The Essence of the Teaching
Being an Original Translation from the Sanskrit work,
entitled Vakya Sudha, or Bala Bodhani, ascribed to Shankara Acharya.
Theosophy, July 1897
SEER AND SEEN
The form is seen, the eye is seer; the mind is both seen and seer. The changing moods of mind are seen, but the witnessing Self, the seer, is never seen.
The eye, remaining one, beholds varying forms; as, blue and yellow, coarse and fine, short and long; and differences such as these. The mind, remaining one, forms definite intentions, even while the character of the eye varies, as in blindness, dullness, or keen-sightedness; and this holds also of hearing and touch.
The conscious Self, remaining one, shines on all the moods of mind: on desire, determination, doubt, faith, unfaith, firmness and the lack of it, shame, insight, fear, and such as these.
This conscious Self rises not, nor has its setting, nor does it come to wax or wane; unhelped, it shines itself, and illumines others also. (5)
THE PERSONAL IDEA.
This illumining comes when the ray of consciousness enters the thinking mind; and the thinking mind itself is of twofold nature. The one part of it is the personal idea; the other part is mental action.
The ray of consciousness and the personal idea are blended together, like the heat and the hot iron ball. As the personal idea identifies itself with the body, it brings that also a sense of consciousness.
The personal idea is blended with the ray of consciousness, the body, and the witnessing Self, respectively,—through the action of innate necessity, of works, and of delusion.
Since the two are bound up together, the innate blending of the personal idea with the ray of consciousness never ceases; but its blending with the body ceases, when the works wear out; and with the witnessing Self, through illumination.
When the personal idea melts away in deep sleep, the body also loses its sense of consciousness. The personal idea is only half expanded in dream, while in waking it is complete. (10)
The power of mental action, when the ray of consciousness has entered into union with it, builds up mind-images in the dream-state; and external objects, in the waking state.
The personal form, thus brought into being by the personal idea and mental action, is of itself quite lifeless. It appears in the three modes of consciousness; it is born, and so also dies.
THE POWERS OF GLAMOR.
For the world-glamor has two powers,—extension and limitation, or enveloping. The power of extension brings into manifestation the whole world, from the personal form to the universal cosmos.
This manifesting is an attributing of name and form to the Reality—which is Being, Consciousness, Bliss, the Eternal; it is like foam on the water.
The inner division between the seer and the seen, and the outer division between the Eternal and the world, are concealed by the other power, limitation; and this also is the cause of the cycle of birth and death. (15)
The light of the witnessing Self is united with the personal form; from this entering in of the ray of consciousness arises the habitual life,—the ordinary self.
The isolated existence of the ordinary self is attributed to the witnessing Self, and appears to belong to it; but when the power of limitation is destroyed, and the difference appears, the sense of isolation in the Self vanishes away.
It is the same power which conceals the difference between the Eternal and the visible world; and, by its power, the Eternal appears subject to change.
But when this power of limitation is destroyed, the difference between the Eternal and the visible world becomes clear; change belongs to the visible world, and by no means to the Eternal.
The five elements of existence are these: being, shining, enjoying, form and name; the three first belong to the nature of the Eternal; the last two, to the nature of the visible world. (20)
In the elements,—ether, air, fire, water, earth; in creatures,—gods, animals, and men, Being, Consciousness, Bliss are undivided; the division is only of name and form.
SIX STEPS OF SOUL VISION.
Therefore setting aside this division through name and form, and concentrating himself on Being, Consciousness, Bliss, which are undivided, let him follow after soul-vision perpetually, first inwardly in the heart, and then in outward things also.
Soul-vision is either fluctuating or unwavering; this is its twofold division in the heart. Fluctuating soul-vision is again twofold: it may consist either in things seen or heard.
This is the fluctuating soul-vision which consists in things seen: a meditating on consciousness as being merely the witness of the desires and passions that fill the mind.
This is the fluctuating soul-vision which consists in things heard: the constant thought that “I am the self, which is unattached, Being, Consciousness, Bliss, self-shining, secondless.” (25)
The forgetting of all images and words, through entering into the bliss of direct experience,—this is unwavering soul-vision, like a lamp set in a windless place.
