A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 7

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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.