Adi Shankara (788-820 A.D.) is regarded as the most important Indian spiritual philosopher and reformer of Hinduism. His famous major work was "Viveka Chudamani" (Jewel of Distinction). It is considered the "crown jewel" of Ancient Indian wisdom. The present edition offers the reader a modern translation of the "Jewel" and a careful selection from the originally 580 Sanskrit verses. The author has left out numerous repetitive passages as well as statements not in keeping with our modern zeitgeist. Explanations have been added to many verses by Bernd Helge Fritsch, a spiritual teacher himself. They serve to clarify the meaning of Shankara's text which is now approximately 1200 years old. This book deals with the central questions of our life: What constitutes the meaning of my life? How do we explain our destiny? How do we liberate ourselves from worries, illness and suffering? How can we connect ourselves with the everlasting beauty, love and bliss at the fundamental basis of Being?
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Originally, Bernd Helge Fritsch was a successful lawyer. Following an inner voice, he gave up his law practice shortly after turning forty.
He spent many years travelling in Asia and southern Europe, lived in Buddhist and Hindu monasteries, studied and practiced Zen.
For the last thirty years or so he has been lecturing throughout Europe.
Particularly his books, “Der große Prinz und das Glück”, “Wu Wei”, “Das Kleinod des Shankara”and “The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita” have made Bernd H. Fritsch well-known to a large readership as an inspiring author.
Adi Shankara (788-820 A.D.) is regarded as the most important Indian spiritual philosopher and reformer of Hinduism. His famous major work was “Viveka Chudamani” (Jewel of Distinction)1. It is considered the “crown jewel” of Ancient Indian wisdom.
The present edition offers the reader a modern translation of the “Jewel” and a careful selection from the originally 580 Sanskrit verses. The author has left out numerous repetitive passages as well as statements not in keeping with our modern zeitgeist.
Explanations have been added to many verses by Bernd Helge Fritsch, a spiritual teacher himself. They serve to clarify the meaning of Shankara’s text which is now approximately 1200 years old.
This book deals with the central questions of our life: “What constitutes the meaning of my life? How do we explain our destiny? How do we liberate ourselves from worries, illness and suffering? How can we connect ourselves with the everlasting beauty, love and bliss at the fundamental basis of Being?
1 In earlier English-language literature, Vivela Chudamani was translated as “Crest Jewel of Discrimination” or “Crown Jewel of Discrimination”. The translator considers “Crown Jewel of Distinction” more appropriate, since the word “discrimination” has undergone a transformation and now means primarily the prejudicial treatment of people.
The journey’s destination – Knowledge and immortality
The first steps toward liberation
Acceptance is creating the connection with Being
Identity – Who am I?
Lost in thought
Attachment and liberation
The only effective medicine
Non-adherence, composure and unselfishness
Meditation is your true nature
The shark of desire
The body – the instrument of experience
The mental body
The ego personality
Maya, the great illusion
The mind creates the problems
Sattva, the mirror of Atman
The Atman is eternal conscious Being
The cleansing of thoughts
Ignorance hides the Self
Samsara, the cycle of coming and going
You are Sat-Chit-Ananda
The body is ephemeral
The uninvolved witness
The mind can bind and free us
The shell of the intellect
The shell of external happiness
Brahman – the One without a second
This is you!
Yoga and Samadhi
Brahman is as the sky
Karma and its dissolution
The pupil experiences Brahman
The supreme wisdom
The knower of Atman
Some fragments of thought by the translator
Confessing to belong to a religious denomination, or believing in a religious teaching often has little to do with spirituality. A spiritual person connects with the dimension beyond phenomena that are perceivable with the senses. This person goes beyond the limits of reason that tries to understand the world through intellectual analysis. A spiritual person is not satisfied with others telling him about the primal source of Being. He wants to experience it himself. Yet he appreciates guidelines supported by a transcendental viewpoint. This book, this discussion of Shankara’s teachings, should also be regarded as such a guide.
