Over the next couple of months, I will be posting some book reviews that I made 10+ years ago, which are no longer available elsewhere on the Internet.
The first of these is:
dṛg dṛśya viveka, Clarissa, Lulu Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4452-0858-9. (171 pages), $19.62 from Amazon.com. Also available from Watkins Books, 21 Cecil Court, London WC2, £12.99.
Clarissa was born in Austria in 1956 and from early childhood lived in different countries around the world. After completing her postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Art in 1981, Clarissa spent several years travelling in Thailand, Burma and Indonesia, and lived in India for many years. This was a time of exploration in the world of art and design.
Throughout her life, Clarissa has explored many different spiritual traditions, and has worked with various teachers. In the early years, the focus was on Sufi, Buddhist and Dzogchen teachings. Later on Yoga and Vipassana meditation have become the main practice.
Her inner journey really took off when she started practicing Yoga, and met her teacher Mansoor, with whom she has been working closely for the last ten years. A vast new horizon opened up for her with the study of scripture, and she was able to recognize the experiences she was having in her own Yoga practice, in this wider context. Clarissa started teaching Yoga in 2002 and now teaches in India and Europe. She is currently based between Brighton and India. Website: www.chup-sadhana.com.
I came across this book by accident at Watkins bookstore. I didn’t actually purchase it the first time. I already had the versions by Swami Nikhilananda and Raphael and I was suspicious of a version by a Western Yoga teacher! And this is my first major criticism of the presentation. It is not clear to whom the book is intended to appeal. Any serious advaita student will be aware of the work and have one of the versions by an acknowledged Indian teacher. Accordingly, they will likewise be dubious about purchasing a version by someone who is unknown to them and whose authority may therefore be doubted. Conversely, a book with a title in Sanskrit (even including the Devanagari script) is most unlikely to appeal to the casual seeker. I do wonder, therefore, whether many people will actually buy this book. Hopefully, this review may help to rectify the situation!
It is an excellent book – beautifully presented, with a modern translation (and Sanskrit words individually translated) and followed by an intelligent and insightful commentary. The format is peculiar – 7 ½ ins square – but the result is aesthetically pleasing, even if it does not fit very well on the bookshelf! The book begins with the contents list identifying the start page of each verse. There is then a short biography of Shankara, a description of the meaning of advaita Vedanta and an introduction to the text itself. Each verse begins with the whole of the left-hand page devoted to Devanagari script, IAST translation, English translation, and finally word by word translation of each of the IAST Sanskrit words. There then follows however many pages are needed for the related commentary. The book concludes with several pages repeating the 31 verses in IAST format, supposedly for chanting purposes.
If you have one of the versions mentioned above, you may wonder what has happened to the remaining verses 32 – 46. And, if you are cynical, you may think that a dualistic Yoga philosopher might not want to tackle head-on verses that explicitly state the identity of Atman and Brahman. But this would be unjustified. In fact, the version commented by Swami Tejomayananda, the present leader of Chinmaya Mission, also only addresses these 31 verses. The authorship of the others is questionable. (Or perhaps one should say ‘more questionable’, since it is debatable whether the work as a whole was authored by Shankara. The fact that the author specifically talks about savikalpa and nirvikalpa samAdhi, when Shankara does not do so elsewhere must make it doubtful that this was in fact written by Shankara.)
But this is all an aside issue. The verses that are included are valuable ones and the interpretation is mostly in accordance with Advaita. The background of the author occasionally shows through with, for example, the explanation of the guNa-s, which is that provided by Sankhya and Yoga philosophies, but this would not pose any problem, even for those unaware of the distinctions. There is the occasional explicitly Yogic terms, such as Asana and Shavasana. There are also a few misleading expressions such as ‘Consciousness separates…’, ‘mild state of enlightenment’, ‘link with the source’.
One or two wrong ideas do creep in, too, such as the idea that we need to ‘demolish Ahamkara’ and a failure to differentiate between vyAvahArika and prAtibhAsika, but this is neither unusual nor too serious. It is very difficult to ensure that you do not use any words which imply that the non-dual is in some ways dualistic. There also appears to be some confusion in equating mAyA with the kuNDalinI of Yoga. One paragraph states that these are the same but the next says that kuNDalinI ‘cuts through the delusion of the duality of mAyA’, statements which would seem to be contradictory. Also, one cannot ‘see’ Brahman, as is said several times in Verse 20. Finally, the author does slip into the mystical occasionally, as when there is a reference to seeing a person’s ‘aura’. This, to my knowledge, is not an term that occurs in Advaita!
But these are really minor quibbles; overall the book should be acclaimed. The presentation is modern and readable, with metaphors and practical exercises that will appeal to all seekers. Sanskrit terms which may not have been encountered by new seekers or those who have only visited Western teachers are clearly explained. And the writing is really very good. E.g. “The primary superimposition is the world of phenomena imposed on Brahman. Behind the joys, the wonders, the suffering, death, starvation and all the neurotic compulsive actions, there is only Awareness, which is empty, pristine and immaculate.”
All-in-all, this is a very good book that can be highly recommended to everyone. It just seems a great shame that most will probably not encounter it and that those who do may not give it a chance. Hopefully this review may have some positive influence!
I give the book 4*, slipping the 5th because I am so pedantic about explanations being strictly in accord with Advaita.