Maya (Illusion) is enthroned in the imagination of the mind. How cunning she is! A Viveki knows her tricks well. She (Maya) is awfully afraid of the man of renunciation. She bows to him with folded hands. ~ Swami Sivananda
Viveka is the Sanskrit word for Discrimination or Right Understanding. Discernment. Wisdom put into practice.
Viveka is usually paired with Vairagya, which means Non-attachment, and between them they form two of the pillars of the life of the renunciate, the one who seeks to understand beyond the world of appearance. Vairagya is often much misinterpreted and I will look at that another time, but for now Viveka; discrimination, understanding.
”Lead me from darkness to light,
From the Unreal to the Real,
From Death to immortality.”
~ From the Brihandaranyaka Upanishad.
But how do we distinguish between what is truly light and what is dark, between what is Real and what is Unreal?
By reflection, reasoning and instructions of teachers, the truth is known, Not by ablutions, not by making donations, nor by performing hundreds of breath control exercises. ~ Viveka Chudamani (The Crest Jewel of discrimination) by Shankaracharya
Many aspects of the being are brought into play when exercising discrimination; not only what we see (read) and hear and think, but also what we feel or intuit or infer from the energetic information at our disposal. It requires above all that we begin to know ourselves, where our favourite blind spots are, where our conditioned responses corner us, our vanities, our desires and our wounds.
So, to this extent Viveka is a demanding practice, not a beginners practice that we casually feel we may have mastered. It requires that we have watched the workings of our personalities, mental programming and subconscious drives quite closely; observing ourselves almost as if we were someone else, with that kind of objectivity. So that when we come to assess situations we know the ground we stand on.
Of course, at this task we will fail, fail again and fail better, and hopefully with a sense of humour.
The continuous practice of discrimination is the means of attaining liberation. ~ (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2.26)
This Viveka develops as we gain experiences, so cannot be won by hiding away. Gradually, if we practice watchfulness, Viveka becomes spontaneous. Knowing what is so-called ”right” and ”wrong” because we have been told it, or it is the law, or it is considered moral and so on, is not true Viveka. It is a much deeper knowing than that.
But Viveka does not only concern the internal landscape ~ we also have to see the external situation with dispassion and clarity. This of course is difficult because so many situations are not what they seem. Witnesses at the same incident will give widely varying accounts. Our perception is coloured by what we are prepared to see/accept, by what we desire, by what we dislike. And everyone we encounter is as complex as ourselves, deep souls with the encumbrances and ecstasies of many lifetimes. They may be as hidden from their own selves as we may be from our own, and thus impossible to decipher.
And then ultimately, because Viveka does not just concern our selves but is a pillar for evolution, we have to assess how to act in a way that does not harm the peace of others.
”Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?”
We can be so efficient at monitoring mechanical processes in order to fix them. We can patiently watch the machine or process work through a cycle and see where the obstacle is. Though the human is undoubtedly more complex, we should still ultimately be able to exercise much the same observation of ourselves.
Viveka is about self mastery.
“Difficult to explain, difficult to understand and difficult to attain by practice is viveka, or discriminating wisdom. Even if by any lucky chance one succeeds in attaining viveka, still many obstructions block the continuity of this discriminating awareness.”
~ Kaka Bhusundi. (The Sage Crow)
Viveka is a way to deal with ordinary mundane mental conundrums. It manifests automatically as we come to know ourselves. And it also helps then eventually to discriminate between spiritual experiences we may have. True Viveka will prevent us from becoming lost in some astral landscape or some esoteric cul-de-sac. Viveka will help us to recognise obstructions and stagnation and lovely/painful distractions.
Meditation, or quiet regular awareness of the difference between thoughts arising within the field and the actual field itself, is a practice to cultivate Viveka. Be the Witness.
True Self-Enquiry cultivates Viveka. Gently but persistently probing one’s motivations, patterns and so on. Not being cold yourself, but looking at life with what might be termed a cold eye. No self deluding.
It is through Viveka that proper Non-attachment arises. Non-attachment can arise improperly through misery. We are fed up, disenchanted, angry and so we become embittered and detached. Or non-attachment can arise properly through Discrimination.
And once we have discriminated between what is real and unreal (what is enduring and what is passing), we may still find it takes some time for us to be able to put into practice the most sensible attitude and behaviour. And this is okay.
We may not be responsible for the situations we find ourselves in, but we ARE responsible for our reactions. Viveka helps us to gradually develop habits of acting and reacting that are most beneficial.
And to emphasise that Viveka is not some casual party trick…..It is a hard-won quality that the discerning person chooses to cultivate…..
Viveka is discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent, between the Self and the non-Self. Viveka dawns in a man through the Grace of God. The Grace can come only after one has done unceasing selfless service in countless births with the feeling that he is an instrument of the Lord and that the work is an offering to the Lord. The door to the higher mind is flung open when there is an awakening of discrimination.
~ Swami Sivananda
It is by gradually realising that the pleasures of the senses are transcient (though they must be experienced fully and wholeheartedly in order to be eventually transcended), and by realising that we are temporary incarnations in these bodies passing through an ever-changing world, that we eventually cultivate true knowledge of what is real and what is unreal, what is passing and what is eternal.
Mind wants repetition of a pleasure once enjoyed. Memory of pleasure arises in the mind. Memory induces imagination and thinking. In this way, attachment arises. Through repetition, a habit is formed. Mind then exercises its rule over poor, helpless, weak-willed worldlings. As soon as Viveka (discrimination) arises, the power of the mind becomes weakened. The mind tries to recede, to retrace its steps to its original home. Its poisonous fangs are extracted by discrimination. It cannot do anything in the presence of discrimination. It gets dethroned. The will becomes stronger and stronger when discrimination is awakened.
~ Swami Sivananda.
Note : Any misrepresentation here in this discussion on Viveka is due to my own misunderstanding. Please consult sources quoted for further study.