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. 

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