dattam mathasthe marana samaye thoyamapi vaa,
Swadhaa vaa no dheyaa maranadivase sraadha vidhina
Na japtho mathasthe marana samaye tharaka manu,
Akale samprapthe mayi kuru dhayaam matharathulaam.
O! Mother! I could not offer water to you at the time of your death. I cannot offer you food on the anniversary of your death by performing Srardha. O! Mother! I have not chanted the redeeming Taraka mantra in your ear at the time of your death. O! Mother! be compassionate to me who has come late.

Sri Sankara has promised his mother before leaving Kalady as a sanyasi that he will be at her side at the time of her death. Though he was at her bedside as she breathed her last he could not perform certain final religious rites, as he had become a sanyasi and a sanyasi cannot perform the final rites. So here he feels sorry and seeks forgiveness for not doing the funeral ceremonies as a dutiful son.

Verse 4
Mukthaa Manisthvam, Nayanam mamethi,
Rajethi jeevethi chiram sthutha thwam,
Ithyuktha vathya vaachi mathaa,
Dadamyaham thandulamesh shulkam.
Long live O!Son!  You are my jewel!; You are my eyes!; You are my dear prince!; you live long!;-You have said these fondling words!  But in return of that all, O my mother I am putting these dry grains into Your mouth' (in the mouth that has spoken the fondling words,)

Before the cremation of the dead body, dry grains will be put into the mouth of the dead person. So Sri Sankara here laments that he is putting dry grains in the mouth that had fondled him with words of adoration and praise and had always prayed for his welfare only, calling him as "O my dear pearl, my eyes, my prince (king), my life".

Verse 5
Ambethi Thathethi Shivethi tasmin,
Prasoothikale yadavocha uchai,
Krishnethi Govinda hare Mukunde tyaho,
Janye rachito ayamanjali.
O! Mother, That day at the time of the labour pains you cried aloud : O! Mother, O! Father, O! Lord Siva, Today I offer my humble obeisance to that mother chanting O! Lord Krishna O! Govinda  and Hare Mukunda.

In this verse Sri Sankara offers his homage to his mother who, at the time of delivering him screamed aloud in pain crying out to parents and Gods, by chanting the various names God. It is also Sri Sankara’s  acknowledgement of the hardships his mother went through in delivering him as a child. It is also said that by praying to Lord, he got her the vision of Lord Siva and Lord Krishna in her final moments. No doubt he would have ensured her Moksha after death also, through his prayer.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Kasi Panchakam

(An internal pilgrimage)

Kasi is a holy city of pilgrimage dating back to 11th century B.C.  It is considered as the spiritual capital of India, with the sacred river Ganga flowing through it and with one of the holiest of Siva temples, Kasi Viswanatha temple, enshrining one of the twelve Jyothirlingas.  Pilgrims flock to it as the faithful believe that a dip in the holy waters of Ganga washes off all signs and that death in this sacred city liberates one from the cycle of birth death. But, there is also a deep spiritual significance to every aspect of Kasi and its sacred river, Ganges. A study of the Kasi Panchakam by Sri Adhi Sankara helps us understand this spirit and rise above the literality.  Sri Adhi Sankara in this work ‘Kasi Panchakam’ talks about an internal pilgrimage drawing analogy from external pilgrimage to Kasi that would give liberation to the individual.  We can recall here the third valli of Kathopanishad in which the internal spiritual journey for Self-knowledge is presented through chariot imagery where the pursuit of Self-knowledge is taken as a form of external travel, with body, sense organs, mind and intellect as the four-fold instruments of chariot, horses, reins and driver respectively and the chidabhasa jivatma as the traveller for this knowledge travel.  In Sri Sankara’s work also we find the external pilgrimage of Kasi Yatra serves as an imagery for internal journey for Self-knowledge that liberates Jiva.  Kasi Panchakam, a small work of five verses, is a nitidhyasanam grantha, and we shall now see those verses one by one.

Verse no.1

Mano nivruthi paramopa santhi,
Sa theerthavarya mani karnika cha,
Gnana pravaha vimaladhi ganga,
Saa kasika’ham nija bodha roopa.

I am that city of Kasi in the form of my own pure Consciousness. The supreme peace that is the quietude of the mind is that Manikarnika ghat, the holiest of the holy. The flow of the waking consciousness is the divine Ganges.

Kasika means Kasi, the holy pilgrimage centre. The word ‘Kasi’ means that which shines and Sri Sankara plays with this meaning when he says ‘Saa kasika’ham nija Bodha rupa’ meaning I am that Kasi, the self-shining pure Consciousness. That Consciousness is the substratum, the light of lights, in which all human experience shine.  The multiple experiences of the waking and dream states shine in It. Deep sleep, which is absence of all experiences, is also an experience that shines in that Consciousness. One has to understand that Consciousness is the matrix of the universe.  That self-shining Pure Consciousness is the Kasi and that Kasi is our athma swarupa.  The Manikarnika ghat in Kasi is the popular and sacred cremation ghat and the pious take bath there and conduct their prayers. This ghat symbolizes the negation of identification with the body. One has to die to the body to become awake to the truth of one’s Self.  Further Manikarnika ghat is compared to a quiet, peaceful mind, which is free from longing for worldly objects that is necessary for absorption of Athma Jnana.  In Kasi, the river Ganges is vimala, sanctifying. Water of the Ganges remains pure despite a lot of toxins and chemicals that are dumped into it.  No other river has such power of self-purification.

Verse 2

Yasyamidham kalpithamindra jalam,
Characharam bathi mano vilasam,
Sachid sukhaika parmathma roopa,
Saa kasikaham nija bodha roopa.

