A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 8

Read Part 7

Have a question? Ask here.

Want to support the work of End of Knowledge? Donate here.

Janaka said:
2:15 – Knowledge, knower and that which is known—these three do not exist in reality.  Through ignorance, they appear in me, the stainless (the self). 

At first Vedanta says that you, consciousness, are the knower and that all objects known to you—because they are transient—do not really exist.  So why is Janaka saying that the knower doesn’t exist?  Because knowing is also a transient object.  It may seem like Vedanta is contradicting itself but there is a good reason for the teaching to initially describe consciousness as the knower and that is to deny the idea that consciousness could be a known object.  Once that notion is refuted, the idea that you are the knower no longer has any purpose—so the teaching negates it.   

Student:  If my nature is consciousness, how can I not be the knower?  Consciousness is what knows. 

Teacher:  Knowing is an action.  But in Verse 1:12, Ashtavakra explicitly denies all action on the part of the self by calling it “action-less.”  So consciousness can’t be the knower.  At best you can say that consciousness makes knowing possible by ‘illuminating’ knowledge of an object and the knower of that knowledgeAnd it does this without any action on its part because as consciousness, its very nature is ‘luminous.’ 

But this is only a temporary explanation because, being non-dual, there is nothing other than consciousness for it to illuminate.  That’s why the verse says that knowledge, the knower and the known objects don’t exist.  They only seem to exist when the non-dual nature of consciousness is not known.               

2:16 – All misery is rooted in duality.  There is no other cure for it except the realization that all that is experienced is unreal.  I am one alone; I am of the essence of pure consciousness. 

The body-mind is where all suffering—both physical and mental—occurs.  Since the existence of the body-mind, and subsequent identification with it, is only possible owing to a belief in duality i.e. self-ignorance, duality is the root of all misery.  And the only cure for this misery is to understand that the body-mind is not real and that, despite any appearances to the contrary, you are non-dual pure consciousness. 

Now, when you come to this realization, does the body-mind suddenly disappear? No.  Does it stop suffering and experience unending peace and happiness?  Absolutely not.  The body-mind continues just as it did before.  The difference is that you know for certain that the problems of the body-mind are totally unreal and that they do not belong to you in any way whatsoever, similar to the way you understand that the problems of other people’s bodies and minds have nothing to do with you.    

2:17 – I am pure consciousness. I am conceived as limited only through ignorance.  Constantly reflecting on this truth, free from all doubt, I remain established in myself. 

Even when you have no doubt that you are limitless consciousness, habitual thoughts of limitation may continue to appear in the mind, causing negative emotions.  To combat those patterns of limiting thoughts, you simply need to remind yourself of what you know to be true.  In this way you remain ‘established’ in yourself, meaning you get the thinking of the mind in harmony with what you know to be true about yourself.       

2:18 – I am neither bound nor am I free.  Delusion, no longer having a support, has come to rest (ceased).  The universe, though appearing to exist in me, does not in reality exist.

Bondage is only an idea based on the delusion of identifying with the body-mind—in your true nature as consciousness-existence, you can never be bound.  This means, however, that you can also never be free for the simple reason that freedom is also just an idea, the idea of being released from imaginary bondage. 

This may seems like an unnecessary point to make but it isn’t because to say, “I am now free from bondage (ignorance)” is to admit that you were once bound by it, which is itself the product of ignorance!  Granted, it can be figuratively said that as non-dual consciousness-existence you are ‘free’ of the illusory body-mind.  But technically, since both bondage and freedom are purely dualistic concepts—and therefore unreal—you are never affected by either of them.        

2:19 – I have known for certain that there is no such thing as this body and this world.  There is only me (the self), pure consciousness.  [If this is so] on what can the imagination [of the body and world] now be based?

When you understand that everything is yourself, pure consciousness, there is no longer any possibility of imagining the body and world to be real.  The basis of this imagination, ignorance, is gone. 

2:20 – Body, fear, heaven and hell, bondage and freedom—all of these are fictional (imagined through self-ignorance).  What do they have to do with me, consciousness? 

If the body—and by extension, the mind—is imaginary, then there is no real reason to fear since fear always pertains to the state or circumstances of the body, whether it be ‘your’ body or someone else’s.  Regardless of whether the body is in a pleasant state or circumstance such as heaven or freedom, or in an unpleasant state or circumstance such as hell or bondage, it is of no concern to you, consciousness.  Since all of those states and circumstances are unreal, they have absolutely nothing to do with you. 

