A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 8

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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.