Then, corresponding to the first, there is the soul-vision which strips off name and form from the element of pure Being, in everything whatever; now accomplished outwardly, as it was before, in the heart.
And, corresponding to the second is the soul-vision which consists in the unbroken thought, that the Real is a single undivided Essence, whose character is Being, Consciousness, Bliss.
Corresponding to the former third, is that steady being, is the tasting of this Essence for oneself. Let him fill the time by following out these, the six stages of soul-vision.
When the false conceit, that the body is the Self, falls away; when the Self supreme is known; then, whithersoever the mind is directed, there will the powers of soul-vision arise. (30)
The knot of the heart is loosed; all doubts are cut; all bondage to works wither away,—when That is known, which is the first and the last.
THE THREE SELVES.
The individual self appears in three degrees: as a limitation of the Self; as a ray of the conscious Self; and, thirdly, as the self imagined in dreams. The first alone is real.
For the limitation in the individual self is a mere imagination; and that which is supposed to be limited is the Reality. The idea of isolation in the individual self is only an error; but its identity with the Eternal is its real nature.
And that song they sang of ” That thou art” is for the first of these three selves alone; it only is one with the perfect Eternal, not the other selves.
The power of world-glamor, existing in the Eternal, has two-potencies: extension and limitation. Through the power of limitation, Glamor hides the undivided nature of the Eternal, and so builds up the images of the individual self and the world. (35)
The individual self which comes into being when the ray of consciousness enters the thinking mind, is the self that gains experience and performs works. The whole world, with all its elements and beings, is the object of its experience.
These two, the individual self and its world, were before time began; they last till Freedom comes, making up our habitual life. Hence they are called the habitual self and world.
In this ray of consciousness, the dream-power exists, with its-two potencies of extension and limitation. Through the power of limitation, it hides the former self and world, and so builds up a new self and a new world.
As this new self and world are real only so long as their appearance lasts, they are called the imaginary self and the imaginary world. For, when one has awakened from the dream, the dream existence never comes back again.
The imaginary self believes its imaginary world to be real; but the habitual self knows that world to be only mythical, as also is the imaginary self.
The habitual self looks on its habitual world as real; but the real Self knows that the habitual world is only mythical, as also is the habitual self.
The real Self knows its real oneness with the Eternal; it sees nothing but the Eternal, yet sees that what seemed the unreal is also the Self.
FREEDOM AND FINAL PEACE
As the sweetness, the flowing, and the coldness, that are the characteristics of the water, reappear in the wave, and so in the foam that crests the wave;
So, verily, the Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, of the witnessing Self enter into the habitual self that is bound up with it; and, by the door of the habitual self, enter into the imaginary self also.
But when the foam melts away, its flowing, sweetness, coldness, all sink back into the wave; and when the wave itself comes to rest, they sink back to the sea.
When the imaginary self melts away, its Being, Consciousness, Bliss sink back into the habitual self; and, when the habitual self comes to rest, they return to the Self supreme, the witness of all.
THE TEACHINGS OF SHANKARA
Tradition, our best guide in many of the dark problems of India’s past, attributes the admirable philosophical work we have just translated to Shankara Acharya, the greatest name in the history of Indian philosophy, and one of the greatest masters of pure thought the world has ever seen.
Shankara, again according to the tradition of the East, lived and taught some two thousand years ago, founding three colleges of Sanskrit learning and philosophy, the most important being at Shringeri, in southern India. He wrote Commentaries on the older Vedanta books, and many original works of great excellence, of which this is reckoned to be one.
Like all Shankara’s separate works, The Essence of the Teaching is complete in itself, containing a survey of the whole of life, from a single standpoint; in the present case, from the point of view of pure intellect.
The moral problem before us, is the liberation of our souls from the idea of personality; and the opening of the door to the life of the universal Self, which will enter our hearts, and rule them, once the personal idea is put out of the way. And there is no more potent weapon for combating the personal idea than the clear and lucid understanding that what we call our personality is, in reality, only one of many pictures in the mind, a picture of the body, held before our consciousness, viewed by it, and therefore external to it. If the personality is a picture in the field of consciousness, it cannot be consciousness itself; cannot be our real self; but must necessarily be unreal and transient.