Now, does this mean that when you know that you’re consciousness-existence that the body-mind should abandon all conventions of the illusory world and step out into a busy street declaring, “There is nothing to fear!”?  Assuming the body-mind does not want to be maimed or killed, no.  Instead, it should conduct its everyday affairs just as it did before enlightenment, but with the understanding that all actions are illusory.  Knowing that, there is no need for undue concern about action and it can be performed for its own sake simply because it needs to be done.  And no matter what the outcome you can have peace of mind knowing that as consciousness-existence, you are always completely fine.

A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 7

Have a question? Ask Here.

Want to support End of Knowledge? Donate Here.

Read Part 6 here

Janaka said:
2:11 – Salutations to myself who would not be destroyed even if the entire universe, from the creator down to a clump of grass, were destroyed. 

The universe is purely an illusion so regardless of its condition or whether it be present or absent, you remain completely unchanged. 

The mention of a creator in this verse does establish that one actually exists any more than the mention of a clump of grass establishes the reality of grass—they are both illusory.  This means the creator and the grass are mentioned figuratively for the sake of example in order to make it clear that absolutely everything in the apparent creation—from the ‘highest’ (the creator) to the ‘lowest’ (a clump of grass)—could be destroyed and you would be unaffected.  But this does not change the fact that the creator and the grass never really exist.  In a non-dual reality, there is only the self-existent self that never changes—nothing, therefore, can be created.  If nothing can be created, then there can’t be a creator. 

Student:  Isn’t the universe a creation? 

Teacher:  No, it is an illusion. 

Student:  Well, isn’t the illusion of the universe a creation, like an illusion created by a magician?    

Teacher:  When a magician saws a person in half, does she create a person that has been cut in two? 

Student: No. 

Teacher:  Then how can you speak of a magician creating something? 

Student:  Granted, the magician doesn’t literally create a person sawed in half.  But she does create the appearance of a person sawed in half, yes? 

Teacher:  Yes.  But the magician is separate from her illusion—they are distinct entities.  So your example doesn’t apply to the topic at hand because unlike the duality of the magician and her illusion, reality is non-dual.  There is only you, consciousness-existence, not you plus a creation called “illusion.”     

Student:  But I see the illusion.          

Teacher:  I do too.  No one is denying that.  But my point is that seeing the illusion of the universe doesn’t mean the universe actually exists or that it’s a literal creation.  Tell me: is the illusion of the universe separate or non-separate from consciousness-existence?    

Student:  If reality is non-dual, then it must be non-separate. 

Teacher:  So the illusion of the universe can’t be anything other than consciousness-existence, correct?

Student:  Yes.    

Teacher:  Is consciousness-existence ever created?  Does it ever change?    

Student:  No.  It is self-existent and it doesn’t change.     

Teacher:  Creation, by definition, is when something new is brought into existence or something already existent is changed to make something new.  If consciousness-existence is the only thing that exists and it can’t be created or changed, creation is not possible.  Creation is only an idea, a baseless illusion caused by not knowing that what appears to be the creation is really consciousness-existence.   

Student:  What if the universe isn’t brought into existence because it already exists in a potential form in consciousness-existence, similar to the way a pot exists in a potential form in clay? That way, creation is the universe manifesting, like a pot manifesting from clay.    

Teacher:  Manifestation implies change so on those grounds, creation is still not possible. 

Student:  But the fundamental nature of consciousness-existence wouldn’t change because the manifestation of the universe would only be apparent.  It would be like a pot apparently manifesting from clay without changing the fundamental nature of the clay.   

Teacher:  “Apparent manifestation” means “doesn’t actually manifest” and that is just another way of saying illusion—I think you’ve proven my point.  But before moving on, let’s take one last look at the notion of the universe existing in consciousness-existence in potential.  This is the theory that consciousness-existence is the cause and the universe is the created effect.  To see if this can be true, let’s go back to the example of the clay and the pot, the clay being the cause and the pot being the potential effect that exists in the clay.  Now, is the potential pot clay or something other than clay?      

Student:  It would have to be clay.   

Teacher:  Then nothing other than the clay exists, yes? 

Student:  Yes.

