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The Awakening to Reality


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Śankara's Catechism


IN the "Awakening to the Self," and, still more, in the, "Crest Jewel of Wisdom," Śankara the Teacher uses many words in a clear, precise, and consciously exact sense, which is not always to be gathered from the context of these two works. In the "Awakening to the Self," this is hardly an impediment, as the expression of this excellent poem is so perfect and universal; nor is there any great impediment in the first part of the "Crest Jewel of Wisdom," which has been translated under the title "First Steps on the Path." But further on in the "Crest Jewel," this is not the case. It becomes more strict and technical in meaning; and without precise definitions, much is hardly intelligible. But in the "Crest Jewel" itself these definitions are not always to be found. What is to be done then, if we really want to understand the Teacher precisely?

Happily Śankara has left us a Key in his own work, the "Awakening to Reality," where nearly every special word of his philosophy is exactly defined. We have only to try to find the best English translation of his definitions, and we shall have a clear clue and outline to the larger work, the "Crest Jewel," and, indeed, to the whole of Śankara's philosophy.

One thing must be remembered. This "Awakening to Reality" is what we have called it--a catechism. And in a catechism we can hardly expect the perfect

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poetical form and splendid imagery of works like the "Awakening to the Self." What we shall find, is lucidity, accuracy, grasp, coherence; but not poetical beauty. Thus is begun:



To the Master, the World-Soul, the Master of seekers for union, obeisance; to the teacher, the giver of wisdom. To fulfill love for those who would be free, this Awakening to Reality is addressed to them.


We shall tell of the way of discerning reality, the perfection of freedom, for those who are fitted by possessing the Four Perfections.

What are the Four Perfections?

--The Discerning between lasting and unlasting things; No Rage for enjoying the fruit of works, either here or there; the Six Graces that follow Peace; and then the Longing to be free.

What is the Discerning between lasting and unlasting things?

--The one lasting thing is the Eternal; all, apart from it, is unlasting.

What is No Rage?

--A lack of longing for enjoyments here and in the heaven-world.

What is possession of the Perfections that follow Peace?

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--Peace; Self-Control; Steadiness; Sturdiness; Confidence; Intentness.

What is Peace?

--A firm hold on emotion.

What is Self-Control?

--A firm hold on the lust of the eyes and the outward powers.

What is Steadiness?

--A following out of one's own genius.

What is Sturdiness?

--A readiness to bear opposing forces, like cold and heat, pleasure and pain.

What is Confidence?

--Confidence is a reliance on the Voice of the Teacher and Final Wisdom.

What is Intentness?

--One-pointedness of the imagination.

What is the Longing to be free?

--It is the longing: "That Freedom may be mine."


These are the Four Perfections. Through these, men are fitted to discern Reality.

What is the Discerning of Reality?

--It is this: the Self is real; other than it, all is fancy.


What is the Self?

--He who stands apart from the Physical, the Emotional, and the Causal Vestures; who is beyond the five

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[paragraph continues] Veils; who is witness of the three Modes; whose own nature is Being, Consciousness, Bliss--this is the Self.


What is the Physical Vesture?

--Being formed of the five creatures fivefolded, born through works, it is the house where opposing forces like pleasure and pain are enjoyed; having, these six accidents: it is, is born, grows, turns the corner, declines, perishes; such is the Physical Vesture.

What is the Emotional Vesture?

--Being formed of the five creatures not fivefolded, born through works, the perfection of the enjoyment of opposing forces like pleasure and pain, existing with its seventeen phases: the five powers of knowing; the five powers of doing; the five lives; emotion, one; the soul, one; this is the Emotional Vesture.

The five powers of knowing are: Hearing, Touch, Sight, Taste, Smell. Hearing's radiation is Space; Touch's, Air; Sight's, the Sun; Smell's, the Twin Physicians; these are the powers of knowing.

Hearing's business is the seizing of sounds; Touch's business, the seizing of contacts; Sight's business, the seizing of forms; Taste's business, the seizing of tastes; Smell's business, the seizing Of odors.

The five powers of doing are: Voice, Hands, Feet, Putting-forth, Generating. Voice's radiation is the Tongue of Flame; Hands', the Master; Feet's, the Pervader; Putting-forth's, Death; Generating's, the Lord

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of Beings; thus the radiations of the powers of doing. Voice's business is speaking; Hands' business is grasping things; Feet's business is going; Putting-forth's business is removing waste; Generating's business is physical enjoying.

What is the Causal Vesture?

--Being formed through ineffable, beginningless unwisdom, it is the Substance and Cause of the two Vestures; though unknowing as to its own nature, it is yet in nature unerring; this is the Causal Vesture.


