According to tradition, this book was written by Adi Sankara, the most important philosopher of Advaita Vedanta. Modern scholarship has cast doubt on this attribution, but the book remains one of the most famous and widely-read classics in the Advaitan literature.
The author (whoever he or she may have been) prescribes a method of Jnana Yoga called viveka or discrimination in which the seeker learns to distinguish what is really the self from the insentient things with which it is normally confused.
Rev. John Henry Richards, who made this translation, was rector of Stackpole Elidur Church in Cheriton, Wales until his retirement in 1999.
This work is also known as Crest Jewel of Wisdom, Crown Jewel of Discrimination, and Crest Jewel of Wisdom.
I prostrate myself before Govinda, the true Guru and ultimate Bliss, who is the unattainable resort of all scriptures and Vedanta.
Human nature is the hardest of creaturely states to obtain, even more so that of manhood. Brahminhood is rarer still, and beyond that dedication to the path of Vedic religion. Beyond even that there is discrimination between self and non-self, but liberation by persistence in the state of the unity of God and self is not to be achieved except by the meritorious deeds of hundreds of thousands of lives.
These three things are hard to achieve, and are attained only by the grace of God — human nature, the desire for liberation, and finding refuge with a great sage.
He is a suicide who has somehow achieved human birth and even manhood and full knowledge of the scriptures but does not strive for self-liberation, for he destroys himself by clinging to the unreal.
Who could be more foolish than the man who has achieved the difficult attainment of a human body and even manhood but still neglects his true good?
People may quote the scriptures, make sacrifices to the gods, perform actions and pay homage to the deities, but there is no liberation without recognising the oneness of one’s own true being — not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas (countless millions of years).
Scripture declares that there is no hope of immortality by means of wealth, so it is evident that liberation cannot be brought about by actions.
So let the man of understanding strive for liberation, abandoning desire for the enjoyment of external aims and pleasures, and after becoming the pupil of a good and great teacher, let him fix his mind on the goal he indicates.
Sunk in the sea of samsara, one should oneself rouse oneself by holding onto right understanding until one reaches the state of the attainment of union.
Abandoning all actions and breaking free from the bonds of achievements, the wise and intelligent should apply themselves to self-knowledge.
Action is for the purification of the mind, not for the understanding of reality. The recognition of reality is through discrimination, and not by even tens of millions of actions.
Proper analysis leads to the realisation of the reality of the rope, and this is the end of the pain of the fear of the great snake caused by delusion.
The realisation of the truth is seen to depend on meditation on statements about what is good, not on bathing or donations or by hundreds of yogic breathing exercises.
Achievement of the goal depends primarily on a fit seeker. Things like locality and time are merely secondary in this matter.
So he who would know his own nature should practise meditation on the subject after taking refuge with a guru who is a true knower of God and an ocean of compassion.
It is the wise and learned man, skilled in sorting out the pros and cons of an argument who is really endowed with the qualities necessary for self-realisation.
Discriminating and dispassionate, endowed with peace and similar qualities, and longing for liberation — such is the man who is considered fit to practise seeking for God.
The wise talk here of four qualities, possessed of which one will succeed, but without which one will fail.
First is listed discrimination between unchanging and changing realities, and after that dispassion for the enjoyment of the fruits of action both here and hereafter, and then the group of six qualities including peace and of course the desire for liberation.
“God is the Truth and the world is unreal.” It is this realisation that is considered discrimination between the permanent and the impermanent.
Dispassion is the turning away from what can be seen and heard and so on in everything which is impermanent, from the body up to the highest heavenly states.
The settling of the mind in its goal, by turning away from the mass of objects through observing their defects again and again, is known as peace.
The establishment of the senses each in its own source by means of turning away from their objects is known as control. The supreme restraint is in the mind function not being involved in anything external.
Bearing all afflictions without retaliation and without mental disturbance is what is known as patience.
The holding on to the knowledge of the truth of the Scriptures and the guru’s teaching is called faith. It is by means of this that reality is grasped.
