[vc_column_text]The Crown Jewel of True Discrimination – Viveka Chudamani (This article was written in honor of Philip Renard’s publication in Dutch of the Viveka Chudamani, a prominent scripture of the Advaita-Vedanta tradition. The article was published in the fall issue of Sahaja Journal, 2022, of Triveni Ashram and in Dutch in Inzicht Magazine, November 2022.)
The year was 1992. We were riding in a somewhat rickety bus in India on our way to ‘Vulture’s Peak’ in Rajgir, one of the Buddha’s favorite places where he liked to camp with his students to hold longer retreats. Some 250 seekers had traveled to India to participate in a four-week retreat with the now-discredited spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen.
Philip Renard was also part of this company of seekers on this bus, which, like a loose cannon, swinging from left to right across the road, maneuvering between all the cows, goats, people, cars and whatnot. was getting closer to its destination. I had been a committed student of Andrew Cohen for several years, Philip was one of the new people who on this retreat in India wanted to get a clearer picture of who Andrew Cohen really was and what his teaching really had to offer – this latter wish would come true sooner than he might have thought.
I had spoken to Philip a few times and our hearts had already met. I was sitting in the back of the bus and saw that in the front row where Andrew was sitting, a group had formed. After a while I went to see if I was missing something interesting. I encountered a familiar scene – Andrew, supported by some of his closest students, was engaged in an intense Dharma debate with Philip. I listened in for a few moments. I had witnessed conversations like this many times before. Andrew’s trump card was his invitation to every seeker, to surrender completely to the desire to embrace the Absolute as your own Self.
“Do you really want to be free more than anything?” I heard Andrew ask Philip in a challenging tone of voice. “Are you willing to give up anything that stands in the way of this?” Andrew continued. “Do you have the courage to stand alone in the Truth?” I sat back in the back of the bus and wondered what would happen.
Many years later Philip told me what a defining moment this had been for him. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he got off the bus. He had poured out his heart, withholding nothing, borne the depths of his soul, with all longing for Truth and Freedom. Andrew, of course, fully acknowledged the sincerity of Philip’s desire, while repeatedly pointing out that it was only Philip’s ego that prevented him from answering with a resounding yes to Andrew’s invitation to dedicate himself fully to achieving enlightenment in Andrew’s community. This was where True Discrimination came in – despite the strength of Andrew’s arguments, something kept gnawing at Philip inside, saying, “It all sounds great and yet something isn’t right here. “True Discrimination sometimes presents itself in a wordless, undefined feeling. Philip could not deny this feeling – he experienced it as a kind of ‘red light’. And he didn’t accept Andrew’s invitation. Philip already had the courage to stand alone in the Truth.
Years later I found myself in a car with another spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick, on one of the secondary roads in central France. Lee had just performed with his Blues Band ‘Shri’ at a major Harley Davidson motorcycle festival, an on first sight intimidating occasion. We sat in a VW bus with Lee at the wheel and Lee drove, as always, like a rocket. It was past midnight and all the other band members, all of Lee’s students, were dozing in the back of the bus. I sat next to Lee in the front and it was my job to make sure Lee stayed awake behind the wheel. We didn’t talk much on that ride, but at one point Lee leaned over to me and said in a soft voice, “Harry, everyone is under the spell of Shakti, no one is interested in Shiva.” I nodded, didn’t say anything, but this comment became a beacon for the Crown Jewel of True Discrimination for me.
Look at Shiva in this picture, unaffected, free, peaceful, anchored in a beneficent equanimity. “Never forget Shiva!”, Lee said to me. And then look at Shakti (in this case in the form of Kali); she stands on top of him, intimately connected, in an explosion of activity, in all the brilliance of life.
This reminds me of the words of Jnaneshwar, a great poet and sage of thirteenth century India:
The lover (Shiva) out of boundless love
has become the beloved (Shakti).
Out of love for each other they merge,
and again they separate
for the pleasure of being two.
They sit together on the same ground
wearing the same garments of light.
From time past remembrance
they have lived thus
united in bliss.
Difference itself merged in their sweet union
when, seeing their intimacy,
it could not find no duality to enjoy.
Because of God the Goddess exists
and without her, He is not.
They only exist because of each other.
Two lutes: one note
Two flowers: one fragrance
Two lamps: one light
Two lips: one kiss
Two eyes: one sight
These two: one universe
How sweet is their union!
How can something which is, in Philip’s words, “not-a-thing,” and impossible to be contained in a concept, can yet dawn in us and move us to the core of our being? “Come to your own certitude”, says Philip on the first page of his beautiful translation of the Viveka Chudamani. May this Crown Jewel of True Discrimination be bestowed upon you. This age-old text is about nothing else than arriving at one’s own certitude about, as Philip so beautifully describes it, the distinction between “the formless” and “that which for this moment is taken on a form; or, between “that which has always been the case (and always already been free)” and “that which is temporary, which can repeatedly suggest a lack of freedom.”
Philip is a word artist in the Dutch language of the first order. He succeeds, through the originality of his interpretations in beautiful, rich Dutch, to make the ‘self-luminous reality’, by means of the ‘mirror of the word’, light up in the depths of the heart. It brings about an inner smile of recognition and often a tear of emotion. I enjoy his often surprising choice of words, which time and again opens the door to the “instant insight of the Differenceless”, the greatest gift one can receive in this life.