Teacher:  If nothing other than the clay exists, then the pot must be non-existent.  And a non-existent pot can never come into existence as an effect.  If the effect doesn’t exist, then the clay can’t be a cause.  It can only appear to be a cause when the apparent effect of the pot is believed to be a real entity.  In the same way, if nothing other than consciousness/existence exists, then the universe must be non-existent.  And consciousness-existence can’t be the cause of a non-existent effect.  It can only appear to be a cause when the apparent effect of the universe is believed to be real.     

Student:  This all makes sense on a logical level but the fact that the universe appears as part of my everyday experience makes the issue confusing.    

Teacher:  Yes, it is confusing—that’s the nature of ignorance.  Tell me, have you ever seen a gold bracelet?  

Student:  Of course.    

Teacher:  Even though the circular shape of the bracelet appears in your experience, is there anything there besides gold?

Student:  No. 

Teacher:  Ok.  You, consciousness-existence are like the gold and the form of the bracelet is like the appearance of the universe.  Just as the circular shape is an illusion that is never really produced—despite being seen—the universe is an illusion that is never actually created, even though it is experienced.  In the end you can’t even say the universe exists even as an illusion because similar to the way the circular shape of a bracelet is purely gold with nothing added whatsoever, so the universe is absolutely nothing but you, consciousness-existence.                   

2:12 – Salutations to myself who, despite having a body, am one alone.  Because I pervade the entire universe, I neither go anywhere nor come from anywhere. 

Based on his previous statement, it’s obvious that Janaka knows he is consciousness-existence and that consciousness-existence never has a body.  So when he says “despite having a body, [I] am one alone” he means, “despite looking like I have a body, [I] am one alone.”  The one with self-knowledge knows that even though they ‘have’ a body—meaning it continues to appear post-enlightenment—it is an unreal appearance that neither affects nor divides them in any way. 

2:13 – Salutations to myself.  There is none equal to my capability, I who forever support the entire universe without touching it with the body.

The body-mind is the instrument of action.  So what is meant by the statement “without touching it (the universe) with the body” is that consciousness-existence ‘supports’ the universe—meaning it makes the existence of the universe possible—without doing anything whatsoever because existence is it’s very nature.  Since nothing but consciousness-existence exists, nothing else has the ‘capability’ to ‘support’ the appearance of the universe by ‘lending’ it existence.         

2:14 – Salutation to myself who have nothing or have all that is thought and spoken of.

This is a reiteration of what was said in Verse 2:2.    

A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 6

This week, Janaka continues his statement of self-knowledge from PART 5.

Janaka said:
2:6 – Just as crystallized sugar is completely permeated by the sweetness of the sugarcane from which it is produced, so the universe produced in me is completely permeated by me. 

The true nature of something is that which is essential to its existence, something that, if taken away, the thing itself would cease to be.  For instance, if it were possible to remove heat from fire or wetness from water they would no longer exist, because heat and wetness are the essence of fire and water.

On the other hand, an incidental quality of something is that which can be removed or changed while the nature of the thing itself remains unchanged.  If the color of fire changes from red to blue, the fact that it’s hot does not. This means the color of the fire—as opposed to heat, its essential nature—is merely an incidental quality.  Similarly, the form of water can change from a wave, to mist to rain but the wetness of the water does not; the form of the water is an incidental quality while the wetness of the water is its true nature.   

That doesn’t mean an incidental quality is separate from the thing it is removed from.  The red, yellow or blue color of a flame is completely permeated by the heat of the fire from which it comes.  And there is no wave—from a ripple in a pond to a tsunami in the ocean—that is in any way separate from the wetness of the water from which it is comprised. Knowing this relationship between the essential nature of something and its incidental qualities, what Janaka says in this verse can be understood.  Just as crystallized sugar is permeated by sweetness, the essential nature of sugar cane, so the universe is pervaded by consciousness/existence, the essential nature of the self.  But unlike sugarcane, which undergoes a real transformation to become sugar—meaning after the sugar is produced, the sugarcane is gone—the self never transforms into objects.  It only appears to do so, in the same way that water appears to become a wave.

2:7 – The world appears because of self-ignorance and disappears owing to self-knowledge, just as a snake appears from non-cognition of a rope and disappears when the rope is recognized. 

