By Patrick Horn (“Rishi”) 
Swami Vivekananda says, “Religion is not in books, and temples. It is an actual perception. Only the man who has actually perceived God and soul, has religion…. Mere intellectual assent does not make us religious.” He quotes from the Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination) by Shakaracharya (788-820 AD). There are three rare advantages in Life: human birth and strength of body-mind-will, desire for freedom, and apprenticeship to an illumined Master. The teacher should be a perfect knower of Brahman, well-read in the scriptures, and free from lust and greed. The aspirant must be intelligent, learn’ed, and able to overcome doubt by reason. Through discrimination between the Real and the unreal, and non-attachment to sense pleasures and the results of actions, the seeker gains six treasures: peace, patience, perseverance, faith, wisdom, and mastery.

Shankaracharya teaches, “A clear vision of the Reality may be obtained only though our own eyes, when they have been opened by spiritual insight—never through the eyes of some other seer. Through our own eyes we learn what the moon looks like: how could we learn this through the eyes of others?” He shows how the gross body is made of the elements and slave to the senses, desire, and the three conditions of Maya (projecting, veiling, revealing). He describes four mental functions: emotions, identity-making, deliberation, and discrimination. Swami Prabhavananda’s translation states: “In the waking state of consciousness, man finds his fullest activity in the body…. The dream-state belongs pre-eminently to the subtle body…. The mental organ identifies itself with the organs of perception and of action, as well as with the physical body.” This is a false identity. “Through ignorance, man identifies the Atman with the body, taking the perishable for real. Therefore he nourishes this body, and anoints it, and guards it carefully…. When a man becomes illumined by knowledge, there arises within him perfect discrimination which clearly distinguishes the true Being, the Atman, from the external appearances.”

According to Shankaracharya, the Atman is the witness to three states of consciousness and distinct from the five sheaths. The ananadamaya kosha (the “bliss body” of deep sleep) is a reflection of the infinite consciousness like the sun shines in a glass of water. The vijnanamaya kosha (the “intellect” of the dream and waking states which discriminates and wills) shines because of the proximity to the self-luminous Atman. The manomaya kosha contains desire, the organs of perception, and the identity-making function. The pranamaya kosha is vitality and the organs of action. The annamaya kosha is food and flesh.

Shankaracharya prescribes concentration and non-attachment. The first steps to see the Reality as-it-is are right thought, right speech, right action, refusal to accept unnecessary gifts, renunciation of worldly ambition, and continuous devotion. A Master’s perception of the universe is a continuous perception of God. Teachers and scriptures only point to the possibility of spiritual awareness. The absolute proof is direct experience of Truth and Freedom. The illumined man is liberated from ignorance and becomes calm and content.