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Sacred Texts: The Crest Jewel of Wisdom Part 1

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    The Crest Jewel of Wisdom

    Attributed to Shankara Acharya

    Translated by Charles Johnston

    To Him I make obeisance, who is the end of all wisdom, the goal of all attainment, the unseen Lord of the flock, the supreme bliss, the good Master.

    For living beings, human birth is hard to gain, then manhood, then holiness; harder is perfection in the path of the law of wisdom; hardest to gain is illumination. Discernment between the Divine Self and that which is not the Self, fully realized union with the Eternal Self, liberation—this is not to be attained without holiness perfected through a hundred myriad lives.

    These three things, hard to gain, come only through divine grace: manhood, desire for liberation, access to Masters.

    Gaining at length human life, hard to win, and manhood, and an understanding of the revealed teachings, he who strives not for liberation in the Divine Self, deluded in heart, self-destroying, slays himself through grasping at the unreal.

    Who, then, is the very self of folly but he who, deluded, follows selfish purposes, after he has gained a human body and manhood hard to win? (5)

    Even though they recite the scriptures, and sacrifice to the gods, and fulfill all works, and worship the divinities—without awakening to the unity of the Divine Self, liberation is not attained even in a hundred æons.

    For the scripture says that there is no hope of immortality through riches, therefore it is clear that ritual works are not the cause of liberation.

    Therefore let the wise man strive hard for liberation, renouncing the lure of happiness in external things. Let him draw near to a Master, good and great, fixing his whole soul on the purpose of the Master’s teaching.

    Let him through the Divine Self raise up that self of his which is sunk in the ocean of recurring life and death, firmly practising uplifting through union, with steadfast vision of the One.

    Seeking freedom from bondage to the world through renunciation in all works, let the wise strive who have learned the teaching, pressing toward the Divine Self. (10)

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Sacred Texts: The Crest Jewel of Wisdom Part 1

  • ModeratorTN

    Sri Sankaracharya

    Translation by Swami Madhavananda

    1. I bow to Govinda, whose nature is Bliss Supreme, who is the Sadguru, who can be known only from the import of all Vedanta, and who is beyond the reach of speech and mind.

    2. For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so is a male body; rarer than that is Brahmanahood; rarer still is the attachment to the path of Vedic religion; higher than this is erudition in the scriptures; discrimination between the Self and not-Self, Realisation, and continuing in a state of identity with Brahman – these come next in order. (This kind of) Mukti (Liberation) is not to be attained except through the well-earned merits of a hundred crore of births.

    3. These are three things which are rare indeed and are due to the grace of God – namely, a human birth, the longing for Liberation, and the protecting care of a perfected sage.

    4. The man who, having by some means obtained a human birth, with a male body and mastery of the Vedas to boot, is foolish enough not to exert himself for self-liberation, verily commits suicide, for he kills himself by clinging to things unreal.

    5. What greater fool is there than the man who having obtained a rare human body, and a masculine body too, neglects to achieve the real end of this life?

    6. Let people quote the Scriptures and sacrifice to the gods, let them perform rituals and worship the deities, but there is no Liberation without the realisation of one’s identity with the Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas put together.

    7. There is no hope of immortality by means of riches – such indeed is the declaration of the Vedas. Hence it is clear that works cannot be the cause of Liberation.

    8. Therefore the man of learning should strive his best for Liberation, having renounced his desire for pleasures from external objects, duly approaching a good and generous preceptor, and fixing his mind on the truth inculcated by him.

    9. Having attained the Yogarudha state, one should recover oneself, immersed in the sea of birth and death by means of devotion to right discrimination.

    10. Let the wise and erudite man, having commenced the practice of the realisation of the Atman give up all works and try to cut loose the bonds of birth and death.

  • Gerry Kiffe
    Gerry Kiffe

    Shankaracharya says: Even though they recite the scriptures, and sacrifice to the gods, and fulfill all works, and worship the divinities—without awakening to the unity of the Divine Self, liberation is not attained even in a hundred æons.

    Would it be fair to say that one way to take this is : Until we begin to incrementally transform our sense of Self, what we identify with, all the rituals and all the religious practices in the world will not help us.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 4 weeks ago by  Gerry Kiffe.

