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4:1 – The one who is steadfast in self-knowledge enjoys playing the game of life, unlike the deluded beasts of burden who are trapped in it.
An enlightened person can lead a regular life just like an unenlightened person. But the difference is that an enlightened person’s understanding of life, and their relationship to it, stands in stark contrast to that of the unenlightened person. Here the unenlightened person is unflatteringly—and I might add, disrespectfully—characterized as a beast of burden. The beast of burden metaphor only applies insofar as the unenlightened person is ‘trapped’ by the belief that they are an individual body-mind. And by extension they are ‘burdened’ by the weight of performing actions and reaping results in the world. But the enlightened person who understands that they are the action-less self and that the body-mind and universe are unreal, can ‘play’ the game of life, never taking it too seriously and enjoying it for whatever it is worth.
Ultimately, describing the behavior of an enlightened person is unproductive because an enlightened person knows that as consciousness-existence they are not, nor have they ever been, a person. As such, whether the body-mind performs action as sport or under the delusion of being a doer and enjoyer never has, and never will, apply to them.
4:2 – The yogi does not take pleasure in attaining steadfast self-knowledge even though the gods, wishing to attain that state, feel afflicted.
The Vedic religion—in which Vedanta has its roots—asserts that you can become a god through religious rituals and strenuous discipline. While this may sound alluring, the drawback is that once the merit of the deeds that earned you godhood is exhausted, you return to being a normal person. Or worse, you drop down a couple of rungs on the evolutionary ladder and become an animal or a plant. This is why Janaka says that even the gods, despite their exalted position, wish for something more i.e. self-knowledge.
While I doubt these religious myths are literally true, they do point to something true—that anything acquired by action has a beginning and an end. This means that accomplishing something, whether incredible like becoming a god, or mundane like getting hired for a new job, is never a permanent solution to the problem of suffering.
Self-knowledge, however, is a permanent solution to the problem of suffering because it’s a matter of understanding rather than action—understanding that as the eternal, unchanging self you are never subject to suffering, whether you be a god, a man, a dog or a houseplant.
4:3 – Knowing that (consciousness-existence), one is not touched by good or evil, just as the sky is not touched by smoke, even though it appears to be.
The empty space we refer to as the sky seems to be tainted when smoke appears in it. But in reality, the space remains the same. Similarly, consciousness-existence seems to be affected by the good and evil deeds of the body-mind. But in truth, it is never affected because the body-mind and the actions it performs are illusory. Knowing that, you are never touched by good or evil.
4:4 – Who can prevent the wise one who knows the universe to be the self alone from acting spontaneously?
The wise one knows that as the self, they are action-less and free of the body-mind. So from the absolute viewpoint, whether the actions of the body-mind are spontaneous or otherwise is irrelevant. But from the empirical viewpoint, when one understands that the universe is really the changeless self they’re not obligated to act with a motivation in mind because they know that nothing can really be accomplished.
4:5 – Out of all beings in the universe, the wise one alone is capable of renouncing desire and aversion.
The wise one doesn’t need to renounce anything because as the self, states of mind such as desire and aversion don’t apply to them. But taking into account the body-mind from the empirical viewpoint, those with self-knowledge are better equipped than anyone else to renounce desire and aversion for two reasons. 1) They know that neither desirable nor undesirable objects are real and that there’s no reason to compulsively desire or avoid something unreal. 2) They know that as non-dual changeless consciousness-existence, a desirable object can’t add anything to them and an undesirable object can’t take anything away.
4:6 – Rare is the one who knows the lord, the self, the one without a second. That one feels no fear anywhere.
When you know you’re one without a second, there’s nothing to fear because everything is yourself. Alternately, there’s no reason for fear because anything feared is an object and all objects are unreal. In the same way that no one needs to fear a dream object when, upon waking it’s seen to be unreal, no one needs to fear anything in the world when, upon self-realization it’s known to be an illusion.
In this verse Janaka refers to the self as the lord (isvara) but then declares that the self is one without a second. This shows that the title of “lord” is only figurative because the self could only be a lord in the literal sense if there were something other than itself to lord over.