We are the ray of consciousness, and not the image of the body which it lights up, and which, thus lit up, we call our personality. And here we come to one point of the highest interest, in the present work: its central ideas anticipate, almost in the same words, the most original teachings of German philosophy—the only representative of pure thought, in the modern world. Hence a right understanding of it will bridge over one of the chasms between the East and the West, the remote past and the life of to-day; thus showing, once more, that the mind of man is everywhere the same; that there is but one Soul making itself manifest throughout all history.
It may be enough, here, to point out that German philosophy,—the teaching of Kant, as developed by Schopenhauer,—regards each individual as a manifestation of the universal Will, a ray of that Will, fallen into manifestation, under the influence of the tendency called the will-towards-life.
This individualized ray of the universal Will, falling into the intellect, becomes thereby subject to the powers which make for manifestation, and which Kant analysed as Causality, Time, and Space. For Kant has shown, with admirable cogency and lucidity, that these so solid-seeming realities are not real at all, but were forms of our thought; mere figments of our intellects. What we call manifestation, Schopenhauer calls representation; and he has very fully developed the idea of the Universe as the resultant of the universal Will, manifested through these three forms of representation,—Causality, Time, and Space.
Now it is quite clear that he calls Universal Will what Shankara, following the Upanishads, calls the Eternal; and that the forms of Representation of Schopenhauer’s system, correspond to the World-glamor, or Maya, of Indian thought. And it is further clear that the will-toward-life, or desire for sensuous existence, of the one system, is very close to the personal idea, or egotism, of the other.
Whoever is acquainted with the two systems, can point out a further series of analogies; we shall content ourselves with alluding to one. Schopenhauer taught that our salvation lies in denying the personal and selfish will-toward-life, within ourselves, and allowing the Universal Will to supersede it;—the very teaching which lies at the heart of Indian thought: the supersession of the individual self by the Self universal, the Self of all beings.
To turn now from the purely intellectual, to the moral side of the matter. If we consider it well, and watch the working of the powers of life we find within us, we shall see that all our misery and futility come from this very source, the personal idea,—the vanity and selfishness of our own personalities, coming into strife with the equally vain and selfish personalities of others.
There is not an evil that cannot be traced to this fertile source. Sensuality, for example, with all its attendant crime and pain, is built on two forces, both springing from the personal idea: first, the desire for the stimulus of strong sensation, to keep the sense of the separate, isolated self keen and vivid; and then the vanity and foolish admiration of our personal selves, as possessors of such abundant means of gratification. Another evil, the lust of possessions, is of the same brood; and, curiously enough, the root of it is—fear; the cowering fear of the personal self, before the menacing forces of the world; the desperate, and,—infallible accompaniment of cowardice,—remorselessly cruel determination to build up a triple rampart of possessions between the personality and the mutability of things. The whole cause of the race for wealth, the cursed hunger of gold, is a fearful and poltroon longing for security, protection for the personal self; which, indeed, as a mere web of dreams and fancies, is in very bad need of protection.
The last evil, ambition, which is only vanity grown up, is so manifestly of the same color with the others that no special indication of the fact is needed. Thus we see what an immense part of human life, and that, the most futile and pitiable part of it, is built up on so slight a foundation: the wholly mythical personality, the web of dreams, the mere image of a body, itself unreal, which has usurped a sort of sovereignty over all the powers of our walls and minds.
The whole problem for us is this, and it is one that recurs in every moment of life: to disperse this web of dreams which we call our personality, and so to let the pure and universal Will pour into our hearts, to follow out its own excellent purposes, and manifest its own beneficent powers. And thus we shall, for the first time, enter into our inheritance; no longer as shadowy and malevolent sprites, raging between earth and heaven, a sorrow to the angels, a mockery to the fiends; but rather as undivided parts of the great soul of humanity; of that universal Self, whose own nature is perfect Being, perfect Consciousness, perfect Bliss.