A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 11

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Janaka said:
3:9. The steadfast person who ever sees the self alone, is neither pleased nor angry, whether feasted or tormented. 

You can’t literally see the self because it isn’t an object of perception. So to “see the self” means to know that you are the self.  And as the self you are never affected by the states of the mind—in this way you are “neither pleased nor angry.”  But when you know you’re the self does that mean the mind is never pleased nor angry?  No.  It is impossible to have a mind completely devoid of emotion. 

It is arguably not even practical.  Can you imagine if you told your child or significant other “I love you” and they replied, “I feel nothing.  I am the self”?  Or if you informed someone of the death of a loved one and they simply stared at you blankly and said, “I don’t care.  I am the self and I don’t have emotions”?  That would be absurd. 

However, for the mind to be overly emotional about external circumstances is definitely not desirable because this can cause it a great deal of unnecessary suffering.  That’s why self-knowledge should help the mind put its emotions in perspective.  It clearly demonstrates that there’s no need for excessive attachment because everything is transient and unreal. 

Keeping that in mind, you can appreciate your external circumstances for what they’re worth, without having your sense of well-being or self-validation depend on them.  And when those circumstances inevitably change or take a turn for the worse, you can take it in stride, knowing that as consciousness-existence you are completely fine.  For instance, if a loved one dies, it is totally normal and healthy for the mind to experience sorrow.  But with the knowledge that all is consciousness-existence, the sorrow is ameliorated by the fact that as the self, no one is ever really born and no one ever really dies.         

3:10 – Witnessing the body acting as if it were another’s, how can the wise person be disturbed by praise or blame? 

Taking credit for a good or bad deed is the result of falsely identifying with the body-mind.  But when a wise person understands that they are consciousness-existence—ever actionless and free of the body-mind—the belief that they can be either praised or blamed for the actions of the body-mind is negated.  They simply witness the actions of ‘their’ body-mind as if they were observing the actions of another person’s body-mind.   

But it’s crucial to understand that non-responsibility for the actions of the body-mind only applies to consciousness-existence.  Non-responsibility never applies to the body-mind itselfAfter enlightenment the body-mind remains part of the illusory world and therefore the rules of the illusory world continue to apply to it.  So if the body-mind breaks those rules, consequences are sure to follow—this means that self-knowledge can never be used to justify improper behavior. 

3:11 – After realizing the universe is illusory, desire for it and curiosity about it goes away.  How can one of steady mind (firm self-knowledge) be afraid when death draws near? 

When the universe is seen to be an illusion, the basis for seeking satisfaction in it is negated because no satisfaction can be found in something unreal.  And there is no reason to be curious about the purpose of the universe because an entity that has no real existence can’t have a purpose, the same way a snake falsely seen where there is really a rope can’t have a purpose.  

Does knowing this justify nihilism?  No, because you’re free to find whatever relative meaning in the illusory world that you choose.  And it’s no problem that this relative meaning, being transient, offers no lasting comfort because you know that as consciousness-existence, you are the true ‘meaning’ of the universe insofar as you are its very essence—without you no relative meaning is even possible.             

Death is an unreal state that applies to an unreal body-mind.  And as consciousness-existence, the eternally self-existent reality, it’s not possible for you to die because you were never born.  For both reasons, there is no need to fear death.        

3:12 – What comparison can be made to the wise one content with self-knowledge, whose mind is free from desire even in disappointment?

As the self you are naturally free from the mind, so it’s ultimately irrelevant whether or not the mind has desires.  But from the relative viewpoint, when the mind truly assimilates the implications of self-knowledge—that at its essence, it’s none other than consciousness-existence—it can rest in the truth that everything is completely fine, even during the inevitable disappointing moments of life.  Nothing needs to be done or can be done to make everything okay, because everything is always okay.                

3:13 – Why should one of steady mind (firm self-knowledge), who knows that objects of perception do not really exist, consider one thing acceptable and another unacceptable?

There are two ways to look at this verse. 1) There is nothing to accept or reject because there is nothing other than the non-dual self to accept or reject and the self cannot be accepted or rejected because you are the self.  2) If an object of perception does not really exist, then its being acceptable or unacceptable is also illusory.    

Does this mean that a person with firm self-knowledge, who knows that nothing is actually acceptable or unacceptable, would just as soon drink a glass of cold muddy water as a cup of hot tea?  Or cause harm rather than give help?  No. They make choices like any other person, based on personal preference and accepted rules of conduct.  The difference is that they are not unduly disturbed by the outcome of those choices, whether acceptable or unacceptable, because they know that as the self, they are unaffected by both.          

3:14 – When experience arises naturally, it causes neither pleasure nor pain for the one who has given up interest in the world, who is free from desire and the pairs of opposites (the duality of experience).  

This verse is tricky because it mixes the empirical and absolute viewpoints.  “The one who has given up interest in the world” must be the empirical body-mind because you, consciousness-existence, have no interest in the world in the first place.  But the phrases “it (experience) causes neither pleasure nor pain” and “who is free from desire and the pairs of opposites” must be the self from the absolute viewpoint because the body-mind is always subject to desire and the opposites of pleasure and pain, which continue to arise “naturally” even after self-knowledge.  Regardless, a body-mind free of self-ignorance should become increasingly objective about its desires and dispassionate about the ups and downs (opposites) of life.