What are the Three Modes?

--The Modes of Waking, Dreaming, Dreamlessness.

What is the Mode, Waking?

--It is where knowledge comes through Hearing and the other knowing powers, whose business is sound and the other perceptions; this is the Waking Mode.

When attributing itself to the Physical Vesture, the Self is called the Pervading.

Then what is the Mode, Dreaming?

--The world that presents itself in rest, generated by impressions of what has been seen and heard in the Mode, Waking, is the Mode, Dreaming.

When attributing itself to the Emotional Vesture, the Self is called the Radiant.

What then is the Mode, Dreamlessness?

--The sense that I perceive outwardly nothing at all, that rest is joyfully enjoyed by me, this is the Mode, Dreamlessness.

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When attributing itself to the Causal Vesture, the Self is called the Intuitional.


What are the Five Veils?

--The Food-formed; the Life-formed; the Emotion-formed; the Knowledge-formed; the Bliss-formed.

What is the Food-formed?

--Coming into being through the essence of food, getting its growth through the essence of food, in the food-formed world it is again dispersed, this is the Food-formed Veil--the Physical Vesture.

What is the Life-formed?

--The Forward-life and the four other Lives, Voice and the four other powers of doing; these are the Life-formed.

What is the Emotion-formed Veil?

--Emotion, joining itself to the five powers of knowing--this is the Emotion-formed Veil.

What is the Knowledge-formed?

--The Soul, joining itself to the five powers of knowing--this is the Knowledge-formed Veil.

What is the Bliss-formed?

--This verily is the Substance not quite pure because of the unwisdom that gives birth to the Causal Vesture; in it are founded all joys; this is the Bliss-formed Veil.

Thus the Five Veils.

By saying: "Mine are the lives; mine is emotion; mine is the soul; mine is the wisdom"; these are recognized as possessions, And just as a bracelet, a necklace,

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a house and such things separated from one's self, are recognized as possessions, so the Five Veils and the Vestures, recognized as possessions, are not the Self (the Possessor).

What then, is the Self?

--It is that whose own-nature is Being, Consciousness, Bliss.

What is Being?

--What stands through the Three Times (Present, Past, Future)--this is Being.

What is Consciousness?

--The own-nature of Perceiving.

What is Bliss?

--The own-nature of joy.

Thus let a man know that the own-nature of his own Self is Being, Consciousness, Bliss.


This "Awakening to Reality" is a summary of an intuition of the world, a solution of the universe. Only those who have certain mental and moral endowments are ripe for the understanding of such a solution of the world. Briefly, these endowments are: wisdom and will. The solution reached is--the real Self of every man is the Eternal. This Self is inwardly beginningless, endless, immortal. But outwardly it becomes manifest as three lesser selves, each with its own vesture, its own world.

Lowest of these is the physical self, the "Pervading"; with its physical Vesture, in the Waking world.

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Next, the emotional self, the "Radiant," with its emotional Vesture, in the Dreaming world.

Highest, the causal self, the "Intuitional," with its causal Vesture, in the Dreamless world. It has existence apart from the Eternal, owing only to the thin veil of illusion, which hides the identity of the One with the All. Thus, as to its own nature, it is unknowing; for, while believing itself One, it is really All. But for all other things it is unerring, for its close proximity to, and real oneness with, the Eternal, give it the inner sense of the trueness of things that is all wisdom. This is "the Seer who ordained all fitly through the ages."

In the Physical Vesture adheres one Veil; in the Emotional Vesture three--the vital, the emotional, the moral;--in the Causal, again one.

There is a great difficulty in finding a fit word for the term we have translated "radiation." What is meant is the power--personified, almost personal--conceived to be the "regent" or "deity" of the field in which each mode of perception and action finds its expansion. A closely analogous phrase would be, for instance, "the Prince of the Powers of the Air," who would thus be the "regent" or "deity" of the powers of touch, and, in morals, the "lusts of the flesh."

This is, of course, mythology: a mythical representation of an actual truth, very difficult to represent otherwise than mythologically.

But in the conclusion of the matter there is no difficulty. It is, that a man shall know the own-nature of his own Self to be Being, Consciousness, Bliss; or, in other words, Eternal, Wisdom, Love.

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We shall speak now of the way the four-and-twenty natures are developed.


Dwelling together with the Evolver in glamor, who is the very self of the three potencies: substance, force, and space.
From this glamor, shining ether came forth.
From shining ether, breath came forth.
From breath, fire came forth.
From fire, the waters came forth.
From the waters, earth came forth.