The continual holding onto the awareness of God alone - continually, is known as concentration — not just mental self-gratification.
The wish to be freed by the knowledge of one’s true nature from such bonds as seeing oneself as the agent, which are contingent on the body and created by ignorance — this is desire for liberation.
This desire for liberation can bear fruit through dispassion, peacefulness etc. by the grace of the guru, even when only weak or mediocre.
It is in a man who has strong dispassion and desire for liberation though that peacefulness and so on are really fruitful.
But where there is a weakness in these qualities of renunciation and desire for liberation, apparent peacefulness and such like have as much substance as water in the desert.
Among the contributory factors of liberation, devotion stands supreme, and it is the search for one’s own true nature that is meant by devotion.
Others say that devotion is inquiry into the reality of one’s own nature. He who possesses the above qualities and would know the truth about his own nature should take refuge with a wise guru who can free him from his bonds.
The guru should be one who knows the scriptures, is blameless and a supreme knower of God. He should be at peace in God, tranquil as a fire that has run out of fuel. He should be a boundless ocean of compassion and the friend of those who seek his protection.
After prostrating oneself with devotion before the guru and satisfying him with prostrations, humble devotion and service, one should ask him what one needs to know.
Hail, lord, friend of those who bow before you, and ocean of compassion. I have fallen into this sea of samsara. Save me with a direct glance from your eye which bestows grace like nectar.
I am stricken by the unquenchable forest fire of samsara and blown about by unforseeable winds of circumstances. Save me from death, for I am afraid and take refuge in you, for I know of no one else to help me.
Good and peaceful, great men living for the good of all, and having themselves crossed the fearful torrent of becoming, with no ulterior motive help others to cross too.
It is the nature of great souls to act spontaneously for the relief of the distress of others, just as the moon here of itself protects the earth parched by the heat of the fierce rays of the sun.
Pour upon me your sweet words, imbued with the taste of God’s bliss. They spring from your lips as if poured out of a jug, and are pleasing to the ear. For I am tormented by samsara’s afflictions, like the flames of a forest fire, Lord. Blessed are those who receive even a passing glance from your eyes.
How can I cross this sea of changing circumstances? What should I do, what means employ? In your mercy, Lord, show me how to end the pain of samsara, for I understand nothing.
As he said this, tormented by the forest fire of samsara, the great Sage looked at him with a gaze full of compassion, urging him to abandon fear, now that he had taken refuge in him.
Out of compassion the Sage undertakes his instruction since he has come to him for help in his search for liberation, is willing to do as he is told, is pacified of mind and calm.
Don’t be afraid, master. Destruction is not for you. There is indeed a means of crossing the sea of samsara, the way taken by which those who have crossed over before, and I will now instruct you in it.
There is a certain great means which puts an end to the fear of samsara. Crossing the sea of change by means of it, you will achieve the ultimate joy.
Supreme understanding springs from meditating on the meaning of Vedanta, and that is followed immediately by the elimination of the pain of samsara.
The practice of faith, devotion and meditation are declared by scripture to be the means to liberation for a seeker after liberation. He who perseveres in these will achieve freedom from the bondage to the body, created by ignorance.
Linked with ignorance, your supreme self has become involved in the bonds of non-self, and from that in samsara. The fire of the knowledge born from discriminating between these two will burn out the consequences of ignorance along with its very root.
Out of compassion hear this question I put to you, so that when I have heard the reply from your lips I will be able to put it into practice.
What exactly is bondage? How does it come about and remain? How is one freed from it? What exactly is non self? What is the Supreme Self? And how does one discriminate between them? Explain this to me.
You are indeed blessed, for you have achieved the true purpose of life and sanctified your family, in that you seek deification by liberation from the bonds of ignorance.
John Henry Richards was an Anglican clergyman who worked at several churches on the Castlemartin Peninsula in Wales. He died in 2017. For more information, see our main page about him.
This page was published on May 16, 2000 and last revised on May 27, 2017.