To affirm is to deny. It is obvious that we do this always, but we periodically forget because of narrowing our focus to what we affirm in the language of perceived objects and in terms of the illusive independent existence of a particular set of subjects who see those objects. We fashion a pseudo-system. The universe is boundless, birthless and partless. Both within and beyond visible space and in eternal motion within endless duration, going through apparent vicissitudes like the waxing and waning of the moon or the rise and fall of the tides, through cyclical and cosmically precise changes, human beings have the privilege of exercising the deific power of creative imagination. At the highest level conceivable to a finite mind caught up within the prison of the personality, imagination is ceaselessly enjoying the universe, for example, the play of light and shade upon the green leaves of summer. If we say that there is also continuous negation, we are correct because chlorophyll is gradually negated, and thereby the leaves turn yellow. Thus we know that spring and summer must be followed by autumn. Human beings, however, sometimes forsake these primal facts because they prefer convenient fictions which involve false affirmations.

 There is the false affirmation that a whole lot of bodies are in existence today. Do the bodies say so, and if so, how do they know? Apparently they are supposed to have minds, but what is a mind and what is the evidence that bodies have minds? We entertain opinions about these matters, but are opinions the same as ideas and are ideas the efflux of fluctuating moods? Is that the same as thinking, the activity of a Thoreau in the woods and an Emerson in his study? Questions of this kind are deeply troublesome and difficult. Therefore, Sri Shankaracharya states that before you can begin to deserve the Crest Jewel, which is in the crest above the forehead of the human body, the regal gem of pure discernment and spiritual wakefulness, and before you can benefit by it in the three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and dreamlessness – you must recognize that at the root you have made a false identification. Without knowing it, you have engaged in falsehoods to which you were invulnerable before you learned to walk, before you learned to identify with the body that stumbles and before you learned to talk, to repeat sounds associated by other people with sense-objects. You started to slip into a stupor, and began to live an increasingly unreal existence, mostly reinforcing your sense of unreality but insisting it was the only reality – thereby showing that it was not real to you – against other people's conceptions of reality. Therefore, that compassionate teacher Sri Shankaracharya states that we must get to the root and core of illusion.

 What is the root? We are told that the Crest Jewel is that which causes all our problems but which also is their cure. The Crest Jewel represents the fundamental affirmation that two habitual negatives make a higher-order affirmation. On the one hand, there is a false negation in the notion of reality attached to the apparent freedom of all seemingly separate subjects, and the resulting glamour of the false shadow-play created by supposedly separate selves. On the other hand, there is also the notion of a plurality of separate objects, constituting a false negation of the one homogeneous substance or root-matter which is of the quality of pure primordial light and remains undivided and untransformed. All the various collocations of atoms, in seemingly fortuitous movement, whirl and revolve around invisible centres which are seemingly separate points in one homogeneous universal region, giving rise to the falsehood that there are separate objects. These two false negations have been marked out in the great teaching of the Guru.

 Sri Shankara begins the text by saying there are three things extremely difficult to have. One is manhood. The second is the longing for liberation. The third is access to Masters. Without the second the third is impossible and the first is useless. If one wants access to Masters, one has to long sufficiently for liberation. One has to want sufficiently, with the whole of one's being, to become free from the massive burden of inane repetitions that we call life and the impossibility of making it meaningful with the help of borrowed, lifeless and bloodless categories that wear masks and don caps and engage in a perpetual pantomime play called living. Shankara says that there is nothing new under the sun, that it is all the same old story. One might say it began with thinking man, but it really began when man stopped thinking. As a result, a huge rigamarole emerged which men then packaged and called recorded history.

 History represents in recent centuries a harsh but also a necessary negation of the absurdities, errors and illusions of the past. When that happens with so many minds, when so many wills are blunted, hearts hurt and human beings lamed and crippled, suddenly we know that springtime is near. The Golden Age is next door. Suddenly we realize what we always might have known – that there are children in this world, that other people exist, that while ten men are gloomy there are another hundred who are happy. Those who are engrossed in being happy do not go around certifying their happiness to the gloomy. The gloomy want certainty, but there is no certitude to be attained anywhere in the realm of differentiation. This is a philosophical truth which everyone knew as a little child. The intuitive negation of childhood, a beautiful sharing with no "mine" and "thine," was followed by cruel adolescent affirmations which are intensely ugly especially to others and sometimes to oneself. Then came the prolonged adolescence of those who are petrified that they might actually have to assume minimal responsibilities. But when men will not negate, Nature negates. Nature's power of negation is vaster than the collective power of negation of history, and both seem more awesome and decisive than the capacity of an individual to negate. Against this, however, we have the tremendous affirmation through the supreme negation of Sri Shankaracharya.

