Path of enlightenment

The Vivekachudamani is a philosophical treatise composed by Adi Shankaracharya, expounding the cardinal truths of the non-dualistic (Advaita) school of thought.

In five hundred and eighty one verses, this magnificent work, in the form of a dialogue between a preceptor and his pupil, speaks about the purpose of human birth and basic tenets of the spiritual way of life through identifying the real or permanent values and those that are fleeting or ephemeral.

The term Vivekachudamani itself means ‘Crest Jewel of Discrimination,’ teaching as it does the differences between the transient and the eternal, emphasizing the supreme importance of such discrimination.

Commencing with a prayer to the Guru, Shankaracharya straightaway plunges into his exposition by saying that taking birth as a human being is indeed a rare fortune.
This gift must not be frittered away in useless pursuits, but must be utilized properly by steadfast adherence to the path of Dharma (righteousness).

With the guidance of a learned and wise teacher, the ability to discriminate between the right and wrong (the temporary and the permanent) must be acquired. An important thing to be understood here is that the soul (atman) is everlasting and distinct from the body.

Just as the thread around which many flowers are strung is separate from them, the soul is separate from the body, taking on different bodies in different births.

Man’s duty is to strive for a body that will provide happiness through good deeds and refrain from actions that will cause grief and suffering.

Dharma or righteousness is the very foundation of the universe. It is only Dharma that can secure joy and well being. Next, Shankara speaks of acquiring the right knowledge, the knowledge that helps in differentiating between the real or permanent and the transient.

This knowledge can be obtained by carefully listening to the words of a Guru, deep reflection on his words and sustained meditation on the same, culminating in self-experience. Such a process refines man and makes him spiritually wise. All this does not mean neglecting one’s worldly duties, but rather a responsible and mature approach to life.

Spiritual wisdom imparts a sense of lightness and equanimity to the mind which makes for a balanced outlook and annuls the destructive tendencies of the mind. One of the key factors that influences man’s attitudes and conduct is the company that he keeps.

Associating with noble and spiritually enriched persons has a positive effect on man’s behaviour that roots out evil thoughts.

Sri Shankara says that this striving for good and exalted company is itself a result of divine grace.

A natural outcome of this association with the wise, learned and spiritually affluent ones is the gradual reduction in desires for objects of sense pleasures and the dependence on them and the realization that these sense pleasures ultimately result in pain, sorrow and disillusionment.

Thus the mind is slowly purified and becomes calm and serene, fit to embark on the onward journey of spiritual progress. 

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