    • Garo Ketchian
      Garo Ketchian

      In many ways people are like children. We play the game of pretend and we invent methods to avoid confronting the truth. Priestly rituals give rise to vanity and are an escape from direct confrontation of the truth. Furthermore they lead to a decrease in self-reliance, and a desire to seek praise and reward.

      The Crest Jewel of Wisdom in these lines address the importance of casting out superficiality and coming to a realization of what we are and what we are not. The statements are direct with no hint of weakness in any way.

      Now in the world of today we are confronted with the illusion of separation. Everywhere we look people seem to be driven by the illusion of separation. Here in these beautiful lines we can see the wisdom and the blessing of finding the unity of the Divine Self.

    • Peter

      Hi Gerry – that’s an interesing question. One of the recurring themes we find in Advaita and in Shankaracharya’s commentaries is that karma (action) does not bring about Liberation or Moksha. The fundamental tenet of Advaita is that the supreme Brahman (Parabrahm) or One Reality is non-dual, hence the term advaita (‘not two’). Separateness, duality, subject and object, individual soul as distinct from Brahman & so on may be the way things appear but they are not the way things truly are. All is Brahman. The Self or Atman is not other than Brahman; there is no ‘other’. Hence the phrase often used to refer to Atman/Brahman – ‘there is nothing for it to know and no one to know it.’ Awakening to Reality comes from the removal of Ignorance. Knowledge ( jnana ) alone destroys ignorance. Karma, works such as those described in the passage you quoted, is important for purifying the mind (citta-suddhi) but only Jnana leads to realisation of the Self as Brahman, according to Advaita tradition.

      Karma is about cause and effect and involves ‘a doer’ (separate ego). For as long as we identify with being a ‘doer’ we are still clouded by ignorance. Karma, even good karma, produces a chain of cause and effect and thus birth in future cycles, reincarnations, for the doer. According to Advaita, as a result of following the scriptures, sacrificing to the gods, worshipping divinities etc etc one may spend many aeons in bliss in the higher realms, but this isn’t liberation. Once the ‘energy’ of that karma has run its course the ‘ego’ is drawn back into cycle of birth and death once again. In other words “Even though” these may be good acts etc etc.

      The paradox appears to be that we already are what we seek. Jnana reveals it. The advaitee may well assert that Liberation is non other than the Self (Atman). It is our true nature; it is not something we produce, get, acquire or become. Action and works (karma) don’t affect it, lead to it or produce it.

      HPB implies something similar in her article ‘On the Mystery of the Buddha’ when she says that nothing goes into Nirvana that isn’t there already (It’s in CW XIV but I can’t put my finger on the exact reference page at present).

      The buddhists of the mahayana school have a prayer which also appears to resonates with the above:
      ‘Here there is nothing to remove and nothing to add;
      the one who realises the truth of this is liberated.’

      There’s also a statement about Karma and the Monad in the Key to Theosophy that appears to accord with the Advaita doctrine:

      ‘Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma..’ (Key to Theo, p135 original ed)


      • Gerry Kiffe
        Gerry Kiffe

        It is a great challenge to change or evolve one’s sense of self. The more we study the more it becomes apparent that the self we ordinarily identify with is so very ephemeral. The teachings invite us to draw inwards and perhaps by so doing we “draw a larger circle”. People inherently seek to become part of something larger than themselves. Family, nationality, race all become identifiers.

        What are some ways students can loosen the hold of a lesser sense of self?

      • barbara

        Hello Peter,

        This is a very nice description of the Advaita philosophy! It would seem that even though we are essentially Brahmin according to the non-dual teaching, we still need to recognize and start with our present state of illusory reality. This is the first step to Truth. It is of little use to inform one who is deep asleep that s/he is the ruler of a kingdom. One still has to go through the process of awakening.

        You highlighted a significant point about karma. Good thoughts leading to good deeds can produce favorable conditions, like securing strong and refined vehicles, agreeable surroundings, and general positive circumstances, but good actions do not free us from illusions; it is only through Jnana (or knowledge) which has the power to burn through the veils of ignorance, the cause of suffering.