You only see the world when you don’t understand that it’s the self, the same way that you only see a snake when you don’t realize it’s a rope.  And just as you can no longer see a snake when you become aware of the existence of the rope, you can no longer see the world when you have knowledge of the self.  However, the literal meaning of the word “see” only applies to the example of the snake and the rope, because seeing a snake where there is only a rope is a perceptual error that disappears when the rope is known.  But in the case of mistaking the self to be the world, even after you realize it is the self, the ‘snake’ of the world does not go away.  You continue to perceive and experience the world exactly the same way as someone who does not know they are the self; the only difference is that you no longer believe the world is real.          

2:8 – Light is my very nature and I am never other than that.  I alone shine, even when the universe appears. 

As previously mentioned (1:18), light is a metaphor for consciousness because it is the invariable factor in every experience that ‘illuminates’ all objects by making it possible for them to be known.  Nothing in the universe has the ability to ‘shine’ in this way, not even apparently luminous objects such as the sun.  Not even its light can ‘illumine’ anything—meaning make something known—without you, consciousness, being present. 

2:9 – The universe appears in me, conceived through ignorance, just as silver appears in mother of pearl, as a snake appears in a rope or water appears in the desert (as a mirage). 

As Janaka unequivocally states, the only reason the universe appears is ignorance.  Although it seen it never actually exists, just as silver, a snake or water, although seen, never exist in mother of pearl, a rope or a mirage.  From this fact it follows that there is no need to waste time trying to understand how or why the universe manifests because it never does.  It only seems to when you do not know that it is really just you, consciousness/existence. 

Even if that makes sense, you may be tempted to inquire into the nature of ignorance or perhaps to whom it belongs.  But this too is unproductive, because the nature of self-ignorance, to state the obvious, is not knowing you are the self.  And if you do not know you are the self, then the self-ignorance belongs to you.  At that point the only pertinent thing to do is to get rid of the ignorance, not sit around pondering what ignorance is. Luckily, Vedanta gives you the tools to do this.  Ironically, when inquiry guided by the logic of Vedanta removes ignorance, it clearly demonstrates that you, the self, were never ignorant in the first place; it only seemed that way when you thought you were the body-mind.       

2:10 – Just as a clay pot is dissolved into clay, a wave is dissolved into water and a gold bracelet is dissolved into gold, so the universe which has emanated from me will dissolve into me.

There are two ways in which a clay pot, a wave and a gold bracelet can be dissolved into clay, water and gold, respectively.  The first way is literal: the form of the clay pot, the wave or the gold bracelet are physically destroyed, leaving behind the clay, water or gold from which they are composed. The second way is figurative: the clay pot, wave or gold bracelet are ‘dissolved’ into clay, water or gold through understanding that a clay pot is nothing but clay, a wave is only water and a gold bracelet is none other than gold.  In the same way, the universe is ‘dissolved’ into you, consciousness/existence, by the knowledge that it is consciousness/existence alone. 

Have a question?  ASK HERE

Want to support the work of End of Knowledge? DONATE HERE

Please help by using the “Share” buttons below to re-post this article on Twitter, Facebook or Google.  

A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 5


Through Ashtavakra’s instruction in the first chapter, Janaka gets enlightened.  Chapter Two is Janaka’s statement of self-knowledge.    

Read Part 4 here.

Janaka said:
2:1 – I am consciousness: without defect, tranquil, and beyond the material world.  All this time I have been deceived by delusion. 

As previously mentioned (in Part Two), enlightenment or self-knowledge is a matter of identity.  When you are ignorant of your true nature, you mistakenly identify with the body-mind.  But when you know what your true nature is, you correctly identify with consciousness.  You can tell that Janaka now clearly identifies with consciousness instead of the body-mind by the way he starts speaking of consciousness in the first person, saying “I am consciousness” instead of “consciousness is (such and such)” as if he were describing something other than himself.  For that reason, the verses in Chapter Two are excellent for meditation, recitation and contemplation.        

When Janaka says that he is beyond the material world, it does not mean that consciousness is in one place and the material world in another because consciousness has no spatial location.  Furthermore, since reality is non-dual, there cannot be both a world and consciousness.  So to say that consciousness is beyond the material world means that consciousness is not affected by the illusory appearance of the world.   

2:2 – As I alone reveal this body, even so do I reveal this universe. The entire universe is mine; or alternately, nothing is mine. 

