Vedic cosmology posits that creation is cyclical—the universe arises from consciousness-existence and eventually ‘dissolves’ back into consciousness-existence, lying dormant until the time comes for it to arise again. This dissolution of the universe into consciousness-existence is called laya. Another meaning of laya is “absorption,” which in relation to enlightenment pertains to the belief that a person attains freedom by merging their ‘relative self’ (the individual soul) into the ‘absolute self’ of consciousness-existence.
But here in the four verses of Chapter Five, Ashtavakra offers a very different perspective on these traditional notions of laya. He declares the universe doesn’t need to be physically dissolved into consciousness-existence because it naturally ‘dissolves’ into the consciousness-existence through the understanding that the universe is nothing other than consciousness-existence. In the same way, the relative self does not have to be literally merged into the absolute self because the relative self—in its true nature as consciousness-existence—already is the absolute self. And understanding that fact is freedom (enlightenment) because freedom is the nature of the absolute self.
5:1 – You are ever pure and untouched—what is there to renounce? [Knowing this] destroy the collection of matter known as the body-mind and attain dissolution.
The universe is an illusion that never affects you so only the belief that it’s real can be or need be renounced. And by extension, nothing can be or need be destroyed or dissolved. But figuratively speaking, by renouncing the belief that the universe is real, the body-mind is ‘destroyed’ through understanding and you attain ‘dissolution’ (freedom from the body-mind).
5:2 – The universe arises from you like bubbles arising from the ocean. Having known yourself to be one alone, attain dissolution.
All of the objects that comprise the universe are nothing but you, consciousness-existence, in the same way that bubbles arising from the ocean are nothing but water. Unlike bubbles that literally dissolve back into the water from which they came, the universe is ‘dissolved’ into you by understanding that is none other than yourself.
5:3 – The universe that appears in you is like a snake being seen where there is only a rope—it is unreal. It does not exist in you who are ever-pure. [Knowing this] attain dissolution.
Just as an illusory snake is ‘dissolved’ upon realizing it is a rope, so the universe is ‘dissolved’ when it is known to be none other than you, the ever-pure self.
5:4 – You are perfect and changeless in pleasure and pain, hope and despair, and life and death. [Knowing this] attain dissolution.
To escape the uncomfortable duality of pleasure and pain etc., some people may seek a literal dissolution of the universe. But this isn’t necessary when you understand that duality is merely an appearance that never affects you.