      • Jon Fergus
        Jon Fergus

        I tend to think that this advaita approach, while going straight to the heart of the matter, can often be interpreted in such a way that the individual ends up stationary and not taking the steps necessary to reach the point at which jnana can overcome ignorance, if they hold too strongly to the idea that nothing other than jnana is necessary. It’s like the story “The Alchemist”… where the individual goes on a long and winding journey where he learns many things, only to eventually realize that the treasure he sought was right where he had begun, and is found only after returning home. The question is: would said individual have been able to find the treasure had they never gone on the journey? Would they have even known what to look for, or even that they ought to be looking for a treasure?

        Would one ever get to a place where they can remove the fundamental ignorance that blinds us to our true reality if one did not practice those things which are part of the journey: good deeds, study, sacrifice, etc. I feel that many people interpret the advaita teaching in such a way that they end up avoiding major aspects of the journey altogether, thinking to themselves that all they need to do is be less ignorant, or all they need to do is meditate deep enough, and so on, but… well, we wouldn’t even have a mind capable of such thoughts had we not evolved over time through karma. Take the wandering sadhus of India as an example of the idea that one need not engage in the journey, but merely work inwardly (one noted in the Mahatma letters, if memory serves me, as being a life of error).

        So I think we can certainly say that karma doesn’t directly lead to the revelation of our true reality, but without it I’m not sure it is possible (like you say, Peter, it is necessary to purify the mind; and I suspect necessary for much more than only that). Especially if we think of karma in its relation to longer term evolution of our being… surely there is a path or process we must go through in order to be capable of self-consciously realizing our true nature, which path is composed of many descending and ascending arcs on many levels of our being, individually and collectively, before we will have gained a vehicle complex enough to be capable of producing the self-conscious states necessary to climb the ladder to a higher realization of our self (the ladder of the jhanas, for instance). I suppose we might say, that jnana is only possible through a vehicle capable of that function, and thus the development of said vehicle (with the inevitable karma that comes with that development) is a prerequisite to it. In this sense, jnana is but the final step on a long journey. What do others think of this?

  • barbara

    Hi Gerry,

    Your question – what are some ways students can loosen the hold of a lesser sense of self – is the essence of transformation. As you mentioned, our identity is very fluid. When we are reading a book, we are lost in its contents. When we engage in a conversation, we are lost in the ideas. When we study a worksheet, we are lost in the numbers. We seek to build relations with others, be it friends, families, or associates, to fortify a sense of belonging and connectivity. We join clubs and groups to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Yet, our sense of “separate self” always returns.

    Perhaps, one of the ways to loosen this sense of separateness is to follow one the laws of Nature – the law of attraction and repulsion. At present most of us are enslaved by our lower emotions (or kama). If one learns to be indifferent to the ephemeral emotions and wants and strengthens one’s dedication to Truth, the force of attraction would uplift oneself. Whenever one reacts and swayed by waves of unbecoming emotions, one can choose to observe, not identify with the kamic substances, and examine the root cause. This practice becomes a habit over time and many of the lower emotions will eventually atrophy.

    This seems to be an effective application of the law of attraction and repulsion – to be drawn by the higher and to be unmoved by the lower, to be pulled by the refined and numb to the coarse. This process of refinement already exists in many lives when we look at how our taste has changed in many things; what once was an appealing entertainment, now we find it tasteless, what once was a boring book, now we find it meaningful.

    Growth is a gradual process, always flowing from within without. One becomes more captivated by the invisible principles and less by the visible forms. As the lower emotions are transmuted into virtues, the solar plexus becomes placid and the ego attenuated, allowing for more empathy toward others and better clarity of mind. One realizes the degree of the turbulence of kama has clouded one’s perception.

    It is interesting to note that the sense of self is intimately connected with the physical vehicle. When one says I, one is pointing in relation to the physical body. The path of transformation from self to SELF draws finer particles into one’s system activating the subtle currents to pull upwards. As one’s consciousness and subtle forces rise upwards due to the law of attraction, there is a loosening of this sense of self that is closely intertwined with the physical shell. One resonates more with the Whole and expands to the “larger circle”. Increasingly, the personal ego feels too small and too limited to contain this sense of the Whole and the I-me-mine – recedes into the background.