Many pearls of wisdom have been communicated to us by teachers who have immersed themselves deeply in the wonders and secrets of life. We find such pearls in the writings of Hinduism and Buddhism, in the Old and New Testament, in the teachings of Taoism, the Greek philosophers, the words of Christian mystics, Islamic Sufis and many others. All these jewels come from the universal awareness beyond the common intellect. It is reassuring and pleasing that all these sages are basically proclaiming the same message about God and the world, whether they call this “God” Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, Brahman or by any other name.
No one can know the taste of honey without having sampled it. Descriptions alone cannot provide us with the “experience” of honey. Just the same, to reach the level which always was and always will be the source of all sensually perceivable forms, we all must walk the road beyond reason by ourselves.
The “Crown Jewel of Shankara“ is not concerned with a “faith” or a certain “creed”. It is a highly practical guide teaching us how we can taste the honey and not just speculate about it. To the editor of this book, the “Crown Jewel of Shankara” is one of the most profound descriptions ever given to mankind of the road to the core of our own Being, to the experience of peace, safety and bliss beyond the world of physical manifestations.
Shankara was one of India’s great teachers of wisdom. He lived approximately from 788 to 820 A.D. Shankara is said to have written numerous comments on the old Indian scriptures of wisdom (Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita). He represented the Advaita philosophy which teaches that there is only ONE Being, a oneness of all life. All is Brahman (the all-encompassing deity, the universal consciousness). That is why man in his essence is not separated from nature, from other humans and from the all-encompassing Being. Only in man’s clouded consciousness does the illusion arise that we are alone and confronted with a world that is often classified as threatening.
The “Crown Jewel of Distinction” (original title: Viveka-Chu-damani) is regarded as the best known and most important of Shankara’s writings. In it we find the wisdom of Ancient Indian teachings in a nutshell. It consists of 580 Sanskrit verses in which the master explains to his pupil the nature of Atman – every man’s immortal soul, and the way to unite with Brahman.
The present edition is reduced to about half the number of original verses. Many repetitions as well as statements not in keeping with the spirit of our time have been left out. Some verses were simplified for the sake of clarity; some others were combined into one verse. Some repetitions were deliberately left in because they well represent the mantra-like, memorable character of the original.
The editor has added supplementary and explanatory comments to many verses.
1. The pupil bows to Govinda and all great teachers of wisdom. These masters remain in a state of supreme bliss. Deeply connected with the all-encompassing Being, they draw their inner images which they then cast into words. They open our hearts to beauty, freedom, peace and love beyond duality.
2. The master speaks: To be born as a human is an unparalleled gift. There are people who have been awarded this precious and rare gift, and yet so lost are they that they make no effort to become liberated. Such people are suicidal. They cling to the unreal, and they destroy themselves.
3. Knowing holy scriptures elevates us beyond merely being human. The ability to distinguish between the Self (Atman) and the non-Self reflects a high level of evolution. However, liberation can only be attained by consciously becoming one with Brahman. This level of consciousness is not easy to achieve. We require the grace of God, a deep wish for liberation, and instruction by a great master.
Every being is united with Brahman, the all-encompassing deity. We cannot exist except within and through Brahman. Yet man, blinded by a misinterpretation of external forms, may feel to be an isolated individual. That is what causes anxieties and problems.
It is normal for many people that their life is a chain of difficulties and worries. Most will find it quite unrealistic to think that their life is perfect the way it is, in the smallest detail and every moment of the day. In their opinion, the “facts” they can perceive with their senses point far too mightily against it. The human mind derives these alleged “facts” by separating its consciousness from oneness with Atman and Brahman.
4. People cling to transient phenomena. They fail to achieve their Being. They miss the greatest bliss, the journey’s destination, the oneness with universal consciousness, with Brahman.
We sense that life must be supernaturally beautiful and boundless. Somewhere, at some time, all people in their inner Being have already been able to experience this, at least for some short moments. Yet why is it so difficult to connect continuously with the immeasurable glory and vastness of Being?
All life is permeated by consciousness. This consciousness comes from the dimension beyond external forms. It is the dimension of the unlimited eternal Being.
