There is a beautiful incident.
One fine morning, Shankaracharya – the Shankaracharya, the first Shankaracharya – after taking his bath in the Ganges in Varanasi, is coming up the steps and a man is coming down the steps. It is still dark. The sun has not risen yet, and the man touches Shankaracharya. And the moment he touches him he says, “My God, please forgive me. I am a sudra.”
Shankaracharya is very angry – a man who says that everything outer is illusory, even for him the body of a sudra is not illusory. He says, “You wasted my time. Now I have to take another bath.”
The sudra said, “Before you take the bath, please answer my few questions. If you don’t answer you can take the bath, but I will touch you again – and that will be a real waste of time.”
He has put Shankaracharya into such a corner…and there is nobody around, so Shankaracharya agrees to answer his questions: “You seem to be such a stubborn man. First you touch me, then you declare that you are a sudra, and now you are forcing me to answer your questions. What are your questions?”
The sudra said, “My questions are very simple. I want to know whether my body is sudra, untouchable. Is there any difference between my body and your body? Is there any difference between my blood and your blood, my bones and your bones? Would it be possible, if we both died, for anybody to decide which body was a brahmin’s body and which body was a sudra’s body? Our skeletons will be the same, so please tell me: is my body untouchable?
“If not, then is my soul untouchable? And you are the man who has been teaching that godliness is in everybody’s soul – is it more in you and less in me? Is there some difference of quantity or quality? Or does it exist only in you, and in me there is no godliness no satchitanand, no truth, no consciousness, no bliss? And remember, you are standing near the Ganges and the sun is rising. Don’t lie! And this is not a philosophical discussion; it is a question of my life and death.”
Shankaracharya moved all around the country, winning great debates with great scholars, but he remained silent before this sudra. His question was very simple: Bodies are bodies, made of the same stuff, and consciousness is consciousness, made of the same stuff. Where is the distinction?
Seeing Shankaracharya silent he said, “If you have understood me, then just go back, no need to take another bath. If you take another bath – then answer my question!”