  • barbara

    Hi Jon,

    In my view, I don’t think the point is that the other aspects, like study, service, and character building, are not necessary. They are different limbs of a whole. However, it is Jnana that has the key to open the door to Wisdom. Without purity of character, it is impossible to obtain this key.

    A good person may not necessarily be a spiritual person, but a spiritual person has to be a good person as well. Similarly, one who focusses solely on good deeds may not have “soul knowledge”, but a jnana student has to do good deeds, serve others, practice the paraamitas and the Eightfold Path.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by  barbara.

  • ModeratorTN

    Works make for the cleansing of the heart, but not for the attaining of the Real; the gaining of the Real comes through discernment—not even by myriads of works is it gained.

    Through discernment of the Real it is perceived that the imagined serpent is only a rope; and thus the painful fear of the great serpent, conjured up by illusion, is finally destroyed.

    The certain knowledge of the goal comes only through discernment awakened by right teaching, not through ablutions or gifts or a myriad retentions of the breath.

    The gaining of the fruit is the reward only of him who possesses the qualifications; circumstances, such as place and time, merely co-operate in the result.

    Therefore, let him who would know the Real practise discernment, finding a Master who is a river of compassion, an excellent knower of the Eternal. (15)

    Translated by Charles Johnston

  • ModeratorTN

    Next Section:

    He who is full of intelligence, illuminated, skilled in knowledge and wisdom, is fitted to teach the wisdom of the Divine Self; he wears the immemorial hall-mark.

    And he is fitted to seek the Eternal, who has discernment, freedom from self-indulgence, quietude and the other virtues, and who ardently desires liberation.

    Here four qualifications are enumerated by those possessing wisdom. Where they are present, there is a firm foothold in the Real: where they are absent, there is failure.

    First is counted Discernment (viveka) between the Eternal and the non-eternal. This is followed by freedom from self-indulgence in the fruits of works. Then come the six virtues beginning with quietude. Then the ardent desire for liberation.

    The Divine Eternal is real, the world is illusion: a complete certainty of this is declared to be Discernment between the Eternal and the non-eternal. (20)

  • ModeratorTN

    Next Section Translated by Charles Johnston

    Freedom from self-indulgence (virâga) is a surrender of the allurement of the eyes, the ears, and all the senses; a surrender of the allurement of all non-eternal things from the body up to the Formative Power, continually made through a realization of the faultiness of all objective things.

    Quietude (shama) is the holding of mind and heart steadily on the goal. Control (dama) is the mastering of the powers of perception and action, stopping each in its runaway course.

    The excellent Cessation (uparati) is the condition of refusing to lean on external things. Endurance (titikshâ) is the bearing of all pains without rebelling against them, unconcerned and unlamenting.

    Faith (shraddhâ) is the firm conviction of the truth of the teaching and the word of the Master. Through this faith, the righteous say that the Real is won.

    Concentration (samâdhâna) is the continual staying of the soul in the pure Eternal at all times, and not the caressing of imaginations.

    The ardent Desire for Liberation (mumukshutva) is the will to be rid of all the fetters forged by unwisdom, beginning with self-reference and ending with the body, through discernment of the real nature of the Divine Self.

    Where this is present even in a weak or moderate degree, increasing through ceasing from self-indulgence, through quietude and the other virtues, and through the grace of the Master, it will bear fruit.

    In him who has conquered self-indulgence, in whom the desire for liberation is full of fire, quietude and the other virtues are fruitful and attain the goal. (30)

  • ModeratorTN

    Where self-indulgence is unconquered, and the desire for liberation is weak, quietude and the other virtues are an illusion, like the mirage in the desert.

    Among all means of liberation, devotion, verily, is the most potent. The fixing of the heart on the true being of the Divine Self is declared to be devotion.

    Others say that devotion is the fixing of the heart on one’s own real Self. He who has attained to the qualifications already described is fitted to discern the real being of the Self.

    Let him draw near to a Teacher who has attained to wisdom, from whom liberation from bondage may be learned, one who knows the holy teaching, who is perfect in purity, who is not moved by desire, who is wise in the wisdom of the Eternal;

    Who has entered into rest in the Eternal, who has won the great peace, like the flame when the fuel is consumed, who is an ocean of compassion that seeks no return, the friend of all who appeal for help. (35)

© 2017 Universal Theosophy

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