A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 3


Ashtavakra said: 
1:13 – Having freed yourself from identification with the body and mind—the delusion of thinking, “I am an individual person”—reflect on the truth, “I am immutable, non-dual consciousness.” 
1:14 – My child, you have long been caught in the noose of thinking you are the body.  Sever it with the sword of the knowledge “I am consciousness” and be happy.
1:15 – You are unattached, actionless, self-luminous and flawless.  To continue seeking samadhi is bondage.

“Samadhi” means absorption into, or union with, an object of meditation.  While meditation in general is a healthy practice that focuses and calms the mind, in the case of self-inquiry, meditating for the sake of samadhi only reinforces bondage, meaning ignorance.  How so?  First, seeking samadhi presupposes that you are an object that can be meditated upon.  But as the “one seer of all (1.7)” that is “not perceived by the senses (1.5)” and “neither the doer nor enjoyer (1.6)” you cannot be what is perceived, what is experienced i.e. an object.  Second, you cannot be absorbed into yourself or gain union with yourself because you already are yourself, similar to the way a gold bracelet cannot gain union with, or absorption in, gold because it is already gold. 

In this verse you are described as “self-luminous” which is a metaphorical way of saying that you are self-evident.  Just as the sun does not need to be illumined by an external light because its very nature is light, you do not require an external means to be ‘known’ because your very nature is consciousness, which is the very essence of knowledge.  To put it simply, you know you are conscious precisely for the fact that you are conscious.  Nothing else is required.                  

1:16 – This universe exists within you and is pervaded by you.  You are pure consciousness; do not be narrow minded and think otherwise. 

After Ashtavakra says that the universe exists within you, to avoid the doubt that it could be something separate from you—the way a boat exits within, but is separate from, the ocean—he adds that the universe is also pervaded by you.  A good illustration of this point is how a wave exists within the ocean but is also pervaded by the ocean (as water).  However, you cannot actually say the wave is pervaded by water because that would imply that there is some substance apart from water called “wave.” In reality, there is no wave, only water.  Similarly, it cannot be taken literally when it is said that you pervade the universe, because upon analysis, the universe is merely an appearance that is nothing but you, consciousness.  This is how you are “pure” consciousness; because nothing exists apart from you that could taint you. 

One of the features of the Ashtavakra Samhita that can make it difficult to read is that it rapidly switches viewpoints from verse to verse or as in this case, within a single verse.  In the first part of the verse Ashtavakra assumes the empirical viewpoint (vyavaharika), taking the everyday experience of the world at face value, in which case he says that the universe is “within” you and is “pervaded by you.”  However, without giving an explanation, he immediately jumps to the ‘absolute’ viewpoint (paramarthika) and states that there is only consciousness, thereby negating the appearance of the world and by extension, the idea that it is within you or pervaded by you. 

Without being aware of these two viewpoints, some of Ashtavakra’s statements may seem contradictory.  But with the right understanding you can see that they are like looking at the same thing from two different perspectives.  For instance, if you are looking at water from the perspective of a wave, you can say that the wave exists within, and is pervaded by, water. But when you look at a wave from the perspective of water itself, you have to say there is only water.  However, it must be kept in mind that only one perspective is actually true while the other is only relatively true.  Because of that, just as the perspective of the wave must be given up when the perspective of water is known, so the empirical viewpoint that accepts the appearance of the universe must be given up when the absolute viewpoint—that there is only consciousness—is known.  

1:17 – You are independent, formless, changeless, calm, unfathomable intelligence and imperturbable.  Desire to be this consciousness alone.

“Unfathomable” means that you cannot be apprehended or defined by thoughts, words, concepts or sense perception.  For this reason, the word “intelligence” cannot be taken literally since it denotes a mental process consisting precisely of those things.  Therefore, the implied meaning of “unfathomable intelligence” is consciousness.  How so?  Because the one factor that is there in the presence of every single thought, word, concept or perception, that itself is not grasped by them, is consciousness.  Since it is the essence of all intelligence but never the object of intelligence, it is “unfathomable intelligence.”      

The phrase “desire to be consciousness” also cannot be taken literally because it seems to say that consciousness is something you should desire to become.  But since you are already consciousness, you cannot become consciousness.  Therefore, “desire to be consciousness” means “desire to understand that you are consciousness.” Or it can mean “be satisfied with being consciousness alone” because trying to find fulfillment in the transient objects of the world is futile.    

Part 4 coming next week.  In the meantime…

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