from The Theosophist Feb 1985

(The Viveka-Chudamani qualifications)

Steps Towards Freedom

Hugh Shearman

There is an old tradition, long held by members of the Theosophical Society, of a set of qualifications necessary for entering upon the path of liberation. In 1885, Mohini Mohun Chatterji published a translation in English of a Sanskrit work, Viveka-Chudamani, under the title The Crest Jewel of Wisdom. This work is attributed to the great teacher Sri Sankaracharya.

Like many other works exposition, it includes the image of the teacher and the taught. A disciple asks the teacher how he may attain liberation and the teacher endeavours to tell him. At the beginning, four qualifications are named and described as necessary prerequisites for entry upon the path of liberation.

A further shorter Vedantic work, Atmanatma Viveka, in which the same four qualifications were named, was also translated and published by Mohini. This can be found in the book, Five Years of Theosophy, 2nd ed. (1984), p.248.

The same set of four qualifications also forms the basic of the little book, At the Feet of the Master, written by Jiddu Krishnamurti and published in 1941 over the name of Alcyone. Here again the exposition of the four qualifications was attributed to a Teacher. Later in life, J. Krishnamurti dissociated himself from this book. He had come to see that somebody else cannot tell us how to live, that moral qualifications or virtues cannot be a personal acquisition, that virtues are not virtues if they are "practised", that goals of attainment (which are mental images of our future constructed out of our present inadequacy) are without merit. In fact, he rejected a mass of suppositions about life which had seemed to many to be implied by the book's style of presentation. In an interview in 1934 he was reported as saying that he had no clear memory about the authorship or provenance of the book (Rom Landau, God is My Adventure, London, 1935, p.348).

The four qualifications, however, have been expounded for thousands of years in Vedantic tradition; and it is hard to imagine that many who have passed them down to us cannot, like Krishnamurti, have been well aware of the difficulties that are inherent in certain interpretations of them. Those difficulties disappear when we understand that the four principles are not "qualifications" in the sense in which we often use that word. They are not static moral imperatives to be received on someone's else authority. They simply constitute a list of the developing perceptions which are bound to occur to anybody who comes awake to his circumstances. They are experiential rather than authoritative.

First in the list comes viveka, translated as discrimination or even as wisdom. Something that may be so described arises in the one who begins to have a sense of the inadequacy of his present way of life, his values and objectives. He begins to ask himself, "What is the good of these things?" Why am I doing what I am doing? "Disillusionment sets in. A sense of emptiness comes upon him. He begins to question life.

In some cases this can involve an acute psychological crisis. A comment on Light on the Path tells us that "an intolerable sadness is the first great experience of the neophyte in occultism. A sense of blankness falls upon him which makes the world a waste and life a vain exertion." This is probably the equivalent of that conviction of sin or sense of worthlessness which Calvinist Christians have held to be a necessary prerequisite for conversion and salvation.

Behind this negative feeling there is often a fleeting intuition of a greater life that can supersede the emptiness, but it would be an evasion to try to erect some image of "positive thinking" to fill the void. Not until the experience of disillusionment has run its course and has been lived through and followed into all its details and corollaries, with heart as much as with mind, can we free our perception of our world from the false values that we have projected onto it. The ground has to be cleared before a new perception of truth can assert itself. To declare mentally but prematurely some positive-sounding general statement, such as, "We are all One", leads to disappointment because the very assertion proceeds, not from a perception of what is true but from our present condition of confusion and incompleteness and our desire to escape from it without working through it and knowing it for what it is. We assert it only because it seems to be the verbal antithesis of our present discomfort. Perhaps there is a level of experience at which the words are seen to be true, but we have not yet worked our way to that level until our disillusionment and the perception that arises from it have dissipated the incompatible attachments and evaluations.