Now, among these five natures:
From the substantial part of shining ether, the power of hearing came forth.
From the substantial part of breath, the power of touch came forth.
From the substantial part of fire, the power of seeing came forth.
From the substantial part of the waters, the power of taste came forth.
From the substantial part of earth, the power of smelling came forth.
From the united substantial parts of these five natures, the inner powers--mind, soul, self-assertion, imagination--came forth.

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Mind is the very self of intending and doubting.
Soul is the very self of affirmation.
Self-assertion is the very self of attributing selfhood.
Imagination is the very self of image-making.

The regent of mind is the Moon.
The regent of soul is the Evolver.
The regent of self-assertion is the Transformer.
The regent of imagination is the Pervader.


Now, among these five natures:
From the forceful part of shining ether, the power of voice came forth.
From the forceful part of breath, the power of handling came forth.
From the forceful part of fire, the power of moving came forth.
From the forceful part of the waters, the power of engendering came forth.
From the forceful part of earth, the power of extruding came forth.
From the united forceful parts of these natures, the five lives--the upward-life, the forward-life, the uniting-life, the distributing-life, the downward-life--came forth.


Of these five natures, from their spatial parts, the five-folded five elements come forth.

What is this five-folding?

It is this: taking the spatial parts of the five primitive

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natures--one part of each--these parts are each first divided in two; then one half of each part is left alone, on one side, while the other halves of each are each divided into four. Then to the half of each nature, is joined the fourth of the half [the eighth] of each of the other natures. And thus five-folding is made.

From these five primitive natures, thus five-folded, the physical vesture is formed. Hence the essential unity between the clod and the Evolving Egg.


There is an image of the Eternal, which attributes itself to the vestures, and is called the Life. And this Life, through the power of Nature, regards the Lord as separate from itself.

When wearing the disguise of Unwisdom, the Self is called the Life.

When wearing the disguise of Glamor, the Self is called the Lord.

Thus, through the difference of their disguises, there is an appearance of difference between the Life and the Lord. And as long as this appearance of difference continues, so long will the revolving world of birth and death continue. For this reason the idea of the difference between the Life and the Lord is not to be admitted.

But how can the idea of unity between the Self-assertive, little-knowing Life, and the selfless, all-knowing Lord, be accepted, according to the famous words, that thou art; since the genius of these two, the Life and the Lord, is so opposite?

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This is not really so; for 'Life attributing itself to the physical and emotional vestures' is only the verbal meaning of thou; while the real meaning of thou is (pure Consciousness, bare of all disguises, in dreamless life.'

And so 'the Lord full of omniscience and power' is but the verbal meaning of that; while the real meaning of that is 'pure Consciousness stripped of disguises.'

Thus there is no contradiction in the unity of the Life and the Lord, since both are pure Consciousness.


And thus all beings in whom the idea of the eternal has been developed, through the words of wisdom and the true Teacher, are Free-in-life.

Who is Free-in-life?

Just as there is the firm belief that 'I am the body,' 'I am a man,' 'I am a priest,' 'I am a serf,' so he who possesses the firm conviction that 'I am neither priest nor serf nor man, but stainless Being, Consciousness, Bliss, the Shining, the inner Master, Shining Wisdom,' and knows this by direct perception, he is Free-in-life.


Thus by the direct knowledge that 'I am the Eternal,' he is freed from all the bonds of his deeds.

How many modes of these 'deeds' are there? If counted as 'deeds to come,' 'deeds accumulated,' and 'deeds entered on,' there are three modes.

The pure and impure deeds that are done by the body

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of the wise, after wisdom is won, are called 'deeds to come.'

And what of 'deeds accumulated'? The deeds that are waiting to be done, sprung from seeds sown in endless myriads of births, are 'deeds accumulated.'

And what are 'deeds entered on'? The deeds that give joy and sorrow here in the world, in this vesture, are 'deeds entered on.' Through experiencing them they reach cessation; for the using-up of deeds entered on comes through experiencing them. And 'deeds accumulated' reach cessation through wisdom, the very self of certainty that 'I am the Eternal.' 'Deeds to come' also reach cessation through wisdom. For, as water is not bound to the lotus-leaf, so 'deeds to come' are not bound to the wise.

For those who praise and love and honor the wise, to them come the pure 'deeds to come' of the wise. And those who blame and hate and attack the wise, to them come all the unspeakable deeds, whose very self is impurity, of the wise man's 'deeds to come.'


Then the Knower of the Self, crossing over the circling world, even here enjoys the bliss of the Eternal. As the sacred books say: The Knower of the Self crosses over sorrow.

And the sacred traditions say: Whether he leave his mortal form in Benares or in a dog-keeper's hut, if he has gained wisdom, he is free, his limitations laid aside.

Thus the Awakening to Reality is completed.


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