The invisible all-encompassing consciousness we cannot grasp with our thoughts is the origin of all forms. It is the basic substance of all phenomena. Our thinking, too, is nothing but consciousness. However, this thinking is limited and is the reason why our life feels largely narrow, faulty, full of loss, and transient. This thinking believes in deficiency and does not recognize the perfection of all Being.
It is difficult for the mind to understand that our world is supposed to be perfect and full of divine wisdom. Our mind has no access to the eternal bright dimension behind the phenomena. The transience of external forms, the suffering, illness and death are proof to us that Being is imperfect. But as Zen mistress Joko Beck says: “Transience is basically just another word for completeness. We must live and die, that is the essence of completeness...” It is our inner resistance against the Being as it is that clouds our view of its beauty and wisdom.
Nature has completeness to show that it is the reflection of God, and it has flaws to show that it is only a reflection.
5. There is no point in studying sacred scriptures, in performing rites and in worshiping deities as long as we don’t recognize our true identity. Only those achieve liberation who can behold their oneness with Atman.
Atman and Brahman are the two key terms, the recurring theme in the “Crown Jewel of Distinction”. Brahman means the all-encompassing Being, “the One without a second”. Brahman is the great emptiness as well as the entire universe that surrounds us. Emptiness is universal consciousness beyond thought and form. Brahman is the NOTHING and the ALL. It comprises all the unlimited opportunities of Being as well as all concrete phenomena.
Brahman is not this or that. Limiting Brahman to any content contradicts the idea of a comprehensive Being. However, the statement that Brahman is all and nothing exceeds the analytical, logical mind. We can only perceive this reality when reason remains silent.
In its basic essence, Brahman is “pure consciousness”, which means consciousness without concrete content. Usually, human consciousness is always connected with an object (such as a sensory perception or a thought). We only experience pure consciousness, the origin of all forms, under exceptional circumstances (such as in meditation).
Brahman from within gives birth to man with his individual core of life (Atman). In its essence, Atman is identical with Brahman.
Corresponding also to the tradition of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:27), man was created in the image of God. Since this man – according to Indian philosophy, confused by the influence of the goddess Maya – identifies with his body, his senses and his mind (thinking, feeling, wanting), an unreal sham – personality results, called the ego. This ego has “forgotten” its original oneness with God. That is the root cause of all its problems.
According to the Hindu teaching of wisdom, the ego soul must suffer and go through constantly changing incarnations until it is completely at one again with Atman and Brahman. That ends its ephemeral, anxious and painful sham – reality that is separated from God and the other human beings. That process is called “liberation” or “enlightenment”.
6. No action can give us liberation. Enlightenment and immortality cannot be acquired by hard work, the collection of wealth or by good deeds, but solely through dedication, which means giving up the false identity.
We humans think we have to do something to achieve the fullness of life. The comprehensive Being, which in essence is identical to our personal Being, to our life, is full of splendour and glory. We cannot add anything worthwhile to it. Our primary task in this world is to become more conscious. That means paying close and careful attention to the processes in our mind. Then we recognize the veil of unreality which our limited thinking has draped over reality. As soon as we become aware of this fact, the dense fog lifts, and the Being shines forth in the light of true recognition.
7. Those who seek wisdom will stop desiring this or that. They will recognize that they carry the bliss of pure consciousness within them. They will liberate their soul from the floods of external forms, from all the coming and going. That is how they achieve oneness with the origin of life.
People are only aware of the dualist exterior of phenomena. They have lost their reference to the everlasting and complete dimension of their Being. That is why they only see a small part, a reflection of reality. They observe the constant comings and goings in the external world. That causes worries, anxiety, wishing, hoping and desire.
As a rule, people – due to their superficial point of view – regard their present life situation as inadequate. They constantly feel that something is lacking that keeps them from being happy. This feeling of deficiency drives them to look for change, activity, hard work and effort in the hope that perhaps they may find fulfilment. in the future. That is the cause of stress in our time.
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