 The individual who knows that at the root is the persisting illusion of separateness, is vaster than the universe, and can dissolve it instantly by breaking down at will the baseless, insubstantial fabric of his imagination. Anyone who can do that has begun to wake up. There are people who will not wake up voluntarily because they repeatedly fell asleep during eighteen million years and are now frightened to settle accounts. They are themselves negated by suffering which comes as healing compassion, and are negated by others in the course of intolerable inhuman encounter. Self-negation is shown by the timeless religion of responsibility and the hidden science of divine wisdom. The invisible sun in every man as the Atman, the spectator, ever radiates endless energy for the sake of all. According to this teaching, darkness is prior to what we call light; glamour or unwisdom is beginningless. It is what the ancients called Chaos, Gaia, or Mahamaya. There is a chaos prior to any cosmos. There are many myriads of systems, galaxies and galactic clusters in the vast spaces of the heavens, but if there were no primordial chaos one would be forever trapped within the same universe. Before Adam was Chaos, the primordial matter, in which is hidden the light that is the soundless sound. In the beginning was the Word. Primordial chaos is necessary for the universe, but whether we think it necessary or not, we have no choice. We are caught. We can get out, because we have in us the light that was hidden in the darkness, which lighteth up every man who comes into the world.

The Crest Jewel of Wisdom speaks only to those who are prepared to negate the world of appearances:

 Gaining at length human life, hard to win, and manhood, and an understanding of the revealed teachings, he who strives not for liberation in the Divine Self, deluded in heart, self-destroying, slays himself through grasping at the unreal. who, then, is the very self of folly but he who, deluded, follows selfish purposes, after he had gained a human body and manhood hard to win? Even though they recite the scriptures, and sacrifice to the gods, and fulfil all works, and worship the divinities – without awakening to the unity of the Divine Self, liberation is not attained even in a hundred aeons.

From the standpoint of the sage, the innumerable ways in which human beings are enmeshed in the Mahamaya are not very interesting. The sage can recognize anyone who is fully awake behind a semi-sleepy projection. Those who really want to emerge from behind the false personal mask will receive what they deserve in mathematically exact proportion. This is a truth about consciousness on all planes. One must deserve to go beyond all the external forms and modes and, through the eternal soul-memory now awakened of the soundless sound behind the great vibrations of the universe, to light up in the lower mind a self-conscious reflection of the invisible sun that overbroods the egg.

 Albert Einstein said there are no hitching posts in the universe. There are no boundaries except arbitrary and conventional ones assigned by human beings who happen to think that they occupy a fixed point of space and time, when in fact space is curved and time is relative. They do not understand the inner meaning of spatial coordinates and of clocktime. Although there are no hitching posts, there are innumerable hooking points. When people really begin to enjoy the thought that at any point of space-time they could break out of the boundedness of the universe, they can experience through self-knowledge what they have forgotten. The ancients taught that God is a circle with its centre everywhere and circumference nowhere. Human beings can find in the inmost depths of abstract meditation an active centre of intense, motionless, joyous consciousness. Abiding in universal welfare and doing nothing, as beings of light they enjoy pure unmoving spiritual will in, through and independently of, all material vestures. Even if we somewhat understand all of this, it is still very difficult to light the lamp of discernment. The moment we think, "Let me do this," "May I be that," we only create karma and imprison ourselves. But the moment we say, "Let me begin," and also recognize that there is a chaos we cannot explain and that there are no hitching posts, then we begin like true pilgrims to walk along the Path. It leads to invisible summits lost in glorious Nirvanic light which may be glimpsed from foothills and mountains arduously climbed in cheerful enjoyment, although one is aware of the many pitfalls on the way. The only hooking points are found within. They form the seven-knotted bamboo staff of the ascetic. If you were a montagnard you would cherish the serene strength of the individual and know what the communards forget, that communities are doomed to fail from the start when men are afraid to be alone. At the same time, if a human being in distress came for help, the montagnard will take care of him and then return to solitude.

 The soul is ensnared through the power of misidentification in the chaos of primordial matter. If we enjoy narcissistically the illusions of the ever-changing reflective soul, then we forget the light of divine discernment, the Sleeping Beauty in the castle. She can only be awakened by Prince Charming, the androgynous manas, the power of noetic thought, ideation and imagination. Real thinking has a self-sustaining quality determined by the grasp, the vision, the scope and the strength of the universal ideas that provide mental nourishment. When one truly begins to walk the inner Path, one does not need any reference point in external space and time, and can see the moment of birth as if it were this morning's dawn and can see the moment of death as if it were this evening's twilight. Thousands of previous lives seem like twinkling stars in the sky.

 The real Gurus who truly know teach just by being themselves. They are self-existing, self-manifesting embodiments of the wisdom of compassion, crowned with the Crest Jewel of pure insight. Their very existence is testimony. Shankara spoke to disciples who were already free from the delusion of the personal "I" but who were stuck in the illusion of the individual "I." His teaching is not about the hereafter, not about the now and then, not about the always and everywhere, but about That. The supreme affirmation is TAT TVAM ASI – That Thou Art. That is the oldest teaching which Shankara explained by reference to reason, to experience, to states of consciousness, to vestures of matter in the five-fold classification, and also by references to madmen, yogis and free men. Universal self-awareness is the potential privilege and birthright of every human being, but no one can attain to it except by fulfilling the qualifications, embodying the conditions that approximate the posture and the position of a true learner.

 The Crest Jewel could be in your hands. Use it, Shankara says, because by use you make it sufficiently your own to recognize that the greatest lies are "I" and "thou." All amounts to an "it" and "it" equals That. That equals zero. Your sphere becomes luminous when you wholly adopt the standpoint of the Logos in the cosmos, the God in man, and then enjoy the universe through every pair of eyes. Heal yourself, and others through yourself, by luminous thoughts and adamantine compassion.

Hermes, August 1977
by Raghavan Iyer