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The Awakening to Reality

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 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?

--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 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 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.

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, 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.