This will be the third and final case study in our exploration of "The Self". Having explored the concept in general, followed by case studies from The Voice of the Silence and The Bhagavad Gita, we will now take up two related selections from the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, by Sankaracharya. Any and all thoughts are welcome and are sure to be helpful to other students. Please share. :)


But I shall declare to you the own being of the Self supreme, knowing which a man, freed from his bonds, reaches the lonely purity.
There is a certain selfhood wherein the sense of “I” forever rests; who witnesses the three modes of being, who is other than the five veils; who is the only knower in waking, dreaming, dreamlessness; of all the activities of the knowing soul, whether good or bad–this is the “I”.


When the five veils are taken away, according to inference and scripture, what remains after they are taken away is the Witness, in a form born of awakening.
This is the Self, self-shining, distinguished from the five veils; this is the Witness in the three modes of perceiving, without change, without stain. The wise should know it as Being and Bliss, as his own Self.



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What does it mean to be "the Witness"? And does this differ from what we might call "the Doer" or "the Actor"?


Can the Witness play a role in action?


As long as they are acting as one, the 'witness' and the actor, in my limited view, seem to be but aspects of the one, and if seperating them, then "I" am watching "i" act, and it might have more purpose or be more beneficial for all that "I AM acting"


Sankaracharya says that the wise should know the Self as Being and Bliss. What is meant here by "bliss" and how might it differ from what we'd commonly call 'happiness'? What does it mean that the Self is Bliss?


As no one else has responded to this, here are a few thoughts.  The view of Advaita is that Atman is Brahman.  The nature of Atman/Brahman is Existence (sat), Consciousness (cit), Bliss (ananda) - satchitananda.    These are not attributes of Brahman, they are indicative of what Brahman IS.  

SAT:   Brahman is not something that exists.  It is Existence itself. It is the everpresent IS-ness of everything.  Hence the statement that ALL is Brahman.  It is that which IS throughout the three times - past, present and future.  (Since the definition of ’self’ is used here to mean, ‘that which something truly is’ it can be asserted that Atman (the Self) is none other than Brahman.)

CIT:   this is defined as jnana svarupa, the nature of knowledge.  To put it another way, it is the nature of consciousness, the essence of knowledge.  Nothing can be known without consciousness. It is that which illumines everything and which is self-shining.  It needs no external light to illumine it, just as a candle is not needed to illumine the sun.  Consciousness is not something that Brahman has, consciousness is what it IS.  All the vehicles of consciousness are inert, insentient; whatever light or illumination they cast on the world comes only from Brahman.

ANANDA:  bliss.  The nature of the Self (Atman, Brahman) is bliss.  It is not something other than the Self which is experienced by the Self.   This bliss which is the Self is reflected in the anandamaya kosa (buddhi) which is the vehicle of bliss.   The advaitins assert that all our searches for joy and happiness in the world are merely our misguided attempts to find the bliss/happiness which is the Self.  In other words, vain attempts to find the Self in one distorted form or another. The gradations of happiness and joy we experience in the world do not lie in the objects of joy that we pursue but lie in ourselves.  The different types of happiness and joy we experience in the world are all modifications of the anandamaya kosa.    The closer (more subtle) the vehicle of consciousness to the Self, the clearer and more intense the experience of bliss.  However, even in the highest realms of the gods such bliss is limited.    The Self as Bliss is limitless (ananta).


Thanks Peter. Your two replies here help a great deal with our attempt to understand the Adwaita perspective of the Self.


Well, it's an Advaita text, attributed to Adi Sankara, so we need to at least appreciate what the verses might be saying from that perspective.  This might not be easy if we are not familiar with the work and with Advaita in general.  The name of the text in sanskrit is Vivekacudamani which is more accurately translated into english as 'The Crest Jewel of Discrimination'.   It contains around 525verses.  The whole work is about how to discriminate the real from the unreal and thus destroy ignorance and realise the Self.  Therefore it might not be easy to provide an simple answer to Jimmy's question about removing ignorance.

It would be the same if you offered us some verses from a buddhist text.  To do them justice we would need to get an appreciation of the meaning from that perspective before comparing it to theosophical tenets.   Otherwise it's very easy to impose our own understanding and theosophical definitions onto the text, which might not be what the author intended.


Hi Peter,

Is there a translation of "the Crest Jewel of Discrimination" that you recommend?