The entire universe—which includes the body—is a known object.  That which knows it is consciousness.  In this way consciousness ‘reveals’ everything in the universe.

In the second part of the verse Janaka switches from the empirical viewpoint to the absolute viewpoint (see 1:16 for explanation of viewpoints).   From the empirical viewpoint, which provisionally accepts the appearance of the universe, it can be said that everything ‘belongs’ to consciousness since everything is consciousness.  Yet, from the absolute viewpoint, which does not admit of the universe whatsoever, nothing belongs to consciousness because there is nothing other than consciousness to belong to it. 

2:3 – Having left behind the body and the universe, I now see the highest self.

When people get enlightened, they continue to have bodies that exist in the universe.  If this were not so, then the moment Janaka got enlightened he would have disappeared and been unavailable to make these statements.  Actually, if this were not so, Janaka would not have gotten enlightened in the first place because Ashtavakra, his enlightened teacher, wouldn’t have been there to teach him.  So when Janaka says he has left behind the body and the universe, they remain as they are but he has ‘left them behind’ by recognizing them for the illusion they are and ceasing identification with the body. 

In this chapter, Janaka starts referring to consciousness/existence as “the self” (atman).  In the sense that consciousness/existence is what you truly are, it is the “self.”  Therefore, the terms will be used synonymously in the text from here forward. 

Sight being a common symbol of knowledge, when Janaka says that he sees the self he means he understands that he is the self, not that the self is some kind of object of perception.  That this self is the “highest self” means that consciousness/existence is the true self, as opposed to the false self of the body-mind.    

2:4 – As waves, foam and bubbles are not different from water, so the universe emanating from me is not different from me.

At first, Vedanta posits two fundamentally dualistic categories: self (consciousness/subject/knower/witness) and ‘not-self’ (non-conscious/object/known/witnessed).  But seeing as reality is ultimately non-dual, these two categories can only be conditionally accepted.  You may ask, “Then why use them at all?”  The answer is that in the beginning of the teaching the concept of ‘not-self’ provides a stable and critically important platform from which to inquire, one that helps you objectify the body-mind and see that it is unreal.  Once the body-mind is clearly known to be an illusion that never affects your true nature, the temporary dualistic split of self and ‘not-self’ must be mended in order for the ultimate truth of non-duality to be grasped.  Examining the relationship between water and its various manifestations is an excellent way to do this. 

Initially, it can be said that waves, foam and bubbles are different from water because the waves etc. are transient, ever-changing and possessed of form while the water is ever-present, unchanging and formless. But when the existence of the waves etc. is negated by the knowledge that they are only water, it must be said that the waves etc. are non-different from water because they are not really there; there is ever only water and therefore nothing else exists to be different from it. 

Similarly, at first it can be said that the self and the ‘not-self’ are different because the ‘not-self’ is transient, ever-changing and possessed of form while the self (consciousness/existence) is ever-present, unchanging and formless.  But when the existence of the ‘not-self’ is negated by knowledge that only the self exists, it must said that the ‘not-self’ is non-different from the self in the sense that there is nothing other than the self to be different from the self.   

It could be argued that it would be more efficient to simply skip the first step that falsely admits of something other than the self in order to go directly to the truth of non-duality.  However, very few people can do this because at first the idea of non-duality appears to stand in direct opposition to their everyday experience.  And when people are still convinced that there is such a thing as the ‘not-self’ (objects of experience) it is not productive to merely deny its existence.  Therefore, Vedanta, being eminently practical, offers an intermediate step.  It conditionally accepts the ‘not-self’ and then provides you with the tools that are needed to understand that it only appears to exist while you, the self, are the only thing that actually exists.  When that is known, the temporary difference between self and ‘not-self’ is discarded in favor of the non-dual view that there is only the self.  This view is reiterated in the next verse using the analogy of cloth and thread and requires no additional commentary.            

2:5 – As cloth, when analyzed, is found to be nothing but thread, so this universe, when analyzed, is nothing but me. 

Have a question?  ASK HERE

Want to support the ongoing work of End of Knowledge? DONATE HERE.


Thank you to those who have recently donated.  Your generosity is helping to support the ongoing work of End of Knowledge as well as the Vedanta community at large.  10 % of your donations have been re-donated to Swamini Svatmavidyananda, a direct disciple of Swami Dayananda who teaches primarily at Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam in Eugene, OR.