A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 9

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Janaka said:       
2:21 – I see no duality, despite the appearance of a multitude of human beings.  They have become like a wilderness. Of what interest are they to me? 

When you come to the doubt-free understanding that you are the non-dual reality, the appearance of duality continues.  But similar to the way someone is alone in the wilderness despite being surrounded by trees, you are ‘alone’—meaning you know that you alone exist—even though it still looks like you are but one among many individual beings. 

2:22 – I am not this body, nor is the body mine.  I am not an individual embodied being (jiva); I am consciousness. Desire for life—this indeed was my bondage. 

It is evident from the preceding verses that you are not the body.  But to dispel the potential doubt that the body may somehow belong to you, Janaka states, “nor is the body mine.”  As non-dual consciousness, there is only you, so there is nothing for you to possess.  The appearance of the body makes it seems like there is something other than yourself that can belong to you.  But the body is an illusion—it can’t belong to anyone because it doesn’t really exist. 

By saying “I am not an individual embodied being (jiva),” it seems like Janaka is merely restating his previous point of not being or having a body.  But “embodied being (jiva)” is a specific technical term—by using it he’s ruling out the possibility that the self is some kind of individual soul that incarnates in one body, only to transmigrate to another body after the first body dies.  Consciousness-existence is all-pervasive like space so it can’t be contained in one place, confined to a particular body.  And it can’t transmigrate from one place to another because it’s absolutely everywhere.  The implication here is that there is no such thing as reincarnation—it is just a product of self-ignorance.        

There is one last point to be made regarding the notion of the self being an individual soul.  Some hold the view that there are innumerable separate selves, each one its own self-contained unit of infinite, eternal consciousness.  But this belief is untenable for the following reasons: 

1) To be infinite is to be limitless and all-pervasive.  But if there is one individual self that is limitless and all-pervasive, there can’t be a second limitless all-pervasive self.  Why?  Because the existence of a second self would limit the existence of first self.  To be two distinct selves, they could not exist in the same place.  And if there were a place where the two selves didn’t exist, they would no longer be limitless and all-pervasive.   

2)  There can’t be multiple selves of the nature of consciousness-existence because there are no distinctions whatsoever in consciousness-existence—it’s the same everywhere just like water is H2O whether it’s in a puddle, an ocean or a raincloud.  Just as there’s no difference in the H2O of two raindrops, there’s no distinction between the consciousness-existence of two beings.  It could be argued that two raindrops—despite both being H2O—are distinct entities because they are separated by space.  But this doesn’t apply to the case of consciousness-existence because it’s all-pervasive. 

Since consciousness-existence is everywhere without exception and always of the same nature there can’t be multiple selves.              

2:23 – On the rising of the wind of the mind, the various waves of the world are produced in me, the limitless ocean [of consciousness/existence]. 

The mind doesn’t literally produce the world because both the world and the mind are equally the products of self-ignorance.  However, the mind is the instrument to experience “the various waves of the world.”  So it can be said that when the mind ‘rises’ from the dormancy of deep sleep, that experienced is ‘produced’ i.e. made possible. 

Student:  What produces ignorance? 

Teacher: It’s never really produced, the same way that water is never really produced in a mirage.  Ignorance is only ‘there’ until you realize that it’s not really there, like water in a mirage.  You alone exist—ignorance is not a second reality that exists over and above consciousness-existence.      

2:24 – To the misfortune of the individual embodied being (jiva), the merchant, the ship of the world is destroyed when the wind of the mind comes to rest in me, the limitless ocean [of consciousness/existence]. 

Here the individual is likened to a merchant because, owing to its sense of egoism, it is constantly ‘sailing’ around in the ‘ship’ of the world conducting ‘transactions’ of experience; it offers up its actions as payment and expects to be reimbursed with the results of its actions.  But when the world is destroyed—meaning when it is seen to be unreal—the belief in individuality is also destroyed, along with the sense of being a doer and enjoyer. 

If you were an individual this would be most unfortunate.  But you are consciousness-existence—you never have been, and never will be, an individual embodied being.  Therefore, being divested of the belief that you’re an individual is quite fortunate because you’re relieved of the tremendous burden of feeling obsessively compelled to do certain actions; you’re released from the anxiety of wondering whether your actions will yield the appropriate results; you’re freed from the effort required to protect and maintain what you have accomplished. 

Does this mean that when you understand that you’re consciousness-existence that the individual—the body-mind you thought you were—should simply lay around, inactive?   That it should quit its job, abandon its family and responsibilities, stop eating and just sit under a tree not caring what happens?  No, because the appearance of the world continues just as before and the nature of the body-mind is to perform action until it dies; even lying around doing nothing is an action. 

This means the body-mind can, and will, do what it has always done.  And this is just fine because the body-mind is not real and it’s not you.  As consciousness-existence, you are relieved of the burden of doing action, released from anxiety about its results and freed from the effort of maintaining those results in the sense that you know that those things never had anything to do with you in the first place. 

Granted, the body-mind is none other than you, consciousness-existence, the same way a clay pot is nothing but clay.  And it can benefit from keeping that fact in mind insofar as when it does actions it can do them knowing that as consciousness-existence it is never really doing anything.  And that it’s never truly affected by the results of action.  So in the midst of everyday life, the individual can have peace of mind, regardless of its circumstances.             

2:25 – It is strange how individual embodied beings appear in me, the limitless ocean [of consciousness-existence].  Like waves they rise, play for a time, clash with one another and are eventually reabsorbed (disappear), each according to their own nature.

The appearance of the world and the individual beings that inhabit it is truly inexplicable–despite any theories made by religion and philosophy, there is no explanation why things happen the way they do.  To rationalize the sickening abuse of a young child or the shocking carnage of genocide as the outcome of a just law of cause and effect is naïve and insensitive.  More importantly, it is unprovable.  The truth is that things simply happen and we have no idea why. 

But when you have self-knowledge, this is not troubling.  The world and its inhabitants, although strange, are known to be an illusion, a dream.  Even when things appear to be happening, nothing is happening at all.  Consciousness-existence is merely existing, ever action-less and unchanged.  Awaken from the dream and know that everything is alright.