Once the process of discrimination has begun, necessarily taking at first the negative form of many-sided disillusionment, we pass to the next stage which is described as vairagya or desirelessness. This is not so much a qualification that has to be attained as a condition which follows naturally from the awakening of discrimination . The exercise of discrimination makes clear what our desires really are, and our identification with them continually falls away. If they are merely suppressed - perhaps on an impulse of dislike or disapproval towards them - they will reassert themselves in some altered form. Freedom from them comes through a deeply felt aesthetic appreciation of their nature, function, and value as they arise. They cannot be relaxed through an abstract process of mind or by analysing or naming them. What is seen when they become active is a movement of the forces of nature, and it is by feeling and understanding the true character of that movement that it is stilled. The understanding dissociates consciousness from identification with the movement that is being perceived. The understanding has to be direct and cannot be mediated by some process of judging, remembering or anticipating. Obviously, too, it would be absurd to desire to be desireless. What is needed is that we should come intelligently and feelingly awake to what is happening; and in quite a simple natural way we find that we no longer contribute vitality to what we have fully understood.

As this revolution takes place in any life, there naturally emerges a changed kind of personal behaviour. The nature of this changed behaviour has been described under six headings or as consisting of six virtues. A virtue has no existential reality; it is not a "thing". The word that we use to indicate it refers only to a sort of general mental recollection of our impression of somebody else's behaviour. Even if our language on such a subject is indicative, it cannot be definitive.

The traditional six possessions or "jewels" all arise naturally from the continuous elimination of that motivating centre of personal desire and self-defence which we have hitherto regarded as the self. The change shows itself in a corresponding dissipation or withdrawal of he values that we had projected onto our surroundings.

No longer compulsively mobilized to the defence of those values, the mind has no longer to flick anxiously through its huge collection of memories and images. So there develops what, in At the feet of the Master, is called "self control as to the mind", though it cannot be controlled in any sense of imposing a bridle of contrived inhibitions.

At the same time what we do is no longer motivated and directed by that mass of conflicting anxieties which defence of the "karmic" selfhood has entailed. What we do is therefore more simple and relaxed and its motivation has one general direction and not a complex of incompatibles. This is described as "self control in action".

Similarly, recognizing one pervasive pattern and interplay of natural forces in all human or other action, we cease to fell that we have to keep intervening and interfering with what other people think or do, thus exhibiting "tolerance". The reduction of the tension which is created by the competing incompatibilities of desire renders life much more congenial and produces "cheerfulness".

Our former compulsive habit of evaluating everything according as it seemed to support or threaten our centre of identity had created secondary habits and attitudes which were mutually incompatible and divided our lives into mutually incongruous compartments of thought and motivation. As these are abandoned and simplified, there is an increasing flow of our interests and life forces in one predominant direction - not perhaps a direction which we shall be able to define in so many words, but permeated by a certain harmony and consistency. There may not be a visible or definable "point" and yet there emerges what can be described as "one-pointedness". In any given situation we are freed from the anguish and tyranny of choice. Those who see clearly know what to do.

In the experience of disillusionment and in the simplifying and clarifying of the psychological life which follow, many of our defences are dropped; and, in our relative defencelessness, we find, again in a way that cannot easily be put into words, that life can be trusted. There arises in us a growing "confidence" which is the last of the six "jewels".

All these changes which experience and awakened consciousness, functioning as discrimination, have wrought in us amount to what Christians would call a conversion - a turning in an entirely new direction. Our growing sense of that new direction is described by the word mumukshutva which has been variously translated as an ardent desire for liberation or simply as love. Consciousness in us has become steadily oriented towards merging with Reality, and a positive drive has been established towards completing the work that has been begun.

Understood not as badges of eligibility or as static bundles of attributes to be appropriated by virtuous persons, but as cursory verbal indications of the phases that may be encountered in a succession of dynamic changes, the four "qualifications" acquire meaning and reality.

In mystical or occult literature many terms and expressions are used which can be understood only through the immediacy of experience and not through intellectual analysis or comparison with something else.

I will give you the mark whereby you can know whether a human being is preparing to enter the Path. It is the life that is marked by unselfish service of others; by the willingness to sacrifice all for the good of others; by the readiness to give up all that men of the world account valuable in devotion to a cause which is believed to embody the right.

The Masters and the Way to Them, Annie Besant.

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