I am the city of Kasi in the form of my own pure Consciousness. In it shines this unreal magic called the world consisting of moving and non-moving life forms. This world is mere playfulness of the mind. That Reality is One (without a second), Existence-Awareness-Bliss, obtaining as the innermost core of the individual.

This verse illustrates the essence of Advaita Vedanta “Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya, Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Aparah”.  The world which was not present for oneself during deep sleep comes to life when one wakes up. The world also arises along with the body, and there is an instant identification with the body giving birth to the person. The body and the world arise and resolve together. Just as the film moving in the presence of the light makes a movie, so also the playfulness of the mind in the waking consciousness creates the world. The movie has all the elements of samsara consisting of pleasure, pain, attachment, aversion etc., including the space and time. It has mountains, rivers, gardens, flowers, animals, birds and creatures. Everything exists and shines in the brilliance of the projector light. Our waking world is no different.  The light is the self- shining pure Consciousness and the projector is manovilasa, the playfulness of the mind projecting the film of entire world of moving and unmoving, living and non-living.  The reality is ‘Sachid sukhaika’, the one Existence-Awareness-Bliss.  And the world that we experience is only a projection of the mind, a captivating and binding illusion like a magic show and this is realised when one negates all the projections through Self-knowledge.  The Real Self is the innermost Self, Athma that is ‘Paramathmarupa and not the self, identified with body-mind complex.  One normally derives the sense of Self from attributes of non-Self, like relationships, position, power, qualifications etc., and anything other than Athma is mithya only, not Real.  The real Self, Athma, shines gloriously when one ceases identifying with something that is non-Self.

Verse 3

Koseshu pancha swadhi raja mana,
Budhir bhavani prathi deha geham,
Sakshi Shiva sarva ganontharathma,
Saa kasikaham nija bodha roopa.

I am that city of Kasi in the form of my own pure Consciousness. The all-pervading witness, who is the inner ruler, is Lord Siva. The intellect shining as the presiding deity in the five sheaths in everybody is Bhavani (the consort of Siva).

Kasi is the Pure Consciousness, the Infinite, which manifests in the finite body-mind as sakshi Athma, witness of all cognitions and actions. Siva is that sakshi Athma present in all living beings.  It is the witness to the entire movement of the mind, which is broadly classified as waking consciousness, dream consciousness and the unmanifest consciousness of deep sleep. One becomes aware of the objects when they come into contact with its reflection in the intellect, which is Prakriti.   As the Gita says (13 . 22) purusah prakrtistho hi bunkte prakrtijan gunan, i.e. Purusa, here Siva, enjoys/suffers the qualities of Prakrti and acquires doership/enjoyership.  Prakriti is here identified with Bhavani, consort of Siva, as identification with Prakrti makes Siva (Purusha) a samsari.   

Verse 4

Kasyam hi kasathe kasi kasee sarva prakasika,
Sa kasi viditha yena thena praptha hi kasika.

The city of Kasi is indeed shining in the Consciousness that is Athma. That Kasi illuminates all. Whosoever realizes that Kasi indeed gains Kasi (moksha).

Kasi is the light of lights, the pure Consciousness that is Athma. In the waking state, the eyesight is light to shapes and colors and the ears are light to sounds. Mind is the light of all cognition. But all these lights are illuminated by one light, the light of pure Consciousness. In the dream state too, the light of pure Consciousness illuminates the mind and all of its projections. In the deep sleep state, all lights are gone; no sun, no moon, no eyesight, no ears, no mind and yet, the absence of all is lighted up by the light of pure Consciousness. This Jnanam is Kasi and this Jnanam gives liberation, Moksha.  So Moksha is also called Kasi.  The sadhaka who understands the Athma which is Kasi, gains Moksha, which is also Kasi.

Verse 5

Kasi kshethram sareram tribhuvana janani vyapini jnana ganga,
Bhakthi sradha gayeyam nija gurucharana dhyana yoga prayoga,
Vishwesoyam thureeya sakala jana mana sakshi bhoothontharathma,
Dehe sarvam madheeye yadhi vasathi punastheertha anyath kimasthi.

Body is the pilgrimage centre of Kasi. The all-pervading flow of knowledge is the Ganges, the mother of the three worlds. Devotion and faith are this city of Gaya. The communion of meditation on the feet of one’s preceptor is the city of Prayag.  So what is the need for pilgrimage as all pilgrim centres are in my body?

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was once asked if he would go on pilgrimage to Kasi. He replied that he was not interested because he sees Siva in his own heart. He urged his disciples to have motiveless devotion in the heart, rather than visiting places. He was highlighting what is important rather than putting down pilgrimage.  This spirit is reflected in this verse.
Pilgrims usually visit Prayag and Gaya in addition to visiting Kasi. Sri Sankara includes all the three places in the symbolism. The sacred city of Kasi is body. Just as the Ganges flows in Kasi, so also the manifest consciousness flows in this body.  Shraddha and Bhakthi, faith and devotion, is Gaya, where one performs srardha for  one’s pitrus.   Meditation on the feet of the Athma Vidya Guru is Prayag which is the confluence of the three sacred rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati, the unseen and in meditation, on Guru’s feet, the body, mind and ego resolve in Guru who personifies the Paramathma.  So what is the need for pilgrimage to one, when the body is the sacred city of Kasi, and the manifested Consciousness in mind is the holy Ganga and one’s faith in the words of scriptures with devotion to Iswara is Gaya and one’s dhyana of  the feet of Guru who guided him to realisation is Prayag.  When all the pilgrim centres are visualised in one’s body, there is no need to go for pilgrimage anywhere else as for one growing out of the need to do sadhanas when he has absorbed Atma Jnanam and blossomed into a Brahma Jnani.  The real pilgrimage for a Sadhaka is discovering the inner Self by assimilating the Athma Vidya.