This isn't a substitute for Peter's response, but we have two translations available on Universal Theosophy. The one I've copied the above quotes from is the translation by Charles Johnston, who was an early Fellow of the Theosophical Society.


Hi Barbara,   there isn't any single translation I would recommend. I like to have more than one translation of these kinds of texts because, as we saw with previous examples, a simple change of emphasis in translation can give a different meaning.  Even if I could read sanskrit, which I can't, I would still consult a number of translations.  If we are not too familiar with advaita vedanta it can be helpful to have a translation with a commentary by a recognised advaita teacher.  Swami Chinmayananda gives a very thorough commentary in his translation "Vivekachoodamani".  Swami Dayanana Saraswati translates and provides an  excellent commentary and explanation on 108 selected verses from 'Vivekacudamani'.  

Should anyone wish to read an introduction to Advaita, I would recommend Sankara's  "Self Knowledge" (AtmaBodha) translated by Swami Nikhilananda. The Swami provides a very thorough and readable introduction to Advaita in that edition.


Hi Peter,

Thanks for sharing this wisdom of the Advaitas.

Could 'The Crest Jewel of Discrimination' be considered text, per se, of the 'Great Sifter' as well? I'm not familiar yet with Advaita perspectives, just what you have shared, and it seems I can relate to it thinking of the term used in Voice of the Silence. As discriminating or sifting through the real and the unreal seems to me, to be flexible within eachother.


The 'Great Sifter' seems very relevant indeed, Sharisse.  Your intuition brings us back to the image of the Great Bird, which came up in our previous case study.  For discriminative wisdom is symbolised by the Great Bird (Hansa, a goose or swan).  In the Secret Doctrine, HPB has this to say about it:

" [Hansa] is a fabulous bird, which, when given milk mixed with water for its food (in the allegory) separated the two, drinking the milk and leaving the water; thus showing inherent wisdom - milk standing symbolically for spirit, and water for matter."    SD I 79

There is also an esoteric meaning to Kala-Hansa, as 'the swan out of time and space' (see Voice of the Silence, glossary to Part 1, no 16).   This fits with the image of the Enlightened One, the Sage, reposing between the wings of that Great Bird.  The result, perhaps, of that discriminative wisdom.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on January 27, 2013 at 10:32am

Thank you for this, I went back and read Part 1, no 16 and funny thing, I was actually reading part II no.16, before I realized it, but in doing that err, it showed me also the relation of The Enlightened One, and Kala-Hansa.

Shortly after I was reading about Hansa and a-ham-sa in the SD, Di brought that up in the last case study about Hansa, and the symbolism of the Great Bird. And as Kalahansa, the emanated 'Darkness'- for our human intellect. I can see the relation, with the Enlightened One.

Question though, Would Brahma descend through the hierarchies into the Swan in Time, just as the Enlightened One comes out of solitude to teach mankind? Or is it Brahma has no hierarchies, because of Brahma's 'higher service'?

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 29, 2013 at 6:19am

I'm not sure, Sharisse.  Kalahansa is referred to as both 'the Swan in Time' and 'the Swan out of Time'.  So at one level it might just portray 'the Days and Nights of Brahma' - i.e. universal periods of activity and rest.  At another level, 'the Swan out of Time' might stand for the first (unmanifested) Logos, of which the manifested Logos (the Swan in Time) is the vehicle  (i.e the vehicle of its ray). 

Atma in the human constitution corresponds with the unmanifested Logos at the cosmic level.  So the reference to the enlightened being resting between the wings of the Great Bird is suggestive of the Adept merging his principles (to use the wrong phrase, I think) into  the highest - Atma.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on February 1, 2013 at 8:35pm

My apologies for the late reply Peter.

I have no idea either, and my curiosity is probably going to get the best of me, some day :). And again I was probably perceiving the 'Swan in and out of time' differently as well. Thank you for your patience with my question.  

So the reference to the enlightened being resting between the wings of the Great Bird is suggestive of the Adept merging his principles (to use the wrong phrase, I think) into  the highest - Atma.

I see the flexibility with using principles, it's more than just the lower self, there is everything in between also, that needs to merge. I am not sure how to phrase it. And the way you phrased it made sense to me, thank you.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on January 25, 2013 at 6:32pm

In my limited view, before Peter's reply :), I was applying this to certain experiences I had to better understand it. Happiness is an 'e-motion,' which can cause re-actions and inevitably comes to an end. Where 'bliss' is the state of non e-motion, no action, no re-action, eternal within the Self, and no end. I have heard that in being there is room for both, otherwise how could we be compassionate towards others?

