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Śankara's Catechism


IN THE first part of Śankara's Catechism, previously translated, the most valuable thing is the teaching of the sevenfold man, who is really a modified unity appearing in seven modes. The only real and eternal element in the sevenfold man--for real and eternal are, for Śankara, synonymous terms--is the perfect Self, which is one with the Eternal. In manifestation this Self appears in three degrees: the intuitional self, the emotional self, the physical self; and, for each of these there is a vesture suited to its nature. Thus the divine Self, with its three degrees, and their three vestures, make up the perfect seven.

The three lesser degrees of the Self are its representatives in the three manifest worlds: the spiritual world, the middle world, the physical world. And, very naturally, the middle world partakes in some degree of the nature of the other two; so that its highest layer is touched with the nature of the spiritual world, while its lowest layer is touched with the nature of the physical world.

This threefold nature of the middle world finds its counterpart in the three veils which make up the vesture of the middle self, which we have called the emotional self as perhaps the best description of its total nature.

The three veils of the middle self are the vital veil,

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the sensuous veil, and the intellectual veil; and the regents of the last two are 'mind' and 'soul,' as we have translated the original terms--Manas and Buddhi.

Development takes place, therefore, by the gradually raising of the self through these vestures and veils; so that, having begun as the physical self in pure animal life, it gradually becomes the emotional and intellectual self of human life, then the intuitional self of life that is something more than human, and at last realizes itself as the eternal Self which is one with the Eternal.

To this, the first part of the Catechism, is then added the outline of Śankara's idealistic physics, the doctrine of the three potencies of substance, force, space; or, as one might call it, from a different point of view, the three modes of subject, predicate, object: of the knower, the knowing, the known. And as perception is of five types, the subject, predicate, and object are divided into the five types of sensuous perception. But as the objects of sensuous perception are not simple, but each respond to several different sensations, a description is found for this fact in the 'process of five-folding' of the object. As an example, a piece of camphor responds not only to the sense of sight but to other senses, touch, taste, smell; it is therefore conceived as made up of the five natures that are objects of sensuous perception, so mingled that one nature is dominant. The three potencies and the five natures are the three vestures and the five veils, from another point of view.

Very important are the definitions: 'mind' is the power of intending and doubting; 'soul' is the power of affirmation; the latter approaching the intuitional self

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which is the 'enlightened spiritual will.' To express in terms of morals this psychological analysis, we may say that at first through the power of self-assertion, the idea of selfhood is falsely attributed to the physical body and its animal nature, and then to the mental picture of the physical body, which is the emotional self or lower personality. The task of regeneration, of initiating true life, consists in first checking this false self-assertion--selfishness and sensuality--and then through the stages of 'intending and doubting' and strong 'affirmation' substituting for the lower personality the enlightened spiritual will, which is the direct expression of the real Self, re-becoming the Eternal.

Then this chapter of physics and psychology is followed by one of metaphysics. There is the real Self, which is the Eternal. But we do not realize our life as that real Self. Why do we not realize it? Because of two errors, or illusions, which make up the double 'heresy of separateness.' The first error is the error of our apartness from the Eternal. The second error is the error of our apartness from each other. The removal of these two errors constitutes 'our duty towards God' and 'our duty towards our neighbor'; in both cases the real gain is our own, is the gain of our real Self.

Śankara calls the first error glamor;, the second, unwisdom. The picture of the self formed through the first is the Lord; the picture of the self formed through the second is the Life. And the real nature of both is the same--pure consciousness--though there is a verbal difference, a difference of definition, between them.

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Then, in conclusion, the three forms of 'deeds' or Karma. We may compare 'accumulated deeds' to capital; 'deeds entered on,' to interest; and 'deeds to come,' to the earnings of an unselfish man for the good of others. And we must remember that each of these has a debit as well as a credit side.

The real value of this little treatise is as a key and outline of longer and more complicated works; yet it has a high excellence of its own.

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