We have recently added Abbot George Burke’s Commentary on some of Shankara’s works, which we have called “The Catechism of Enlightenment.” Below is the introduction to the commentary, followed by an short excerpt.
The opening verse of Shankara’s Upadeshasahasri–A Thousand Teachings–is:
“We shall now explain a method of teaching the means to liberation for the benefit of those aspirants after liberation who are desirous and are possessed of faith.”
Shankara then outlines in a section titled “A Method Of Enlightening A Disciple” how the aspirants should receive the first instructions in the inquiry as to the nature of the Self. The texts cited certainly need comment–as Shankara assumed those who used his text would do. There are very many citations, most being from the upanishads though some are from the Bhagavad Gita and some minor sources.
An excerpt from The Catechism of Enlightenment
5) “All this is Brahman. From It the universe comes forth, in It the universe merges and in It the universe breathes. Therefore a man should meditate on Brahman with a calm mind.
“Now, verily, a man consists of will. As he wills in this world, so does he become when he has departed hence. Let him with this knowledge in mind form his will.” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:1)
The doctrine of Maya is fundamental to upanishadic thought, because at all times the student must keep the perspective that everything is an appearance only, that things are only images in our consciousness. They are dream images within the mind of the dreamer.
The fact that they have no objective reality will not disturb those of us who love plays and movies. The creation is not for entertainment but for training in consciousness–which is real. After all, words are only symbols, not realities, but nobody objects to language being insubstantial. As things are, so they are.
So when the upanishad tells us that “all this is Brahman,” it is telling us that the dream and the Dreamer are the same, only momentarily divided by the illusion of Maya. Both the real and the unreal are Brahman. Reality and fantasy have the same substance: Brahman.
The cosmos rises from Brahman, evolves in Brahman, and melts back into Brahman, just as ice forms from water, floats in the water, and after a while melts back into water. Such an insight should give us unshakable peace, peace in which we should meditate on Brahman in order to unite with It.
Meditation: an act of will
The second part of this verse does not seem to fit, but it does, being a reflection on the injunction to meditate on Brahman. Meditation, being a matter of inner and outer stillness, is yet an action of will. To meditate is to exercise our will in the most creative manner. Therefore the subject of will is introduced. The Gita (6:5, 6) says this:
“What is man’s will and how shall he use it? Let him put forth its power to uncover the Atman, not hide the Atman: man’s will is the only friend of the Atman: his will is also the Atman’s enemy. For when a man is self-controlled, his will is the Atman’s friend. But the will of an uncontrolled man is hostile to the Atman, like an enemy.”
The upanishad presents us with a fact we would rarely come to realize on our own: we “are” our will. This is not in the absolute sense, but from the fact that intelligent will is a prime characteristic–or at least a potential–of the human being. It is true, most people run on whimsy, desire, and delusion. But they are being instinctual like animals, and not functioning in their full humanity. The ideal in the upanishads is the fully conscious and therefore fully “wilful” person.
But that is not enough; the will must be oriented toward the knowing of Brahman–not just a desire to know, but a willing to know which is manifest in the entire life. If the will is perfectly consonant or aligned with the truth of Brahman, then upon his departure from this world the yogi will attain to Brahman or at least ascend to those high worlds in which liberation is assured and attained.
Yet it is all up to us, so we are advised in conclusion to form and exercise our will according to what we have learned.
Read more from The Catechism of Enlightenment.
Random Gems for further reading:
- Yoga in Four Words
- How to Get Your Prayers Answered
- Twelve Key Concepts in Yoga
- The Mind as the Source of Suffering and Happiness