As far as the Self is Bliss, I was viewing, before Peter's reply, that the Self is both being and bliss, but since I do not know Advaita text at all, I need to see this a different way, as they are not aspects.  

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 25, 2013 at 7:18pm

Thanks Sharisse. I think you make a very good point in how you contrasted happiness and bliss with reference to emotion, particularly in the idea of action/reaction. I suppose if we see the Self as beginningless and endless and not subject to the fleeting, transitional nature of things, then we would need to see bliss as itself being unchanging. Perhaps we can imagine it (in our own limited way) as being an ideal state of supreme or ultimate rest (not caught up in action/reaction), which would be supreme peace (another word used to describe Self in the Crest-Jewel), and bliss would certainly seem like a good term for such a state (if it can be called a state).

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on January 25, 2013 at 10:15pm

if it can be called a state

I was thinking the same, and really didn't know how else to describe it. Supreme peace is wonderful! I do see (in my limited way) as a sort of ultimate rest. I might not be able to get beyond my mind, or even to complete quietness of it yet, but when I have the free time the more effort I make towards that, the level of stillness I can get to, sure is bliss at that stage, for me. I know it's nowhere near the level that we are all talking about, but its a start.

I was also corresponding what Peter was sharing towards Universals to Particulars, and understood (as limited as I could)what was being shared, e.g. as I was thinking being and bliss were but aspects or attributes, they are just the particulars and not the whole. Where the whole reveals the parts, not the other way around. So the Self, being and bliss are a unity, One, IS. This is just one way I can relate, right now, to what he was sharing. 

Permalink Reply by barbaram on January 26, 2013 at 12:46pm

Adding some the thoughts to the topic bliss –

We feel happy when something good happens to us.  This reaction to the external environment activates our solar plexus and produces a pleasant feeling which we called happiness.   Joy, a very faint shadow of bliss, flows from the heart and may or may not have anything to do with any external circumstances.  It is an internal current flowing from within to without.  We are in touch with it sporadically.   I would imagine bliss is electric, all encompassing and stirs the head centers.  This trinity, happiness – joy - bliss may be related.   As we develop, we move from feelings to emotions to being.    

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 26, 2013 at 12:34pm

Sharisse - With regards to your second paragraph re 'being and bliss', I'm not sure why you think you might be incorrect.  If we substitute the term 'existence' for being, then the Self as 'Sat-cit' (existence-bliss)  seems in accord with the Advaita viewpoint.

The other issue where I believe you are in accord with Advaita is that emotions are states of consciousness which come and go whereas the Self is not a state of consciousness, it IS  consciousness which IS undying Bliss, according to the advaitees.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on January 27, 2013 at 9:39am

Hi Peter,

I'm still learning to trust myself. When I was reading what you wrote about Sat-Cit-Ananda, I just got a bit confused on the Sat-Cit, probably more because the way I was perceiving it. Not in unity but as attributes. I couldn't quite grasp it until I viewed it another way as in a Universal. And this is even better:

emotions are states of consciousness which come and go whereas the Self is not a state

The emotions are the state of consciousness, and the Self is not a state. I was pondering on what to call bliss in relation to what I was saying with emotion being an action and bliss non action. Thank you for your help on this!


Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 31, 2013 at 12:20am

Sharisse one thing to keep in mind.  There are six schools of philosophy in Hinduism.  Advaita is one of them.  Theosophy, being the Source, is said to be the synthesis of all six.  The seventh you might say.  Learning the ins and outs of the six schools offers us glimpses of the seventh, but no more.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on February 1, 2013 at 7:56pm

Thank you Gerry, this is good to know!

I was saying earlier in this that I didn't know anything of the Advaita. A lot to learn on my end, slowly but surely. :)

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 24, 2013 at 1:07pm

'There is a certain selfhood wherein the sense of “I” forever rests; who witnesses the three modes of being, who is other than the five veils; who is the only knower in waking, dreaming, dreamlessness; of all the activities of the knowing soul, whether good or bad–this is the “I”.'


Jon, Sankara is expounding the view of Advaita in these verses from Vivekachudamini, and which doesn't always translate straight across to theosophical doctrines. To witness means 'to know'. Only awareness or consciousness has the power of knowing. Atma is pure consciousness, pure awareness. Atman is the Knower.

In advaita the five veils are insentient (prakriti) and any sentience that may be associated with them is derived solely from Atma which is the substratum of everything. The five veils (sheaths) which cover the Atman are the annamayakosa, pranamayakosa, anomayakosa, vignanamaykosa and anandamayakosa.

The three states of experience (3 modes of being) are waking, dreaming, and deep (dreamless) sleep. The three bases (upadhis) of these experiential states are the sthulopadhi, sukshmopadi and karanopadhi. These are set out in the diagram on SD I 157 at the end of this message.

The question here is, 'if Atman is one with Brahman and thus one-without-a-second, how can it be a witness or experiencer of anything?' One view is that through ignorance (avidya) consciousness becomes identified with the vehicles (upadhi, adjunct) through which it manifests. When the light of consciousness (Atma) is reflected in or energises the mind, the mind has the power of cognition. It is the mind that cognises the world (subtle and gross) via the sense organs. (In Advaita the sense organs have their base in the subtle body, not the physical sheath).

It is from this mind, reflecting the light of Atma, that the 'I thought' arises i.e. the sense of an 'I', an ego, experienced as separate from others, separate even from its own source, Atma. It is this mind, as the 'I thought', that is the experiencer of the three states and which regards itself as the doer of actions.

We have to remember that for Advaita the mind, along with all the kosas, is insentient. Whatever consciousness it exhibits in the form of mental cognition is derived from Atma alone. The Atman is the true Self, the core of awareness at the heart of every being. Hence it is sometimes referred to as the Seer of seeing.

Therefore, the 'I' has both an authentic and an inauthentic aspect. The authentic aspect is the pure awareness-consciousness which is Atma; the inauthentic aspect is the illusory 'I thought' added by the mind due to ignorance. It is only in relation to that authentic aspect that 'I am Brahman' is true and this is to be realised through removing the ignorance generated by the mind. But it means the true Self is not some where other to be search for and found. It is at the heart of all our experiencing our sense of existing. It is the very core of our existence and is existence itself.

The above is very truncated version of a profound, subtle and complex doctrine and therefore does it an injustice. Hopefully it throws a small amount of light on that verse.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on January 24, 2013 at 7:34pm
How do we remove ignorance? Is ignorance just a matter of misplaced identification, i.e. identifying with mind rather than Atma?
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 25, 2013 at 12:09pm

Well, this is sure a core question! It seems to me that it's less that we're identifiedwith the mind, but that through the action of the mind we become identified with transistory things, or rather, that we conjure up a mistaken notion of the Self. Through the action of the mind arises the idea that the Self is 'some thing', and so we go looking for some thing, whereas the Self is actually the underlying consciousness behind that which is looking, and so it is never found through this kind of 'looking'.

Here's a bit more from the same text (Crest-Jewel of Wisdom):

Consciousness, eternal, non-dual, partless, uniform, witness of intellect and the rest, different from existent and non-existent; its real meaning is the idea of “I”; a union of being and bliss–this is the higher Self.

He who thus understands, discerning the real from the unreal, ascertaining reality by his own awakened vision, knowing his own Self as partless awakening, freed from these things reaches peace in the Self.

Then melts the heart’s knot of unwisdom without residue, when, through the ecstasy in which there is no doubt, arises the vision of the non-dual Self.

Through the mind’s fault are built the thoughts of thou and I and this, in the supreme Self which is non-dual, and beyond which there is nothing; but when ecstasy is reached, all his doubts melt away through apprehension of the real.

Peaceful, controlled, possessing the supreme cessation, perfect in endurance, entering into lasting ecstasy, the ascetic makes the being of the All-self his own; thereby burning up perfectly the doubts that are born of the darkness of unwisdom, he dwells in bliss in the form of the Eternal, without deed or doubt.

I'd love to hear other perspectives on this question, if anyone has any thoughts...

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 31, 2013 at 12:16am

Well I would not be too quick to say "just" anything.  Given that it will take many many lifetimes to correct the identification problem.  In the SD HPB tells us that this will occur through self-devised efforts that will create innumerable progressive awakening.  Sorry Jimmy we are just getting our boat out of the docks!